Thoughts on balanced mix

Thoughts on balanced mix
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Hey there!

I just watched a YT video saying “balanced mixes are boring” and it detailled what to do then.

I was kinda thinking this is the ultimate goal and found hard to reach. Now I’m a bit confused and still not know how to get great “results” (defining this one is another topic) fast and efficiently…

So , what are your thoughts on that topic and how do you handle this thing for yourself?

Thanks for any feedback!

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I’m still watching the video, but his thesis makes sense to me. What I notice in music I like to listen to is that things change frequently, like the focus instrument or vocals, and things jump out or sit back in a carefully arranged sequence. Like he says, not ‘balanced’. They are essentially using psychology to get you addicted to the sound of the song. Otherwise you’ll get bored. Tweaking knobs is a whole different mindset than the mindset of seducing a listener. And probably the last thing you want to do is try to impress other engineers. :wink:

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Great points, many thanks for sharing your feelings on that topic. I would probably trying different things in next mixes.

Yep, you’re totally right! I should admit that I’m trying to be better at mixing, from engineer perspectives… fixing things, get better balance, avoid distortion, humm and noises and so on.

Again, thank you for writing down your thoughts :beerbanger:

Edit:

I was just listening to this track and thinking of these: vocal upfront, drums on the 2nd place and mostly everything else behind with some reverb (from what I understand)

I wasn’t intending to suggest we shouldn’t do those things, just that there might be more important considerations after those are addressed. I could expand on my previous point by saying you may want to take care of all those things another engineer might criticize as detracting from the song, because that could certainly be the case. But when it comes to the song being emotionally compelling, then the engineer (or “engineer mindset”) may not be your best judge of that. This is something that’s traditionally more for the “producer” role to handle, to make sure the song has the intended impact on its intended audience. These days, you tend to have the engineer and producer rolled into the same person … which is fine if that person can switch ‘hats’ as needed and do the individual job and role well (i.e. left-brain/right-brain).

While I’m not a painter, I think that mode of working is something we could learn from. At least in terms of inspiration. From what I know, an artist/painter will take their tools and go somewhere that inspires them and look for an object or scenario to portray, and consider the ‘story’ they want to tell about it. They sit down, engage their skills and creativity, and ‘produce’ a painting. Done. While there might be some kind of finishing touches they might do on their work, for the most part the painting “is what it is”, and doesn’t lend itself to the edit process.

The desire for ‘perfection’, and the luxury of time and technology for ‘overthinking’ a song mix, can actually be detriments IMO. Those options are always there, but if they get too much emphasis you may have lost sight of the original goal.

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Per my painting analogy, a lot of things are creative choices, and presumably carry some kind of ‘intent’ by the artist and/or producer. The vocals are soft and vulnerable, so they need space in order to be heard and appreciated. The drums are some light brushes instead of sticks IMO, and yes they are quite understated, but presumably that lends itself to the production. Drums and percussion are largely for a sense of rhythm anyway … nothing says they have to be highly prominent in all genres. If you can hear and sense the rhythm, it did its job. Very nice song.

Interesting choice too. I wasn’t aware of May Erlewine, but she comes from a very musical family in Big Rapids, Michigan (USA). Her father is Michael Erlewine, who I believe started AllMusic.com along with his brother Tom (or at least they are related somehow). I believe that site is a large resource for lots of music information and album reviews. Michael Erlewine is a really interesting guy (Renaissance man?), and also has the distinction of creating the first computer-based astrology program in the 1980’s.

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Enjoyed this vid. It is always good to hear this type of perspective. It made me think of Metal recordings that I have heard that exhaust my listening, but others where the placement and use of panning allowed me to keep listening. It is like 2D vs 3D but in the audio space. Really liked this.

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Yeah I watched this a few weeks back and concluded that he was plain wrong, but I guess it depends on the definition of ‘balanced’. Sure you want some element out front to catch the listener’s attention but that doesn’t mean that all the other elements don’t have to be crystal clear individually - they do in my opinion (unless of course your instrumentation has crossed the line to be multiple instruments forming an orchestration - the rules change at that point).

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I might be wrong but it seems to me that the definition of balanced isn’t “all elements in equal proportions” but “all elements in the best possible proportions”. In that regard you could argue that he is plain wrong, but this is playing on words.

I tried watching the video but for some reason I couldn’t focus on the meaning, I was too distracted by the way this guy speaks, almost whispering into his mic. Is he combining AMSR with audio engineering tutorials?

Anyway I think I got the general idea and I agree. I had read something along these lines a few years ago in one of @Mixerman’s books where he was writing about how pointless it is to systematically try getting as much content in the left and right channels, and how ok it actually is sometimes to leave an instrument on one side without anything to “balance” it on the other. An interesting realization at the time.

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If you go to the video on the YouTube site, in the description he says:
“A mix engineer’s job isn’t to balance the mix, it’s to ARTFULLY UNBALANCE it.”

I think that sums up what he’s trying to describe. While our brain and/or training gets us to seek symmetry in many things, they are not always the most ‘interesting’ things. There’s a Japanese aesthetic philosophy called wabi-sabi, which might be translated as “perfect imperfection” or something like that. Weirdness tends to get our brain to work and come up with interesting interpretations, so a bit of wonkiness or not-quite-rightness can actually make something better or more interesting than a ‘perfect’ rendition.

From an engineering or design point of view, wabi may be interpreted as the imperfect quality of any object, due to inevitable limitations in design and construction/manufacture especially with respect to unpredictable or changing usage conditions; then sabi could be interpreted as the aspect of imperfect reliability, or limited mortality of any object, hence the phonological and etymological connection with the Japanese word sabi, to rust (錆, also pronounced sabi ).

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Yes that is exactly the idea and you’ve put it into words a lots better than I could have.

I guess there could be an analogy in groove, or rhythm, with how a great “pocket” is different, but better than just hitting every single note on the grid.

Great intels! My way to that song was fu***g! Vulpeck, then Woody Goss, his youtube channel, then his bandcamp page and that song…
I really didn’t know anything about Erlewine’ story until I read it from you.
Thanks for sharing this!

Thanks for your comment, I sometimes feel the same.
Another interesting perspective (IMO) is how people progress for better mixes.
Here is someone who reopens some of his first mixes and compares them to his actual mixes.


I found myself stuck on the early steps and didn’t find which move I should do to improve mixes (like moving from 2D to 3D in a way)…

Oh, great thought: as a non-english person, I may use ‘balance’ with a very basic meaning and stay with it.
I often comment on mixes I found good that I could hear everything very easily, every part and instrument gets its own space and therefore it means ‘balanced’ to me… It may be part of some confusions and the first video fu***d my brain up :exploding_head:

Thanks for lighting this thing up. I do like how you bring this thing way clearer to me!

Yep, I couldn’t follow sum up this better!

Very interesting, and now I feel dumber: I thought that some of balance from L/R channels must be achieve to avoid listener’s distraction (unless it’s on purpose). And it should be mono compatible, plus most of music should appears on both sides to fit the “I share one earbud with my mate” experience, so that when something is on only one side, something should replicates the info on the other side (delay, reverb for instance).
:exploding_head: again…

“Artfully” but with some (cultural) references that depends of the goal: a good/balanced/killer mix nowadays would sound odd in '80 or '70, and the other way around.

Few days ago, a pro reacted to the initial video and sumed this up, clearifying it (or use it own words, whatever)

It lets me think about another thing that everybody says when beginners (like me) ask for tips from pros: gain-staging first!
As far as I understand this, it sounds like you set gain on each channel to reach -18 dBFS on every channel and it lets room for your processing and so on. But it also looks like you try to balance every channel to the same level and while I tried that I found that tambourin is way too loud, some muffled bass guitar is behind everything else, as well as heavy reverberated guitars…

Well, another random thought about ‘balanced’ thing.