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Why everyone is a good mixer - encouragement & hints before you start

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I often read things like “well, I am no good at mixing”, so to all who feel this way, here are some encouraging things you should know – and some easy to understand things one should keep in mind when mixing audio.

The good news is: You are equipped with the most excellent tool to do great audio mixes!
The human ear is the highest developed sense humans have, and you will be surprised to find out how accurate your hearing is.

If you are able to tell when a guitar is out of tune, than that is proof that you are able to distinguish wether the guitar string is swinging at p.e. 440 or 450 times per second – your eye would not see the difference, but your ears are really sharp :)

The second thing besides the pitch is noticing things at high speed – while your eyes will see whirling sticks when a drummer plays a drumroll, your ear still easily distinguishes every single beat and will give you a clear idea if one single stroke sounded different from the others, or if the tempo slightly varies.

Of course, being a musician and older than 10years, some will claim they have lost some hearing, and yes, that will affect your mixing in some ways, still both abilities mentioned so far remain and are even available with one deaf ear.

For those with two working ears, here is a third thing I am sure you can do, and which you will be happy to use on your mixes:
Everybody is able to tell if a sound came from the left or the right, and if it happens close or far away.
By comparing the minimal difference in a signals contact to our ears, we have some sort of 3D-hearing, and we will be able to tell if a sound was close or far away by noticing if the sound came in as a clear direct-sounding signal, or if it was washed by being reflected on its way to our ear.
Think of someone talking to you from twenty steps away in a huge cathedral – the volume will be lower, and the sound will be quite different to someone talking right into your ear.

This 3D aspect of the hearing experience is something which is hard to capture on a recording, but your ears are excellent at this. Surround-sound systems are one approach to answer that, but stereo is all you will need to create a three dimensional mix.

When mixing, we will make use of those gifts all the time, all you need to learn is which tool affects which of these parameters, and which common mistakes you should avoid. That is what we are going to look at next.

Common mistakes
It sounds good to me, so its a good mix!
This is problematic. The point that it sounds good to you is affected by so many things (including your ear), that it is always better to make such statements relative:
This sounds good to me on my headphones
may be true, but have you tried a big-speaker stereo system or a cars hifi system?

No, you do not need to hear every mix on a lot of sound systems, but it is a good thing to do that every now and then, so you keep a feeling for the differences.

As soon as you know that all mixes you made with your headphones will have too much bass in your car, you can start to mix with that in mind.
Your next mix may sound a little weak in the bass in your headphones, but will not blast you out of your seat in the car. Good mixes should sound good on all kinds of speakers.

Get to know your monitors specialties and know their limits. When choosing monitors, try to get those who have an “average” sound, good studio monitors will never sound as warm and bumpy as hifi speakers, but they give you the best idea how to get a mix which will sound good everywhere.

The second thing to keep in mind besides the speakers is the sound of your room. Every room ads a special kind of sound experience depending on its size, amount of carpets or hard surfaces etc etc.
If your room has a great acoustic for unplugged guitar playing, then it propably produces some natural reverb (that is why people love to sing in the bathtub, too).

If you mix in that same room, the reverb will be there as well, so you might not feel the need to add any to your mix.
Again, listening in your car, you will notice the mix sounds a little dry and could use some reverb! This is the reason why recording studios often have "muted" rooms that do not produce any reflection, so the recorded signal is not catching any room related sounds.

If you have ever been in such a room, you'll know it is a very strange experience, and most people are happy to leave such rooms after a short time, so please do not try to mute your living room.

Bottom line: Before you start to mix, think about your sound setup and its specialties for a moment.

You can do great mixes on cheap speakers in an awfully sounding bathroom if you are able to keep the effects in mind, so do not think this calls for large amounts of money or a new room.

Hope you enjoyed the read!
Edited by Dick on November 21 2014 14:16
posted on #2
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i DID enjoy my read very much - thanks, Dick. seems you put a lot of thought into this.
posted on #3
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this is very interesting and informative and very helpful Dick, thank you ! :)
posted on #4
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True, I always mix with my headphones.... But it sounds much different when I am in my car.... Saving up for some studio monitors... :)
posted on #5
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sorry bud,but my wife reckons.IF THE HEADPHONES GO,THEN SO DOES SHE!!!:D
posted on #6
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Also true Davebee! :) there's always the wife.... :)
posted on #7
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may I discretely remind you that the title of this thread was not "why every musician is a good husband"?
You got it all wrong - once you know how to MIX well, your wife will want to listen all the time!

disclaimer: No, I don't guarantee she will stay around that long, no, dont sent me any divorce lawyers bills, thank you.
"Sorry - had to do it!" - Les Claypool

yes, you are looking at the administrators signature.
posted on #8
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All so true,but there ain't that much to mix when your on the 17th branch of the tree.
And a good advice,go easy on the headphonesvolume or after a few years you won't have to do any mixing no more
Nothing about the placement of the monitors? as this is one off the most importend things to do a mix.
True you can take your mixes to different location,but a car is one off the worst.
Edited by fanne on November 27 2014 12:44
posted on #9
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Hey John,

you wrote:
- the 17th branch of a tree - of course remixing remixes is harder, but then again thats why people can post single tracks on wikiloops.

- headphone volume - absolutely! no one advised burning your ears out

- monitor placement does indeed matter if you are aiming at a "linear" monitoring situation. Most beginners won't, so getting a grip to "how is my home monitoring compared to the average hifi" is a good point to start - you will have to learn this regardless of monitor quality (linear monitors set up correctly also do not sound like the average hifi system). Feel free to open a "monitor placement advice" thread anytime!

- car is one of the worst - absolutely true, thats why its good to check a mix in a car.
Cars almost always have a very bassed-up sound to compensate the motors noise. If you have too much bass on your mix, you will definetly hear that in a car! It is a common place where people enjoy music, so a good mix should work there just as well.
Ever since people started listening by smartphones, there is a new challenge going on to mix so the track will sound good on a smartphone... good mixing will try to cater to those situations just as well. Which is extremely difficult, especially if you have a smartphone that will not be able to playback any frequency lower than 200Hz because of its size...
It really depends on the "market" you mix for. I know your aims are different than producing smartphone compatible pop, I just wanted to give some introductionary hints on the monitoring matter :)
"Sorry - had to do it!" - Les Claypool

yes, you are looking at the administrators signature.
posted on #10
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Maybe I should of read this before deleting a bunch of remixes because my sound changed. Thanks Dick. Read and understood. Appreciate the time and effort you put into this.
posted on #11
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I know this is an old thread but I have to put in my 2 cents. (2nd try).

Back in the day record companies actually mastered recordings in a car because that is where the listeners were (The dash board of the car was actually a mixing board). I don't go to those extremes but I do my final mixes on an old skool stereo (the speakers look like furniture) and it seems to be pretty honest except that nowadays listeners use a computer and Youtube to listen to their music.

There is NO reason to use expensive "break the bank" monitors because NOBODY is going to listen to your music on high-dollar equipment. It will most likely be heard with earbuds, book-shelf speakers, or the little Bullet speaker.

The best thing to do is to test the recording in a car, on a computer, and with earbuds before "finalizing" it.

After recording for 30 years I have found that there is NO monitor that will give you a perfect mix. I have chased this tail for way too long. Listening to The Beatles in a car sounds way different than on a computer, only trial and error with different cars and computers will get a "compromisable" sound.

I love Wikiloops....rock on!
posted on #12
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Yes, very well explained!

There is one simple way to end much of the frustration... Find a professionally mastered recording of anything you love to use for a level reference model. Bring it to where you master your own, and place an ANALOG EQUALIZER between the mixing source (computer, gear etc) and your ears (not your rears). If you use headphones, plug them in to the LAST module, AFTER the EQ.
Then play the professionally mastered recording through the same pathway as your mix would pass, working the snot out of the EQ until it's as awesome here as anywhere else. Then super glue all the settings or something. Congrats, you now have a professional quality monitor system!
posted on #13
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informative and very helpful Dick, thank you !
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