That used to be the name of an agency that hired me now and again; today I think of it as a common problem with the audio and audio for video productions I hear.

In so many productions, the narration is lost in the "background" music.

In the analog days, my studio standard was to add a tad of compression on the narration (using a rack of DBX one knob squeezers) and then do the final mix in the sort of speakers my audience would use to listen. I had transistor radio speakers, boom boxes, car radio speakers, TV speakers and huge JBLs all wired in to my monitor system. When I finished my mix and listened to in in a range of test speakers.

Is it really any different today? I haven't yet been called on to do a full-blown production like I did in the analog days, so perhaps landmines are lurking.

Am I missing something?
Is digital mixing really that much different than analog mixing?
Is there a reason for so much sub-par audio production?
Is everyone doing their mix in the cans?

I should probably add that when I hear great audio or audio for video it is spectacular! ...but unfortunately, it seems to be as spectacular as it is rare.

I'd be interested in tips/techniques to improve digital mixes if you'd be willing to share.

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I started in the analogue world too and am disgusted by a lot of mixes that so called 'professionals' are churning out.

The problem is that many engineers/producers are over using compression so that everything has the life squeezed out of it. The result is very loud mixes that sound foul!

Why? Well, back in the analogue day we often had limited channels (and quality) of compression available. Nowadays you can stick compression at every single gain stage Hence the whole mix is so highly compressed that the detail is obliterated.

If you approach a Digital Audio Workstation the same way that you approached your analogue mixes, then you'll be fine. I mix via headphones and the same rules apply. Cans do tend to give more clarity to the centre of your image (usually voice) but it doesn't mean that you can't mix on them reliably.

Sub-par mixes? I blame that on people who've not learnt their craft from the ground up...and an industry so keen on cost saving that it employs people who simply don't know any better.

It's not the fault of digital platforms. They all are capable of sounding brilliant in good hands. And absolutely terrible in the wrong hands!

My basic tips:

Mix with no master buss compression until you're happy with the mix. Don't over-compress voices (see note below).

Then, activate your master buss compression and employ this approach:

- no more than 6-8dB of gain reduction on voice
- no more than 6-8dB of gain reduction on Buss masters (including main L-R buss)
(if using multiband comprression, then up to 10dB can work - use your ears!)
- finalising limiters should be showing no more than 6dB of PEAK gain reduction. Ever.

My key is to never, ever mix with Master buss compression and limiting on. This processing should serve to 'tighten' a finished mix. Too many people rely on it to do the mixing for them.

Hope that helps.
I'm happy I'm not alone in thinking there are too many bad mixes.

One thing you said that really surprised me is that you mix in the cans. I have never successfully mixed anything using headphones; I guess some people can do it.

How do you sanity check the quality of your mix?
I only mix through headphones when I'm working at home. The trick is to find headphones that work for you. Try shopping somewhere that you can actually audition a wide range of brands and prices. Because headphones go 'straight in' they are much more subjective than even studio monitors. People make the mistake of buying the best they can afford or go off other people's recommendations. There's only one person's opinion that counts - yours!

I do my final check by playing back the mixed file through my laptop's speakers. They're about the equivalent of a Small radio or Television and I walk around while I listen. Anything that gets lost under those conditions gets fixed and then I check again.

Clients also are the cause of some bad mixes. I've had to vandalise my own mixes because of the client's feedback. They get so used to rubbish that a decent mix sounds 'wrong' to them.

Messy.

I'd be interested in your thoughts on my demo. How does it sound to your ears?

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