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Whether one is producing music, podcasts, game sounds, or film sound effects, Digital Audio Principles provides the tips and techniques that will make the project a success. Author Dave Schroeder explains the basics of digital audio production techniques and covers the essential hardware and software. He also discusses sound theory, frequency response, the range of human hearing, and dynamic range.
So, let's talk a little bit about a few techniques you can use when you're mixing, to try and get better results. Chances are that as you've been working and recording and editing, you've already been adjusting the levels a little bit here and there and maybe even applying some different plug-ins or EQs and things like that, and that's fine. It's good to start with kind of simple rough mix, put things up fairly evenly, and just start to listen to everything that you have there, think of it in terms of the big picture and see how all the sounds relate to each other. Think about what competes, what sounds are kind of dominant, what sounds are important, what sounds are less important.
The idea is to take a step back and kind of breathe it all in and get the big picture. Listen to everything they have to deal with and start to get a sense of their relationship to each other before you've applied too much processing and tonal changes and played with the volumes too much. Just think about everything that's there and put together an overall game plan and analyze what's going on there with all the sounds that you have. So, then you want to start to dial in the sounds independently. You want to focus on a track or specific instrument, take some time to EQ them, make them sound a little bit better and maybe add some effects.
But I always like to say just take them about 70% of the way home, or get them close to where you want them, but don't spend three or four hours turning one knob at a time to try and get the bass right, right, right to where you want it. Because you'll find that as you start to dial in each of the sounds independently, you'll actually start making changes to other sounds because their relationship starts to change. So, I like to get all the sounds close to home and then I step back again, take it all in and assess the relationship between these different sounds again.
Then I go back into kind of finish the other 30% or so. So, in these final stages of kind of dialing in the sounds independently and then thinking about their relationship to the other sounds, you need to start to create the sonic landscape, and that means putting sounds in different frequency ranges, putting sounds different dynamic ranges, and put things in different locations out in space, or the stereo field. By putting things in different frequency ranges or letting different instruments occupy different frequency ranges, you'll free them up and let them feel a little bit more separated from other instruments.
A good example is if you have two guitars and maybe they're both rhythm guitars doubling the same part. If you EQ one a little bit differently than the other one so that you boost certain frequencies in one and cut those same frequencies in the other, you'll find that all of a sudden you'll able to hear each of them a lot more, as opposed to them blending together into one. That kind of separation, that kind of clarity where you can focus in on either sound if you want to is one of the things you're trying to achieve. The other thing, and this is a pretty classic mix thing, is usually if you are working with the band, you have a lot of people. I'm the bass player, and I'm the guitar player.
I just want the guitar to be the loudest, or I am bass player, it's got to sound great. This can be problematic when you're mixing. You are not trying to make one instrument alone sound incredible; you are trying to make a whole combination of sounds sound like a great song. You'll find that a lot of times even though you perceive something like a guitar to be this big full range instrument, actually, if you listen to a lot of mixes, you'll find that it's actually not that big and boomier. It doesn't have all that power behind it that you might think it does. It's actually mixed as a narrow thing. That's because it needs to kind of get out of the frequency range that other instruments need to live in, and by being in a certain frequency range, it's easier to focus on.
It still has the perceived power of being you know a huge, giant marshall stack that rattles the stage. But actually, if you just close your eyes and listen to it, you'll realize that there's not as much kind of low-end and girth to it in the mix as you might expect. Another thing you can do is put things in different dynamic ranges by using things like compressors and limiters or gates. Just by playing with volume, you can make certain things pop in and out of mixes, or be more apparent. Working with drums in the dynamic ranges is really important because generally we want them to kind of maintain a consistent dynamic range throughout the song, but at the same time we want certain things like snare drums and kick drums to kind of pop out.
So, playing with things like gates and compressors can give us more room to move them up and down so that it's always right at about the same level that we want it to be at. Finally, putting sounds in different locations in space means using panning and reverb and delays and even changing the tonal character with EQ to put things out into the sound field. Traditionally, if you think about watching a live band, you've got the drummer in the back in the middle, maybe a guitarist over to the right, a piano player to the left, a vocalist in the middle. So, when you are mixing you want to take advantage of the stereo image and put different instruments or different voices in different parts of the stereo image - to the left, to the right, closer to the listener or farther from the listener.
And these three things will make up the sonic landscape. Finally, a few things you can do to kind of hone your skills, or zero in on your own mix is to work with your eyes closed. Digital audio is great because we can do a lot of things visually but at the same time it becomes possible to kind of be distracted or sucked in by the visual and not actually spend as much time doing critical listening or focused listening as we need to. So, always be ready to work with your eyes shut and kind of pay attention to the stereo image and think about what's where and then go back to work with your eyes open and make some adjustments.
It always pays off. Another thing you can do to hone your skills or just get better at mixing is pay attention to mixes that other people have done. Grab your five favorite records and put them on in your home studio, or wherever you are doing your mixing, and just sit there and listen to with your eyes closed and try to think about the different sounds or the different components and how those things come together. Pay attention to that guitar part or what kind of reverb they might've used on the vocal, things like that. You'll notice that once you start to do it, it's pretty fun. It's kind of like a puzzle that you start to solve. You'll also notice that there are lots of things we listen to all the time and just take for granted, but when we actually stop and really focus on these things, we can start to come to pick apart how they're put together.
In the next movie, we'll go back into Pro Tools and just open up a few things and move some faders around and talk about a few things you can do to kind of build a mix.
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