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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.
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