mixing basics, collection of

mixingI’ve been mixing music, film and shows for 14 odd years now, and learned a lot during this time. Recently I’ve been thinking about the basics of mixing. The “how” to mix, and I want to share what I found with you here on my blog.

The most important aspect of mixing is setting levels. For me this is where good can start and end. Have your levels wrong? Your mix will suck, no matter how great the individual sounds are, no matter how much time you spent agonizing over the low end content of your Kick.

So how do you set levels? This was something that vexed me. Nobody seemed to be able to give an answer.

Some engineers pushed the faders up very slowly, 1db more, listen, 1db more, listen. Others threw the faders up, wiggled a bit, and tore them back down if they didn’t like what they heard.

I think the slow approach is great for getting a feel of how the mix changes with a given signal (especially lead vocals). The second approach is very instinctual and makes for bold mixes. Good.

But what do you listen to, when listening while setting levels?

And here is where I found a gem: I used to listen to the signal on the fader I was pushing. “Where’s the bass at, can I hear it, does it sound good?” Then I switched, and that changed the mixes for the better.

When pushing up a fader, I listen to the rest of the mix, most importantly to a signal that gets directly affected by the one I’m pushing.

Let’s say I’m adjusting Bass level. Then I would listen to the Kick, and the Lead Vocals. Is there a level where the Kick sounds better because of the Bass? Usually yes! Is there a level where the whole mix sounds louder or softer? Yes, again!

Now, let’s say I bring up the Guitars. When does the Vocal suffer? I go slightly below that. Now those guitars might sound a bit tame, if it’s a rock song. Then I reach for EQ, and do the same:

I scoop out some mids, let’s say I start at 1,5 kHz. And then I move the frequency, while listening to the Lead Vocal. Is there a frequency where the Lead pops out better? Usually, yes, again! (Warning for plug in users: don’t look at the screen, look away, just listen, you’ll be surprised!)

Great! I push the guitars up, now that I have more space.

Now, let’s say, I have a synth layer that I want to use to create space. At what level does the mix sound most spacious? Can I even hear the synth directly? Probably not!

This brings up another important truth about mixing (and life, hehe): Things come in opposites. For some things to be loud, others have to be soft. A phat mix usally has just one or two sparse signals that have bass; the mix is still pretty flat, frequency wise. The human ear adapts very quickly and adjusts frequency content to “normal”, so if every second signal has a lot of bass, the mix will actually sound flat, muddy, and not phat at all.

So, to sum things up: When mixing, listen to what you’re NOT doing at the moment. Nobody is ever going to hear anything in Solo out there. And everything affects everything else. So account for that.

Comments more than welcome.

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