The (Second) Most Important Thing In Mixing

I disagree only mildly with the title. LISTENING is definitely THE most important thing in mixing. He makes some excellent philosophical points, though…


Yes he makes a good point. I don’t think you and him are in disagreement though, I feel that this contrast thing he explains is just part of proper listening.

The way I see it, there are two ways you can (and should) listen in the audio field (I am not counting the third one, which is passive listening or basically just hearing without really paying attention):

  1. Technical listening: what we do when we mix, paying attention to the frequency content, zooming in and out on small details or the bigger picture, listening to the dynamics, the transients, the sustain, referencing against commercial hits etc.

  2. Emotional listening: still very active (perhaps even more than technical), but with a totally different mindset that consists in letting go of the technical focus and just trying to let yourself be driven by the artistic view the songwriter put together. Whenever something pushes you out of the flow, listening back and trying to understand what was wrong and fix it.

I think it is important to alternate between the two in order to prevent your brain from getting too accustomed to the sonic content of what you are hearing repeatedly because eventually a flaw will be processed by the brain as something that is “ok”.


No I don’t disagree with him at all - that was just a joke! It might be stating the obvious, but actually listening is of paramount importance. Many mixers start processing without actually listening first.

Well, this mixing dummy (me) actually got what he was saying. Not sure If I got it all right, but it sounded like he said up front is dealt with EQ and compression, while background reverb and something else? Yes I forgot the other already. I don’t use reverb and can’t figure out why reverb in the background will give you a cleaner mix. Thanks for the post

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funnily enough I was recommended his video yesterday on YouTube. I watched him build his studio and treat the walls and ceiling. Great stuff to watch, and definitely some jealousy in the amount of land some parts of the states offers in terms of building houses. Really not an option on this side of the pond!

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Yeah, that’s a pretty swish pad he has, and that is a pretty penny invested in gear too.

meanwhile I step over my daughter’s doll house, my wife’s sewing machine, and all matter of junk and rubbish to get to my “LA style Recording Studio”

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Ahh yup REAL home recording- you and me both!

The basic idea, perhaps the simplest one in terms of space (other than left/right stereo), is front/back or forward/close as opposed to distant. Those are cues that tell our ears what to believe about the environment. Just think of nature … the close bird in the tree is loud and almost piercingly bright (even if a pleasant song), while the distant bird off in the forest is quieter, not as ‘bright’ (i.e. darker), and echoing off in different directions before getting to your ear (i.e. ‘reverb’).

The basic idea is that bright or high-end and upper-mid sounds seem closer to us, and darker less bright sounds tend to seem further away. It’s simply because in nature the high frequencies diminish sooner on their way to our ears than the low/bass frequencies. So when using EQ, you’d be likely to make something brighter if you want it to be the focus and seem close, and make it darker or less bright if wanting to put it in the background or make it seem further away. That’s what he was saying about EQ, IMO.

With reverb, it tends to push things back in the mix, but that’s just a generality. More about giving it a sense of space, and of course using the “pre-delay” setting on a reverb places it more up front, or at least more up front than a reverb with no pre-delay. So you can use multiple reverbs with different pre-delay settings to position things in space.

Compression just tends to focus things and make them more “in your face”, but again that’s kind of a general idea and can vary widely depending on your compression settings and other dynamics in your music. For example, you might compress a bass guitar heavily to control the dynamics and not “poke out” as much, whereas you would likely compress a lead vocal in a way that puts it “front and center”.

As he talks about, the whole idea is “contrast”. This applies to visual arts and cosmetics and fashion as well (bright amplifies, dark diminishes or ‘slims’ :wink:). You only notice “this” (like the vocal), when you also notice “that” (a kick and bass in the background). The EQ, compression, and reverb help to create those effects, when you use them for that purpose.


My wife just asked “what are you printing out now”? I said it is about bird sounds and you wouldn’t get it. ha ha This goes in my “how to make your stuff sound better” folder. Nightly lazy boy stuff.
I don’t know tho if I have anyone here say that "your bgv’s need reverb. Maybe I just didn’t pay attention.
Every time I try to use EQ on, lets say my acoustic, it just doesn’t sound the same anymore.
Of course this is just me, because the more I mess with a new original song, the more character I lose. That spoken from a rookie as you know.
You will be rewarded in the afterlife for helping old people :slight_smile:

I figured you’re an outdoorsy guy, and thought the nature analogy might be helpful. :slightly_smiling_face: You can take cues from everyday life. My next door neighbors’ weedeater sounds different than one halfway down the street. Different loudness (volume) of course, different tone, different sense of space and reflections/reverberations. Also, the Kung Fu masters learned from nature: the Five Animals style — Tiger, Crane, Leopard, Snake, and Dragon (or crane, tiger, monkey, snake, and mantis). Take your cues from what you hear everyday, just stop and pay attention to how life works from a sonic perspective. Then make musical choices on how you want your human noise to sound. :grin:

Thanks, I probably need all the good karma I can get! :wink: Here’s something that might also appeal to your personality … I time-stamped the video at a specific place for you, just listen as long as you can. The whole video is over 2 1/2 hours but just check out what he says about “imaging” for a little while. The visual representations of the “sound stage” are helpful I think.

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Hey Stan the man. Good stuff. I like the colored instruments and their limitations etc. Still don’t quite get it, but that comes with average intelligence at an older age :slight_smile: I got thru the first half hour and had to go plant the garden. ha ha Thanks loads I wonder how many here already know most of this stuff??

Nicely explained @Stan_Halen !

I was contemplating writing something similar, but then I pictured @feaker 's eyes glazing over after the first paragraph, and him wandering off to drive a bulldozer, write another song, or do some plumbing, so I decided to be lazy. :rofl:

Great stuff! :+1:

Now that is funny. Andrew you got two of the three right. I did come up with a new song. I went to a local farmer to get tomato plants and there were pigs, chickens, hogs, and goats running free range. I was waiting to get my order when I looked back and there was Roz with the window down yelling “this turkey is pecking our car” The owner chirped back “Oh he always does that” So there I am doing a lateral defensive shuffle saying 'take your pecker elsewhere" Then I thought…


I think that video is rather old (analog to digital?), and it’s a bit hokey, but I think it gets the point across. Most of it is pretty basic I think, for audio engineer types. I remember learning it many years ago, but ironically it’s easy to forget in this techno age of mountains of new videos every month. Everyone learns differently though, and that was the only video that I have seen do a visual representation like that.

Ultimately, all you really need to know are the things that help you get the results you want. If you have one or two each of EQ’s, compressors, and reverbs and they have a pretty wide range of usable presets for you to play around with, you can do all of that stuff. A basic toolkit, and only expand it when you feel the need for one extra tool.

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Thanks! I felt called to put on my “explainer guy” hat, so hopefully I did my good deed for the day.

Well how about that? My “birds making sounds” scenario must have been a premonition. :turkey: :grin: I hope you were paying attention to the tone and resonance of that pecker. :wink:

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Great explanations. Although the guy in the original video is stating fairly obvious ways of thinking about mixing, it really isn’t that easy to pull off.
Training your ears to think about a 3 dimensional sound field is definitely an acquired skill. As a mixer/producer, I think you need to have basic technical skills, but your most important attribute is hearing what elements are most important at particular times, and bringing those elements in and out strategically. To do it properly, you have to hear it in your head by analyzing a flat version of the song and intuitively knowing where to take it. Almost like wood carving. You have to see what to take away to get to the finished piece.
A lot of the learning curve is realizing that it is easier to bring a part out by turning other parts down, and that cutting works better than boosting with eq. You not only need to learn to listen well, you need to listen differently.


As is pointed out in the David Gibson video, nature has an inherent 3D sound field that has driven our human genetic adaptations and expectations of sound. The challenge of sitting in front of a pair of speakers or between a pair of headphones is that it’s an artificial environment created by humans. As David Gibson points out, you have background sounds that appear more like a few inches ‘behind’ the speaker, rather than the much more distant dozens or hundreds of feet/yards/meters away found in nature.

I don’t know if that addresses your comment, but it seems to me that whether you are trying to create a somewhat ‘realistic’ musical composition (i.e. “live” performance), or a completely surrealistic and manufactured sound (i.e. “Industrial” music), you will need to employ methods of psycho-acoustics to create the spatial impression you are after. No matter how sophisticated our tools are, they are still mostly 2D in design and functionality - a cheap attempt to imitate nature - so the challenge becomes how to convey the illusion of 3D to the ears of the listener.

Per your wood carving analogy, I think this is where the “art” or “artist” comes into it. Making a ‘statement’ as it were, that you intend to convey to the listener. If that sounds too posh, we could simply call it “the psychology of emotional impact” if you like. :slightly_smiling_face:

What kind of 3D are we talking about exactly? Sound is air displacement so whatever music you produce will be in 3D as soon as it leaves the speakers it is played on, but you don’t have any control over the acoustic space it will be played in…

Really just depth, space and height. Looking into the soundstage and hearing the drummer 10 feet behind the vocalist. Or the spread of an orchestra, as well as the sound of the hall.

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