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Audio Mixing Problems

Audio Mixing

As a matter of fact, I am not sure at what stage you are in your journey of Audio Recording / Mixing and Live Sound Mixing. But after reading this intro to my new up-coming eBook you will have a better clarity, understanding, and direction while recording and mixing audio.
When all musical materials is rehearsed and ready, your Recording and Mixing will sound better, Radio and TV stations will love them, more people will enjoy listening to them and that means more fans for your band and that’s just the beginning for the sales of your CD.
I am sure you are well aware that audio mixing is a major solution to making your recorded songs sound impressive. Also a respectable audio mix can help make any musical Pop group at a Live Concert a real success.

Essentials of a Respectable Audio Mix

  1. BALANCE
  2. FIX
  3. ENHANCE
  4. SPACE

BALANCE does not mean to make everything the same level. It’s about choosing its focal points of the song and setting the various levels in a way that best brings out the emotion, energy, and message of every song.

Often we can get so engrossed in all the different gadgets and plugins we have at our fingertips, which we forget that balance is the most fundamental part of mixing. Fortunately digital audio is much more forgiving than analog audio, and so as long as it’s not clipping, you don’t need to worry about the levels too much. However, keep in mind that most plugins are dependent on the level of the input, so making this too soft or too loud can change the way that they process the signal.

Questions to Ask Yourself while mixing

  1. Which musical instrument is too loud in the mix?
  2. Which vocal parts in the mix are too soft?
  3. What can be missing in the mix?
  4. Can the vocals and lyrics be clearly heard on every line?
  5. Are the main focal points of the song loud enough?

FIX could be the most important aspect in making sure that your final mix sounds professional. One of the most defining factors of a professional production is that you can’t find anything wrong with it. There are so many different ways to mix and produce a track, and we may like certain styles and dislike others, but it’s this “lack of imperfection” that generally brands a production as “professional”.

So, we have to make extra certain that we have fixed anything that may sound wrong, out of place, or simply distracting in the mix. Correct?

Questions to ask yourself and important details to listen for

  1. Is there any musical instruments sounding too harsh?
  2. Are there any tracks that sound too boomy?
  3. Does the final mix sound muddy?
  4. Do any tracks sound displeasing to your ears when you turn up the volume to hear the dynamics?
  5. Is there any track that is out of tune?
  6. Are there any phasing issues in the mix?
  7. Is there any tempo issue in the mix?
  8. Are there any noises? Example: Clicks, Pops, Hums, etc.

Tool Requirements for Fixative

  1. EQ
  2. Compression
  3. Gate
  4. Auto tune
  5. Noise reduction
  6. De-esser
  7. Reverb
  8. Mute Button (Don’t misjudge the power of this tool)

Note: FIX: Helps to disguise a pitching problem. Obviously it’s not as effective as auto-tune, but it does help.

When using FIX: A medium to large reverb with not much pre delay will work best to camouflage tuning issues. A longer reverb tail helps to ‘smear’ the notes together making any pitching issues less obvious.

Enhance is fundamentally to some degree that makes the song sound systematically restored.

How would you know if you have enhanced something?

While listening to it and when you say “Wow that sounds cool”.

But what if the individual working with you doesn’t like it?

Well, enlighten them the difference between created and bypass.

This is the most Subjective part of audio mixing. Everyone has a different opinion of what sounds best, and despite the fact there are certain ‘boundaries’, there really isn’t a right or wrong.

Personally, the enhancement has always been my favourite part of mixing because you get a chance to transform each musical instrument and often mix together musical instrument on the multitrack into a stereo track that sounds great for CD use.

Keep in mind that what may be an Enhancement in one song, could sound “Terrible” in another song. For example, making a vocal sound really edgy and aggressive may work great in a Rap or Rock song, but could muck up pleasant acoustic ballad vocals, so you will obviously need to pick the enhancements that work best for the particular song that you are working on.

Questions to ask yourself when enhancing your mix

What musical instruments could be made warmer?

Which musical instruments could be brighter?

Could the vocals be more calm or aggressive?

Which musical instruments could sound bigger?

Would “Analog” equipment or “Plugin” work well in this track?

What plugin effects could enhance your vocals better? Reverb, Delay, Chorus, flanger etc.

Which effect could enhance the overall mix?

Tools for Enhancing Audio

  1. EQ
  2. Compressor
  3. Limiter
  4. Expander
  5. Analog gear or analog emulation
  6. Effects: Reverb, delay, chorus, flanger.

You may find it useful to enhance any given instrument while listening to it in solo mode; this is applicable at the first stage. However, once you have made the general adjustments and got it close to where you want it to be, it’s essential that you tweak it in context of the final mix. Enhancement is all about making the song sound better and all that matters is how it sounds in the final mix.

Note: ENHANCE: Make the vocal sound bigger and simply nicer to listen to.

When using ENHANCE: A bright sounding plate reverb with about 50 ms pre delay often sounds great on vocals. The pre delay serves to keep the vocal upfront in the mix while still adding some nice sustain.

“Space” is all about giving your “Final Mix” a sense of overall music Deepness and Dimension.

Have you ever listened to a song and just marvelled at how each instrument sounds as if it?

Musical instruments will have its specific ‘space’ in the mix. Of course, this is more noticeable in particular styles than others, but there is always something about professional productions that sound almost like “3D”. Why? When you listen to it carefully, It doesn’t just sound like all the instruments are on top of each other, there are guitars, keyboard, brass, backing vocals and wind musical instruments to the left and right, and you can hear that the bass drums, bass guitar and the lead singer sitting in the centre image. This is what to look out for when creating a sense of “Space in the Mix”. It is also popularly known as stage imaging.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. Is there any staging depth in the mix?
  2. What kind of space will be required to work well for your song?
  3. Do I desire the space to sound ‘larger than life’ or very close & intimate?
  4. Do I need a wide or narrow stereo image?
  5. How can I use “Pan” and “Reverb” to create more separation in the mix?

Primary Tools for Creating Space

  1. Pan
  2. Reverb
  3. Delay
  4. EQ

Note: SPACE: Give the vocals a sense of “Depth” in the Final Mix.

When creating SPACE: A medium sized room may help to push the vocal back into the mix slightly and make it sound as if it’s in a similar space to the band especially with Pop Music. The Plate Reverb mentioned earlier may not create this sense of space as the pre-delay will make the reverb sound more like an effect than an actual space.

Please note these points: Any outstanding mix is a balanced music. / Impressive mix must have all glitches fixed. / All mix must be enhanced to bring out the best in each of musical instruments. / A wonderful mix must be shaped so that the various instruments blend together. / Best of all, a respectable Final Mix must have a sense of Space, good Depth and Dimension.

The only difference is that the ‘professional mix engineers’ have had so much experience that they are doing this automatically and instinctively. They also tend to leap between various different techniques all at once, that’s because they have done it for so many years and that they know exactly what they are searching for in the final mix.

So, as you become more experienced, you may just toss up all the volume faders and start evaluating them track by track, then fix one by one as you go forward, then you will start to enhance and shape different instruments while at the same time creating a sense of space in the mix. This simply comes with experience, and you will sure to reach your “Goal”.

If at any time you are unsure of a mix then I would recommend using this support as a guide as it will help you to focus on the different aspects without getting overwhelmed. So the point is, although this may seem a little difficult at starting point, but with time and practice it will become easier, that’s from experience.

Please use this framework and the questions listed as you go through your next final mix. The point is, some of you might be already doing most of these audio events, but this will just help you to become more intentional about it, and also make sure that you don’t leave anything out. Remember, using every trick or technique, every plugin or piece of gear, every action taken while mixing should all start with a “Focus” in mind. With a clear focus in mind, this framework will assist and guide you through all your final mixes so that you can focus on what’s most important. “Making your creative songs sound great”. I wish you all the best with your music projects.

Alphonso Soosay

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