The Art of Mixing
by Eddie Ciletti

Mixing is alot like sculpting in that you initialy want to avoid going too far too fast.  By 'too far,' I'm referring to 'extreme use of plug-ins.'  I often help students with mixing problems, and am often able to resolve the most common problems with a simpler approach.  Unless you are specifically going for 'affected,' there are more gentle ways of achieving what is often referred to as 'glueing all the pieces together.' 

Before you compress EVERYchannel, consider addressing the most eggregious tracks first - most likely with EQ - then take advantage of automation.  Our goal is to reconcile disparities between various mics and instruments so that nothing in the mix sticks out.  If the rhythm track is trashy and bright - for example - but the vocal doesn't match, it will be hard to hear the vocal.  Do you make the vocal bright and trashy OR do you attempt to tame the rhythm section and make 'sonic real estate' for the vocal to fit.  The song often dictates the choice, but it's generally better to make sonic real estate.  Leave the trashiness or the final polish until after the mix is balanced.  Mastering engineers can often help advise you along the way - objective ears can be very useful.

'Air' and other forms of treble enhancement - as one example of abused territory - must be done gradually.  Like sculpting, it is important to not chisel too deep too fast.  That said, all variations of ART are valid - you can use extreme EQ if that's what the track calls for - but there are often many ways to achieve the desired goal often by applying EQ and processing in stages.

Even as your hearing diminishes over time, your ability to listen will improve as experience adds to your 'sensitivity library.'  This is known as knowing what to listen for.

THE LOUDNESS WARS have undone many of our technical achievements.  We need to be able to play all different kinds of music - back-to-back, in shuffle mode - and it needs to be 'in the spectral ballpark,' a big field for sure.  Future mp3 players will have 'automatic level matching software' that will eventually prove that the loudness wars corrupted rather than enhanced.  Consider the following exercise...

If you listen to lots of different types of music - and want to do a compilation of same - you might need to reconcile the differences of the various tracks, especially if they come from extreme audio periods and would be an extreme mastering exercise...

Think about how different the Altecs sound compared to the Polks - and listen to what we achieved week-6.  Even though this was only a rough mix for the purpose of evaluating 'what to do next,' it is very much in the spectral ballpark.  The top end is there but not painful. There is detail and air.  The bottom is perhaps a bit plentiful, but it is not muddy. This is a great foundation from which to start.  A mastering engineer could 'tame' this easier than if it were bass light and / or had high frequency harshness.

During the final phase of mixing to tape, Ian noticed the top end was getting messy - and his perception was right - the question is, what could be done to fix it?  On listening during the ride home, I noticed that there should either be more bottom snare brightness or less overhead treble.  Keep in mind that it is even more important to reconcile the drums with the needs of the song as it is to know how to reconcile all the drums mics / tracks with each other.

Because of the lousy crotch mic I had at the time, the snare brightness will have to meet the cymbal brightness in the middle - help the bottom snare by carefully adding a little top to the crotch mic and possibly tame the cymbals either by lowering their level or treble EQ OR using a high frequency limiter to preserve the air but tame the peaks. 

Once a drum track balance is achieved, any additional EQ - to make them fit with the track - can be applied via submix EQ, if necessary.  Again, like sculpting, many small steps - small amounts of multiple EQ and compression in stages often works better than one heavy-handed 'attack.'

When the Altecs were THE studio monitor, mixes did not come out too bright - the emphasis was on balancing the vocal or lead instrument against the 'background - the arrangement made sonic real estate, with vocal intelligibility being of max importance. Vocals were mixed way up front because most people listened on AM radios or 'sound systems' without tweeters - kinda like the Altecs, but darker. The u-47 helped with its presence and along with tape and echo, it was the sound of the fifties.

We have not really made any significant fidelity improvements since then - mostly just that miniaturization has allowed more channels and reduced amplifier distortion (and a significant loss of color along the way - not bad, but different).