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Author Topic: Introduction to Mixing!  (Read 5218 times)


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Introduction to Mixing!
« on: September 16, 2014, 02:55:32 PM »

Mixing is the art of taking usually more than one recorded track, and manipulating them until they sound good. In the home studio environment, this usually means a group of wave files, a software sequencer and a stereo wave file as the result.

If you’re like me, your mixing room is your recording room too. You just have to make do with the acoustics in the mixing environment you have. You might be lucky enough to have a great room for mixing in, but if there are acoustical problems with your room, the room will influence what you hear from your monitors. We can overcome some issues, so read on!

Set up your speakers as shown in the diagram below. Make sure the speakers point towards you, and you’re not too far away. The idea is to be able to hear things properly at fairly quiet volumes, known as near field monitoring. Doing it this way, will minimise the influence of the room where you’re mixing.

During the tracking stage of your project, try to think ahead to what it’ll be like to combine the tracks you are now recording, together. If you have clear recordings, your mixing task will be easier than if your tracks are noisy and/or distorted, or not well defined.
If you have the luxury of multiple instruments, try to select those that have the overall sound you’re aiming for the project.

Most importantly of all, try to keep in mind a clear idea of how you want the project to end up. Work towards this idea, and try not to be distracted by things that may seem useful, but really are only getting in the way of your ‘vision’. Basically, you don’t want to be mixing just to fix things up. Mixing should complement the tracking stage, not be a solely remedial step.

There are some common elements to most mixes. Rhythm, Balance, Panorama, Equalisation and Dimension.

Rhythm deals with not only the drums, but anything working in the same ‘space’ as the drums. Anything that helps build the timing momentum of a song is considered to be part of that songs rhythm element. Often bass, guitars and choppy keyboard parts fit this category.

Balance describes the relationship in volume between the various tracks of your project. There’s only so much space available to you, so it’s a balancing act. Balance relates closely to equalisation, in that equalisation deals with the volume of certain frequency ranges. You can also use equalisation to help a track stand out, without boosting it’s volume with the track fader.

Panorama is where you ‘place’ sounds in your mix from right to center and left. It’s controlled with the ‘pan’ control available to each individual track. Often a convenient way of separating similar sounds, panning can also be used to expand the perceived space your song occupies.

Equalisation is a touchy subject! I mentioned in the previous guide that some engineers/hobbyists discourage the use of equalisation all together! I feel there’s a place for EQ if used wisely and subtly. As we will soon see, many sounds you’ll be dealing with, occupy similar frequency ranges. Without EQ, you will find it difficult to get some tracks to ’fit’ together without your mix sounding unclear. Or, some instruments might get overshadowed by others if they share similar frequency ranges.

Also, remember that sounds have fundamental frequencies that determine their pitch and carry most of their energy, but there are harmonics of these frequencies that continue upwards with a doubling of the original. This means, sometimes you can EQ the harmonics of an instrument and leave the fundamental frequency alone, maintaining a more natural sound.

Here’s the frequency ranges of some common instruments (estimates):

Kick Drum 20 - 200Hz
Snare Drum 100 - 900Hz
Bass 40 - 500Hz
Guitars 100 - 750Hz
Vocals 1 - 16KHz
Piano 1.2 - 15KHz

You can see that things will get quite crowded around the mid frequencies of 500Hz - 1.5KHz.

Isolate the track by selecting solo on the mixer. With the transport rolling and a single band parametric equaliser selected on the track, set gain to about +5dB and sweep the frequency selector through it’s full range. You should have a high ‘Q’ setting also, so as to be sweeping a narrow band. By listening to when the sound gets the biggest boost, you can eventually pinpoint where this particular instrument holds the most energy.

Guitars and vocals are obviously going to fight for the same space, so either pan the guitars away from the vocal, EQ the guitars to remove some of their mid frequency energy or balance the volumes of both so that only one or the other is loud at one time.
By themselves, drums are very easy to mix, as each element of the modern kit fits pretty nicely into it’s own range. And even with the rest of the band present in the mix, the drums generally skirt the outside of the mix frequency.

Bass and Kick Drum:
Here, we have a delicate area. Looking at the frequency ranges of each, you can see that they overlap. This is where the harmonics come into play. If a kick drum sounds strongest at 230Hz, it will also be affected strongly by altering EQ at any multiple of 230Hz. This is the harmonic component of the sound.
When it comes to combining two sounds that share such a close range as these two, one trick can be to let them share the loud a bit. Take the energy away from one, say the kick drum at 230Hz. Then boost the bass in this range slightly. It’s no good trying to get them to both be clearly represented in the mix. There’s just not enough room for them!

Another trick is to use different sounding instruments to begin with. Use a sharp kick drum with a smooth bass sound, or vice versa. If you get it right, they will sound like one percussive instrument. For the sharp sounding instrument, you can accentuate it’s sharpness by carefully boosting some of the harmonics close to the fundamental frequency. You’ll notice much better definition when everything is playing together. Finding this frequency is explained above.

Guitars are very strong in the mid range frequencies from about 2KHz to 4KHz. But they are also a very harmonically rich sounding instrument. This means, you can sometimes cut the fundamental frequency as long as you keep some harmonic energy around. First, find the place where the fundamentals live, and then double this frequency for the place to boost. Cut the fundamental and you should be able to fit the guitar and vocal parts fairly well into the same ‘place‘.

All of these settings will be approximates. There’s no exact fundamental for an instrument that’s playing many different chords and notes. Just like a singing isn’t going to hold the same note for the whole song! And you can’t select one frequency on the EQ. You can select the center frequency, but those frequencies surrounding it are also affected to a lessor degree depending on how sharp the ‘Q’ curve is.

This brings us back to the old maxim… If it sounds good, it is good. Play around a lot with the equalisers you have. Try to get sounds from the same frequencies to fit without resorting to panning. In the next guide, we’ll look at the other elements mentioned above, Panorama and Dimension.
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