What To Do and What Not To Do in a Surround Sound Mix.

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ar surround

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Don't put lead vocals, bass and drums front centre. Soundalike rule book mixes get seriously boring.
Regarding drums, I enjoy when they bounce around the fronts as on Chicago Transit Authority. Vocals with two or more vocalists should be spread across the front sound stage. Or better yet, across the entire sound field like with the Santana quad of Evil Ways. Mixes with all the vocals and drums completely front center sound 'crosseyed.' Just my opinion on what wets my whistle.
 

Q-Eight

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Three things I avoid when mixing in 4-channel:

- Criss-Cross mixing. ie: Drum kit in Front Left and Back Right. NO. That's not how a drum kit is set up.
- Lead Vocal in all 4 channels. While it can sound good; I prefer to maintain focus with the front channels.
- Channels with Extended silence or Quad Black Holes. Unless you're building tension before a crescendo, you've got 4 channels - USE them.

My own personal S.O.P. is drums in the front 30° narrow spread unless tracks available can dictate a more engaging layout. Bass front center (obvs). Other percussive instruments in the back corners (conga, shaker, tambs, etc.) Depending on tracks available, rhythm instruments in rears, leads or more exciting instruments in the front. Four or more instruments is always a dream come true. Backing vocals generally in the rear. I do enjoy putting drum kit echo and vocal echo in the rears, too in an attempt to fatten up the mix.

Playing with drums, in my attempt to make Elvis' "Burning Love" sound more like a vintage Quad Elvis mix.... with only 3 tracks available I put the kicker back center, the snare FL and the hi-hat/overheads FR. My thought process was to emulate the mix of Madison Square Garden or even the Waylon Jennings Q8 which both feature the kick drum in back center.
 

jimfisheye

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The stereo mix pasted into the front channels with awkward reverb generated from that and put into the rears...
Please don't call this a surround mix! It's a stereo mix in a surround container format with a questionable mastering move with that awkward reverb. Please be bluntly honest about this kind of release! Multitracks are lost sometimes. Just be honest please and thank you!

Don't isolate front solo elements in the center channel without proper reflection support! You might be able to get away with that in stereo with the phantom image swimming around in the mix but all is revealed in surround.

Those are the big disappointments for me when they come up. Stereo masquerading as surround and the dry and crammed into a single speaker aesthetic that can happen with isolated vox in the front center or something like mono drum mix isolated in a rear speaker. When it's smaller and less immersive sounding than the stereo mix, you know something is wrong!

Of course there are examples of experimental mixes with dry isolated elements that are on point. So that starts to get subjective! The first two mentioned are my main offenders across the board.

Another question might be "What not to do TO a surround mix."
- shrill volume war mastering
- shrill volume war mastering but only to the front channels by mistake
- creating a fake center channel by downmixing from front L/R
 

MidiMagic

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These are what I want to hear in mixes.

If stereo playback is to be done from the recording, then the mix must make a good stereo mix as well as a good surround mix.

This is especially true if the recording is QS or SQ.

The kick drum and the bass must be in the left and right speakers in stereo and in front speakers in quad so the the speakers aid each other to make a larger effective radiator between them, aiding the bass reproduction.

If a phonograph record is to be made from the mix, deep bass MUST be placed at the front. The groove swing can be much larger in the lateral direction than in other orientations. The lateral direction is center in stereo and center-front in most matrix systems. Deep bass needs a larger swing of the groove modulation than any other sound.

In most matrix systems, avoid putting a primary source at center back.

I would divide the task into several different kinds of mixes:

1. Classical music:
- Recreate the event as heard from the audience.
- Pan parts where an audience member would hear them.
- Put ambient sound in the back speakers. This works better with QS than it does with SQ.

2. Popular and rock concert:
- Either:
- - Recreate the event as heard from the audience.
- - Pan parts where an audience member would hear them.
or:
- - Spread the parts in a sesquisemicircle (3/4 circle) from left back to right back..
- - Put the lead parts near center front, and the accompaniment parts wide.
- add ambience and reverb near center back.

3. Music intended to come from all directions:
- Put parts where wanted.
- Avoid center back if a matrix system is to be used.

4. Sounds of nature and things found in the environment (e.g. trains):
- Use a surround field or spherical surround field mic.
 

fetchmybeer

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I'm considering mixing my own stuff in surround at some point, but right now it's just such a hassle for basic setup and routing in Reaper and not something I want to think too hard about. From my limited experience in mixing (which has improved leaps and bounds but is still fairly mediocre at best), it is often difficult to find space for the different tracks in a stereo mix. The denser the mix, the more of a chore it is. If you have a basic mix with minimal layering, it is much easier.

I would think that one of the benefits of a surround mix is that you don't have to worry about frequency conflict as much with tracks getting three additional speakers. Maybe you still do because they all are playing at the same time, but I'd think it would be less of an issue. Of course, if you're doing a stereo mix simultaneously, you're probably going to keep all the EQ settings anyway so this is probably a pointless ramble on my part. Nevermind. LOL. It's the end of the weekend and my brain is not capable of working this early.
 

jimfisheye

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My experience with Reaper is the polar opposite. The routing is fully unrestricted. You can make multichannel tracks up to 64 track channels and bus surround subgroups around as you please. It was a stunning upgrade over Protools HD for me over 10 years ago now. (And I was a happy PT HD user for 12 years before that. TDM initially and then HD when they changed that.)

Of course many of your subgroups in a surround mix are still mono or stereo. But those cases of 4.0 or 5.0 groups, etc are elegant in Reaper. You can have 6 or 8 track channel busing for a 5.1 or 7.1 bus and still have track channels left for side-chaining routing.

I will admit that I prefer the lowly JS surround panner over the ReaSurround panner. (When you need a joystick.)
 

fredblue

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Regarding drums, I enjoy when they bounce around the fronts as on Chicago Transit Authority. Vocals with two or more vocalists should be spread across the front sound stage. Or better yet, across the entire sound field like with the Santana quad of Evil Ways. Mixes with all the vocals and drums completely front center sound 'crosseyed.' Just my opinion on what wets my whistle.
so many mixes have drums and lead vocals in the front centre that we're now all more cross-eyed than cross-eyed Mary doing the crossword with her legs crossed listening to Crosstown Traffic eating a hot crossed bun in Kings Cross Station while she's very cross indeed! 👀📝🦵🥨🚂🤯🤣 🤠👌🍻😋
 

fredblue

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Three things I avoid when mixing in 4-channel:

- Criss-Cross mixing. ie: Drum kit in Front Left and Back Right. NO. That's not how a drum kit is set up.
- Lead Vocal in all 4 channels. While it can sound good; I prefer to maintain focus with the front channels.
- Channels with Extended silence or Quad Black Holes. Unless you're building tension before a crescendo, you've got 4 channels - USE them.

My own personal S.O.P. is drums in the front 30° narrow spread unless tracks available can dictate a more engaging layout. Bass front center (obvs). Other percussive instruments in the back corners (conga, shaker, tambs, etc.) Depending on tracks available, rhythm instruments in rears, leads or more exciting instruments in the front. Four or more instruments is always a dream come true. Backing vocals generally in the rear. I do enjoy putting drum kit echo and vocal echo in the rears, too in an attempt to fatten up the mix.

Playing with drums, in my attempt to make Elvis' "Burning Love" sound more like a vintage Quad Elvis mix.... with only 3 tracks available I put the kicker back center, the snare FL and the hi-hat/overheads FR. My thought process was to emulate the mix of Madison Square Garden or even the Waylon Jennings Q8 which both feature the kick drum in back center.
one good thing with vocals all-round mixes is if your speakers are out of whack its soon shown up when it sounds like Burton Cummings is singing over your shoulder!!

"take it off of my shoulder..." 🥁🤣
 

furui_suterioo

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The only thing I really don't like is when the rears are near double stereo, even a completely static arrangement is better than double stereo as long as there are is good seperation. Personally I like the mix to be really crazy with vocals and reverb effects(not just plain reverb..like reverse echo etc) being panned all over the place or leslie effect, basically peaking on acid like this guy :)
20210819_181124.jpg
 

Old Quad Guy

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one good thing with vocals all-round mixes is if your speakers are out of whack its soon shown up when it sounds like Burton Cummings is singing over your shoulder!!

"take it off of my shoulder..." 🥁🤣
When they put the lead vocal in all the speakers in the 70s, I’ve always wondered if they were trying to recreate some sort of AM radio mono effect to recreate the original stereo/mono mix. Or maybe by putting a sound in all channels might anchor the mix in some manner? Maybe they were trying to figure out what was even a proper surround mix for “Pop” back then.

But I agree, the lead vocal can sound strange in all the speakers. Although one can do this, if the music itself sort of makes it the right thing to do. But not throughout the entire album. I suppose it also depends how the lead vocal effect goes in all the channels as well.
 

fetchmybeer

Active Member
Joined
Aug 10, 2021
Messages
96
Location
DFW
My experience with Reaper is the polar opposite. The routing is fully unrestricted. You can make multichannel tracks up to 64 track channels and bus surround subgroups around as you please. It was a stunning upgrade over Protools HD for me over 10 years ago now. (And I was a happy PT HD user for 12 years before that. TDM initially and then HD when they changed that.)

Of course many of your subgroups in a surround mix are still mono or stereo. But those cases of 4.0 or 5.0 groups, etc are elegant in Reaper. You can have 6 or 8 track channel busing for a 5.1 or 7.1 bus and still have track channels left for side-chaining routing.

I will admit that I prefer the lowly JS surround panner over the ReaSurround panner. (When you need a joystick.)
Yeah, but since all my mixing has been in stereo and it defaults to that, my routing experience is minimal. Have watched a lot of videos and understand them well enough, but I just end up thinking it's going to be time consuming to do all that, at least until I learn it well enough. I just wish Reaper had it set up already to save my lazy self the time.
 

MidiMagic

1K Club - QQ Shooting Star
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Messages
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I'm considering mixing my own stuff in surround at some point, but right now it's just such a hassle for basic setup and routing in Reaper and not something I want to think too hard about. From my limited experience in mixing (which has improved leaps and bounds but is still fairly mediocre at best), it is often difficult to find space for the different tracks in a stereo mix. The denser the mix, the more of a chore it is. If you have a basic mix with minimal layering, it is much easier.

I would think that one of the benefits of a surround mix is that you don't have to worry about frequency conflict as much with tracks getting three additional speakers. Maybe you still do because they all are playing at the same time, but I'd think it would be less of an issue. Of course, if you're doing a stereo mix simultaneously, you're probably going to keep all the EQ settings anyway so this is probably a pointless ramble on my part. Nevermind. LOL. It's the end of the weekend and my brain is not capable of working this early.
I have been doing this for at least 25 years. I make a combined stereo/QS mix in analog on a 4-bus mixer.

I put an encoding module I made in the sub 3 and 4 inserts. This puts buses 3 and 4 out of phase with each other.

Parts to be encoded to the front are mixed on buses 1 and 2. Parts to be encoded to the back are mixed on buses 3 and 4.

Panning controls left-to-right position. Bus pair selection controls front to back position.
 

jimfisheye

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Yeah, but since all my mixing has been in stereo and it defaults to that, my routing experience is minimal. Have watched a lot of videos and understand them well enough, but I just end up thinking it's going to be time consuming to do all that, at least until I learn it well enough. I just wish Reaper had it set up already to save my lazy self the time.
Set the track channels to 6 on a track.
Next track you need with that... duplicate that former track instead of making a new one.
Make a send to a surround bus and set up the routing.
Click-drag copy it to the next track that needs it.

Go with the wind like that.

I don't really make templates. I just open older sessions in a new tab and cut paste from them when it comes up. I do have a starting point template I suppose. Front bus, rear bus, center bus, Lfe bus, 5.0 bus. All of those landing on a 5.1 mix bus track.

There are still stereo and mono mix elements and sometimes they simply go to the front or rear or... No need to make the entire board 5.1 paths. I also always make both stereo and 5.1 mix on the same board. Routing diverges towards the end of things. There's always one epic PITA routing clusterfuck for one mix element but it's worth it and quicker in the long run. All the editing and primary sound dialing that are to be the same are only done once. No chasing two mixes back and forth. I can't put up with that!

Well hell, wrong format! I wouldn't have done well on Jeopardy. This was supposed to be what not to do.
 
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