Friday, May 22, 2009

Turning Off the Visuals


Recording and mixing a song on a computer has many distinct advantages over doing the same on hardware, but perhaps the most useful advantage is how much visual feedback it allows us. We can literally see the structure of our song laid out in front of us. We can see where each of our channels is peaking. We can quickly and easily see what effects and patched to what tracks. You get the idea...

But sometimes this visual feedback has a downside when you're mixing. It becomes very easy to start making adjustments to your mix using your eyes rather than your ears. Relying too heavily on what the meters read versus just setting what sounds good is a common problem and can complicate the mixing process needlessly.

That's why I recommend, when you're giving a first listen to a mix you've set up, you turn off your computer monitor. Or simply turn you chair around. Or close your eyes. The important thing is that you listen instead of watch. You'd be amazed at how differently you will hear your music when you detatch it from the visual distractions DAWs can sometimes cause.

Do you have any unique ways of evaluating your mixes that others might find useful? Let us know!

10 comments:

Rendom said...

Great tip. I sometime catch myself that i associate my music not with the feelings, but with song structure i see in my DAW.
May i ask you?
Can you explain more about panning instruments in future posts(what vst you use for that, and so on), this Achilles' heel for me(
Thanks for great blog and great music.

kleer001 said...

I find it serves the song best to listen to it on as many sound systems as possible. Crappy boom box, car, cd in a decent stereo, on headphones, on my cell phone. Back in the day I would cut out tracks to audio tape and listen to them on the way to school.
The thing is to mix it up as much as possible.

John said...

I copy a version onto my ipod, usually set to apple lossless, and listen on the tram to work...

Will C. said...

I don't actually turn off the monitor when I listen to a track, but I do turn away from the monitor. Seeing the DAW going measure after measure makes it too easy to listen to hear what the visual cues indicate rather than hearing what's actually there.

mangadrive said...

Sonar uses a fullscreen mixer and it overlays the tracking, but by the time my production is done I know the song all to well. Meter output is important to me after a lot of referencing and the fact that my studio room is pretty open and dampened. Not much I can do about that right now, but I do not take the meters as end all of judgment. Its a REFERENCE point to start with. Ears make the final call.

I turn the master output going to the monitors down to almost whisper level and start mixing from there. If you can hear and make things punchy at that level,when you turn it up its going to sound immense. The whole time I'm mixing I'm turning this fader up and down and I *never* mix at more than conversation level. Once the mix is somewhat 'final' I will then take it to other systems and listen, but from using a lot of reference I'm pretty comfortable with my monitoring.

If you want the best tip in the world for panning instruments its called mono. Sounds insane right because the right and left arent there? Wrong ;) Try it sometime. You can hear things literally pop out in a mix with just a few degrees adjustment. I also punch into mono at different points in the mix *ESPECIALLY* after I have the drums finished.

I usually walk into the next room and listen from there. Your perspective at 15 foot away and through a wall/door allows you to hear things differently. I almost always mix in my bass at this range because point blank on the monitors with sub levels is a bit deceptive and often feels too much or not near enough initially.

Tom said...

Rendom - Do you mean like auto-panning and the like? For that I use Logic's tremelo plug-in set to less extreme values. Works great! Outside of that, I do my panning using the mixer controls in Logic.

And Mangadrive is correct. If you want true panning, the channel ought to be in mono. When you mess with panning on a stereo channel, you're not really panning it, you're adjusting the right and left balance. What's on the left stays on the left, and what's on the right stays on the right, you're just making one side louder and the other quieter. There ARE true stereo panners, though, such as Logic's directional mixer.

XET said...

i always dump my stuff to my ipod and listen to it in the car on the way to and from work. i've always struggled with arrangement and this helps me immensely.

mangadrive said...

Another very wacky thing I do is use the game Audiosurf to 'evaluate' tracks.

http://www.audio-surf.com/

its the best 10 dollars I've ever spent on a studio tool. If your track is boring and less dynamic than most this game will actually SHOW you. Very hard to explain and will not be everyones cup of tea, but for the guy doing energetic techno.. its done wonders with the newer album cuts.

Rendom said...

When i say "panning instrument" i mean place instrument in stereo image) sorry for misguiding.
some instruments good when they sound from center of stereo image(duno what name will be right for this) example "kick drum".
Right now many of my tracks sound too messy, i think because instruments overlapping each other in stereo image(maybe panorama is good word). After some research i found Nugen Stereoizer, Stereoplacer vst, is what i'm looking for to fix this.
Maybe you can share some secrets or basics about placing instruments in stereo image.

Tom said...

Rendom - Gotcha. I'll see if I can write something up for this next week.