Last time we asked an unusual question: Is this song more about “color”, “texture”, or “contrast”, or more about “movement” and “energy”?

Our first example was a look at a song that was all about “color”, “texture”, or “contrast.”

Let’s take a look now at a song that requires focus on “movement” and “energy.”

Movement and Energy are key whenever you add more complicated instrumentation or percussion to a musical arrangement. This spans a multitude of genres. Modern Rock. Pop. Dance. R&B. Hip-Hop. Funk. Soul. Gospel. Hopefully at this point you’re getting the picture; Movement and Energy are probably the two most important concepts to understand if you want to mix these genres effectively.

The interesting thing about the concepts of Movement and Energy is that they are more about how things feel than about how they sound. This is strange to think about at first, but makes a lot of sense. How something sounds is experiential. It is momentary. It tends to lead to a workflow that alternates between observation and action.

For example, “the snare is too loud”->turn down the snare. “Now the vocal is too loud”->turn down the vocal. “Now the guitars are too loud”->turn down the guitars. Trust me when I say that this way lies madness.

I find it best to insert a second step into my behavior. Rather than the flow above, this would look something like: “the snare is too loud”->”what does the energy or movement of the snare interact with?”->turn down the snare->listen for the things I know the energy or movement of the snare interacts with, and adjust them.

The major difference between these two workflows is that the first is reactionary. I take one step, evaluate, take another step, evaluate, etc. This kind of workflow makes it very hard to ensure I am consistently moving towards an end goal. The second workflow is proactive, and involves a lot more “big picture” thinking, which makes moving toward an end goal much, much easier.

So now I turn down the snare knowing that I will want to check the vocal. The kick. Anything in the center of the mix, and sometimes even things like high hat and overheads.

Another good example of this is music with layered guitars. Sometimes more guitars make the track sound huge- other times less is more. If the movement of one instrument is stepping on another, the two should be made distinct using panning, EQ, reverb, or by simply muting the one that doesn’t fit.
High hat and tamborine are another good example. Panned left and right they might compliment each other if they are close enough in cadence, but panned together they would just be noise.

This “heads up” method of mixing is helpful, because it helps me keep from following myself in circles down a series of rabbit trails, and disliking the results. Instead, I go into each mixing tweak thinking about the relationships involved between the instruments- their color, texture, motion, energy, and the degree of contrast between these. This makes it much easier to direct myself towards an end goal.

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