Station Point

Crafting Tune Artifacts

Cool Tricks For Better Mixes

Posted on | September 3, 2009 | No Comments

I recent­ly slugged through mix­down on my track Super Bro­ken and found the fol­low­ing 5 tips invaluable:

1. Mono Is Awesome

I’ve heard this one a mil­lion times, but nev­er actu­al­ly tried it. This arti­cle does a great job describ­ing the hows and whys: The Secret Ben­e­fits To Mix­ing In Mono. Among oth­er great insights — if you sum to mono and lis­ten through a sin­gle speak­er, you get less room and cross-speak­er interference. 

2. FX Halos

This is a great trick for time-expand­ing effects like delays and reverb. In a word, duck your effects sends by the sig­nals feed­ing them.  The grad­ual release of your duck­er / com­pres­sor cre­ates a “halo” around the dry sound, as the effect­ed tail glides up into the mix. This arti­cle does a great job describ­ing how to set this up in Able­ton Live.

3. The Law Of “Common Fate”

Learned this one from John Chown­ing, the father of FM syn­the­sis, at BAr­C­MuT talk.

Gestalt psy­chol­o­gy turns out to be a gold­mine for some mak­ing abstract works of art (like elec­tron­ic music). The law of “com­mon fate”, accord­ing to Wikipedia, is: “Ele­ments with the same mov­ing direc­tion are per­ceived as a col­lec­tive or unit.”

Chown­ing’s exam­ple had to do with apply­ing vibra­to to FM string sounds, but it has applic­a­bil­i­ty all over the mix­ing process.

For exam­ple, when “pump­ing” pads, hi-hats, and basslines in syn­co­pa­tion with the kick drum, the prin­ci­ple of “com­mon fate” sug­gests your brain will gel them into a unit — pro­vid­ing more con­trast between the upbeat and downbeat.

4. Embrace Subtle Delays

This is relat­ed to the pre­vi­ous point on “com­mon fate”.  I’ve found it’s very use­ful to use a short “ambi­ence” ‘verb, and send low lev­els of many parts of the song in order to “seat” every­thing in an acoustic space.  Again, this is an old trick, but I found this arti­cle illu­mi­nat­ing in know­ing what my brain wants to hear.

5. If You Make Dance Music, You Need To Be Able To Monitor Down To 28 Hz

And unless you’re in a real­ly, real­ly well-set­up room with no neigh­bors, that means get­ting a good pair of ‘cans.

After exten­sive research into every pair of head­phones I could find, I nar­rowed the field down to the Ultra­sone HFI-550’s. Got mine off Ama­zon for $89.  All I have to say is — 50 mm dri­vers (they don’t make the 550’s any­more, but the HFI-580’s are sim­i­lar).  I feel these come the clos­est to repli­cat­ing the sound of your track play­ing over a nice club sys­tem — espe­cial­ly in the bass depart­ment.  They did­n’t sound great when I first got them (com­pared to a 4 year old pair I’d bor­rowed from a friend), but I’ve been burn­ing them in with medi­um-loud pink noise and the bass exten­sion is loos­en­ing up nice­ly. Update 2011: I don’t love the sound of the HFI 550’s after all.  I found my old Sony MDR-V7506’s actu­al­ly seem more faith­ful in the bass depart­ment, despite their small­er (40mm) dri­vers. The insight still stands — if you want to rock the subs, make sure you can hear the lows with your mon­i­tor­ing set­up.  A good pair of cans can help you check your mix­es: you can hear the bass with­out the dis­trac­tions of any room modes or oth­er free-air acoustic problems. 

If you can hear the sub-bass, you can mix the sub-bass. Sim­ple as that.


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