Role of Dynamics in Home Recording Mixing - dummies

By Jeff Strong

Dynamics are simply how loud or soft something is. Listen to a classic blues tune (or even some classical music), and you can hear sections where the song is almost deafeningly silent and other sections where you think the band is going to step out of the speakers and into your room.

This is an effective and powerful use of dynamics. The problem is that this seems to be a lost art, at least in popular music.

It used to be that a song could have very quiet parts and really loud ones. Unfortunately, a lot of modern CDs have only one level — loud. This often isn’t the fault of the musicians or even the band’s producer.

The radio stations and record-company bean counters have fueled this trend because they want to make sure that a band’s music is as loud as (or louder than) other CDs on the market.

Try recording a song with a lot of dynamic changes. This bucks the trend, but who knows, you may end up with a song that carries a ton of emotional impact. Also, as you mix your song, incorporate dynamic variation by dropping the levels of background instruments during the verses and bringing them up during the chorus and bridge sections of the song.

You can always eliminate your dynamic variation by squashing your mix with compression during the mastering process.

The biggest mistake that most people make when they mix their own music is to try to get their song as loud as commercial CDs. This is the mastering engineer’s job, however, not yours, so don’t worry about it. Get your song to sound good with a balance between high and low frequencies and loud and soft sections.

Let the mastering engineer make your music as loud as it can be. He or she definitely has gear that is better designed to raise the volume of a recording without making it sound squashed or harsh.

Building intensity with the arrangement involves varying the amount of sound in each section. A verse with just lead vocal, drums, bass, and an instrument playing the basic chords of the song is going to have less intensity (not to mention volume) than a chorus with a wash of guitars, backup vocals, drums, percussion, organ, and so on.

Most songs that build intensity effectively start with fewer instruments than they end with.

When you mix your song, think about how you can use the instruments to add to the emotional content of your lyrics. For example, if you have a guitar lick that you played at every break in the vocal line, think about using it less to leave space for lower levels at certain points in your song.

If you do this, each lick can provide more impact for the listener and bring more to the song’s emotion.