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Mix a pop song – 7d – Bong, Boff, and Sizzle

I’m so sorry – I couldn’t find a better title for this section – which is a great shame because it is actually critically important, so I’d better explain myself pretty quickly.

I should point out that the previous section regarding “sound enhancement” by EQ, is really discussing the subject from the point of view of an individual instrument.

But the sound of the individual instruments alone doesn’t make a great mix.

It is the impact of the whole thing that matters.

Bong

The “bong” in a mix is the pounding of the rhythm. Note that this does not mean a bass-heavy mix. It just means that the impact of the relentless rhythm must be clearly felt in your physical body as you listen to the mix. It is not just the drums and bass that form the “bong”, although they usually are the primary contributors to it. It is also the pounding of the rhythm of the other important parts such as piano and guitars. It isn’t possible to describe in words any special “formula” to make this happen, because it is different in every case. You just need to be aware that it is there and figure out how to control it (usually by experimentation).

Boff

The “boff” in the mix is usually the offbeat. It is created substantially by the snare although, again, other instruments can contribute significantly to the effect – look for syncopated beats that deserve accentuating. The alternate “bong/boff” of a song is the defining essence of the songs rhythm, and if you can get this across clearly, then people will get up onto the dance floor, or at least start tapping their feet when the record is played.

The “bong” in a song should genuinely feel (at loud volume) like it physically hits you in the midriff or below, whilst the “boff” should physically hit you in the chest or higher.

Sizzle

Cymbals? Percussion? Yes, these things do contribute significantly to the “sizzle” of a mix, but not entirely. There are many other contributors to the very top end of a mix including the lead vocal – and the vocal reverb. A good top end really shouts “Quality production!”. George Michael ballad mixes (such as “Praying for time”) illustrate this kind of thing on vocal reverb (although I’d be the first to admit that George Michael mixes are probably overdone in this respect, which tires the ears somewhat). Guitars – especially steel acoustics – can also create a wonderful “sheen” if the top end is carefully managed, which can be heard over the top of a mix – even when played on a low-quality transistor radio.

The careful management of the very top end of a mix is an art in itself, and is something that deserves special consideration in the mix. But be careful. It is a dangerous area. Why? Because if you overdo the top end of a mix, your ears will grow tired very quickly. Not only can this give you a real, physical, and extremely painful headache when mixing (it can be nasty and extreme, so take a break immediately if this happens), but what’s worse, it makes your ears grow deaf to the top end, and so you end up actually piling yet more and more top end on in order to compensate. You can do this without even realising. This is a well-recognised problem when mixing, and is often the result of mixing too loud for too long. It is not at all uncommon to listen to what sounded like a great, powerful and loud mix the night before, and listen to it the day afterwards and discover that it sounds like a little transistor radio! A quick glance at the controls on the desk will reveal that all of the top-end equaliser controls are cranked up way too high. Normally, a less-than-perfect quick solution is needed to fix it under these circumstances:
Either putting the entire mix through a graphic equaliser, or by going along the desk channels one at a time and reducing the amount of HF lift that you inadvertently gave everything previously.

As an aside, it is worth mentioning that if you do get a severe headache quickly and unexpectedly when mixing, and you are not otherwise ill, then there is a strong chance that you have got something very wrong with the top end of your mix, and it will give other people a headache when they listen to it as well. I’ve heard this discussed by people many times in the past. People aren’t sure whether it is just the presence of too much top or whether it is your ears trying to struggle at understanding the unnatural phase distortion that occurs when overdoing top-end EQ – but people frequently acknowledge that this is a genuine problem that some mixes have.

Also

As a final thought – it’s also worth mentioning that it is possible to overdo the aspect of Bong, Boff and Sizzle in a mix. Make sure that the impact of your mixing technique doesn’t overwhelm the basic message and emotional content of the song. Everything has to be in balance for it to work properly.

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