the perfect mix

Mixing is like creating an ice cream sundae.

The band gives you all of the ingredients plus you can change texture through the use of effects. So you have to assess what you have before you can create the final product.

The rhythm section is like the ice cream. It needs to stay in a cohesive group (not melting into sludge) and always be there as the basis (foundation) for the toppings.

The lead instrumentation is like the toppings. You can handle a lot of flavor for short periods of time but you don't want to flood the ice cream. Some toppings don't work as well with other toppings either, so you must give balance to the flavor overall.

One cool thing that I like to do is to hide a flavor to reveal itself as you eat on this sundae. Like putting a cherry in the middle of the ice cream.

Like all analogies, this one breaks down at a certain point.

But . . think of something. If mixing music is like creating a sundae for people to enjoy, then this sundae is magical in that you get to constantly change its flavoring throughout the whole experience. Maybe even giving them some odd tastes through the process, since you have no control over the ingredients.

But you can always make sure to leave them with a good taste in their mouth at the end.

Because that is what draws them to try your sundae again.

perception is reality

While I am in the vein of psychological mixing. . .

I once was doing one of my part time gigs at a church over a period of several months. Before they had asked me, I had already set up a weekend thing with another church so I had the church use a friend of mine for that one weekend that I was pre-booked. I call my friend after the weekend was over and she told me that everything went well, no issues.

The following weekend, I asked the music director and Pastor what they thought of my friend's mixing because I was hoping to get her this gig on a more permanent basis. They both responded that they had got comments about not hearing the violin enough.

So I called my friend back asking about the violin specifically and she told me what I already knew. The player doesn't play much and when they played it wasn't very good. So she never really brought the violin up much in order to make a better mix.

There in lies the difference between what I did instinctively and what she didn't do.

Once I got to thinking about it, I realized that I never really used the player much either due to the exact same reasons. But, I would try to find at least once during the service and push the violin forward for even a short period of time. I did it because, knowing church politics, I didn't know who's kid this player was and if I would offend someone of value (read: monetary value) by not letting them hear the violin at all.

So think about it. They loved my mixing because I found maybe 30 seconds or less where the player sounded halfway decent and let the audience hear it pronounced but didn't like her mixing because she didn't - yet technically her mix may have been better by not subjecting the audience to the sub-par music.

Even though I had the violin up for an extremely short period of time, if someone was asked, "Did you hear the violin?", they would answer. "Yes." They didn't realize that the amount of time but the fact that they did hear it. This ties into the old coaching trick of telling the players in the huddle the most important thing last before they go back into the game.

Something to keep in mind when doing contract gigs. And interesting when thinking about people's perception of what we do and how their needs may not line up with what is actually the best thing technically.

hybrid drum kit

Had an idea recently after coming home from one of those church gigs.

Years ago, we started with acoustic drums. Needed loud monitors, etc and the church folk had a cow (maybe a pig as well). So the advent of the electronic drum kit came into play. Churches opened their arms. Then the musicians complained about it not being real. Drummers rose up with arm injury potential and that the "feel" wasn't there. The modern church now has swung back into using real drums with lots of Plexiglas involved.

This is fine. I like real drums.

except . . . when they aren't in tune or need new heads.

For some reason, churches will fix a bad snare drum or kick drum. I theorize that is because both of these instruments tend to be relatively more stable in tuning until someone physically breaks the head. But the church has spent all of its budget keeping the piano in tune and no money is available for the poor toms. So the thought seems to be, "Why fix something that only gets hit once or twice in a song?"

BECAUSE IT SOUNDS BAD (sorry for the scream . . I feel better now)

Here's the idea. Let's compromise. Keep the real kit except for the toms. Use triggers, or pads and only present the audience with the electronic toms. Why not? I have done so many recording projects where I basically replace the toms anyways. I would venture to guess that many, many albums out there have been done exactly the same but no one wants to admit it. (dirty little engineer secret - don't tell the drummers)

I leave it to you. Natural drums with electronic/triggered toms. Don't need tuning, don't need heads replaced and if the drummer behaves will save money in the long run. Think about it.

(I foresee an invention here. Electronic toms with speakers in them so the drummer gets the believable feel of the pad actually making the noise.)

chest over head voice

I was thinking the other day about why we like singers that sing in their chest voice (that breathy, somewhat softer tone) vs the opera full voice (head voice). Then again some people like that operatic tone (head voice) over the chest voice.

I don't know if you ever noticed while watching a movie or especially on TV that when people whisper, they are actually heard almost as loud as when someone yells or guns go off. Having posted TV shows over time, I noticed this years ago and have followed suit in my mixes. The interesting thing is that your brain gets audible cues from the tone of the voice as to what is going on.

See a whisper in your ear can be just as loud as a yell at 10 meters in real life. So your brain will process the non-real world of TV just the same based on its experiences.

Back to singing. In order for you to hear that soft chest voice sound in real life (without some sort of amplification), the person singing needs to be right close and in your personal space. Intimate. But the full out head voice needs to be back away from you in order to not blow you away with volume. Performance.

It is my conclusion that the person that prefers the operatic head voice sound likes the stand back and watch aspect of the performance. It is easy to disconnect and spectate. But the chest voice intimates. It gets into your personal space, infers relationship, closeness.

Think about it, your body will respond psychologically to its environment whether real or not. You watch a program and the dog is killed. You don't know this animal other than the 10 minutes that you have seen, but you still well up with emotion.

So someone sings the line all formal and operatic "I love you!" - its grand, aggressive. Then someone is allowed into your personal space, is less than six inches away from you, face to face, and sings ever so gently "I love you" - intensely intimate, meaningful.

It wasn't until the advent of the modern PA that you could get that tone in a larger more public venue. Still, watching a performance on stage, just like TV and Film, is a one to one experience that is shared by all. That is why you feel connected with people in the room afterwards. You have all shared the same personal experience.

That is my reason that the chest voice wins in popular culture.

the human mix

I have noticed that many engineers tend to get into the technical head side of mixing that they forget the psychological response of music on people, let alone themselves. We all live and experience this life through the ports (senses) of our physical bodies. That can't be forgotten. When mixing, it is more than just the assembling and balancing of instrumentation (which is a good thing). I always equate it to riding the wave, or herding cats. You are creating something but this creation is based on the already created active tones that the musicians/singers are sending to you. Yes, you are assembling a complete creation, but you must go beyond that and give guidance to the creation (ok, that sounded a little too metaphysical).

I can't tell you how many times I have done a gig at a church where people (usually the leadership) will come up to me afterwards and lay glorious compliments on the sound of the service. I am sitting there thinking - I didn't do that much. But as I ponder later, I realize that I made a lot of little decisions. Like - this player isn't helping the song at the moment, so I will put him in the background and highlight someone who is. This singer is way off pitch so I will hide him/her. That guy is doing something cool, so lets hear it.

Church gigs are unique in the fact that usually there isn't an arrangement and the musicians may not even do the same thing from rehearsal to performance. (I am always amazed at how little instrumentalists will listen to each others parts but insist on doing things that will tear the song apart - but that is another topic all together). So yeah, in a sense, I guess I must be doing something different than the other guys, but I keep thinking, why aren't they doing this?

I can only come up with a couple answers. They aren't musical enough to understand the bad things being done by different musicians/singers on stage? They are actually not thinking about the music because they are caught up in the "headiness" of the thought. All brain, no emotion. I think that most people can tell when things aren't right, otherwise I wouldn't be getting the gigs I get. Its not the engineers that are seeking me out to come help them out. Obviously, the engineers don't think anything is a problem.

We live in emotion driven bodies, listen with them. Don't turn the emotion off just because you are doing a heady technical thing. The console is actually a musical instrument in that regard. You are in the process of creation, a creative process. This isn't like building a building with a set of plans. You may have an idea of what you want to create, but it may not come out that way. Music is a journey, going somewhere. The engineer is simply trying to guide it and keep it looking as good as possible on the way. Music is emotion so emotion must be a key factor in making good decisions.