Get More Emotion from your Mixes

Article by Andrew Samples

Whether you’re finishing a demo at home or releasing a track to the world, one of the most important final steps is The Mix! A good mix is one that pulls the listener into the song, into the performance, and greatest of all…into the EMOTION. Mixing a song is a creative process unto itself. I’ve heard it said that it’s a lot like cooking: You start with all the ingredients, but the end result is about the balance of those ingredients that creates a dish worth celebrating. Too much garlic can ruin your spaghetti, but just the right amount is essential to its success. Here’s our:

5 Tips to Get More Emotion From Your Mixes

    1. Levels.
      Simple. A good ear goes a long way. Most of the emotionality from a great mix is simply about fader levels, or put another way, the relationship among volume levels of every track. Close your eyes, and feel the music. At any time during a song an instrument or voice should be trying to say something. Let your levels complement each other so that these moments shine, and that the right part takes center stage. Don’t be afraid to mute things- they may not belong there. *Cool tip* When deciding the right level, start at 0 and slowly bring the fader up until it feels (sounds) “right.”
    2. Space.
      Who says you can’t get something for nothing? Sparseness can be your higher power. I use to think that every vocal, every harmony, every guitar had to be doubled (at least! Ha!) But no rule is ever hard and fast. More and more often now I find that a simple part, performed right, on its own (with the right amount of reverb or delay [or not!] ) can fill the recording with its entire beauty. Sometimes adding another of the same part will only step on it, competing for the same space, the same performance, and the same frequency. Don’t complicate things. Sometimes I’ll listen to a track and think, “I keep hearing strings here, let’s add some!” or “This guitar sounds like a horn is playing with it- let’s call our trumpet dude!” only to find out that adding the thing we thought was asking to be there only hurt the track overall. Merely the suggestion of those instruments from the harmonics and overtones of what was already there was much better than their actual existence. Don’t be afraid to leave space for each listener to fill with their own imagination. Sometimes what’s not said to someone allows for the perfect thing to be heard in their own mind.
    3. Vocals
      Vocals are recorded before the mix process, but don’t ever forget- they are usually the most important part of any song, and usually the loudest in the mix. They’re the crux of all the emotion present. So do whatever you can to make sure they can be heard, legibly, at all times. You can use EQ to bump up any frequencies that help it stand out in the mix, or to lessen any harsh frequencies that may keep a listener from wanting to turn up the volume. Using a parametric EQ plugin is helpful to see where these areas are and to experiment with your ears the differences in changes. *Cool tip* Bus all the vocal tracks separately from all the musical tracks. Then very delicately carve out a small space in the musical tracks (as a whole) in the frequency range where the vocals are most present. Now the vocals literally have their own space to shine. It’s like virtually putting the listener into the vocal booth with the singer. Talk about sweet emotion.
    4. Kick.
      The kick drum is the heartbeat of the song body. Hearing the kick drum, no matter the genre, is how we get our bearings on all the percussive elements happening. The syncopation, the groove, and the tempo all rely on the kick: a living pulse. When you get a kick drum’s mid-level EQ just right, you feel it in your chest, even on a tiny iPhone speaker. The chesty area is usually somewhere in between 200-500 Hz. It differs from every song because of the type of recorded kick you have in relation to all its surrounding instruments. But when the kick drum and the bass root notes are dancing in sync (no one stepping on anyone’s toes, now!) we are able to accentuate a solid foundation we can feel in our bones. If at any time we’re struggling with a mix decision, I like to imagine an inner ownership deal, one in which the head owns 49% and the heart, 51%. Get what I’m saying?
    5. Automation.
      Is the guitar playing a cool, short lick in between verses? Or perhaps a drum fill is happening right before the chorus? Is the bass walking up the scale for a moment in the bridge? Bump up the volume there! We wanna hear it. And you want us to, too. Make it the memorable part that it is. Automate the volume so that it pops its head out of the mix for that part. The listener loves pleasurable surprises. You can even automate panning if you like. Percussive things are fun to play around with on panning. Be creative, but also be smart. These moves should tend to complement the song, not distract. Unless distraction is your aesthetic. There are no hard rules, or at least they’re always being rewritten.
Any artist sets a trap for your attention. Once they’ve earned that from you, the payoff must be an emotional one. I hope this may serve as an inspiration to you as you go along and figure out your own mixing techniques. Have fun!
How will you utilize these tools and ideas with the people you work with? I’d love to hear from you.
Article by Andrew Samples
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