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Monitor mix

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As more and more tracks are being added to the recording during the overdubbing
stage, then the engineer and producer will be working with a mix that may bear
a passing resemblance to the finished product – the monitor mix. The monitor
mix is what you listen to during the recording process, and is usually thought
of as a rough guide to what is already on the tape. Good enough so that the
musicians can get a proper feel for the music, and good enough to tell the producer
how the recording is shaping up. It depends on the type of mixing console you
are using, but some have only very basic monitor facilities – perhaps just level,
pan and a couple of auxiliary sends. This means that you can't do anything in
the monitor mix apart from set how loud each instrument is, where it appears
in the stereo image, and how much reverb it has (the other aux will be used
to send foldback to the musicians' headphones). In fact this is not a bad way
of working because you will hear exactly what is on the tape as you progress
through the recording. Hopefully you will be perfecting each sound as it is
created, and you will add new sounds in context with what is already there.
If the monitor mix sounds good, then you can be sure the final mix will sound
great.

This simple style of monitor mixing has its merits, but large scale consoles
offer vastly more sophisticated monitoring facilities. You can create a mix
on the monitors using EQ, compression, gating, and everything else that is part
of modern studio technique. If you regard the monitor mix as something temporary,
but you – and the engineer – then proceed to use all of these facilities, you
may find yourself in big trouble by the time you flip the multitrack onto the
big faders and start to mix from flat because the sound will be totally different.
But you wouldn't do that of course. By the time you graduate to SSL or Neve
class studios, you will have learnt the first rule of recording: Nothing less
than 100% effort is good enough. You should regard everything you do as being
part of the finished product and make it as perfect as possible. Even if it
is only something you do as an experiment or as a temporary reference, then
the fact that you have done it right will at least tell you something if it
didn't work quite as well as you had hoped, and what you have tried and discarded
will still influence the mix. This includes the monitor mix. With a console
that only has rudimentary monitoring facilities you will tend to want to perfect
everything on tape. With a console that has sophisticated monitoring facilities,
you will record a good clean sound on tape, and then anything that you do to
the monitor mix will become part of the final mix. The console will allow you
to do this so you don't have to start from scratch when the overdubs are finished.
In fact you can do this with any console that has enough channels. It is very
common once a few tracks have been recorded to route the multitrack to the channel
faders and start to mix as overdubs progress. This way you never get to a point
when you say, “Right that's finished, let's clear the desk and start to
mix”. You just come to a realisation that everything is done and all that
is needed is a little polishing here and there. Self-produced artist George
Michael works in this way and his regular appearances at the top of the sales
charts confirm the value of this philosophy.

David Mellor

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David Mellor

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