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Approaches to Mixing

Part 1 from "The Mixing Engineer?s Handbook" By Bobby Owsinski
The Overall Approach
Whether they know it or not (and many arent conscious of how they do it), most great mixers have a method in the way they approach a mix. Although the method can vary a little depending on the song, the artist, and the genre or if the mixer tracked the song from scratch or is just coming in for the mix, the techniques remain constant:

  • Figure out the direction of the song.
  • Develop the groove and build it like a house.
  • Find the most important element and emphasize it.

  • The last part may be the most important in creating an outstanding mix. As famed Latin mixer Benny Faconne so succinctly states, ?Its almost like a musician who picks up a guitar and tries to play. He may have the chart in front of him, but soon he has to go beyond the notes in order to get creative. Same thing with mixing. Its not just a thing of setting levels any more, but more about trying to get the energy of the song across. Anybody can make the bass or the drums even out.

    Tall, Deep and Wide
    Most great mixers think in three dimensions. They think, ?Tall, deep and wide, which means to make sure that all the frequencies are represented, make sure theres depth to the mix, and give it some stereo dimension as well.

    This article was excerpted from "The Mixing Engineer's Handbook" by Bobby Owsinski. Click here for more information.
    The ?tall dimension (which is called Frequency Range later in the book) is the result of knowing what sounds right, due to having a reference point. This reference point can come from being an assistant engineer and listening to what other first engineers do, or simply by comparing your mix to some CDs, records or tapes that you know and consider to be of high fidelity.

    Essentially, what youre trying to accomplish is to make sure that all the frequencies are properly represented. Usually that means that all of the sparkly, tinkly highs and fat, powerful lows are there. Sometimes some mids need to be cut. Clarity is your goal. Again, experience with good sounds really helps as a reference point.

    The effects or ?deep dimension is achieved by introducing new ambience elements into the mix. This is usually done with reverbs and delays (and offshoots like flanging and chorusing), but room mics, overheads and even leakage play an equally big part as well.

    The panning or ?wide dimension is placing a sound element in a sound field so as to make a more interesting soundscape and make each element heard more clearly.

    Which brings us to the nitty-gritty of the book, where all the elements of a great mix are detailed even further.

    The Six Elements of a Mix
    Every piece of modern music?meaning Rock, Pop, R&B, Rap, Country, AOR, CHR, New Age, Swing, and every other genre having a strong backbeat?has six main elements to a great mix. They are:

    Balance the volume level relationship between musical elements
    Frequency Range having all frequencies properly represented
    Panorama placing a musical element in the sound field
    Dimension adding ambience to a musical element
    Dynamics controlling the volume envelopes of a track or instrument
    Interest making the mix special

    Many mixers have only four or five of these when doing a mix, but all of these elements must be present for a great mix or a hit mix, as they are all equally important.

    In music requiring simple recreation of an unaltered acoustic event (Classical or Jazz or any live concert recording), its possible that only the first four elements are needed to have a mix be considered great. Dynamics and Interest have evolved to become extremely important elements as modern music has evolved.

    Click here for part two: Interest The Key to Great Mixes.

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