What about mixing?

Mixing is a true artform The painting of soundscapes. The search for the perfect blend. A good arrangement will help a lot when mixing time rolls around. Otherwise, the mixing stage tends to serve as another arranging stage where entire tracks are deleted or added at the last moment to accommodate the soundscape of the tracks.

The first step in mixing is to review the tracks to determine which elements will be featured and what elements will be grouped together. The topic of mixing can fill a complete volume alone, but there is a famous phrase in the industry on how to get the best mix, and it goes: SIT THERE AND MIX

Some things not to be overly concerned about will be the actual sound of each soloed instrument. Almost always, the instrument must be heard and equalized as part of the whole mix. Let us look at some of the elements and processors that can help to spruce up a multitrack mix.

Those bass, hi mid, low mid and treble knobs we are eager to tweak are one of the first adjustments to the sound we reach for. Not really keeping in mind, that applying EQ also affects the phase of a signal, we liberally dial in and out the EQ as we please. At this stage, we should mention that EQ properly applied can really bring out a track in a mix, or even help blend tracks by taking out certain frequencies. A grand piano with the entire bass rolled off may sound thin in Solo mode, but when auditioned within a track, it may just take away the mud factor. Taking out certain frequencies that cause excessive ringing or that muddy up or cover up the vocal performance is just as effective as adding EQ to the parts we wish to emphasize. Also note, that EQ works differently if applied pre or post compression.

Helps to limit the dynamic range of a track and help it stand out. Compression ratios, threshold, attack times and other adjustable parameters all affect the sound we hear. Drums, guitars, vocals and just about any other instrument we need to limit the dynamic range can greatly benefit from a compressor. One can link a stereo signal with a stereo compressor to avoid center shifting of the signal as two channels apply compression. The compression of room mics can help add definition and depth to our mixes. Finally a stereo compressor applied across an entire mix can boost the perceived volume of the track, but excessive compression can make the track sound thin. The SSL Quad compressor applied across the whole mix adds a unique sound quality of its own. Also some tube compressors can do wonders to warm up a sterile or "digital" sounding mix.

Noise gates can help clean up signals between solos and parts, helping to keep clarity in the track. Most gates have an expander setting that can also be used to draw out the dynamic range of an instrument.

Digital Delays
By adding a delayed signal and panning it to a different side, we can achieve a stereo sound from a mono, one track signal. Altering the delay time can yield effects like chorus, or slap back echo etc..

Using different reverb signals and reverb decay times, one can put depth into a mix. Reverb can become very tricky, because sending too many signals to the same reverb unit can overload the unit and yield mush as a result. By carefully and discretely selecting different reverb units and creatively panning the reverb returns, clarity can be maintained. Plate reverbs tend to brighten up vocals and horns, hall reverbs add more spaciousness, and there are many other effects that can add dimension to instruments within a mix.

The pan pot is underrated, but creatively placing elements within the stereo field can greatly improve clarity. By giving each element its own space, and even creating stereo pockets instead of wide-panning everything that is stereo, can yield clearer results.

Many other elements can be utilized during a mix including boom boxes, phase shifters, chorus and pitch shifters, triggering devices that trigger samples etc..

Of course we should print our tracks as hot as possible to begin with in the digital medium to take advantage of the entire bandwidth/sampling frequency. If we record low levels to digital, we miss the last bits and the sound is deteriorated. When printing to analog tape though, one must go as high as one can so that the noise floor is well below our recorded signal, but watch out for excessive tape compression which occurs when we record signals too hot to analog. Sometimes this type of tape compression is desireable such as on some drums etc..

Note that a compressor is not a compressor and and equalizer is not an equalizer as the circuitry of each individual piece of equiptment has it's own sound as well. That is why you will find many different types of equipment in a well stocked studio. But the best advice of all is to keep listening levels moderate, listen on different type of monitors for comparison and sit there and mix.