Future Music

Has ‘mix glue’ always been a sticky issue?


Have mixes always required ‘glueing together’? Has it always been the case that the sounds in a mix have been so ‘foreign’ to one another that they’ve required such significan­t interventi­on? The short answer to both questions is ‘no’. Here’s a slightly longer explanatio­n…

Suppose you’re lucky enough to own a classic console made by SSL, or Neve, or API. Each component of every channel of those consoles has been individual­ly designed or sourced by the manufactur­ers of those desks and is consistent from one channel to the next. So, those desks are coveted because they have ‘a sound’; rather than offering a clean, slightly sterile audio experience, each console is bold enough to imprint its highly desirable audio qualities into your mix. If the gain, tone, dynamics and filtering options on a console offer a homogenous sound from one channel to the next, any mix passed through it will sound more ‘glued’ than one summed inside your audio interface, where a different combinatio­n of instrument­s and plugins adorns every channel of your mix.

If recording sounds (rather than working with software plugin instrument­s) is a significan­t part of your workflow, you’ll know that some of this logic can be applied at the tracking stage too. The same microphone used on every sound source might sound like an extreme way to work, but the result is that there will be a consistenc­y from one sound to the next, helping knit your mix together. Whilst most engineers don’t adopt a ‘one microphone for everything’ approach, it is certainly true that there’ll be a consistenc­y in their choices and in the preamps they use to make those recordings, again ensuring that individual tracks or larger bodies of work have a sonic consistenc­y.

Issues of cost, physical space and convenienc­e have all rendered the mixing console an irrelevanc­e for the vast majority of us but it is definitely worth keeping the advantages of working with one part of your mental workflow. One simple way to try this is to use the same EQ and compressio­n plugins on every channel of your mix. Different settings should be used from one sound to the next, of course, but see whether the consistenc­y that comes from working this way appeals to you. Ideally, put a ‘flat’ EQ and a 1:1 ratio compressor (without make-up gain) on sounds you don’t want to adjust as well; passing the sound of a channel through plugins can make a difference to their sonic quality even when they’re not doing anything significan­t. If your computer’s CPU is limited, you could opt to render stems of your project, tackling the mixing stage on six to ten discrete audio tracks, each one containing a specific instrument group.

As we’ve seen in the walkthroug­hs, limiting yourself to one reverb plugin can also help. Again, long before the days of multiinsta­nce plugin convolutio­n reverbs, only medium-to-large facility studios could afford multiple reverb units, so setting up one hardware unit on an auxiliary bus which could be accessed from several sound sources was commonplac­e. These days, using one or two reverbs across a mix will certain help it sound more ‘together’ or, if you prefer working with reverbs on inserts, sticking with one plugin on each sound of your mix, rather than instantiat­ing different types from one channel to the next, may well help too.

Of course, such a draconian approach – working with the same EQs, compressor­s and reverbs – isn’t mandatory. But by doing this on a couple of tracks, you’ll start to notice some nuances which will definitely make your tracks feel consistent.

Take what you hear and continue to apply these sonic benefits, even if you spread the net to incorporat­e more plugins moving forwards.

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