The No.1 Website for Pro Audio
Referencing Sound and Snowflakes
Old 22nd October 2019
  #1
Lives for gear
 
Mixerman's Avatar
 

Referencing Sound and Snowflakes

Referencing

Whereas referencing music is a great way to learn about music, referencing sound is great way to confuse the living **** out of yourself. The reason? There is no consistency in sound. Were I to select 20 records from the past 50 years across the genre spectrum, their sonic makeup would be all over the map.

Technology pushes the sonic trends. In the seventies and early eighties, records were pressed to vinyl, and you couldn’t push the low end ag-gressively without the needle jumping out of the groove. In the mid-eighties CDs took over, but it wasn’t until the mid-nineties that mixers like myself started to really push the low end. The late-nineties until the mid-tens were all about loudness. And today the low-end curves are off the charts as streaming sites now reward the delivery of dynamic tracks over loud ones. A reasonable dynamic range leaves us more space for the low end.

I always find it fascinating when someone claims a record from the eighties as their best sonic reference. The EQ curves from that time were atrocious, and many of those records were remastered in the aughts to be loud. As a result, not only do they have insufficient low end, they’re often loud to boot. This reference translates how? I listen to records from my youth and wonder where’s the beef?
Consumer playback systems typically boost the low end considera-bly. Beats headphones push them beyond reasonable limits, and these days the boombox has been replaced by a brick that acts like a subwoofer. Yet, despite this, young producers push the low end almost beyond reason.

Don’t get me wrong. I love it. I’m right there with anyone and everyone that wants copious amounts of low-end information in their production. Clearly, people can’t get enough of it.

I say it all the time. Low end is what separates the men from the boys in this business. To mix with a robust low end that’s in control and doesn’t completely overwhelm your production takes some practice. If you’ve mixed anything at all, then you’re probably familiar, because most of us push too much low end when we start out. Which brings up a salient and important question: how the hell do you avoid pushing too much low end, if the expectation is ostensibly a production with too much low end?

It’s all about control.

You can push the low end in your balances, so long as you contain it. Low end sings when it’s contained, and it consumes when it’s overly dynamic. So, you can push as much low end as you like, so long as you have the space for it, and so long as you keep it under control.

There’s no way around it, you just can’t compare the EQ curve of an old record to a new one. You can reference the song and the arrangement based on how the track makes you feel. But sonics? Even if you were to limit your references to just the past three years, there will be a stunning variance in tone that makes it difficult to figure out what’s acceptable. The reality is, any and all of it is acceptable.

For starters, the instrumentation and the key will both have a significant influence on the overall EQ curve of any given production. Drop-C is an outrageously dark key in which the bottom note of the guitar is C2 which sounds at 65 Hz, and the bottom note of the bass is C1 at 33 Hz. That’s really low. You just aren’t going to get a light bright record out of a drop C presentation. So, if you’re referencing tracks in Drop C against tracks in the key of A, you’re going to come away with the impression that your record is dark.

It is dark. You recorded it in drop C. That would be the reason to record in that key.

Genre will also have a great influence on the overall EQ curve of a record. An R&B track can’t rightly be compared to a rock production. The rock track is heavy in midrange and often light in the low end. Conversely, the R&B track is typically light in the midrange and heavy in the low end. As a result, the rock record will sound small in comparison.

Were you to go out of your way to find tracks that are similar in nature, the sound of them still can’t be compared. Even the feelings they evoke can’t be compared. Every record is unique in the feelings it causes, and our mood often dictates what we want to hear. If your record sounds good, it feels good, and if it feels good, it sounds good. That evaluation must be made in the isolation of the record at hand.

Rather than to concern yourself with whether your record sounds good in comparison to other records, you need only consider whether the record makes you move and sing in the appropriate and intended manner. If you can’t get yourself to react to your own record, then you have no earthly shot at getting anyone else to react to your record.

The best way that I know to momentarily shatter my own confidence in regards to how a record sounds is to start referencing how other tracks sound. And I do it. We all do it, and I’m telling you, the only good that comes from it is a day or two off. Once I put myself through that frustration, I’m clearly exhausted, and I’m ultimately forced to seek some distance.

We evaluate sound because we deal with sound. The punters don’t care about sound; they only listen to the music. You would do well to do the same, and at all times.

Referencing a record for tempo, feel, arrangement, even process decisions, can provide you with some useful information that you can mimic on your own production. To reference the sound of your production as you near the end of the process will provide you with nothing useful. How could it? Despite the similarities, the sonic makeup of any given track will be as varied and unique as the crystalline shapes of snowflakes.

My friends, comparing snowflakes is an exercise in futility.

Enjoy, #Mixerman

The preceding excerpt can be found in my latest book Musician's Survival Guide to a Killer Record.
Old 22nd October 2019
  #2
Gear Guru
 
monkeyxx's Avatar
I suppose I agree that A/B -ing tracks with your own mix in progress is sort of an act of desperation. I think listening as a fan is really important, or for creative ideas like you said. But I've never really grasped the cult of the obsessive mix reference. It's nice to see someone offering a different opinion to what's popular to say.
Old 22nd October 2019
  #3
Gear Guru
 
Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by monkeyxx View Post
I suppose I agree that A/B -ing tracks with your own mix in progress is sort of an act of desperation.
Reassurance, for me, if I'm in an unfamiliar place (which is a lot lately). But at least one of the references will be my own.

And I think the part about key might be oversimplified, but might be right for the target audience. E.g. To me, E major and E-flat Major are very different in terms of emotional complexity, but it's got little to do with one being lower in pitch.
Old 22nd October 2019
  #4
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mixerman View Post
Referencing

Whereas referencing music is a great way to learn about music, referencing sound is great way to confuse the living **** out of yourself. The reason? There is no consistency in sound. Were I to select 20 records from the past 50 years across the genre spectrum, their sonic makeup would be all over the map.

Technology pushes the sonic trends. In the seventies and early eighties, records were pressed to vinyl, and you couldn’t push the low end ag-gressively without the needle jumping out of the groove. In the mid-eighties CDs took over, but it wasn’t until the mid-nineties that mixers like myself started to really push the low end. The late-nineties until the mid-tens were all about loudness. And today the low-end curves are off the charts as streaming sites now reward the delivery of dynamic tracks over loud ones. A reasonable dynamic range leaves us more space for the low end.

I always find it fascinating when someone claims a record from the eighties as their best sonic reference. The EQ curves from that time were atrocious, and many of those records were remastered in the aughts to be loud. As a result, not only do they have insufficient low end, they’re often loud to boot. This reference translates how? I listen to records from my youth and wonder where’s the beef?
Consumer playback systems typically boost the low end considera-bly. Beats headphones push them beyond reasonable limits, and these days the boombox has been replaced by a brick that acts like a subwoofer. Yet, despite this, young producers push the low end almost beyond reason.

Don’t get me wrong. I love it. I’m right there with anyone and everyone that wants copious amounts of low-end information in their production. Clearly, people can’t get enough of it.

I say it all the time. Low end is what separates the men from the boys in this business. To mix with a robust low end that’s in control and doesn’t completely overwhelm your production takes some practice. If you’ve mixed anything at all, then you’re probably familiar, because most of us push too much low end when we start out. Which brings up a salient and important question: how the hell do you avoid pushing too much low end, if the expectation is ostensibly a production with too much low end?

It’s all about control.

You can push the low end in your balances, so long as you contain it. Low end sings when it’s contained, and it consumes when it’s overly dynamic. So, you can push as much low end as you like, so long as you have the space for it, and so long as you keep it under control.

There’s no way around it, you just can’t compare the EQ curve of an old record to a new one. You can reference the song and the arrangement based on how the track makes you feel. But sonics? Even if you were to limit your references to just the past three years, there will be a stunning variance in tone that makes it difficult to figure out what’s acceptable. The reality is, any and all of it is acceptable.

For starters, the instrumentation and the key will both have a significant influence on the overall EQ curve of any given production. Drop-C is an outrageously dark key in which the bottom note of the guitar is C2 which sounds at 65 Hz, and the bottom note of the bass is C1 at 33 Hz. That’s really low. You just aren’t going to get a light bright record out of a drop C presentation. So, if you’re referencing tracks in Drop C against tracks in the key of A, you’re going to come away with the impression that your record is dark.

It is dark. You recorded it in drop C. That would be the reason to record in that key.

Genre will also have a great influence on the overall EQ curve of a record. An R&B track can’t rightly be compared to a rock production. The rock track is heavy in midrange and often light in the low end. Conversely, the R&B track is typically light in the midrange and heavy in the low end. As a result, the rock record will sound small in comparison.

Were you to go out of your way to find tracks that are similar in nature, the sound of them still can’t be compared. Even the feelings they evoke can’t be compared. Every record is unique in the feelings it causes, and our mood often dictates what we want to hear. If your record sounds good, it feels good, and if it feels good, it sounds good. That evaluation must be made in the isolation of the record at hand.

Rather than to concern yourself with whether your record sounds good in comparison to other records, you need only consider whether the record makes you move and sing in the appropriate and intended manner. If you can’t get yourself to react to your own record, then you have no earthly shot at getting anyone else to react to your record.

The best way that I know to momentarily shatter my own confidence in regards to how a record sounds is to start referencing how other tracks sound. And I do it. We all do it, and I’m telling you, the only good that comes from it is a day or two off. Once I put myself through that frustration, I’m clearly exhausted, and I’m ultimately forced to seek some distance.

We evaluate sound because we deal with sound. The punters don’t care about sound; they only listen to the music. You would do well to do the same, and at all times.

Referencing a record for tempo, feel, arrangement, even process decisions, can provide you with some useful information that you can mimic on your own production. To reference the sound of your production as you near the end of the process will provide you with nothing useful. How could it? Despite the similarities, the sonic makeup of any given track will be as varied and unique as the crystalline shapes of snowflakes.

My friends, comparing snowflakes is an exercise in futility.

Enjoy, #Mixerman

The preceding excerpt can be found in my latest book Musician's Survival Guide to a Killer Record.
wow, very interesting, lets see where this will go.
Old 22nd October 2019
  #5
Nice entry. I think most of us struggle with exactly how (or if) to use referencing as an effective mix tool. For me, it's a sort of 'reset button'. When I feel trapped or am suffering from decision paralysis on a mix, I find it EXTREMELY useful to listen to some other tunes. Not necessarily to try to 'copy' their fingerprint, and not even necessarily tunes I particularly like the sound of. My approach is to quickly listen to *small segments* of a LOT of songs, across a lot of genres. It helps me 'remember' how my control room is supposed to sound, and so often, when i switch back to my work, the problems (or strengths, on rare very occasion) become quite clear.
Old 22nd October 2019
  #6
Lives for gear
 
ARIEL's Avatar
Great post and so true ! Though I do find the old 70's police records to sound quite good and the bass is quite locked in. But I agree most stuff from the 80's seems to be light in the loafers
Old 22nd October 2019
  #7
I don't use reference tracks in case it influences my music. Guilty as charged on over-bassing though...embarrassment is a good motivator.
Old 23rd October 2019
  #8
Gear Guru
 
Drumsound's Avatar
I never understood listening "reference songs" while I was mixing. It just confuses the **** out of me.

I'm a firm believer is listening to music in the control room. Hearing things in my room on my speakers has been super useful over the years, but NEVER while I'm mixing. As MM said "nothing good comes form it."

I kind of got into it with Reid Shippen at TapeOpCon years during a mix panel. It was funny, because it was slightly heated, and I though I pissed him off, which wasn't my intention. After the panel, se sought me out and shook my hand saying "you made that panel fun."
Old 23rd October 2019
  #9
Lives for gear
 

A reference for the Engineer to listen to like the OP said, its done in pre production as when tracking it should be kept in mind and also prior to a mix will give an indication of artist's direction. When mixing you should be creating not copying.

An Engineer's personal Reference tracks which everyone should have are a different thing entirely. It's the tracks you know inside out that you use for learning and becoming comfortable in a new mix space or for the specific purpose of checking / adjusting your own setup. Typically you will have tracks that highlight certain frequency ranges and 3D imaging including some with known flaws.

As for creating emotion most of that is done with the song / arranging however there are mixing tricks to create tension and release (dynamics) which translates to emotion.

As for low end, not touched upon by the OP is the fact that over the years both bass and drums are played and recorded with more sustain so there is a higher chance that they will step on each other. Simply the more stuff going on at the same time, the denser the mix, and with less holes it means more layering and 3D separation of elements is needed. Kill some of the sustain or duck if they cant work it out tracking to maintain groove and thus engage the listener to be open to emotion. Making a killer record is up for debate as you can disect a hit like "Louie Louie" and even with the FBI spending several years and 5 million dollars they were still unable to determine what the actual lyrics were lol. Sometimes a hit is just that in spite of a recording so bad you cant make out the actual words.
Old 23rd October 2019
  #10
Lives for gear
 
Mixerman's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bassmankr View Post

As for low end, not touched upon by the OP is the fact that over the years both bass and drums are played and recorded with more sustain so there is a higher chance that they will step on each other. Simply the more stuff going on at the same time, the denser the mix, and with less holes it means more layering and 3D separation of elements is needed. Kill some of the sustain or duck if they cant work it out tracking to maintain groove and thus engage the listener to be open to emotion. Making a killer record is up for debate as you can disect a hit like "Louie Louie" and even with the FBI spending several years and 5 million dollars they were still unable to determine what the actual lyrics were lol. Sometimes a hit is just that in spite of a recording so bad you cant make out the actual words.
The Roland TR-808 includes an 808 kik drum, which was the first sustaining Kik drum. That unit was released in 1980. It wasn’t super popular as a drum machine, but it did introduce the sustaining Kik drum.

By the time the nineties rolled around, which is about the time that my career really started to take off, there were all sorts of 808 Kik drum sample being passed around, because it was now a popular feature of hip hop records.

On the song “Jah Work” from Ben Harper’s 1997 Will to Live album (which I mixed), there is a deep reggae bass in combination with an even deeper 808 Kik drum, along with a beefy short Kik drum (as part of a whole kit). I’ve been mixing 808s (or sustaining kiks) with bass for literally my entire career. This is nothing new.

As to a hit, I define it as a song that gets an enormous reaction. This takes all subjectivity out of the equation. A Killer Record is defined by you. Many people don’t feel that way about their recordings, especially in early days.

Enjoy, #mixerman

Last edited by Mixerman; 23rd October 2019 at 12:37 PM..
Old 23rd October 2019
  #11
Lives for gear
 

i find reference mixes very useful - not so much for me in the sense that i would need any as an anchor for defining my position but for the musicians/clients!

i always have them bring along some tracks which often reveal much faster what they are into than futile attempts of trying to explains things, especially when working with people having a vastly different cultural background and/or speaking a foreign language.

knowing about their expectations helps to define the production - and of course my mixes need to hold up against those tracks/better 'beat' them...
Old 23rd October 2019
  #12
Lives for gear
 

So what are some of your methods when you get tracks where the bass and drums are stepping on each other?

I'll kill some of the sustain on the overlap, song dependent for bass, drums or both. Song dependent I'll do ducking but tend to duck drum to keep the bass line consistant (username didn't give that one away lol). I'll also frequency and envelope shape the kick - bass relationship to get each to stand out from the other. I keep in mind that historically certain music has the kick - bass relationship heavily favored in one direction or the other. With rap, kick reigns supreme, where an old Van Morrison song the bass line reigns supreme. Both are needed to make those grooves work.
Old 23rd October 2019
  #13
Lives for gear
 
Unclenny's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Arthur Stone View Post
I don't use reference tracks in case it influences my music.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
But at least one of the references will be my own.
I'm only mixing my own music and the most important mixing is done in as I compose and record. I often listen to something that still resonates with me to get a general sonic picture in my mind but since my music is so darned unique.......I reference something from my own catalog that is similar and came out halfway decent.
Old 23rd October 2019
  #14
Lives for gear
 

I look at using references in 2 ways:

1) Trying to gauge the frequency response during a tracking or mixing session for a piece you're working on. This is using a reference as kind of a reminder of what good work sounds like.

2) Trying to gauge how a system responds or how a room reacts to both audio and sound. This is handy if you are working in a room for the first time or don't work as frequently as a full time professional.

I do both actually. I only work in my room at home but as music is a high end hobby for me and I travel a lot for my AV job, there are times when I don't get to sit down at my desk for a month and just do a little listening to refresh my sense of the system I'm forced to take long breaks from.
Old 23rd October 2019
  #15
Yes Unclenny. I'm creating for pleasure too rather than needing to conform (in a positive sense) to a set of commercially-acceptable variables e.g for consistency.

I think Mixerman's 'snowflake' metaphor is useful as it's not really fun trying to emulate someone else's sound (post-tracking) rather than creating something original at source. Monotony or 'sameness of tone' is a bad rut to get into.
Old 23rd October 2019
  #16
Lives for gear
 
tymish's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mixerman View Post
Referencing

To reference the sound of your production as you near the end of the process will provide you with nothing useful. How could it? Despite the similarities, the sonic makeup of any given track will be as varied and unique as the crystalline shapes of snowflakes.

My friends, comparing snowflakes is an exercise in futility.
Thanks for the post. Came right on time for me. I've been trying to finish up some tracks and comparing. Then tearing my mixes down and trying to 'fix' them. It's put me in a slightly vicious cycle and bad head space so a few days off are in order.
Old 23rd October 2019
  #17
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Arthur Stone View Post
(...) I think Mixerman's 'snowflake' metaphor is useful as it's not really fun trying to emulate someone else's sound (post-tracking) rather than creating something original at source. Monotony or 'sameness of tone' is a bad rut to get into.
not sure every other song is sooo innovative and original while i'm pretty sure there are a few standards which one better meets if one wants to play in the upper league...
Old 24th October 2019
  #18
Lives for gear
 
Unclenny's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by deedeeyeah View Post
i'm pretty sure there are a few standards which one better meets if one wants to play in the upper league...
I think there is an interesting marriage between establishing a uniquely individual sound and still adhering to perceived established sonic standards.

As for me....I have never been all that good at marriages anyway.

Old 24th October 2019
  #19
Lives for gear
 

Ha! I just realized this is an advertisement...
Old 24th October 2019
  #20
Gear Guru
 
Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by jerry123 View Post
Ha! I just realized this is an advertisement...
A few people around here post adver-content fairly often. Mixerman, only once in a great while. I'm totally fine with it as long as it's entertaining and does no harm.
Old 24th October 2019
  #21
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
A few people around here post adver-content fairly often. Mixerman, only once in a great while. I'm totally fine with it as long as it's entertaining and does no harm.
Yep, I admit, my reading comprehension skills are on display here.

I made a comment and was reading others before going back to the beginning to see this is an excerpt from a book for sale.

Interesting topic and i may end up checking out the whole read!
Old 28th October 2019
  #22
Gear Guru
Actually you can find a lot of Mixerman's writing out there and is always entertaining and a lot of it really funny......I don't think it's more than a way of giving back for him, he is a sought after mixer so not really an advert in my book......

He as always makes a great point. I always wonder if what I remember is so large in my head because of when I heard it. Like California Girls or the Four Tops on WABC. AM radio wasn't the best fidelity (maybe close to zero on a radio with a 2"speaker), but man the tunes were sooo good. My KLH stereo was a huge deal,,,,,

I'm like Lenny and make my own, I do send it to someone who knows what he's doing. I spent much too much time going down rabbit holes and having it sound awful switching systems. I envy pros that have a mastery of their craft but gives me something to aspire to. Concentrating simply on tracking and rough mixing has been a great way of upping my game. Hey if I can find a real client someday may be able to hire Eric!.....
Old 30th October 2019
  #23
Lives for gear
 
Mixerman's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bassmankr View Post
So what are some of your methods when you get tracks where the bass and drums are stepping on each other?

I'll kill some of the sustain on the overlap, song dependent for bass, drums or both. Song dependent I'll do ducking but tend to duck drum to keep the bass line consistant (username didn't give that one away lol). I'll also frequency and envelope shape the kick - bass relationship to get each to stand out from the other. I keep in mind that historically certain music has the kick - bass relationship heavily favored in one direction or the other. With rap, kick reigns supreme, where an old Van Morrison song the bass line reigns supreme. Both are needed to make those grooves work.
As I said in the post, "you can push the low end in your balances, so long as you contain it. Low end sings when it’s contained, and it consumes when it’s overly dynamic."

Compression is your best weapon for containing low end. But where it comes to multiple low end sources in close proximity, so long as each instrument has it's own main frequency space, they should retain some clarity. When I'm bringing up a track, one of my earliest decisions is whether the kik drum is going to live generally above or below the bass, and EQ is particularly useful for this ind of separation.

Many people like to use parallel compression, where the kik drum attenuates the bass. I've never found that very useful, and I've gotten a number of sessions in recent years where the first thing I have to do is uncouple the kik drum compressor from the bass signal. I mean, if the point is to cause pumping, then I'd either use the kik drum to trigger compression on everything, or I'll use an LFO tool. Most people who use parallel compression like this do it for separation, but I've personally never gotten it to work.

Where it comes to low end, distortion is an important weapon because it brings out upper harmonics. If you listen to many modern productions, the 808 is distorted like crazy. A clean 808 wouldn't even be audible on many systems, and if you make a clean 808 too loud in the mix, it could be amazing in your room, and crumble in bluetooth speakers. By distorting the **** out of the 808, you basically bring out the harmonics that are two octaves above, which makes that 808 audible even in small speakers.

Sometimes I'll get a sustained bass with a sustained 808 that beat violently because they're so close with each other. This is often by design, but it must be contained somewhat.

You can control the low end bloom of a kik drum in how you set the release time on your compressor. A longer release time will attenuate the low end bloom. A shorter release can be used to accentuate the bloom.

Anyway, there are all sorts of tricks that can be employed to deal with multiple low end sources all competing for space and dominance, but at the end of the day, it's a matter of giving it's attention due, as the low end acts a s a foundation for the entire track.

In regards to weather the kik is louder than the bass or vice versa, that has everything to do with the track, and while I do consider trends when mixing, decisions are ultimately made based on how the balances make me move and feel.

Enjoy,

#Mixerman
Old 31st October 2019
  #24
Lives for gear
 

Great point about not overloading low frequencies but using distortion and harmonics to give the illusion of full bass on playback systems that can hardly produce low frequencies (I put it as frequency and envelope shaping). Thanks for sharing the more detailed info!
Old 31st October 2019
  #25
Gear Guru
 
Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bassmankr View Post
Great point about not overloading low frequencies but using distortion and harmonics to give the illusion of full bass on playback systems that can hardly produce low frequencies (I put it as frequency and envelope shaping). Thanks for sharing the more detailed info!
I recently said this elsewhere, so apologies. But when I was in high school I over-blasted the radio in my mom's VW squareback and tore the cone in one of the door speakers. And suddenly on Motown records I could hear Jamerson.

This principle works hand in hand with "containment." Both help.
Old 31st October 2019
  #26
Gear Guru
 
Drumsound's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
I recently said this elsewhere, so apologies. But when I was in high school I over-blasted the radio in my mom's VW squareback and tore the cone in one of the door speakers. And suddenly on Motown records I could hear Jamerson.

This principle works hand in hand with "containment." Both help.
At one time I used to EQ the bass on my small ****ty Rat Shack speakers. Making sure the upper mids were there so that there wasn't any bass on certain systems, even though there isn't any bass on those systems.
Topic:
Post Reply

Welcome to the Gearslutz Pro Audio Community!

Registration benefits include:
  • The ability to reply to and create new discussions
  • Access to members-only giveaways & competitions
  • Interact with VIP industry experts in our guest Q&As
  • Access to members-only sub forum discussions
  • Access to members-only Chat Room
  • Get INSTANT ACCESS to the world's best private pro audio Classifieds for only USD $20/year
  • Promote your eBay auctions and Reverb.com listings for free
  • Remove this message!
You need an account to post a reply. Create a username and password below and an account will be created and your post entered.


 
 
Slide to join now Processing…
Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Forum Jump
Forum Jump