Using Plugins: Mixing Music

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Online Mixing: Working with Audio

 

Working with audio in a recording studio can be complex. It is likely at some time or another during a mix we will need to use tools that can help us manipulate audio in different ways. Our soul objective in doing this is to be able to make multiple audio files work well with one another to achieve clarity, and whatever the desired effect may be within the mix. 

Professional music mixers will each have their own way of working in terms of, where they might start a mix, and what styles of processing they're inclined to use throughout a mix. Naturally they will draw from their individual expertise and experience ultimately striving to deliver a balanced sonic landscape that is musically pleasing to the listener, and one that translates well in every environment. 

Plugins: Why are they important when mixing music

 

Audio plugins are part of every mixing engineers 'toolkit', all varying in function and complexity. Some plugins are easy to use, and some require specific knowledge and understanding in order to make the most of their capabilities.
 
Most plugin uses can generally be summed up in a few main categories, these consist of, Dynamics; the difference between the softest and loudest parts of a particular wave form. Effects; the use of reverb and delay to create a feeling of distance and space. EQ; to target, increase or decrease the volume of specific frequencies. Panning; the placement of a sound in the left/right stereo field. 

Below I will give a short description of some plugins and scenarios in which they might be useful when mixing audio.
 

The Mix: Overview

 

There are a couple of different ways in which clients generally work with mixing engineers in today's world. The most common undoubtedly being online. The process normally begins with the client contacting the music mixer with a rough mix of the song in its current (unmixed) state. The mixers job is to then establish the clients vision for the song or the intended overall sound the artist is trying to achieve for the project. Once this is established, the mix engineer can begin.
 
A lot of the time mixers work alone, receiving the audio files (stems) online, and once finished, sending the mix back to the client for any revisions. Some times however the client will want to visit the studio during the mixing process, to perhaps give input where they feel necessary. Whichever way you decide to work with your mixer though, their objective is the same, to get just the right blend and balance between all of the instrumentation, creating a seamless experience allowing the listener too emotionally interact with the ultimate meaning the artist is trying to convey. 

Mixing with EQ: Boost or Cut

 

Equalisation (eq) has always been a must have for any music mixer. Nowadays a multiplicity of eq's are available, from physical outboard equalisers that you see in higher end recording studios, to the vast number of software eq's now available. 

Equalisation is one of the most important tools in shaping and taming audio. It allows the user to boost or cut the gain (db) in varying ways and amounts throughout the whole frequency spectrum. It can be used to find and control resonant peaks in all instrumentation, and with some modern plugin eq's this is even easier as you can take advantage of the visual frequency analysers. 

One example of where eq could be useful would be if you have a dull lifeless sounding vocal within a mix, you could try adding varying amounts of gain to the upper mid range frequencies to help lift the sounds brightness, and also add some gain to the ultra-high (air) frequencies to create a more sparkly open sound. You may want to use more than one type of eq to achieve this. Alternatively you could reduce the gain of the lower (muffling) frequencies instead, achieving the same result. The benefit of subtracting frequencies instead of adding is that less overall volume is added to the signal. However depending on the eq you are using you may find boosting rather than cutting frequencies preferable. 

Equalisation is used on all instruments in music where needed, so don't be afraid to experiment. Below are two simple visual examples of boosting and cutting frequencies to achieve a similar result:

BOOSTING
BOOSTING
CUTTING
CUTTING

Online music mixer: Compression

 

Compression is another important tool in mixing, Its main function is to reduce the dynamic range of a audio signal. This means it effectively makes the 'quiet bits' louder, and the 'loud bits' quieter. This can help to smooth out the transient response of a sound somewhat, making it stay at a more consistent volume. Conversely a compressor can also make a sound more 'punchy', its achieves this by adjustment of the attack/release controls which are commonly found on compressors, there are some exceptions but I won't go into that here. 

 

There are many expressions of outboard/plugin compressors, and each one interacts differently when signal is passed through it. An experienced mixing engineer knows these differences and is able to make meaningful decisions which should add up to a better listening experience. Below is an example of an uncompressed vocal against a compressed one, both are identical vocals. You can clearly see however that the distance between the loudest and quietest peaks in the compressed example are significantly reduced.

Uncompressed
Uncompressed
Compressed
Compressed

 

Mixing with Effects

 

When thinking of effects you may think of reverb, and echo. However you may not realise quite to the extent in which these and many other effects are used to create depth in a mix. We are used to hearing sound from two speakers (left/right) in today's world, however specialised music mixers will not just think in terms of left and right, because for a truly three-dimensional mix, a engineer will need to view sound as left/right, high/low and front to back. Effects like reverb, and delay are a great way of moving a given sound further into the background, therefore giving the impression of distance and space. Other effects such as chorus can give a greater impression of the stereo field creating a sense of width. Eq as mentioned earlier is a way we can use the 'boosting' and 'cutting' of frequencies to create a sense of height and depth.

 

This simple example shows how using reverb on backing vocals can give the impression they have moved further into the background. The more extreme the reverb the further away the backing vocals will sound.

 

 

Mixing: Conclusion

This short article was designed to help shed a little light on the mixing process, and to highlight its importance. Mixing greatly improves the listening experience which in most cases can help a recording go further and increases the chances of success.

Here at Surrey Studios we know how to deliver the highest possible quality in recording and mixing. We have access to some of the worlds best sounding outboard gear, microphones, and plugins which we use in combination to achieve a true broadcast quality sound.

 

We hope you will get in touch with our engineer if you need help and advice on your mix, and how we can help you increase your chances of success.

 

If you have any questions or would like a quote, why not contact us.

 

 

jack@surreystuidos.com

020 060 9284