Mixing Mindset: Range for Impact

So I’m gonna break one of my rules today because I want to do a little illustration. I feel like a lot of newer engineers miss this boat sometimes when mixing. They make it all about loud when they should really be going for impact. I believe there’s a time to be loud, but loud is just another tool in our arsenal.

So I had my little iPhone camera at FOH earlier this summer, and I had it running through one of the music sets. Unfortunately you can’t see much in this because once everyone stands up they block the stage. I stand to mix, but sadly, my little iPhone was not that tall. However, you can see something here that I think some of you might find interesting. At the bottom of the frame is my RTA along with….I can’t believe I’m doing this…the A-weighted SPL of the room at FOH.

I’ve taken my FOH mix and slapped it on the video so your ears don’t fall off from the distorting iPhone mic, and then I mixed the audience mics into it a little. For full disclosure’s sake, you should also know there was an L2 on the mix doing about 1-2 dB of limiting at the loudest part of the song and Brainworks’ bx_solo plugin widens the whole thing just a hair. My point is, this is essentially an untouched 2-mix from FOH with some audience added. It’s not my favorite mix, but I remember it felt good in the room and it’s a good example for illustrative and educational purposes.

As you’re watching this, notice the RANGE of SPL in use and how it follows with the emotional impact of the song. I don’t have any kinds of limits on this stuff week to week. Nobody sitting in the seats or from leadership came up to me at any time to say it was too quiet or too loud. In fact, as memory serves, this was a day when I had more people than normal coming to FOH after the service to say how good it was.

Now, I’m not saying you should be running your mixes as loud as we do or with as much range as we do. You might want to run less, or in fact, depending on your situation you might benefit from running louder with even more range. Who knows. You have to figure that out. The point I just want you to understand is that music is not about hitting some target number.

When I’m mixing it’s about music and impact. Just think about what happened to recorded music when the recorded industry started pushing everything closer to digital zero. When you target a number, the music almost always suffers, in my opinion.

Parenthetically, one thing that really sticks out to me listening back to this several months after actually mixing it is the way I’m riding the vocal. I can really hear how I was pulling it back and sinking it into the crowd in the room especially at the start of the first verse. I’ll save talking about that for another time, though.

As you’re watching Smaart in the video embedded below, you’ll notice the RTA running there as well. Smaart’s RTA is running at 1/48 resolution here with a 5 second average. My Target Curve is overlaid on the measurement, but you’ll probably notice I don’t exactly adhere to it. Again, that’s because mixing is about how it sounds and feels and not always how it measures. That RTA is another tool I use all the time, but I rely my ears and gut far more than the RTA.

David Stagl

4 Responses to “Mixing Mindset: Range for Impact

  • Jim Doolittle
    10 years ago

    Good stuff Dave! Great explanation on the philosophy of range.

  • Kevin Butler
    10 years ago

    Great article. No matter what volume you run at, run it with impact! I love how the camera shakes with the low end.

    Question. How do you do your room mics? I’ve been hoping to do the same in our venue and I’ve seen many different approaches. Also, have you done, or could you do, a post on how you personally prepare for your rehearsals and weekend experiences?

    Keep up the good work!

    • David Stagl
      10 years ago

      We have a couple of pairs of shotgun mics for the room. Two of them are at the stage and the other two are about halfway back in the room overhead.

      I will try and get a post together in the coming weeks on how I prep for weekly services.

  • Matthew Stanford
    10 years ago

    Interesting, a really wide dynamic range just on that one song (12dB, it’s interesting how the music also thickens and opens out during the song for impact and focus