Tag Archives for " Mixing Engineer’s Handbook "

8 Indicators That Your Mix Is Finished

8 indicators your mix is finishedOne of the hardest things for many mixers to determine is when a mix is finished. In fact, engineers new to mixing may think a mix is ready in an hour, but a pro will usually take considerably longer. How much longer? Well, some big hit maker mixers that I know may spend up to 16 hours just on a vocal!

That said, the time spent on a mix is all over the place these days, so this excerpt from the 4th edition of my Mixing Engineer’s Handbook outlines 8 indicators that will let you know when your mix is ready for the world.

“One of the tougher things to decide when you’re mixing is when the mix is finished. If you have a deadline, the decision is made for you as the clock ticks down, but if you have unlimited time or a deep-pocket budget, a mix can drag on forever.

Just when is a mix considered finished? Here are some guidelines:

1. The groove of the song is solid. The pulse of the song is strong and undeniable.

2. You can distinctly hear every mix element. Although some mix elements, such as pads, are sometimes meant to blend seamlessly into the track, most mix elements should be clearly heard.

3. Every lyric and every note of every line or solo can be heard. You don’t want a single note buried. It all has to be crystal clear. Use your automation. That’s what it was made for.

4. The mix has punch. The relationship between the bass and drums is in the right proportion and works well together to give the song a solid foundation.

5. The mix has a focal point. What’s the most important element of the song? Make sure it’s obvious to the listener.

6. The mix has contrast. If you have too much of the same effect on everything, the mix can sound washed out. Likewise, if your mix has the same intensity throughout, it can be boring to the listener. You need to have contrast between different elements, from dry to wet, from intense to less intense, to give the mix depth.

7. All noises and glitches are eliminated. This includes any count-offs, singer’s breaths that seem out of place or predominant because of vocal compression, amp noise on guitar tracks before and after the guitar is playing, bad-sounding edits, and anything else that might take the listener’s attention away from the track.

8. You can play your mix against songs that you love, and it holds up. This is perhaps the ultimate test. If you can get your mix in the same ballpark as many of your favorites (either things you’ve mixed or mixes from other artists) after you’ve passed the previous seven items, then you’re probably home free.

How much time should all this take? In the end, most mixing pros figure at least a full day per song regardless of whether you’re mixing in the box or mixing on an analog console, although it’s still best to figure a day and a half per mix if you’re mixing in a studio with an analog-style console and traditional hardware outboard gear. Of course, if you’re mixing every session in your DAW as you go along during recording, then you might be finished before you know it, since all you may have to do is just tweak your mix a little to call it complete.”

You can read more from The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

February 15, 2017

The Magic Frequencies For EQing Mix Elements

Magic FrequenciesWhen it comes to EQing, there are certain frequencies that seem predominant for every instrument. Many call them the magic frequencies, because they do tend to work most of the time. Here’s a chart of those frequencies from the latest edition of my Mixing Engineer’s Handbook.

Remember that using the magic frequencies might make an instrument or voice sound dynamite on its own when soloed, but then it might not fit in the mix properly. That’s why it’s best to listen against other instruments when adding or subtracting EQ. Also remember than every song is different because the players, arrangement, recording environment, players and feel is different, which will greatly influence your EQ decisions.

Instrument Magic Frequencies
Bass guitar Bottom at 50 to 80Hz, attack at 700Hz, snap at 2.5kHz
Kick drum Bottom at 80 to 100Hz, hollowness at 400Hz, point at 3k to 5kHz
Snare Fatness at 120 to 240Hz, point at 900Hz, crispness at  5kHz, snap at 10kHz
Rack Toms Fullness at 240 to 500Hz, attack at 5 to 7kHz
Floor Toms Fullness at 80Hz, attack at 5kHz
Hi-hat and cymbals Clang at 200Hz, sparkle at 8k to 10kHz
Electric guitar Fullness at 240 to 500Hz, presence at 1.5 to 2.5kHz, attenuate at 1kHz for 4 × 12 cabinet sound
Acoustic guitar Fullness at 80Hz, body at 240Hz, presence at 2k to 5kHz
Organ Fullness at 80Hz, body at 240Hz, presence at 2 to 5kHz
Piano Fullness at 80Hz, presence at 3k to 5kHz, honky tonk at 2.5kHz
Horns Fullness at 120Hz, piercing at 5kHz
Voice Fullness at 120Hz, boomy at 240Hz, presence at 5kHz, sibilance at 4k to 7kHz, air at 10k to 15kHz
Strings Fullness at 240Hz, scratchy at 7k to 10kHz
Conga Ring at 200Hz, slap at 5kHz
January 11, 2017

The 4th Edition Of The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook Is Here

Mixing Engineer's Handbook 4th editionI’m very happy to announce that the 4th edition of The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook is now available on Amazon.

So what’s different? This updated version is self-published for one thing, but it also contains new sections on Immersive Audio and online mastering, as well as new and updated hit-mixer interviews. If you haven’t seen the book since the second edition, it also has a brand new “Advanced” chapter that covers all the techniques that are now expected of a mixer that you won’t find anywhere else, including cleaning tracks, adjusting track timing, pitch correction, sound replacement, and automation techniques.

The print edition of The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook 4th edition is now available on Amazon, with the Kindle and electronic versions following shortly on the iTunes bookstore and Barnes & Nobles.

College and university instructors that use the book for their courses will be happy to know that it can be ordered through Ingram. An Instructor’s Resource Kit is also available, which contains a syllabus, course outline, discussion topics, Powerpoint/Keynote presentations and quizzes for a 12 week semester. Please drop me an email for the download link.

A table of contents and book excerpts can be found at bobbyowsinski.com/mixing-engineers-handbook.

Finally, if you own a version of this book and feel that it’s helped you in any way, it would help me out a great deal if you could post a review on Amazon. Thank you kindly!

Mixing An Orchestra With Don Hahn

Mixing An OrchestraAlthough there’s a lot of pretty good engineers around these days, not many have the ability to record a 45 to 100 piece orchestra with the ease of someone who’s done it a thousand times. Don Hahn can and that’s because he actually has done it a thousand times. With an unbelievable list of credits that range from television series (like Star Trek The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager), to such legends as Count Basie, Barbra Streisand, Chet Atkins, Frank Sinatra, Herb Alpert, Woody Herman, Dionne Warwick and a host of others (actually 10 pages more), Don has recorded the best of the best. Starting in New York City in 1959 and eventually becoming a VP at Phil Ramone’s famed A&R Studios there, then later at Hollywood’s A&M Studios, Don has seen it all and then some. Don’s retired now but his orchestral technique is still the model to emulate, so here’s an excerpt from the latest edition of my Mixing Engineer’s Handbook that illustrates how he did it.

“How is your approach for mixing an orchestra different from when you mix something with a rhythm section?
Don Hahn: The approach is totally different because there’s no rhythm section so you shoot for a nice roomy orchestral sound and get it as big as you can get with the amount of musicians you have. You start with violins, then violas if you have them, cellos then basses. You get all that happening and then add woodwinds, French horns, trombones, trumpets and then percussion and synthesizers.

What happens when you have a rhythm section?
Then the rhythm section starts first. Any time I do a rhythm section, it’s like constructing a building. That’s your foundation. If you don’t build a foundation, the building falls down. I like to shoot for a tight rhythm section, that’s not too roomy. I think that comes from all the big bands that I did; Woody Herman, Count Basie, Thad and Mel, Maynard Ferguson.

Are you building from the drums or the bass first?
The bass is always first. Everybody relates to the bass. I can remember doing records in New York and some of the producers would put paper over the meters. I told them I don’t care, just let me get the bass and I’ll balance the whole thing and it’ll come out okay. The only time I can get screwed personally on any date with a rhythm section is if the bass player’s late. There’s nothing to relate to because everybody relates to the bass player. If he’s not there, it doesn’t work. Now orchestrally, the bass players can be late and it doesn’t matter because I’m balancing all the other strings and then adding brass and the percussion last. But on a record date with a rhythm section, it’s the bass player and the drummer that’s the foundation and the colors come from the keyboards and the guitars.

Are you worried about leakage?
No, I try to get the least amount of leakage with as much room as I can. On Streisand, we put the bass player and the drummer in one section of the room with some gobos around, she was in her own booth, three other singers were in another booth, and the whole rest of the studio was filled with great musicians.

How has recording and mixing changed over the years?
Well, just for some perspective, when I started there was no Fender bass and one track only, with no computers or click tracks. Every date used acoustic bass. There was no synthesizer. Bob Moog used to come up to the studio sometimes with his synthesizer that he was working on. It was like 15 feet wide with big old telephone patch cords and tubes and have us comment on his sounds.

I think some of the problems you have now is the younger guys don’t go into the studio and listen. You must listen to what’s going on in the studio. Don’t just go into a control room, open faders and grab EQ’s. As an engineer you’re supposed to make it sound in the control room like it sounds in the studio, only better. You must listen in the room and hear what it sounds like, especially on acoustic or orchestral dates, and not be afraid to ask composers. Your composers, and especially the musicians, are your best friends because whatever they do reflects on what you’re doing. If they’re not happy, you’re not happy. Remember, the music comes first.”

You can read more from The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

EQing By Frequency Juggling

Frequency JugglingOne of the best ways to make all the elements fit in a mix is by frequency juggling. That’s where you make sure that no two instruments are boosted at the same frequency so they never fight for attention in the mix. Here are 3 steps from the 3rd edition of my Mixing Engineer’s Handbook to make frequency juggling work for you, as well as a couple of excellent quotes from Jon Gass and Ed Seay, some of the very best mixers ever.

Most veteran engineers know that soloing an instrument and equalizing it without hearing the other instruments will probably start making you chase your tail as you make each instrument bigger and brighter sounding. When that happens is that you’ll find in no time the instrument you’re EQing will begin to conflict with other instruments or vocals frequency-wise. That’s why it’s important to listen to other instruments while you’re EQing. By juggling frequencies, they’ll fit together better so that each instrument has its own predominate frequency range. Here’s how it’s done.

1. Start with the rhythm section (bass and drums). The bass should be clear and distinct when played against the drums, especially the kick and snare.

You should be able to hear each instrument distinctly. If not, do the following:

  • Make sure that no two equalizers are boosting at the same frequency. If they are, move one to a slightly higher or lower frequency.
  • If an instrument is cut at a certain frequency, boost the frequency of the other instrument at that same frequency. For example, if the kick is cut at 500Hz, boost the bass at 500Hz (see the figure on the left).

2. Add the next most predominant element, usually the vocal, and proceed as above.

3. Add the rest of the elements into the mix one by one. As you add each instrument, check it against the previous elements as above.

The idea is to hear each instrument clearly, and the best way for that to happen is for each instrument to live in its own frequency band.


TIP: You most likely will have to EQ in a circle where you start with one instrument, tweak another that’s clashing with it, return to the original one to tweak it, and then go back again over and over until you achieve the desired separation.


Jon Gass: I really start searching out the frequencies that are clashing or rubbing against each other, but I really try to keep the whole picture in there most of the time as opposed to really isolating things too much. If there are two or three instruments that are clashing, that’s probably where I get more into the solo if I need to kind of hear the whole natural sound of the instrument.    

Ed Seay: Frequency juggling is important. You don’t EQ everything in the same place. You don’t EQ 3k on the vocal and the guitar and the bass and the synth and the piano, because then you have such a buildup there that you have a frequency war going on. Sometimes you can say, “Well, the piano doesn’t need 3k, so let’s go lower, or let’s go higher,” or “This vocal will pop through if we shine the light not in his nose, but maybe towards his forehead.” In so doing, you can make things audible and everybody can get some camera time.”

You can read more from The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

6 Trouble Frequencies To Be Aware Of When You Mix

Trouble FrequenciesWhenever an engineer has trouble dialing in the EQ on a track, chances are its because of one or more of the 6 often-overlooked trouble frequencies.

These are areas where too much or too little can cause your track to either stick out like a sore thumb, or disappear into the mix completely. Let’s take a look.

  • 200Hz (Mud) – Too much can cause the track or the mix to sound muddy or boomy, while not enough of it can make it sound thin. It’s a fine line, but many times mixers err on the side of too much and end up with a track that’s too thick that clutters up the mix.
  • 300 to 500Hz (Boxy) – Too much of this frequency area results in the dreaded “boxiness” sound, or if you’re listening to a floor tom or kick, the “beach ball” effect. It’s also a spot that some less expensive microphones (especially dynamics) tend to emphasize, which is why many mixers almost automatically cut a a few dB of this area out of the kick drum during the mix.
  • 800Hz (Walmart) – Too much in this area results in what’s sometimes known as the “Walmart” sound, meaning that it sounds like a cheap stereo purchased in a department store. Try it for yourself – get a cheap pair of computer speakers and you’ll find that 800Hz is what you’ll mostly hear. Obviously, too much of this frequency range is not a good thing.
  • 1k to 1.5kHz (Nasal) – This is the nasal range of the frequency spectrum and, as the name suggests, too much results in a vocalist that sounds like she’s singing through her nose. Once again this is primarily a microphone problem in that it’s poorly matched to the vocalist, but notching a bit out during the mix can fix it.
  • 4kHz to 6kHz (Presence) – This frequency range is frequently underutilized during the mix, resulting in a track that lacks definition. Without it, things tend to sound dull, but too much can make the track sound thin or, in the case of a vocal, sibilant.
  • 10kHz+ (Air) – Another widely overlooked frequency band, this provides clarity and adds a certain “realness” to the track. Many vintage mics have a lot of the air frequencies, which is why we prize them for their sound. The Maag Audio EQ4P has a special “Air Band” designed to provide those frequencies with a minimum of phase shift, but you can dial it in other equalizers as well.

Sometimes just tweaking a few of these 6 frequency ranges can take a mix from dull to exciting, or muddy to clear, so keep these “trouble frequencies” in mind during your next mix.