Kim Lajoie's blog

How foreground sounds shape the character of the mix

by Kim Lajoie on February 28, 2011

The character of a mix’s foreground elements shape the overall character of the mix.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Clearly, the sounds that are loudest and most prominent in a mix will contribute the most to the overall sound of the mix. Likewise, the sounds that are quietest won’t contribute much.

In practice,  what this means to you will depend on what stage of production you’re involved in – performing, recording, mixing, etc.

If you’re  recording a song, you should pay careful attention to the sound of the main elements of the song. For example, if you’re aiming for a crunchy lo-fi sound, you’ll get most of the way there just by tastefully treating the vocals and drums (assuming a regular pop-style song). If you’re careful (or bold), you could even process the audio on its way in. Similarly, if you want a slick clean sound, you should focus your efforts on making your front end as hi-fi as possible – including instruments, mics, preamps and recording interfaces. You can probably get away with a bit of grunge in the background or incidental instruments, so long as you get the foreground instruments spot-on.

The same goes for mixing. If the foreground tracks already have a strong character you should go with it. Work with it, not against it. Similarly, if the foreground tracks are quite raw, you have some freedom to shape the sound of the mix – even if the background or incidental sounds have some more character.

Keeping this in mind, you’ll realise that you shouldn’t spend too much time on establishing the character of the background instruments. Every little bit helps, but remember to focus your time on getting the foreground instruments exactly how you want them. Don’t waste time getting carried away tweaking a sound to perfection, only to bury it under layers of more generic-sounding tracks.

Focus your time on where it will make the most impact.


2 thoughts on “How foreground sounds shape the character of the mix

  1. Kronsteen says:

    One small proviso: Frequencies in the range 1000-3000 can have a significant effect, even if they’re quiet. Hihats are an obvious example – using the same hihat samples in multiple songs is (IMO) more noticible than using the same kick or even snare samples.

    Also, reverb can exaggerate frequencies in that range, turning even bass instruments into a kind of hissy soup. It took me far too long to realise the wet EQ on reverb units is not just an afterthought.

  2. Kim Lajoie says:

    Well, our ears are particularly sensitive to those midrange frequencies, so it makes sense that anything in that range will have a significant influence on the sound of the mix.


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