Remember that little clip that would play at the end of Family Ties?

“Sit, Ubu, sit! …Good dog!”

Ah, good times.

(I honestly thought it was “Boo Boo” my whole life. Wikipedia informed me otherwise.)

Anyhoo, today I want to take a look at a popular mixing expression. One of my subscribers asked:

The “sitting in the mix” expression…I hear that constantly and read it all the time, but at what point has that been reached?

GREAT question.

There are way too many catch-phrases in the recording world. I’m definitely guilty of saying “sit in the mix” a LOT. (In fact, I’ve said it in NINE separate articles…yeesh.)

So…why don’t we unpack that phrase, shall we?

I was on a webinar last week with my Production Club members talking all about mixing. One of the concepts I talked about was that mixing is both horizontal and vertical.

Horizontal

Horizontal is the easy one. Your mix has a left side and a right side.

Each instrument needs its own “location.” Just like everyone in the band has their own spot on stage at a concert, every instrument in the mix should have its own “spot” in the mix.

Okay, so that’s easy enough, right?

Vertical is where it gets tricky…

Vertical

When thinking about the verticalness (definitely not a word) of a mix, you’ve got to ignore the horizontal factor for a while.

How do you do that? Mono, baby.

When you mix in mono, you take away the ability to separate things horizontally. Now you’re faced with the task of making all the tracks “play nicely” together, without having the crutch of simply separating the ones that don’t get along.

(“You, acoustic guitar. Stop picking on the mandolin. You go left. Mandolin, you go right.”)

In mono you can’t separate things with panning. What do you have to use? Two things. Faders and EQ.

The fader is a powerful mixing tool. I can’t tell you how many times a simple fader move solved more problems than EQ ever would.

Once you’ve got the levels set, you’ll need to use EQ to create further separation between the competing instruments.

It’s hard work. It takes practice. But in time it will become second nature to you.

How do you know when you’ve got things “sitting in the mix”? When you can hear each instrument clearly and distinctly, and the mix sounds full without sounding messy.

That’s my definition anyway.

To train that EQ muscle of yours, head over to:

www.UnderstandingEQ.com

  • Xan

    Boo Boo??? hahahahaha 🙂

    Good points there Joe, and in some instances fader moves can “become” EQ. For example, tweaking the bass axe up or down just a little can significantly influence the bottom end on a track. Same with OHs for the top end etc.

    There is one other element though you forgot – DEPTH – the use ov reverb or delay type FX can influence the perceived position ov an instrument from the front to the back. EQ can also have an somewhat an influence on this too. More upper mids and things tend to come to the front, but then ov course we run the risk ov interfering with our verticalizness… 🙂

    • Yeah, I hear a lot of folks talking about “depth” in the mix. I honestly simply don’t think about depth that much. Most pro mixes I hear don’t have a lot of depth, everything is fairly dry and in-your-face.

      I just don’t buy into the “depth” thing too much. When I’m mixing I’m not trying to make the instruments sound like they’re at different distances from me. There’s nothing wrong with that. I just simply don’t think about it that way.

  • I agree. Elaborating on your comment about mixing vertically with EQ: The high frequency content is perceived as being higher (vertically in the head area) whereas low frequency content is experienced more in the gut.

  • Sad Panda

    I think the word you want is “verticality”, showing its placement perpendicular to the horizon. Above and below, exactly what you’re talking about with faders. At some point, to me, it’s a matter of figuring out what’s more important and lowering the level of the less important elements or eliminating those elements entirely if they’re not really bringing anything positive to the mix. Cement shoes at the bottom of the river for you, mandolin (or 8th guitar part, or crazy arpeggiated synth, or….). 😀

  • James Hoskin

    I once read somewhere that there is a third axis (depth, if you will). If you split out your vertical axis into two, you get:
    a) Horizontal – panning
    b) Vertical – pitch – where does the instrument sit frequency-wise? i.e. is the bass separate from the vocals, from the snare, etc etc. This is where EQ as a tool can be useful.
    c) The z-axis. This is using tools like EQ, reverb, delay and of course the faders to bring instruments forward or backward in the mix.

    Despite adding an extra axis, think it simplifies the process further.

    Any thoughts on that?

    • Xan

      Yes James you is spot on…and proly got here before I did..! heh.. 🙂 I should really read all the posts before replying…haha