Audio Mixing

How a song is mixed, and the levels at which the different instruments are recorded, edited, etc. produces different effects.

Observe:

Studio version, with rather muddy and otherwise flat mixing. The song is understandable, but so much of the detail is lost. The instruments blend together, the volumes on many things are wrong, and many of the subtleties are lost. Did you hear David Byrne humming near the end? How many different drummers are there? Can you hear Tina Weymouth’s bass clearly throughout?

You probably won’t notice is until you hear a differently mixed version, so now listen to this one:

From the first few seconds, you can hear difference in Abdou M’Boup congas and Tina Weymouth’s bass. They’re clearer. It’s like you’re in an empty room with them. They haven’t been cut down and flattened out. And, mind, you’re probably listening to this through a pair of laptop speakers or cheaper headphones. You don’t need fancy systems or expensive gear to hear the difference.

It’s different from a live recording, though. A bit more polished and pure. Live shows have their own energy and vibe. Like so:

(Sadly, Talking Heads broke up shortly after Naked was released, so there are only recordings of David Bryne playing the song, not the full band)

It’s not as perfect, because you only have one shot to get it right. But that’s alright too. You aren’t going to a live show to see perfection, at least not with this style of music. The performer coming out, holding up a CD player, and hitting “play” would be a statement of its own, but I doubt it would please the audience much. Just as important is seeing the band enjoy itself, or not enjoy itself, depending on the music — some people want KISS or Bowie style spectacle, others want a gas station attendant looking at his shoes the entire time, and a lot of folks want somewhere in between.

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