A Glossary Of Mixing Terms – Part 1

Lately I’ve been getting some questions regarding some of the terms I use during song critiques, so that means it’s probably a good time to break out the mixing glossary from my Mixing Engineer’s Handbook.

Mixing Glossary Part 1 on Bobby Owsinski's Music Production Blog

0dB Full Scale. Abbreviated FS, it’s the highest level that can be recorded in the digital domain. Recording beyond 0dBFS can result in severe distortion.

5.1. A speaker system that uses three speakers across the front soundfield and two stereo speakers in the rear of the listener, along with a subwoofer.

808. One of the early drum machines made by Roland favored for many years in hip-hop and EDM.

air. Frequencies above 10kHz that are more felt than heard. These frequencies can provide more realism to a sound used in the correct proportion.

airplay. When a song gets played on the radio.

ambience. The background noise of an environment.

arpeggio. The notes of a chord played in quick succession.

arrangement. The way the instruments are combined in a song.

articulations. The way a note or phrase is played or sung in terms of attack, release and duration.

Atmos (see Dolby Atmos)

attack. The first part of a sound. On a compressor/limiter, a control that affects how quickly that device will respond to the attack of a sound.

attenuation. A decrease in level.

attenuation pad (sometimes just called a pad). A circuit that decreases the input level by a set amount. The amount of attenuation is usually in 10dB or 20dB increments.

automation. A system that memorizes and then plays back the position of all faders and mutes on a console. In a DAW, the automation can also record and play back other parameters, including sends, returns, panning, and plugin parameters.

B-section (also known as a pre-chorus). A section of a song between the verse and chorus sections. Not found in every song.

bandwidth. The number of frequencies that a device will pass before the signal degrades. A human being can supposedly hear from 20Hz to 20kHz (although in reality our hearing is more limited than that), so the bandwidth of the human ear is 20Hz to 20kHz.

basic track. Recording the rhythm section for a record, which could be only the drums or loops but could also include all the instruments of the band, depending upon the project.

bass management. A circuit that utilizes the subwoofer in an immersive audio playback system to provide bass extension for the main speakers. The bass manager steers all frequencies below approximately 100Hz into the subwoofer along with the LFE source signal. See LFE.

bass redirection. Another term for bass management.

big ears. The ability to be very aware of the sonic and musical details during recording or playback. The ability to rapidly dissect a track in terms of arrangement.

bit rate. The transmission rate of a digital signal.

bottom. Bass frequencies, the lower end of the audio spectrum. See also low end.

bottom end. See bottom.

bpm. Beats per minute. The measure of tempo.

Breakdown: A section of a song where the arrangement goes for being very full to very sparse.

brick wall. A limiter employing digital “look-ahead” technology that is so efficient that the signal will never exceed a certain predetermined level, so there can be no digital “overs.”

buss. A signal pathway. 

butt cut. Sometimes known as a straight cut, a butt cut is an audio edit that occurs abruptly with no gradual fade from one edit to that next.

chamber (reverb). A method of creating artificial reverberation using a tiled room in which a speaker and several microphones are placed.

chatter. When a gate rapidly turns on and off due to fluctuating signal dynamics.

chorus. A type of signal processor where a detuned and delayed copy is mixed with the original signal to create a fatter sound. Also, a repeating hook section of a song.

clean. A signal with no, or barely noticeable, distortion.

clip. To overload and cause distortion.

clipper. An audio dynamics processor who’s purpose is to intentionally clip the audio signal by adding distortion and harmonic saturation.

clipping. When an audio signal begins to distort because a section of the signal path is overloaded, the top of the waveform becomes “clipped” off and begins to look square instead of rounded. This usually results in some type of distortion, which can be either soft and barely noticeable or horribly crunchy-sounding.

codec. An acronym for encoder/decoder, a device or program that compresses data to enable faster transmission and decompresses received data.

color. To affect the timbral qualities of a sound.

comb filter. A distortion produced by combining an electronic or acoustic signal with a slightly delayed copy of itself. The result is peaks and dips introduced into the frequency response. 

compression. Signal processing that controls and evens out the dynamics of a sound.

compressor. A signal-processing device used to compress audio dynamics.

competitive level. A mix level that is as loud as your competitor’s mix.

cut. To decrease, attenuate, or make less.

DAC. Digital-to-analog convertor. The device that converts the signal from the digital domain to the analog domain.

data compression. An algorithm that selectively eliminates bits from a digital stream to make it more efficient for storage and transmission. 

DAW. A digital audio workstation. A computer with the appropriate hardware and software needed to digitize and edit audio.

dB. Stands for decibel, which is a unit of measurement of sound level or loudness. The smallest change in sound level that an average human can hear is referred to as 1dB.

decay. The time it takes for a signal to fall below audibility.

delay. A type of signal processor that produces distinct repeats (echoes) of a signal.

desk. A British name for a recording console.

DI. Direct inject, an impedance-matching device for an electronic keyboard, guitar or bass that allows the instrument to be connected directly to recording console or DAW.

direct. To “go direct” means to bypass a microphone and connect the guitar, bass, or keyboard directly into a recording device.

direct box. See DI.

digital domain. When a signal source is converted into a series of electronic pulses represented by 1s and 0s, the signal is then in the digital domain.

digital over. The point beyond 0 on a digital processor level meter where the red Over indicator lights, resulting in a digital overload and distortion.

divergence. A parameter of immersive panning that allows you to increase the level to channels other than the one panned to.

Dolby Atmos. A surround sound technology developed by Dolby Laboratories. It expands on existing surround sound systems by adding height channels, allowing sounds to be interpreted as three-dimensional objects.

double. To play or sing a track a second time. The inconsistencies between both tracks make the part sound bigger and thicker.

double time. When one or more instrument plays the song at twice the tempo.

downmix. When a multichannel immersive mix is electronically interpreted into a playback format with fewer speakers, like stereo or even mono.

dynamics (audio). Audio processors that control the dynamic range of an audio signal. These include compressors, limiters, gates, levelers, de-essers and clippers.

dynamics (music). The volume execution when an instrument is played. Songs that vary in dynamics are found to be expressive and interesting.

dynamic range. A ratio that describes the difference between the loudest and the quietest audio. The higher the number equals a greater dynamic range.

dubbing mixer. A film or television mixer who performs the final mix on a dubbing stage, which is a film theater with an audio console placed in the middle.

edgy. A sound with an abundance of midrange frequencies.

element. A component or ingredient of the mix.

envelope. The attack, sustain, and release of a sound.

equalizer. A tone control that can vary in sophistication from very simple to very complex. See parametric equalizer.

equalization. Adjustment of the frequency spectrum to even out or alter tonal imbalances.

exciter. An audio effects processor that uses phase manipulation and harmonic distortion to produce high-frequency enhancement of a signal.

feedback. When part of the output signal is fed back into the input. In electronic analog circuitry this can be intentional to decrease distortion. In live sound this is the squealing that occurs caused by the microphone unintentionally picking up sound from the speaker.

feel. The groove of a song and how it feels to play or listen to it.

flanging. The process of mixing a copy of the signal back with itself, but gradually and randomly slowing the copy down, causing the sound to “whoosh” as if it were in a wind tunnel. This was originally done by holding a finger against a tape flange (the metal part that holds the magnetic tape on the reel), hence the name.

flip the phase. Selecting the phase switch on a console, preamp, or DAW channel in order to find the setting with the greatest bass response.

football. A musical whole note. Long sustaining chords.

FS. Full scale. A digital peak meter that reads at 0dB shows the full scale of the meter. The maximum amplitude of a digital system.

gain. The amount that a sound is boosted.

gain reduction. The amount of compression or limiting. 

gain staging. Setting the gain of each stage in the signal path so that the audio level from one stage doesn’t overload the next one in line.

grid. The spaced lines on a DAW timeline that represents each beat and sub-beat.

groove. The pulse of the song and how the instruments dynamically breathe with it. Or, the part of a vinyl record that contains the mechanical information that is transferred to electronic info by the stylus.

Haas Effect. A psychoacoustic effect where any delay signal below 40 milliseconds is indistinguishable from the source event. In other words, instead of hearing the sound and then a delay (two events), you hear both the source and the delay together as a single event.

headroom. The amount of dynamic range between the normal operating level and the maximum level, which is usually the onset of clipping. 

Hz. An abbreviation for hertz, which is the measurement unit of audio frequency, meaning the number of cycles per second. High numbers represent high frequency sounds, and low numbers represent low frequency sounds.

high end. The high frequency response of a device.

high-pass filter. An electronic device that allows the high frequencies to pass while attenuating the low frequencies. Used to eliminate low-frequency artifacts like hum and rumble. The frequency point where it cuts off can be fixed, switchable, or variable.

hook. A catchy phrase either played or sung.

hyper-compression. Too much buss compression or limiting during mixing or mastering in an effort to make the recording louder results in what’s known as hyper-compression, a condition that essentially leaves no dynamics and makes the track sound lifeless.

Watch for Part 2 coming up next week.

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

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