Most mixes begin life ‘inside-the-box’. By this I don’t mean ‘inside a computer’. No. In this instance I mean something completely different. Most mixes begin life inside an imaginary box in between your speakers, and when a mix gets stuck inside this box you have a ‘magnetized mix’. This imaginary box has a limited frequency range (usually around 200Hz – 5k), very little depth, and when instruments get stuck inside it they are difficult to pan effectively.
Unfortunately most mixes begin in this box. Just pull the faders up on any session you are about to begin mixing and you will hear what I mean. It is almost as if there is an invisible magnet pulling, holding and forcing every instrument in the mix into this imaginary box.
The best way to understand the concept of a ‘magnetized mix’ is to experience it for yourself. So if you have a few spare moments here’s a little experiment for you to try.
Now unless you were comparing your unmixed session with a mono recording(!) you probably noticed that the reference mix had a width, height and depth that the unmixed session lacked. In other words it was not stuck ‘inside-the-box’ like the unmixed session.
So what is it that causes the instruments in a mix to get stuck ‘inside-the-box’? Put simply, a mix gets stuck inside-the-box when each element in the mix, i.e. vocals, bass, drums, etc., lacks separation from other elements. When this happens the instruments blend together in a way that robs each instrument of its unique contribution to the mix.
Lack of separation between instruments also produces another interesting effect – instruments gravitate to the area of the frequency spectrum where they have the greatest concentration of natural energy, which for most instruments is between 200Hz to 5kHz. 200Hz to 5kHz also happens to roughly be the part of the frequency range we most perceive as coming directly out of our speakers – hence the reason we perceive an imaginary box in between our speakers!
If our mixes are to stand any chance at living a full 3D life out in the big wide world one of our first tasks with any mix will be to ‘demagnetize’ it and unpack the imaginary box (that is of course presuming you want to create a mix with clarity, punch, depth, width, height and dynamics!).
This means we must find a way to allow instruments with:
When we do this effectively the pan knob is also freed up to extend the width of a mix in a way it is unable to when sounds are stuck inside of the box.