I am often asked why I teach my students how to mix to a pink noise profile, be it at the channel stage, or pre-master prepping. The answer is simple: ‘the most important aspect of production is the understanding and management of relative levels.’
When I first began this wonderful and insane journey into audio production I was blessed to have had producer friends that were also my peers. In those ancient days, the industry was very different. The community aspect was both strong and selfless. We were not competing with each other. Instead, we chose to share our knowledge and techniques. It was then that I was introduced to noise as a mixing tool, and coupled with my sound design experience I took to it like a pigeon on a roof.
I was taught the old school method of tuning your ears and mindset to work from a barely audible mix level. If I did not hear everything in the mix then I had to go back and work the quieter channels. If something stood out in the mix then I knew the culprit had to be re-balanced, and all of this relied heavily on relative levels.
Relative levels in a mix context deals with the relationships between all sounds, and that includes effects and dynamics. You may think that relative levels refers only to volume but that is not entirely accurate. Relative levels deals with all level management, from sounds to effects and dynamics. Eq is an excellent example of frequency/gain management, but so are reverb levels, balancing parallel channels or wet/dry mix ratios, and so on……..
An example of how this technique helps the student to understand all areas of relative gains is by throwing in the classic reverb conundrum. We’ve all been there. If there is too much reverb level then the sound will either lose energy through reverb saturation, sound too distant if the wet and dry mix is imbalanced, or sound out of phase. By continual use of this technique, the student learns how well the sound and its effect sit together, whether the dry/wet ratio is right and whether the right reverb algorithms were used. This level of familiarity can only help the student and is the only simple working way of attuning the ears to not only hear level variances but also if something somewhere sounds ‘wrong ‘.
In some ways, this is very much like ear training but for producers as opposed to musicians/singers.
When I feel my students have reached an acceptable level conducting level and pan mixes (another old school apprentice technique), I move them onto pink noise referencing. By the time they have finished countless exercises using all manner of noise responses, they develop an instinctive understanding of gain structuring every aspect of the signal path, from channel to master bus, and with that comes an understanding and familiarity of what sounds natural and ‘right’.
Supplemented with listening to well-produced music this technique has saved my students both time and money and it is such a simple technique that even Trump could do it………well…..with help of course.
If you prefer the visual approach then try this video tutorial: