Pro Tools 11 is a huge update, not because of crazy new features, but rather a major under the hood rewrite. For the first time in maybe 20 years, Avid has built Pro Tools from the ground up with fresh code running as a 64 bit application. The result? A much slimmer, sleeker, and more powerful version of Pro Tools that will give you way more power on your current audio Mac or PC. It’s almost like getting a new computer.
Today’s reader spotlight is a huge encouragement to me and I hope to you as well. TRR reader Dan Dybing helped write, record, perform, and mix a song for Breaking Free, an organization that helps victims of human sex trafficking. The song (and accompanying video) is powerful and serves as a great example of how anyone today can help affect change for good in this world with a professional sounding song, all made with stock audio interface preamps and an in-the-box mix.
Do you ever find yourself struggling to get a huge sounding recording or mix? You want the drums to be massive, but they sound small. You want the guitars to be wide and in your face, but they sound choked. You want lush and powerful vocals, but they get swallowed up. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Here’s an important truth about audio that if you grasp, you will have a breakthrough moment: the more tracks you add, the smaller your sounds become.
Not Everything Can Be Big
Our natural instinct is to believe that more is more. You want a bigger drum sound? Add more tracks and crank them up! But then your guitars sound small. What do you do? Double and triple those bad boys and crank them up as well. But now your vocals are getting buried. The solution? Compress the snot out of them and crank up the gain! Ah yeah baby!
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Do you know what sample rate and bit depth you should be recording at? Does it really matter? What do each of those settings mean and what affect do they have on your audio when recording and mixing? Today’s video will help clear things up for you…
Let’s take a hypothetical journey today: let’s try to mix a song in our DAW without using any plugins or effects whatsoever. Our goal will be the “no plugin mix”, one that sounds full, clear, and punchy to the listener, but without inserting a single software or hardware compressor, EQ, or reverb.
How would your workflow change if you couldn’t use any plugins? What COULD you do to get a great mix. As you’ll see there are a handful of things you could do.
Set Perfect Fader Levels
The obvious place to start is with volume faders. The simple beauty of multitrack recording is the power to turn the volume up or down of each individual element in a song, not just the entire song itself. A great mix begins with a great static mix and that should be your first goal. Find the perfect fader position for each track in the session.
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I think many home studio owners get caught up in the fact that they have to record and mix in a non ideal space. They believe that it is a huge limitation, whether they admit it or not. I can understand the thinking. When compared to a million dollar commercial facility your spare bedroom isn’t designed for the same purpose.
But take it from someone who has recorded in a wide range of random places both in and out of studios, you’re not as limited as you think.
The Awkward Capitol Studios
One of my TRR readers recently reminded me of a great article in Sound On Sound magazine last December featuring the behind the scenes look at the tracking of Frank Sinatra’s ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ with engineer John Palladino. One section in the middle of the article is particularly relevant to many of us. Listen to the words Palladino uses and see if it doesn’t sound like what we deal with on a daily basis.
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Today’s video will help you immensely if you watch it with an open mind. I want to share two critical principles that you need in order to thrive in your home or project studio. They have served me well, along with every other great engineer I know. And even better, they will help you in just about every other area of your life outside of recording.
When it comes to mixing acoustic guitar, there is no “right” way to get the “right” sound. However, there are some big picture things to keep in mind that can really help you place this critical instrument in your mix.
Here are some of my favorite tips that I use on just about every mix. Treat them as starting points for your own music and see if they get you a bit closer to what you hear in your head.
Know The Acoustic’s Role
The very first thing you want to do when you begin to treat acoustic guitars in the mix is determine what their role is for song in question. Are the acoustic guitars a rhythmic suppliment to the rest of the band? If so then you likely need them to cut through and be “strummy” but not too full in the low mid range. If on the other hand the song is held together by a nice finger picking acoustic guitar then you likely will implement different EQ moves to keep it sounding full.
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If you will permit me, I’d like to get on a soapbox for a moment and say something very important. To all of you home and project studio owners out there using cracked plugins (aka stolen plugins), grow up and stop destroying your own industry!
This post might sound harsh, but it’s time to put on your big boy or big girl pants and start paying for what you use people.
Downloading Cracked Plugins Is Theft
To this day I have never downloaded or used a cracked or stolen plugin. Why? Because I have integrity. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not boasting about myself as if I’m some great person. I make many selfish mistakes, just ask my wife. But to me, stealing is wrong, whether it’s a car, someone’s wallet, or a plugin. Just because you can download something in the secret doesn’t diminish the crime.
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Confession: I hate using reverb. It’s honestly not one of my strong suits. What I like instead, however are delays. In fact I actually enjoy using delays in a way that mimics the effect of a good reverb. Check out today’s video to see what I’m talking about.