“The five parameters of a great mix” blog by U.K. music artist “nyokeë“

October 13, 2016 Comments Off on “The five parameters of a great mix” blog by U.K. music artist “nyokeë“

Nyokeë“.

The five parameters of a great mix

What makes a great song? Is it a matter of fashion and taste? Or are there set rules for quality? Could it be a little bit of both?

These questions have always been really fascinating to me. In particular, I have been really intrigued by the idea of finding the parameters of a great music mix. If you ask ten people what makes a good mix, you will often get ten different opinions, and yet, it seems as though there are certain things that all great mixes have in common.

The idea of defining a good mix is so fascinating to me that I am doing a PhD on the topic. So what did I find out? Excitingly, there are certain parameters that all great mixes have in common! I even managed to find several computational predictors for one of them (you can read one of my papers here, but be warned, there is some maths involved ;)). Many more years will pass before computers can mix any piece of music perfectly, but tools like Landr prove that it’s indeed possible. Today I want to share with you my research on the parameters of a great mix.

Here’s what I did. I read around a hundred books, articles, blogs and so on. Some were scientific studies, others were written by producers, again others by prosumers. I made a list of all the terms I could find. If you love a good word cloud, have a look below! I can tell you now that no researcher has ever before come up with a conclusive, whole list of all the important parameters of a good mix. But there were five parameters that kept popping up again and again — and all the words in the word cloud fit into them. Read on to find out more!

 

wordcloud-2

1. Clarity and separation

Clarity and separation is the extent to which sounds can be heard in a mix. The important characteristics (e.g. timbre, groove, melody etc.) of individual components, especially lead and vocal sounds, need to be clearly audible (and sometimes exaggerated) for a mix to be perceived as clear and separated. Owsinski, author of 23 books on recording, music production, the music business and social media has asked several iconic mixing engineers, including Ken Kessie and Kevin Shirley about what makes a great mix. Both strive to create a present, bright and clear vocal. Clarity is related to loudness because the louder a sound is, the better audible it will be. But bear in mind, not only turning up the volume knob makes sounds louder, often it’s clever equalisation (of the sound in question AND the sounds that surround it). Have a look at loudness and masking if you want to find out more.

What’s interesting is that while clarity is really important for some sounds, others seem to benefit more from a little bit of ‘glue’ or ‘blend’. Getting the balance between blend and separation right is the important bit here. For example, while a Gregorian choir piece might sound great blended, without any of the voices sticking out, a heavy rock recording might be judged on the clarity of vocal and drum sources, and the way that the bass and guitar work together spectrally. Bob Clearmountain, the king of the Rock’n’Roll mix, always ensures that the drums blend well with the bass (read more here). Blend can be achieved through bus and mix compression for example. So, overall, the important characteristics of some sounds need to be clearly audible while other tracks may benefit more from being blended together.

2. Balance

Balance in general describes an even distribution of energy in the spatial and frequency domains. So what does this mean? Basically, we are looking for level, tonal and spatial balance. In other words, you could describe a mix as having three dimensions, height, width, depth. Producer Bobby Owsinki calls these three dimensions “tall, deep and wide” and Rick Snoman, author of the multi-award winning and best selling textbook, “The Dance Music Manual”, calls them “harmonic balance”, “stereo balance” and “depth”. Read on for some more info on the three dimensions of balance: horizontal balance, tonal balance and depth.

Horizontal or stereo balance is the extent to which, within any given frequency range, sound energy is distributed symmetrically and “evenly” between the left and right channels. This essentially means: no holes, lumps or asymmetries anywhere in the stereo image! But… people disagree on this a little bit. Mixing engineer Dave Pensado describes hard left or hard right as “sacred/noble territory” that should be used sparingly ( read more here) but interestingly, this did not seem the case in a recent scientific study by Pestana and Reiss [2014]. In either case, it’s important to give stereo balance a bit of thought if you are striving for a great mix. You can do this by panning sounds or by using stereo effects (try doubling a sound with a copy that has a tiny delay and pan them left and right, if you haven’t yet! It sounds phat indeed)

Depth is a sense of perspective in a mix, where sound sources can be placed at various distances from the listener and inside a fictional, reverberant space of a certain size and shape. So, think foreground and background. You can do this by e.g. adding reverb or equalizing sounds (did you know that low frequencies can travel around objects, while high frequencies are better audible from a distance? This gives you clues as to how to EQ sounds for depth)

Tonal balance is the extent to which sound energy is distributed “evenly” across the frequency spectrum: according to Bobby Owsinski, mixing engineers often adapt the frequency spectrum to a reference point whilst trying to achieve a “high fidelity” sound. More recent studies confirm that although every song is unique in their spectral/timbral contour, there exists a target equalisation curve that stems from practices in the music industry but also seems to mimic the natural, acoustic spectra of ensembles. Pestana et al. [2013] explain that spectra of professionally produced commercial recordings show consistent trends, which can roughly be described as a linearly decaying distribution of around 5 dB per octave between 100Hz and 4000Hz, becoming gradually steeper with higher frequencies, and a severe low-cut around 60Hz. Huh, what? In other words, make your overall spectrum have a similar shape to pink noise! You can do this by equalizing individual sounds or the whole mix, and also by making sounds with differing spectra louder and quieter.

3. Impact and Interest

So, we have a balanced, clear mix. But what’s missing? It might still sound boring! Impact and interest is the extent to which the mix grabs the listener’s attention. Think exciting, artistic, powerful, dynamic, imaginative, punchy, loud, contrasting, surprising, larger than life, etc. There are many ways that this can be done, but compression certainly plays a part in this. And so does contrasting treatment to different sections of the song!

Academic, author, composer and record producer Zagorski-Thomas says that “if, at a subconscious level, the perception of music involves hypothesizing what it would feel like to produce that sound, it would be useful for both music and musicology to study the grey area between edited performances that are perceived as possible and those that are perceived as impossible or unnatural”. Impact and Interest basically.

4. Freedom from technical faults

A good mix should be free from technical faults! This means, no hum, pops, clicks, unwanted distortion, recordings that have obviously been made in an unsuitable room, etc. This is an easy one! Mixing engineer Dylan Dresdow says that there should be “no artefacts or horrid tuning”. Of course, there might be some mixes where you’d want some “dirt”, but in general it’s better to avoid all of the above.

5. Context

OK, now we have the recipe for a perfect mix… or do we? I will admit, that there are some things that cannot be generalized. A mix fits into its intended context when it conforms to current trends, fashions and norms, complements artistic purpose of the recording and supports the musical content. These things can change over time, differ between artists and depend on the situation.

Here are some interesting thoughts about context. The Flying Lizards’ 1979 single “Money” is deliberately mixed to sound thin and weak to fit the song! No balance, clarity and separation or impact/interest! Roey Izhaki, author of what I see as the bible of mixing, writes: “a mix can, and should enhance the music, its mood, the emotions it entails, and the response it should incite”. And that’s different for each song, right?

Did you know that Queen inscribed “no synthesizers were used in the making of this album” on their early records? And that Brian May made multiple layered guitar track mixes at the same time? Why was one use of technology perceived as unauthentic, and the other was not? All this is clearly to do with fashion, taste and opinion.

The books that provide mixing tips usually admit that there are no perfect settings, no magic presets and no hard and fast rules that lead to the perfect mix. Partially, that’s because a mix that makes one track sound clear, balanced and interesting, would make another sound dull, lopsided and boring (e.g. the EQ settings that make my voice sound clear, will probably not work for your voice, because your voice is not my voice!) But at the same time, mixing does have a creative side that cannot be automated. For example, there seem to be different schools of mixing where some engineers prefer a hot lead vocal while others tuck the vocal lower into the mix. Bobby Owsinski mentions the “London style” or the “LA style” of mixing which he relates to the use of the iconic technology available at each location respectively. Bill Gibson, author of more than 30 books, points out in “the Art of Mixing” that the musical style, song, details and people involved, as well as the mixing engineer’s own taste and the taste of a mass audience will have a strong impact on the final product (check out his cool visual representations of imaging here).

So what’s the conclusion?

All in all, a variety of factors such as fashion and taste, as well as characteristics that are specific to individual pieces of music can have an impact on what is perceived as a good mix. These make it harder to generalize values of a good mix or to even automate the mix process. But as we have seen, there are indeed some parameters that all good mixes have in common and these are clarity and separation, balance, impact and interest and freedom from technical faults. So, happy mixing! Oh, and before I finish, here is a nice picture of all parameters of great mixes.

mixparameters

Listen to Our Interview with Legendary Music Producer/Engineer: Betty Cantor-Jackson

April 20, 2015 Comments Off on Listen to Our Interview with Legendary Music Producer/Engineer: Betty Cantor-Jackson

Click on this link of Darkstar Dan interviewing Betty Cantor-Jackson as they discuss Audio Production and current and future technologies in music production and playback. Interview conducted on 4-19-15 in San Francisco, CA using a Neumann 103 microphone.

 

Darkstar Dan interviews Betty Cantor-Jackson 4-19-15

Darkstar Dan interviews Betty Cantor-Jackson 4-19-15

What Do the Grateful Dead, Media One A/V, & Glide Memorial Church Have In Common?

March 23, 2012 Comments Off on What Do the Grateful Dead, Media One A/V, & Glide Memorial Church Have In Common?

Nice little article on one of our regular engineers: Betty Cantor-Jackson.

What Do the Grateful Dead and Glide Memorial Church Have In Common?

              [Grateful Dead Road Crew: 1977]

Glide Memorial Church’s Weekly Podcast.

November 28, 2011 Comments Off on Glide Memorial Church’s Weekly Podcast.

Hear Media One’s weekly production of San Francisco’s world-famous Glide Ensemble here:

http://glidesf.podomatic.com/

Audio Codec Breakdown

May 16, 2011 Comments Off on Audio Codec Breakdown

For those of you lost in the whole Audio Codec conundrum, here is a link with a simple breakdown of the different types. – Sean Barber

Audio Codecs breakdown

Working with All Star Media

May 16, 2011 Comments Off on Working with All Star Media

Media One A/V frequently works with our close friends from San Diego, All Star Media, owned by David Lee Joy. Here’s a link to one of David’s blogs re: our collaboration for the 2011 Craft Brewers Conference in San Francisco. T’was a couple of days of fun recordings and gooood beer!

http://www.allstartapes.com/the-craft-brewers-conference/

Hear the “Future of Money & Technology Summit” Plus Photos

March 16, 2011 Comments Off on Hear the “Future of Money & Technology Summit” Plus Photos

Media One’s recordings of the “Future of Money & Technology Summit” from February 28, 2011 are available at the link below. This event was at the Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco and with LOTS of very interesting panelist sharing information regarding how we will access and spend our money in the future. Check it out…

http://futureofmoney.com/moneyconference/future-of-money-technology-summit-audio-022811

See the photos here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/octal/sets/72157626087061251/

Working With Wireless Mics

March 14, 2011 Comments Off on Working With Wireless Mics

– by Darkstar Dan

HI, today I’m going to write a little bit about wireless microphones. Other than projectors, wireless mics can be one of the most temperamental items of gear you will use on an A/V gig. Heck, just last Sunday at Glide, we had our wireless hand-held completely drop-out due to the antenna simply falling over – and these were UHF true diversity microphones! So let’s jump right into it. I’ll first start with some basic characteristics of wireless systems and then go from there…

Wireless mics can transmit in radio waves using UHF or VHF frequencies, FM, AM, or various digital modulation schemes. Some low cost models use infrared light and require a direct line of sight between the microphone and the receiver, while costlier radio frequency models do not. Some models operate on a single fixed frequency, but the more advanced models operate on a user selectable frequency to avoid interference, and allow the use of several microphones at the same time much like in the pictures to the right of this text.

The professional models transmit in VHF (Very High Frequency) or UHF (Ultra High) radio frequency and have “true diversity” reception (two separate receiver modules each with its own antenna), which eliminates dead spots (caused by phase cancellation) and the effects caused by the reflection of the radio waves on walls and surfaces in general. In the United States, the FCC has banned devices to operate in the 698–806 MHz portion of the frequency spectrum due to their auction of the 700 MHz band to broadcasters, cable networks, television and film producers.

Digital Hybrid systems are now available and use an analog FM transmission scheme in combination with digital signal processing (DSP) to enhance the system’s audio. Pure digital systems take various forms as some systems use “frequency-hopping spread spectrum” technology, similar to that used for cordless phones (think: relay towers you see everywhere for your wireless phone). As this can require more bandwidth than a wideband FM signal, these microphones typically operate in the 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz or 6 GHz unlicensed (also known as de-regulated or licence exempt) bands.

Media One just purchased the Shure PGXD 24/Beta 58A digital wireless and we like the results so far.

And despite their “true diversity”, when working with wireless microphones, I always try and make sure the receivers have a clear line of sight to the transmitting microphone. I know the products claim they work behind closed spaces, doors or can pass through cement or wooden walls, but it has been my experience that when the receiver does not have a clear line of site to the transmitting hand-held or lavaliere microphone, you introduce “dead spots” in the transmission and drop-outs occur. This is purely from my personal experience as I am not providing technical data to support this claim. Also make sure your antennas are fanned-out much like in these photos. It just helps the frequency finds its home without having to go through more clutter.

I hope this information was helpful. Happy gigging!

🙂

PS Media One acknowledges Wikipedia for some of the technical information provided in this blog.

Grapes of Joy – 2011 Wine & Grape Symposium

January 28, 2011 Comments Off on Grapes of Joy – 2011 Wine & Grape Symposium

– by Darkstar Dan

Media One has partnered with old friend David Lee Joy of All Star Media to record every minute of the 2011 Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento, CA. This is the largest wine and grape conference in the nation and twelve-thousand industry professionals attended this year’s conference. We record this symposium because, as taken off their website, “the conference represents the collective experience, knowledge and background of the entire industry. We collaborate with a diverse committee of industry and academic professionals to bring you a program with timely topics and compelling speakers.”

For me personally, I was proud to see my Alma Mater, University of California – Davis, well represented and at the forefront of developing technology beneficial to the growth, harvesting, and processing of grapes and related crops within this multi-billion dollar, world-wide industry. UC Davis was touting their brand new sustainable winery, brewery and foods complex which opened on January 28, 2011. The new, 34,000-square-foot teaching and research complex, located within UC Davis’ Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, is the world’s most environmentally sophisticated facility for making wine, brewing beer and processing foods.

The sustainable winery building will enable the teaching and research winery to demonstrate how a winery can operate on rainwater when it captures, filters and reuses that water many times. The planned building also will house equipment needed to sequester the carbon dioxide captured from the winery’s fermentation system, thus preventing damage to the atmosphere. This is expected to make it the first winery to have a net-zero carbon footprint, meaning that it captures and sequesters at least as much carbon dioxide as it produces.

I was attending U.C. Davis when they started the construction of this facility and would wonder what it would all look like when finished. Now I’ll take a ride over and check it our for myself.  And yes, for anyone wondering, I attended college a little later in life. It was weird being almost the same age as some of my professors!

All in all, the Wine & Grape Symposium was a successful and fun event. There is always new information to be learned at these conferences, lots of interesting people to meet, and some delicious wine to be tasted (a great perk of the job!)

Well, that’s our update of what we’re up to lately. Hope everyone is staying busy and healthy out there. And remember, no matter what is happening in your work or personal life at this moment, my dad used to say to me, “It’s not where you are today that matters, it’s where you see yourself going”.

I say let’s reach for the stars…

Hear our “SF Music Tech 7” Recordings from the Hotel Kabuki.

December 20, 2010 Comments Off on Hear our “SF Music Tech 7” Recordings from the Hotel Kabuki.

Dan & John Meyer of "Meyer Sound Labs"

Dan & John Meyer of "Meyer Sound Labs"

Click on the following link to hear our “San Francisco Music & Technology Summit 7” recordings from December 06, 2010 at the Hotel Kabuki.

http://www.sfmusictech.com/media.html

And to learn more about John Meyer & Meyer Sound Labs, click on the following link:

http://www.meyersound.com



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