Bouncing hard walls can make mushy tracks un-listenable.
As a composer or producer writing background music or any type of soundscape for use in a public space, there are important things to consider when writing and mixing your finished piece. Pitch, tone and the final EQ all play an important part in how your music will sound in a particular area whether it is a dentist office or a lounge bar. There is a reason waiting room music sounds the way it does and although we regularly make fun of it we should take heed of the production methods, before you get to the mixing, think about the instruments you use and sounds you’re making. Your music must be catchy and sociable without being monotonous or obtrusive. This is especially important for drums and percussion parts. A thudding bass drum may be overwhelming and subconsciously people will be distracted by it and your piece of music will suffer, but get it right and you can create a hypnotic sound that people take in and tap to without realising. Experiment with different cymbals and percussion, you may not need to use an actual drum beat if you can come up with a repeating pattern that sounds good. In fact you may find an actual kit overpowers the other instruments. Speaking of other instruments, you will obviously be aiming for your core sounds: bass, guitars, light vocals and some synths. They should obviously compliment each other not just in melody but also in pitch as you may not know exactly where your music is being piped out and the pitch of the instruments and a poor audio system could result in an awful sound that does more harm than good to your reputation.
A big part of this is mixing. Ideally you will be mixing in the mid to high frequency range, avoiding tinny high end sounds or muddy low end. As mentioned earlier, getting your percussion right is half the battle. Hi- hats and any cymbals should sound soft and rest in a mid-range frequency which will still give you a good sound but omits the harshness that can come with cymbal hits or hi-hat patterns (especially in ostinatos.) Bass and snare should only need a little tweak unless you’re looking for a new interesting sound. Before you even get to the mixing process make sure you’re using the closest sound you could get to what you want for the finished piece. This should allow you to make enough little adjustments to perfect it without losing the original flavour of your chosen sample. Mix With the volume as low as possible. If something sounds too loud when the volume is at a minimal you have to turn it down. By listening to the beat at a low level during mixing, you get to hear exactly what is overpowering if any and out of wack frequencies.
Generally for this type of music one good kick drum should suffice as opposed to several mixed into one sound. You may find this doesn’t work for music intended as background noise without spending a lot of time working on just that sound and you may be on a tight deadline, 24 hours in some cases.
As always, compression and overall EQ are what will help your music sound better when played through different sound systems.
Compression is the process of automatically adjusting the volume of the input sound so that the quiet parts are louder and the loud sections don’t distort. It is the equivalent of someone automatically and very quickly adjusting a volume knob, keeping the volume levels within a set range. Most compressors generally have the same controls: Threshold – This will set the level at which compression starts. Any sounds below this threshold remain unaltered and any sounds above will be compressed. Ratio – Ratio is the degree of compression above your set threshold level. Mild compression would sit at 2:1 so for example, your incoming level rises by 10db the outgoing level you hear will only be 5db. Higher ratios such as 5:1 are used for vocals and other instruments but the higher you go the more noticeable to the listener.
Attack – The time your compressor takes to work once the signal passes the threshold level. Measured in milliseconds.
Release – The length of time it takes for your compressor to return to its normal state after the signal goes below the threshold again.
Gain – Gain serves to make up for level that is lost through compression. The more compression you use, the lower the outgoing signal and gain will help build back up some of that lost volume.
Stereo link switch is also an important control when it comes to compression. If you compress a stereo signal both channel levels will be uneven and constantly change. Without a solution both channels will have different levels of compression and the stereo image will move from one speaker to the other depending on which channel has the most compression.
Stereo link switch will mix the control signal of the gain elements together and each channel is then compressed equally.
Ratio and Threshold controls involve fine tuning and a delicate balance to provide the right amount of compression while Attack and Release must be tweaked to ensure the compressor is not intrusive on your mix. Attack and Release controls are principally there to help you make compression come and go unnoticed. They must be measured against the attack and decay of the signal. Drums will have a fast attack and decay so if your attack and release settings are too slow the compression won’t be quick enough and the signal passes through unchanged.
The best method for attack and release is to match it with the attack and decay of the signal itself.
Balancing volume across all the tracks within a collection is also important to us here at background-music-library.com as we always need to ensure all compilations and music services have consistent volumes across all tracks.
You will find that a bit of time spent EQing your mix will make all the difference to your track sounding intrusive and loud or steady and level. Monitoring your signal levels will allow you to have a piece of music that is appropriate for use in public space because it is well mixed, clear and remains at it’s very core, musical.