Some thought and highlights from the 2019 NAMM convention in Anaheim, CA.
EQ settings for vocals sometimes feels like you’re trying to find buried treasure. An endless task of moving knobs and listening to the changes just seems overwhelming. Then comes the conversation about filters on vocals that almost always arises in every session.
I’ve added a new flagship interface to the studio to add more clarity and depth to our production. I met Frank Oglethorpe at an event in San Francisco and got to hear the Atlas & Titan in action. The audio detail was giving me chills and put me in a space where the music was visual.
The Titan was in a small studio room that had treatment on the walls. It was an ideal situation to test out the ability of the DA and hear some recent mixes I’d just finished vs. mixes at the hosting studio. There was a difference in the low end where the frequencies had more depth without the mud. I immediately knew I had to demo a unit at my studio to hear if the mixes benefited from the converters in the Titan.
I connected with Jeff Briss from Cutting Edge Audio and got the approval from Frank to demo a Titan. When it arrived, I wasted no time connecting it to the HDX system. The first mix I played came to life and filled the room with rich detail and precision clarity. My eyes got large and my ears were saturated with excitement. This was such an amazing experience that I knew a Titan was the missing piece for the studio.
I’ve had the Titan now for a few months and the response is exactly what I want to hear from my clients. Everyone loves the full sound and clarity that the audio has on every system they playback their music. This was a serious investment and it has already paid dividends that make it worth every penny.
I highly recommend Prism Sound and their audio interfaces. Send me a message and I’ll hook you up with info on how you can connect with the right people to demo a unit for yourself.
Producing is the construction of music. You have to make choices about the project as a whole and this will include things like EQ, panning, compression, lengths of the delay, when to delay, when to chop up the vocals, when to add guitar solos, how the song begins and ends, and everything else that happens in between. This is not an easy task, but it does have huge rewards that are long-lasting if you do it right.
There are way too many plugins out there and you may feel confused on which ones to buy and incorporate into your workflow. Here is an open discussion for you to ask questions and get insight for all those plugins. I'll regularly post any new releases or deals that I come across for those plugins that you should consider adding to your system.
This is probably the #1 question that I get asked by many of the students. This is one question that has many different answers, but one underlying theme. You have to listen to the music and find the right balance for the reverb within the mix. There are a lot of factors that go into the decision of choosing the texture and depth of the reverb so that it is audible and felt, but not distracting. If the reverb is meant to be huge, use your judgement to make sure the space is the right fit for the mood of the music. Let me go over a few examples of what reverbs should do to add to the mix and not destroy them.
The first thing you need to ask yourself is does the track need reverb. Not all songs need to have reverb! This is something that gets overlooked by amateur engineers and producers. Just because it is there does not mean you need to use it. The simple test, if the mix sounds really good without reverb, then it does not need any reverb.
If you decide that the track could use some texture, depth, width, or space, then try a few different reverbs as a starting point. I usually set up about 4 - 5 different reverbs to give options, but it is not uncommon for me to use a blend of all the different reverbs. Sometimes all you need is one reverb to achieve the sound that is needed for the mix. When one is not enough, then it is time to start experimenting with the audible pleasures of multiple reverbs. Start with two and bring the levels down so the effect of the reverb is not audible. As the mix plays back, slowly bring in the first reverb until it is just barely noticeable. Then bring in the second reverb until they two compliment each other. You may need to adjust the size or predelay to get that silky smooth sound, but make small adjustments as you go along. Just go with your gut and let your ears tell you when the level of reverb is right.
The main thing to keep in mind is that the reverb is not the main focus of the song, so it should be in the background and enhance the song. Keep a modest amount of reverb in your mixes and your songs will start to get more attention. Music is organic and has life of its own. Be sure to let the music breathe and compliment it with the space of your reverbs. When in doubt, less reverb is what will work.
To delay or not to delay, why is this a question? Delay is what makes the music come alive! Delay can be very tasteful and should be used to some degree on every mix. It can be subtle and very light, but it will give your mix that edge that kicks it up a notch.
Delay comes in many forms and with even more parameters. Some delays have built in filters, while others have feedback control. No matter what delay you choose to use, experiment with the controls and get a feel for how the delay responds to the audio. Once you know how the delay impacts the audio, use it to blend the sound into the mix. You can also get creative with your delay tone by adding a distortion or a flanger effect. Make the delays stand apart from the original track and they will have more impact on the mix.
If the delay has a sync feature, that can be useful if your music has a tempo map and sticks to the BPM grid. Quarter notes usually have the right amount of space and make a big impact on the empty pockets of the mix. If your mix is not on a tempo map or you're looking for a more organic sound, then turn off the sync feature and set the delay by hand. This technique is a great way to get a vintage sound for your mix. Some of the greatest mixes of the 70's have delays that were set by hand. Don't be afraid to try something new and set your own echo or delay.
Multiple mixes of a song is a technique that I've developed over the many years of my career. Music tends to unfold differently every time you approach a mix. If you're using a program that allows you to save or save as multiple times, such as ProTools or logic, it's not a bad idea to try a new mix even if you think you nailed it the first time.
Here's how I like to set up my sessions. After I record, I like to save the session as just a raw track that hasn't been mixed. Then 'save as' the name of the track_mix1. This way I have a template to go back to when I want to create a new mix. You can repeat this process as many times as you like. I usually tend to think at least three mixes is a good reference point to determine whether or not you like a mix. Sometimes it's a good idea to try up to 10 mixes.
Try this, set up a timer and give yourself a time limit for the mix. Anywhere between 10 to 15 minutes should be enough time to get a good rough mix. When the timer goes off, save your mix session, close it, & open a new session.
After you feel that you've made enough versions of the mix, go back and review each of the mixes. You can bounce each of the mixes down as an MP3 file and put them on your phone or MP3 player. Then go for a run, take a drive, or head over to a friend's house and listen to your mixes outside of the studio. This will give you a reference point as to which mix is probably the best and/or if a few mixes should be worked on and handed to a client for review.
Try this technique on your next mix and see what happens. You may be surprised that the third or fourth mix is actually the one that you wind up keeping.
If I had a nickel for every time I had to turn down levels on the tracks I receive when I'm doing a mixing session, I'd be a millionaire. If you want to hear what your mix sounds like at a louder volume, try turning up the volume on your monitors first. Don't push the faders all the way up or use a compressor/limiter, you're only doing damage to your mix.
Set up a reference track! Just import your favorite song into your DAW session and listen to it through the monitors. You have an idea what that song sounds like so you can use it as a reference point to calibrate your system and get a good point of reference for your mix. Mixing without a reference track is like driving a car blindfolded. Not a good idea.
Most DAWs come with a metering plug-in or a metering software program. Use it! It's there for a reason. Metering helps you get a good idea of how loud your mix actually sounds. If your DAW doesn't show RMS levels, there are a bunch of programs out there that are free and will give you a good reference point for your RMS levels. Try and give each of your mixes at least 10dB of dynamic range. If possible, give your mix anywhere between 15dB to 20dB of dynamic range. You'll notice a huge difference in the audio quality of your mix if the dynamic range has lots of room to breathe.
Louder is not better if your mix has a bunch of digital distortion. If no one will listen to you music, it's probably not the content, but rather the lack of quality mixing that was put into the music. Take the time to give your music a real good listen. Critical monitoring is so important to making sure that you get a good mix. Don't over compress and don't smash your limiter or compressor so that your meters are all the way maxed out at 0 dBFS.
Bass is the big monster in your mix that fills up a whole lot of your dBFS meter on the master buss. Bass can be a troublesome foe in your mixing quest, but do not fret! Bass has one big weakness, High-Pass Filters.
High-Pass filters are mysterious to some mixing engineers, but not to us. High Pass filters can do wonders for a dense mix that has lots of different tracks. When your mix is too boomy or muddy, first try using some high pass filters on the tracks that don't necessarily need to have low bass frequencies. Rolling off the low end on vocal tracks will really help separate the vocals from the rest of the mix. This may also immediately shape up the low end of the entire mix. Go through each track and use your ears to attenuate the HP filter on each track for a more controlled bottom end to your mix. You may not even have to touch the bass track or the kick track.
Alternately, you should use Low Pass Filters on tracks that reside in the low end of the mix. Rolling off the high frequencies on the bass and kick tracks may open up more brilliance and space in your mix. It's not too complicated, but it does take a little bit of practice to get used to using filters to control the low end of a mix. Be sure that you adjust the filters with the tracks playing in the mix. If you solo the track while you adjust the filters, you may not get the tone or control that you need when the tracks are put back into the mix. Soloing has it's place, but when you're trying to get tracks to fit together in a mix, it's best to adjust them while they're in the mix.
Our pursuit of bigger and better drum mixes is never-ending. There has been a lot of experimentation with acoustic sets, electronic sets, triggers, MIDI samplers, and loops. Though an eclectic combination of all the different sounds has been the best result, a pure acoustic set mic'd up is the ultimate goal. Aside from the obvious option of tracking on a Neve or SSL board, our experiments have led us to use different types of mics. Mics designed for tracking guitar amps have been very useful on toms. Using an AKG D112 on the bottom of the snare has given us some nice deep snare tones.