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What mistake can classify you mix as "cheap"
Old 2nd September 2013
  #1
Gear Head
 
braztneme's Avatar
 

What mistake can classify you mix as "cheap"

Hello guys!

So, lately I've been listening to a lot of local productions in my city (I'm brazilian) and some of them surprises me and others really sucks.

Considering that all of them was made by using audio interfaces and built in pres and no analog gear included (all the mixing and mastering made in the box) - what you guys think that can make a mix sound "cheapo"?

Well, I'll start here with a few things:

- The snare sound: come on, we all know this... It is like the heart of a mix. If you got a bad snare sound you aint going anywhere

- Too much on the 2 - 4k zone. Harshness!

- Too much on the 200 - 600hz zone. Muddiness!

Well, I think I said the easiest here, but let's see how much can we dig this subject!

Heheh
Old 2nd September 2013
  #2
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staudio's Avatar
 

I'll add a few observations, obviously it depends on the genre.

-Mixes that are completely dry and don't have any depth or 3D quality.

-Mixes that sound timid and lazy. You might be able to hear everything but nothing has any power or impact.

-Drums that don't have punch or fullness.

-Overall mix is too thin or too dark.

There are many possible bad sounds.
Old 2nd September 2013
  #3
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Laurend's Avatar
 

Here's my short list:
- clipped audio
- squashed dynamics
- poor tonal balance
Old 2nd September 2013
  #4
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dxavier's Avatar
I think the question is difficult to address / answer. A bit like the opinions on different gear, people really do have differing opinions on what is a good mix or bad mix. For me, alot of pop music in the charts sounds over compressed and flat as a pancake, but there are alot of people who love that sound. It might be a bad mix in my opinion, but for others, it is exactly how they believe music should sound. Again, I have an opinion on what I believe is a good mix, but I am not sure there is a right or wrong answer.
Old 2nd September 2013
  #5
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shreddinator's Avatar
Reverb is a maker or breaker for me. Get it right, your mix can be gold, get it wrong and it doesn't matter what else you have gotten right.
Old 2nd September 2013
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dxavier View Post
I think the question is difficult to address / answer. A bit like the opinions on different gear, people really do have differing opinions on what is a good mix or bad mix. For me, alot of pop music in the charts sounds over compressed and flat as a pancake, but there are alot of people who love that sound. It might be a bad mix in my opinion, but for others, it is exactly how they believe music should sound. Again, I have an opinion on what I believe is a good mix, but I am not sure there is a right or wrong answer.
This +1.

But that said, I do find that generally newer people to mixing do tend to over do the high frequencies quite a bit. Also the 200-600 Hz range tends to be quite strong. This can work, depending on genre though.....

I've heard great mixes done with cheap gear. I've also heard terrible mixes done too. It really comes down to the mix engineer at the end of the day not the gear, though IME, having good gear usually relates to a faster workflow.
Old 2nd September 2013
  #7
Gear Addict
 

For me it's usually either way too much reverb, or obvious mistakes (pitch, timing, etc.) For which there is no excuse not to correct. While I loathe grid-locked auto-tuned pseudo perfection I equally loathe sloppy playing, engineering, producing, mixing......
Old 2nd September 2013
  #8
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Oldone's Avatar
Yep, bad reverb is a main offender then bad snare. Then it would be poor bass and kick balance. Other things:

Out of tune instruments
Bad Arrangement
Not understanding human attention span and the need for ear candy or unexpected sonic turns to maintain interest i.e. not understanding and building tension.
Bad vocalists
Bad guitarists
Cheesey sounding keyboards
Old 2nd September 2013
  #9
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cavern's Avatar
 

Poor arrangement..no.1
A good and thoughtfully arranged song will pretty much sound good nomatter what you do to it...within reason of course.
Old 2nd September 2013
  #10
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Silky Smoove's Avatar
 

I'll add another vote to the reverb category. I'm doing a mix now where the original mixer absolutely drowned the song in reverb, especially the lead vocal. Sounds terrible.
Old 2nd September 2013
  #11
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Jazz Noise's Avatar
Super Squash on everything.

Bad reverb/use of reverb and delay. Reverbs are hard and getting the send levels right rarely happens until the mix is 95% complete.

Overly loud kick drum (For the context, it can be really distracting)

The mix being "static"

Overly de-essed vocals. Lispy lisp lisp!
Old 2nd September 2013
  #12
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matucha's Avatar
No vision.

Parts out of place and out of context.

Unsolved frequency clashes/masking that are obviously bad. You can hear how skilled mixer is by seeing if (s)he solves masking only in the obvious 150-300hz area or if it's throughout the whole spectrum (even above 10k).

I can understand dark or bright mixes, it's a taste thing, even some a bit unexciting mixes can be brought to live in mastering. But if someone doesn't tame bright buzzy synth and piercing electronic hihat in verse of a dark mix followed by muddy choruses with no sound above 4khz, that's not good in my book . If it's not experimental thing (which it isn't).
Old 2nd September 2013
  #13
I think a lot of it is preference, but there are extremes that the vast majority will agree as being poor. My idea of a great or horrible mix may greatly differ from the next person.

But since you mentioned "cheap," anything that may contribute to something sounding quickly thrown together: Poor performance, non-cohesiveness, non-"polished" sound, anything that overly stands out in the mix that makes you say WTF (happens a lot), and muddiness due to poor acoustics.

Then you have to consider trends and what people are used to right now. If you don't have that, your mix may come off as "cheap" to the average person, even if in reality your mix is way "better" than average.
Old 2nd September 2013
  #14
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DaVogi's Avatar
snare, mud and reverb are the biggest factor/problem of a bad mix imho.

also a bad balance is a common mistake caused of bad and/or too loud monitoring.

or when the elements don't sound anything connected... then a song turns out to a instrument vs. instrument battle and not a whole musical experience.
Old 2nd September 2013
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shreddinator View Post
Reverb is a maker or breaker for me. Get it right, your mix can be gold, get it wrong and it doesn't matter what else you have gotten right.
Totally couldn't agree more
Old 2nd September 2013
  #16
Quote:
Originally Posted by shreddinator View Post
Reverb is a maker or breaker for me. Get it right, your mix can be gold, get it wrong and it doesn't matter what else you have gotten right.
And using the wrong period of approach to reverb can really mark your mix as dated... reverb type/balance is the fluctuating hemline of music fashion.

But I thought everyone else had good suggestions, as well. I'm gonna let this thread cook for a while and then maybe make myself a little checklist...
Old 2nd September 2013
  #17
Gear Guru
 
kafka's Avatar
Boxy drum sounds - you know what it is.

In-your-face, precious sounding vocals - Too many amateur recordings with "nice" singers sound this way. It's almost embarrassing to hear someone that close-up, singing about whatever ridiculous relationship crap they're going on about. Not every vocal should be through a condenser.
Old 3rd September 2013
  #18
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Jazz Noise's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by kafka View Post
In-your-face, precious sounding vocals - Too many amateur recordings with "nice" singers sound this way. It's almost embarrassing to hear someone that close-up, singing about whatever ridiculous relationship crap they're going on about. Not every vocal should be through a condenser.
Hah! This one always cracks me up. It's like building this layer cake, only to pour a half a gallon of ketchup over it at the end.
Old 3rd September 2013
  #19
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vodka gimli's Avatar
 

Too many close-mic'ed instruments bathed in 'verb. It ain't natural.

Last edited by vodka gimli; 3rd September 2013 at 01:08 AM.. Reason: spelling
Old 3rd September 2013
  #20
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pinkheadedbug's Avatar
 

DI'd acoustic guitar. Fizzy distortion. Muffled vocals. Cheap reverb.
Old 3rd September 2013
  #21
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For me it's poorly tuned drums, especially snares. Highly out of tuned snares. Too much low mid cardboard on kick and toms. Cheap sounding guitars, too thin guitars , bad sounding rooms ambience. Chorus on guitars, digital reverb on guitars. Compression of guitars.

Cheap Vocals for me is when I hear any long hall patch and if I notice the delay. Also Overcompressed vocals to the point it accentuates the nasal sound or you can hear someone breath. And I don't mean a "breathy vocal" that is great but when you can actually hear someone intake

Muddy bass where I can't differentiate notes. Of course all the typical 00s techniques like L1, autotune etc... make a mix cheap

But the worst thing of a cheap mix, is a cheap mix of plugins and outboard where you don't have any space, it's just a big wall of "stuff", Sort of like a CLA mix. It's just has no spacial character it's just a bunch of bad sounding effects and plugins in a wall of self indulgent excess.

A good example of mix that breathes naturally would be like a typical JJP mix.
It always has a lot of spacial character same with Andy Wallace. Like the grace album is that perfect blend of nature and production and hardly any effects. Amorica by the crowes too. It's soo natural like a live gig, but no cheapness.

Cheap fx, cheap gear, cheap mix tricks = a cheap mix

Ultimately I think it's important for the band to translate naturally to tape. If the band is inherently and naturally "effecty" like Floyd or halen I think it translates to tape better than some artists who are only presented as effecty on tape. I think that makes the production cheap if it's not sincere.

I think effects make a mix inherently cheap. Too many Plugins will more often than not guarantee a cheap sounding mix.
Old 3rd September 2013
  #22
Badly done, overblown, cliche go-bigs.

They are no substitute for actual, music-driven dynamics.
Old 3rd September 2013
  #23
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Wyllys's Avatar
 

Working with gangster rap "artists"...
Old 3rd September 2013
  #24
Village Idiot
 
Labs's Avatar
 

Trying to construct too much energy and impact from the low end with no control is a very common problem in my experience. There are people who will attribute this to bad monitoring, but the inexperienced engineers who do this also do it on very well tuned systems, and it makes mixes sound cheap and muddy on most common playback systems.

Gustav
Old 3rd September 2013
  #25
Village Idiot
 
Labs's Avatar
 

Oh, and adding distortion and pushing everything hard in an attempt to make "bigger" mixes always ends up sounding cheap too. Clean and open recordings will make things bigger, and the distortion added by some preamps that is often talked about from pro engineers is often misinterpreted and misunderstood by the inexperienced (especially those who never recorded in a good room that support the architecture of big sounding sonics).

Gustav
Old 3rd September 2013
  #26
Gear Guru
 
Karloff70's Avatar
 

This thread is like revelling in wrongness. I feel to invert its phase.
Old 3rd September 2013
  #27
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Painful thread.

Here comes my recipe for disaster.

Let's grab a pair of the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro headphones. Now we need to listen to all the gain staging pros out there and set the input signal level peaking at -18dBFS. Let's use some sampled drums and bass and let them all swim in one cheap plugin reverb shared across the mix. We have to copy all the tracks in the mix to make them fatter sounding and without any treatment against phase issues, when they don't come out big we have to add some stereo wideners to make them big. Too much going on in the center, let's pan some instruments out a little, just a little. Time to free up some signal, let's cut out the fundamentals of the bass guitar, that low end eats up all the signal anyway, we need it loud, very loud. So now that we've cut out all of that evil signal, let's do some best practice L2 limiting on the mix bus. Hmm.. Still doesn't sound as loud and big as on the commercial reference CDs. Can't limit anymore, the L2 starts clipping. Let's try a Cubase stereo widener on the master bus instead. Yeah, works, now it's bigger. Wait, let's add one more, yeah now it's even bigger. Great. But the mix feels light, ohh because that low end was removed. How about adding some weight to it, let's boost the 100 - 200 Hz range on the kick drum until it hits real hard, that's better. But wait, it clips now. Let's put a compressor before the L2 to warm it up a little (not knowing that's a mono compressor), yeah like that glue, it all came together nicely now. Let's finalize this mix to 16-bit using the MBIT+ in Ultra noise shaping mode and just quickly see how it translates to the Grado cans. heh
Old 3rd September 2013
  #28
Gear Guru
 

my impressions of cheapness often go back to tracking, as so many "mix" issues do.

lack of clarity in the vocal is my pet peeve, often due to low quality mics and preamps

To me, the sound of the 'expensiveness' of the Mix Itself, is the clearly audible "Hand" of a Professional. You can tell when someone knows what he is doing and when he doesn't. All the specifics on the List we are accumulating here are important, but even if you "got" them all, you still might not get there.

It is a little like visiting a well-designed website. Theoretically a one man shop could have a website that looks just as good as the website of a Fortune 500 corporation. It usually does not, because the big corporation is smart enough to hire a top pro Graphic Designer to make their site look great and remove any elements that might be distracting to the over-all experience.
Old 3rd September 2013
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
my impressions of cheapness often go back to tracking, as so many "mix" issues do.

lack of clarity in the vocal is my pet peeve, often due to low quality mics and preamps

To me, the sound of the 'expensiveness' of the Mix Itself, is the clearly audible "Hand" of a Professional. You can tell when someone knows what he is doing and when he doesn't. All the specifics on the List we are accumulating here are important, but you "got" them all, you still might not get there.

It is a little like visiting a well-designed website. Theoretically a one man shop could have a website that looks just as good as the website of a Fortune 500 corporation. It usually does not, because the big corporation is smart enough to hire a top pro Graphic Designer to make their site look great and remove any elements that might be distracting to the over-all experience.
I totally agree about all of this, well said!
Old 3rd September 2013
  #30
Jai guru deva om
 
warhead's Avatar
 

I'm no expert, but one constant you will usually find in a good mix is clever use of delay to "drive" and enhance the push of a pop song.

Also, distinctly varying effects between verse and chorus can bring a song to life and signify a more dramatic build up when done right.

When working in the box it's easy to work in segments without keeping the "big picture" (listening as the audience will, beginning to end) which can make lots of choices out of context and odd. In other words working on automated effects, volumes etc might seem OK in that 10 second spot but once you play from 0 to the end, just doesn't work.

Mixing at lower volumes and getting things to hit nicely will generally translate into a song that sounds good when played back loud. The opposite isn't necessarily true.

A few random thoughts anyhow.

War
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