“5D” Mixing

by Andrey Romanenko

Mixing turned out to be the hardest part of the sound production process to grasp for me, even provided countless webpages, videos, lectures, courses, both free and commercially available (Heh! Sometimes they show you a WRONG direction). Nothing fancy here though — normally you need to spend several years to get a mix engineer degree.

So, having spent tons of time experimenting, searching, reading and trying this’n’that — I’ve decided to pay for 6-weeks online sound production course in London hoping that there I will get all the answers to the questions I had — but as it was mostly video lessons, with just a couple of hours of live communication with a tutor — I did not reach the level of understanding I was striving for.

Guess lots of people will agree how much it helps when you could interpret complex things on A4 sheet of paper with a pen. And one of the pitfalls for me was that I could hardly find a clear and easy to get graphic representation of a mix that would fit the vision I’ve got reading and digging the subject through the years. Lots of things I got in my head just did not fit into the puzzle.

Representation in “the Art of the Mix” by D. Gibson never looked clear and “all-in” to me. Moreover they provided NO **** TIPS on how to get that 3D volume depth and stuff, that was my target actually.

Source: http://www.soundhealingcenter.com/shaudioprod.html
Source: http://www.soundhealingcenter.com/shaudioprod.html

One day I finally got lucky, finding an interesting 3D visualization of a mixdown on www.gearslutz.com (can’t find the author), that was pretty close to the point, but still something vital was missing…

Here we got a mix represented in 3D, where 1D dimension is our stereo-width (width of the stereofield located in between our L and R speakers), 2D dimension is our frequency range from LO to HI frequencies (going upwards from sub-woofer to the tweeters), and 3D dimension representing the depth of our mix.

Having spent some time analyzing this concept, it still felt to me like something important is missing here, and one day — I got a flash on — and the reason become obvious to me, at the same time being simple… Good grief) With all 3D representations we meet here and there we are talking about a “static snapshot” of our mix, a static picture, while our mix is a DYNAMIC THING!

And when our mix is not static — and EVOLVES IN TIME, I realized that there should be another dimension added to our formula — TIME (4D) .

I kept on elaborating a new dimension added and came to conclusion that if we want to have a complete picture we need to take into account one more extremely important component…

Correlations between our instruments change with time depending on its arrangement (let’s put it as INTRO-BREAK 1-BREAKDOWN-BREAK 2-OUTRO for simplicity) thus changing the volume of our track — so we may represent every structural part of our track as a snapshot of different size with our loudest part — BREAK 2 to be the biggest and the loudest one.

At the same time — we know that our mix (after mastering) may never exceed 0 dBFS on master bus + must have a certain level of RMS volume depending on the genre and customer requirements (e.g. -8 dBFS RMS) and this important aspect may be represented in our formula as well with another, 5th dimension added — VOLUME (5D)

This kind of approach solved my puzzle and today it helps me to build and mix my tracks in a logical and easy manner. Every part of arrangement is a sort of a snapshot of the mix at any given moment in time with its unique properties (volume, stereo-width, depth, etc.). Moving from one part to another we maintain organic development of our track, minimizing the overall amount of work at mixdown stage in parallel.