I’d like to introduce the subject of mixing by painting you a picture of what an ideal mix sounds like. I say “Painting a picture” because the art of mixing is exactly like visual art, except for the ears. You are actually painting a picture for your mind to interpret through what you are hearing.
When we are mixing many sounds together which make a finished musical composition, we are presenting the song in a way that is easy to listen to, yet we want the listener to have the best possible experience. Thus it is very important to balance all the facets of the song clearly and within what many Mix Engineers call the 3D box of perception.
The 3D box is simply how your mind perceives hearing certain sounds, and as a Mix Engineer, using it to your complete advantage. The aim is to create depth and character by using all the tools available to you, and if done effectively, can take a flat sounding song and give it life.
The tools are namely:
EQ, Compression, Volume, Reverb, Delay, Panning, and Effects.
The key is to not overdo things, but rather simplify by doing as little as possible to achieve big results (if that makes sense) If the song is good it will speak for itself, your job is to make it sound as best it possibly can.
Many things can be done with EQ and Compression alone. I mean that you can clean up a song nicely and create space for other sounds within the mix by using these 2 tools effectively.
Then you want to pull and push sounds forward, back, up, down, left and right as well as to the centre of your 3D box. This can be done by using all of the above-mentioned tools within your stereo mix.
For example, volume can be used to bring a vocal upfront and in the centre of your mix. Panning can move it far right or far left. Reverb can push it even further back or make it sound larger or smaller than what it already is. EQ can move it up or down, bring it closer and in turn making it clearer sounding, or you can do the complete opposite as well with EQ if that is your aim. EQ and reverb can also be used effectively to make room for 2 sounds occupying the same frequency.
A delay on a drum or vocal sound for example can capture you attention for a second in another direction. Filters can also spatially move sounds as well, making room for another instrument or a break in song arrangement, and so on and so on.
We will be talking about all of these aspects as we progress. It is very interesting as well as challenging in that your mixing skills will improve with time and experience.
Its good practice to listen carefully to your favourite songs with the above techniques in mind. I am sure you will hear these songs very differently.
A really good demonstration of the 3D box would be to listen to the below video called “The Virtual Barber shop”, which is a binaural recording using 2 microphones. You need to put on your headphones and close your eyes to appreciate the full experience. Enjoy!
Thanks for reading and here’s to making music easy.