Find Clarity in the Air Between Sounds , Guide to Fix Most overlooked Mix Problem

Cover/ Thumbnail Photo Credit : Drew Ressler /Rukes 

Can you fit 100 people on a 20 person bus? Yes, but it won't be fun. This is how a mix can sound when you don't control the air around your elements.

Mixing is about two things.

1. Acquiring Knowledge ( Tech Stuff, How to Use XYZ vst)

2. Looking at the mix in new ways, while training your ears to HEAR and SEE the mix in a new light.

 Yes see the mix in a new light.

What am I doing now while mixing, compared to say 5 years ago. 

I am still leveling stuff, I still use a bit of compression, I still EQ out what I don't want. But the tracks sound 1000% better then they did 5 years ago . Why ?

This question bugged me. 

Let's use basketball for an example. 

I can go out and play basketball. I can dress like the pro's, I can shoot like the pro's ( in terms of basic arm movements ) and I can make the same basic decisions they do on the court.

However, even with the same basic ideas, I will never be a pro basketball player.

So the question still remains. The pro's are using the same basic tools you are. They are doing most of the same steps. Levels, EQ, Compression and quality sound design. So why do their tracks sound so icy, so smooth, so fucking beautiful.

Same reason the basketball players do the same steps but produce amazing results.

They see the INNER workings of the game, they see things we can't dream of. I can 100% promise you when Jordan would step up to the line, his mindset and vision is different then my vision or your vision would be.

Ok Nyonyxx, we get it. Vision/ Mindset, cool. How can I apply this directly to my track NOW !

What I want to do is try to instill a new mindset in you. When you sit down to mix your next track, I want you to look at it in a different light...and heres how. 

Look at the Air Between the Sounds 

Uhh ohh, we've lost him, he's spend to long locked in his studio.

Ok bare with me for a few here.

Picture this ( yes this is going to get weird, but I want to change your vision and without this mental image I can't reach that goal )

Your in a black room, pitch black. Let's say the room is 10 by 10. You know it has walls but you can't see them due to the absence of light . In your hand is a glowing bouncy ball. The ball can fit in the palm of your hand like a baseball.  This ball glows brightly, neon blue. The light is emulating your face.

Can you picture this? Truly put this image in your head.

Now bounce the ball up and down. 

While bouncing this ball, you notice that the ball goes up and down and the light stays near the ball. The light doesn't move more then a few inches away from the center of the ball.

For the sake of this image, that ball is a clean synth. No Effects, reverb/delay/compression/distortion etc.

That ball ONLY takes up the range up and down, and a few inches away from it.

So whats the point of all this ?

Most people when producing will add effects without thinking about the effect they have on the mix itself. I'd say this is one of the major problems of dirty mixes. ( in a bad way ) 

Let me try to break this down even farther.

When mixing, you typically will look at the sound itself, you will place the sound in the mix, then add a bunch of other stuff. Things like distortion/bit crushers/reverb/chours etc etc. These effects will not only directly impact the sound...

...they will impact the AIR AROUND THE SOUND.

This is huge. Now go back and picture the same neon glowing ball in the dark room. Bouncing up and down. 

You add reverb... the light now splashes 12 inches away from the balls center

You add delay...the light now splashes 24 inches from the center

You add distortion... the light is now 5 feet from the center of the ball.

You are, in theory adding sound to the air around the synth. Your sound is taking up more volume and space in the mix, but most importantly it is filling the air around that synth with noise/music/substance .

Now, why is this insanely important ?

Simple. Most people, myself included didn't think about this effect on my mix for a long long time.

I didn't have too many layers of elements in my mix usually, but it still wasn't clean and clear sounding ?


Because the air around ALL the elements was dirty. The elements had a wash of noise over everything.

Picture this, you have 10 balls bouncing up and down in the dark room now, ALL the balls currently have 0 effects on them. They are different ranges, so for the sake of this article lets say they are currently not hitting each other.

Remember, the light is only a few inches from each ball. The room looks peaceful, beautiful and clean .

Now add the effects we talked about to ALL of these elements. Shit goes down hill fast.

You now have light bouncing all over the place, reverbs are splashing and distortion is clashing. 

You have in essence taken all the clean space in your room and filled it with light. Good right ?

No bad, very bad.

In the best mixes I've ever heard, the artists have the ability to control the sounds in this " Dark room " environment so that the balls all bounce cleanly, but ever so slightly interact. You want a bit of light touching each element, however you can't over do it.

The best mixes, have a sense of clarity to them because they allow the elements to breath, they allow the balls to bounce cleanly and the light to not shine to brightly.

Super simple example of this.

Open a default nexus preset. , say a piano. Play this piano. 100% clear. The preset sounds great , no mixes issues.

The mix issues only happen when you start to eat the air around the sounds. The default preset without other elements will always sound clear because it has ton's of room to breath in the mix.

In the end, you want your elements to be able to breath. Now I could have just said this once sentence but I feel the visual image is the only way to go. 

Allow your track room, allow your sounds room. Put some elements with heavy " air " using distortion/reverb/delay etc. Put some elements really clean that have almost none of this. This will allow your mix to breath properly.

I feel this one issue, will help most people beyond belief.  

It should be noted that the above effects and over use of " air " around the synth is compounded by the over use of compression.  A lot of producers ( again myself for years ) will not only not think about the air around the synth, they will then compress this as well.

Why is this even more of an issue?

Just picture our image one more time.

Your single ball is bouncing up and down, cleanly, no effects yet. You add effects and now the air around the synth has sound in it. However, this sound is spotty. There isn't sound filling ALL the air, its almost like its raining sound. There will be a piece of sound here, a piece of sound there etc. 

What does compression do? It compresses these effects and smashes the air together. Now your light rain , has turned into people dumping buckets of sound on you. You have effectively killed all the breathing room in the mix.

When the process is repeated on leads, vocals , chords, pads, keys etc etc. You simply don't have enough clean breathing air in the mix.

Take a look at the image below, this is what happens when you eat all the room ( air ) in the mix, THEN compress it. Notice the " air " around the synths(balls) and the boxes around balls, this is the compression. 


This is the reason why your mix has that " wall of sound " vibe and doesn't hit properly. How can the drums smack and bounce if there is no room for them to do so. They just press up against the walls of sound and compression.

Next time your mixing, picture the black room with the glowing balls. Make sure your mentally monitoring the air around the balls, some sound and over lap is good, but the majority of producers are using 90% to much.

A quick heads up, things like filters ( among other things, effect this air as well ).





( Happy Holidays to everyone ) 

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