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MIXING TECHNIQUES

MARCH, 2000

RECOMMENDED METHOD OF OBTAINING A MIX

BY ROBERT DENNIS

The first article written with this title was a handout to RID Basic Recording students in the early 80's.   In October, 1997, Mr. Dennis updated it for his digital basic students and added further guidelines with tips on what to listen for in the basic mix. 

The Performance Static Mix

The student should learn first how to mix a tune to sound like the band/group was performing for an audience in concert. To accomplish this, the mixer must be able to place the instrument with a front/back as well as left/right perspective. The engineer must also be able to overcome masking with equalization, so all instruments can be clearly heard.

The term "static mix" means that the best mix that can be obtained with no controls moving. This type of mix is the basis for monitor and cue mixing during recording & overdubbing. This type of mix is the starting point for a final mixdown.

The instruments should be balanced as to function. By that it is meant than an even balance of all rhythm instruments is obtained which neither accents or disfavors any particular instrument. The lead vocals and instruments should be louder and more present in the mix With this kind of balance, the producer can decide which parts may have to be redone in recording and which instruments to accent, and at what times, in the final mixdown.
The recording engineer would normally obtain this type of mix within 2-3 passes of the tune and then look to the producer for further instructions as to preference. When recording and mixing, the engineer is trying to give the producer what the producer wants. What the engineer likes or dislikes is irrelevant at this point. After the starting point is reached with the performance static mix, communication can begin among all those who have creative input into the mix.
The room or environment aspect of the mix should be natural and minimized at this point in the process. This allows the instruments to be heard and for additional reverberation and effects to be carefully chosen and adjusted for the final mix.

Obtaining A Mix - Overview

1

First the engineer sets up the console for mixing so that it properly receives the digital signal from the multitrack. After clearing the console, effects and solo functions that will be used during mixing are set up.

2

After completing this, the engineer will obtain the best mix using only level and pan controls, starting with the drums and rhythm instruments. This is an important step because the engineer wants his use of signal processing and effects to enhance the mix, not make up for poor balance that can be obtained with faders.

3

The third step would be for the engineer to add reverberation effects to obtain the proper front/back perspective.

4

The final step is for signal processing to be applied. Equalization can be used to overcome masking and to reduce leakage and ambiance obtained in the recording. Equalization is applied last so that any changes the tone of the instruments can be checked with all of the instruments playing. The use of equalization should be to make up for less-than ideal mic placement and to overcome masking.
Obtaining a Mix Steps:
Obtaining a Mix - Step 1 - Preparation

1

Cue the tapes.

2

Mark the faders with instrument names, on masking tape.

3

Clear the console by turning down (or setting to normal) all controls & switches.

4

Check Word Clock and set preferences if you are using a digital console. 

5

Recall a "Chamber" or Echo Room program on your main reverb unit and make sure master send & return controls are normal.
Obtaining a Mix - Step 2 - Basic Levels and Pans
Drum Mix (REAL DRUMS)

1

Bring up foot drum, panned center, until your console output meters read 4-6 dB below normal..

2

Bring up the snare, panned center, until the snare is as loud as the foot drum, by ear.

3

Bring up the high hat, panned half-right until it is as present in the mix as the snare.

Hint: Without the high hat brought up, you will hear the high hat as leakage in the snare mic pickup. It will be distant and sound in the center. As you slowly bring up the high hat, you will hear the high hat go right in the image and become as present as the snare.

4

Bring up the toms (if on separate tracks), panned in a high-width stereo perspective, until they are as present as the other drums and slightly softer than the snare.

5

Bring up the cymbals (or "overhead") tracks, panned full left and right, until they are as present as the other drums/cymbals and the crash hits come out slightly louder than the high hat.
Hint: As you add stereo toms, cymbals or even "room" mics, the ambiance can be used as a guide. If you bring up these tracks, do not let their addition add more ambiance to the drum kit. There will always be a point, as these mics are slowly brought up, where the ambiance will get noticeably louder - this means that the mics are getting too loud.

6

Listen carefully to the overall mix of the drums and make any small adjustments necessary to get an even sound with the kick and snare slightly accented.

Rhythm Instrument Mix

1

Bring up the bass, panned center, until it is as loud as the foot on the attack of the bass notes.

2

Bring up a rhythm guitar to be as loud as the bass, panned fairly extreme (left or right), until it is a loud as the bass.
Hint: You can use solo buttons so you hear just these instruments or you can first solo one and then the other. Spend more time, however listening to the overall mix of drums and bass.

3

Bring up the other rhythm instruments , one by one, until each is as loud as the other. Pan to evenly fill the stereo perspective, starting with the extremes.

4

Carefully listen to the whole mix, adjusting levels to obtain a balance of even volume weight on all rhythm instruments.

Sweetening and Lead Instrument Mix

1

Bring up any sweetening instruments (like string or counter-melody instruments) and any background vocals until they are slightly louder than the rhythm section instruments, taken as a whole.

2

Bring up lead vocal and lead instruments to be slightly louder than the sweetening instruments and background vocals. Pan to most-evenly cover the left-right perspective.

3

Listen to the overall mix and make any slight adjustments necessary to obtain the desired balance.

4

Check that your levels are peaking between "-1" and "-6" on the 02R output meters and are not flashing in the red. Make small adjustments to the stereo output fader as necessary.

Obtaining a Mix - Step 3 - Adding Reverberation

1

Start with the snare drum to establish reverb levels for the drums. a) Solo the snare and bring up the aux send with the Room program, just to the point that the reverb is obvious, back down slightly. NOTE THIS LEVEL. b) With the entire mix playing, bring up the room program aux send for the snare to the point that the reverb is just obvious, then back down slightly. NOTE THIS LEVEL. Use a reverb level on the snare that is between the two levels obtained with step a & b.

2

Except for the foot drum, add reverb to each drum track in the same amount as on the snare, by knob position. Use little or no reverb on the foot.

3

Listen to the entire mix and assure that the amount of reverb on the drums makes them sound bigger and fuller without it being obvious that there is reverb on the drums.
Note: An even amount of reverb on the drum tracks makes the entire kit sound like it is the same distance away. Leaving off reverb on one track (like the high hat) will make that instrument sound in front of the drum kit. Reverb on low-frequency instruments such as the foot and the bass tends to muddy the attack on these instruments, hence use little or no reverb on these instruments.

4

Repeat Steps 1-3 on the rhythm, sweetening and background instruments starting with the first rhythm guitar.  Use little or no reverb on the bass, then add reverb to the lead vocals and instruments.

Obtaining A Mix - Step 4 - Signal Processing & Final Adjustments

1

Listen carefully to the entire mix. Where an instrument is indistinct, sounds muddy or sounds unnatural, use equalization to improve the distinction and the sound.
Note:  You need to listen to the result with the entire mix playing, because of masking. You can remove and add the equalization with the entire mix playing to hear the effect of the equalization.

2

Listen carefully to the entire mix and make any final adjustments to improve the mix quality.
             
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