030 MixCoach Minute-More Audio Anchor Points

Last week, Stone and I talked about “anchor points” as it pertains to a mix. He came up with more anchor points that I want you to hear.

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Raw Transcript:

Kevin: Hey guys it’s Kevin from MixCoach. Time for another episode of the
MixCoach Minute. A few days ago Stone Walters, I called him Stone Phillips
the other day because that’s a reporter here, but anyway. Stone Walters, we
did a series of back and forth conversations where Stone was asking me
questions about MixCoach Minute type of things. And they were popular, and
you guys seemed to like them. So, we decided, and Stone and I like to talk
about this kind of stuff, so I decided to get stone to talk to me a little
bit more. But last week, or a few days ago, Stone and I talked about anchor
points about the kick. And I told him that usually if you were to solo the
kick or the drums you would find that they were about minus ten. Mainly the
kick, wasn’t it, Stone?

Stone: Yeah.

Kevin: The kick was minus ten. Well Stone, in his usual fashion, went above
and beyond and did some more research. So, I was going to ask Stone of this
episode of the MixCoach Minute what he found as far as other anchor
points, as he’s calling them. So, Stone, why don’t you just take it away
and tell us what you found out about the anchor points and if the kick at
minus ten was true. And then some of the research that you found.

Stone: Cool. Well, Kevin, what was interesting is that as I kind of looked
through a lot of different sessions with stems in them I noticed that that
kick level tends to be pretty consistent irrespective of genre of music.
So, oftentimes if the kick is soloed it will register around minus ten to
minus eight. Or, anything with a two to four db window.

Kevin: Now what are you checking this with?

Stone: I’m checking this with pre-mixed stems. So for example, there’s a
website called Shaking Through. And what these guys do is every month they
record a band in one day, and they mix the song in one day. And then they
make available for free the raw files and the stem sessions as well as the
finished and mastered mixed for anyone to download and either to cut with
your own mixed or to analyze for whatever reason.

Kevin: Wow.

Stone: So there’s a couple of really, really cool songs. And what’s really
great is the style of music is very diverse. So, I’ve picked a couple of
those songs that I kind of use all the time to kind of go and analyze and
try to figure out what’s going on from a mixing perspective. And when you
solo the raw session files, so for example the raw kick, it’s coming in at
around minus eighteen. Which is the right point in a gain, station-wise.
And then when you start to mix and add all the elements together it’s
coming in at around minus ten or so. You know?

But what was really interesting, as an extension of that was, when you take
the drum stems together, for example I have one of their tracks by a guy
called Stephen Clark, and I have the figures here for how everything
measured out, sans a ballpark. That the drums will actually come in in the
drum stem. So kick, snares, toms, everything, was coming in at around minus
twenty-two RMS for the entire song. So that means once everything was mixed
that was the level the drums were at if you put the stem at zero. The bass
was coming in at around minus nineteen, so therefore you can see that the
bass was a little bit louder in that track. It was actually a soul track,
so it was more bass driven and more bass led. So there’s a four db
differential in that.

What I thought was interesting, though, was that his vocals for the song
was coming in at around minus twenty three RMS. So the bass was actually
louder than the vocal was. But what was really cool, as I kind of studied
that out and then looked through other stem sessions I came up with some
ballpark figures that if you’re mixing, you can kind of say, this is kind
of like where the stem should be coming in. So the drums should come in
around here. So if this is useful to anyone, if you’re mixing vocals, most
of the vocals tend to come in at around minus twenty to minus eighteen RMS,
as a ballpark figure.

Drums tend to come in between minus twenty two to minus nineteen RMS. And
bass tends to come in at around minus twenty two to minus eighteen RMS. And
what’s interesting, like I said, irrespective of style, those are the
ballpark-ish figures. And the other thing that was interesting, if I can
just add one more thing before I go back over to you in the studio, is
there’s this new way to measure sound. It’s kind of like the K metering
system. Don’t know if you’ve heard of K metering. You know, K20, K14, K12.
But what the K meter system does slightly different to a regular peak
[inaudible 00:04:43] most stores ship with, is it measures perceived volume
and not actual volume.

So something could be minus eighteen in your door meter, but the K meter
might say it’s actually minus ten. Now, it’s not an incorrect reading, it’s
just basically saying based on psychoacoustic principles, this actually
sounds louder than it’s actually being registered with peak or RMS meter.
So, along those lines there’s a new level of measurement that they use in
broadcasting called the LU, which stands for the loudness unit.

Kevin: Okay.

Stone: And this is a way to measure the perceived dynamics of sound. It’s
not the actual dynamics, but how people perceive it to be. And what I found
with all these sessions that I’ve been going through is that with vocals,
the perceived dynamics, or the loudness unit, or the dynamic range, is
usually between two to ten dB, depending on which section of the song it’s
in and what the style of music is.

On average it comes in at around minus four, I’m sorry, around four or
five, but usually the whole spectrum is between two and ten. For example, I
was analyzing a vocal from a well-known country artists and there was a lot
going on in the chorus in this particular arrangement so the vocal was
actually minus two dynamic range. Just a two dB dynamic range. So, two, not
minus two. Drums have a perceived dynamic range of between two to four. In
other words, once the drums come in, perception-wise they don’t change.
They’re just there.

Kevin: Right. Right.

Stone: And then, finally, the bass usually has a perceived dynamic range of
two to six. So, again, everything, once it comes in, it just goes really
solid like it’s actually there. Again, just to reiterate that this is the
perceived dynamic range, not the actual dynamic range.

Kevin: Okay.

Stone: For example the difference between the peak of the snare drum and
the RMS level of the snare drum might be ten dB, but it’s only perceived by
the ear as being around two db.

Kevin: Okay.

Stone: So, I thought that was interesting.

Kevin: Yeah, that’s, wow, that’s a lot of great information out there. Now,
I guess we should say, too, that we’re not really saying that you should
learn to mix by meters only.

Stone: No.

Kevin: You should not say it’s mixed if my drums are minus ten. You should
definitely default to your ears. But, I always advocate on MixCoach Member
that you should set up a template. You should have a template that you go
to for different styles of music. And this is a great way of saying, does
my template work. Does my template gain stage tracks the way they should be
gain-staged. In other words, all your sub-mixes should be set at zero. And
then if they are hitting the VU or the peak meter the way you’re saying,
then it’s pretty much gain staged right. You shouldn’t go moving the
auxiliary bases, but you should be changing this. That way, everything is,
what you did in your article about gain staging in- was it Levels
Demystified? Levels Demystified I think that you did the gain staging and
how things should hit plug-ins?

Stone: That’s right.

Kevin: Yes. So, we’re not saying that you should set up your mix to where
if the numbers are right then it’s a good mix. No, that’s just a good place
to start. Then you can let your ears take over and say, how is the
perceived volume and how does it make me feel when I listen to a mix.
Because mixing is all about emotion to me.

Stone: Yeah.

Kevin: A mix can either make you want to yawn. Or it can make you want to
move. You know, bob your head, or dance, or do something like that. So, do
all this stuff so that your mixing, you can do all the math sort of things
like this so that when you get ready to mix for emotion all the gain
staging is taken care of.

Stone: Absolutely.

Kevin: Would you agree? Would you agree with that?

Stone: Absolutely.

Kevin: Okay.

Stone: And I think maybe adding to that the [inaudible 00:09:00] to do
would be [inaudible 00:09:02] that you like. Go back and actually look at
what your levels were because I think that’s a great insight into what
you’re instinctively creating in terms of mix levels and gain station.

Kevin: Okay, I missed your, we had a bad connection there for a second. So
what did you just say? The whole thing you just said.

Stone: I said maybe what you could do as well is once you’ve actually mixed
something that you like and that you’re proud of and you think it’s a great
sounding mix to actually go back and analyze your own levels and see where
things are coming up. Because I think that will probably make more sense
than trying to copy someone else’s levels or, or another thing.

Kevin: Exactly. Exactly. I would agree with that wholeheartedly, Stone.
Man, that’s some really great information. So, use this stuff if you can.
If you like this kind of information and you like guys like Stone who
really does his homework and is really active on the MixCoach Member
forums, come check out MixCoachMember.com. I think you’ll find that you
will become a greater mixer a lot faster than trying to do it on your own.
So, I guess this concludes this episode of the MixCoach Minute. Stone,
thank you for doing all that crazy investigation. Maybe I should call you
Stone Phillips because you’re an investigative reporter when it comes to
mixing and gain staging.

Stone: Thank you.

Kevin: So, anyway, until tomorrow. See you guys later.

Click HERE to watch the next episode of the MixCoach Minute!

anchor points, stone, mixcoach

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