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Characteristics of a Good Mix

Strong and Solid?but Controlled?Lows By DMN Staff Writer
Its extremely important to build a mix thats distributed evenly in the lows. If the kick is boosted at 100Hz, the bass should not be boosted at 100Hz?in fact, most likely the bass should be cut at 100Hz. Always consider the ramifications of boosting or cutting the same frequency on two or more instruments. If youre limited on your mixer to simple two-band, fixed frequency cut/boost EQ, you must use good mic choice and technique along with educated EQ choices during recording of tracks.

Mids Distributed Evenly Among Various Instruments
Too much mid-range results in a ?honky sound. Too few mids results in a hollow, empty sound.

Strong, Smooth Highs That Are Easy to Listen To
A mix that has one particular high frequency boosted on several instruments can take on an abrasive and irritating character. Highs must be distributed evenly.

A mix that sounds like its stronger on one side than the other can be distracting. A good way to check the balance of a mix is on headphones. Ill usually listen to a mix on the phones just before I print the master. Headphone are very telling when it comes to stray instruments that might distract if not placed properly.

A mix can sound okay if its two-dimensional (just left-right), but when a mix sounds three-dimensional?or if the sounds seem distributed from near to far as well as left to right?it becomes much more real sounding. Reverb and delays add depth. Its typically best to have one instrument define the near character and one instrument define the farthest character. A simple dry percussion instrument is usually a good choice for the closest instrument. A synth string pad or guitar part might be a good choice for the most distant sounding instrument. These choices are all dependent on the desired musical impact.

A stereo mix is more interesting if there is one or two instruments defining the far left and far right boundaries. These boundaries might be far left and far right, but care must be taken to ensure that the mix sounds good in both mono and stereo. Mixes with boundaries closer in toward the center position?3:00 and 9:00 or 10:00 and 2:00?transfer very well to mono, but they arent as fun to listen to in stereo.

If a song maintains the same intensity and texture from start to finish, it probably wont hold the listeners interest. As a mixing engineer, you should always strive to give the song the appropriate flow. That might include starting from just one instrument and the lead vocal and building to a full orchestration with exaggerated effects, or it might include subtle changes throughout the song that are barely noticeable but add enough to maintain the listeners interest.

A mix is only good if it sounds good on any system its played on. Too often a mix will sound really good in the studio or on your own recording setup, but when you play the mix in your car, living room, the club sound system, the radio or on your friends mondo home entertainment complex, it sounds embarrassingly bad. Use near-field reference monitors to monitor most of your mix on and, as a cross-check, include some larger far-field monitors and some very small radio-like monitors in your setup. Being able to check your mix on two or three sets of speakers within your setup can make the difference between good, usable mixes and bad, waste-of-time mixes.

Sounds Good in Stereo and Mono
Continually cross-reference the sound of your mix in stereo and mono. As Ive mentioned several times, an instrument, sound or mix can sound great in stereo but terrible in mono. Some of the slight delay or chorus changes that make a mix sound good in mono make practically no difference to the sound of the mix in stereo.

Approaches to Mixing that Ive Found Ineffective
  • Quickly getting all of the tracks to sound good together and then adding the lead vocal
  • Turning everything up and adjusting until it sounds good
  • Getting the rhythm section sounding good first, then the filler keys and guitars, then the backing vocals, then the lead vocals

  • Signs of an Amateur Musical Recording
    Avoid these characteristics in your mixes:
  • No contrast?The same musical texture throughout the entire song.
  • A frequent lack of focal point?Holes between lyrics where nothing is brought forward in the mix to hold the listeners attention. A new mixing engineer will often set up the basic rhythm section mix and then leave it completely alone throughout the tune. During the vocal passages theres a focal point, but when theres no vocal, listeners will tend to loose interest and probably fade away from your song.
  • Mixes that are noisy and lacking in clarity and punch?Although a new engineer will often attribute this to bad tape or a questionable tape machine, its usually a result of bad mixing technique.
  • Mixes that sound distant and are devoid of any feeling of intimacy?This is usually the result of too much reverb or overuse of other effects. As a rule of thumb, there should always be at least one instrument in each mix that is dry; this serves a point of reference for the listener. With at least one dry sound, the mix takes on much more of an intimate character than if everything has reverb. Remember, reverb is a tool that adds distance and space to a sound, so if every ingredient in a mix has reverb, the entire mix will sound distant.
  • Inconsistency in levels?No one likes to listen to a song that all of a sudden reaches out and bites. Its fairly common for a lead vocalist to sing with subtle compassion and feeling one second and in the next breath to go full blast, full volume. If the mixing engineer isnt blending the loud and soft passages in some way, the listener becomes distracted, or worse, annoyed by the blaring loud passages and nearly inaudible soft passages.
  • Dull and uninteresting sounds?Learn whats accepted as good for your style of music and then start practicing. Practice getting the appropriate sounds for whatever style of music youre working with.

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    Related Keywords:mix, mixing engineer, technique, balance, EQ, bass, Instruments, mid-range

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