Updated: Aug 30, 2021
We love music! Throughout different phases of our lives, our love of listening to music stays persistent. An Engineer is always consumed with an urge to deeply analyze the technical and artistic aspects of the music upon every listen. This affinity for the intricate details led us to the art of recording and now, to the art of mixing.
Yes! We are at the mixing desk!
The way an Engineer arranges and maintains a session gives the first glimpse into his discipline. Import all the tracks into the session, (any DAW with which you are comfortable) make sure they’re all suitably named. It is always a good practice to assign the instruments to their corresponding groups such as percussions, acoustic guitars, flute, etc.
An often overlooked aspect of this organization is colouring. The visual representation plays a major role in setting up the mood for the session. The session should look inviting, and it should be arranged in a way that evokes creative thoughts and decisions. No one likes a messy session. It clouds one’s ability to think clearly and work efficiently.
It’s all in the design!
Where To Begin?
Now that the session is all set and ready to go, where do we begin?
The first step is to bring down all the faders to about -10 to -12 dBFS from 0dBFS (the nominal level), starting off with the balancing of tracks. Doing this in the initial stage itself leaves you with sufficient headroom to work with.
Listen to the song at least ten times before proceeding with the balancing. Now that you have brought down the faders, listen to it a few more times at this level: this is the point in the mix where we should start analyzing the song.
When it comes to the realm of Indian music, most of the songs we come across do not fit into the box of a single genre. Much like the country itself, the music traverses cultures, languages, terrains, and of course, soundscapes. Each song you work on will have a signature flavor that makes it unique. Identifying this factor can make a world of difference in the mix.
It’s this flavor that will guide us when we start with the initial balancing of the tracks.
Understand the terrain, the context, if it is a film song, understand the premise of the song in that particular portion of the film.
Once the context of the song is clear, it is time to design the style of the mix in our mindspace. After repeated listening, ideas will start to arise about what to do with different elements of the song. Which is the driving element? Which elements are there to give it some width and depth?
Committing to the sound at this phase is critical to ensure that the mix proceeds in the desired direction.
I’ve seen many jump the gun, owing to their eagerness to tweak knobs and work on plugins before they completely comprehend the song.
As we mentioned in the previous chapter, the signature you leave in your mixes ends up being your legacy. Knobs and faders aren’t everything. At the end of the day, they are but tools. Our approach and creativity, they're everything!
Now that the balancing is done (for starters!), it is time to move on to spatial management.
Using the pan knobs to create a bit of space amongst the elements and place each of them in the sound field helps to make the song sound more interesting. Visualize the space between LR as a curve (We will discuss the other dimensions in later chapters). This will open up space where you can place the elements in your mix. The approach of visualizing the LR space as a curve instead of a straight line often tends to give better results.
The First Touch
The elements have been panned according to your taste, the faders are at the levels they should be (the starting point). You have reached the point where instinctively, you should feel like you are headed down the desired path.
The initial balancing may take any amount of time to get right: it could be a whole day, maybe two, or at times, even a couple of hours.
The duration is immaterial. This is the inceptive handshake between your creative brain and the music! Once this connection has been established, the game is afoot! Now we are in a position to work wonders!
The Grantha has much more to reveal about the music mix!
See you in the next chapter!
The invisible handshake between your creative brain and the music! That’s where the magic happens!
· A well-organized and arranged session evokes creativity.
· Listen to the song numerous times before balancing.
· Let the flavor of the song guide your balancing process.
· Completely comprehend the song before you start tweaking knobs.
· Visualizing the space as a curve instead of a line tends to achieve better results.
· Give time for the inceptive handshake between the music and your creative self.