This blog continues a series of blogs on Mixing.
Guiding Creative Artists: steps along a path
To walk down any path, it is usual to be sequential in that process. If you want to get to z, it is usual (but not always) appropriate to progress through each of the letters to get there. a , b ,c ,d, e, f, g, h, etc… To follow the suggested steps – a series of steps to follow, observing what is around you – you can generally arrive at your destination in a timely manner. As you develop, it is of course important to sometimes stop or even perhaps deviate on the set path, and to experience what occurs when you attempt a, b, c, d, etc in a natural logical sequence; and when you do not follow such a logical sequence. What is the result of following a before b, b before c, etc – or not?
As we get to the business end of yet another Trimester, I observe our Creative Media students again getting quite angst with their attempts to mix their final productions. I observe that most are yearning for what is actually a very straightforward process. Following suggested the steps – a series of steps that has been provided across several Modules to follow and experiment with, observing what occurs when they attempt a, b, c, d, etc, and understanding that in many instances, a must come before b, b before c, etc.
Whether myself, my peers or my students – in a studying phase or in our professional lives – it seems to be common amongst most of us to want some guiding process or sequence that we can initially follow, at least until we can get comfortable with the task, and then feel confident enough to be able to fly on our own, and then possibly self-empowered enough to customise the process into our own individual unique workflow. Not necessarily process in specifics or for what could be classified as micro-management, but process in terms of the introduction of a concept for global understanding, with a series of logical process steps to be able to realize the task at least all the way through.
Over recent weeks, as I have again introduced a group of novice audio production students to the art and technique of mixing in a Tri 1 Bachelor’s unit, I was reminded of how overwhelming such a task is. Initial questions most common continue to be: “how do I EQ?”, “what do I compress?”, to “what EQ works on a kick drum?”, to “does EQ come before compression?”, to name a few.
Leading audio production author Owsinski outlines in his book “Modern Mixing Techniques” the steps and elements of mixing that he sees as common to all mixes are:
session set up,
interest (Owsinski, 2013).
In my observation of those far more experienced in the audio industry, it is usually the fundamentals of: deciding upon a reference track, setting up your session, and setting your gain structure and balance first, that get the most immediate attention. The completion of these fundamentals, allowing the mix engineer to progress through a workflow, seems to be consistent to successful mixing sessions. In fact, it is quite often the case with a well played and recorded session, that once the fundamentals have been completed, the experienced mix engineer may only need to use minimal audio processing at best, because the mix is already sitting nicely where it is, with all of the instruments placed within their own space, at good levels, negating the need for further attention and processing.
In contrast, in general the novice will overlook these fundamentals, eager to dive into what they perceive as mixing, applying audio processing, inserting as many plug-ins as they can, and start turning the EQ and Dynamic pots to extremes until they achieve obvious changes in sonic qualities. However, quite often as a result of their actions, the overall gain structure and stereo image is now adversely affected, presenting a range of other issues within the mix such as clipping, distortion, raised noise floor, lack of clarity, masking and possibly also unacceptable degradation of the audio quality: quite possibly, the exact opposite of what they were trying to achieve from the outset.
At this point, it is then not uncommon for the novice to exhibit a range of responses with their first mix task attempt: confusion, overwhelm, becoming debilitated with the task at hand, to panic, immediately re-entering the deep end and start randomly pushing more buttons, ‘knob twirling’, and adding even more audio processing devices trying to fix what they have created.
And yet, when they next have the opportunity of observing an experienced mix engineer approaching a mix task, what they are likely to witness is someone proceeding through a flurry of steps, moving swiftly, effectively and efficiently through a series of sub-conscious moves, as they progress through their customised workflow, developed over many hours, and countless mix session tasks. Essentially, the experienced mix engineer will have a clear goal of what they are trying to achieve and a clear roadmap of how they are going to achieve it.
I can guarantee such experienced activity necessitates commencing with the fundamentals.
In my observation, a novice creative artist may not understand the need or function of having a clear goal of what they are trying to achieve, before they commence the task. If you do not know what you are trying to achieve, most will probably end up somewhere other than where they wanted to. And whilst this may not be problematic in a creative streaming situation, it will not assist the creative artist if they need to be working to a brief for an external client (quite possibly, merely their Lecturer for the achievement of an assessment task).
Additionally, a novice creative artist may not have a clear roadmap of how to get to their goal. The fundamentals, a series of steps that allows the artist to progress sequentially through the task at hand, increasing the possibility of an outcome in the vicinity of what they were attempting to achieve. I have found that positive questions that assist in this stage need to be process-based questions such as: “now, what do I need to do first?” “then?” “then?”
I have also found a secondary benefit that this fundamental stage facilitates. It seems to assist the novice creative artist to catch their breath, ground themselves and focus before they immerse themselves into the technical and creative task at hand. Once they commence the task, the goal should be to move effectively and efficiently through a series of steps to a desired outcome (‘goal’).
The fundamentals are an ideal place for the novice creative artist to commence a technical and creative task, at least until they can get comfortable with the task, then feel confident enough to be able to fly on their own, and then self-empowered enough possibly to customise the process into their own individual unique workflow.
Owsinski, B (2013) Modern Mixing Techniques, Cengage Learning, Inc USA
Image courtesy of: aisf.or.jp accessed 5th May 2014
– ©David L Page 14/05/2014
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