Common Mixing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

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selig
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Post 31 Jan 2015

There seem to be a few folks writing these useful lists of common mixing mistakes, and they make some very good points. Here are two of my favorites - hope you find something helpful here.

Enjoy - Discuss!

Full Articles:
http://www.uaudio.com/blog/studio-basic ... -mistakes/
http://theproaudiofiles.com/mixing-mixtakes/


by Daniel Keller & Pete Doell on October 19, 2011
THE LISTS:
1. Too Much Bottom
Excessive low-end is probably one of the most common problems in mixes coming from project studios. Usually this is directly related to the mixing environment. The average home studio or project room is lacking in real acoustical treatment is and rife with reflective surfaces and bass traps. The result is an uneven response across the bass spectrum, with some notes being overemphasized and others being practically inaudible. This translates to a poorly balanced low end in your mix. You’ll find a lot of info on balancing your room’s acoustics in our Studio Basics blog, Studio Acoustics and Soundproofing Basics.
Mastering engineer Pete Doell offers an important pointer: “The most egregious mistake is that people’s monitors aren’t placed properly,” he says. “Speakers need to be as far apart from each other as you are from them. So if your mix position is, say, three feet from either speaker, the speakers should be exactly three feet apart. Moreover, if the speakers are too close or too far from a wall, the apparent bass response will be off.”
You can find more info on monitor placement in our Studio Basics column, Studio Monitor Placement – Finding the Sweet Spot.
2. Terrible Treble
On the other end of the spectrum, high-end can also cause its own issues. While not as hard to hear in the project studio environment, those high frequencies can show up differently during the mastering phase.
Image
A De-Esser, like the Precision De-Esser Plug-In, is a good way to nip sibiliance in the bud before mixing.

“Most mixes will want a bit of ‘polish’ or ‘shine’ in mastering,” says Doell. “When this good stuff is applied, sibilance can really creep up. Do yourself a big favor and de-ess your vocals, maybe even your hi-hat just a bit, even if you don’t hear too much of an issue. Your mastering engineer will thank you.”
The bottom line, as Doell points out, is to use EQ wisely and sparingly. We’ve covered the use and abuse of EQ in a previous Studio Basic column, Using Multiband EQ to Fix Common Mix Problems.
3. No Dynamic Range
This is probably one of the most discussed topics in modern music mixing circles. Over the past decade or so, the quest for radio airplay has created a battle for attention that has manifested itself in loudness – the perception being that louder the track, the more it will grab the listener. It’s a mentality that started with TV and radio advertisers (notice how a loud commercial gets your attention) and is a direct result of today’s vastly improved compressor technology, which has enabled us to create “radio mixes” where everything is loud, punchy and in your face.
The problem with pumping up the apparent volume on your mix this way is that it works by compressing the dynamic range of your tracks. Dynamic range is defined as the difference between the loudest and softest sounds in your track. Ideally, the tracks you deliver to the mastering house should have peaks of around –3 dB for the loudest material (for example, a snare hit), while the rest of the track should average in the –6 dB to –8 dB area. That would give your peaks somewhere around 3dB to 5dB of dynamic range.
The problem with compressing dynamic range (or, equally hazardous, normalizing a track’s relative volume), is that you effectively rob your mastering engineer of the resources to do their job. A good mastering engineer applies meticulous use of multiband compression – bringing up the punch and presence of the bass, adding clarity and sparkle to the high end – all by using different compression algorithms for different spectral bands.
Many inexperienced mixers will apply a “mastering compressor” plug-in, using a preset that creates a loud but muddy low-end, a bright and aggressive high-end, and little room for the mastering engineer to add — or de-emphasize — anything.
“Sometimes clients desire a ‘loud’ mix, but they have done little or nothing to control the dynamics of their mixes,” says Doell. “I like the analogy of getting a super sexy paint job for your car — asking the mastering engineer to do the entire job with one ‘coat of paint’ is not the smartest move. Layering the limiting (by compressing the vocal, bass, snare, for example) will allow a MUCH more gorgeous detailed, deep shine on the final product!”
On a related note, try to avoid over-compressing individual tracks for the same reason. Often a mastering engineer will get a track that’s well within dynamic range, but with a vocal track that’s been normalized to the verge of distortion. Again, it leaves little room for mastering to bring out any subtlety or nuance in that vocal.
4. Lack of Panning
It’s important to give your mix some dimensionality by balancing different elements within a nice, wide, stereo field. All too often, people tend to pan everything at or near the center, creating a cluttered-sounding mix that lacks definition. While certain elements should typically be centered (kick, snare, vocal and bass come to mind), panning is a great way to achieve separation between guitar parts, background vocals and other parts of the mix.
“It’s always good to pan some elements of the mix just a bit off to one side,” says Doell. “If you have a blend of guitars, horns, backing vocals, etc., keeping the middle less cluttered allows your ear to hear more distinctly all of that cool production you’ve worked on. You’ll also need less EQ and effects to pick these things out in the mix.”
5. Phase Problems
With most DAWs offering unlimited tracks, the temptation to record everything in stereo is strong, and elements like a nicely-recorded stereo acoustic guitar can add depth and character to a track. But be careful to check your mixes in mono to avoid phase cancellation from poorly-placed mics. Only by soloing the stereo tracks will you be able to hear whether certain frequencies “disappear” when the two channels are summed to mono.
It’s not just stereo-miked instruments that can fall victim to phase cancellation. According to Doell, “Often I’ll get a track with ‘hyper-wide’ elements in the mix that achieve that ‘outside the speakers’ effect by making one side out of phase. Just try hitting the mono button and watch that cool keyboard, string pad, background vocal stack, whatever, totally disappear. Even if you never anticipate having any need for mono (AM radio anyone?), when you do this, your balances aren’t what you think!”
Image
Taking a moment to check and correct phase issues as you go will
head off lots of problems down the road.

This same principle also applies to reverbs. It’s all too common to have that lush hall you placed on the vocal just vanish in mono. To learn more about phase, check out our blog article, Understanding Phase and Correcting Issues.
6. Poor Vocal Placement
It’s hard to be objective on placing vocals in a mix, particularly if it’s your song. After all, you know the lyrics, so it’s easy to forget that other people don’t. And in most cases, a track can sound equally “right” whether the vocal is sitting a bit in front or a bit behind the track. Many pros will do two or three alternate mixes of a track, one with the lead vocal a bit up, one with it a bit down, and one in the middle. It’s a luxury of choice that most mastering engineers are happy to have.
7. Misaligned Tracks
This one is a no-brainer. When you send stems (separated groups of tracks, like drums and bass, guitars, backing vocals) to mastering, make sure they all start at the same place. “This is another pet peeve of mine,” says Doell. “If the lead vocal doesn’t come in until 0:30, that stem should have 30 seconds of silence at the top.”
8. Not Knowing Your Room
“I always like to start my mixing day by listening to some records I know and love — ideally in the musical style I will be working in — in the seat I will be sitting in to mix, and over the same D/A converter,” says Doell. “Then I will be much more readily comparing apples with apples. I am blessed to work in a ZR Acoustics® (Zero Reflection Acoustics by Delta H Design, Inc.) room at Universal Mastering. But if I am working elsewhere, it’s important to know how the room I am working in is participating in what I am hearing, before I start making any decisions.”
As you might imagine, there are countless other stumbling blocks that can trip up your mix and make life challenging for your mastering engineer – certainly far more than we can list in this column. As always, the bottom line is to use your ears, listen carefully, and learn the rules before you break them. If all else fails, keep the potential mistakes above in mind, and you'll be on your way to better results. 
By Matthew Weiss on 09/9/2013
1. Not having a decided direction

Mixing is vastly subjective. You have to decide what makes the mix “good” before you can achieve it.
The top mistake on this list goes to not having a vision, and just mixing.
If you don’t know your goals and what you want to hear, you’re shooting in the dark. You’ll probably hit a couple of targets but overall it won’t be great.
2. Thinking quantity, not quality
An early mistake in my career was thinking “how much low end” rather than “how can I get the low end to work right.”
If I need the low end to be focused, I should be working toward focus, not working toward proportion.
In fact, I can easily defer the idea of “quantity” to a mastering engineer like Pete (not that I would make a habit of it). Quantity really only comes into play when thinking about the relationship between instruments — and in that sense it’s really a qualitative concern: are these ideas supporting each other and allowing the important one(s) to shine?
3. Not enough time spent constructing ambience
Ambience is the back drop of every mix. Whether it’s through recorded room captures or synthetic reverbs (or both), the ambience has a large influence on how the sound fills out as well as the emotional quality of the mix.
Reverb/delay is a great tool for reinforcing the tone of a record: trashy, polished, tight, loose — all can be reinforced through the right choices (see #1).
Throwing reverb around haphazardly creates a discontinuous mix. And remember, leaving something perfectly dry is also a powerful creative tool. Be judicious!
4. Relying too much on effects
Mixing is a game of subtle relationships.
The amateur mixer seeks to make their mix “special” by loading every track with EQ and compression.
The experienced mixer gets the best mix with the least amount of processing, and seeks to reduce the degree of effect — staying truer to the original production. Unless the experienced mixer is making a creative decision. See #1.
5. Mixing without switching perspective
If you sit and mix a record on one set of speakers in one go, you have a limited perspective.
Switching to crappy computer speakers, headphones, or listening out of your mix position can give you a wider range of perspective.
Refreshing your ears by taking a sizable break, or even coming back to a mix the next day, will also give you a wider range of perspective.
6. Relying on convention
Genre-lization tends to create conventions. This is a trap. Forward thinking artists and producers actively challenge conventions. So while your inexperienced client may want the predictable, this doesn’t mean everyone wants it that way.
My moment of enlightenment came from a very famous jazz pianist. He hired me to mix his trio. In one of my prouder moments, I mixed the drums with more punch and forwardness than a traditional jazz sound. He was very happy with the mix, particularly the drums. Turns out he didn’t want a conventional jazz mix (which makes sense, since at the time I didn’t have a lot of jazz on my reel).
Bottom line is we’ve been working together ever since. By approaching the records the way I felt them, rather than how convention dictated, I seized the day.
7. Not respecting convention
That said, a lot of convention exists for a reason. It’s a reflection of what the culture surrounding a style of music appreciates. To not at least acknowledge the expectations of the listener is actually disrespectful.
Too many times I’ve heard “you don’t need to know how to mix XYZ, you just need to know how to mix.” This is assuredly false and will ultimately inhibit your success.
The sound of a genre is rooted in the history and culture of that music, so respect it. If you want to reject conventions, do it with full awareness of how the end listener will be effected by that. #6 and #7 are ultimately an extension of #1: having a vision.
8. Forgetting context
Mixing a single is one thing. Mixing an EP or an LP is another.
Just because a song sounds great on its own doesn’t mean it’s going to work in context of the album.
An EP/LP should consist of songs that have a unique sonic identity, but still sound cohesive back to back. At least that’s the convention.
9. Being lazy with automation
Set and forget only works on records where the musicians are very accurate with their dynamics. And even then, it’s negotiable.
There’s a difference between treating source sounds and making a mix.
That difference is automation. Make it move!
10. Not having a decided direction
Seriously, this is the alpha and omega of mistakes. The mix is an extension of the production. The production has intention. Therefore the mix needs intention as well.
This doesn’t mean the direction can’t form as you go, but at some point you have to say to yourself “okay, what’s the end game?”
Having a direction really makes the whole process much faster and easier. So grab a notepad and write some ideas down about the song as you listen to the demo and the raw tracks. Breathe it in, get a game plan, and then start mixing.

Selig Audio, LLC

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selig
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Post 31 Jan 2015

Here's another excellent list:

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/sep11/a ... stakes.htm
By Mike Senior, SOS September 2011
1: Dodgy Timing/Tuning
This is probably the single most common weakness of home‑brew mixes. Like it or not, the public these days are used to unnaturally tight tuning and timing. A genuinely laid‑back feel is one thing, but sloppiness in this department is one of the quickest ways to make your mix sound like a demo. Unfortunately, a good 90 percent of the amateur mixes I hear fall at this hurdle, simply because too little care has been taken over such matters during rehearsals, tracking, overdubbing, and editing. Furthermore, of those home recordists who do actually apply some serious elbow grease here at the edit/mix stage, only a small proportion actually end up with really decent results, simply because it's so easy to mishandle the available tools.
Now, I realise that some people take a pretty strong stance against the use of corrective measures like these, and probably the most frequent complaint is that such tactics kill the emotion in the music. My response is that good corrective processing shouldn't do that, as it will only target the inaccuracies that undermine the music, while leaving alone those that support it. To put it another way: just because a few nutters go round stabbing people, it doesn't mean we should ban knives entirely! Clearly, you need to be careful not to push your corrective mix procedures too far, but my own experience suggests that the vast majority of home‑brew productions are in absolutely no danger of straying over that line. Here are some tips and tricks to help you get things right:

Timing correction isn't about quantising everything to your sequencer's bars‑and‑beats grid. It's more about tightening up disagreements between the available parts in your arrangement. As such, your drum waveforms are usually a better visual guide for editing purposes than software bar/beat lines.Fully automatic pitch‑correction will almost never achieve an acceptable combination of tuning accuracy and musicality, so be prepared to spend some time manually finessing the action of any pitch‑correction utilities you choose to employ.For timing purposes, the end‑point of a note can be almost important as where it begins, especially when you're dealing with bass lines.Whether you're adjusting timing or tuning, avoid the powerful temptation to trust your eyes over your ears. Although looking at software waveforms and pitch displays can help speed up corrective editing, it's not at all uncommon for them to show some notes as 'correct' even when they're still audibly awry, and vice versa.It's particularly easy to lose perspective while editing timing and tuning, so take frequent breaks and make sure to listen to the track at least once all the way through (preferably without looking at your computer screen) before signing off your edits.
2: Mix Tonality Misjudgements
Anyone who's ever had their portable music player in shuffle mode should be aware that there's no standardised quantity of lows, mids, or highs in a commercial mix. That said, though, it's rarely sensible to endow your own production with an overall tonality that makes it feel out of place alongside comparable commercial tracks. As such, it's as well to do at least some comparative checks against stylistically similar releases during the mixing stage to avoid any obvious tonal mismatch, even if you have the luxury of a good mastering engineer to refine this aspect of the sonics post‑mixdown — you don't really want them applying drastic master EQ, simply because it will almost certainly upset your carefully crafted instrument balances.
Although I don't consider what I've just written to be tremendously contentious, it still surprises me how often home mixers allow overall tonality problems to stymie their efforts. To some degree I suppose it's understandable, given that both the vagaries of low‑budget monitoring and the real‑time adaptability of the human hearing system can heavily disguise a skewed frequency response, preventing it from reaching the forefront of your attention. Those seem like flimsy excuses to me when there are so many cheap and easy remedies on hand. Here are some useful pointers:
  • Import several commercial mixes into a fresh project in your sequencer alongside a stereo bounce‑down of your own mix, and then switch between them instantaneously using the track solo buttons, so that you throw the tonal differences into starkest relief. Use the track faders to compensate for loudness differences between the tracks.
  • Compare mixes on more than one listening system, if possible, and at different playback volumes, to lay bare as many different tonal facets as possible.
  • Get hold of some kind of high‑resolution frequency-analysis tool to provide you with extra information about the frequency spectrum. Voxengo's SPAN provides decent free spectrum-analysis in plug‑in form, but if you've got any budget available at all, I'd certainly recommend investigating some of the more sophisticated tools that allow you to capture a tonal fingerprint averaged over the whole track — tools like the Melda MAutoEqualiser and Voxengo Curve EQ plug‑ins, or the off‑line Har-Bal software. Whatever any software tells you, though, be very wary if it contradicts the evidence of your own ears.
  • Fixing a broad tonal imbalance in your mix can be as simple as inserting a high‑quality EQ plug‑in on your master channel. However, if you find yourself using more than three or four EQ bands, applying more than 3‑4dB of gain per band, or using narrow filters (Q>1), it's more than likely that your per‑channel EQ settings need some reassessment too.
3: Phase Misalignment
If you use more than one mic to record any instrument, there's always the danger that minute time‑delays between the recorded signals will cause a type of frequency cancellation called comb‑filtering when the mics are combined at mixdown. Similar difficulties can also arise when combining mics with DI signals; when summing stereo mic pairs or send effects to mono; and when triggering samples alongside live parts. Most home‑studio folk underestimate the importance of dealing with phase mismatches, leading to mixes with hollowed‑out sounds and poor mono compatibility. However, there are now so many ways to address phase issues in a typical MIDI + Audio sequencer — fine delays, audio editing, polarity inversion, all‑pass filtering, phase rotation — that there's really no need for comb‑filtering to rain on your parade. For better results, try these tools and techniques:
  • Listening to your mix in mono is a quick way to check if any stereo signal in your mix harbours phase problems. Although summing the left and right stereo channels of a mix will always cause a certain degree of tonal change, you need to be on the lookout for any dramatic alterations that stand to make a nonsense of your mix balance. If you do find phase gremlins, try applying phase‑adjustment techniques to one side of the offending stereo channel to improve the situation.
  • There are a number of dedicated phase‑adjustment plug‑ins worth investigating, including commercial products such as Audiocation's Phase, Voxengo's PHA‑979 or Littlelabs' IBP Workstation (for the UAD2 platform), as well as freeware such as Betabugs' Phasebug and Variety Of Sound's new preFIX.
  • Be careful when layering several bass parts or low drum sounds within a single arrangement. Allowing such layers to slip in and out of phase with each other is a recipe for frustration, because it'll cause the combined tone to change sporadically throughout the timeline in a way that's almost impossible to fix with normal mix processing.
4: Mix Mud
The lower half of the mix is frequently something of a battle zone. Pretty much any track can contribute low‑end energy, but unless you're careful about which tracks you allow through in this range, it's very easy to end up with a gloopy‑sounding mess that blurs the definition of your bass parts. The widespread use of close‑miking techniques is partly to blame for this common problem, because of the artificial bass boost (called the 'proximity effect') that most directional microphones impose under such circumstances. However, many synthetic sounds and samples often contain much more LF than is actually required in a mix, too, so programmed arrangements are no safer from this pitfall than live recordings. Try some of these tricks and see if things improve:
  • Apply high‑pass filtering to any instrument that doesn't actually require low end for musical reasons. This will ensure that DC noise, traffic rumble, mic‑handling noise, and any other low‑octave rubbish doesn't interfere with your main bass parts.
  • When setting filter frequencies, make sure to listen within the context of the mix. You might be surprised by how far up the spectrum you can go before the sound starts to lose warmth in context. Be careful with percussive sounds, though, as these can lose subjective punch well before overall tone seems to change.
  • Try to funnel your different bass instruments into different frequency regions using pitch and EQ controls. The more these parts have to fight for the same space, the trickier it'll be to avoid murkiness.
  • Be wary of delay or reverb effects that take ages to decay at the low end, because they can quickly make an unpalatably thick soup of your sonics. In typical pop, rock and electronica work, you can usually afford to high‑pass filter most effect returns well above 100Hz, as well as applying additional LF shelving or peaking cuts in the couple of octaves above that.
5: Unhelpful Arrangement
The roots of many a mix problem can be traced back to the musical arrangement, and this simple fact renders many of the budget productions I hear effectively unmixable. If your song's verse has more guitar or percussion layers than its chorus, you're likely to face an uphill struggle if you want the chorus to arrive with a bang. Likewise, there's no sense in having different guitar and keyboard sounds competing in the same pitch register if you want to keep any separation between them in the mix. And unless you create some sense of build‑up in the arrangement itself, it's unlikely that you'll hold the listener's attention all the way to your final chorus. Here are some quick ways to make improvements:
  • Try to avoid simply replicating the same arrangement for any similar sections of your track. Dropping a couple of parts from the first verse, for example, can help make the second verse feel a lot fresher and more engaging when it arrives.
  • If you're having trouble disentangling parts in your mix, try altering MIDI parts to different chord inversions or pitch‑shifting audio parts to different octave registers, to give each a bit of clear space in the frequency spectrum. Alternatively, put one part's notes in the time‑gaps left between the another part's notes.
  • Sometimes adding surreptitious overdubs or samples at the mixdown stage (or even editing out whole sections of the song!) is the best way to remedy an arrangement problem, so don't rule out this kind of tactic at the mixdown stage.
6: The Wrong Reverb
Reverb can do so many things in a mix: gelling sounds, changing timbres, simulating an acoustic environment, lengthening note decay. As such, one of the important tricks to using reverb successfully at mixdown is to concentrate on preventing it from doing things you don't actually want! Most home‑grown mixes have difficulties with this to some extent, with the result that too much or too little reverb is typically applied. After all, it stands to reason that if you try to blend a sound into the mix with a reverb that's not good at blending things, say, then either you're going to stop short of the amount of blending you need, or you're going to turn the effect up to a point where its sound becomes overbearing in other ways. The following tips provide a useful guide to getting your reverbs right:

Natural‑sounding reverbs will tend to be better for blending sounds together and giving them a sense of space. Unnatural‑sounding reverbs (such as plates, springs and quirky algorithmic digital devices), on the other hand, will tend to offer more scope for creative enhancement of instrument timbres.Bright effects usually sound more obvious at a lower level, so be prepared to roll off the high frequencies of effect returns if you want your reverbs to keep a lower profile.The length and level settings of a reverb are interdependent. If you misjudge one of them, you'll struggle to find a satisfactory setting for the other.When you're close to completing your mix, bypass each return for a few seconds during playback. This can really help you to gauge whether each effect is set up right, especially in terms of overall tone, level and decay time.If you're looking for a more up-front sound, using heavier compression or adding in things like synth pads can both reduce the need for reverbs in a mix. Tempo‑sync'ed delay effects can also provide a more transparent substitute for reverb in a lot of cases.
Example Mixes: Mixes 1723 and 27 all have long reverb treatments that are rather too prominent in the balance, presumably in an attempt to gel the instruments and vocals together — a task that's usually more successful carried out with shorter, ambience‑style patches. (The reverb tails are also quite bright in these three mixes, which only reinforces the sense that the effects are being artificially generated.) Mix 16, on the other hand, has the opposite problem, in that it's using too much short reverb to try to enhance instrument sustain and to create the illusion of a larger space. Here, a few longer delays or reverbs would have been more effective, allowing the blending treatment to assume a more natural‑sounding background role. Mixes 0610 and 23 also use too much reverb for me, and I think that stronger use of compression would have been a better alternative, not least in fattening the drums and keeping the mix as a whole clearer and more upfront.
7: Harshness
Any part of your mix that's rich in the 2‑5kHz frequencies will normally sound closer to the listener, not least because the human hearing system is most sensitive to information in that region. Little surprise, then, that so many home recordists pile masses of 2‑5kHz on everything — vocals, guitars, drums, cymbals — with the result that the mix as a whole ends up sounding harsh. However, it's not just frequency response that can make a mix feel abrasive, because untamed high‑frequency transients can be another crucial factor too. Here are some easy ways to avoid harshness in your mix:
  • Try to avoid boosting in the 2‑5kHz region, especially with CPU‑light digital equalisers, which can occasionally sound a bit crunchy up top. If a given instrument isn't coming through well in that spectral area, apply some cuts to competing channels instead.
  • Avoid EQ'ing in solo, because most people instinctively try to give every track a 'forward' sound if they work like that. It's what your tracks sound like in the context of the mix that really counts.
  • If you want to move synth or electric‑guitar rhythm parts out of the harshness zone, try using pitch‑shifting or distortion to move some frequencies into a different part of the audio spectrum.
  • Be careful with the Attack Time control if you're compressing percussive material heavily, because slower settings can allow high‑level transients through the processing before the gain reduction has the chance to take hold.
  • To tone down overly spiky piano or acoustic‑guitar tracks, experiment with some of the dedicated transient processors now available, such as SPL's Transient Designer, Stillwell Audio's Transient Monster, Sonnox Transient Modulator and Voxengo's Transgainer. Because these don't rely on a threshold system to work, they tend to deal with the problem more 'musically' than traditional dynamics units.
8: Buried Details
Even in cases where the mix tone is free of muddiness and send effects have been applied appropriately, musicians who mix at home rarely present their material in the best light, simply because they don't actively direct the listener towards the music's most appealing aspects from moment to moment. Yes, the bass part might be dull as ditchwater most of the time, but that doesn't mean you can't push up the fader for its one little fill if there's nothing else more thrilling happening at that time. Any and all parts can benefit from micro‑level fader rides like this, but few tracks more so than lead vocals, where riding up the details can mean the difference between the listener understanding the lyrics and not. Here are some useful tricks to focus on all those lovely little details:
  • Whether the main part in your mix is a lead vocal, instrumental solo, or some other hook, it's not unusual for it to have the odd lull — a comparatively featureless sustained note, say, or a gap between phrases. Whenever you hear one of these, have a quick hunt amongst the rest of the backing tracks to see if there's anything else that might briefly poke out of the texture to provide some welcome diversion.
  • Turning down a couple of backing parts underneath a lead vocal line can help reveal more of the singer's subtle vocal inflections without recourse to nuclear‑grade vocal compression.
  • It's standard practice on a professional level to carefully automate lead vocals in order to maximise the intelligibility of the lyrics, so don't forget to give that process the time it needs. While you're at it, try fading up the ends of some of the note tails — you'd be surprised how often they contain characterful little bits of hidden phrasing that can really make a performance seem more emotional.
9: Weak Payoffs
Anyone who's ever mixed a song will at some time have come up against the problem that their choruses sound underwhelming compared with their verses — or, to put it in more general terms, that some section of the arrangement isn't delivering the required emotional payoff. There can be lots of reasons for this kind of 'long‑term dynamics' problem, but the most fundamental one is failing to pace the mix's build‑up correctly, such that the sonics peak too early. In this situation, the temptation is always to try to push the subjective 'size' of a mix's climaxes beyond the point where they sound their best, thereby introducing all sorts of potentially unmusical processing and distortion side‑effects. Here are some ideas to help you achieve the impact you want from a tune:
  • If you feel that a section of your song is still failing to deliver the goods, even after you've taken its sonics as far as you reasonably can, why not try working backwards? See if you can make the previous section smaller‑sounding, in some way, than it currently is.
  • Remember that different songs, and different mix sections within a song, may demand different sounds from the same instrument. A ballad's solo piano introduction, for example, will probably require a much fuller sound than the piano vamping tucked into a full‑band rock rhythm workout. Splitting your recordings across different tracks with audio editing (sometimes referred to as multing) is a simple way of implementing this idea, as you don't need to automate all the processing, simply exercise the mutes!
  • Both the level and the timbre of your lead vocals will be critical to the perceived power of the backing arrangement. In particular, if you fade the vocal too high up in the balance, or give it too much lower mid-range, the chances are that it will start to make the rest of the production sound small.
10: Inappropriate Processing On The Mix Bus
This one is a bit of a tightrope, because there are two different ways you can come a cropper. On the one hand, it can be impossible to achieve the necessary degree of mix 'glue' and/or aggression in certain modern styles without a generous helping of dynamics processing over your master channel; but on the other hand, you can get into all sorts of difficulties if you effectively try to master your production while you're still mixing it. Follow this advice and you should get better results:
  • Try to get the overall balance of your track working before you start applying mix‑bus compression. Although you may subsequently need to adjust some faders in response to the bus dynamics, in my experience it's easier to do this than to have the compressor's gain‑reduction action interfering with all your initial balancing decisions.
  • Steer clear of using multi-band dynamics processors or dedicated 'loudness maximisers' over your main outputs during mixdown. Although these can be useful as part of a separate mastering stage, they do make it very difficult to judge what's going on when judging level balances, channel processing, and effects settings.
  • If you're deliberately driving a full‑band compressor hard to generate obvious gain‑pumping effects, consider using a processor with a wet/dry mix control so that you have the option to reduce any transient‑smoothing side‑effects of such heavy treatment.
  • If you're in any way uncertain about the validity of the master‑bus processing you've applied, do make sure you bounce down a version of your final mix without it, to hedge your bets.
  •   .
 
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selig
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Post 31 Jan 2015

Aaaand, another:

http://www.emusician.com/how-to/1334/tw ... akes/38286


By Michael Cooper
Boomy or Thin-Sounding Mix
The most common problem I hear with mixes is uneven levels throughout the range of bass frequencies. This can present itself as either a thin-sounding mix or a boomy one. Some mixes sound alternately thin and boomy in different sections of the song.
The main culprit behind a skewed bottom end is mixing in a room that has not been properly treated with acoustic products to help tighten up impulse response and attenuate room modes. (Room modes, aka standing waves, are narrow peaks and dips in frequency response; they are especially problematic in the bass range.) These acoustic problems might lead you to, for example, unnecessarily boost certain bass frequencies to compensate for a thin-sounding mix when, in fact, the mix already has a perfectly balanced bottom end, though the room's uneven bass response at the mix position is telling you otherwise.
In truth, even rooms that have had thousands of dollars poured into their acoustic makeovers usually have some persistent problems with uneven bass response (although the inaccuracies are usually dramatically reduced in number and severity with proper treatment). Typically, one or two prominent room modes remain at the mix position, making it difficult to properly assess the mix's bass content in these narrow bands.
In most control rooms, there is at least one spot where specific room modes and other bass-response anomalies that compromise monitoring at the mix position are much weaker or even completely tame. While this alternate bass-reference spot might have other problems and be less accurate overall compared with the mix position, it gives you another reference for bass balance in the narrow bands you can't hear properly at the mix position.
Image
FIG. 1: The Frontier Design Group TranzPort wireless DAW controller is excellent for working from an alternate position in the control room.

How can you tell where the alternate bass-reference spot is? First, assuming that you have more than one pair of reference monitors, play a respected, full-bandwidth mix (usually one that a prominent record label has had mastered and released) through the speakers that have the deepest bass response (include a subwoofer if you use one). Choose this reference mix carefully: it should be one that has always sounded great on the bottom end no matter what sound system you've played it on.
Walk around your control room while the reference mix plays, listening to how the sound of the bottom end changes as different acoustic influences come in and out of play. Note the spot where the bass response sounds the most even at the specific bass frequencies that are out of whack (too weak or too strong) at your mix position — that spot should become a second place you go to check the bottom end when making bass-EQ decisions on your mixes.
Unfortunately, the alternate bass-reference spot is often inconveniently located with respect to the studio's mixer or DAW controller. For example, the place where the 40 to 45 Hz band is most accurate in my control room is about 3.5 feet in front of the back wall.
There is an easy solution: remote control. I always use my Frontier Design Group TranzPort wireless DAW controller (see Fig. 1) when checking a mix's extreme bottom end at the back of my control room. Using the TranzPort to remotely start and stop playback allows me to set my control room's monitoring level high enough that I can really hear those subterranean frequencies without blasting my ears at close range. I listen, evaluate the bottom end, stop playback, make the relevant EQ adjustments at my mixer, and repeat the process until the bass sounds great at both the mix position and the alternate bass-reference spot.
Edgy, Fatiguing Sound
Digital audio has a reputation for producing cold, brittle sound, but the problem often stems from poor engineering techniques. The most common factor contributing to an edgy, fatiguing mix is indiscriminate boosting of upper-midrange and high-frequency EQ on multiple tracks.
Here's a typical scenario: hours of mixing at high sound-pressure levels (SPLs) progressively compresses your ears' high-frequency sensitivity, and they become starved for the highs they're missing. To compensate, you boost the highs and upper mids to get back the detail and presence your tired ears can no longer hear clearly.
You check your mix the next morning after your hearing has recovered, and it's like fingernails on a blackboard. Rather than cut the offending frequencies, you opt to boost the bottom end to warm up the mix. Now you have phase shift (unless you've been consistently boosting using a linear-phase equalizer) and alternating peaks in response across virtually the entire spectrum, resulting in an overly edgy sound, not to mention decreased headroom.
The solution is to mix at lower SPLs and to cut offending frequencies whenever possible instead of boosting other frequencies to compensate. For instance, it usually sounds better to carve away bass frequencies than to hype the midrange EQ when trying to make a mix sound more present. As a general rule, using EQ to cut will sound better than using it to boost.
Other factors leading to a harsh-sounding mix include having too many midrange instruments in the arrangement or mixing them too up front with respect to the other elements. Know when to lower that bright organ pad to mellow things out a bit. Similarly, do you really need those 13 electric guitar overdubs? Consider muting some of the midrange elements that aren't essential and that only make the mix more fatiguing to listen to. Often the problem with a mix lies with the arrangement, and no amount of EQ will help. 

Read more of this Electronic Musician article on how to correct common mixing mistakes


No Sparkle and Bottom
Of course, sometimes EQ boost is needed to make a mix sound great. You can generally get away with boosting extreme bass and high frequencies more than you can boosting midrange frequencies. That's because the human ear is less sensitive to phase shift at the extremes of the audible spectrum. Even after boosting the bass and highs a bit, you may find that your mix still doesn't have the huge bottom end and sparkly highs you yearn to hear.
Again, the reason may be that you're listening at too loud a level while making EQ decisions. That's a problem because the human ear is subject to the Fletcher-Munson effect. In plain English, this means the ear is much less sensitive to bass and high frequencies when listening at low volumes than at high volumes. (Many consumer stereos have a Bass Loudness button to compensate for this reduced sensitivity to bass frequencies at low listening levels.) Ear fatigue aside, if you adjust EQ to taste while monitoring at loud levels, your mix might not sound sparkly and thunderous enough once the playback level is turned down.
Knowing this (and to preserve my hearing), I spend most of my mixdown time with my monitors set no louder than a spirited two-way conversation, and I'll often set them a lot lower. If I can get the mix to scintillate and thunder while listening at that low level, it is going to absolutely rock when it's cranked. Also working in my favor, my high-frequency sensitivity won't be trashed by sustained listening at loud levels, helping me retain an accurate perspective of spectral balance. That said, I will crank my control room monitors for about 20 seconds or so every hour when I'm mixing to confirm that the bottom and top ends still sound great and that I haven't taken any EQ boost too far.
One other point: if you compress tracks such as bass-guitar and cymbals post-EQ, the compression will at least partially negate the effects of any EQ boost on those tracks. Try placing the compressors before any EQ boost to get more sparkle and boom.
Large Swings in Spectral Balance
Sometimes the timbre of specific elements of a mix (or of the whole enchilada) is a moving target. For example, the electric bass or acoustic guitar might sound boomy on some phrases yet be well balanced everywhere else in the song. The lead singer might have a shrill high register that bites your head off during the choruses, whereas the lower register sounds perfect during the verses. Or the entire mix might get edgy when, for instance, a bunch of midrange instruments pile on for one section of the song.
Image
FIG. 2: Electric guitars sound awesome when processed with the PSP VintageWarmer 2 split-band compressor plug-in.

In these cases, static EQ settings won't sound good throughout the song. One worthy solution, albeit a time-consuming one, is to ride the EQ on individual tracks as needed. But a quicker and sometimes more elegant-sounding fix is to slap a split-band (aka multiband) compressor on the unruly tracks — or even on the entire mix. A split-band compressor divides the audio spectrum into multiple, adjustable frequency bands so that each can be compressed independently. Examples of outstanding split-band compressors include the Tube Tech SMC-2BM (a high-end analog unit) and the Waves C4 Multiband Parametric Processor, Waves Linear Phase Multiband, and PSP VintageWarmer 2 plug-ins (see Fig. 2).
Adjust the bandwidth of one or more of the split-band compressor's bands to include only the frequencies that exhibit large swings in level (for instance, bass frequencies that sometimes get too loud and make the mix boomy), and bypass the other bands. Then set each active band's threshold to be at or slightly below the level where the offending frequencies begin to annoy. Adjust each active band's ratio, attack, and release controls to taste to limit how much (if at all) the unruly frequencies can bloom above the thresholds you've set. With the proper settings, a split-band compressor will automatically nip large swings in spectral balance in the bud. (For more in-depth information on how to use split-band compressors, see “Let's Split!” in the January 2004 issue of EM, available online at www.emusician.com.)
Insufficient Detail
When a mix is lacking in detail, boosting high-frequency EQ is often the wrong approach. When that just creates a glassy mix without solving the problem, try cutting the upper-bass and low-midrange frequencies instead. Too much energy in these bands can create a blanket of mud that obscures a mix's underlying transients, so try cutting between 200 and 500 Hz before boosting highs. Just be sure not to overdo it, or else you'll end up with a thin mix and too much detail.
Image
FIG. 3: The SPL Transient Designer can be used to increase the amplitude of the attack portion of drum tracks to create a punchier mix. The 2-channel TD2 is shown here.

Another thing to consider on a cloudy-sounding mix is whether sustained sounds such as string or synth pads are too loud. By simply lowering some or all of the tracks that exhibit minimal transients and loud average levels (sustain), percussive elements will more readily punch through. The end result will be a mix with plenty of detail that nevertheless retains its warmth because of minimal use of EQ.
Not Enough Punch
A mix lacking detail will also often lack punch, or transient elements married to tightly focused bass-frequency content. When a mix's spectral balance is already great, it can be a mistake to boost both bass and high frequencies to achieve more punch. The added highs might just make the mix sound glassy, whereas the extra bass boost could make it boomy.
Image
FIG. 4: The Waves TransX Wide plug-in, part of the company''s Transform bundle, is set up here to deliver extra punch to a kick drum track.

Instead, use a dynamics processor to emphasize the attack portion of the low-frequency elements from which you want more punch (for example, trap drums and electric bass guitar). A solid-state, VCA-based compressor set to relatively slow attack and fast release times (start with 60 ms for each) will often do the trick.
The SPL Transient Designer, available in both 2- and 4-channel models, is an outstanding solution for increasing punch on individual tracks (see Fig. 3). This amazing analog processor uses an envelope follower to change the amplitude of the attack and release portions of an audio signal. With the twist of a single knob, the Transient Designer can greatly enhance the beater slap of a kick drum or the crack of a snare drum, and it can make a bass guitar track pop like balloons.
For reshaping transients inside the box, I often turn to the Waves TransX Wide plug-in, which is part of the Transform bundle (see Fig. 4). It offers much greater control over the attack portion of sounds than the Transient Designer but gives you no control over the release phase. TransX Wide is a surefire ticket to slammin' drum tracks.
Too Much Compression
These days, many mixes are so overcompressed that they become irritating and fatiguing to listen to after only one or two minutes. Overcompression is like a plague contaminating our industry. Make no mistake — I love stereo-bus compression, and I like my mixes loud, but there's a big difference between pumped-up, exciting dynamics and just plain annoying noise and distortion.
The old saw about using your ears when determining how far to push mix-bus compression is all well and good, but I have a more practical suggestion: watch the crest factor on your stereo-bus meters. The crest factor is essentially the difference between peak and average levels, and keeping tabs on it is a good reality check against what ears addicted to volume might otherwise be pushing to accomplish.
Spend time listening to your favorite records — particularly those that have dynamics you'd like to emulate in your mixes — patched through the 2-track return of your mixing console or DAW, and keep a close eye on the meters. (Make sure that the meters are peak reading and set to prefader listen, and that all processing is disabled.) Note how much the meters rise above average levels during transient peaks throughout various sections of each song. Then shoot for roughly the same crest factor in your mixes. You can learn a lot by being a good meter reader.
 
Read more of this Electronic Musician article on how to correct common mixing mistakes


The Chorus Doesn't Climax
You had high hopes for your new power-pop ballad, but something is holding it back. Your tracks were all captured with plenty of dynamic range, the performances were killer, and the arrangement positively soars during the hook. Yet for some reason, the chorus just doesn't deliver the big payoff it should in your mix. It's time to look at your mix-bus compressor settings again.
Sometimes an engineer will set up the mix-bus compressor for a big, in-your-face sound at the beginning of mixdown, when working on relatively quiet verses, and will just assume it's going to sound even bigger during the choruses and other climaxes. A compressor with too low of a threshold and too high of a ratio will suck the life out of the hook when it hits — sometimes the chorus will actually sound lower than the verses. Raise the compressor's threshold and lower its ratio to no more than 2:1 to give the hooks room to explode. You might also need to back off the compressor's attack time a bit.
Washy Sound with No Depth
Adding reverb to a mix is a great way to make it sound bigger. The larger the implied acoustic space, the more depth and width the production takes on. But running virtually everything through reverb in an attempt to make the mix sound huge is a common mistake of neophyte mix engineers.
Something can sound big only if something else sounds small. In part, it's the contrast between close-up and far away that gives a mix depth. (The nuance captured by superior mics and mic preamps is another contributing factor, but that's a discussion best left for another article.)
When many tracks are drowning in reverb, everything begins to sound indeterminately far away, and there is not enough of an anchor for the brain to get a picture of what is psychoacoustically up-close. Not only has depth gone out the window at that point, but the mix also takes on a washy character dominated by diffuse echoes that blanket any semblance of detail and punch.
One solution, of course, is to make some tracks very dry. You might even need to make a lot of tracks completely dry in order to attain the depth you desire. Instruments that produce inherently sustained or reverberant sounds, like cymbals and strummed acoustic guitars, often benefit by turning their reverb sends way down or completely off. That's especially true of dense arrangements that are prone to drown in ambient soup. The acoustic guitar already supplies built-in reverb from the resonating chamber that is its body. Piling on a bunch of additional reverb makes little sense, unless that instrument is being played in short, percussive bursts such as during a largely monophonic introduction or solo.
Despite the foregoing, there are instances where a healthy dose of time-based effects is needed to create the desired sonic landscape. In such cases, try adding predelay to some of your reverbs, or try substituting single echoes or multitap delays for reverb effects. These alternatives allow the dry signal to voice before the effect kicks in, giving a front-to-back effect in the soundstage that can really enhance perceived depth while preserving detail.
Another remedy for a washy mix is to eliminate one of the channels of a stereo track, thereby reducing that track to mono. Converting most of your stereo tracks to mono will help provide the pinpoint imaging that is a remedy for a washy mix. Conversely, using a lot of tracks that were recorded with spaced-pair stereo-miking is a recipe for mud soup. Each of those tracks is a rendering of an instrument playing in an acoustic space, and simply panning them differently to separate them won't necessarily lend focus and depth to your mix.
Panning a few stereo tracks across the stereo field is a common strategy. But if you pan one stereo track hard left and at ten o'clock (for left and right channels, respectively), another at ten and two o'clock, and a third at two o'clock and hard right, what have you accomplished? You now have three small rooms in a left-center-right arrangement superimposed over whatever other acoustic spaces are implied by added reverb on other tracks. No wonder the mix sounds washy!
In summary, to clean up a washy mix: Keep a number of your tracks mostly or completely dry. Mute one side of one or more stereo tracks. And use discrete delays and reverb predelays to create depth without sacrificing detail.
Image
FIG. 5: A previously rendered track of a Sonic Implants Symphonic Strings ensemble section is patched through the Waves S1 Stereo Shuffler plug-in to increase its stereo width and create a dreamier sound.

Collapsed Stereo Image
Suppose you've hard-panned a number of tracks, but your mix still doesn't sound as wide as you'd like. What's wrong with this psychoacoustic picture?
Your hard-panned tracks might have too much bottom end. Bass frequencies are inherently omnidirectional, meaning it's hard for the human ear to determine where they originate. That's because bass frequencies have long wavelengths, and easily wrap around the listener's head to either ear with minimal phase difference.
From a stereo-field perspective, tracks that are panned hard left and hard right are potentially the most directional elements of a mix, whereas center-panned tracks are the least directional. The more the prominent omnidirectional bass frequencies are in hard-panned tracks, the more the hard-panned tracks' perceived positions in the stereo field get pulled toward the center. Conversely, rolling off bass frequencies on hard-panned tracks will move them farther from the center.
Image
FIG. 6: The iZotope Ozone 3 plug-in bundle includes a Multiband Stereo Imaging component that can independently widen the stereo image of up to four frequency bands of a track.

There is no magic frequency at which omnidirectionality occurs. Sound becomes progressively more omnidirectional as its frequency gets lower. So the lower in frequency the bass content of a panned track, the more it will move toward the center (assuming that the high frequencies also present in the track don't compensate). Even hard-panned tracks with a lot of low-midrange frequency content will move slightly toward the center image.
To make a mix sound wider, try rolling off the bass and possibly some low-midrange frequencies on hard-panned tracks. Also, hard-pan tracks with lots of high-frequency content — such as cymbals, shaker, and piccolos — to gain more apparent width. If you still need more width in your production, running a single stereo track through a stereo-imaging plug-in such as Waves S1 Stereo Shuffler or iZotope Multiband Stereo Imaging (which is part of the Ozone 3 multicomponent plug-in bundle) will do the trick nicely. Be judicious, however; using this kind of processing on multiple tracks or on an entire mix can quickly make your production swim in a washy, diffuse soup (see Figs. 5 and 6).
Read more of this Electronic Musician article on how to correct common mixing mistakes
 


Vocals Consistently Too Loud or Too Low
We've all been there. You thought you had the perfect mix, but then you hear it on a friend's stereo system, and the lead vocal suddenly sounds too loud, in front of and divorced from the backing music. Or it's buried underneath an onslaught of guitars, making your clever lyrics lost to all ears. What went wrong?
Image
FIG. 7: The Avant Electronics Avantone MixCubes are outstanding passive monitors to reference how well lead vocals are sitting in a mix.

Setting the perfect vocal level can be difficult. The vocal's balance with respect to other tracks will always sound different on different monitors. What works for me is listening on bass-challenged monitors such as the Avant Electronics Avantone MixCubes (see Fig. 7) or the discontinued Yamaha NS-10M Studio. Without prominent bass frequencies masking the lead vocal, I can more accurately gauge how loud the money track is with respect to the other tracks.
If you have only one set of reference monitors and use a subwoofer, turn off the subwoofer when setting the level of the lead vocal. Also, listen to the mix at very low volume to let the Fletcher-Munson effect decrease your perception of bass and high frequencies. That will leave you with an unobstructed window into the midrange, where the lead vocal primarily sits.
Slowly turning down your close-field monitors to the point of almost dead silence is another effective technique. If the lead vocal is the last track to become inaudible, you'll know it's loud enough to be easily heard on most if not all systems. If it's still relatively loud when all the instruments are practically mute, the lead vocal probably needs to be turned down.
Of course, some styles of music call for louder vocals than others. For example, the vocal should generally be mixed louder on a country song than on a rock production. But these guidelines should give you the needed perspective to make the right judgment call for your chosen format.
Vocals Alternately Dip and Stick Out
Lead vocals typically benefit from compression. That helps them sit at the proper level throughout a mix. Compression limits the dynamic range of the track so that it becomes neither too low nor too loud in the mix on any given phrase. But with a very dynamic vocal, it may be impossible to compress aggressively enough to accomplish this goal without completely squashing the track, ruining its timbre, and destroying any depth and nuance. If, after you push the compression as far as you dare, the vocal still dips too much on some phrases and sticks out too much on others, here are some alternatives.
Image
FIG. 8: A lead vocal track is compressed by two Waves Renaissance Compressor plug-ins chained in series.

Try chaining two or more compressors together in series, with each adjusted to more moderate control settings so that no single one is going to squash the track (see Fig. 8). For instance, the first compressor could have fast attack and release times and a high threshold setting so that it kicks in with its high compression ratio only during peaks. The second compressor might be set to a relatively low threshold and ratio and moderate attack and release times so that it is processing average levels pretty much all the time, but with kid gloves. Here, the second compressor isn't expected to clamp down on transient peaks, so it can be set for more moderate action on average levels that will preserve the track's timbre and nuance. Meanwhile, the first compressor needn't have its threshold set so low that it will rein in the average levels of the vocal track — that's the second compressor's job, and it will do it more gently.
Despite the time-tested procedure of chaining compressors together in series, Roger Nichols Digital offers a far more powerful and elegant solution to reining in extremely dynamic vocals. The company's groundbreaking Dynam-izer plug-in divides a track's unprocessed dynamic range into as many as four mutually exclusive and contiguous zones (see Fig. 9). It can then independently compress or upwardly expand the track across each zone using different ratio, attack, and release settings. The key point here is that each compressor or expander applies processing only across the input-level range to which it is assigned. You can, for example, optimize the zone settings to upwardly expand the quietest vocal phrases, gently compress moderately loud sections, and smash transient peaks forcefully.
Image
FIG. 9: Roger Nichols Digital''s superb Dynam-izer plug-in divides a track''s dynamic range into as many as four different zones for independent dynamics processing.

After using the foregoing techniques, the lead vocal still might fluctuate too much in level on a few remaining phrases. Don't be afraid to ride the track's fader to even out those sections of the vocal, and record your fader moves with your DAW or mixer's automation. Also, some buried lyrics may be brought out more effectively by boosting upper-midrange or high frequencies rather than riding the fader (remember to undo the EQ boost immediately afterward). In some of my mixes, the lead vocal's track will have dozens of fader and EQ moves over the course of a three-minute song, depending on how even the singer's performance was. Don't be afraid to do whatever is necessary to make the vocal track perfect.
The Perfect Mix
None of the techniques discussed in this article will lead you to a great mix on their own. They must all be taken into consideration at once and balanced against one another. For instance, striving for too much detail and clarity can result in a thin, icy mix that will sound even more fatiguing if brickwall limiting is applied to achieve competitive loudness. And a mix with too wide of a stereo image and key tracks panned hard left and right might lose needed center focus and punch.
Keep your original vision for the song in mind while you mix, asking yourself along the way if any of these 12 problems are beginning to creep in. Note if any corrective tweaks you perform introduce their own problems, but be aware that effective mixing usually entails a series of smart trade-offs. Putting these compromises into perfect balance is the key to an outstanding mix.

Selig Audio, LLC

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Wook
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Post 31 Jan 2015

Stickify this, please. :)

Thank you, Giles. This is so nicely condensed into easy read. I often skip listening to peoples music here not because it's bad music but because it does my brain in with all the "sheen", "bite" and other buzzwords. It always makes me think that Reason sounds thin and harsh because of this. And then i listen to some tracks done by people who have taste and knowledge and it sets me right.
   

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normen
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Post 31 Jan 2015

Totally agree on every point made (Oops, that refers to the first post, when I wrote this so many more appeared :) ). Cheers for this post Giles! This gives me a chance to put out another thing that I wanted to put in words for some time now. :D

Theres one common mistake I have come across often lately concerning amp simulations which is this (note I also had to experience it and fall into that trap before I could realize what happens). When people dialed in their favorite amp sound they often make multiple tracks with that amp sound. For Rock/Metal they might record the rhythm guitars for left and right, sometimes even double those tracks to get a wider sound so they end up with four tracks essentially playing the same riffs though the same amp simulation. This works nicely with real amps but with amp simulations you get BIG issues. The sound gets muddy, theres issues with the stereo base and all in all you just can't get a nice "wall of sound" going which probably was the initial intention.

I can't put my finger on what the issue is exactly but I am guessing its simply phasing issues due to the impulse responses used for the speaker simulation. One speaker simulation creates *exactly the same audio* from a short audio burst, they're even perfectly phase aligned. A real amp doesn't. So basically what you're doing is creating a lot of small "chunks" in your tracks that can mess with each other big time because they are essentially the same audio. Sure, you always get phasing and out-of-phase issues with distorted guitars that are panned hard but in this case you also have the exact same response being "put over" your original sound.

I think this is a big part of why some people claim that amp simulations "can't cut through a mix" or "always sound too muddy" or "just can't compete with a real amp".

So what can you do? The simple solution is: "Don't use the same speaker simulation for multiple tracks". Just changing the simulated microphone or the simulated microphone position can help (which most of the time translates to using another impulse response), some amps also allow you to change the "size" of the amp (which basically just stretches or condenses the impulse response) or completely changing the simulated cabinet (which also switches the used impulse response), which even if the resulting sound doesn't 100% fit what you want is a better solution than using the same sound again. Obviously some people spend hours on dialing in their sound and they want to use that sound but from my experience its ESSENTIAL to not let this happen and change the used impulse response in some way.

Note that this concerns mainly the speaker simulation, the distortion and other effects in the simulations are mostly based on algorithmic simulation other than impulse responses.

Hope this helps some of the rock and metal fans to make better tracks! Rock on!

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craven
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Post 31 Jan 2015

great thread full of mixing wisdom! Mixing is so difficult, I'm still at the early stage of learning, even though I investigated a lot over the years and became much better already - it feels so limited :)
:ugeek:

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Leighbeater
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Post 31 Jan 2015

Thanks Giles much appreciated

I have read Mike Senior SOS articles over and over previously and recommend his book

http://www.amazon.com/Mixing-Secrets-Mi ... 8&sr=&qid=

I'm currently only working out of headphones in the lounge room one day I would love to have little studio in a spare room like a lot of you guys seem to have here....one day :)

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rvman
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Post 31 Jan 2015

Great information. I truly fell in love with mixing last summer and that's what I study and practice now.

I loved mixing 30 years ago too, but since I couldn't afford all the gear I got discouraged. I'm so thankful for Daws like Reason today.
********************************
Reason 8, EZ Drummer 2, Loop Loft loops

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JNeffLind
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Post 31 Jan 2015

So... much... information.... head... explod/iljakecmkilMsdWILMIFjwre4i9K<ewf49upojO

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Purpleb
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Post 31 Jan 2015

But what about copyright issues with discover?

Just joking!!! PLEASE no one answer that question!!!!!! It seems like every other thread lately is about discover and damn copyrights!! (Not saying that is a bad thing it is pheads related and kind of the hot topic right now but im kinda over it)
Very cool post!!!! Some good ol fashion music info and talk.
Thanks 4 this. Great info.

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Purpleb
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Post 31 Jan 2015

What does hard pan left or right mean to you?
I always took it as 9-10 o'clock on th left and 2-3 o'clock on the right.

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selig
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Post 01 Feb 2015

Purpleb wrote:What does hard pan left or right mean to you? I always took it as 9-10 o'clock on th left and 2-3 o'clock on the right.
Hard pan means 100% either way, left or right. If you look at the left and right files separately you would see 100% of the signal in one channel and 0% in the other.

It's more or less 7:00 on the Left side and 5:00 on the right, but some hardware and software can vary. 12:00 is always 50/50 to each channel, or "center" in the stereo sound field (aka "phantom center"). 

:)
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JNeffLind
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Post 01 Feb 2015

Purpleb wrote:But what about copyright issues with discover?
I chuckled. To be honest, I was starting to annoy myself.

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Purpleb
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Post 01 Feb 2015

Purpleb wrote:What does hard pan left or right mean to you? I always took it as 9-10 o'clock on th left and 2-3 o'clock on the right.
selig wrote:
Hard pan means 100% either way, left or right. If you look at the left and right files separately you would see 100% of the signal in one channel and 0% in the other.

It's more or less 7:00 on the Left side and 5:00 on the right, but some hardware and software can vary. 12:00 is always 50/50 to each channel, or "center" in the stereo sound field (aka "phantom center"). 

:)
Cool thanks.
I know every mix is going to be treated differently and calls for different things, but how often would you say you (or anyone else) hard pan things? And also what is primary use for hard panning (is it mainly for pads, cymbals, doubled guitars, etc.)?

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normen
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Post 01 Feb 2015

Purpleb wrote: Cool thanks. I know every mix is going to be treated differently and calls for different things, but how often would you say you (or anyone else) hard pan things? And also what is primary use for hard panning (is it mainly for pads, cymbals, doubled guitars, etc.)?
Basically. Stereo outputs from synths, stereo returns from reverbs and stuff where you want the maximum possible stereo width (like doubled guitars). I should mention that there is a school of mixing where the people solely use hard left, hard right or center positions for single tracks (the so-called "LCR guys"). I think it mainly keeps them from having phasing issues and because each part only comes from one speaker (or both at the same volume) the separation and stereo base doesn't do funny things with less than ideal speaker setups. I always thought it was sort of a religion with some benefits and many lost opportunities.

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Post 03 Feb 2015

Decaffeinated Instant Coffee.
Do not drink this stuff and expect a decent mix. The caffeine intake to piss break ratio makes for a very ineffective work flow and you will still be left needing a decent cuppa.
@pushedbutton on twitter, add me, send me a message, but don't try to sell me stuff cos I'm skint. https://allihoopa.com/pushedbutton#

https://allihoopa.com/s/g5yj2m1B

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selig
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Post 03 Feb 2015

Purpleb wrote: Cool thanks. I know every mix is going to be treated differently and calls for different things, but how often would you say you (or anyone else) hard pan things? And also what is primary use for hard panning (is it mainly for pads, cymbals, doubled guitars, etc.)?
normen wrote:
Basically. Stereo outputs from synths, stereo returns from reverbs and stuff where you want the maximum possible stereo width (like doubled guitars). I should mention that there is a school of mixing where the people solely use hard left, hard right or center positions for single tracks (the so-called "LCR guys"). I think it mainly keeps them from having phasing issues and because each part only comes from one speaker (or both at the same volume) the separation and stereo base doesn't do funny things with less than ideal speaker setups. I always thought it was sort of a religion with some benefits and many lost opportunities.
+1 to all this. :)

More random thoughts on panning…

I'm not an LCR guy, but I start with about seven to nine positions for panning, which turns out to be simpler than it sound. Besides center and hard L/R, there's 50% to one side, and either 66 or 75% and either 25 or 33% for the other two positions. I start to not worry so much about the precise value of these intermediate positions, and they'er only starting points for me (gotta start somewhere), and the main reason to note the specific values is to mirror them on the opposite side. Just makes things easier to remember, if nothing else!

For the most part, I try to pan as far to each side as possible (when panning away from center) and still sound "right" (whatever that means to me at the time). I was encouraged early on my my engineer friends/peers to pan wider - I was being too conservative with my panning.

Many ask how to get wider mixes, and I find they are not hard panning many instruments. While it's not "the answer" to wider mixes, it certainly doesn't hurt IMO! 

Finally, another thing I often notices about mixes I liked was that there were similar sounding instruments panned to either side (not always hard panned, but certainly wide panned). Examples could be congas on one side, muted electric guitar on the other, or a hi hat vs shaker, etc. This ends up sounding more interesting to me then doubling an instrument or artificially "widening" it. It's all those slight variations and minor irregularities that make mixes interesting IMO!
:)
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Purpleb
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Post 03 Feb 2015

selig wrote:For the most part, I try to pan as far to each side as possible (when panning away from center) and still sound "right" (whatever that means to me at the time). I was encouraged early on my my engineer friends/peers to pan wider - I was being too conservative with my panning.

Many ask how to get wider mixes, and I find they are not hard panning many instruments. While it's not "the answer" to wider mixes, it certainly doesn't hurt IMO!
I get what you are saying. When i start panning things too hard right or left it seems to sound off to me. It keeps me pretty conservative with my panning. I dont want to clog up the center, but it is usually tough for me to hard pan things with it sounding right to my ears. Maybe i will try to roll off some more lower frequencies on things i want panned hard left or right.

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selig
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Post 03 Feb 2015

selig wrote:For the most part, I try to pan as far to each side as possible (when panning away from center) and still sound "right" (whatever that means to me at the time). I was encouraged early on my my engineer friends/peers to pan wider - I was being too conservative with my panning.

Many ask how to get wider mixes, and I find they are not hard panning many instruments. While it's not "the answer" to wider mixes, it certainly doesn't hurt IMO!
Purpleb wrote: I get what you are saying. When i start panning things too hard right or left it seems to sound off to me. It keeps me pretty conservative with my panning. I dont want to clog up the center, but it is usually tough for me to hard pan things with it sounding right to my ears. Maybe i will try to roll off some more lower frequencies on things i want panned hard left or right.
Then back down to 90 or 80% panned - remember not everyone listens while sitting right in the middle of their speakers, though you do need to consider phones/ear bud listeners.

Also consider there are probably plenty of records that have been quite successful that you may think have instruments panned too far - sometimes you just have to take a chance and push yourself beyond your comfort zone, at least as an experiment. 

I can only add that there are few listeners (besides other musicians) who have ever complained the hate a song because some tracks were panned to far to one side… ;)
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raymondh
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Post 03 Feb 2015

Excellent thread Giles - thanks!

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Purpleb
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Post 04 Feb 2015

selig wrote:I can only add that there are few listeners (besides other musicians) who have ever complained they hate a song because some tracks were panned to far to one side… ;)
Lol very true and great way to look at it.

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TheGoodGoodMan
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Post 04 Feb 2015

Good stuff! Thanks for all that info.

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normen
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Post 04 Feb 2015

Purpleb wrote:I get what you are saying. When i start panning things too hard right or left it seems to sound off to me. It keeps me pretty conservative with my panning. I dont want to clog up the center, but it is usually tough for me to hard pan things with it sounding right to my ears. Maybe i will try to roll off some more lower frequencies on things i want panned hard left or right.
Do you maybe mix on headphones a lot? Then it can sometimes be a bit distracting, especially when you listen to an instrument thats solo'd. Its less problematic in full mixes. When you listen to AC/DC, sometimes when theres only one guitar playing a riff it can feel like your earwax is being pulled out on the other side ;)  Just adding a bit of tape/other noise on the other side can already help with that.

mcatalao
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Post 04 Feb 2015

As a composer and arranger, i want to stress out the unhelpful arrangement topic, since it seems a bit underestimated.

My point is, a song with poor form, and no build up, small or none differences between intro, chorus and verses, lack of tonal context, and same range and tonal instruments fighting with each other and the Vocals (if there are), will make a song very hard to mix.

Most of the times i make arrangements for other musicians i try to mix my arrangement, in order to check if it builds up to a cohesive song, or to a big mess and even if im not going to mix the job, the final mix engineer receives a mixed version so that he "knows" where i'm aiming too in the arrangement. For example i'm quite picking with panning, and i've had some disagreements with mix engineers for messing with the instruments position. I'm ok with some changes (a 60% left to a hard left for example), but changing the whole pan of the tracks might be an arrangement option (think of an orchestra, you wouldn't make the instruments move in an orchestra, right? ).

Anyway, just for the record, i came across a couple of good posts in SOS, about arranging, and general form of Pop and contemporary music, and i think they are great:

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/1997_ar ... ging1.html

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/apr00/a ... ingpop.htm




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normen
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Post 04 Feb 2015

mcatalao wrote:As a composer and arranger, i want to stress out the unhelpful arrangement topic, since it seems a bit underestimated.

My point is, a song with poor form, and no build up, small or none differences between intro, chorus and verses, lack of tonal context, and same range and tonal instruments fighting with each other and the Vocals (if there are), will make a song very hard to mix.

Most of the times i make arrangements for other musicians i try to mix my arrangement, in order to check if it builds up to a cohesive song, or to a big mess and even if im not going to mix the job, the final mix engineer receives a mixed version so that he "knows" where i'm aiming too in the arrangement. For example i'm quite picking with panning, and i've had some disagreements with mix engineers for messing with the instruments position. I'm ok with some changes (a 60% left to a hard left for example), but changing the whole pan of the tracks might be an arrangement option (think of an orchestra, you wouldn't make the instruments move in an orchestra, right? ).

Anyway, just for the record, i came across a couple of good posts in SOS, about arranging, and general form of Pop and contemporary music, and i think they are great:

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/1997_ar ... ging1.html

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/apr00/a ... ingpop.htm



+1000, most problems in mixing are not with the mixing itself but with the arrangement. Especially hobbyist / beginner musicians often make the mistake that they prefer a certain type of instrument and frequency range and end up having lots of parts that cover each other in the mix. As you indicate, orchestral arrangement professionals already consider these things and it makes mixing the tracks SO much easier.

But btw, being an engineer (Tonmeister) I do move instruments in the orchestra or add/remove single instruments to sections, ofc in accordance with the conductor :) Especially with Wagner that causes heated debates lots of the time though ;)

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