Visual cues for mixing – crutch or not?

I’m sure many of us in our beginner period of life (I mean mixing wise, mate) wanted to have some sort of shortcut that enables us to get that clear and impressive mix we have heard on our favorite records. These evil thoughts often lead our mind to some image where we can actually see the sounds and know what and where to cut, boost, or adjust in any other way. I’m also pretty sure that many of us have figured out that a thing called spectrum analyzer exists. And well, you can do a lot of things with it. But is it considered cheating if I use them?

Have you seen my mix yet?

No, it isn’t. You just don’t need them for making awesome sounding mixes, IF you have good monitors and a good sounding room (or barn with the occasional owls, etc. you get the idea) to mix in. Music is about what we hear, because we listen to music with our ears, not our eyes. So it’s only natural that we should also mix with using our ears (and mind, of course). But there are some parts that we can’t hear, or at least not perfectly enough to be able to make decisions and judgments. That’s the point where Mr. Spectrum Analyzer enters the scene.

Spectrum Analyzer – a useful tool

spectrum analyzer - a visual aid for mixingWith it, you can check the low end for those nasty sub bass frequencies that are eating up your headroom kind of invisibly with hitting your compressor on the two bus. You can also compare your roll-off slope in the high end against commercial tracks, and make slight adjustments in your mix, just to make your mastering engineer’s job easier. Certain analyzers now come with guide lines, such as the 6dB and pink lines in Izotope Ozone, so you can check your mix against these natural slopes.

Listen first, see it later

One thing is important though. Your ears and your critically listening mind should always come first. Then checking the analyzer should only be a kind of reassurance that you are on the right way. And trust me, when you get good at it, your mixes will magically arrive to that more or less common point. The magic in this is that we, human beings are pretty similar in the way our hearing and aural perception work as well. So it’s only natural that we tend to find similar sounding things enjoyable and pleasant.

Are you good enough without it?

All in all, you should not normally use these devices for making artistic decisions, and if you can’t hear that horrible 200Hz mud or that obtrusive 3kHz bite without having to check the analyzer, I have bad news for ya. In that case, it’s either your monitors or your room having serious problems, or simply your ears/mind are still not trained well enough for this job. Don’t let that discourage you, it’ll come to you with practice. Enjoy the progress!

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