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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Common Mistakes Mixing Engineers Make - From The Mastering Engineer's Perspective

Starting out it's worth making a general comment: I've often heard discussions where someone suggests that they have 'psyched out' a way to be sure that their mixes come back right after going through mastering, whether for vinyl, cassette or digital.

"Add more reverb, it'll come back drier"
"Keep it dark, it'll come back warmer"
"Don't compress at all, leave all compression to mastering"

Now in reality that sort of thing almost never gets you what you want. You can't possibly anticipate exactly what will happen fact if you supply a 'dark' mix the mastering engineer might assume you actually WANT it dark. And that's exactly the point. Get your mixes sounding as close as you can to perfect to the best of your ability. Then the mastering engineer has something to work with!

That doesn't mean make it loud, or to over compress or under compress or do anything that might be construed as mastering. Leave mastering to the M.E.....but do a good job mixing.

If you want the mastering engineers perspective beforehand, hire her or him for an hour to listen and give you feedback. If you make a good mix it makes for a better end result. If you can build into your mindset that you MIGHT need to adjust your mixes slightly, you should. Sometimes time, money, patience or skill argue against, but if you can do it....

Here, then, is a list of some typical foibles:

  • Mixes too loud: in case you didn’t know, leave 2-6 dB of headroom in your mixes. If you have been listening with a limiter on, turn it off and send the unlimited versions to the M.E..
  • Send the limited versions for reference so the ME knows what you have been listening to
  • Kick and bass out of proportion: The most common problem encountered in mixing rooms is inaccurate low end. Where music includes drums this often means the kick is too loud or quiet with respect to the bass (or vice versa). A room mode (that basically means the room exaggerates a narrow band of frequencies) can easily make a kick drumsound like it’s fundamental is loud causing the mix engineer to turn it down. A null ( a dip in frequency) can you might crank it up. Slight imbalances can be fixed in mastering, gross one’s need a remix. Cheapest cure....get a GOOD pair of headphones and learn what the bass sounds like. Don’t rely on headphones for your mix, but use them for a reality check
  • One thing dark and another thing bright: This is a really tough one. Let’s say the drums are bright and the vocal dull. Using m/s techniques and others the ME can fix small imbalances, but usually you have to prioritize one instrument over another and go for ‘fixing’ that one in mastering. Time for a remix!
  • Too much reverb....easier to add a little than take it away. No one has invented the de-verb!
  • Cutting beginnings and ending too closely: So often the first note or the reverb tail gets cut off. Leave them alone. The mastering engineer can often get rid of undesirable noise and edit the begin and end lickety split!
  • Phasing problems: It used to be you HAD to check mixes in mono to be sure they would pass muster for vinyl. Digital audio doesn’t care about phase, but you SHOULD. Too much out of phase information (experience helps you learn how much is too much) creates problems if you want a loud record, if you play music on the radio, and it will cause your mp3’s to sound pretty bad (quite important considering today's listening norms)! Always check your mixes in mono and make sure no important instruments disappear.
  • Not providing the album sequence: Assuming there are more than 3 or 4 tracks on your album, you should always provide a running order to the ME. You can always change it later, but an ME will pay attention to the relationship between the end of one song running into another in case someone listens through your whole record in sequence.

Well that’s a short list for now....happy mixing!

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