Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Six Pillars of a Great Mix

   Almost every type of music you hear today be it Rock, Pop, Reggae, Rap, Country, Dance, and all the rest - although different in style all rely on SIX key things that factor into a great mix.

  •    Balance - The relationship of all the musical elements as it relates to volume. A great mix starts here. It's also important to under stand arrangements. If instruments fit well together in the arrangement side of things, the mixers job becomes a lot easier. The engineer will not have to deal with instruments that fight with another.
  •    Frequency Range - Having all frequencies in the audio spectrum represented properly. Because of a combination of factors in the recording process we sometimes need to extend or reduce the frequency range of a certain track or tracks. The main tool we use is an equalizer. But more than any other tool, the equalizer is perhaps the one that requires a skill that can separate the master engineer apart from an amateur.
  •    Panorama - Placing a particular musical element within the sound field. An often overlooked part of mixing, Panorama or panning sound sources to different parts of the sound field can create excitement by adding movement to the mix. It can also add clarity by moving multiple sound sources away from each other that may be colliding with each other in the mix. Panning can also make the track sound wider, deeper, and bigger.
  • Dimension - The ambient field where the track lives. Dimension can be captured during the recording process but may need to be created in the mixing stage. A common way to add dimension is with the use of effects such as reverbs and delays. Dimension can add excitement, create an aural space, or move a track back in the mix to give the impression it's farther away.
  • Dynamics - Controlling the volume envelope of a track. The manipulation of dynamics plays a major role in the sound. Almost nothing else can effect your mix in so many ways as dynamics can. Common tools to control dynamics and shape sounds are compressors, limiters, de-essors, and gates. Like all other things in the hands of a master the sound can be amazing, but wrongly used it could suck the life of a great mix.
  • Interest - Making the mix interesting and special.Using the other five pillars can give you a good mix, but adding interest to your mix can take it to the next level. Probably the toughest part in the mixing stage is to make it sound emotional, urgent and exciting, so that it's just not a song, it's a record. It coveys a story. Just like a movie, the music must breathe. Having a climax, points of tension and resolve to keep the listener intrigued.
   Now go and play your favorite tracks, of what you feel are great mixes. Try and see if you can point out the use of each one of the pillars. You may find some mixes only have the first four or five, but dynamics and interest have become extremely important as modern music as we listen to it today has evolved.

  For a more detailed explanation a book I often reference is the Mixing Engineers Handbook by Bobby Owsinski. You can find it here: Mixing Engineers Handbook

Till next time....


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