Common Mixing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

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selig
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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



normen wrote:
+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 ;)
+∞!!!

Just like a loud mix starts with loud instruments/samples/patches and a loud arrangement, a good mix starts with good interments and a good arrangement. 

More than any thing else, I consider myself an arranger. I've thought about instrument combinations and counter melodies and rhythms all my life. That's the primary reason I wish I had at least a laptop and garageband when I was back in High School in the 70s. At best I had a grand piano (for my last few years at home) and a reel to reel (borrowed). 

Even more than getting a good "sound" or performance, I was interested in how parts worked together. On occasion I'd go to a friends house who also had a reel to reel and bounce back and forth to build arrangements - horrible sound, but it was the most magical and educational experience of my young musical adventure.

It all starts with a song (a Nashville saying), but is QUICKLY followed by an arrangement if it is to be successful IMO!!!
:)
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selig
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Post 04 Feb 2015

Here's a related post, most are things I've learned from others and also found along the way to be true for me. Hope others can find something useful too!

http://theproaudiofiles.com/7-obscure-m ... echniques/

7 Obscure Mixing Techniques Used by the Pros
By Matthew Weiss on 12/17/2012   ·  Mixing

Most of the time there’s an obvious choice. Need more midrange? Grab an EQ and boost the midrange. Need more control of the source? Volume automation or compression. Easy. But sometimes we face strange challenges — like how to get more bass in the kick without running out of headroom. Or how do we make something sound brighter that doesn’t have much harmonic content above 7 kHz except hiss. Well, where there’s a will there’s a way. Sometimes the way is just a little less predictable.

So with that said, here are seven counterintuitive mixing techniques you can use to solve unconventional problems.
1. Using a low-pass filter for brightness
What? How can 
using a low-pass filter make something brighter? Well, let’s say you have a distorted guitar. It’s power goes up to about 5-6 kHz, but after that it’s just noise. A treble boost will bring out that noise, clog up your mix, and make the guitar harsh.
Instead, use a low-pass filter with a very steep slope. This does two things. First, it cuts out noise and distortion. Second, it actually accentuates the tone at the corner frequency — so while you might be attenuating everything above say 6 kHz (for example), you’re actually boosting the 6 kHz region. This happens because the EQ generates resonance right at the corner of the pass band — and it’s actually pretty clean and clear!
2. Adding midrange for bigger bass
When we want to hear more bass in a 
bass guitarkick drum, or other low-end element, the obvious solution is to boost the low end. However, sometimes what we really want to do is just draw more attention to that bass element.
We can do this by adding midrange: pulling up the thud of a kick or the gnarly overtones of a bass. This pulls our ear to that element, telling us there’s more of it there — even if it’s actually just more midrange.
This can be extremely valuable when you don’t have much headroom, or there’s something else competing for attention in the low end.
3. Using compression to increase dynamics
But wait, doesn’t a compressor restrict dynamic range? Not necessarily. It attenuates a signal that exceeds an amplitude threshold. In most cases that will restrict the dynamic range. However, if the attack is long enough, and the threshold is low enough, 
a compressor can actually exaggerate the attack.
This happens because the compressor allows the front of the signal to pass mostly unaltered, while still pulling down the sustain of the signal and making the attack more prominent relative to the sustain. This can be very useful when trying to 
bring an already over-compressed signal to life (over compressed … compress it some more!) — or for injecting some serious snap into a dull drum sound.
4. Sharpening transients before a limiter on the master buss
If you’re using a brickwall limiter on your 
master buss, chances are you’re doing so to make something loud. And to do that, you want the maximum amount of headroom available. So why on earth would you use a transient designer in front of a limiter? Wouldn’t exaggerating the attacks use up your headroom faster?
Well, yes and no. Technically yes, but remember that these things aren’t perfectly mathematical.
Sharpening the transients can do two things. First, you can legitimately get more transient through the limiter and still retain loudness because a transient designer is boosting in a different way than the limiter is cutting. Second, the limiter is pulling down 
everything in the mix. That means while your kick hits harder for that 10 ms, your bass gets attenuated for that 10ms as well. The attacks will poke out clearer in the mix, thus exaggerating the dynamic perception.
Warning: sometimes this sounds like crap, so use it when it works and don’t use it when it doesn’t.
5. Using distortion to make something sound cleaner
Now that really doesn’t make sense. In what way could distortion possibly make something sound “cleaner?”
If we define clean by clarity of tone rather than by purity of the original sound, we can use harmonic distortion to make something sound more “polished.”
Light amounts of harmonic distortion will exaggerate the overtones of a source. Our brain uses these harmonics to tell us what exactly we’re hearing. It’s kind of like saying we’re going to make this clarinet more “clarinet-y” by emphasizing its partials.
6. Using reverb for intimacy
Remember that 
reverb is used to create a sense of space. Without reverb, it’s hard to define the front-to-back relationship of elements in a mix.
Contrasting wet elements with room sounds to the elements that are almost entirely dry can actually create a more “in your face” effect than simply leaving a sound 100% dry.
The key to doing this is to keep your forward elements sent to a reverb that is a) primarily early reflections, and b) has a long pre-delay.
The other benefit to using this kind of “ambiance” reverb is that it reinforces the tone of the dry signal a bit, which often makes it pop forward as well.
7. Mixing quietly towards loudness
Not that I feel 
loudness is absolutely paramount to a successful mix, but in today’s climate of iPods, noise-ridden listening environments, and DJ controlled playlists, it’s important that the record lives within the same general vicinity of apparent loudness.
Or to say it another way: the record shouldn’t sound out of place amongst the other records being played shoulder to shoulder with it in the same genre.
Getting a mix to sound loud without losing tone, dimension, or punch can be tricky — especially when the references of today’s mixes are as loud as they are.
So I’ll say two things. First, trends are showing that the loudness wars are easing off in pretty much every genre except 
EDM — so aim to make your mix maybe a little quieter than your references. You’ll have a much easier time getting the mix to hang together.
Second, mix your record at low monitoring levels. The reason this works is because it forces you to create energy and excitement when loudness is not an option. This will force you to be more selective about EQ and 
compression settings, as well as general levels and imaging.
When all said is done, you’ll find that a record that creates the impression of a big sound at low levels will sound absolutely huge when it’s cranked.
 

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Trefor
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Post 08 Feb 2015

selig wrote:
Here's a related post, most are things I've learned from others and also found along the way to be true for me. Hope others can find something useful too!

I just read this and had it copied ready to post it here :) but you beat me to it. Some excellent reading here. Must say, I'm enjoying this forum more than the official props one. Did anyone say 'Discover' :) I thought not.......

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Post 08 Feb 2015

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mcatalao
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Post 10 Feb 2015

-9 db from what????

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jonheal
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Post 10 Feb 2015

I suppose in this case, 0db is silence, but what the heck is negative silence?? Is that when sound is sucked out of your ears??
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Post 10 Feb 2015

mcatalao wrote:-9 db from what????
0db.
The room must make sounds made in it 9 times less energetic.
that's a lot of absorption.
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selig
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Post 10 Feb 2015

What is missing here is a definition for decibels, which is actually a ratio and needs two values. You can't just say "-9 dB" to describe an absolute level without also specifying what level it is 9 dB below. In other words, saying "-9 dB" is only saying "nine decibels less" without specifying less than "what"? 

In this case what is missing is SPL. We specify SPL levels relative to 0 dBSPL (threshold of hearing for most), but not just "0 dB" since there is no such level as "0 dB". 0 dBSPL represents the threshold of hearing, meaning that if you can measure a positive SPL reading that theoretically speaking it can be "heard". A room with an SPL of -9 dBSPL simply means that the loudest sound measured is 9 dB below the typical threshold of human hearing. 

This is no different than a frequency that is below the lowest we can hear - just because we can't hear it doesn't mean we can't measure it, similar to light waves that are below our ability to see (infrared lightwaves, for example). 

:)
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Post 10 Feb 2015

selig wrote:... A room with an SPL of -9 dBSPL simply means that the loudest sound measured is 9 dB below the typical threshold of human hearing. 

This is no different than a frequency that is below the lowest we can hear - just because we can't hear it doesn't mean we can't measure it, similar to light waves that are below our ability to see (infrared lightwaves, for example). 

:)
Rats. I liked the idea of sound being sucked out of one's ears, and one's brains with it.
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selig
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Post 10 Feb 2015

mcatalao wrote:-9 db from what????
pushedbutton wrote: 0db.
The room must make sounds made in it 9 times less energetic.
that's a lot of absorption.
9 dB would be about 3 times less energy when measured as "voltage". And it's not about the sound created in the room, it's about the sound that exists when NO sound is being created in the room. It's a measure of the isolation of the room from the outside (noisy) world rather than an absorption coefficient as you describe above.

Also…
If you duplicate a track (2x more energy) you get a 6 dB increase. This is a constant - each additional doubling of the number of tracks will give you an additional 6 dB of level. For example, a 12 dB increase represents 4x the voltage - or you could say that if you created 4 identical tracks they would sum at a level 12 dB higher than just one of those tracks on it's own. 8 identical tracks would yield an 18 dB increase in level over just one, etc. 

:)
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Post 10 Feb 2015

jonheal wrote: Rats. I liked the idea of sound being sucked out of one's ears, and one's brains with it.
Standing in such a room _does_ feel exactly like that though :)

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selig
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Post 10 Feb 2015

jonheal wrote: Rats. I liked the idea of sound being sucked out of one's ears, and one's brains with it.
normen wrote:
Standing in such a room _does_ feel exactly like that though :)
That's a great way to describe it! There's an anechoic chamber at one of the local universities here and I'm trying to arraign a field trip to it for all the local engineers. There's nothing like learning about sound by experiencing the near total removal of it! 

After visiting a huge chamber on the NASA base near my home in High School, I never "heard" sound the same. Or rather, I suddenly "heard" my environment for the first time. It was seriously a life changing moment for me, audio wise. Nothing like it anywhere, except maybe the sound in the woods up in the mountains after a huge powder dump. 

I consider this a bucket list "must hear" for anyone interested in audio!

:)
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Post 10 Feb 2015

jonheal wrote: Rats. I liked the idea of sound being sucked out of one's ears, and one's brains with it.
normen wrote:
Standing in such a room _does_ feel exactly like that though :)
selig wrote:
That's a great way to describe it! There's an anechoic chamber at one of the local universities here and I'm trying to arraign a field trip to it for all the local engineers. There's nothing like learning about sound by experiencing the near total removal of it! 

After visiting a huge chamber on the NASA base near my home in High School, I never "heard" sound the same. Or rather, I suddenly "heard" my environment for the first time. It was seriously a life changing moment for me, audio wise. Nothing like it anywhere, except maybe the sound in the woods up in the mountains after a huge powder dump. 

I consider this a bucket list "must hear" for anyone interested in audio!

:)
I once created what I thought was a soundproof room in a small closet years ago and thought I had an idea of what completely silence felt and sounded like and it was quite surreal but NOTHING LIKE THIS...I can't imagine the experience! I agree Giles, I think this should be added to my 'Bucket List' also.

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Post 11 Feb 2015

I was reading each point and going either, "ah, that's me!" or "ah, that used to be me!"
Amazing lists, and I think this is one of THE most important ones: mixing without direction. Unless you are trying to be really creative, having a direction works wonders in saving time and meeting deadlines!
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Post 11 Mar 2015


thank you for this thread , I mix bad because I over think , peoples say to me to mix low and to turn my speakers up but when I think of mastering and all I sometime push sounds too early and changing volumes on my system is only helping a bit .
it is hard to find the harmony .
thinking to mix low and then push later with eq and stuff is maybe the hardest thing for me , thinking I should turn down this 808 boom and not push these clap's to work that later with EQ on the master or similar choices is very weird .

I mix ok simple stuff but mixing for me is crazy I never finded my marks right with DAW's .
It does not die , it multiplies !

 7.101 and I will upgrade maybe this summer .

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Post 16 Mar 2015

This is some valuable information. Most of it I'm aware of but even reading/learning the same thing could make more sense coming from/being explained by another person. And then there's always something you never even considered but always was a problem. Damn good stuff. Selig is the man! He's like having our own Dave Pensado hangin around.
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Post 20 Mar 2015


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selig
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Post 01 Apr 2015

bpmorton wrote:
That was done just south of me on the BYU campus - I'm trying to arrange an "engineer field trip" there this summer.
:)
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selig
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Post 01 Apr 2015

Here is a nice collection of drum mixing tips/techniques etc:

http://theproaudiofiles.com/mixing-drums/
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Post 02 Apr 2015

selig wrote:Here is a nice collection of drum mixing tips/techniques etc:

http://theproaudiofiles.com/mixing-drums/
Great link. Thanks!
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Post 15 May 2015

okay i have a question related to this:

"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."

now i had been mixing on a pair of descent passive home stereo speakers - not monitors.  that was all i could afford at the time.  the best advice i got from the old forum address, was to use multiple references all the way through.  so that's what i did and it was great advice.  i would check four things besides my speakers after premix, mix and master while using the home speakers to do the work and as the final listening point.  the references i used were:

1) avantone mixcube
2) bose wave radio
3) old pair of sony mdr-v700 headphones
4) pair of sennheiser hd25-1 II headphones

while not the best mixes - obviously - they did get the general vibe across and i usually had no complaints about my mixes when ppl gave me feedback. 

well, i just got a pair of ADAM F7's.  i am still using the old system to get used to them, but what would you guys recommend i cut out and where?  in other words should i keep those references but only use them after the final mix and master or just the master?  should i keep the frequency of checking, but drop a couple of the reference sources, etc.  any tips, advice, comments or discussion welcome.  thanks guys.




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Dante
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Post 07 Jul 2015

Graham Cochrane has some great tips on mixing http://therecordingrevolution.com/

And free references http://therecordingrevolution.com/free-tools/

This is the guy that will tell you why you should mix in mono. Or the benefits of mixing at low volume. And all you need is on your channels are simple volume, eq and compressor. Breaks the marketing hype that tells people they need to spend more money if they want better results.

The low volume one is my favourite - use it all the time.

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Post 21 Nov 2015

bpmorton wrote:

beat me to it ;) kool vid, would love to sleep in an anechoic chamber , would be so peaceful

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Post 01 Mar 2016

Wow great post Selig! Thanks. I now want all of your plug-ins. This is a great website.

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Post 04 Sep 2016

And remember different speaker references count too. What sounds good on one doesn't always sound good on another. Unless you are SUPER adept at making freq control edits and knowing what freqs are the "bad rumble and piercing highs" (there are some engineers that don't even listen to the channels if they don't see those cuts...kinda like a master chef not tasting it if he sees it doesn't look right say)
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