Friday 13 March 2009

Student Diary - Getting to grips with the mix-down

Coming towards the tail end of the Introduction to Logic module it is time to learn how to properly mix down our tracks in order to make them sound as balanced, clear, and punchy as possible.

Once again I was itching to get to this lesson because I recognised that my mixes were not sounding nearly as good as the records I buy and listen to. I had tried incorporating a couple of my tunes into my sets when playing out on big sound systems and it was immediately obvious that there was much scope for improvement on the mix-down. As you may have realised yourself, any part of a mix that sounds iffy at a relatively low volume on a pair of studio monitors will be amplified and sound increasingly more obvious as the size of the sound system increases. It's a bit like slicing a shot in golf... the stronger the headwind you are hitting into, the more viciously the ball will curve away from its intended target.

So, I understood the theory and purpose of the mix-down; the importance of using dynamic processors such as 'eq', 'compressors' and 'limiters', but I was struggling to get to grips with the correct practises when using these, and the complex terminology and elements of mathematics involved. How do the various parameters affect the sound exactly? How do you calculate ratio and threshold? I was unsure whether, through my own learning, I was heading along the right lines or starting to pick up some bad habits.

You can tell Ian knows the workings of a mixing desk like the back of his hand, so he was adept at presenting the basic principles in clear and simple terms for us. Eq is used to create room in your mix, and compression and limiting allow you to add punch, crispness and volume.

The key to uniting these 3 elements is 'routing': The dynamic effect of eq, compression and limiting is affected by the order in which they are routed. Often it makes sense to group parts of your track together (for example your percussion parts); routing, using sends and buses, makes this possible and enables you to apply effects to multiple channels at once. What surprised me is the level of detail Ian was going into to get the sound perfect, sometimes eqing then running sounds through up to 3 compressors as well as a limiter. So it's clear to see how crucial it is to comprehend this technique.

Good mixing skills are all about practice. A producer's ear can only be refined by hour upon hour of listening, tweaking, listening again, then tweaking again... your ear never stops learning. But on top of that, your mixes must be based on a firm foundation of knowledge of the tools you are using. Within more creative aspects of production, the rules are there to be broken, but in the mix-down there are certain rules you must follow before you can achieve professional sounding results hence why this professionally taught course is so beneficial.

I've uploaded my latest track onto my Soundcloud account, so you can check out how I'm getting on. Feedback is much appreciated.


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