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Introduction to Mixing-Through Part 10 - Latest Update 12-08

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If you have made it this far in my writings, you may wonder why this topic comes towards the end of my tutorial sections.  At one level the idea of mix level is fairly simple-more, or less, sound is produced from the PA system.

In practice, though, neither mixing quietly, nor loudly is as straightforward as it should be.

When one considers mixing quietly, the stage levels (discussed in 10 above) play an intimate role in the matter.  If the rapport with the stage, and the resulting understanding of stage volume is not well established, then often-times there is very little that can be done.  There have been many times where I have mixed where the only things in the PA are vocals and kick drum, simply because everything else was completely overpowering, and adding additional volume helps nothing.  These shows pretty much universally suck.  Without some stage cooperation the world's greatest mixer will have a lousy night.

If you do have a manageable stage volume situation, mixing quietly remains a challenge.  Usually, except in all but the most ideal situations, you will still have to mix around some stage bleed, and that requires having a good ear for what is already present in the space before the PA is turned up.  That recognition of frequencies and stage interplay simply takes practice.  Nothing written here will make you be able to characterize the bleed faster than simply thinking about it, and then doing it.  It's important to realize that the bleed will often be different in different spaces in the venue, and some compromises will probably have to be made.  Its accepting those compromises and moving forward quickly that will come with practice.


On the other end of the spectrum, mixing loud (>95 dBA Slow)is somewhat more straightforward.  As volume increases, the human ear becomes more sensitive to certain frequencies.  By appropriately shaping the tonal balance of the inputs, the relative tonal balance at high volume levels, as perceived at the ears of the audience, can be kept reasonably consistent.

If the out of band energy of the sources being mixed is already well managed (See tutorial , then mixing louder becomes either a function of shaping the overall system equalization and/or indvidual sources to take the "edge" off the mix.

In practice this means not being afraid of applying equalization above 1-2kHz, as needed, to smooth out instruments, even if it isn't "right" from a clean, low volume perspective.  Board tapes made of mixes that sound right at higher volumes will sound quite dull when listened to in headphones later.  If your loud mix is as bright and crisp as the CD when listened to later at low volumes, it was probably painfully bright for the audience.

When it comes to mixing at higher volumes, I believe there is definitely a point of diminishing returns.  There comes a volume where additional sound pressure does not add much increase in tactile impact to the mix, at least over the long term of an event.  It may be impressive for a few minutes, but then one's senses adjust, and it loses some of the effect.

In a similar way, mixing at high volumes also has the potential to threshold shift the great majority of the audience.  Most peoples' perception of mix "clarity" will be ruined when they experience a threshold shift, and more importantly the shift is a warning sign from your ears that they are going into "protect" mode.


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