Cultural Influences on Mixing Practices

TL;DR: we are presenting a paper at the upcoming AES Convention in Milan on differences in mixes by engineers from different backgrounds, and qualitative analysis of the mixer’s notes as well as the critical listening comments of others.

We recently reviewed research to be presented at the AES 144th Convention, with further blog entries on some of our own contributions, analog-matched EQ and physically derived synthesis of edge tones. Here’s one more preview.

The mixing of multitrack music has been a core research interest of this group for the past ten years. In particular, much of the research in this area relates to the automation or streamlining of various processes which traditionally require significant time and effort from the mix engineer. To do that successfully, however, we need to have an excellent understanding of the process of the mix engineer, and the impact of the various signal manipulations on the perception of the listener. Members of this group have worked on projects that sought to expand this understanding by surveying mix engineers, analysing existing mixes, conducting psychoacoustic tests to optimise specific signal processing parameters, and measuring the subjective response to different mixes of the same song. This knowledge has lead to the creation of novel music production tools, but also just a better grasp of this exceedingly multidimensional and esoteric process.

At the upcoming Convention of the Audio Engineering Society in Milan, 23-26 May 2018, we will present a paper that builds on our previous work into analysis of mix creation and evaluation. Whereas previously the analysis of contrasting mixes was mostly quantitative in nature, this work focuses on the qualitative annotation of mixes and the documentation provided by the respective creators. Using these methods we investigated which mix principles and listening criteria the participants shared, and what the impact of available technology is (fully in the box vs outboard processing available).

We found that the task order, balancing practices, and choice of effects was unique, though some common trends were identified: starting the mix with all faders at 0 dB, creating subgroups, and changing levels and effect parameters for different song sections, to name a few. Furthermore, all mixes were made ‘in the box’, i.e. using only software) even when analogue equipment was available.

Furthermore, the large existing dataset we collected during the last few years (in particular as part of Brecht De Man’s PhD) allowed us to compare mixes from the subjects of this study – students of the Paris Conservatoire – to mixes by students from other institutions. To this end, we used one multitrack recording which has served as source material in several previous experiments. Quantitative analysis of level balancing practices showed no significant deviation between institutions – consistent with previous findings.

The paper is written by Amandine Pras, a collaborator from the University of Lethbridge who is among others an expert on qualitative analysis of music production practices; Brecht De Man, previously a member of this group and now a Research Fellow with our collaborators at Birmingham City University; and Josh Reiss, head of this group. All will be present at the Convention. Do come say hi!

You can already read the paper here:

Amandine Pras, Brecht De Man and Joshua D. Reiss, “A Case Study of Cultural Influences on Mixing Practices,” AES Convention 144, May 2018.