Mix Smart: professional techniques for the home studio [NOOK Book]


After you've recorded the perfect song, you're only halfway there! Mixing is where the magic really happens and getting the perfect mix is a challenge. One of the most elusive arts of the recording practice, mixing can take a lifetime to master - this handbook jump-starts your skills and fast-forwards your progress!

Breaking the mix down by different effects - EQ, distortion, compression, expansion, pitch shift, delay, reverb, and more - and applying them to some of the most ...

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Mix Smart: professional techniques for the home studio

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After you've recorded the perfect song, you're only halfway there! Mixing is where the magic really happens and getting the perfect mix is a challenge. One of the most elusive arts of the recording practice, mixing can take a lifetime to master - this handbook jump-starts your skills and fast-forwards your progress!

Breaking the mix down by different effects - EQ, distortion, compression, expansion, pitch shift, delay, reverb, and more - and applying them to some of the most important instruments in pop music, Mix Smart will arm you with the skills and techniques you need to tap into your musicality and express it through multitrack mixing, putting true professional quality mixing within your reach.

*Future proof, ear-opening strategies will empower your inner-musician, giving you the knowledge you need to develop your mixing skills - from basic to advanced *Breaking the mix down by different effects, with detailed strategies for the most important pop instruments showing you how to create the perfect combination *Bonus Website, mixsmartbook.com, packed with samples and example tracks, so you can practice as you learn *Mix Smart Quick Start summaries at the end of each chapter get you to work faster *Demystifies the technical, making the tools of the mix rig accessible - analog and digital, outboard and in the box, stereo and surround *For everyone who mixes - studio, live, music, film, games, and broadcast

The recording studio is your musical instrument, and it's time you really learned how to play. Alex Case shows you not just how to mix well, but how to Mix Smart!

*Future proof, ear-opening strategies to empower your inner-musician, not a list of cookbook recipes. *The Mix is broken down effect by effect (EQ, compression, expansion, delay, pitch shift, reverb), with strategies detailed for the most important pop instruments (vocals, drums, bass, guitar, keys) *Website includes samples and example tracks, illustrating mixing concepts

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780240814865
  • Publisher: Elsevier Science
  • Publication date: 10/1/2010
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 324
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Alex Case is an Assistant Professor of Sound Recording Technology at the University of Massachusetts. An active member of the Audio Engineering Society, and a Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, Case is an engineer, educator, and author who speaks frequently on audio and acoustics across the United States and internationally. With degrees in Mechanical Engineering, Music, and Acoustics, Professor Case lives and works at the intersection of art and science.
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Read an Excerpt

Mix Smart

Pro Audio Tips for Your Multitrack Mix
By Alexander U. Case

Focal Press

Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-240-81486-5

Chapter One

The Mix Mindset

Be of sound mind, heart, and soul.

Mixing is one of the most fulfilling activities we experience when creating recorded works of art, but it isn't easy. This essential production task requires broad technical mastery guided by inspired musical creativity. To be successful, we must mix smart.


When listening to a completed mix, engineers and music fans alike may be drawn to its unique features and exaggerated sonic details—the surreal aura around the vocal, the urgent push of the electric guitar, the adrenaline rush of the snare, the thunderous crush of the bass, and all things lush on the synths and samples. That's fine when listening to the final product—it's one way to enjoy the music. But when we are in the studio—when we are creating our own mix—we don't start there. None of those bits of ear candy have any value if the mix isn't balanced.

1.1.1 The Mix Arrangement

Before we get to the fun stuff, we must tend to the fundamental stuff. A mix is balanced when each and every element of the tune sonically serves its musical purpose. First and foremost, that means that each and every track that should be heard can be heard, without effort from the listener. It's simple in concept, but keeping all tracks audible turns out to be a serious challenge (see also Chapter 2).

Loud tracks make it harder to hear soft tracks. The low-frequency richness in the bass guitar diminishes the listener's enjoyment of similar low frequencies in the kick drum. Each blast of energy from every powerful snare hit briefly obscures other details in the mix. An out-of-tune piano can sour our sense of what was sung. An out-of-time hand percussion performance will wreck the rhythm of what the drummer played. Similar sounds coming from similar locations, front to back, left to right, are hard to segregate.

This constant interaction among the multitrack components, in which some tracks might obscure others and where some tracks clash with others, is a pervasive challenge and must be kept under watchful ear by the mix engineer and sorted out through three fundamental balancing tools: faders, pan pots, and—let us not forget—mute switches. The fader adjusts the overall amplitude of the signal. The pan pot adjusts the relative level among mix busses, left versus right and front versus back. The mute switch removes amplitude altogether, deleting the signal from your mix entirely.

Any fader pushed too high can lead to a clumsily loud track that overpowers those tracks sitting at lower levels, possibly robbing the tune of some other key elements of the mix. Any fader left too low can relegate a track to obscurity and near-inaudibility. Spectrally similar tracks will likely compete and might need panning to different locations left to right and—if the project is in surround sound—front to back. Ultimately, if there is no fader setting and pan pot position that works, or if the track remains technically or musically distracting, don't be afraid to hit that mute button, silencing the problem track and freeing the rest of the tracks to play their necessary roles.

The first step in building a mix is to push up the faders and begin listening to the song. Notice that the goal is to hear the song as a whole, not the tracks individually. The band, the composer, the producer, or some combination thereof, has a vision for the tune. In the lyrics and the instrumentation, there is a message and a range of intended human emotions. In the groove and the beat, there is a pace and range of intended dance floor gyrations. Through a music recording, the artist is trying to communicate sophisticated and sometimes subtle thoughts to the music fan. It doesn't work if the guitars are drowning out the vocals, or if the bass is obscuring the beat. There is within the tracks an arrangement that supports what the artist is trying to say. That 48-track project represents 48 related musical ideas that need to come together in symphony to realize the artist's vision. It's a puzzle at first. So pushing up the faders and listening for the overall song is a challenging step not to be skipped or taken lightly.

If you are hearing the piece for the first time, this is an exciting—but high-pressure—moment. You must find an effective multitrack arrangement through terrific concentration, governed by respect for the producers, engineers, and musicians who have put their hearts into the tracks you hear, sustaining a tireless curiosity to learn what their musical vision might be and motivated by a creative drive to enhance, embellish, refine, or redirect the project as appropriate with your own mix ideas. There is nothing in the tracks that tells you what the right mix arrangement will be. The humble first step of auditioning the tracks and assembling them into a balanced whole is in fact a challenging and creative process. The immature mix engineer is eager—too eager—to start playing with reverb and compression. The experienced mix engineer—the musical mix engineer—recognizes that balancing the mix is the essential first step that sets the creative context for all that is to follow.

Upon hearing the discrete tracks that will make up the mix, we are expected to have a point of view on what might sound best. We form an internal aural image of what the song could sound like, backed up with the technical know-how to realize that goal.

The process is wonderfully nonlinear. The mix engineer must iteratively adjust and readjust the volume of each and every track until the combination starts to make musical sense. When you have fine-tuned the level and panning of the core elements of the multitrack arrangement, thoughtfully muting those tracks that undermine the quality of the production, the mix is said to be "balanced." In the course of mixing a tune, a single song may be played several hundred times.

The mixdown session—in which a final stereo or surround recording is created by processing and combining the individual multitrack components into an artistically meaningful whole—is such a complicated process that in most pop productions, it takes from several hours to several days to mix a three- to four-minute song.

In the course of just that first playback of the piece, however, you must begin to find the fader levels and pan pot positions that enable the song to stand on its own. The goal is to empower each and every track to make its contribution to the overall music without undermining or obliterating other parts of the multitrack production. Balancing a mix is a fundamental skill that all engineers must develop.

1.1.2 Level

It is essential to get the fundamental elements of the mix under control through careful setting of levels across all of the tracks. Although there is no single right answer, it would be fair to say that in a typical pop mix, the vocal and the snare sit pretty high in the mix and are often the loudest two tracks in the whole arrangement. The kick drum and the bass guitar come close behind, just a tick lower in level.

These four elements—vocal, snare, kick, and bass—are essential ingredients for almost every style of music. As such, they are usually among the loudest tracks, no matter how many tracks are in the production. Place them at a level you like—one that feels correct to you. No single track should drown out the other.

! Mix engineers focus on these tracks constantly, even as they work on other elements of the mix arrangement. As each additional track is introduced to the mix—a sax solo here, some hand percussion there—you always listen back with focus on these core components of the mix. When a sweet reverb is instantiated here, and an ambitious echo effect dialed in there, listen not only to the effects themselves, but also to the impact those effects have on these all-important tracks. No new track, no added effect is allowed to rob any other track of its significance in the mix. The mix is kept balanced.

Of course, no two songs are alike, and the range of musical styles around the world is wonderfully vast. The emphasis on these four tracks, then, is just a rule of thumb—but it is a big, strong, wise, time-proven, bossy thumb that is telling us what to do. It applies to almost all songs we mix. Know the exceptions, and deviate from these guidelines deliberately, not accidentally.

* Dance music understandably has a louder kick drum than folk music. Country music typically has louder vocals relative to the rhythm section than death metal. In some tunes, the basic tempo is hi-hat-driven, not snare-driven. In others, it might be led by a percussive acoustic guitar part. In jazz, the soloing instrument often sits top of the mix, playing the role of the vocal where none is present. Find the important tracks for the genre of music you are mixing and keep an ear on them.

The core elements should always be independently audible, never interfering with each other. The rest of the arrangement—the synths, the guitars, the background vocals—live just beneath, around, or behind, never interfering with these four critical tracks. Introduce harmony instruments, countermelodies, hand percussion, sweeteners, and other details without diminishing the overall impact of the core tracks.

It is common practice when mixing, that when you stop for the night—when you think you have finished—you print the mix, leave everything set up, and plan to check it in the morning before moving on to the next tune. That first playback the next day too often reveals mistakes: perhaps it is hard to hear the bass, or the vocal is too loud, or both. If this has happened to you, you are not alone. You've experienced what we've all endured at some point in our mix careers: an unbalanced mix.

Balancing a mix is far more difficult than expected. Sorting through the infinite decisions you have to make in creating a killer mix of the 96 tracks the band provided, it is frustratingly easy to lose sight of the bass. You had it sounding great at the beginning of the mix session, but 4 to 8 hours later, as you tweaked the reverb on the tambourine, you may have stopped listening as carefully to the bass. You know what it sounds like. You know it sounds amazing. Unlike the listener who downloads the mix, you had the pleasure of hearing the bass in isolation, uncorrupted by other distractions and interferences. As we migrate our attention through the many elements that make up the mix, shifting our focus to one, then another, then the next detail in the tracks, it understandable that we might lose site of the first, fundamental elements in the mix—the vocal, the snare, the kick drum, and the bass. Although it might be understandable, it remains unacceptable. We must pay attention to these tracks continuously, no matter what else we might do while mixing.

* The vocal must reign supreme. Beware of other tracks with similarly strong spectral presence in the middle frequencies. Two tracks occupying similar frequency ranges will compete for our attention and one track may partially obscure another because of this. If any track is allowed to compete too much with the vocals, the words may become difficult to understand. That result rarely supports the artist's goals for communicating with their audience. Keep an ear out for other instruments playing in the same range as the vocal. A piano, guitar, sax, or cello can make a vocal difficult to hear if the parts are too similar. Distorted electric guitars and reedy saxophones are also common vocal-busters.

Solo sections and instrumental tunes often have a featured solo instrument in lieu of a lead vocal. Give that solo instrument the same priority a lead vocal would get. Find fader positions for the tracks that keep midrange harmony instruments out of the way enough so that the listeners can understand and enjoy the phrasing of the singer or the soloist.

1.1.3 Panning

The location in the stereo or surround field is controlled by the pan pot, which, like the fader, is a simple level control device. We localize discrete mix elements of the mix toward the pan-pot-specified louder location. Hard-panned tracks, for which the pan pot is turned fully to one side or the other, come entirely from one loudspeaker and listeners will reliably localize that sound at that location. As we back off the hard-panned setting to one that it is, for example, slightly louder in the left speaker than the right, a perceptual illusion of location between speakers is created. Listeners sitting on the median plane—those locations available in the room that are the same distance from the left and right loudspeakers, both the front pair and the surround pair—will hear the sound coming from an intermediate position between the left and right speakers. When we pan a track so that it is a bit louder on the left, we are trying to create an image of a track is located slightly off to the left. When the level is the same, left versus right, listeners sitting on the median plane, will localize at a phantom center image.


Excerpted from Mix Smart by Alexander U. Case Copyright © 2011 by Elsevier Inc. . Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

The Mix Mindset Music Balance Mental Balance Mix Smart

Mixing techniques A basic mix Mix Automation Summary

Audio Signals Amplitude Time Timbre

Equalization Devices for spectral modification Technique Non EQ equalization Summary

Compression Narrowing Dynamic Range Production Strategies Learning to hear compression Summary

Expansion and Gating Increasing dynamic range Parameters Production strategies Summary

Delay Parameters Production strategies Summary

Pitch Shifting Parameters Production strategies Summary

Reverb Parameters Production strategies Summary

Future Proof Mix Skills

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