THE STATIC FADER LEVEL TECHNIQUE
Finding a good mix balance can be a sticking point for inexperienced producers, whilst setting the levels of instruments should be a fairly subjective task, how do we know when a part is too high or low in the mix? Is there a way of knowing if a part needs more attention?
Balancing is a subjective decision that changes on a mix by mix basis. Every mix engineer will also have their own methods which they will have tried and tested over may years of experience. Below we have put together a fail-safe guide to getting a comfortable mix balance. This method teaches us how to read the clues that the faders are giving us, which will highlight if any tracks could benefit from more processing, such as compression or EQ.
1. Bring the first fader up (usually kick drum) to a comfortable level. Remember that we still have the rest of the track to mix into this, so leave ample headroom at this stage. (-12 to -18dBFS)
2. Bring the second fader up to what we believe to be the ‘optimal volume’ and make a note of it.
3. Push the fader back down again and repeat this process, but this time, increase the fader to a point where it is just too loud in the mix. This will be known as our ‘hot level’. Make a note of this position.
4. Bring the fader back down, this time pull it back up to our optimum level, now slowly pull it down to a level where it is just slightly too quiet in the mix. Make a note of this position as “low level.”
5. Now we should have three level positions for our part.
- Hot Level
- Low Level
- Optimum Level
The point we are making here is that there is more than one correct fader position.
Any point between ‘too loud’ and ‘too quiet’ could be a viable option. This range can be known as our ‘static fader level range’ which means that somewhere along this range there is a comfortable static position for our fader.
As we continue to use this method on our mix we will probably notice that this range will get smaller and smaller as we add more parts.
There are a few conclusions that we can also take from this range to better our mix balance:
If the optimum static fader level range is very small, the part we are mixing is either going to have fairly even dynamics, or is one of the less significant parts of our mix which is easier to fit in once the main elements are balanced nicely.
If however the optimum static fader level range is very large, then how do we decide exactly where to put your fader?
Do we choose hot, low or optimal? Logic would say to go for the optimal setting, but this is also a tell tale sign that we may have a part with a large dynamic range (typically a large transient followed by a low sustain volume.)
This would be an opportunity to go to the source sound and rectify the problem with compression or EQ.
We could also simply take note of this part requiring additional work further on in the mix process, which can then be re-balanced at a later time.
Think wisely about which option to take, as altering the sound of a main part further on in the mix process could drastically alter the mix balance, as well as how the compressors react within the groups and sub-mixes.
Squashing the life out of a signal will reduce the peaks and increase the average levels, this will make it much easier to find a static fader level but is not a wise move. Doing this will completely remove all dynamics from the signal which will subsequently make the mix sound flat and fatiguing on the ear. it’s important to understand the need for dynamics within a signal, sometimes it’s fine to have a large dynamic range and a difficult static fader level.