Silence Can Be Creative

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Creating, Engineering, Music/Audio, Opinions, Personal Leave a Comment

I’ve done my fair share of mixes – both for myself and for others.

When I mix my own tracks, I tend to mix while I work. “Mixing” as a stand-alone activity tends to be a relatively short process as I’ve already made a lot of choices in terms of instrumentation, panning, features, etc.

Mixing becomes an activity of rising up out of the details and trying to listen to the song as a first-time listener: making sure that the balance, flow and overall sound gel.

Mixing as Art

When I mix other’s tracks, I take a few steps back to listen to what’s going on and start formulating decisions on how the tracks should contribute to the ebb and flow of the song.

Some may say that I’m treading into producers’ territory, but I’d have to differ.

To put it in movie production terms:

  • the producer is like the director – he or she is responsible for spearheading the recording session (and perhaps writing) so as to get the best performance out of each musician
  • the mixer is akin to the film editor – he or she is responsible for taking each of the individual takes and piecing them together so that the entire story has a proper pace and flow. Editors never use EVERY shot that was filmed, nor do they typically use the entire length of a shot. There’s a lot of creativity in film editing – and a bad film editting job can do some serious damage to the story a film is trying to convey.

“M” is for Mute

Now, why am I going on about all this?

Well, I had a day off last week and took a stab at mixing Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer in a contest called “Reindeer Ruckus 2011” over at the RecordingReview forum.

I didn’t listen to the reference mix, nor did I listen to others before I started working.

The band did a “punk” rendition of the song, so it’s your pretty standard drums, bass, guitars and vocals setup. The guitars came with DI tracks, and I made use of those – almost exclussively. I didn’t spend too much time on the mix and really just wanted to do something to pass the time while I was a bit under the weather.

I banged the mix out and posted it for poops and giggles – it’s definitely not something that I’d send off to a client as a final draft.

As is usual for posts up on RecordingReview, and especially the contests that Brandon runs, comments started coming in – some glowing, some not-so-glowing … to be expected.

One of the comments that came back was:

[quote]”Love the way you just muted stuff at will… heh heh, that never even occurred to me – and sometimes less IS more” [/quote]

A few other commentors brought this up as well – some equally baffled as to why they hadn’t thought of this.

Full Circle Time

One of the key lessons I learned while stumbling and fumbling (something I still do) through mixing was that more tracks can quickly translate into more … blech. You can keep things simple and still make things sound big, clear and awesome. Using the mute button to bring a few choice tracks into focus can keep the listener engaged and excited much more than a wall of sound or ear candy.

The mute button can also help you sculpt the way a song evolves…

For the above mix, the energy you hear in the second verse was pretty well a duplicate of what was tracked for the first verse. Drums, guitars and all the band was going full-tilt.

As the mixer, I decided to mute the drum kit, re-amp the guitar DI signal to be something with a lot less bite and reserve all that hard, gritty energy to come in on the chorus.

When the chorus comes in, it’s a wild contrast in energy rather than a slight change.

I didn’t add anything to the song, but rather made choices on what to take away … all with help from the lowly Mute button.

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