Mixing Technique: Filtering

by Paul on October 25, 2011

It's such a basic tool, but applying an EQ filter to a track can be a powerful technique to gain clarity and definition in your mixes. Many instruments and sounds have conflicting frequencies and compete with each other for sonic space. Great mixes have clear, defined ranges of instruments in the low, mid and high frequencies. The filter allows you to remove undesired frequencies in one instrument which in turn allows others to speak.
 
High-Pass filter allowing frequencies higher than 200Hz to pass.
 
Traditional use of a filter would be to cut out low end stage rumble on a live concert recording, or maybe to remove high frequency noise on a guitar. But taken a step further, you can carve out areas in your mix to enhance clarity by using either a high-pass or low-pass filter on many of your tracks. Let's say you have 12 tracks of backing vocals. Removing the low frequencies from 100Hz on down, will add clarity to the bass guitar and bottom end of the track. In pop recordings, most of this low frequency range is not needed in vocal parts and only adds to making the low end of your mix muddy. Keyboards and synths are another big area that can be shaped with using just a filter.
 
Low-Pass filter allowing everything below 5,000kHz to pass.
 
Additionally, using a filter before any dynamic processing allows your compressor or limiter to work more efficiently.
 
The next time you go to insert an equalizer in a channel to add something to a sound, try thinking of subtracting something first with a filter.

 

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We Move On

by Paul on July 8, 2011

I am up early today to watch the closing of a 30 year chapter of space flight for our nation. With the weather looking marginal and a dramatic last second hold at T -31 seconds, Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-135, was hurdled into space on her last mission and with it the winding down of the NASA Shuttle program.

In the words of Commander Christopher Ferguson to Launch Director Mike Leinbach just before launch:

"The shuttle's always going to be a reflection of what a great nation can do when it dares to be bold and commits to follow through. We're not ending the journey today, Mike, we're completing a chapter of a journey that will never end. You and the thousands of men and women who gave their hearts, souls and their lives to the cause of exploration … let's light this fire one more time, Mike, and witness this nation at its best."

I grew up watching and being inspired by our quest to explore outer space, from Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and the Shuttle programs. Today, much of the technology I use in my business has its genesis in the research and development of the space program. I will miss this era of watching the most technically advanced machine ever built, travel to earth's orbit. But we move on. Many questions emerge as we contemplate our new direction in space exploration, but we will move on.

We are explorers. As human beings we are driven to discover what is over the horizon. We are on a journey that will never end.

Godspeed Atlantis!

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Studio Update 20May11

by Paul on May 20, 2011

Apart from mixing and editing at my studio in Santa Monica, I've been quite busy doing live television broadcast mixing for DIRECTV at their Los Angeles Broadcast Center. Mostly sports related shows, with some VERY early call times. I also recently finished the 5.1 mix of the 2010 Farm Aid show for broadcast.

I've also just finished working with Earth, Wind & Fire on a number of new studio tracks. We've been out at NRG and Glenwood Place studios in Burbank. Last fall I recorded them at the Hollywood Bowl with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. I am editing the video now and completing the 5.1 mixing for a DVD release later this year.

In April I spent a few days at the NAB show and attended the Apple event on Tuesday night that revealed Final Cut Pro X. It's a complete rewrite of the application and looks to be quite impressive although many, many questions remain. It's due to be released in June via the App Store.

The core new features of FCP X are:

  • 64-bit Processing (FCP is no longer constrained to 4GB of RAM)
  • Grand Central Dispatch – it will use all the processors in your MacPro
  • GPU Rendering
  • Color Management integrated with ColorSync

Along with my years of working in pro-audio, I enjoy video editing.  Like working with music and audio post-production, editing video requires a balance of technical skills along with creative innovation.

 

 

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Dialog and the Lead Vocal

by Paul on June 4, 2010

I recently got a new gig mixing a half-hour TV show on a major cable network. I’ve done three shows so far and the client really likes the way things are sounding. They also seem to be really great people to work for. The production quality of the show is superb which is always inspiration for a great mix. There is a lot of music in the show and they wanted it mixed pretty aggressively. Man, they found the right guy for that! The show is also pretty dense at times with dialog, SFX and music all competing to be heard. But no problem, I’m good at clearing a space or notching out an area for the dialog in productions like this. I constantly use techniques I’ve learned mixing music.

I’ve spent over 30 years making records in the studio. I’ve worked with countless bands and singers. Probably one of the most important things in the music mix is the placement, clarity and overall feel of the lead vocal. It has to sit just right — it has to feel just right. I tend to use quite a bit of dynamic and EQ processing along with extensive automation moves to achieve this. Of course all of this depends on the type of music. If it’s a really driving and dense track, it takes more work to get the vocal in the pocket.

When working on a TV show mix such as this I treat the dialog just like the lead vocal in a music mix. Quite a bit of processing and quite a bit of automation rides in ProTools. I also really work the music tracks the same way — with compression, EQ and A LOT of automation rides. Here’s a timeline of the music tracks for a recent show I did, and you can see the amount of automation moves there are. I’m also automating the EQ for each track. Rarely does anything remain static. To give the show dynamics, emotional impact and clarity you must spend time riding that fader!

ProTools Music Track Automation

When I first started doing more post-production work I felt somewhat intimidated because I had been a ‘music guy’ for so many years. I felt there were audio techniques and skills that were used in working on TV and film that I didn’t know. But I quickly learned otherwise. What I discovered first off was that most post-production editors, sound designers and mixers came from the music industry! I also quickly understood that the expertise I had acquired recording and mixing bands for all those years could be used in post-production mixing. In fact, it was an advantage to have that experience. I’ve since had clients say to me that they preferred someone with my music industry background mixing their TV show.

So for me, and the way I work, there really is no difference between the dialog and the lead vocal.

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