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Mixing

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All started from there :

"To power on the PC, recording a track, 12 tracks, I can make it ! It's the mixing that is missing to me. For example, I have some drums, a bass in MIDI, 2 rhythmic guitars, one on the right, one on the left, distorsion sound in audio. I put a beautiful solo in the middle. And there, I have an indigestible soup ! Who could give me some consultings to make each track "distinguishable" one of the other ? I play in vain with the reverb and the Eq-ins, not so terrible. You know what ? I believe that it's a true job !"

When FeedBacl starts to bath in the soup, it means that the problem is really difficult. Rather than laughing when looking at him sinking, the gray eminences of the Cubase Mailing-List - who didn't have however anything to gain there - started to help him ! Your servant then said himself that it would be a pity that all the expressed consultings evaporate, and decided to consolidate all that. It could be useful to other people and in particular for your servant himself.

Your remarks are welcome, because it's of course useful to supplement and improve this talk in the time.


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Your servant didn't invent anything, considering he knows nothing there ! So, thanks to Miroslav HERMAN, FeedBack, Leo-Pierre CUSTEAU, Gilles BLAIS, CATS, Stéphane SICHI, Bruno BARBERI. May the forgotten ones make known themselves, they will be added !

1 - Initial conditions for a good mix

Starting to mix supposes that you have already recorded or programmed a certain number of MIDI or audio tracks. The part is perhaps already lost or quite committed at this stage.

To have a good arrangement

The sound can be distributed on at least three axes : time, frequencies, space. The arrangement determines the distribution on the axis of times. If all the band played the strong time, don't cry because of the mix. Il would be too late...

Controlling the sound

Unfortunately, apart from all mix, the possibilities to deteriorate the sound don't miss. Does the place where the recording is made resound ? If there is more than one mike, are they in phase ? Are they well positioned ? Is the type of mike adequate for the type of instrument ? Does the quality of the soundcard deteriorate the recordings ? Does the mixboard have a parametric EQ ? Does it colour the sounds ? Does the compression destroy the sound ? If there is a need to increase or to cut more than 3 to 4 dB, then the initial sound recording is probably failing. A bad sound recording will never give more than one compromise when mixing, no matter the equalization.

It gives the willies (thank you Gilles). But at the beginning, you don't need necessary to be driven nuts with all that. Just remember that you need to have a good and very pure sound recording (without effects and no loss of frequencies) in order to not bar yourself from that later. We know how to add some reverb on a sound, we don't know really how to remove it if it is present at the sound recording (place that resounds). To have also good MIDI sounds...


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2 - The mix

We already saw that it was necessary to distribute the sounds according to 3 axes : time, frequency, space. For time, the dice are already relatively thrown. For the two other axes, it's the entire problem of the mix.

The final mix, therefore the sound that you hear, is a sort of stacking of various layers of sounds, a kind of building with many floors. Some instruments are on fixed floors (ex : Bass and Kick : in the bottom - HH cymbal in the top). Where it's more difficult, it's in the middle 'cause here, there is all the remainder : voices, guitars, keyboard, snare, toms, brasses... (Thank you Stephane).

Distributing the frequencies : the equalizer

It's necessary to start from the principle that you can put one instrument on each floor, and thus to impoverish some of them in order that they go upfloor or downfloor. Example : if the bass sounds very low, then make a very kick piqué (no low frequencies that trail) ; this is applicable to all floors. Other example, if there's a good voice sound by increasing for example the frequency 1.8 K, then cut a little this frequency on the guitar track.

A means can be to pass to the analyzer of spectrum each instrument to prevent that there are two of them which overlaps on a too great range with frequency. If such is the case, to pass a small blow of parametric equalizer to attenuate the frequencies which are not the power stations of the instrument. During the equalization of the tracks, it's better to cross than to add.

Lors de l'égalisation des pistes, mieux vaut couper qu'ajouter.

Using space as well as possible : panning

For the middle (medium), considering there are many informations, we play also on the stages but with the panning, which makes it possible to air the mix, to separate the parts without they being higher... The stage must also be balanced, that's what we try to do permanently with the panning by positioning two complementary parts on a same stage but with opposite sides. Example : Gimmick of guitar wha-wha to 10:00, Gimmick of keyboard to 14:00.

Increasing the importance of each track : the volume

What is very significant is not to have an enormous sound of an instrument, because this last one will necessary stoll the place of an other one (nothing is worse than large sustains of keyboards that will eat the bass, and there you say : "f ####, I can't hear the bass anymore", you increase its volume : "f ####, I can't hear the rhythmic guitar anymore", you increase again... and it's like climbing. The same thing happens with MONSTROUS distorsion guitars...). The significant thing is on the contrary to make the sound of this instrument being well integrated in the mix. Rather think to impoverish the individual sounds for better binding them.

In adding : effects

It would astonish me that there shouldn't have been one guy who didn't ask the question... First, a little as for the volume, have some tact. You had tired yourself to do something clear, it's not the time to destroy all. Begin in general the mix almost without effects. Then, put the right effects on the right instruments (don't do anything stupid). There are many effects (reverb, delay, chorus, Flanger to quote only them), and associated parameters too (aux sends in pre or post-fader, percentage between direct sound (dry) and effect to quote only them). In order not to make a large wart in the talk and not to reach the threshold of incompetence of your servant, see the bibliographical reference "Effets : paramétrage et mode d'emploi" (In french !).

Never forget that over-used effects scramble the mix, especially if their quality is bad.

Testing a mix

Once the mix finished, it's necessary to listen to it on other speakers, in other places (car, living-room), on various players (audiochain, car radio, tape deck for 3 pennies....) to have various acoustic conditions. You could also convert to mono in order to see whether all is held. I

f necessary, mix again and again to make it sound well !

Training for mixing

The most significant thing : listening to many different musics from discs, some mix, analyzing why you hear this, how, etc.

It's as well necessary to know your speakers (listen to the discs you like, generally on those speakers).


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3 - And Cubase in all of that ?

Well, it's necessary to read the ad hoc headings of the site and the documentation of Cubase to control all the functions of mixing (MIDI mix, audio mix, audio + MIDI mix, the effects from Cubase, the adding of the plug-ins).


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4 - Bibliography

Title : "LE LIVRE DU SON"
Editor : MUSICOM Publication
Auther : SIGWALT and CIDON

An excellent book to start having some basic theoretical recalls (it's better to have at least your certificate of studies to follow...) and a lot of explanations and examples of use about each elementary machine, compression, equalization, and many others.

It is written by sound engineers who should have already knocked about the world in the place and even if the book misses a little organization and rigour, there's really the impression to receive a lesson in residence about mixing. There are a lot of concrete examples, moreover the examples are completely integrated into the explanations. It comprises even a CD of accompaniment for better realizing of the various aspects of mixing. This CD proposes a test of deafness, so that you can measure at which point you are already deaf !!!

In short, the book is halfway between a paving stone filled with absolutely hermetic equations, and an except serie of magazine explaining that compression is used to compress and that you should be paid attention because the machines made in quality are more expensive...

Title : " Paramétrage et mode d'emploi "

Micro et Musique #4, décember/january 97/98

This article explains on three pages what is an effect, how it is made, how it is parameterized, etc. The concepts of routings pre/post fader, plug in series or parallel, sends and returns of a mixing board, are defined. The main effects (reverb, delay, chorus, flanger) are exposed. Some hardware are reviewed.

For an initiation, the talk is clear and synthetic.

Quotations

Listen to space between instruments, in other words try to collect the air that threads between the sounds. (Leo Pierre)

I would specify a little the image of the building. Each instrument plays and doesn't play. IIts address in its indentity card is at the 3rd floor OK, but the fact that it plays can be regarded as an appearance at the window, and us, the listeners are outside looking at the show of the mouths that appear at the windows OK ?

Now we start from the fact that the official residence is at the appart of the 3rd floor. OK ? But according to moment, the guy goes visiting the neighbor above, and during a note (a moment), he comes out the head by the window that belongs however to the neighbor who precisely has gone to another neighbor... and comes out his head by the window of this other neighbor !

The play between the listener and the composer is precisely for the first one to guess who will appear and where, and for the second one to surprise him by making possible that each ""resident" appears elsewhere, in order to surprise us (without the surprise - mortal trouble)... (Miroslav)

Note : your servant was obliged to cut this talk, too long compared to our objective (you know Miros). For those who crossed the basic problems of mixing, it's very interesting to remember the principle above that introduces a dynamic component. To fix each one on the good floor (frequency) and the good appart (panning) it's right, but to vary the whole thing in time gives unlimited ideas of creation, pleasant with the ear.

Daniel QUENOT, on the 17-05-1998

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