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Top Down Mixing and Mastering

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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby Eddy Deegan » Thu Jan 31, 2019 12:38 pm

Mike Stranks wrote:Forget metrics; use your ears.

Martin Walker wrote:It's a good job we're all different, but as always, it's the end result that counts!

Absolutely - I was sort of assuming that the results would be posted online for ones own comparison too.

Apart from the useful content of the article describing the processes involved in more detail, the subjective A/B comparison done by the reader would benefit from the fact that the mixes are done by people that know what they're doing.

I can A/B my own work of course but as my mixing skills are less developed, my thinking is that the combination of the content of such an article combined with the ability to hear the results would not only make for really good reading but would be of significant practical use also.
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby Dave B » Thu Jan 31, 2019 12:43 pm

Martin Walker wrote:It's a good job we're all different

I'm not!!

:bouncy:
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby The Elf » Thu Jan 31, 2019 12:57 pm

The more I think about this I can't help feeling that this may well be self-defeating. Whatever methods are employed, there are an awful lot of mix decisions that will end up in one mix being preferable to another - which may be completely unconnected. I mix in headphones, for example - another engineer will mix in speakers. What then? Were the differences due to an EQ over the master bus, or the type of monitoring employed?... :headbang:
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby Wonks » Thu Jan 31, 2019 1:44 pm

Two different people are always going to make different sounding mixes, so an A/B of the final mixes won't prove anything. So you could do two mixes, Elf; one your standard way and one the master bus EQ way, with help from Sam on the master bus-first side but with you still controlling the mix and trying to achieve the same final mix sound.

Then an appraisal of the time taken using both methods and a feeling of how easily the final mix was achieved might prove interesting. A sort of time and motion study.
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby CS70 » Thu Jan 31, 2019 2:03 pm

My impression is that nobody who mixes do that in a linear fashion - but what method suits one best may depend on whether or not the mixing is more towards an objective or more "explorative" and discovery-oriented.

For example I tend to have a clear idea on how I would like a track to sound.. which vocals, which ambience, which timbres. When I have the recordings ready, for me the issue is to get each bit to sound the way I have it in my head, then decide what matters most at each point in the track, and then balance, mute and carve frequencies accordingly. By the time I am at mix bus level, the mix is pretty much done. I very seldom have any plugin or EQ at all there - at most, a tape emulation to get that "printed to tape" feel and that's it.

In other words, my main issue is always to fill the gap between the sound I want to hear and the one I am hearing for each track - and when I'm done and balanced, the mix is how I want it.

Whereas if one is more explorative, I can well see how looking for a general sound first on the main bus, finding it and then tweaking backwards may indeed be quite helpful, because experimenting with many tracks would increase the combinations to try immensely and take much longer time and decreasing the likelihood of discovering that sound.

Just $.10 of course.
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby The Elf » Thu Jan 31, 2019 2:41 pm

It's a fair 10 cents-worth.

I have a philosophy for a mix - a mood, or a story I'm trying to evoke. Every decision I take serves to further that aim; the aim will change from section to section, maybe even bar to bar. This is way beyond making a mix sound subjectively 'good', but it will further that as well.

But we're getting into a whole different discussion to that set sail by the OP, so I'll leave this for another time...
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby blinddrew » Thu Jan 31, 2019 4:57 pm

SOS has an interesting remit as a magazine, it caters to the fully professional reader as well as the casual hobbyist. I would see an article like this being primarily targeted at the latter, but I'm sure it could written to still have interest to the former.
It doesn't take a long search on YouTube to find some fairly, shall we say, 'interesting' videos on the subject, so there's clearly a bit of confusion that could be cleared up for the newer audience.

For me, as a rank amateur (especially compared to some of the people commenting so far!), the value of such an article wouldn't be to try and establish a 'best' way of doing things; it would be to look properly at the options and discuss how and why they both work. And why you might choose one over the other for a specific piece of work.

Might work better as a podcast / video discussion rather than an article? But I'm sure it could be done either way. :)
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby CS70 » Thu Jan 31, 2019 5:11 pm

The Elf wrote:It's a fair 10 cents-worth.

I have a philosophy for a mix - a mood, or a story I'm trying to evoke. Every decision I take serves to further that aim; the aim will change from section to section, maybe even bar to bar. This is way beyond making a mix sound subjectively 'good', but it will further that as well.

Completely agree! Mixing - like all music really - is not so much about the sound, but the result that the sound has on us.
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby Jack Ruston » Thu Jan 31, 2019 8:25 pm

Sam mentioned that we had talked about this in the past. I certainly find that there's a coherence to the 'top down' approach that it's hard to get from a more individual approach. For a start...typically the mix will need some highs and high mids. It's not a totally hard and fast rule of course...someone might have added 6dB of top to every single source at tracking.
But I can't remember the last mix I didn't add high end to. Obviously you want to add the right amount, and you can't really judge that by adding it to individual sources...you need to hear how the whole balance responds as it brightens. You'll soon find out if that works, or if it just needs to be brighter drums, or guitars.

Anyway, FWIW, here's a breakdown of how I personally approach this, from an interview I did with Acustica...

"I start with EQ, and I will typically see what needs to be added in the way of top and bottom end. Broadly speaking, I’m looking for a high shelf at around 10 or 12 kHz, a broad bell at around 2-3 kHz, often from White2, and a broad bell at around 30-60 Hz depending on the key. I may nudge some sources up or down as I begin to shape the whole spectral balance of the track. I’ll apply some bus compression, often Pink2, again, and a pre module at the end of the chain. I’m not looking for dynamic control really, but more the sound of the compression, the envelope. To some extent the pre module will affect that too, and it may also prompt an EQ tweak. So, I cycle around those plug ins, nudging the balance at the faders if needs be, and getting the shape...I’m looking for a treatment that suits the track as a whole, that flatters the majority of the content, and that’s appropriate for the genre. Some elements, like drums, may well have their own bus treatment - they might need a push that’s too much for the mix bus. I want to keep hearing the track as a whole.

Once I have that balance and spectral ‘shape’, I will then go back and start making corrections to the sources, applying effects. I might take a little top or bottom off a source that the bus chain has over-enhanced in those frequencies. A good example might be an acoustic guitar, or vocal that has become a little bright. I’ll generally automate a lot. As the process goes on, I’ll start looking to create points of interest in the mix, effects throws, rides, cuts or edits etc. I’ll push the mix bus fader to create impact on the choruses. I may go back to the bus chain at some point, and make a tiny change - a squeeze more top or high mid.

I tend to EQ sources pre compression, but as mentioned above, there’s always more EQ downstream at the bus stage. So it’s often both. I don’t want the source to hit the compressor in an unbalanced way, so there might be some correction for lumpy frequencies initially, but then a lot of the broader shape comes from the bus chains, while the majority of the dynamic control will be at the source track. All that said, in terms of the final sound of the mix, the EQ is before the compression"
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby The Elf » Thu Jan 31, 2019 8:54 pm

Got to be honest that, despite my initially glib 'let's give it a go', I'm not actually convinced that anything would be achieved.

If anyone wants to hear examples of my work (none of which is mixed into an EQ) I can provide them (give or take a permission or two).
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby blinddrew » Fri Feb 01, 2019 8:59 am

Oh dear, this thread hasn't gone how i expected at all. :(

Hopefully an article on the concept is still possible in an alternative guise.
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby Wonks » Fri Feb 01, 2019 9:10 am

As been previously mentioned, you are probably best off getting Eddie Bazil's mixbus strategies book.
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby blinddrew » Fri Feb 01, 2019 10:02 am

Already about half-way through. :)
As an e-book I do find it less easy to read than a paper one though.

[EDIT - for clarity, it really works as an e-book, the attendant videos and audio examples are really useful, it's just harder to read in bed. :) ]
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby Mixedup » Fri Feb 01, 2019 11:59 am

I used to be suspicious of mixing into an EQ but, like Sam, I grew to like it. The key reason for me is speed — it gets the mix into the right tonal ball park rapidly, before my ears acclimatise to a 'wrong-sounding mix'. If I'm using mix-bus compression, as I often do, it means broadly the right sound is going into the compressor from the off too.

But another reason is how I then approach EQing individual tracks — because I think it all feeds into the 'boost-versus-cut' debate. There's obviously nothing wrong with boosting or cutting anything if you need to, as long as you're able to make good judgements.

But as Jack suggested, I find making those judgements more challenging when EQing individual sources than when EQing the whole mix. Why? Because my EQ moves lack context. And for me, that means EQing tracks individually requires more time, since I'll find myself going back and forth between tracks more, revising the EQ settings of tracks I've already EQd in light of the EQ I've applied to others.

I also like that mixing into a bus EQ means I'll then work more at chiselling away problem frequencies than trying to reshape the individual sounds. Maybe that's because boosts make sounds louder and therefore risk making them appear misleadingly impressive? Or maybe it's because cuts can not only remove ugly resonances in a sound, but also solve masking issues, creating room for other sources to breathe. Or maybe it's because when using a single filter you're not changing the phase relationship of any source relative to others. Or some combination of these things... I don't know.

It's not the only way of working, for sure. But it works for me and I'd encourage anyone to try it for themselves and draw their own conclusions.

What I've not tried that might be an interesting halfway house is to simply link EQs inserted on all the source tracks and start shaping the mix like that. Then, instead of having to send certain sources to different busses, you can simply bypass or tweak the channel EQ. I've not gone down that road, largely because I prefer nice analogue-style EQs for this job. My current favourites (like Jack's) are Acustica ones, are far too processor-intensive to be able to work that way, and prior to that I like the UAD ones that would soon eat up the UAD DSP if used that way! But trying it with, say, the Cubase inbuilt channel EQs — and maybe an analogue-modelled saturation plug-in or compressor on the mix bus — might be an interesting experiment for a rainy day...

Finally... yes, an article exploring this would be good. But I fail to see how it could be a compare-and-contrast type. Even using the same techniques I'd never reach the same-sounding mix twice in a row, or the same-sounding mix as someone else. There are far too many variables...
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