Saturday, June 2, 2018

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


4) Dynamic mix: these are the types of mix that contain extremely dynamic parts, which means strong differences between the loudest and the quietest parts.
This type of mixes are often used in jazz records in which the band wants to recreate a vintage vibe, since in the 30s the bands were recorded live, with only few ambient microphones and compressors were practically non existent in the way we know them now.
Bands like the aforementioned ones likes to play with dynamics, which means alternating extremely quiet and gentle parts to others much louder, and today we can recreate this lively and breathing sound, instead of overcompressing the mix, by using automations.
We can automate the volume of the single parts in order to make them stick out more when needed and to tame them when they are excessively loud, rebalancing constantly the mix (some light compression though will still be needed, expecially on snare, cymbals and horns): it is more complex and more tiring than putting a strong compression on each instrument group, but this way we will preserve the natural sound of each instrument and we'll arrive to the mastering phase with much more clarity and headroom; during mastering the engineer will have to preserve our style, by using a very gentle mastering, otherwise all our careful work will be wasted.

5) Non dynamic mix: this type of mix is exactly the opposite of the previous one, and it is the one made to be heard as clear and stable as possible even in a car radio that doesn't receive a good quality signal. It is used in the most mainstream and ear catching rock and pop music (but also in metal, which is usually a genre very low in dynamics), and often it is involved in aggressive masterings that fight in the loudness war, since the mix already offers low headroom and it's made to be pushed.
In this type of mix every sound must be super stable (a good example would be any latest Nickelback song), which means that every snare or kick hit, every vocal part, every bass note must have the same volume, and in order to do this we must rely heavily on compressors (and sometimes also limiters at the end of the chain of every group, just to be sure).
This type of mix is extremely popular because it is relatively easy to achieve, there is a reduced need for automations compared to the dynamic one, and usually everything is loud and clear, but it works better with a songwriting that doesn't rely much on dynamics, otherwise the result can sound flat.

6) Acoustic / orchestral mix: in this last category I am grouping several song types very different between them, but that all have in common the use of acoustic instruments.
According to the number of instruments (for example just a voice and an acoustic guitar, or on the other hand a big strings ensemble), we need to think strategically on what to put in the spotlight and what in the background, and usually it will be the lead parts in the forefront, and the secundary parts, for example groups of violins performing the same notes, in the background. These decisions, unless we are close miking every single thing, must be taken during the recording phase, so if we have many violin players we can group them by tracking with one single microphone per group of them or just recording the left and right side of the stage, according to our gear.
The main difference between recording acoustic bands or orchestras and the other types of band therefore is that most of the strategic choices here happen actually in the recording phase, since then in the mixing phase we should try to preserve sound as natural as possible; this mean that we will have to get the tracking right, even if it means experimenting, doing and redoing the same part until we find the perfect mic placement.
Once the recording is done, in the ideal world we would have mainly to set the levels, high pass and low pass where needed, compress and add some effect, but we will have less room for completely change a sound, unlike what happens for electric guitars, drums or other instruments.


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