Rich, Panoramic Mixing

One of the best-selling books in the history of audio production is David Gibson's The Art of Mixing. Gibson lays out a visual approach to audio mixing, using colored spheres to represent the placement of sonic elements (drums, bass, guitars, vocals, etc.) within a gridded "room". His diagrams also take volume, EQ, stereo panning, effects, and other dimensions of a mix into account. It is an approach many mixing engineers had used for many years before the book was published but it helped solidify an understanding of the process—quite simply, mixing is imaging.

A critical prerequisite to a great mix is the mixing engineer's understanding that no matter how good an individual track may sound on its own, it has to sit well in the mix. After that there are six elements of a great mix. Some mixing engineers use three or four of them, but they must all be present for a great mix, as they are all equally important:

1. Balance

Here I'm not referring to stereo panning, but rather, the volume relationship between musical elements—appropriate levels. On stage, musicians often practice the "everything louder than everything else" method of setting their instrument and vocal levels, but we all know that approach fails miserably in the recording studio.

2. Frequency range

All frequencies are represented in a great mix—not too much or too little of any particular frequency. This is the art of using EQ to gently sculpt those individual tracks that sounded great soloed, but make our mix sound muddy when we bring them in. For example, the bass guitar must allow room for the kick drum (and vice-versa) in the EQ spectrum for the two to work together as a tight, powerful unit.

3. Panorama

The placement of each element in the stereo (or surround) sound field not only affects how vivid the mix sounds on quality stereo speakers; it also has tremendous effect on how well the mix sounds in mono.

4. Dimension

The ambience of each musical element as well as the track as a whole calls for the tasteful application of effects such as reverb, delay, and modulation. This is often a case of the listener not knowing it's there, but noticing something distinctly missing when it's not.

5. Dynamics

Controlling the volume envelopes of instruments and entire tracks is a crucial aspect of transforming a recording into a record. Compression, limiting, transient control, and envelope shaping help unify individual tracks into a cohesive whole. Dynamics tools also come into play during the mastering process, along with EQ and other tools, to optimize a track's clarity, punch, and loudness (loudness is not the same as volume—volume is how loud a track is; loudness is how loud it sounds).

6. Interest

It should go without saying, but a great mix holds the listener's interest. Each element of a song's arrangement (intro, verse, bridge, chorus, coda) has its own unique characteristics—sometimes it's something completely unexpected. If you listen critically to some of your favorite songs, you can pick out the dynamics, modulations, and mixing tricks that help the songs hold your interest.

I practice the art and science of the visual mix and balance, delivering final mixes with width, depth, and punch. I can help you take your sonic vision from concept to fully-mastered perfection, as high and wide as the Texas sky

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