Saturday, May 26, 2018

6 Strategic decisions to make before starting a mix Part 1/2

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
This article takes the basic guidelines of how to define the focus of a mix and tries to adapt them to different types of song, because every music genre gives its best when the mix engineer has clear in mind the final result and knows the steps that lead there.
Obviously there are many more approaches than those in the list, and often the song we're mixing is somewhere in between two or more of these mixing styles, but these are in my opinions some of the mix archetypes we can come across when we approach a new project, and each of these types is made to draw the attention of the listener towards the main element of the song.
It's important to clarify our vision with the band before starting mixing because we need to make sure we know what the client expects, and they must know the direction we imagine for the final sound to avoid misunderstandings.

1) Vocals / keyboards driven mix: this is a type of mix that is usually very common in pop and rock songs, for example many classic Queen or or Elton John tunes. In these type of mix we need to carve in the eq of the other instruments (guitar, bass, drums) the space to leave the vocals or keyboards as full as possible: their position in the mix must be prominent compared to the other instruments, which should have a lower volume. Once we have nailed the sound of the most important element in the mix (for example in the case of vocals we can fine tune it in terms of eq, find the compression sweet spot and play with effects until we find a satisfying result), we can place the other instruments in the space that's left, for example we must not be shy in equalizing the guitars to make them less invasive, even if this means pushing them into the background, or making the snare drum transient less "poking".

2) Guitar driven mix: this type of mix is very different from the previous one, and it is very common in '80s and '90s heavy music, from hard rock (Van Halen) to classic metal (Iron Maiden) to thrash metal (Megadeth) up to the various forms of extreme metal (At The Gates).
That was the golden age of guitar heroes, and everyone wanted the guitar, both rhythmic and lead, to be the main focus of the mix.
A mix focused on guitars relies on thick layers of rhythm guitars, one for each side or sometimes two, and this wall of sound requires us to push the bass in the lower part of the spectrum and squeeze the eq of vocals and drums to make them thinner and with a very strong transient, this way they will cut through the noise and avoid frequency masking.

3) Rhythm driven mix: This style is more suited for edm and certain aggressive styles of funky,  rock, pop and rap music.
In this case we need to put in the spotlight drums and bass, because they will be the main driver of the song, and hopefully they will get the people moving.
In this style vocals are still important, but a powerful beat and bass line will share the same level, (unlike what happens in a vocals driven mix), leaving to the arrangement (synths, guitars, keyboards and so on) a background role. It's very important to nail the drum tone, especially to have a snare and a kick sound in line with the modern commercial productions, and a low end that will perform well also with the p.a. of a club (in which it is strongly emphasized both in terms of volume and frequences), therefore a very accurate monitoring and testing will be pivotal to avoid unexpected results.


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