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What can you get away with in a mix
Old 9th May 2004
  #1
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GRiFF's Avatar
What can you get away with in a mix

Hi Guys,

Firstly, great site, glad I found you all.
I sent Charles this email and he said it'd be good for the forum so if any of you can help answer this, please do.

Basically its about when a mix is done and when the mastering takes over.
Many of you like me, may often compare mixes to commercial CDs, but these CDs are heavily mastered.
So, I wonder if this is slightly misleading. It would seem many of us are mixing towards a mastered sound, perhaps we shouldn't be.

Charles has been explicit in that a mix should be exciting, happening, and emotional. Dynamic, fashionable and hooky too.
Granted.

But it doesn't end there for us. Because we want a commercial sound in 90% of the cases.

I recently read that mastering engineers like us to leave more bass on a mix than too little.
They also don't give a damn about the actual mix level, so long as its got plenty of headroom.

Makes me wonder what we are really trying to achieve in a mix. Ok, so I have a mix that is vibey and exciting. But I know that the bass is woolly and that the tops are a bit harsh.

Now, is this the point at which we started screwing up our mixes, by trying too hard to attain the mix we here on CD, or should we pull out while the goings good.

Well, thats a huge question to kick off with. Hope you all can help work out a conclusion.

Looking forward to getting involved here at GearSlutz!

Old 9th May 2004
  #2
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ixnys's Avatar
 

I think it's a pretty great question. I know I a/b my mixes to a lot of commercial cd's. I've heard that more bass is better than too little bass because a mastering engineer can always fix that by using compression and adjusting the attack and release times. I've also heard, that a good mix should mean that the mastering engineer should only have to make slight adjustments...as in a db or 2 here and there and just raise the level to more commercial standards.
Old 9th May 2004
  #3
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jazzius II's Avatar
 

It's a very tricky area......

.....people want to get all the way with the mix (understandably so), but in the process, many (most?) go too far.......

It has been mentioned by Jules and me and few others before, but one of the main tricks ME's can do is add that sparkly, open, airy top end.....for this you need a high class analog EQ like an Ibis, Sontec, Avalon 2077...

...if you try to match this brightness with plugins or digital board EQ (or lower quality analog EQ) it will equal HARSH (as you already mentioned).....once this harshness is in, there's no way back....game over.......the harsh sound is the norm for people working out of project studios with DAW (or digital board) EQ.....let's call it 02R syndrome...

Moving on to bass, i don't think it's a matter of trying to mix with more or less bass......what you want to do is make sure the bassy instruments are in balance against each other......you also want to make sure the low end is under control.....so no bass-notes clashing together and causing beating or general wobblyness........cut the sub out of instruments that don't need it......but don't take too much away from instruments that do need it like kick and toms.......if you get all this right, the ME can easily add more bass or take some away as needed...( BTW, if you want to hear a CD where the low-end is mixed to perfection, check out Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite - Dexter Simmons)

It's a balancing act.......i'm sure the best mixers (i'm guessing, i never master stuff from the top people stateside) deliver mixes that are practicly what you hear on the finished CD.....but these guys are really good and have been at it for years....they probably made the same mistakes, but kept on improving their craft.
Old 9th May 2004
  #4
Gear Maniac
 

The only way to mix is to please yourself. Make it sound good to your ears, and try to capture the vision of the artist as faithfully as you can. Make two copys of the mix. One should be limited and have a competitive level. Give this one to the producer so that he can listen and play it for others. Make another mix with no limiting and no overs. Give both of the mixes to the mastering guy.

Steve
Old 9th May 2004
  #5
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GRiFF's Avatar
My reason for posting this question was that I found that I would work with a clients material over the course of a few weeks, generally mixing along the way, until we agreed between us that the work was done.

Then it would be...right now mix it.

Listening to it, I would recognise that some sort of mixing needed to happen, but that it would mean un-doing a lot of the relationships between the instruments. I always feel that the bass and drums need a tighter focus, and that the guitars or whatever need thining down etc etc.

However, its inevitable that if your un-doing a mix you've developed over 3 weeks, your essentially destroying something magical - the unique blend of the guitars, and how you worked in a keyboard line that somehow fits with the wallowing tone of the bass. Or the nasty reverb you used that you mean to replace, but somehow sounds right for the hammond.

As soon as you address these issues, it becomes difficult to retain what you initially liked.
Many times I've done the usual EQ cuts to control the bass and guitars only to have the client listen to the mix and start missing the weight of the working mix.

Perhaps they fail to hear how the track suddenly has a new quality, space and control - hell, who am I to say, really they should just love it (at least if I'm doing the job properly?)

So, does this mean that the mix was overshot? That the mix we had that everyone was buzzed about should have been handed to the ME's?

Anyone understand where I'm coming from on this




Old 10th May 2004
  #6
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ixnys's Avatar
 

It's sometimes like scratch tracks. They were supposed to be scratch tracks but it turns out the tone and performance were so good that you're either used to it or can't improve upon it.
Old 10th May 2004
  #7
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Jose Mrochek's Avatar
 

It's sometimes like scratch tracks. They were supposed to be scratch tracks but it turns out the tone and performance were so good that you're either used to it or can't improve upon it.



Great point IXNYS, this happens to me all the time.. I don't know if I got used to it !!!! or is it really better? ? afterwards when I re do the takes, I am so used to the scratch dammit. I guess you need a second opinion from someone that never heard the song, and listen to both the scratch and the new one. (well, original how was planned take). and decide
Old 10th May 2004
  #8
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griff,
some clients are less than easy to work with
if there is time, and your client is willing to learn, it may help to listen through a library of unmastered tracks and the mastered versions. some musicians have no clue what mastering can do to the quality and style of a track, especially lack of vision regarding their own tracks. sometimes this is the solution, when someone in error expects a sound from the mix that only will come with mastering. so it may be helpful to have a few typical examples to compare.
Old 10th May 2004
  #9
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GRiFF's Avatar
Yep, its that vibey demo problem all over again. Perhaps its intensified because the distinction between tracking and mixing is so blurred.

I think in 2004 we're looking at a new definition for what mixing really means. I think it means capturing a great track, retaining the performance and creating an exciting sonic mix. I think it also means - complieing to an industry recognised balance.

This probably sounds like a horrible definition, but many of you may know what I mean.

Its like there is an un-written law of mix balance that travels well across speakers and to other people. Rarely does this balance really change, whether its dub reggae or boy band - the balance is actually similar, even though there is an emphasis on bringing out different instruments.

I think we're mixing to those rules when we reference CDs.

Mastering provides a commercial level and additional sparkle, but does not create a commercial sounding mix.

Any commercial producers wanna add their bit?
Old 10th May 2004
  #10
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I've been fortunate enough to work with some of the best mastering engineers in the biz. I asked questions, paid attention and learned a few things. Mostly, the mix should be great before you go to mastering. They're not magicians. If you did your job right, they won't do anything to your mix except adjust the level to match the other material.

It should sound like a record when you're done mixing. It should even sound like a record while you're overdubbing - hell, even while you're tracking! Mixing is like arranging, and if the arrangement is great, the basic tracks should pretty much sound like a record.

Unless you're doing computer music. Then do whatever the hell the drugs tell you to do.heh
Old 10th May 2004
  #11
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GRiFF's Avatar
Great response.

However, makes me wonder what we're actually saying when we say 'now that sounds like a record.'

Are we saying that that sounds like a record - as in sonically that has the same spectral balance as a commercial recording.
Or
Are we saying that sounds like it has all the excitement and hookiness of a record that I've heared in the charts.

Subtle but crucial, different definitions.

The first definition is a respectful understanding of the quality of the product.
The second is a passionate, exciteable belief in the track when you hit playback.

Can you have the second without the first?
Old 10th May 2004
  #12
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juniorhifikit's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally posted by GRiFF
...Are we saying that that sounds like a record - as in sonically that has the same spectral balance as a commercial recording.
Or
Are we saying that sounds like it has all the excitement and hookiness of a record that I've heared in the charts.
yes.heh
Old 10th May 2004
  #13
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GRiFF's Avatar
Hooray! Its finally clear!

And now for my next question - how d'ya do it! (kidding)

heh
Old 10th May 2004
  #14
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juniorhifikit's Avatar
 

Generally, everything should sound the way it needs to on the front end. If the part or sound is not fitting within the arrangement, why record it? Fix it FIRST. If you know it's going down the way it should be, but will need "gear X" to complete the sound, put it in the monitor path so everyone gets to hear it. That way there's no suprises at mix time. Or print it if you have enough confidence (on a spair track if you don't).

"How d'ya do it?"

personally, I need to have an idea of what it should sound like, before I do anything. Y'know, the BIG PICTURE.
Old 10th May 2004
  #15
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GRiFF's Avatar
You know what, this thread is starting to become about arranging and mixing, which I've just noticed has been covered heavily in a massive post by inxys.
I won't put you good people through the same questions all over again.

Its all important, but I'm convinced now that a mix pre-master - should sound like a commercial record, perhaps just needing a little buff up and some levelling.

I am enlightened.
Old 10th May 2004
  #16
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jazzius II's Avatar
 

forget level when you're mixing.....if you try to match commercial level during the mix, you'll ruin it........A/B by all means, but don't be concerned with the loudness wars when you should be worrying about the mix-this-as good-as-possible wars.....just a suggestion........mastering can achieve a lot but only if there's room to work with.......no limiting, no distortion (unless it's in there on purpose) from clipping or Apogee soft limit, and not harsh in the high's (digital EQ anyone?)......then a good ME can do a lot.
Old 10th May 2004
  #17
Quote:
Originally posted by GRiFF
My reason for posting this question was that I found that I would work with a clients material over the course of a few weeks, generally mixing along the way, until we agreed between us that the work was done.

Then it would be...right now mix it.

Listening to it, I would recognise that some sort of mixing needed to happen, but that it would mean un-doing a lot of the relationships between the instruments. I always feel that the bass and drums need a tighter focus, and that the guitars or whatever need thining down etc etc.

However, its inevitable that if your un-doing a mix you've developed over 3 weeks, your essentially destroying something magical - the unique blend of the guitars, and how you worked in a keyboard line that somehow fits with the wallowing tone of the bass. Or the nasty reverb you used that you mean to replace, but somehow sounds right for the hammond.

As soon as you address these issues, it becomes difficult to retain what you initially liked.
Many times I've done the usual EQ cuts to control the bass and guitars only to have the client listen to the mix and start missing the weight of the working mix.

Perhaps they fail to hear how the track suddenly has a new quality, space and control - hell, who am I to say, really they should just love it (at least if I'm doing the job properly?)

So, does this mean that the mix was overshot? That the mix we had that everyone was buzzed about should have been handed to the ME's?

Anyone understand where I'm coming from on this
If you have the luxury of working on one track at a time till its done, why not try working on the mix as you go, get the sounds and tweak away. At the end of each session check your reference disk to see how you are with the top and bottom and the overall mix. Keep notes on what you're doing as far as processing and patching go. If you approach the project in this manner
you should'nt have to undo anything.
I don't usually have that luxury, usually I'm working on several tracks before we get to mix. In which case the only way you can get into that approach is if you have a good assistant and total recall.
Old 11th May 2004
  #18
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GRiFF's Avatar
@Jazzius - I've found that during the course of a mix, that the master level can end up quite lo sometimes, particularly on softer tracks. Also, towards the end of a mix I find that I'll bring the kick drum down a bit and before I know it, can end up with a mix I like, but one that is barely kicking the needle.
Some mixes are just like this, even if you start with the kick nice and proud, they just push you in this direction.

Normal fix is...bring the master fader up all over again.

How low can you go before this gets to be a problem? If it ever is?
I know that in digital land, this is less of an issue, all the same I'm also aware that if your not making full use of the sample and bit rates - ie - using as much resolution, that the end result could be effected all be it - less noticably.

Finally being as it appears you are an ME.

Whats your dream mix session, where you feel you can do your job properly.
I'll open that out to any other MEs who might be reading this.
Old 11th May 2004
  #19
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Stick's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally posted by jazzius II
forget level when you're mixing.....if you try to match commercial level during the mix, you'll ruin it........A/B by all means, but don't be concerned with the loudness wars when you should be worrying about the mix-this-as good-as-possible wars.....just a suggestion........mastering can achieve a lot but only if there's room to work with.......no limiting, no distortion (unless it's in there on purpose) from clipping or Apogee soft limit, and not harsh in the high's (digital EQ anyone?)......then a good ME can do a lot.
Yeah, when I'm mixing to a reference track, I'll bring it into my PT session and then lower it 8 or 10 db so I'm mixing to that sound without stressing the headroom.

How does that apply to you board mixer guys? Don't you have to maintain a certian amount of signal to make the board or outboard gear sound it's best? And obviously, printing to analog tape requires the right level for "that sound". I guess, being a career-long ITB ProTools guy, I don't really understand board/tape/outboard calibration, eh?
Old 11th May 2004
  #20
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juniorhifikit's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally posted by Stick
Yeah, when I'm mixing to a reference track, I'll bring it into my PT session and then lower it 8 or 10 db so I'm mixing to that sound without stressing the headroom.

How does that apply to you board mixer guys? Don't you have to maintain a certian amount of signal to make the board or outboard gear sound it's best? And obviously, printing to analog tape requires the right level for "that sound". I guess, being a career-long ITB ProTools guy, I don't really understand board/tape/outboard calibration, eh?
Console 2 bus's have "that sound" too, which needs to be learned for each console. Although, I've found it's better to be safe than sorry - print several mixes. Most consoles sound like crap to me when driven too hard. Maybe that's why I don't have a problem with the ProTools 2 bus. My Amek likes to be in the +3 range. Any more and it starts to fold. Below zero VU it sounds kind of "safer" & more "polite".
Old 11th May 2004
  #21
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jazzius II's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally posted by GRiFF

How low can you go before this gets to be a problem? If it ever is?
I know that in digital land, this is less of an issue, all the same I'm also aware that if your not making full use of the sample and bit rates - ie - using as much resolution, that the end result could be effected all be it - less noticably.

Finally being as it appears you are an ME.

Whats your dream mix session, where you feel you can do your job properly.
I'll open that out to any other MEs who might be reading this.
What hifikit just said......analogue desks have a sweet-spot......too loud and the sound closes down....to soft and you don't get any saturation and everything sits too politely........

.....with digital, you only wanna make sure it isn't clipping.......clipping can sometimes be useful as a mastering tool, but it's then best left to this stage.....if it's distorted before mastering, the options are severly restricted......

...i was playing with a Neve 1073 today.......now i understand why people love those old Neve consoles....this thing saturates in a really nice way!...fat.....

....my dream mix (for mastering)?......a mix where i don't need to do anything......just sit back and bask in the glory by proxy......never happened yet!
Old 12th May 2004
  #22
Gear Head
 

Re: What can you get away with in a mix

You know, these are points we all wrestle with. I've come to the maxim (in production, as well) that I'll try like hell to get inside and help realize THE ARTIST'S vision - if I go down with the ship, so be it.

That said, part of what we are doing is a mutual education thing - the artist educates us about their vision, and we should help (gently) educate them about our concerns. In years of mixing, I've NEVER had an artist unhappy because I cared too much, or was too interested in making something great.

Regarding tonal balances (not instrumental), I often get clients (new ones) who say "I want this to sound like...(an old record). We talk, so I understand. Then, I tell them that if we do that, the record will come back (from the label). The real trick is, to have the warmth and fullness of FEEL of older classics, but with a presence and openness on the top that allows it to compete in today's marketplace (and on the radio?!?!?!?!).

Also, if you help make the record sound great (full, exciting-I know, I know-it's either in the recording or not-but you can help), clients will always be ecstatic.

If you are so far off that they are unhappy, well, either the track is really not happening, or you were not "listening" to what the track was trying to do.

Regarding compression and limiting, again I go with the track. Some rock n' roll wants that audible crunch. But, make damn sure that is what you want. Bottom line, is it making the track more of what it wants to be?

FOLLOW THE MUSIC. TRUST YOURSELF.
Old 12th May 2004
  #23
Gear Head
 

Oh yeah. Regarding level, print (or push the desk) to whatever place the track feels best. Sometimes I know that the track (spiky) needs a bit of tape compression, and I'll go toward that.

For a "finished" sound, program (2 mix) eq is usually a must.

It's funny. I try to never compare my mixes to another finished cd - it throws me off too much. However, when I do, I'm REALLY glad that my track is not squared off and ruined w/too much level to dig. It takes all the "bump" out - that thing when the kick drum punches you in the chest.
Old 12th May 2004
  #24
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jazzius II's Avatar
 

Listen very carefully to what was just said........
Old 12th May 2004
  #25
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GRiFF's Avatar
Another good piece of advice.

Overiding message is fascinating in that there's nothing here that none of us are not already aware of.
And I include complete beginners, who might only be aware of the art of music making in its purest form, the excitement and enjoyment of the finished record.

Before posting this query, I suspected already the answers I'd get would be like these. No-one was going to say - THIS IS WHAT YOUR GOING TO DO.

And that it would be a huge question,, which would slip and slide around similar areas. Some people mix technically, some emotionally, some prefer analogue, some prefer digital.

Arguments about the best approach will rage, but of course the real thing that comes through is if those people make good records.

Knowing what is important to your mix, using your particular skills and abilities can only come with experience.

Maybe another couple of interesting questions would be -

a) how many of you felt like giving up, because you felt you were just not good enough?
b) what are you doing now?
Old 15th May 2004
  #26
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Charles Dye's Avatar
 

Re: Re: What can you get away with in a mix

Quote:
Originally posted by bobmix
You know, these are points we all wrestle with. I've come to the maxim (in production, as well) that I'll try like hell to get inside and help realize THE ARTIST'S vision - if I go down with the ship, so be it...

...FOLLOW THE MUSIC. TRUST YOURSELF.

...I try to never compare my mixes to another finished cd - it throws me off too much...
Bob,

A great coupla posts + great advice. All of it.

Thanks!
Old 22nd May 2004
  #27
Registered User
 

Re: What can you get away with in a mix

Quote:
Originally posted by GRiFF
Hi Guys,

Firstly, great site, glad I found you all.
I sent Charles this email and he said it'd be good for the forum so if any of you can help answer this, please do.

Basically its about when a mix is done and when the mastering takes over.
Many of you like me, may often compare mixes to commercial CDs, but these CDs are heavily mastered.
So, I wonder if this is slightly misleading. It would seem many of us are mixing towards a mastered sound, perhaps we shouldn't be.

Charles has been explicit in that a mix should be exciting, happening, and emotional. Dynamic, fashionable and hooky too.
Granted.

But it doesn't end there for us. Because we want a commercial sound in 90% of the cases.

I recently read that mastering engineers like us to leave more bass on a mix than too little.
They also don't give a damn about the actual mix level, so long as its got plenty of headroom.

Makes me wonder what we are really trying to achieve in a mix. Ok, so I have a mix that is vibey and exciting. But I know that the bass is woolly and that the tops are a bit harsh.

Now, is this the point at which we started screwing up our mixes, by trying too hard to attain the mix we here on CD, or should we pull out while the goings good.

Well, thats a huge question to kick off with. Hope you all can help work out a conclusion.

Looking forward to getting involved here at GearSlutz!

All good questions.
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