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In The Studio: Band And Individual Dynamics Together In The Mix

Getting all the parts assembled correctly in the pursuit of great music...

By Bruce A. Miller November 7, 2018

Image courtesy of Marboon

Volume Dynamics

So now that we have the band moving together, what about their volume? Most of the songs I like have parts that are soft and parts that are loud. These changes in volume are most effective when the entire band is performing with the same sensitivity. The band should “whisper” together, and should “shout” together.

Live musicians will also change their volumes during the course of a song based on their roles at each part of the arrangement. When a guitarist stops playing rhythm and begins to solo, he should play louder. Likewise when he resumes playing rhythm, he should drop his volume so he does not overpower whatever instrument has taken over the lead position.

Dynamics are not limited to a band’s rhythmic dynamics (how they push and pull) or volume dynamics (how loud they all get at certain sections either together or individually).

Individual instruments have their own dynamics that are as expressive and important as group dynamics. When an instrument is played softly it will have a different tone than when it is played loudly.

Also, individual notes played at different parts of an instrument (such as the exact same “A” note played on different strings and fret positions on a guitar) will have a different tone. Good musicians know their instrument well, and will play different variations of the same note to elicit more emotion and expression.

Volume is another dynamic that good musicians will take advantage of. A soft instrument will elicit the same feeling of intimacy that a whispered voice will, and make a listener feel that they need to “lean in” and listen more carefully. This forced involvement can make the difference between someone “getting into” a song or not caring about it.

Opening Up The Mix

It’s been said that black and white photos can be more compelling than color because the viewer must participate more. In the same way, when you “lean in” to listen to a musical part more carefully, you participate more and the part becomes more compelling.

Mixes can be crowded in many ways. The song arrangement can be crowded if there are too many elements playing similar parts that are different enough to cause musical clashes or smudges.

Spatial crowding can occur if there are too many parts clashing within the same areas of the stereo image. Frequency crowding can occur if there are clashing sounds with similar tones (such as a screeching sax and vocal).

It is important to create differentiation between different parts, especially in songs with crowded arrangements. Spatial differentiation is achieved by placing instruments into different positions within the stereo image, or by having some parts moving rather than stay in one place.

Frequency differentiation can be achieved by EQing sounds to emphasize more of their differences rather than similarities. For example, both a kick drum and a bass will have very low sounds, but the kick will also have a sharp attack that will cut through the sound of the bass, and the bass will have a sustained roundness that will continue between kick hits.

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About Bruce

Bruce A. Miller
Bruce A. Miller

Recording Engineer
Bruce A. Miller is an acclaimed recording engineer who operates an independent recording studio and the BAM Audio School website.


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