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Sound Practice

Session 11
An Introduction to Mixing and Mix Etiquette

© Pip Williams/UWL 2017

Where Do You Start?
This depends on whether the track was recorded
totally flat, or with EQ/Dynamics.
Obviously, it also depends on the style- Is it a
dance/hip-hop track or a pop ballad?
Is it sample or MIDI based, (possibly with
sounds running live in the mix?)
Does it feature all live musicians?
Is it drum led, or orchestral?
It’s horses for courses!
In the box, or on the desk?

Whether you are mixing in the computer, or on a

large console, preparation is important!
The ethos should still be the same
Leave nothing to chance
Have a clear vision of what you are trying to
How To Prepare
Have a thorough pre-mixing listening session
Know what emotion you want to convey to the
Ask the artist (manager and A&R man) what they
want to achieve. They are your 1st audience and
might be paying you!!
Know how (and where) you want it to sound
For club, car, i-Pod, hi-fi or blaster?
Before You Start
Try not to mix on the same day as you are recording
Clean up, bounce down (housekeeping!)
On your track sheets, clearly mark anything that’s not to
be used (essential for remixers!)
Play lots of reference material!
Big or small monitors?
The Perfect Mix?
Sherman Keene, in his brilliant book “Practical Techniques
for the Recording Engineer”, states 8 basic rules

Although these are several years old now, they still apply in
most cases!
Sherman Keene’s 8 Rules
A powerful and solid bass end

Proper use of the very powerful mid frequencies

Clear and clean highs

Proper, but not overburdening effects

And more!
Dimension- a sense of depth (careful mic
technique/room mics can help here)
Motion- intelligent use of panning
At least one true stereo track
Some acoustic information (not just reverbs and
delays. Sending samples to a speaker is effective)-
Obviously this will depend on the genre
Some Examples
“The Right Time”- The Corrs. A great mix with all
elements, but a bit one-dimensional

“Silver Lining”- Bonnie Raitt. A wonderful mix with

great depth

“Time of our Lives”- Bonnie Raitt. Thoughtful, even


“Hear Me Lord”- Bonnie Raitt. Effective acoustic

Setting Up The Desk
If mixing on a console- organise tracks and sub-
groups tidily- re-patching may help…
…keep drums/percussion together: guitars;
keyboards: vocals etc…
…keep close to hand the things that will be ridden a
lot during the mix
(although you don’t physically re-patch in Pro Tools,
you can still drag tracks up or down)
Check thoroughly for noisy or intermittent
channels, which could interrupt creativity later on!
Desk Set Up (continued!)
Set each fader, one at a time to max. Adjust Tape
Trim to read +2db VU on the main output (or -2
near the top of the Audient master meters). This
will give more headroom and improve SNR.
Set the effect returns up in a logical, tidy fashion!
Beware noisy effect returns- send a good level
without clipping
Some top engineers even send a tone through the
effects to set the output level to unity
Let’s Start to Mix!
OK, you may have an idea of what you want, including
key elements.
But push up the faders and listen- get a feel for flow
and arrangement
Set a quick rough mix and make a note of the peakiest
Deal with these peaks on the source tracks! Just adding
a final stereo peak limiter will simply pull everything
down and leave holes in your mix!
Be brutal if necessary!
Just because it’s been recorded doesn’t make it
Make a note of the track’s strengths and
weaknesses (this will help you to decide what to
feature and what to lose!)
Think about musical dynamics- muting and
bringing in items (Dub!)
Leaving a space will make the powerful sections
even more powerful!
What do I Push Up First?
Most of the time, the drums
But it could be the lead vocal!
Don’t be too subtle. As new parts come in,
introduce them louder than they’ll be, then ease
back into the mix (a George Martin trick). This
excites the listener
Leave headroom on the master fader to allow for
the mix to build (Example - “Somewhere”)
Make the panning interesting and

Try not to put shakers and cabasas on the same side as

the hi-hat
Separate strong rhythmic elements- e.g. Congas
opposite rhythm guitar
Dance tracks may need a narrower stereo than spaced
out ambient stuff (think of pub systems too!)
Try mono reverbs- remember that stereo reverbs can
cloud localisation
Don’t get bogged down!
Don’t dwell on individual elements for too long
Like an arranger or musician, often the first idea is
the best one!
Don’t listen in solo for too long- it’s the whole
picture that counts!
Move on if in doubt- you can go crackers listening
to a snare drum for 4 hours!
On the subject of EQ
Excessive EQ boosting can often make your mix
sound unnatural
Subtractive EQ may be the answer
Watch Frequency Masking
Sherman Keene refers to the “Powerful Mid
Frequencies”. Well the low mids are a big danger
area, as can be demonstrated by adding some to
this perfect mix of a Mary Chapin-Carpenter song!
EQ on effect returns can be useful (removing
Use of Dynamics
Beware excessive gating on drums- don’t gate all the
life out!
Try compressing the whole grouped kit
We have already seen that Parallel compression can
work miracles- particularly on vocals!
Try compressing effect returns
Use the lead vocal as a compressor side-chain on
Beware “Double Compressing” if the whole mix is
also compressed (those ratios will multiply!)
Treating the whole mix
“Never more than you might later regret!”
Is there the remotest chance that your work will be
professionally mastered?
If so, you could just leave it all to the expert!
If not, ALWAYS keep an untreated master copy
To Automate or not?
Should the mix be like a performance?
When using a large console with automation, you
could do a series of manual mixes, keeping them
all until you get one you like, for tweaking!
Do Logic and Pro Tools negate the chance for mix
spontaneity? (take care adding automation on top
of automation!)
How Long?
While some effects and techniques may take a
while to set up, the basic picture should not!
Rest your ears occasionally
Don’t listen loud for too long (or too quiet!)
Take a rough copy to another room/the car/iPod
If it’s an album, play alongside other tracks for
Final Transfer
If mixing to external hardware, have plenty of good media
(CD’s, Tape even!)
Don’t forget to finalise CD’s in the CD burner!
ALWAYS check the mix back for glitches/dropouts. Don’t
leave this to chance!!
ALWAYS run a safety copy
Mixing into Pro Tools
Create a new stereo audio track (label it- e.g. “Mix”)
Choose a pair of RedNet inputs (e.g. A 1&2, 3&4, 5&6 etc.)
Ensure nothing else is routed to those same inputs
Choose a pair of outputs for your “Mix” track- ideally an
unused pair, but at this stage, you can just mute its output if
it’s shared with other tracks (you will only need to listen to
this track to check the mix back anyway)
Plug the desk mix output into the selected RedNet inputs
Recording the mix
Run the track, record enable or select “Input” on your
“Mix” track and check its input levels (ensure there are no
red “over” peaks)

Remember, you can always insert a master compressor over

the patchbay Mix Inserts, if desired

Record your mix, making any creative moves on the desk

Check back your mix- you can just solo the “Mix” track
inside Pro Tools to do this

When happy with your mix, export the mix file……

Exporting the mix file
Locate the “Mix” file in Clips (Edit window, to the right)

Select it, then in menu, select “Export clips as files”

Choose file type (e.g. AIFF, 44.1, 24 bit, interleaved)

Choose destination (desktop?) and export it

Either drag file into Toast, or to a new Playlist in iTunes

Go to File> Burn Disc from Playlist


Always check the CD to ensure it plays back!

Don’t forget, for Assignment 2 of Sound Practice, you must

include the Ass 1 rough mix AFTER the final mix

Therefore, you might at this stage create a new Toast or

iTunes Playlist and burn both mixes to another CD