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Understanding the characteristics of a great mix

From: Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools

Video: Understanding the characteristics of a great mix

While something as subjective as mixing is never going to have a set of hard and fast rules or a list of traits that make a mix pass or fail, there are some common elements that most mixers agree on discussing the components of a great sounding mix. First and foremost, the mix exists to serve the song. The goal being to help guide the listener though the important elements of this song. Now, you need to remember that most people hear music as a solid block of sound with a vocal and don't spend a lot of time differentiating each element and instrument.

Understanding the characteristics of a great mix

While something as subjective as mixing is never going to have a set of hard and fast rules or a list of traits that make a mix pass or fail, there are some common elements that most mixers agree on discussing the components of a great sounding mix. First and foremost, the mix exists to serve the song. The goal being to help guide the listener though the important elements of this song. Now, you need to remember that most people hear music as a solid block of sound with a vocal and don't spend a lot of time differentiating each element and instrument.

Now don't let anyone tell you what is or what isn't important but in a pop idiom, it is generally the vocal and that's the element that will resonate most with the bulk of listeners. You've got to understand that it is easy to lose perspective as a producer, the arranger or the songwriter, and so keep that in mind, keep in mind how the average listener is going to absorb your tune. In more concrete terms, what I'm talking about is a mix that's wide, tall, and deep.

So, a good mix is going to have definition. You're going to be able to hear each element clearly. That's going to hold its own special place in the depth of field in the stereo image. We were talking about pan and level, and you know an example here and take me down were these rhythm guitars that we kind of have panned hard left and right, and they're going to be supporting the vocals. Now, if I were to kind of pan these dead center, we might lose focus here, especially in a denser section of the song like the chorus.

(Male singing: So take me down, take me down and my feet will follow, wherever my heart goes) (Male singing: I'm come around, I'll come around, like I always. I'll keep my feet on the ground.) (Male singing: I'll keep my feet on the ground.) So by having them sort of pan, they are more supporting the vocal and really creating that wide stereo image, that big sound and that's kind of part of the arrangement process of how the guitars will trap and kind of design to work in the mix, and it's also important to look back at the arrangement and production stage and remember that they all play an important role on how the final mix is going to play out.

A good mix is also balanced. No one instrument is going to stick out unless that's your intention and likewise, nothing is buried unless that's what you want. The dynamics are lively but not uncontrolled and so what we have done is used compressors and dynamics processors to help control things, something like the vocal or the bass guitar from getting lost, remember if we pull out that compressor on the vocal. (Music playing) (Male singing: We hit the town.) (Male singing: And I'll never forget that sound.) Things get lost, things pop out, they are too loud or they duck below the mix, so you want to make sure to remember to use those dynamic processors not to kill the dynamics but just to support things in your mix.

A good mix is full but it also has clarity. So, it's fat but not muddy. It's airy and smooth but not brittle. It's not bass heavy or it's not dull, and so remember using things like EQ, we are able to sort of shape the frequencies of tracks. When volume and pan aren't enough, we are taking and restructuring a signal's frequency response using our EQ. And this is going to be the tool that you use most often for making sure that your mix is fat and not muddy by thinking about things like how your kick drum and how your bass guitar relates.

So if we play the drums with the bass. (Music playing) We want to make sure that the bass doesn't step on the kick drum and vice versa. They are both low-end elements but we want them to sit together sort of like lock and key and so I'll make decisions on my EQ that bring me closer to that core.

I might boost sections where I'm cutting on the opposite instrument. I'm sort of letting those two live together even though they live in the same frequency domain using equalization. Lastly, a good mix evolves and keeps things interesting and you know this is very subjective because sometimes the song itself is so interesting but there is really no mix trickery necessary and that could even make it distracting for the listeners. Some song sung great, just with the vocalist, the acoustic guitar and the message of the lyric.

Where other songs need a little bit of help to kind of pushed them over the edge for the listeners. So we talked about automation and keeping things interesting, bringing things in and out of the mix, so in this first verse. (Music playing) (Male singing: We hit the town.) The snare sample is missing and the distorted bass track is brought down. When we move into the first chorus, those get pushed up along with all of the drum tracks and that kind of really brings in that drive and power of the first chorus, making it exciting and memorable for the listener.

One thing that you definitely want to consider are any genre specific things that your music is going to need to showcase to sit well in that genre next to other tracks. Many genres have defining mixed elements. So, the bass levels in a hip-hop tune might not be appropriate for a rock tune or the abundance of dynamics in the jazz tune might not work in a radio pop song. There are some people that argue that music should just sound natural like a band playing in a room with no editing, heavy mixing or tricks but personally, I find this is like saying I only want to watch live plays and I never want to watch a movie where there has been editing or special effects.

I think some songs do really well with mix tricks, production tricks. Well, others sit better just raw. Consider everything when you are approaching your mix. Learn the characteristics of the genre that you are working in. Find out who mix that specific song or a lot of songs in that genre. Google their name, find articles or any interviews with them. You can learn a lot from interviews of your favorite mixers and producers and you know what, you can probably find them on MySpace or Facebook and send them a message asking about a song they mixed.

You'd really be surprised who might respond to you.

Show transcript

This video is part of

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Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools

77 video lessons · 9229 viewers

Brian Lee White
Author

 
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  1. 14m 50s
    1. Welcome
      1m 12s
    2. The past, present, and future of mixing
      6m 20s
    3. Strategies for mixing and mastering
      5m 38s
    4. Using the exercise files
      1m 40s
  2. 40m 24s
    1. Mixing "in the box"
      5m 9s
    2. Setting up the studio: Speakers and acoustics
      13m 12s
    3. Staying organized: Effectively prepping the mix
      10m 50s
    4. Managing system resources during mixdown
      11m 13s
  3. 41m 39s
    1. Introducing the Pro Tools Mixer
      2m 24s
    2. Understanding mixer signal flow
      3m 42s
    3. Using inserts and plug-ins
      7m 4s
    4. Working with plug-in settings
      5m 1s
    5. Using sends and creating FX returns
      6m 55s
    6. Submixing with aux tracks
      4m 30s
    7. Using groups while mixing
      3m 46s
    8. Using master faders effectively
      8m 17s
  4. 21m 11s
    1. Conceptualizing the mix and making a plan
      7m 45s
    2. Using volume and pan to balance the mix
      11m 18s
    3. Knowing when to process: Mix problems vs. mix solutions
      2m 8s
  5. 1h 3m
    1. Understanding the mechanics of sound
      3m 53s
    2. Learning the basics of EQ: Frequency-specific level control
      4m 29s
    3. Using DigiRack EQ III
      16m 3s
    4. EQ strategies in mixing: Corrective vs. creative
      7m 18s
    5. EQ workflow example 1: Kick drum
      5m 39s
    6. EQ workflow example 2: Filtering loops
      5m 10s
    7. EQ workflow example 3: The "telephone" effect
      3m 7s
    8. Mixing tips and tricks for EQ
      17m 36s
  6. 1h 15m
    1. Understanding dynamics and dynamic range
      2m 1s
    2. Working with dynamics processors
      2m 57s
    3. Using the DigiRack Dyn III compressor/limiter
      10m 6s
    4. Balancing and shaping track dynamics
      3m 19s
    5. Using gates and expanders
      9m 22s
    6. Using de-essers to eliminate sibilance
      5m 47s
    7. Dynamics workflow example 1: Vocals
      10m 0s
    8. Dynamics workflow example 2: Drums
      9m 29s
    9. Mixing tips and tricks: Dynamics
      11m 37s
    10. Building parallel or "upward" compression
      7m 53s
    11. Reviewing dynamics concerns: How much is too much?
      3m 28s
  7. 47m 48s
    1. Using time-based effects to add depth and width
      3m 22s
    2. Using DigiRack D-Verb
      14m 27s
    3. Using the DigiRack delays
      9m 18s
    4. Mixing with reverb
      7m 59s
    5. Mixing with delays
      6m 19s
    6. Mixing tips and tricks: Creating mix depth
      6m 23s
  8. 18m 8s
    1. Working with the Creative Collection
      9m 8s
    2. Building distortion and saturation
      9m 0s
  9. 37m 33s
    1. Understanding automation
      4m 10s
    2. Recording real-time automation moves
      7m 6s
    3. Viewing and editing automation
      10m 17s
    4. Automating plug-ins
      7m 36s
    5. Automation strategies for mixing
      8m 24s
  10. 29m 31s
    1. Understanding the characteristics of a great mix
      7m 2s
    2. Working to reference tracks
      4m 35s
    3. Avoiding some common pitfalls
      7m 50s
    4. Building healthy mixing habits
      3m 36s
    5. Crafting your mix from start to finish
      6m 28s
  11. 1h 5m
    1. Understanding mastering
      4m 15s
    2. Bouncing the mix
      7m 9s
    3. Working with general mastering strategies
      8m 50s
    4. Using limiting and compression to maximize track level
      10m 57s
    5. Working with multi-band compression
      7m 9s
    6. Understanding sample rate, bit depth, file formats, and dither
      7m 30s
    7. Using Pro Tools for CD track sequencing
      10m 11s
    8. Compressing audio for the web
      9m 41s
  12. 44m 51s
    1. Tips for evaluating plug-in processors
      6m 51s
    2. Using EQ plug-ins
      5m 35s
    3. Using dynamic compression plug-ins
      11m 3s
    4. Using reverb and delay plug-ins
      10m 46s
    5. Reviewing additional plug-ins
      10m 36s
  13. 57m 18s
    1. Effectively using saturation/analog style effects
      13m 40s
    2. Setting up side chains
      7m 5s
    3. Master buss processing
      5m 34s
    4. Creating and using mix templates
      6m 54s
    5. Surround mixing
      6m 22s
    6. Dealing with plug-in delay and latency
      6m 26s
    7. Drum sample replacing
      11m 17s
  14. 32s
    1. Goodbye
      32s

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