9 Oct 2010

Taking the Mix for a Walk

With only two or three more songs to go, I took the first 75% of the album for a walk today — and I mean that literally. Mixing is an arduous task; not only do you want the music to sound good in your studio monitors, it preferrably has to cope with being carried around and played in various circumstances on less than stellar equipment.

On top of that, playing the tracks in the intended album order will cause them to interact with each other and your brain in ways you never realise while mixing them one by one. Psychoacoustics and music psychology are fascinating subjects, but not so much sciences as a dark arts...

This afternoon, The Music left the studio to be seriously listened to elsewhere for the first time: Low budget MP3 player, Koss Porta-Pro headphones, and out into the city noise we went — The Music, Harry the Dog and I. I've just returned to make some minor corrections.

"Field" ended too abruptly, so some more noises were added to the end of that one.

"Iron Artery" felt too slow when squeezed in between "Field" and "The Old Church", and is now 100 BPM instead of 98. (BPM = Beats Per Minute, for those who'd like to know and doesn't.)

The timpani on "The Old Church" were panned too far to the right in the stereo image when listened to in headphones, and have now been placed in the middle of the stereo field.

The lead guitar on "The Passing of Clouds" lacked authority when you listened to the piece in a noisy environment, coupled with headphones with a weak upper midrange. Now it's 2 dB louder. (And I sped this one up a couple of BPMs, too.)

Just some examples of what may easily become an endless tweaking process; the true art is knowing when to stop!


  1. Gosh, this fascinates me! I had no idea, I never thought music was listened to like this before it hit the stores, do all artists do this? So besides taking your dog for a walk, you have to take your music for a walk! Your story about adding the noises and tweaking the music makes me think of "Dark Side Of The Moon", I watched a show about how they did all the effects in that album, and it amazed me.

  2. Yes, more or less every mixing engineer does this. If you know your studio room and main monitors well, you can actually come very close to an all-purpose mix using only those. However, a final check in other environments are almost mandatory.

    Sadly, for popular music the mixing and mastering processes has become "inverted" in latter years. The era of mass-market hi-fi is all but behind us, and mixing music to sound its best on the best kinds of playback equipment is all but a dying art.

    For popular music, mixing to sound "loud" and "punchy" in bad car radios, TVs, portable players and mini-stereos is now the first priority. If someone happens to own a really good hi-fi, playing modern pop records there is often a real eye-opener; all dynamics in the music has been mercilessly squashed, and nasty distortion artefacts abound.

    BTW, another Alan Parsons reference there, Ginny - "Dark Side of the Moon" was engineered by Parsons, who was instrumental (pun intended) in the sound design of that record...!