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Mix a pop song – 2 – Calibrating your Ears with a Rough Mix

Familiarise yourself with your setup and the tools needed to start mixing.

Record that basic sound so that you can tell where you want to make improvements.

After all that playing around and “familliarising” yourself with the mix, then you should have an idea of where to put the faders for an acceptable “rough” mix, so put the faders where everything sounds loosely “OK”, and pan instruments to rough, acceptable positions (we will tweak them later), and add varying degrees of long and short reverb to each sound where appropriate. Short reverb “pushes back” a sound into the mix. Long reverb just makes a sound “float”. Don’t spend too much time on this.

Now, make yourself a cup of coffee and have a rest for a few minutes. (Unless you don’t want to, or perhaps you prefer tea?)

Now get out your CD collection and listen to some of your favourite records that sound good. Listen to some things that sound similar to the kind of thing you are trying to achieve, but also listen to some things that are quite different. It’s best not to do this if any of the band is present. They tend to get offended. “Why are you comparing us to *that* terrible group?” they’ll say. If you tell them that you are merely “adjusting your ears”, they will get concerned that either you are trying to create a sound like the other band, or that you have simply gone mad. Neither is true. You’re just using the other records to put “stakes in the ground” so you can say, “ah – this is where we are on the map” – “this is where we stand compared to everyone else”. It doesn’t mean you’re after the sound of the records you’re listening too – on the contrary, you might be trying to get very far away from it!

You really are just aligning your ears. Making sure you know what the monitor speakers sound like in that particular studio, in your particular frame of mind, and in your particular state of health. I’m being dead serious here, honest! – the way you perceive sound depends very much on your mental and physical condition. Some days, even though your hearing “seems” OK, your brain seems to be in a mood where it can’t fit sounds together – or mentally seperate them – as well as it has on other occasions. You need to be aware of the subjective “quality” of your hearing today, and listening to known records helps let you know where you stand. They don’t even have to be other peoples records – previous mixes of your own are just as useful.

Once your ears are centered, switch of the CD, and listen to the track you are about to mix, once more.

By the end of the track, you will either be very excited or extremely depressed.

You’ll be excited if mixing possibilities “leap out” at you in your brain. You’ll be depressed if the track sounds “pants” and you realise that there’s a LOT of work to be done to bring it to acceptable standard.

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