Mixing—Part 1

 

      Whereas recording can be compared to building a house, mixing is more painting the house. The structure is there but we have to decorate it. Before we start though, there are some things to consider. The first thing to think about is your mixing space. A place that works well as a recording space may not work well for mixing. Secondly, you should never try to mix a song immediately after recording it. Your physical and listening fatigue may make the whole process frustrating and totally unproductive. Thirdly, you have to have a goal as to what you want the song to sound like. Lastly, don’t be in a hurry. You won’t get it right the first time or the third or even twentieth. Most professional mixing engineers will tell you that it takes about 8 hours on average to mix one song.

      Let’s consider the mixing space. We’ll assume that you have studio monitors placed at ear level about 6 feet apart and 3 feet from each ear with the tweeter pointed directly at your ear. Sub-woofers are great to have but not absolutely necessary and a comfortable chair is a must since you’ll be making good use of it. The room, ideally, should be wider than deep and the mixing position should be situated at the center point of the longer dimension with the monitors about 1 foot away from the back wall. Room treatment should be approached from an as needed basis. Don’t stick stuff on the wall unless you know you need it.

      How much time is the right amount of time to leave a song alone before you mix it? I would say you need one night’s sleep after recording before you mix. This gives your ears a chance to rest and lets your ideas about the direction of the song percolate in your subconscious. You’ll be surprised what will pop into your mind after you’ve been away from the studio for a bit.

      What color are you going to paint your house (song)? Are you going to use contrasting or complementary colors? You have to have some sort of idea what direction the song is going to take. Occasionally, a song will tell you what direction to take it but most of the time you have to provide the direction. If what you’re going for is similar to some other song, listen to it before you start mixing.

      Why does it take so long to mix a song? Well, when you’re first starting out, there’s a pretty steep learning curve and it will take quite a long time to get used to how things translate from the mixing space to the real world. When mixing my first CD, I just knew it was perfect but when we listened to it on my home stereo, it was atrocious. I corrected some problems and then listened to it in my car and it was still terrible. After about 3 more attempts, I figured out that my mixing position was the culprit. After moving my desk slightly, everything came together and now when I mix, I can tell whether something is going to work or not. Even after you get past the beginner stage, it will still take some time to mix a song. Each channel has to be compressed and equalized to sound right by itself and then equalized so that it fits with all the other tracks. Volume levels have to be manipulated so that nothing sticks out but yet you can still hear everything. Other effects, including reverb, chorus, phase shifting, etc, have to be added so that they contribute to the overall style and feel of the song without overpowering the underlying tracks.

      Now that the structure’s built and we’ve decided what color and style the painting will be, it’s time to get started—next month : Setting up the Mix 

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