I recently re-read ‘Mixing With Your Mind’ and it inspired me to write this post adapting a technique Mike Stavrou describes in his book.
The book strikes a good balance between technical information and a more creative, or conceptual, approach to working in the studio (pro or home). I often buy a book for reference, but this one I read (and re-read) cover to cover, although I do go back to sections all the time.
In MWYM, Mike compares mixing to meditation, and lays out simple ways to use compressors and effects. The book seems to ooze his personality too; for example, in one section when struggling between the choice of two room reverbs for your mix, he suggests you A/B them while holding a phone book next to your head, then choose the setting that makes phone book feel the lightest.
Although I am unable to confirm the efficacy of this, It’s refreshing to read such a creative approach to sound engineering. This along with the Mike Senior book ‘Mixing secrets for the small studio’ have been invaluable to me over the years.
You can get the Mike Stavrou book here. Mike Seniors’ book is available from Amazon (but it smells better if you buy it from a shop).
So, the section I wanted to look at is ‘Revealing the Reverb’ in which pink noise is used to adjust settings on a (unfamiliar) digital reverb.
Pink Noise is applied throughout the book for varying tasks, but in this chapter it is designed to work with a metronome and gate to trigger a reverb in order to hear the nuance of different parameters of a reverb unit.
I feel this technique helps with a few things. It lets you know what each reverb parameter is doing, even on a very transparent sounding unit or plug-in like a Lexicon PCM (spin, anyone?).
Also, If you time your reverbs to the song but they sometimes feel too ‘rigid’, this technique can help you fine tune the pre-delay and decay to make them sound a little more fluid. It’s also really good for getting instruments to blend better.
I usually time my reverbs as a starter and work from there but I’ll be the first person to admit that I can sit and twiddle for too long on a reverb or delay without hearing much difference from one parameter to the next. Remaining objective when mixing is hard enough (and I will do a post soon about ways to keep from losing judgement) but whether or not this technique gives you the desired result, it certainly offers a different perspective. This can only be a good thing.
So, try it for yourself.
Here is a little info about pink noise;
Pink Noise is a signal that contains the frequencies from 20hz to 20Khz. Unlike White Noise, which has equal power (or gain) at all frequencies, Pink Noise has equal power at each octave in the spectrum, which reduces by 3dB per octave as it moves up through the frequencies maintaining equal power at each octave. As the human ear is more sensitive to high frequency information, the gradual reduction in amplitude as the signal moves up the spectrum, approx 30dB over 10 octaves, exposes more of the low frequencies which is good for practical application in the studio.
Setting up a sidechain
I’ll explain how to set up the gated pink noise in Reaper, so apologies if you are using a different DAW and have never done this before. You should be able to pretty much the same way in any DAW and save the channel as a preset for future use (but doing it a few times manually at first does help you to understand the process). Also, Reaper has a JS pink noise generating plug-in which I use so if it isn’t offered in yours you may need to find a third party plug which provides this.
Short bursts of pink noise sent to the reverb unit (fast attack and release on the gate) help you hear the decay, diffusion, delay and attack parameters more clearly, and with longer bursts (slightly slower attack, longer release or hold and adjusting the threshold sensitivity) you hear the dampening, HPF, LPF, pre-delay, size and other parameters.
It might seem strange at first, trying to choose the reverb for a vocal and instead listening to bursts of pink noise, but when you do switch the reverb onto the auxiliary of whatever instrument you are applying it to, with a little tweaking you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
*Just to be clear (and so I don’t get sued) this concept is 100% from the book ‘Mixing with your mind’, the only difference being that there he explains how to do it in the analog domain and here it is completely in the DAW.