Using Pink Noise as Reference
This last method we describe here is not so popular, but, as experience shows, it quickly brings reliable results. The idea is to use pink noise instead of your fundamental track. It may sound strange, but the method is well proven and many sound engineers use it. Let's see what makes pink noise so special.
Frequency response of human being's hearing system isn't linear but logarithmic. We perceive pitch increases by octaves. Each subsequent octave covers twice as much number of Hertz as the previous one.
White noise has constant energy across the entire frequency spectrum, but we perceive one-octave pitch increase as if the volume raises by 3 dB. If you filter out white noise, you'll eliminate the 3 dB volume increase per octave each time you go up in frequencies, thus you'll get a more natural and pleasant energy distribution. As a result, all octaves will contain the same equal amount of energy, which will sound more balanced for the human ear. This is where we get pink noise for our mix.
To use this approach, we need to set the volume of pink noise at an average middle working level, no matter, whether it's comes from an oscillator or a sample. After that, run the first track along with the noise and adjust its volume by ear. Try to find a level at which the track will be barely heard through the noise, but not completely muffled. Then disable the first track and switch to the next one. Repeat these steps until you have covered all the elements of your mix.
You may find that certain types of sounds will cut through pink noise better than the others. Therefore, you'll need to pay attention to the characteristics of those sounds. This often happens with low-frequency sounds. For example, it may seem that the kick drum is blocked by noise, although we can hear it distinctly. You may want to increase the gain of the kick, but you should fight this temptation. The similar problem may happen with high-frequency sounds like crashes, percussion, etc. Mix these tracks with extreme caution, with more practice you'll feel it instinctively.
Another problem may arise with highly dynamic sounds. For example, while mixing vocals using pink noise, some words and phrases could be heard well and some not. In this case, don't focus your hearing on the attack of the vocal phrase where it's easier to catch vivid consonants, but focus on the whole phrase. It may turn that the vocal wasn't sufficiently compressed at the previous stage. Vocal is a crucial element of the arrangement and it shouldn't 'fall out' from the mix for a single second.
Of course, using solely this method won't eventually let you have a perfect mix. You'll still have to make adjustments depending on the style of the song and the artist's preferences, but you'll stand on solid grounds with no need to apply any drastic measures later on.
In a way, by its characteristics, pink noise resembles a noisy street or subway, i.e. the place where you'll listen to music in headphones. And it is important that even in such noisy places you could hear the whole mix, not just its individual elements. All in all, even if you won't like this method, you'll have a chance to perfectly train your ear and the next time you'll spend much less time making a quality mix.
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