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An Investigation Into Immersive Contemporary Popular Music Mixing Practice

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Dolby Atmos has become established as the premier format for the distribution of immersive audio since the launch becoming commercially available in June 2021. The music industry has embraced this format, with over 80% of listeners engaging with spatial audio content through a specific provider according to data released in January 2023. With this rapid development of content, we have also seen significant development in mix practice, with engineers having to develop systems and workflows for the creation of this immersive content. To better understand and document this developing practice, the authors of this paper have undertaken analysis of the 7.1.4 channel-based render of 100 commercially released Atmos mixes hosted in a Hits in Spatial Audio playlist. 2 sets of data capture and analysis have taken place. The first set of analysis has been undertaken by the authors who have listened to these 100 tracks, analysing by speaker pairs which elements are present in the mixes and confirming through a rigorous verification process. This has led to data demonstrating the positioning of elements in speakers across the collection of 100 tracks and has provided significant insight into the way in which engineers are approaching the immersive system at this point in the development of immersive music mixing practice. Subjective data has also been captured relating to musical use of the speakers and in capturing general impressions of the mix approach taken by the engineer in response to the music. The second set of analysis has taken place in MATLAB, where specific features of the 7.1.4 files have been analysed. The data generated in MATLAB includes speaker loudness, correlation between speakers, percentage of time the speaker is in use and spectral brightness. The data will be presented both as averages across the 100-track sample, and also highlighting individual tracks and tracks that conform to specific trends. Through the combination of subjective and objective analysis the authors have been able to create a detailed analysis of current mix practice, identifying established practices and demonstrating how the immersive system is being used in practice by engineers. This paper will present the data captured in this study and will discuss findings that explore both general practice across the 100 mixes and explore specific tracks in more detail to provide context as to the musical approaches embraced, linking measured practice with musical mixing and psychoacoustics. This paper is intended to be the first step in a longitudinal study that continues to measure the development of immersive popular music mixing and to inform ongoing practice through rigorous analysis of this developing format. This paper will focus on the practice discovered through the study, identifying key practices, and identifying current trends in mix approach.

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