Can you see through your mix? Learn the hardest Mixing Skill

42% Kick Drum. 30hz to 300hz

38% Rave synth. 500hz to 18khz

10% Reverb Bouce/ Depth

 10% Distortion/ Noise / Air Added

 

Wtf are you talking about Nyonyxx, I can hear it now. You've lost your mind ( again )

Wouldn't be the first time, but thats besides the point. Let's play a game ( insert creepy voice )

Your track can only hold 100 points. Thats it, Max level.

If you want, in theory you could put a pure sine wav at 43.65 hz and loop it. Theres your song. After compression and magic your song is now sitting at the proper RMS level, it is " Pro loud "

Problem? Well its just one, horribly loud deep bass tone ( I assume this is horrid sounding, didn't try ).

So whats the point?  

You can fill your track with what ever the hell you want. This is good and bad.

Good? Yay let's make some sounds !

Bad ? You have a good chance of putting in to much of the bad sounds, at bad ranges, with wrong levels.

That could be considered mixing at the most basic level , having proper levels on everything to get the best 100 points you can collect. Put it this way, lets pretend that ideally your track has

25% Bass ( 30hz to 300hz)

25% Mids ( 300hz to 1.5khz)

25%Mid-Highs (1.5khz - 10khz)

25% Highs ( 10khz- 20khz)

Remember at max volume, pro level, the track will always be at 100. So ideally you would be as close to 25% on all those ranges ( because if not, say one range is 10%, then you will have to make up at 15% else where ) Making up that 15% else where means that one range/ element will be far to loud and out of place.

(*note, just to say again, these numbers and ranges are 100% made up, don't try to follow them in your productions)

Numbers aside, where I am going with this is the simple question I get asked time and time again 

" Why doesn't my track sound like xyz"

Mixing has a lot of variables , 1000's so its hard to give a perfect answer. But the real reason is that on a micro level your mix doesn't have good levels and ideal sound selection.

The numbers I used above are WAY to big of a range, ideally you'd have much smaller ranges and percentages but that would be hard to explain. 

This brings me to the point of this post, so you know you have to have " ideal levels " but you just can't do that? Why?

Its a combo of two problems

1. You can't hear them. 

Crazy as it sounds, the longer you produce the more you " hear " through the mix. For example, I grew up on Tiesto's In search of sunrise stuff ( back when trance was king and everyone called dance music " techno " regardless of genre ). I haven't listened to those tunes in years, in fact since I started producing music I haven't listened to them. I recently put in the CD , remember those things? Yea , I put the CD in and....

WOW 

It was like seeing the matrix, the tracks sound way way different, I notice things in tiny detail that never occurred to me in a million years before producing music... to put it blunty

I experience music on an entirely different level now.

I'm not saying this is a good thing or bad thing, its just what happens over years of producing. The point is that you hear the mix on a different level and I assume 10 years from now, listening to music that I like now will sound way different as my ears will have grown and developed over that time.

Back to the problem, you can't hear through the mix, this leads to the bad levels and mixes you aren't stoked with. 

Solution ,

Practice and time. Lot's of both.

I wish I had a better answer, or a huge short cut , but sadly they don't exist. I have a few tips that will help you ( more on that later ) but the best help I can ever give anyone is to tell them to just keep making music and try to improve 1% on each track. I forget the exact quote, but Deadmau5 once said something like, "I had to put out 3000 " shit tracks " to get to the good ones."

It takes a lot of trail and error to get to the good tracks.

 

Problem Number 2?

2. Even if you can hear through the mix a bit, you still can't translate it on your own.

Luckily this is the easier problem to address.

New producers tend to over boost the same levels, over and over again. I did it, he did it. We all did it. I've been sent 1000's of tracks over the years and 90% of them that had " problems " had the same level problems, so although I am going to generalize with these tips, they most likely apply to you. ( if your having these issues )

Again, just learning to hunt and pick elements out of the mix is everything, once you learn that your life will change, until then try these 3 helpers on hearing whats going on in your mix with more clarity.

1. EQ A-B

What's this, I already A-B ( listen to pro's, listen to mine, listen to pro's, listen to mine etc) . 

Yes most people do this, and its AWESOME, however to even get a better idea of whats going on I love to " EQ out " parts of the track to isolate the sound I want, and work on that.

Its hard to " hear through the mix " when your new, you tend to listen to the loud elements and the high elements first, this is just the design of human ears. 

I am going to use an example where I used this process awhile back, in order to figure out a sound.

I wanted to figure out, how Madeon got a certain punch to his drum. I couldn't get the proper thud I wanted. Now of course, drums are made up of a LOT of layers, but the one layer I couldn't get right was sitting somewhere in the 150hz ish range. 

I figured this out from( a lot of practice ) but even if I didn't know the range I was looking for I could still do this.

I simply EQ out EVERYTHING on his track, everything that isn't in that range. Some EQ's have a solo button ( Ozone) and you can solo back and forth between this and that. Now EQing out everything can be rather hard to learn to use properly, because when you do it everything sounds like shit.

I mainly use it to check the Attack/Decay/Sustain/Release on a element,or even its position in the mix when needed. In the case of Madeon's drum, and that section, I just couldn't get the tone I wanted. When I EQ'd this, I realized that he had a WAY different style of drum in this range then I normally used, after finding a sample to fit, the problem was solved. If I would have never EQ'd out everything, I doubt I could have figured it out.

EQing out everything, isn't something you always need to do, but can help in certain situations when you are trying to emulate a sound. It let's your ears focus on that elements range only, which should get you closer to the sound you want.

2. Mid- Side it

I don't want to turn this into a article on Mid- Side Processing, but from a " hearing aspect " mid side process and soloing stuff can work just like the above EQ cutting.

Izotopes Ozone ( and many others ) has the ability to process things in Mid Side.

Basically, Mid is the center of the stereo image and side is the edges of the stereo image. 

Now this has many benefits in production in general, but for the scope of this article I am just going to talk about it as a listening through the mix tool.

Often times, producers will have the problem of width and the track not sounding " big " . A cool thing to do with mid side is to just solo the mid, then solo the side,so you can listen to how much volume is in each section. This can also give you a different point of view on the mix so to speak.

Here is a clip of Ummet Ozcan's Track Smash ( which I felt was a good mid / side example) First is Full, then Mid and then Side.

 

With this example, you can hear the difference that mid side can make. Not only is it a processing tool ( I will talk about at some point ) , but it allows you to hear the mix in an entirely different light.

It's interesting to note, how  " heavy " his side sounds. I've found that a lot of new producers have a problem getting heavy width , for lack of a better term. Plug in your own track and check how heavy it's width is, if its lacking ( or not there at all) you now have a solid idea of how to go about things.

*note, heavy, is a retaliative term . Since there is no bass/ lows etc in the side of the track, I mean heavy just as a lot of bulk for the side of the stereo image. Also one reason why the track sounds so huge, and so loud is due to this width of the main lead.


3. High End Audio Card

I don't normally talk about things you need to buy and in fact you don't need to " buy this " however the first time I heard a high end audio card, compared to stock was AMAZING.

In plain terms, the mix width on my monitors grew by 30%. It was like the mix before was smashed and the card opened it.

If you are using low end playback devices to mix, I am not sure if it would make any difference , but for guys with a home studio set up they are solid.

I am going to just go over 3 cards I've either used or currently use.  I will post ones at different price points as well.

Basic

Native Instruments , Traktor Audio 2 was the first card I got ( it was a different name back then )

Pro's

- Better sounding then what came with my PC

- Powerful enough ( loud enough ) for clubs

- Cheap ( for a audio card ) 

- Easy to use and set up

Con's

- Mine broke about every 6 months, I used it at clubs and it got a bit beat up.

- After listening to higher end cards, I realized this card " compresseses " the sound for volume. I don't know the tech specs on it, I don't think its actually compressing, but it sounds that way compared to the elite stuff. Basically, a smaller stereo image.

- Tended to color certain things, I'd like to see if it actully EQ'd sounds a tiny bit different. It seems to me it was designed for night clubs in mind, but the coloring may be less then ideal in a studio

High End 

Focusrite , Scarlett 8i6. This is a solid card, in fact I use it often and it has a MUCH improved stereo image over the NI card. This was the first card that made me realize that the NI card seemed to color and alter the image some what. There are some cheaper versions of this card as well, never used them but I think they have the same internals.

Pro's

- Amazing sound for the price

- Best stereo image I have found at this price point

- Used for years with no issues

- Many more features and inputs compared to the NI card

Con's

- Not as loud as the NI card ( but clean and not colored as much )

- More bulky and hard to carry around

- Not the best card for a traveling DJ 

-Price, its " a great value " for its price, but still up there

 

Elite ( but not insane price)

* note, I am using the term Elite loosely, there are cards that cost thousands of dollars more then this, so Elite in terms of quality but not at the top of the mark so to speak. 

Prism Sound- Lyra . Top notch card, used by pro's around the world. Prism has some of the best sounding cards out there, and the Lyra is their lowest price model.

Pro's

-Deadmau5 Approved 

- Same quality as the higher end models

- Confidence that your using solid gear, that's trusted by top people

- Truly beautiful audio quality for audiophiles around the world.

Con's

- Over 2 grand, for the lowest end model

- Have to worry about keeping tight watch of your 2 grand audio card

These are just some of the cards I like, there are tons of other amazing audio cards on the market as well.

Conculsion

With time and practice, you will learn to see through the mix. Over time this skill develops on its own. However, these few tips and products will hopefully allow you to get there a bit quicker.

 

Until Next time

_withlove_nyon

Posted on October 16, 2014 and filed under Music Production.