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Perception v reality when you're mixing

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Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Mon Mar 06, 2017 11:51 am

Interesting article by the always excellent Ethan Winer here. On how hard it is to listen objectively. You chaps may have seen it before it was a new one on me:

http://ethanwiner.com/perception.htm
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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Mar 06, 2017 12:43 pm

It is certainly very true that our sense of hearing is extremely flawed (in comparison to the many objective measurement techniques we have at our disposal) and very easy to fool or trip-up.

Frequency and temporal masking effects are amongst the easiest to demonstrate...

But it's also very easy to introduce significant errors into objective and supposedly scientific testing and come up with erroneous results quite accidentally! Without great care, confirmation bias can work against designing an impartial test just as much as subjective listening tests.

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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby awjoe » Mon Mar 06, 2017 4:26 pm

Recently, Jimmy Douglass said in a video that when he's A/B'ing a setting, sometimes he'll close his eyes and toggle back and forth a few times until he forgets which is A and which is B and just *listen* to see if there is actually a difference and if so, which one he likes better. He doesn't trust his own rational judgement, in other words.

However, and maybe even more significantly for the perception/reality debate, I've noticed a lot of top mixers on MWTM say that when they're making a decision about which way to go with a sound, they attend not so much to how it sounds, but how it makes them *feel*. I've started doing this, and it's wonderful. "Why'd you choose A over B?" "Dunno. It felt better." So, for making mix decisions, there's a fork in the road where experienced people actually engage perception. I think this is the same as Jimmy Douglass doing a blind test on some decisions. Whatcha think?

Finally, the only way I can mix is multiple listens on multiple days. I give it my best shot in the moment, but I never commit until I've woken up on a number of different days and felt good about the balance. Which means that I could never be pro. I'd starve.
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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby blinddrew » Mon Mar 06, 2017 8:49 pm

awjoe wrote:Recently, Jimmy Douglass said in a video that when he's A/B'ing a setting, sometimes he'll close his eyes and toggle back and forth a few times until he forgets which is A and which is B and just *listen* to see if there is actually a difference and if so, which one he likes better.
I do this and it does throw me a wrong un sometimes. Which then means a re-listen and then generally a long re-think about what I was trying to do in the first place.
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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby Folderol » Mon Mar 06, 2017 9:49 pm

What works for me is to leave it alone for a few days, then come back to it fresh. It's not unknown for me to just scrap the 'improved' version and go with the original.
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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby Alba » Mon Mar 06, 2017 10:50 pm

Funny how the moment someone sits down with you and listens to the mix it immediately sounds different. Anyone else notice that? Everyone probably.
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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby Martin Walker » Mon Mar 06, 2017 11:49 pm

blinddrew wrote:
awjoe wrote:Recently, Jimmy Douglass said in a video that when he's A/B'ing a setting, sometimes he'll close his eyes and toggle back and forth a few times until he forgets which is A and which is B and just *listen* to see if there is actually a difference and if so, which one he likes better.
I do this and it does throw me a wrong un sometimes. Which then means a re-listen and then generally a long re-think about what I was trying to do in the first place.

Yep, I do this a lot as well, and used to do it when I was reviewing audio interfaces for SOS years ago, to see if I could reliably and consistently pick up any differences between the reference and review model.

It is SO easy to fool yourself that something sounds better when in fact there's little or no change between A and B. When you no longer remember which is which, you Have to rely on real differences to decide.

Even worse in a mixing scenario is that although B might very well sound different from A, it may not necessarily be 'better' but simply 'different'. In other words an element of novelty value enters the equation, which is why it is indeed a sensible idea as Folderol mentions to let your ears have a rest and then listen to both versions when you're feeling more fresh and any novelty value has worn off.


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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby Martin Walker » Mon Mar 06, 2017 11:56 pm

Alba wrote:Funny how the moment someone sits down with you and listens to the mix it immediately sounds different. Anyone else notice that? Everyone probably.

Yep, that's a classic response Alba - you tend to be a little nervous when listening with a family member, but VERY nervous when listening with another musician whose opinion you really respect ;)

Don't by the way ignore 'helpful comments' from family members - sometimes they get to the nub of something that's wrong intuitively when you're just too close to the music.

I recently played a hopefully 'finished' track to my wife, who listened carefully and then said "It's dragging a bit - can't you play it at a faster tempo?" I was initially shocked at this radical comment, but she was spot on, and speeding up the entire song by just 3bpm made a huge difference to the end result, and took just a few seconds to try out with time-stretch/squash! :headbang:


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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby Dynamic Mike » Tue Mar 07, 2017 12:12 am

Alba wrote:Funny how the moment someone sits down with you and listens to the mix it immediately sounds different. Anyone else notice that? Everyone probably.
Yep. And no matter how long you've slaved over it you feel the need to add 'of course this is just a rough demo I knocked up in 5 minutes'.
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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby petev3.1 » Tue Mar 07, 2017 12:36 pm

awjoe wrote:Recently, Jimmy Douglass said in a video that when he's A/B'ing a setting, sometimes he'll close his eyes and toggle back and forth a few times until he forgets which is A and which is B and just *listen* to see if there is actually a difference and if so, which one he likes better. He doesn't trust his own rational judgement, in other words.

However, and maybe even more significantly for the perception/reality debate, I've noticed a lot of top mixers on MWTM say that when they're making a decision about which way to go with a sound, they attend not so much to how it sounds, but how it makes them *feel*.

This would be my approach also, in both cases. It's the psychological effect of mixing decisions that concern me, and I'm so prone to hearing things that aren't there I'd never be safe A/Bing while knowing which is which.
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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby petev3.1 » Tue Mar 07, 2017 12:40 pm

Alba wrote:Funny how the moment someone sits down with you and listens to the mix it immediately sounds different. Anyone else notice that? Everyone probably.

I assume it's everybody. I find it slightly weird that the effect is so strong and immediate.
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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby Martin Walker » Tue Mar 07, 2017 2:52 pm

I really do think this thread is of such general interest that it ought to be in our Mixing, Mastering & Post Production forum, so I'll move it there.

However, if anyone has a valid objection, I'm happy to move it back ;)


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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby awjoe » Wed Mar 08, 2017 11:50 pm

Alba wrote:Funny how the moment someone sits down with you and listens to the mix it immediately sounds different. Anyone else notice that? Everyone probably.

I thought this was just funny or maybe even psychologically insightful, but now I think it's a new mixing tool. If bringing someone into the room to listen to the mix changes how I hear it, then it's really useful. The only problem will be generating enough pretexts to get enough people in to listen. I mean, alcohol and sex can go only so far for so long.
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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby zenguitar » Thu Mar 09, 2017 12:20 am

awjoe wrote:... I mean, alcohol and sex can go only so far for so long.

Stick to mixing 3min pop songs ;)

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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Thu Mar 09, 2017 8:08 am

not necessarily be 'better' but simply 'different'.

Or just louder. How often have we made an eq etc change thinking, oh yes, that's really brought that sound into its own space, then realised it just a tiny bit louder than before.

To avoid the ''it's just different from before" situation I try and mix with a 'what does this sound NEED?' mindset now ie does it really NEED some help or is it fine as it is? As a result I'm using fewer and fewer plugins as time goes by.
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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby molecular » Thu Mar 09, 2017 8:52 am

zenguitar wrote:
awjoe wrote:... I mean, alcohol and sex can go only so far for so long.

Stick to mixing 3min pop songs ;)

Andy :beamup:

Just three items in a long list of things that change fundamentally when a second person enters the room IME.
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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby molecular » Thu Mar 09, 2017 9:00 am

Serious response - the thing about listening with someone else is definitely true for me. I haven't done a great deal of mixing for other people (four albums and some EPs) but having them there has completely ruined my day and has always made me improve things. As often as not that involves removing something rather than adding more.

I think that when mixing alone it's easy to suppress things that your ears are telling you about the music if you are actually doing subtle damage. Someone else coming in can bring all that back up to the surface (or crashing down around you, depending on your mood).
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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby Kwackman » Thu Mar 09, 2017 9:01 am

Dr Huge Longjohns wrote:Or just louder. How often have we made an eq etc change thinking, oh yes, that's really brought that sound into its own space, then realised it just a tiny bit louder than before.

I'm guilty of that.
Some EQ plug-ins now have an equal loudness facility, and the amount of gain I am adding to EQ bands to make a difference that I can actually hear is a lot more than I used to add.
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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby puzzlevortex » Sun Mar 26, 2017 12:07 am

i like to just take a break from a song for a while or cleanse your palate by working on other tracks.
Now i am working on 10-20 songs at the same time.
I just cycle through all of them one at a time and fix any problems that i hear. If i get sick of a track, i'll just move on to the next one.
The last 25% of creating and mixing a track is usually where it gets hard for me.
At that point, its starting to come together, but doesnt really have the final touches that make it sound finished.
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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby Rattleshock » Thu Apr 06, 2017 7:01 pm

What a great topic! Sometimes we get so consumed with gear snobbery and GAS that we forget the most important and intangible part of music; FEELING. When I am working on a mix, I always try to approach it as a consumer, not as a technician. Now, of course we need to have skills and tools ,but I never listen in terms of '2k needs a few db cut with a narrow Q'. Instead, I react emotionally. The power of mixing, and the power of an end product that moves people, is huge. Think about it. We, as mixers, are one of the last ones in a long line of people to 'co-ordinate' the audio for an artist or band, therefore it is our responsibility to ensure that what we deliver grabs people, moves people and most importantly, connects with people. The elements in a mix, and the way you feature them is a crucial step to this end. Consumers don't care which preamp or compressor plugin we used. They care about relating; to the song, the words, the beat, the memories triggered by the music... We are not just mixing audio, we are communicating on a high level with humanity. The soul of the music is brought alive by what we do. Never lose sight of that and never take it lightly :)

Cheers!
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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby SafeandSound Mastering » Sat Apr 08, 2017 6:47 am

Perception of music of your own making can be influenced by mood alone. If I am happy and in a good mood my music sounds better, if I am feeling tired and a bit deflated or even in neutral mood the next day I find myself being hyper critical and feeling it is not good enough.

I find this can be extended to the musical content not only the mix. If any self criticism appears extreme or of the "I am giving this music making lark up." I now tend to ignore it especially if a day prior I was thinking "This track sounds great !"

I think rather than become worried with this it should be viewed as an individual part of a wider process.

When making music for pleasure I find the luxury of time helps me able to work out what the core and important aspects of a track are melodically and in terms of instrumental and tonal balance.

Rather than get frustrated I now view these as cues to rest and reflect. Maybe even absorb other music before listening again. And it can be useful to change when you listen, morning, night time, when your are tired or refreshed after a nice walk outside.

It seems to provoke a more balanced and reasoned decision making process on mixing and what is musically important. Time is a luxury when making music for enjoyment, having to compose to a deadline must surely involve a different set of skills.

Playing the music to someone is a sure fire way to make you cringe when something in your arrangement is iffy or something is sticking out a little loud. The fact is sometimes you are simply unable to hear everything objectively. I know about objectivity from my day work. Then I play a track I have made and been heavily involved in myself and hear a new take on things. Initially you are still so involved in it you cannot hear, accept and respond or agree with what someone has said critically. Then after a few days when you loosen your own self absorbed/centred grip on your baby... that the trusted listener has a point. It is humbling, but you must have trust in the person who you ask to listen.

We are limited by our own perceptions as well as free to make the music we want. It is a very interesting topic.
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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby awjoe » Sat Apr 08, 2017 7:16 am

The emotional dimension of mixing is double-edged. Recently, I've found it *very* useful sometimes when making A/B choices to ask "How does it make me feel" instead of "What does it sound like?" When I came across this, it started opening up doors for me.

As for the way emotion queers the pitch sometimes, the most effective corrective is to listen to the same mix on different days at different times and at different caffeine levels. :thumbup:
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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby Martin Walker » Sat Apr 08, 2017 2:14 pm

awjoe wrote:As for the way emotion queers the pitch sometimes, the most effective corrective is to listen to the same mix on different days at different times and at different caffeine levels. :thumbup:

Why not create several mixes, each labeled by the number of cups of coffee you've drunk, and then see which one you like best when you're caffeine-free? :bouncy:


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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby SafeandSound Mastering » Sat Apr 08, 2017 6:31 pm

awjoe wrote:The emotional dimension of mixing is double-edged. Recently, I've found it *very* useful sometimes when making A/B choices to ask "How does it make me feel" instead of "What does it sound like?" When I came across this, it started opening up doors for me.

As for the way emotion queers the pitch sometimes, the most effective corrective is to listen to the same mix on different days at different times and at different caffeine levels. :thumbup:

The "How it makes you feel." is an interesting approach. As a rough rule of thumb personally I find the musical content, melody, harmony and progression determines this in greater part than the mix tone and instrumental balances.

Being involved in sound professionally means for myself, this applies as long as tone/balances are within a sonically reasonable aperture. Otherwise it can be initially tricky to get past the very loud snare, excessive sibilance or 6dB too much low end overall. (Though I am sure there are some exceptions of incredible music that bucks this preference.)

Emotional content can also be guided by memories of music of a certain vintage, the "sound" of the 50's, 70's and 80's etc, coupled with your age and life experiences to that music and the nostalgia related to it.
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Re: Perception v reality when you're mixing

Postby LdashD » Tue Apr 11, 2017 7:07 am

Mixing audio is basically, fundamentally, setting each individual level so everything sits in its allotted place.

Ears can deceive, they can also pinpoint many minute problems accurately, something’s either right or wrong, you can either hear it or you can’t.

The longer the session the less accurate your ears are, hence I set levels pretty much on the fly as I create parts each day, while also not being too bothered about the levels of stuff added much later in the day as I’ve got a month or so to correct them if and when. I also leave occasional stuff purposely too LOUD cos I wanna maybe change or improve or need to radically manipulate it to make it work etc, so the loudness acts as a kind of reminder, a sore thumb.

It takes about a month to craft a finished track, by then all levels will be set pretty much as they’re gonna be for the master cos I’ve ‘ad a bleedin’ month to sort it.

Mixing audio is pretty much like painting a picture, I happen to like seeing wot I’m painting and at the time of painting, that way I have a permanently evolving clear picture/vision of wot I’m doing.

How hard’s that?

It would appear my perception and reality are as one.
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