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.

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sónar innovation challenge 2017: the enhanced dj assistant

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The Audio Engineering team (C4DMwas present in this year’s edition of Sónar+D in Barcelona. Sónar+D is an international conference integrated to Sónar festival that focus on the interdisciplinary approach between creativity and technology.

The Sónar Innovation Challenge (SIC), co-organized by the MTG, <<is an online and on site platform for the creative minds that want to be one step ahead and experiment with the future of technology. It brings together innovative tech companies and creators, collaborating to solve challenges that will lead to disruptive prototypes showcased in Sónar+D.>>

In this year’s challenge, Marco Martínez was part of the enhanced dj assistant by the Music Technology Group at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, which challenged participants to create a user-friendly, visually appealing and musically motivated system that DJs can use to remix music collections in exciting new ways.

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Thus, after nearly one month of online meetings, the challengers and mentors finally met at Sónar, and during 4 days of intensive brain-storming-programming-prototyping at more than 30°C the team came with ATOMIX:

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Visualize, explore and manipulate atoms of sound from
multitrack recordings, enhancing the creative
possibilities for live artists and DJs.

From multitrack recording (stems) and using advanced algorithms and cutting edge technologies in feature extraction, clustering, synthesis and visualisation. It segments a collection of stems into atoms of sound and groups them by timbre similarity. Thus, through concatenative synthesis, ATOMIX allows you to manipulate and exchange atoms of sound in real-time with professional DAW controls, achieving a one-of-a-kind live music exploration.

The project is still in a prototype stage and we hope to hear news of development very soon.

King Tubby – Playing the mixing desk

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King Tubby (1941 –1989) was a Jamaican electronics and sound engineer, and his innovative studio work is often cited as one of the most significant steps in the evolution of a mixing engineer from a purely technical role to a very creative one.

In the 50s and 60s, he established himself as an engineer for the emerging sound system scene, and he built sound system amplifiers as well as his own radio transmitter. While producing versions of songs for local deejays, Tubby discovered that the various tracks could be radically reworked through the settings on the mixer and primitive early effects units. He turned his small recording studio into his own compositional tool.

Tubby would overdub the multitracks after passing them through his custom mixing desk, accentuating the drum and bass parts, while reducing other tracks to short snippets. He would splice sounds, shift the emphasis, and add delay-based effects until the original content could hardly be identified.

King Tubby would also rapidly manipulate a tuneable high pass filter, in order to create an impressive narrow sweep of the source until it became inaudible high frequency content. In effect, he was able to ‘play’ the mixing desk like a musical instrument, and in his creative overdubbing of vocals, became one of the founders of the ‘dub music’ genre.

See G. Milner, Perfecting Sound Forever: The Story of Recorded Music: Granta Books, 2010.