Mixing | Keyboards & Synthesizers

Mixing | Keyboards & Synthesizers

Keys and Synths are line level instruments that typically come directly into your console without amps being mic'd up. Let's discuss a little bit about running DI lines into your preamps or interfaces. 

Mixing Guitars | Solos

Mixing Guitars | Solos

Guitar solos need to pop and stand out in a mix. They're the pinnacle or crescendo of a song in many cases, so they need to have that grand finnale attitude. Let's dive into a discussion about mixing guitar solos. 

Vocal Mixing | Reverb EQ Secret

Vocal Mixing | Reverb EQ Secret

There are some great secrets that have been used by engineers over the years. Dialing in your reverb with the mix has always been a challenge for many young and aspiring producers. Here are some tips from the engineers at Abbey Road studios on how to get a tighter and balanced reverb level into your mixes. 

Recording Drums | What Preamp to Use

Recording Drums | What Preamp to Use

Tracking drums is an art form that takes time to develop. Choosing the right preamp to pair with your studio setup is never an easy task. There are so many options out there and it can seem a bit overwhelming. This article dives deeper into some of the options available and I give you some personal advice on the preamps that I like to use for drum recordings. 

The effort it takes to run a recording studio

The dream has been achieved! I am living the life I've always wanted and it feels great to work in my own studio everyday. The rewards are tremendous and there is nothing I'd rather be doing with my time. Being so immersed in my work on a constant basis has given me the knowledge and experience that is required to work at a professional level in this industry. I know many of you are looking to attain the same goal, so let me share just a fraction of my awareness with you.

First, running your own business, regardless of what you do, is no easy task. There are quite a few things you need to consider before diving into starting up a recording studio. Consider this, you'll need to cover your overhead and start up costs before you see a dime of profit. The initial investment is what overwhelms most entrepreneurs and that is just the tip of the iceberg. You're going to need a computer that is powerful enough to handle the processing, a DAW software program, an interface, lots of cables, mics, mic stands, headphones, headphone mixers, racks for gear or road cases, power conditioners, external hard drives, and potentially a studio space. This is just the foundation, there are plenty of other bells and whistles that you'll need to pull off a professional studio.

Now that that idea is rattling around in your head, tackle this notion, you will need to budget for electricity, water and sewage, garbage service, insurance, a security system, and rent. So your budget on a monthly basis is around $2,000 just to keep the doors open. That's the cheap end of the spectrum, which will probably not be adequate enough to compete in the market.

Now if you've invested a large chunk of change into an education in audio production, owning your own studio is the ultimate goal. These startup and recurring monthly costs are just scratching the surface of what you need to consider for operating a steady and reliable studio business. I just wanted to get your mind in motion for all that needs to be considered. Check back in soon as my next few posts will dive deeper into the elbow grease that is needed to keep a studio running smoothly and having the stamina to build a solid reputation to keep the machine well oiled.

5 Steps to Getting Your Music Licensed | Step 2

Now that you have chosen the best song to market, you need to prepare it for presentation. This next step is definitely the most important, it's time to record your music. The "sound" of your music will be the foundation of your marketing campaign. So this is where you need to slow down and evaluate the best option for moving forward. You need to invest and believe in your music, so you need a quality recording with a producer that shares your vision. Cutting corners on recording your music will hinder the success of your efforts and only wind up costing you more money in the long run.

The main focus is to get a high quality recording to exemplify the ingenuity of your musical abilities. To achieve this, you need to make sure that you're recording is done right the first time. Saving a few bucks on a unprofessional recording will only add to the cost that you'll wind up investing when you go to a professional studio and get a higher quality recording. If you want to be the best at what you do, then you need to work with professionals who can give you top quality production. Project / budget studios are great for demos and hashing out ideas, but when it comes to making the final recording, you need to invest in quality. You will only get one chance to make an impression, so there is no time to waste on mediocre sound.

When you spend all your time trying to get licensed, the music has to be spectacular. If the recording is sub-par, it will reflect poorly on the content of your music. A good engineer / producer will have the skills and knowledge to ensure your music pops! Choose a studio with a proven track record and an engineer that has serious interest in your music. A good engineer will encourage you and support you along the way. Getting guidance from someone who has experience in the industry is a wise choice. This will help you avoid common pit-falls an maximize the efficiency of your production time.

Stay tuned for step 3. We'll cover the advantages of preparation and time management.

Building a home studio | Part 1

Starting a home studio can be confusing at times. There's so much information on the web that you don't know where to start. Here are a few helpful tips on how to get your studio going.

Start with a budget. Stick to the budget. You're not going to build a world-class studio overnight. It takes time to develop a feel for how a studio operates. Buy affordable gear at first to determine if you have the talent and stamina to run a studio. Running a studio is a full-time job and will consume all of your free time. So it's best not to invest all your money into the studio up front.

Get a decent interface. One that has a few mic preamps and some routing options. As you grow, you can upgrade your interface. There are so many options, but you can find used Digidesign 192 HD interfaces on eBay for about $500. Start with one of these if you can afford the system setup. If you're on a tighter budget, I recommend an interface that has been modified by Black Lion Audio. They offer superior A/D conversion and at a price that won't break the bank.

This will be the core of your studio, so spend a little bit of time researching what will work best for you. A good computer is also vital and there are many PC & Mac options. We'll get into that tomorrow.

Internship Dos and Don'ts

I respond to internship requests on a daily basis. Many of the requests are one-sided and offer no benefit to the studio. Here's the deal, an internship is beneficial to both the studio and the intern. If you want to intern at a studio, you have to possess some sort of value to the progress of the studio. The studio is going to give you experience and education so you can be a competent member of the industry. If you have nothing to give back, you'll never get an internship.

Before you go and start pestering studios, you need to do a little prep work. Start with reading a few books on Pro Tools and recording principles. You can read books on many different topics and learn quite a bit about the industry at your own pace. Educating yourself adds so much worth to your assistance in the studio. Once you know the difference between XLR & AES cables, you will move quickly through patching and studio setup.

Buy some gear and do some home recordings. Get a little bit of experience with using a DAW and play around with the settings. If you want to learn Pro Tools, go to www.avid.com and sign up to receive Pro Tools First. It's a free version of Pro Tools that will get you started. Most professional studios use Pro Tools HD, so there will be a slight learning curve, but getting familiar with the fundamentals is important.

Watch a few videos on YouTube and ask some questions in forums. Do not show up to the studio with a bunch of questions. When you're in the studio, just observe! You're there to learn and the engineer is there to work. If clients are on the studio, keep your yapper shut. If someone asks you a question, answer them, but that should be the only time you speak.

If you do have questions during a session, write them down and save them for after the client's session. It all boils down to manners and common courtesy. You need experience and that is what you should absorb. Being in the room while a session is happening is chalk full of experience. Pay attention to how the engineer conducts the session. Keep track of how many takes are recorded and how they're recorded. When the session is over, start to help with the break down. Ask the musicians if they want help loading their gear. Be helpful and it will be rewarded.

The Art of Mixing

I've recently had a few clients come record at the studio with no experience on how to approach mixing. Taking the time to record good tracks is extremely important, but mixing those tracks is also vital to the sound. Mixing is an art form that can take years to develop for an audio engineer. As a musician, you should respect the experience and creativity that your engineer puts into mixing your music. When you find an engineer that likes to think outside of the box, consider your music blessed that it will not have a canned sound and will benefit from the artistic vision of a passionate mind.

Taking the proper amount of time to mix is subjective based on the outcome the artist has in mind and would strive to achieve. A 10 minute mix can yield good results and a 10 hour mix can be remarkable. The time it takes to mix can depend on so many different factors and becomes virtually impossible to determine. Try to take momentary pauses in the mixing process to step back and analyze the current state of the mix. These moments of review give you bearing on where the mix is going and how far it still needs to go. The finish line is vague and it may not be apparent when crossed if you don't take a moment to pause and reflect.

Music is so unique and recording situations change constantly. There is no way to determine how long it will take to mix a song before it is completely recorded. The mics and gear used in recording fluctuate on various levels from session to session. The number of tracks to mix may vary based on what the producer has in mind for the final mix. Recreating the same mix from session to session is possible, but very rarely duplicated. It's the subtle changes that make each mix unique. The initial approach toward the mix is the foundation as to what direction the music will go.

Where do you start? Do you start with the drums and percussion? Do you start with the vocals and build the music around them? There is no right or wrong answer to these questions. The art is the creativity that you bring to the mixing desk. You can do the same approach every time and always get different results. The plugins and out board gear may change from mix to mix or you may use a template. There is no guarantee that the sound you have in mind at the start of mixing will be the sound at the end of mixing. This is a good thing because you will craft a different sound from song to song. If every recording had the same mix, the music of the world would not be as interesting as it is today.

Dedicating a fixed amount of time to a project has some detriment to the project. A mix is finished when it sounds finished. It could happen in 10 minutes or 10 days, but you have to let your ears be the judge of when a mix is complete. An unfinished mix will leave a bad taste in your mouth. Budget for enough time to finish a mix and then be pleasantly surprised when the work gets done early. Expecting quick results almost always leads to disappointment.

Allow the mix to be artful and you will be rewarded with satisfaction. The final mix is your legacy, so don't limit your mark on musical history with an unfinished mix. Legendary recordings were all mixed with passion and time. When you craft the mix just right, it will be played over and over until the end of time.

Choosing the right audio engineer

Not all audio engineers are the same. Some specialize in a particular field of audio production. Others focus their skills on a certain genre of music. Choosing the right engineer is a very important part of your album. The right engineer will produce your music and essentially become a member of the band. Without the right engineer, your recordings will fall on deaf ears.

How do you choose the right engineer?
Start by talking to a few different engineers. You can tell a whole lot about a person just by having a simple conversation. Talk about your music and the vision you have for the finished recordings. Talk about things that interest you and find out if you share any common interests. You don't have to be good friends with the engineer, but you should at least get along. You will be spending many hours in the studio with the engineer and you need to make sure that you will be productive. So before you spend hours on end with an engineer working on your music, make sure you can see eye to eye on the vision of the project.

A good way to gauge an engineer's potential is to listen to some of their past recordings and projects. Any professional engineer will have a few examples of their work out on the internet. If you like what you hear, then you will be happy with what the engineer can do for your music. The engineer doesn't necessarily need to be an expert in the genre of music you prefer. Some of the best albums have come from an engineer that specializes in a completely different genre of music. Sometimes a fresh set of ears on the project is the key to success.

Getting the most out of your studio session

Many bands come to Shine On with no prior studio experience, so here are a few tips for using studio time efficiently.

First and most importantly, be prepared to spend time working on recording & mixing. Spending all your time on recording will leave you with unfinished tracks. A good engineer will record decent raw tracks, but they will still need to be mixed. The amount of time it takes to mix a track can vary, but a good rule to follow is at least 1 hour of mixing for each recorded minute. So a 4 minute song can take 4 hours to mix. If you want to get technical about the mix, plan more time. Better to over-estimate than run out of time with half-mixed tracks.

Second, show up on time. Time is the primary factor for how your session moves along. Showing up late to a session is the same as giving away money. Don't expect an engineer to stay late cause you showed up late. It's called an appointment and that means everyone has agreed to meet at a specific time.

Third, make sure your gear is in good condition to record. Tune, replace strings, bring spare everything, and always plan for the worst-case scenario. It doesn't happen often, but I've had sessions where the tubes in the amp burn out. Think of everything because this rolls back to the time factor. Running to Guitar Center in the middle of your session is waste of time and money. Don't expect the studio to put your session on hold while you run errands.

If you plan ahead and prepare for your session, you'll walk away with great recordings that sound professional.

3 ways to avoid ending your music career

Getting excited about your music is a great feeling. Everyday I work with musicians that are motivated and driven to compose and create new music. I see first hand the creative process that goes into the labor intensive tasks of developing ideas into new songs. Many musicians start sending out info on social media while they are still amidst the recoding session in the studio. Some leak videos and audio recordings of the music before the recording session is complete. Though you may be excited and eager to share your excitement with the world, you have to stay focused and maintain a professional attitude. No one will take you seriously unless you have some element of intrigue.

When you prematurely release media and info your image and reputation becomes amateur. My years working with CMJ, Live 105, and Shine On Studio have given me ample opportunity to work with some of the most accomplished and successful musicians in the music industry. Let me share a few ways you can avoid ending your music career.

1. The element of intrigue
It is a good idea to engage your fans and followers on social media, but don't over-saturate your feed with mundane info. If you tell everyone everything you do, then there is no mystery about you. When this happens, people loose interest in what you're doing. Then when you finally have something special to share, it gets over-looked and has no impact on the world. Cut back on talking about yourself and sharing every moment of your life. If you must engage the social media, talk and comment about what other people are doing.

2. Rough drafts are not public
When you leave the studio with rough draft mixes, take them home and review them. That is the purpose of a rough draft! These mixes should not be posted on your website or social media. When you release unfinished work, your reputation and image are permanently scarred. Listeners don't care that you label the track "rough mix" or that you will be making changes to the mix later. They just absorb what they hear and immediately decide if they will follow or forget you...forever. You should always strive to put your best work forward and impress the world with your musical talent. First impressions are vital to success in the overcrowded modern music industry. Wait for the final mix to be finished and then release all of the tracks at one time for the best impression you can make on the music community.

3. Keep you personal & professional lives separate
As an entertainer, you must constantly entertain. Sharing your personal life with the public does not bode well for your professional career. The moment that the public does not view you as a unique individual in the entertainment industry is the moment when you lose all credibility. You must stay focused and keep all your public interactions on a high level of professionalism. Separate your social media and keep your personal life private for your friends and family. The public likes entertaining distractions, so be their entertainment with your music.

These few guidelines can lead to the foundation of a successful or unsuccessful music career. It takes a great deal of effort to maintain a professional music career. Think about what you do before you actually do it. Ask your friends and family for feedback before you present yourself to the world. Hire a producer that you respect or that has a good reputation. Hire a manager or a publicist to maintain your public image. These are things that professional musicians do and they are successful. You get out of it what you put into it, so be aware of what you're putting in.

Mixing Vocals | Adding Distortion & Lo-Fi

Vocal distortion can be the glue that pulls your vocal tracks together. Just a simple side-chain with the vocals being processed through a distortion plugin or amp head can pull the vocals coward in the mix and at the same time find the right pocket for the vocals in the mix. You may be saying to yourself, "I don't want my vocals all fuzzy and gritty." Not to worry, by side-chaining the effect, you can blend in the dry and wet vocal signals to a level that works best for your mix. The distortion will add just enough color to the vocals so they feel like part of the music and not just ambiguously floating above the music. Slap some EQ on the distortion track to get a brighter or darker tone to your distortion coloring. Just don't go overboard with the vocal effects, unless that is the goal for the track. Happy mixing!

Mixing without plugins

How many of your mixes have plugins strewn across each and every channel? I'm going to guess almost all of them or at least a good portion of them. Are you relying on the plugins to make your recordings sound better? Have you ever tried to mix with just panning and volume adjustments?

Today's modern engineer has become too dependent on digital enhancements of recordings. Things like proper mic placement and quality mic preamps have been replaced with software that constantly needs to be upgraded. Thus, music is loosing the ambiance and mood of the performance that was captured in the studio. Lush layering techniques are being replaced with copy & paste keyboard commands.

I pose this challenge to all engineers that are mixing with a DAW; make a rough mix of your recordings with no plugins just so you can hear the naked truth about your mics, mic placement, and room reflections. Mastering what mic to use and where to place it to capture the best sound will exalt your recordings to unparalleled quality. Musicians will flock to you once you've learned how to capture the purity of sound and translate it in to timeless recordings. If you are using plugins like training wheels on a bike, it's time to grow up and learn how to balance your mixes with knowledge and experience.

Mixing | The Peacock

Every mix has one special element that likes to show off its plume of feathers. I call this element, "The Peacock" of the mix. Sometimes it is the vocals and sometimes it is the guitar. I'm never quite sure until I get in front of the mix. It just takes some time to listen and figure out what needs the most attention; How you should build the mix around the peacock is dictated by the array of colors present in the mix. If you display the peacock properly in the mix, it will draw attention to itself and listeners will be seduced by its beauty. The only thing you need to focus on is making sure the complimenting tracks don't get overlooked and the peacock will do the rest of the work.

Vocal Mixing | Using delay to get wide vocals

Mixing vocals can have its challenges. Do not fret! There are ways to make your vocals big and wide without
laying on huge amounts of compression. Try this technique, add some side-chain delay sends from the main vocal. Add 3 or 4 sends with delays set to different lengths. Slowly bring up the faders on the delay tracks to blend the vocal into the mix. It's also a good idea to have different eq curves on each of the delay tracks. Play with filters to get the right tone for your mix.


Black Lion Audio Signature 002 Mod

There are certain things that contribute to a great recording. The first is the interface that you're using. You can go and spend some $$$ on a HD converter and get great results. However, there is an alternative for great sound at a more affordable price. Black Lion Audio (www.blacklionaudio.com) is a company based in Chicago and they have some modifications that rival some of the big expensive converters. For under $2,000 you can get the BLA Signature Mod on your 002 or 003 rack. We currently have one that is used as our mobile rig and it holds up quite well. Many of the live recording that Shine On has been hired to record have been tracked with our modified 002r.

The Signature Mod will improve your converters, clock, and mic pres. These are huge improvements over the Digidesign stock interface. They also beef up the headphone amp to provide a more accurate monitoring option. The A/B recordings we did with the interface are jaw-dropping. There really is no comparison between the recordings. The mod improved the attack of transients and the depth of the EQ range. Drums have more punch, guitars roar and scream with more intensity, bass is bigger and richer in the low end, and vocals just rip through the mix to sit right in the pocket. These improvements are well worth the investment. You'll save time in the studio and your mixes will have a brilliance that just cannot be matched at this price point. If you'd like to get more info or experience with the interface, sign up for one of our Pro Tools lessons and an engineer will show you the ins and outs of this impressive upgrade to your studio.

How to start a recording studio | part 1

You've decided to start a recording studio. Now comes the planning for how to build your studio from the ground up. There are so many options, so let me help you consider a few that are crucial to the success of your new studio. I've been in the business for over 20 years now and I've seen what works and how well everything works. There are many different types of audio production studios, but for this segment, I'm going to focus on the beginner's project studio. Though you may have already started to build your studio, I'll be offering advice on things to consider for the success of all levels of studio production.

Before you spend too much time planning or spend any money on gear, take time to hash out your budget. You'll need to make some tough decisions about what is necessary now and what can be purchased down the road as the studio grows. Start a spreadsheet of your available finances and keep track of what you're spending. The last thing you want to do is buy a bunch of gear and then not have the funds to connect the pieces. There are things that many new studio engineers overlook and this is one main reason I'm writing this article.

First, you have to decide if you're going to be a PC or a MAC based computer system. You could get a new MAC and load Windows with the Parallels program. That's all up to you. There are advantages to both OS systems, so this decision has to fit with your configuration and your budget. PC systems are typically more affordable, but do carry the risk of more frequent crashing and data loss. MAC systems are more expensive and not as flexible as a PC based system. I'm not going to get too in-depth here, but if you'd like to post a comment, I'll do my best to respond.

For now, we'll assume that you've made your computer decision and you're ready to move on to the core of your system, the DAW. The DAW ( Digital Audio Workstation) is the heart of all digital recording studios. This is the interface that will provide recording and mixing capabilities for your studio. Most DAWs come with a hardware interface which does the A/D & D/A conversion for your audio. This is by far one of the most important choices to make when building your studio. The quality of audio conversion will ultimately impact the detail of the audio that comes out of your studio. The higher quality converters will give you a more accurate monitoring sound and yield a more dynamic range to your mixes. The beauty of most DAWs today, they will work with almost any interface you choose. This makes the options more bountiful and presents the opportunity for 3rd party companies to get into the market. Ultimately, this allows engineers the ability to mix and match software and hardware to customize a studio setup that is just right for their needs. Customize is such a great word and it is such a liberating concept!

I've personally worked with many different DAWs in my career and they all do a fine job of recording and mixing. There are some that only work on PC and some that only work on MAC, but most are cross-platform, so do pay attention to what is compatible with your system. The most widely used DAW is AVID's Pro Tools. Virtually every professional studio I've been in over the years is running Pro Tools as their primary DAW. It's not cheap software, but it is very user friendly with a mild learning curve. There are tons of books and videos out there to get you started working in Pro Tools and I'd recommend this as your primary DAW. The new line of AVID HD I/O interfaces have excellent converters and the audio quality is pristine. However, Pro Tools HD systems are not cheap. The entry level system is the Omni HD + Pro Tools HD Native and that starts at $4,999.00. Now there are some upgrade options, but just to get into Pro Tools HD, you may be spending a big chunk of your budget. If you can afford a quality interface, it will pay dividends down the road. Just be sure you are buying fear that you can grow into and not grow out of quickly. One pit fall I regularly encounter is folks who buy bargain gear with the intention of selling it when they need to upgrade. My warning is that you may not be able to sell the gear for a decent price, so don't rely on this strategy to recoup your capital funds.

Hope this was some useful insight for you to consider. Keep in mind there are many options out there and I highly recommend that you at least consider multiple DAWs and Hardware interfaces before you commit to purchasing. You should also look into financing your purchases and Sweetwater (.com) has some nice 0% interest for 24 months financing options. If you want to talk with my sales engineer, Joseph Secu x1232, he'll give you some good advice on what would work best for your setup. He's helped many of my clients purchase the right gear for their home studios and he's been helping me for over 14 years. I only have great things to say about Sweetwater and Mr. Secu.

Please leave any comments and I'll respond as soon as possible. Thanks for reading part 1 of this blog article. The next section I'll be discussing vocal microphones and preamps.

Today's FAQ : What's a DI?

DI is short for 'direct input' and it means you take a direct signal from a source. Usually a DI will be used for recording guitar, bass, and keyboards.

"Why should I use a DI, when I have a perfectly good amp that can be mic'd?"

Good question. If you like to mic up your amp, go ahead and do it. As a secondary back up, I'd suggest splitting the signal and tracking a DI along with your amp. You'll get a nice clean track along with your amp track to work with when you mix. Think of it as a safety net in case the amp track doesn't work out. Maybe the mic didn't capture the tone you wanted, but the performance was epic. If you tracked a DI, then the performance has a chance to be relived & re-amped!

Re-amp your performance with the DI track. You can now play back the clean DI track and feed the signal into your amp. Move the mic around until you find the tone you desire. Now you have lots of options with minimal effort and you look like a seasoned pro. There are other options like using the DI track with amp emulated software. This way you can shape your tone with digital ease. There are so many possibilities with digital software that you can try out many different sounds to hear what works best for your mix. There are so many options at the fingertips of engineers, this is a great time in musical history. Take advantage of the DI and begin to explore what your music can become.

Mixing | Don't over-produce your music

Mixing can be an overwhelming task. Don't let it get too complex. When you start a mix, start simple. Do a rough mix in a short amount of time. Take the mix and listen to it for a few days. Get an idea for what you want to achieve with your mix. This will be the best approach to getting a final mix that you're very happy to put out publicly. If you really want to try and get a decent mix in a short amount of time, set a timer for 10 minutes. Mix as much as you can and when the timer goes off you stop. Repeat this as many times as you want and then take the mixes with you for a day or two. Listen to them and hear what works and what needs to change. This will train and sharpen your mixing skills to expedite your workflow and lower your stress.