Your mix isn’t finished until it’s been officially “sweetened.” What I mean is, you need to think of the mixing process as perfecting an arrangement. You are trying to create a piece of art that literally moves the listener and takes them on a journey. This is accomplished by so much more than good EQ and compression. In fact, it’s the subtle tweaks and nuances that can really go a long way. Let me show you what I mean…
A great mix isn’t simply good EQ and compression decisions, it’s more about great arranging than anything. As a mixer your job is to make the recorded tracks translate into a compelling and engaging piece of music for the average listener from start to finish. If you don’t currently think this way about mixing, then you really need to start.
Making The Chorus Sound Huge
I get questions and emails all the time that go something like this: “How can I get the chorus (or bridge/solo/etc) in my mix to sound huge?! What plugins (or trick/technique) do you use to do that?” Can you see what’s wrong with those questions? They don’t address the real “problem.”
If, like in this scenario, the chorus of your song is sounding huge, it’s not a problem of effects of plugins, rather it’s a problem of arrangement. A good arrangement will produce the desired sound you’re after. A super simple example is the classic Nirvana song, Smells Like Teen Spirit. The verses are mello, grooving, and eeire. When it comes to the chorus though, the song is in full out brawl of rock. We all love it.
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So much of a great recording boils down to where you choose to place the mics. Microphones don’t have brains so you need to point them and place them in the best position to “hear” what you need them to “hear.” But just as important as what good sounds are coming into the microphone is avoiding bad sounds from getting into your microphone as well. Let’s discuss.
Use The Back Of Your Microphone
In most recording situations, you’ll tend to use microphones with a cardioid polar pattern. This means the microphone primarily records what is hitting the front of it while simultaneously rejecting most of the sound that hits the back of it. Pretty straightforward.
But if you think about that for a second, that the mic will reject most of what hits its back, you can see the potential you have for making better recordings. Not only should you point that mic at what you WANT the mic to hear (your voice, acoustic guitar, snare drum, etc) you should point the back of the mic at whatever you DON’T want the mic to hear. Examples of unwanted noise could be a computer fan, outside window, air vent, or other musicians/instruments recording at the same time.
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No matter which version of Pro Tools you’re running these days, you want to mix faster. If you can mix faster, that leaves more time in the studio for getting creative, or for doing other things like spending time with your family or going for long walks on the beach. One way to speed up your mixes is to duplicate your plugin settings across a collection of songs. How can you do that in Pro Tools? Let’s take a look…
EDIT: This can only fully work in Pro Tools 9 and 10. Sorry if I got your hopes up
Did you know that just because a new version of your DAW comes out, you don’t have to upgrade? What a crazy thought! In fact, you can continue to use your perfectly good version of software to make great music all day long. No upgrade needed.
That being said, a couple of weeks ago, two major DAWs dropped new versions on the world and people are angry as all get out. So please pardon me while I rant for just a minute about the psychology of software upgrades.
These Companies Need To Make Money
In case you didn’t know, software manufacturers are in the business of making money. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Companies like Avid, Apple, Steinberg, PreSonus, Propellerhead, Cockos, all make great tools for musicians and engineers and they charge money for said tools. Makes sense so far.
That being said, if they never make a newer and better version of their DAW, then their only way to make money to sustain the business is to sell to new customers who currently don’t have their product. But wouldn’t it be easier to simply improve their existing product, fix things, add user requested features and then turn around to sell the software again to CURRENT customers as an upgrade? So that is why these companies drop new versions of their DAW every few years. No big deal.
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Today I want to ask a ridiculous question: is mixing even necessary? I was reading through the most recent issue of Sound On Sound magazine when I came across an interesting interview with the guys from the rock band, Incubus. Their latest record, If Not Now, When? was produced by one of my favorite producers Brendan O’Brien, but interestingly enough it does not have a mixing credit. It says who engineered and produced the album, but no mixing credit is given.
Mix From The Moment You Are Recording
The recording engineer for If Not Now, When? Tom Syrowski clues us in when he tells SOS, “During all the recording sessions we tried to get things to sound the way we wanted right from the beginning, at source.” Wow, what a concept! The band and the engineers/producers actually spent most of their time trying to capture the exact tone, energy, balance, and performance that they wanted in the final mix.
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No matter which version of Pro Tools you currently use, you need to know your edit modes. Each one has a unique function and place in your music making world. Whether you want to slice and dice to the grid, keep things loose, or even re-arrange your song with a single snap, edit modes are where it’s at. This video breaks it down nice and easy for you.
In its most basic form, a recording studio need consist of only a microphone, cable, audio interface, computer, software, and headphones. In fact I’ve recommended a couple of singer/songwriter studio rigs for only $300 that allow you to get professional tracks in a bedroom studio. But as you save up a few extra dollars and are wondering what (if anything) would be a useful upgrade to your studio, let me suggest a few not-so-glamorous studio essentials that will only cost you around $100 USD.
Furman M-8 Power Conditioner – $65
One of the least exciting things you can spend your hard earned money on is what seems like a glorified power strip. I mean, who cares what you plug your gear into, right? If you’re just getting started, then it doesn’t really matter of course. In one sense, power is power. But when you’re ready to upgrade your studio just slightly so you’re getting the best out of your gear, one of the first things you should grab is a simple power conditioner.
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The best mix engineers are the ones who’ve made the most mistakes. There’s nothing shameful about making mistakes really, it’s all part of the process. My goal for you, however, is to help speed up the learning curve a bit by pointing out what I think are six of the most common mistakes in mixing happening all the time. If you can eliminate these mistakes, you’ll be well on your way to making better mixes. Be sure to check out part 1 and part 2 of this post series for the first four mistakes, then come here and read the final two!
Mistake #5 – Not Taking Breaks
The more you mix the more you come to realize that you simply can’t trust your ears at all times. The “golden rule” of audio, that if it sounds good it is good, only applies if your ears aren’t shot. Unfortunately our ears aren’t consistent like speakers or microphones, they hear things differently depending on the time of day, how tired they are, and even the moisture in the air. Our ears are literally made of drums, that change constantly. The only way to gain perspective on your mix is to take frequent breaks.
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The more mistakes you stop making, the better your mixes will be. Plain and simple. And we all make mistakes, it’s how you learn. In this series of posts I want to help you eliminate six of the most common mistakes I see young engineers making (and that I’ve made myself) in order for your mixes to improve. If you missed part 1, go check out the first two mistakes and then come back here.
Mistake #3 – Boosting With EQ
By way of preface, let me just say that there is nothing inherently “wrong” with boosting frequencies with an EQ. The point I’m trying to make rather, is that it is way smarter to train yourself to cut instead of boost. The reason is simple, when you boost an EQ frequency in order to shape a sound, you are only adding noise to the track and to your mix. If you could achieve the same sonic result by cutting other frequencies, then you would have less noise, more headroom, and more clarity in your mixes.
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