The (Second) Most Important Thing In Mixing

I know my comparison to "nature’ may seem out of the ‘ordinary’ in the artificial and manufactured environments we find ourselves, but I think it’s an important distinction. Our organic hardware and software of our body and brain were conditioned by generations of only organically produced sounds. Only in recent history have we been able to ‘manufacture’ sound from a 2-dimensional location. I guess you could argue that a speaker cone is 3-dimensional, but I think it’s still pretty limited compared to standing in nature with the chirping bird in the tree to your right at 20 feet, with the crashing ocean waves to your left at 300 feet, and with the rumbling volcano 10 miles away all impacting your senses. In the artificial environment of a computer and a studio we’re trying to recreate those feelings whether we realize it or not.

Comparatively, if all sounds are coming out of (let’s assume) a flat speaker cone or headphone headset, and not from all those diverse directions, you’re having to replicate what something might sound like if it were actually ‘organic’. Even if you’re making Industrial music, you probably have some imaginary 3D environment which you’re using to try to create a certain impression for your listeners.

Yes, I think I learned it as width (i.e. stereo), height (up/down) and depth as a perceived 3D space. I guess my whole point is what we are creating is an illusion of something ‘real’. At least in the sense that it is not completely ‘natural’, it is man-made. Much like Hollywood movies, we understand that those are an illusion created to entertain us, it’s not real life. Especially now with CGI, what looks like a real movie can be computer generated imagery.

Music is usually labelled as Entertainment, and in the recording arts especially that means creating an illusion of sound. The signal from a microphone on a speaker cabinet is not the same as listening to that speaker cabinet in a room, but you will likely try to replicate that experience in many cases. A representation. A facsimile. Things like Auto-Tune take it even farther, you’re no longer even hearing the actual vocal performance but an enhanced (or destroyed) version. All these are fine if you understand you are creating an illusion. I think that’s an important part of the conversation, and initially that was how I was trying to present this to Paul from a “practical guy” perspective. Just take the tools and make it sound like you think it should sound.

Very insightful, the woodcarving analogy, Bob. The process isn’t immediately intuitive. Almost like you have to think backwards. Once you learn how to think that way, then you listen differently.

I’m a visual person, so I like to think of how presenting a movie via a screen involves working with the limitations of the screen area available, in much the same way that presenting a mix of a song involves working within the limitations of 2 speakers.

In a movie, you can’t possibly fit the information you would see in real life on the screen. You have to create an impression of it - a version that allows the viewer to take in the important information vital to the storyline. What actually happens in real life and is filmed often bears very little resemblance to what the viewer finally perceives in the finished film. This involves the film maker being able to use of the quirks of human perception, emotion and attention to their advantage.

The same principle applies to mixing music. It really isn’t possible to fit the width, depth, frequency range or dynamic range of what we can process in real life between two speakers. Much like a film maker does with the visual medium, we have to take human perception of sound and exaggerate it, focus it and compress it to fit between the speakers. Often that means (much like a film) we have to create different “scenes” with different focal points to carry the listener through the story.

… which really brings me back to Colt’s example of focus in the video.

Good point, I can relate to that because I used to rely on this topic in a former job. There are many other areas where we are forcing ourselves to evolve out of our biological roots too.

Actually a sound wave is longitudinal when it leaves the speaker cone so you could argue that it is in 2D, sort of. But my point is that as soon as it leaves the speaker, it does so in multiple directions (even more so as the frequency is lower), and it is behaving in all sorts of way (reflection, refraction, diffraction…) and the listener’s experience depending a whole lot on the acoustic space he is in, not just the speakers.

So I guess your point is that in nature, there are multiple sound sources coming from all directions, as well as combining and reflecting on a variety of shapes and materials that is considerably more complex than a simple geometrical room with four walls and a few manufactured objects. In that regard yes, artificailly produced sound is extremely “lo-fi” compared to the sounds of nature.

There are a few attempts at moving toward more complexity or realism with binaural recording and ambisonic reproduction systems but this doesn’t seem to be practical or even popular for the time being.

Yes, @Mixerman has written a neat explanation about this (and more) in his excellent “Zen and the art of mixing” (page 60 onward), and he also makes a great point about contrast, with an even more interesting insight than the video in the original post, IMO.

That’s what I meant by “illusion” earlier, though maybe that’s not the best word. I guess it depends on the style you’re going for. For example, with famous painters you had styles like “Impressionism”, which may resemble real life but is somewhat blurred or idealized; and Picasso’s Cubism and Surrealism in which reality is distorted into barely recognizable and bizarre renditions. Many times, the story is designed to take you “somewhere else” than you actually are at the present moment. In that sense, art and entertainment tend to be “Escapism” in some way, IMO. There may be a better word for that also, though escapism can be either positive or negative depending on the situation. Humans have been doing this since the earliest cave paintings and primitive campfire story-times, so it’s definitely part of our DNA.

This is the part I find particularly fascinating about all of it. Basically the psychology of art. That could inform your goal and your style, but like any art or movie … the individual perceptions of what is experienced can range across a wide swath. Sometimes, the only measure of ‘success’ is either accolades or sales numbers. Even so, sometimes the artistic soul does it for their own sanity and satisfaction, with the peripheral benefits not being a primary motivating factor, ultimately.

I have noticed in a lot of popular and successful music, that they purposely change something every 5-10 seconds, or maybe it’s 20 seconds (all depends on the style), which seems to be to keep interest. Film and video tend to do this as well. To be able to tell a story, you have to keep people interested long enough to pay attention to the story. That also seems to speed up as our attention spans become shorter and shorter. Sometimes, it gets to the point where you wonder how much the artist/producer is paying attention to maintaining interest (i.e. “arrangement”) compared to actually telling the story!

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Yes, I’m contrasting nature with human-created and manufactured, as I think we tend to forget that, or get lost in the world of our own creation. It makes a person wonder what we’ll be like eventually, as humans, if we keep going in that direction.

Right. I’m taking a shortcut here but look at what the government just placed 2 weeks ago in the park right next to my neighborhood:

Oh yes, echoes of “1984” are the theme of the day. I would invoke the old American TV theme song “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!”, but that would deny the dark road I think all this is taking us down. That philosophical pursuit would, of course, be a new thread. :roll_eyes: :grimacing:

That being as it may, at least you would think they could give Mr. Digital Doggy a nice musical version of " :notes: Keep Your Distance :musical_note:" to play through that speaker that you could sing along to whilst being tracked and catalogued on video. :smirk: :unamused:

Am I hearing drums now down the center in this Stones 65 song? Why this song. I was watching an impromptu interview with Beach Boy Brian Wilson and he was being asked his fav songs from many artists. This is the one he liked best by the stones that I hadn’t heard of. I got no satisfaction from it

The video Description says this, just sayin’:

℗ 1967 ABKCO Music & Records Inc.
Released on: 1967-01-20

The drums all sound on the right side to me. Keys are far left. Bass is mostly left but closer to center, could be in both channels, though it seems to wander. Guitar on left and right at different times. Vocals are kinda centerish, but sound like dual lead vocals not quite centered individually. It certainly doesn’t sound “mono”, but it’s like that old 4-channel recording when Stereo was brand new, and it was just Left/Right instead of the stereo we are now used to.

The vocal pitch and harmonies are pretty dodgy on this one, interesting that some found it so influential. That’s the most distorted bass I think I have heard in that old of a recording (guitar amp?), it’s pretty cool sounding and perhaps ahead of its time. A couple of things jumped out that may have influenced later artists: at 1:14 “objection” reminds me a lot of the Sweet chorus on “Blockbuster!”, and the little ditty at 2:04 distinctly reminds me of something in a later song by another artist (EDIT: it’s Blind Melon “No Rain” about 1:16 on the Offical YT video). They could be completely coincidental though.