|Characteristics of a Good Music Mix
Written by Bill Gibson - ｩ 2006, Cengage Learning. Reprinted with Permission.
This article is an excerpt from the following book: The S.M.A.R.T. Guide To Mixing and Mastering Audio Recordings.
Strong, Solid, Yet Controlled Lows
It's extremely important to build a mix that distributes low frequencies evenly among the low-frequency tracks. If the kick is boosted at 100 Hz, the bass should not be boosted at 100 Hz擁n fact, most likely the bass should be cut at 100 Hz. Always consider the ramifications of boosting or cutting the same frequency on two or more instruments. If you're limited on your mixer to simple two-band, fixed-frequency cut/boost EQ, you must use good mic choice and technique along with educated EQ choices during recording of tracks.
Mids Distributed Evenly Among Various Instruments
The midrange frequencies contain most of the character of each sound. However, too much midrange results in a"honky" sound, and too little midrange results in a hollow, empty sound. It's important to control this frequency range. Midrange tones tend to help a mix sound blended and smooth, but overly accentuated mids can cause a mix to sound dull and lifeless in the high-frequency range or weak and powerless in the low-frequency range.
Strong, Smooth highs That Are Easy To Listen To
A mix that has one particular high frequency boosted on several instruments can take on an abrasive and irritating character. Highs must be distributed evenly.
* There are high frequencies葉ypically between 2.5 and 5 kHz葉hat create a piercing, harsh, and edgy sound when exaggerated.
* There are high frequencies葉ypically between 6 and 9 kHz - that add clarity without a harsh timbre.
* There are high frequencies葉ypically above 10 kHz葉hat add an airy quality to the sound with less of an apparent high-frequency boost.
Avoid boosting the same high frequency range on several tracks because this could result in a harsh-sounding mix. It is best to use proper mic selection technique, avoiding drastic equalization settings; however, once the tracks are recorded and it's time to mix, you simply need to do whatever it takes to produce an excellent mix, including correctly applying extreme equlization and other processing. Therefore, if you need to boost the high frequencies on several tracks, combine cuts and boosts across the high-frequency spectrum to create an even dispersion of tones.
A mix that sounds like it's stronger on one side than the other can be distracting. A good way to check the balance of a mix is on headphones. I'll usually listen to a mix on the phones just before I print the master. Headphones are very telling when it comes to stray instruments that might distract if not placed properly.
A mix can sound okay if it's two-dimensional ( just left-right), but when a mix sounds three-dimensional---or if the sounds seem distributed from near to far as well as left to right擁t becomes much more real-sounding.
Reverberation and delays add depth. It's usually best to have one instrument define the near character and one instrument define the far character. A simple dry percussion instrument is usually a good choice for the closest instrument. A synth string pad or guitar part might be a good choice for the most distant-sounding instrument. These choices are all dependent on the desired musical impact.
A stereo mix is more interesting if there are one or two instruments defining the far left and far right boundaries, although you must take care to ensure that the mix sounds good in both mono and multichannel formats. Mixes with boundaries closer in toward the center position-3:00 and 9:00 or 10:00 and 2:00葉ransfer very well to mono, but they aren't as fun to listen to in stereo.
If a song maintains the same intensity and texture from start to finish, it probably won't hold the listener's interest. As a mixing engineer, you should always strive to give the song the appropriate flow. A mix with strong momentum might start with only one instrument and the lead vocal, building to a full orchestration with exaggerated effects; or it might include subtle changes throughout the song that are barely noticeable but add enough variation to maintain the listener's interest.
Consistent Playback Quality
A mix is only good if it sounds good on any system it's played on. Too often a mix sounds great in the studio or on your own recording setup, but when you play the mix in your car, in your living room, on the club sound system, on the radio, or on your friend's mondo home entertainment complex, it sounds embarrassingly bad. Use near-field reference monitors to monitor most of your mix and, as a cross-check, include some larger far-field monitors and some very small radio-like monitors in your setup. Being able to check your mix on two or three sets of speakers can make the difference between good, usable mixes and bad, waste-of-time mixes.
Sounds Good in Stereo, Surround, and Mono
Continually cross-reference the sound of your stereo mixes in mono. Also, check your surround mixes in stereo and mono. Multitrack mixdowns are fun because they sound great. Don't ignore the fact that your multitrack mixes are likely to be heard in mono or stereo. Even though they might sound great in one format, they could sound terrible in another.
Consistent Focal Point throughout the Song
It's very important that the listener not be left wondering. As the mix engineer, it's your job to control the focus葉o build a mix that is undeniably easy to follow. Lead vocals provide the obvious focal point in most genres, but in the spaces between lyrics or musical sections, some mix ingredients need to take over, providing a bridge for the listener to the next musical section.
Controlled and Appropriate Use of Effects
The use of effects must create a discernable depth in each mix. Most mixes should sound very large and impressive, yet somehow they must also feel very intimate and personal. Each mix must be shaped and molded to fit within the soundscape that projects the most realistic musical emotion for that specific song.
There should be a feeling of motion and flow within the mixing panorama. Tracks don't necessarily need to sweep across the panorama, but there should be strategic pan positioning so that, as mix ingredients come and go, the listener feels the natural ebb and flow across the soundscape.
Inclusion of Acoustic Informstion
Acoustic ambience adds a unique sonic character to most mixes. The inclusion of appropriate amounts of natural ambience around a few recorded tracks helps the mix achieve realism that is otherwise difficult to create.
Acoustic ambience can be captured during tracking; however, it can also be added during mixdown. Simply play back the track or tracks through high-quality monitors in the desired acoustic environment, set up a stereo pair of condenser mics away from the monitors, and blend the room sound into the mix.
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