Why Mixing Music Is Like Mixing A Salad

canstockphoto22366692

I am a salad lover — ask anyone who knows me! So many combinations of flavors and textures can be combined to make a deliciously unique and satisfying creation for my tastebuds. As I was traveling down the salad bar line of my favorite restaurant recently, I realized how much creating an amazing salad and creating a successful mix in the studio are alike. Producing and mixing music can sometimes lack interesting elements. Too much crunch, swimming in dressing, not enough flavors to perk up my leafy green creation can make it boring and unsatisfying. The same thing can happen to a mix. These choices can be made by the producer and not the mix engineer, but in our home studios, we often wear the same hats. So, to help bring tastiness to your audio fare, here are some things to remember.

3 Main Ingredients Rule

Rules are made to be broken in mixing. But this rule is one to remember. When your are mixing a song, keep no more than 3 elements of your mix as the main focus, not including percussion. If there is a vocal, this will be one of the three elements. That leaves two more elements to have a large part of focus throughout your mix. If you have multiple tracks, including piano, synths, and assortment of guitars, horns — even background vocals — decide which tracks are best at delivering the emotional objective of the song. Volume automation is a useful tool to make certain your primary ingredients are not lost in the competition for attention. Do not try to have to have all elements be the star of the mix. That does not mean you should not give each part its chance to shine at a specific time. It means have focus, and give listeners a chance to feel grounded in the song. My salads always are best when there is a foundation created (Romaine, cherry tomatoes, and sweet Vidalia onion slices…yum!) with subsequent ingredients added to enhance the flavor of the main ones.

Crunch is Essential!

Yes, I do like croutons on my salad! But the crunch in your mix does not need to be as extreme and obvious as those toasty salad staples. You need texture in your mix to make it interesting, and even small amounts will work. The availability of saturation, clip-distortion, bitcrusher, and overdrive plugins make this rough and edgy sound easy to apply to your tracks. Don’t overdo it, though. Think about adding a brittle element to that mello brass synth by applying a warm clip distortion that also applies a low pass filter (around 2500Hz) to keep it subtle. Or try thinking outside the box and take that English court harp sample and apply a rough crunch and then apply a 1/4 note LEFT and 1/8 note RIGHT sample delay to add a sprinkle of texture. Completely reinvent your clap track with some extreme overdrive. You can also add that crispy crunch to one of your 3 main ingredients. Try adding some parallel processing to your lead vocal that includes some chunky amp distortion to give it sizzle. Whoever said that guitars should have all the crunchy amp fun? The point here is to not have a soggy, mushy mix. Just enough “graininess” to cut through and add excitement.

Chewy Surprises…Yum!

Your mix needs to have an element of surprise — what I like to refer to as “predictable unpredictability” — and this can be a make it or break it ingredient in your production. Nobody wants to listen to the same, inevitable chorus three of four times in a mix without being given something new to “taste” with each repetition. Each time the chorus repeats, add a new delay on the background vocal track. Or add some octave vocal doubling on a new track, and spice it up with a shimmery plate reverb. Or take your lead guitar riff and create a harmony for its consecutive chorus appearances. Add a cowbell hit, add foot stomps, add a new bass line. Just build upon what you have, sparingly but with intent. I like to think of this when I get to the middle of my salad where I cleverly hid those dried cranberries that give a new, sweet flavor that I was expecting — but still delighted to discover under that initial layer of lettuce.

female-in-studio

Creamy Dressing or Vinaigrette— The Final Touch

So we know that as we are getting to the final stages of our mix, every element must blend together tastefully. To me, the dressing is like the glue of our mix, and it brings the whole creation together, enhancing all the flavors and turning those separate ingredients into a combined experience. If we use mix-bus processing (applying plugins on our master fader) we can get a mix that will sound cohesive and balanced. For instance, a ballad may need subtle stereo width with some mid-side EQ. Or maybe the whole mix needs a slight dip in the low-mids (maybe 2dB around 400-500Hz) to relieve muddiness, and then a little high-shelf filter boost (1 to 2dB) above 8-10K to add some air. And let’s not forget about adding compression to the mix bus. There once was a common thought that this should be left for the mastering stage, but not so much anymore. The mild compression you use at this point to dress up your mix can contribute the sonic flavor you need to give your mix punch and clarity. Use compression here gently, with slow attack and fast release and minimal gain reduction at the loudest points — 1 to 2db is plenty. (Also, when you first begin to work on your mix, you may try using these compression settings on your mix bus from the start of your project). Another way to dress your music is to use reverb on your mix bus. This technique is frowned upon by some engineers, and promoted highly by others. You can thicken a dry mix with this approach, or blend in a small room or large hall with varying degrees of dry and wet. Whatever you may choose, let the song dictate what is needed. When I have carefully built my mouth-watering salad on my plate, the last thing I want to do is to ruin it with the wrong dressing.

So whether you are mixing a salad or mixing music, keep the senses happy! Think about using textures to achieve the sound you want. Don’t drown your mix with too much creamy and smooth — bring it alive with crunch and spice! And think of your mix as a whole, not separate pieces. Bring all the ingredients together in a way that they sound like they were made for each other. Just like the recipe for a delicious salad!

tip-2

Do you have any favorite mixing recipe ideas you would like to share? Leave a comment below, and keep on mixing!

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 1.25.32 PM

Pop Your Mixing Bubble With Mixing Allies

Music in pink

Think about it. When we are mixing music, we are probably doing it alone. It’s the nature of the activity. It’s hard to share headphones with someone else. It’s hard to find another mixing engineer or musician that sees eye to eye with our creative choices (and trust me, hold on to those connections when you find them!) That means we run the risk of isolation. This bubble syndrome is what we need to keep a careful eye on. Some of my best creative choices have come through comments and ideas of other musicians and engineers that I trust. It is easy to think we know what is best for our mixes. Sometimes, though, someone else’s point of view can make the difference between a good mix and a great mix. Here are some helpful suggestions to get the most out of searching for and developing relationships with allies in your music mixing world.

 

Share Your Mix-In-Progress With Like Minds

This is most likely the number one factor to consider when sharing your mixes with others whose opinions or advice is about to be given. This does not mean that you need to share only with audio engineers, producers, or musicians who play or think exactly like you. What it does mean is that you want to share works-in-progress with those whose creative GOALS are like yours. If your goals are to create music or songs that are emotional and dynamic, with a focus on vocals that are promoting an artist and involve unique applications of delay and saturation, then share your music with other engineers who are utilizing and knowledgeable with these techniques. They just might have the exact solution on to how to take that bussed delay and send it to the right amount of drive on your saturation plugin to achieve a soft clipping effect. The point is, if you are sharing with other mixers whose focus is, say, more on guitars and amp simulation or on synths and multi-filter sweeping, the advice you get may not be the best for your artistic situation.

microphone-616788_1920

Don’t Be Afraid Of Criticism

Yeah, I know this is difficult for most. But the fact is, if you are choosing your mixing allies wisely, you need to really listen to these “strong suggestions” with open ears and an open mind. Some of the best criticism can result in unbelievable improvement with your mix. If you are hanging out with like minds, you will notice a sense of relief that will come when you can share your work-in-progress with someone who acts like your second set of ears. When you have been working tirelessly on a mix and are close to the finish line, and you have a trustworthy, go-to second set of ears who listens to your work and gives critiques, it actually can lighten the workload for you. In return, they can feel confident coming to you in the future, knowing that you will do the same for them. This obviously does not mean that everything they have to say is right. And if they are your ally, they know this.

 

Work On Projects With Others

We need to enjoy the effects of other’s talents and personalities, and realize how they can enhance our music and mixes. Technology has given us the ability to write, produce, arrange, perform, mix, and master all in the comfort of our little studio world. We need to venture out of our bubble by taking on projects that include musicians and engineers we want to collaborate with. Your mixing skills will improve greatly by hearing a wide variety of vocals, instrumentation, and productions. Try taking on the task of audio editing (tuning, noise reduction, tempo tightening) for a producer or highly sought after mix engineer who wants to leave this “cleaning” detail for others. Get out to live music events and make real world connections with favorite musicians or FOH engineers. Or, hang out (virtually) with others on some of the widely available audio/mixing sites that promote community. One of the best such sites for connecting would be Dueling Mixes  http://www.duelingmixes.com/   — although there are also many free sites to be a member of with specific DAW related content that can help you develop just the right team of go-to allies that will understand you and your style, such as this friendly Facebook site for Logic X users https://www.facebook.com/groups/543628065696081/ The take away here is even with all the YouTube tutorials that exist, communication and relationships with like minds will be of a much greater benefit to your mixes.

 

Mixing allies will remind you that you are not alone in pursuit of your dreams and goals. These same peeps will also help take away that habit of over-judging and second guessing your mix by letting you know — honestly — that you totally nailed it. And, they will keep you listening. And learning. And smiling:)

Tip 14

Do you have specific people you trust to share your mix with before you call it finished? Are there any mixing communities that have helped you grow as a mixing engineer? Leave a comment!

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 1.25.32 PM

Women. Home Studios. DAWs. Woohoo!

So, you love mixing music, and you have no Y chromosome. You are in the right place! Mixing, mastering, recording, producing, audio editing — these skills are not accomplished with anything below o…

Source: Women. Home Studios. DAWs. Woohoo!

Mixing To The Beat Of A Different Drum

drum-285600_1920

In a home recording environment, we have the ability to track almost any instrument. But if your home studio is space limited, tracking live drums is not an option. The neighbors, your family, acoustics, as well as other reasons make it impossible. So, if you don’t have another studio to record that familiar drum kit, or if you don’t even KNOW a drummer — you can program drums yourself, or use drum loops. These will work well, especially if you know how to edit and “humanize” these beats. But, in a world that is growing smaller, we get a chance to hear the percussion of other countries via an Internet filled with unique taps, clicks, and swells and that awaken our ears. You do not need to mix or produce world music to use these distinctive instruments. They can fit seamlessly in pop, singer-songwriter, country, or ANY genre. I use them extensively, and you will hear an example in a mix of mine that I have posted at the bottom of this page. There are millions of samples and loops of these great alternative sounds waiting for you to incorporate into your next project. Here are a few ideas:

Keep reading…

Panning Techniques That Make Your Music Dance

little-girl-twirling-773023_1920

As mixing engineers, we want to breathe life into our creations. And, ladies, we need to remember how we listened to songs when we were little girls. Did you twirl around and dance to the music? Maybe you still do — and that is fantastic! What if you could achieve those “twirls” and movement in your mix? Well, you can! The movement of your mix is controlled by YOU, and you can bring your mix to life with some small, but very effective panning moves.

There’s more…

The Magical Doubled Guitar Trick

 

 

musical-instrument-1283362_1920

Hey! So you captured the perfect guitar performance and you are done tracking the song. You want to get a doubled sound to pan far left and far right, but you only have one great take. Recording a second double part is not an option (no time, guitarist is not available, tracking was done months ago, string broke, lol) but you want that wide stereo sound. Here is the answer to your dilemma. This trick can work well with any instrument under the same circumstances. It works when you have a repetitive chord progression.

Continue here…

Women. Home Studios. DAWs. Woohoo!

canstockphoto24458639

So, you love mixing music, and you have no Y chromosome. You are in the right place! Mixing, mastering, recording, producing, audio editing — these skills are not accomplished with anything below our belt line. We use our ears, our minds, and our hearts. The fact that most mixing engineers are males is just one of those things. Like the gender dynamics that existed in the medical field decades ago, when the term “doctor” produced an image of a middle-aged male with a smile and a stethoscope. But times keep on changing. Although we may still visualize a music producer or mixing engineer as a male in the framework of our mind, the access of affordable home recording and mixing technology is in the hands of everyone who wants to create music. Everyone. And I have a feeling that there are females out there who are rockin’ the Auralex off of their home studios. Ladies, this blog’s for you!

Continue here…