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thawkins

identifying mix problems

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Not sure there is a good answer to this problem, but do you guys have any tips on how to teach myself to better hear muddiness or problems when mixing my stuff?

It's not so much as being able to wizard up the proper EQ or compression magic, but more like what do I need to do with my life in order to be able to listen and hear problems in my own stuff. Recently I have found myself basically just putting a 200Hz high pass on everything except bass parts, dialing in the volume and calling it a day. I do pay a lot of attention to arrangement and sounds themselves so they would not contain a lot of conflicting frequencies and melodies, but I am feeling like I Should Be Doing Something More.

I realise that the true answer is probably to just listen to other stuff and make my things sound as good, and keep asking more professional folks their opinion... but maybe there's some youtubes or books that talk about this sort of thing?

Part of the trouble is that for the most part I am quite happy about how my things sound. For the most part...

Like one of the things that slightly bugs me is that I am sending most of my tracks through 2-3 bespoke handcrafted artisinal Live effects racks which are kind spewing delay and reverbs and feedback and ambiences all over the place. I like how it sounds but it is probably also true that this ends up filling parts of my mix with chaotic noise mess which is not good? Maybe some bandpasses or whatever it's called when you filter out a band could help here... IF I knew how to actually listen for muddiness or mess.

Edited by thawkins
remembered more crap to write
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my volume controller/monitor controller has a sum to mono button. i use that a lot to see how things sit. panning always helps. even just putting a few things a few points off center

i have a sub woofer i can add/remove to the mix to hear what the bass is doing. i still fight w/certain songs. 

i will solo the bass/kick and anything else that occupies low mids and just fuss w/that  while until it sits how i like.. then add the other stuff in and keep working. 

having some bass traps really helps. i need all the help i can get!

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Gearslutz has a ton of good discussions on the subject. Most of the YouTube channels aren't very reliable. 

Working on low volume is great for mixing and matching to your heroes tracks. The fletcher munson hearing curve changes with volume so you need to vary it. I'm not a fan of bandpassing, it makes shit sound disjointed and played through phone speakers, band reject sounds hollow and unreal. Paint with broad strokes and leave the surgery for actual problems. Gain riding and wide Q EQ dips of just a few dB does wonders. Gotta take breaks to avoid overdoing it. Steve Albini plays Scrabble during sessions to avoid interfering until something actually sticks out. Run reverb and delay FX busses rather than individual track FX and eq that. You can high pass to avoid mud but the best way is just to not write My Bloody Valentine music and leave room for tracks to breathe. Current streaming platforms level match everything so the loudness war is finally over. 

You can do wonders in the box but much of pro sound comes from quality hardware preamps and analog summing, etc. 

Edited by chim
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2 hours ago, thawkins said:

Not sure there is a good answer to this problem, but do you guys have any tips on how to teach myself to better hear muddiness or problems when mixing my stuff?

Treat your room and use reference tracks. Take pauses and when you come back, listen to a reference track in the same genre to recalibrate your ears and then listen to your mix.

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Don't monitor too loud.

 

Always monitor at the same level (or a couple of different consistent levels -mark them on your volume knob if you have one!).

 

Unless you're rich you won't be able to treat your room so just try to listen to as much as you can in it and cross-reference on as many different speakers as you can.

 

DON'T highpass everything!

 

Since I got an old version as one of those free bonus downloads with something, I've been finding it useful to use the automatic "ai" stuff in Ozone Elements as a kind of sanity check.  I don't think it sounds good and wouldn't use it on an actual mix but it CAN be pretty interesting to get a mi to the point wher eI think oit sounds pretty good, render it, and then throw Ozone Elements on the render and let it do its automated thing.  A lot of what it does is based on  sort of lowest-common-denominator idea of a "good mix" (which mostly means boosting the high end a lot) but it can be interesting to compare that to what you like on your monitors.  I know it helped me identify a spot around 500Hz that tends to be too loud in a lot of y mixes even though it sounds balanced in the room, and usually if I go back to the mix and weak it so that the balance IN THAT RANGE sounds  a bit more like the Ozone version it translates better (but boosting the highs above 8k by like 6db never does, so obviously it's wrong as much as it's right). 

 

I like the way your mixes sound, so maybe you're doing something right.

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14 hours ago, chim said:

Gearslutz has a ton of good discussions on the subject. Most of the YouTube channels aren't very reliable. 

Working on low volume is great for mixing and matching to your heroes tracks. The fletcher munson hearing curve changes with volume so you need to vary it. I'm not a fan of bandpassing, it makes shit sound disjointed and played through phone speakers, band reject sounds hollow and unreal. Paint with broad strokes and leave the surgery for actual problems. Gain riding and wide Q EQ dips of just a few dB does wonders. Gotta take breaks to avoid overdoing it. Steve Albini plays Scrabble during sessions to avoid interfering until something actually sticks out. Run reverb and delay FX busses rather than individual track FX and eq that. You can high pass to avoid mud but the best way is just to not write My Bloody Valentine music and leave room for tracks to breathe. Current streaming platforms level match everything so the loudness war is finally over. 

You can do wonders in the box but much of pro sound comes from quality hardware preamps and analog summing, etc. 

Pretty much everything in here I agree with. Especially taking breaks as it's easy to get listening fatigue from hearing the same track over and over. I find that my best mixes are the ones that I sat on for a good month before going back to them again.

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Aside from all the wisdom above, I'll add 2 simple yet crucial epiphanies : gain-stage carefully (I've calibrated VUMT so that 0 VU = -24, which is a perfect offset to create tons of headroom) and EQ notes rather than frequencies. That last one has improved my mixes 10 fold.

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Also, get your monitors calibrated. 

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listen to the mixes on things other than your monitors too btw. all the advice in here for tweaking your monitors and room and all that is of high importance, but also when you think it's at a good place or when you think you're stuck and can't figure out what's wrong, change the listening environment entirely: listen to the track on another set of speakers. also headphones, also through shitty laptop speakers, also in your car, also etc.... if it sounds pretty good everywhere (minus the obv failings or differences inherent in each) then you're probably good. these differences can sometimes emphasize different issues you might have that aren't as enhanced on a set of monitors, or that you've become accustomed to even. 

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17 hours ago, chim said:

Run reverb and delay FX busses rather than individual track FX and eq that.

This is a key bit of advice.  Mix your sends.  Treat them like any other track.  You dont have to restrict yourself to eq either, compression and more aggressive filtering can help.  Automate levels depending on the arrangement.

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Posted (edited)
22 hours ago, Nil said:

Aside from all the wisdom above, I'll add 2 simple yet crucial epiphanies : gain-stage carefully (I've calibrated VUMT so that 0 VU = -24, which is a perfect offset to create tons of headroom) and EQ notes rather than frequencies. That last one has improved my mixes 10 fold.

What do you mean by eq notes? Like mapping a chromatic scale to the eq filter?

Edited by Entorwellian
clarification
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I've started experimenting with this when they released the last update https://cravedsp.com/crave-eq and was blown away by the sheer musicality of the results, and intuitiveness of the process.

It's more of a perception shift really : I now tend to think about notes and arrangement when boosting / cutting rather than hertz, for exemple deliberately emphasizing the fundamental of a bassline while carving space for the key notes of the lead etc...

Nothing revolutionary, but it sounds amazing 99% of time, and is much more fun IMO.

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It would be worth hiring this guy for a master, not only will he do a great job but he can offer useful practical advice specific to your work.

http://www.scmastering.com/

DISCLAIMER - he's been a mate for many years, but my recommendation is based solely on the work he's done for myself and others.

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1 hour ago, Nil said:

I've started experimenting with this when they released the last update https://cravedsp.com/crave-eq and was blown away by the sheer musicality of the results, and intuitiveness of the process.

It's more of a perception shift really : I now tend to think about notes and arrangement when boosting / cutting rather than hertz, for exemple deliberately emphasizing the fundamental of a bassline while carving space for the key notes of the lead etc...

Nothing revolutionary, but it sounds amazing 99% of time, and is much more fun IMO.

Thank you! Never heard of this before.

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Wow! Thanks for all the good tips.

Room treatment unfortunately is not in the cards until (if ever) I get to the point in life where I actually start earning money from music and can justify piling bass traps into my living room. Ditto for analog summing. However I did get my monitors along with the IK ARC 2 calibration-room correction thing that comes with a reference mic. It's not perfect but I feel now my mixes translate nicely between monitors-headphones-work headphones-earpods.

I try not to listen or mix too loud either.

Summing to mono absolutely destroys my mixes, mostly because I use a lot of delays-reverbs to cheat sound "full", and sometimes I do the old-school guitar on the left, another guitar on the right thing... well anyways that's a thing to do more often if only just to check. For what it's worth I do have a effect on my master buss which mono's up everything below 250Hz.

EQing for notes instead of frequencies - I am kind of doing that, especially if there are "resonant notes" that I need to have standing out so that they form a nice harmony with the rest of the mix.

Gain staging is definitely a thing. This and spending some time to figure out and mitigate different delays due to MIDI or software drivers. Much better to have things lined up nicely rather than having to micromanage some out of phase drums or something like that.

I think by far the most useful way for me to "discover" problems is just to listen to the tracks some time later. I should of course take breaks too but mostly I only get to work on things 2-3h at a time so at that point I am just full on in creative mode and I don't really want to stop or listen to anything else, but then after I am done it's a full day at the office listening to other things and also my tunes in progress. This counts as "taking breaks", right? 🙂

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I think FabFilter's EQ is very helpful to visualize resonances. Ozone's Tonal Balance Control can be useful, too. Listen on as many different speakers and headphones as possible.

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By the way the weirdest thing... it's legal to automate EQs, right?

I mean like when your track starts with some amazingly lush ambient pad preset that you just found on your rompler, but it's frequency response is all over the place and eventually you want to bring in a bass line... so as you fade in the bass, you also move the low cut frequency on the ambient pad accordingly.

For some reason I rarely do this. I got it in my head that this is cheating and EQ settings should be constant for all time.

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Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, thawkins said:

By the way the weirdest thing... it's legal to automate EQs, right?

I mean like when your track starts with some amazingly lush ambient pad preset that you just found on your rompler, but it's frequency response is all over the place and eventually you want to bring in a bass line... so as you fade in the bass, you also move the low cut frequency on the ambient pad accordingly.

For some reason I rarely do this. I got it in my head that this is cheating and EQ settings should be constant for all time.

Some EQs are designed to be tweaked live, such as this one: https://slatedigital.com/eiosis-aireq/

There are also adaptive EQs designed to automatically EQ live music to approximate the frequency response of pink noise (or any other sound source), such as this one: https://www.sonible.com/smarteq2/

Edited by darreichungsform

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I think room treatment is not quite as important as it's made out to be.  The thing that's actually important is knowing what a good mix sounds like in your room and on your speakers (so reference the hell out of great mixes by well established producers of all varieties).  If I were to start working at a top notch facility tomorrow my mixes would be fucked for a long time until my ears adjusted to what all the differences of the room/system were.

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some good advice, points made.  one thing i've always tried to stick to is:  if something is causing problems, don't spend too long trying to find ways to get it to fit.  better to scrap it and try something else. 

i'm sure we've all been in that good place where everything just falls together and the track pretty much mixes itself.  if things work together well, mixing should be fun, not like trying to solve a puzzle.  recognise when you're trying too hard.

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I'm always wary of frequency masking and having too many instruments in a similar range.  Just cause it sounds great soloed doesn't mean shit.  Also, through spending years of editing dialogue with the spectral analyser in RX I've got ok at being able to roughly estimate the frequency of difficult/annoying sounds in order to EQ out some shit and get a bit more clarity.  Having a visual back up like FabFilter EQ is great but being able to recognise frequencies just helps with composition and stop me layering up too much shite and losing any clarity.  I still suck at it mind you. 

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On 3/1/2020 at 3:29 PM, TubularCorporation said:

DON'T highpass everything!

what do you mean here? not even, say 20hz just to remove rumble before a compressor? i agree with your other points, though, especially monitoring at different volumes, this is a very important tip, immediately things will stand out or disappear when you drop the volume and it can be a good hint for what to do with your mix.

 

sometimes a mix problem can be because you have two elements that just straight up clash and shouldn't be together. don't need to delete one, just have a section with only one, then a section with another sound.

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Only highpass stuff that needs to be highpassed.

 

 

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8 hours ago, TubularCorporation said:

Only highpass stuff that needs to be highpassed.

 

 

Now I am back to square 0, thanks to this smart alec guy here! Foiled again...

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Best advice I’ve heard is that if you want your tracks to sound good you must mix them well and if you want to mix them well you should avoid mixing them badly. 

#mixlikeapro #jadensmith

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