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Mixing Theory and Malcolm Gladwell's Ketchup Article
Old 11th November 2009
  #1
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Mixing Theory and Malcolm Gladwell's Ketchup Article

My wife gave me Malcolm Gladwell's new anthology of New Yorker articles he's written. This one in particular caught my eye:

gladwell dot com - the ketchup conundrum

In it, he talks about how flavor testers notice several points of flavor (bitter, sour, etc) and how well balanced they are. They put special emphasis on being balanced (hitting all the flavor points) and on blend (the way they work as one overall taste, rather than discrete flavors in your mouth.)

I think this is a good analogy for mixing audio. It's important to be able to hear the different parts of the spectrum, and the different elements, but the blend is the thing.

Getting a mix that sounds like just that, not a collection of sounds, but one big sound, with lots of well-balanced stuff in there.

I think keeping this in mind while mixing is always a good idea, while musicians often get fixated on being able to hear their parts, or having their instrument sound a particular way, you always have to be thinking about the blend, the way the whole sound hits a listener. No one element should hit you in the face and distract from everything else.

I'm interested to hear a bit about what you're thinking about when you're mixing. I know we talk about soundstage and balance between kick and snare, etc, but what about more abstract notions, like that resonant feeling you get in your chest when you turn up a good mix?

What about ways to cook the mix, to get the elements to blend a bit?

2 buss compression is something we read about a lot, but I like to use 2 bus reverbs. I hardly ever read about it, but putting a little reverb on the whole mix can be magic.

I realize some of this is mastering, but I thought it might be fun to explore, and the article is truly interesting!
Old 11th November 2009
  #2
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John Suitcase's Avatar
 

Hmmm, no responses?

Do I take that to mean that no one agrees that Ketchup is a good analogy for mixing audio?
Old 11th November 2009
  #3
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Player1's Avatar
 

Player1

OK I'll bite. I don't look to reverbs or delays generally for efx anymore. Mostly I use them to create an atmosphere to replicate a great room etc. If I can tell it has digital reverb on it then it's too much for me or if I want that much I will try to hide the tail. I'm also paying a lot more attention to depth of field. As far as the mix, I really try to cover a broad frequency range and image placement.
Old 11th November 2009
  #4
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This is a great concept to chew on - I would like to hear some more people chime in... I have used 2 buss reverbs quite a bit too, but I usually end up swapping that in favor of a room reverb on an aux send, because otherwise it can get to be too much really quickly on some of the instruments and not enough on others.
Old 11th November 2009
  #5
I think (optimally) it would be more like a 95% composition thing and a 5% mixing thing. If the composition is really good and it's played such as to maximize the composition, it would would have the right blend/separation to begin with for the most part, or at least it could in theory. Not sure how often it actually happens in practice. And the mix would just somewhat enhance either the separation or the blend as desired.

Certainly these days the tools are there to create uber-separated mixes, and you can hear plenty of them. There's definitely an appeal to that sound in its own way, and I think that sub-consciously when we are mixing we probably tend towards wanting to hear that highly separated sound because it's appealing to the ear (and brain) in some fundamental way.

But I think maybe it speaks more to the ear and the brain than to the heart.
Old 12th November 2009
  #6
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Many mixes excel in the blend department but don't particularly work. That can be flat and monotonous. It's a combination of contrast and cohesion, a dynamic one, that keeps things interesting. A series of discrete elements smacking you in the head may be exactly what a production needs.

Subtlety is for the weak, and the wise...

I'm agnostic on mixing theory. I am interested in what you guys have to say but I think "it cannot be known." You either made the song work or you didn't. Getting things to have separation is one step in learning, getting things to blend is another, learning when to do one vs. the other is the next.

Old 12th November 2009
  #7
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My comment on reverb is just one way to blend things, of course. I use several reverbs and delays on sends, and only a small amount on the actual 2buss. But in small amounts, it just sort of frames the recording in a way that I like.

I don't think a monotonous mix is the goal, I think you want to avoid things that distract from the song and the performances. an over the top effect might be cool, but if it takes the focus for too long, it ruins the overall experience for the listener.

So would a sibillant vocals, or other technical issue.
Old 12th November 2009
  #8
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Ketchup is a sauce. It is not supposed to stand out but to support whatever food you put it on. The same with musical ketchup -- you wouldn't eat/listen to it on its own but use it to enhance the main course, i.e. the song.

So, you don't necessarily want a pleasant even blend in the mix. You want some part(s) to stand out and others to support. These latter elements would be, I suppose, the ketchup? Don't use too much of it or you won't taste the hamburger! And, conversely, a dry ketchup-less burger doesn't appeal much either (I would suppose, being a vegetarian and not very fond of ketchup either heh ).
Old 12th November 2009
  #9
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I think you make a good point, except that in many cases ketchup takes over the flavor completely! There's not much comparison between a plain french fry and one dipped in ketchup!

I was thinking about this last night, and came across another analogy: In cooking, quite often a chef will take one complex element (wine, say) and use that to suggest the flavors that he'll use in whatever he's cooking to go with said wine.

If the song is the wine, what are you listening for to suggest mix treatments or ideas? Obviously tempo, and genre (unless you're going to be very creative!) but what else? Does the vocalist affect how you treat the drums? I'd say it does, but in what way?
Old 12th November 2009
  #10
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Unclenny's Avatar
The cooking/mixing analogy is a good one on so many levels.

In both disciplines we are combining a number of disparate ingredients into a single entity within which each ingredient is expected to maintain its own distinct flavor while presenting as a distinct flavor unto itself.

One of our esteemed brethren (Aloha, Croaker!) is also a teaching chef. His mixes always showcase amazing separation and wonderful cohesion at the same time.

I would relish the taste of one of his sauces.
Old 12th November 2009
  #11
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John Suitcase's Avatar
 

That's a good point, too!

I like to cook, though I'm no pro! There's something ineffable about combining elements into a new, better whole.

that's what makes it fun!
Old 12th November 2009
  #12
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I'm thinking about that 'effect' that people refer to often, of an element sitting on top, or poking out. What I call the Karaoke sound, where one thing seems to live in an entirely different space than the rest of the track.

Learning to get things to blend into something cohesive is a skill we all need, but it's hard to explain what I'm talking about. Maybe someone who's more well versed in psycho-acoustic theory could explain what I mean.

Putting the reverb on the 2buss is just a cheat to put everything into one space, even when they have different reverbs, delays, etc. It sort of tricks your mind into treating the mix as one thing, if that makes sense...

Anybody have any good recipes, they'd care to share?

You can make a really good steak sauce with ketchup as a base:

1/2 cup ketchup
1 Tbsp mustard (yellow or brown)
1 tbsp Vinegar (rice, wine, whatever)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp sugar (brown or white, or honey)
1 tbsp worcesterhire
a few drops of tabasco or other pepper sauce
little pepper and salt to taste

Mmmm, ketchup...
Old 12th November 2009
  #13
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Mix Master's Avatar
 

There a bunch of analogies that can be applied to mixing, and cooking certainly is one of 'em. I tend to listen visually. When a mix has come together I like to make sure that the color spectrum is accurately portrayed. If it's a dark and brooding song, sizzling hot cymbals ruin the image. Like overblown pixels in digi photography. And conversely, a full-blow salsa record should have every color represented. Movies are a huge help as well. Close your eyes and try to hear/see the mix you're working on in sync with an appropriate scene from a memorable movie. Architecture is a good one too. Foundation=drums, basement=bass,frame=rhythm section, etc...
The biggest hurdle we all constantly trip over is looking at what the meters are telling us instead of closing our eyes and listening.
Old 13th November 2009
  #14
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Unclenny's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by John Suitcase View Post
Anybody have any good recipes, they'd care to share?
Sure.

Tonight's session was a three piece that we have in here quite often:

Savory Turkey Sausage
Red and Green Bell Peppers
Onions

The house band (Basmati Rice) was cooking when the group arrived so we had to get right down to it. The rhythm section (peppers/onions) needed to chill for a while so I went ahead and did the talent (sausage).

He was pretty hot already but having some experience with him I knew what he needed on the way in to add that certain....something (Lime, garlic, worcestershire.) Got that first take and did the rest of the group quickly.

I gotta say...this mix came together like a dream. It did need a little glue (Tamari) and just a slight bump in the upper mids (hot sauce).

In the end the whole thing went down quite nicely indeed.
Old 13th November 2009
  #15
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Old Goat's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Unclenny View Post
Sure.

Tonight's session was a three piece that we have in here quite often:

Savory Turkey Sausage
Red and Green Bell Peppers
Onions

The house band (Basmati Rice) was cooking when the group arrived so we had to get right down to it. The rhythm section (peppers/onions) needed to chill for a while so I went ahead and did the talent (sausage).

He was pretty hot already but having some experience with him I knew what he needed on the way in to add that certain....something (Lime, garlic, worcestershire.) Got that first take and did the rest of the group quickly.

I gotta say...this mix came together like a dream. It did need a little glue (Tamari) and just a slight bump in the upper mids (hot sauce).

In the end the whole thing went down quite nicely indeed.
heh
Old 13th November 2009
  #16
Old 13th November 2009
  #17
I'm trying to come up with a good analogy for chocolate covered ants. I'm sure there's one there somewhere, which would suddenly allow us to all the see the answer.
Old 13th November 2009
  #18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dean Roddey View Post
I think (optimally) it would be more like a 95% composition thing and a 5% mixing thing. If the composition is really good and it's played such as to maximize the composition, it would would have the right blend/separation to begin with for the most part, or at least it could in theory. Not sure how often it actually happens in practice. And the mix would just somewhat enhance either the separation or the blend as desired.

Certainly these days the tools are there to create uber-separated mixes, and you can hear plenty of them. There's definitely an appeal to that sound in its own way, and I think that sub-consciously when we are mixing we probably tend towards wanting to hear that highly separated sound because it's appealing to the ear (and brain) in some fundamental way.

But I think maybe it speaks more to the ear and the brain than to the heart.
I agree with this... production is performance, arrangement is mixing - the rest is capturing it faithfully.
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