Monday, September 28, 2015

Clarity In The Mix

Everyone wants clarity in their mix. However, what is your definition of clarity? Could it be that your definition has already set you up for searching an endless road of tips and tricks? Could it be that your perception of clarity has clouded what is truly important?

Let Me Define This

Clarity: clearness, coherent, intelligible, transparent; "The clarity of the water lets me know that it is clean."

So, from this definition we can ascertain that what we are looking for when we seek clarity in a mix, an intelligible and coherent mix. Now, here is where it gets deeper. If all musicians and mixing engineers have their own subjective view of what "clarity" is then how do we know for sure if we have obtained it!?

The Subjective Truth

In my opinion, truth is not subjective. A thing is either true or it is not. It is true that every ear is subjective, and every audio engineer is shaping what they know as a good mix based off of the music they love. So the clarity you seek in your mix may be more bass guitar shinning through. For a guitarist it may be more lead. A drummer might say "more cowbell please". Though truth is not subjective, clarity most certainly is.

Let Me Clarify What Clarity Is Not

Some would say, "Clarity is being able to hear every instrument clearly." While this is true to a certain extent, it is still subjective. Clarity to me is a "mud-less" mix. In fact, everyone can agree when a mix is muddy and when it is defined and unmasked by opposing frequencies all over the place.

If it were simply about instruments being heard then this presents a problem. Not every instrument in the mix has to be heard at all times. Through the use of automation feeling and vibe is created. Instruments drop out and build to a crescendo at times. Therefore, this typical definition just doesn't fit with the word clarity if hearing every instrument is the only basis. The fact that every instrument is heard and sounds defined is due to separation. Separation is derived from equalization and panning, and is further influenced by a respective sound sources frequency ranges.

Conclusion

When you seek clarity, you are really looking for a taste, a style, and your fingerprint in a mix. To obtain that you need to do several small things right. Volume levels, panning, equalization, and arrangement all play their part in creating the clarity that you are looking for. Make the best use of them and enjoy some good clean fun.



Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Mixing Is An Art

Mixing music is an art form. Let me explain. My son went to his first art class yesterday where he learned the basics of the color wheel. He was taught contrasting and complimentary colors, as well as what tools he would need to let those creative  ideas be put into practice. This was his first abstract piece of art.



So anyway, what does this have to do with mixing? Well the parallels are all over the place but let's start with the color wheel. In mixing this would be your frequencies. There are complimentary and contrasting frequencies, those that mesh together for the better and those that fight against one another. Through proper use of an EQ and other plug ins you can actually "paint" a beautiful picture of any well recorded song. Conversely, you can mask and "shade" in elements so that things are so blended on your canvas that someone can't make out what it is supposed to be. (You've seen those moments when someone is standing in front of a painting, head tilted, gazing blankly) 

However, mixing is an art. What one person says is a bad painting may just be what another thinks is great! I never much cared for Van Gogh, but he was famous for his work regardless of what I thought. Why? Because everyone has a subjective view of what art is and is not.


This is not an excuse to just slap something together and expect a certain group of like minded musicians and music lovers to readily accept our shoddy work. What made Van Gogh stand out, as well as others, was that he was original, consistent, and he had developed (over time) his sense of what art is. He painstakingly worked long hours so that every brush stroke added to the masterpiece an element that no one else could recreate.

As for the tools. He used a paintbrush. I am sure it was very similar to everyone else's paintbrush. Our paintbrush as budding mixing engineers and audio shapers, are our plugins and the gear that we use. Our canvas is our DAW.  Just as there was no magic canvas that worked better than another's, all DAW's essentially do the very same thing. Every painter may have a preference on what paintbrush they prefer as well but they all do essentially the SAME THING. What makes the difference is the artists touch.

My canvas is Sonar
In the paintings that I have done in the past I used several brushes, just as most artists will do as well. Generally, the reason why a paintbrush is switched out is because the artist is looking for a different texture or more control. A plug in, much like a brush, can entirely change the "texture" of a mix. It can define things or shade them in a pleasing way. Ultimately, when we make a decision to put a plug in on a track we shouldn't just be doing it to do it. Our basis for "switching up brushes" ought to be to add some texture or gain control over an element in our mix, and the end result should be pointing toward a masterpiece that has had purposeful "brush strokes".

Will our songs be liked by all? Nope. Will everyone notice our smooth mixing decisions? Probably not. When the average individual walks up to a painting they don't say "Wow! Look at those brush strokes and the shading of the elements, the perspective is amazing." No, for the most part they determine if the painting is good or not based on their perception of what good is, and the painting as a whole.



So, whether you can play an instrument or not, if you're mixing audio, you are an artist. Develop your style, learn along the way, and go create some masterpieces for all to see...or hear.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Faster Fretboard

As a guitarist there is nothing more amazing than picking up a guitar that has been well maintained, set up properly, and has a fast fret-board. If you haven't heard the terminology "Fast Fret-board"... I made it up. No, just kidding, someone else did.

Basically, it is a term that means a fret-board that isn't impeded by dirt or grime, it has smooth frets that are free of nicks and dings, and due to it's set up allows one to play well without other things getting in the way. (Or slowing you down)

In this video I give a quick tip on how to speed up your fret-board and some basic maintenance of the same. I hope you enjoy! Oh, and if you decide you'd like the Dunlop 6500 System 65 Guitar Maintenance Kit that I mention in this video (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) Then use the link I just provided to help a brother out at no extra cost to you. It's like Amazon leaving me a little change in the tip jar for sending some business their way. God Bless!


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Guitar's Best Friend: Humidity


Have you ever wondered why your guitar plays great one day, yet feels completely different on another? Suddenly the fret edges are sharp or the action has shifted and the guitar won’t play in tune anymore. These changes can happen overnight, especially in the winter. Cold, dry weather brings low humidity and that causes cracked guitars. Winter is my busiest time of year for structural repairs, and most of these repairs are preventable with an inexpensive humidifier. I’ve been preaching this message for more than two decades: Preventive measures are the key to keeping your guitar in top condition.

Dealing with humidity.
Humidity is the amount of moisture or water vapor in the air. The more moisture in the air, the higher the humidity. Lesser amounts of moisture results in lower humidity.
There’s a popular myth that a guitar sounds better when it dries out. Actually, it just cracks and then I get to charge a fortune to repair it. This myth is often confused with a guitar’s natural aging process. When a guitar ages, cells in its wood begin to crystallize and harden, causing the guitar to get louder and more dynamic. But if it’s not properly humidified, the wood will crack. (Did I mention structural repairs are very expensive?)
But you can have too much of a good thing: When a guitar is over humidified, it swells up and loses volume and tone. (Think of a tub of lard with strings.) High humidity can also cause finish discoloration and even allow mold to grow inside the guitar.
The way to avoid these problems is to maintain a consistent humidity level for your instrument—particularly an acoustic hollowbody. This will prevent a host of ailments and costly repairs.

Symptoms of low humidity.
One of the common telltale signs of a dry guitar is sharp fret ends. When a guitar dries out, the fretboard shrinks and the frets protrude beyond the wood. Correcting this problem requires re-humidification, conditioning, and fret filing. If your guitar is showing signs of low humidity (sharp fret ends, cracks, or separated glue joints), you need to have it evaluated by a reputable luthier.
This is what happens to a dry guitar in various levels of low humidity.

LEFT: Fig. 1. This top cracked from lack of humidity. MIDDLE: Fig. 2. Fretboards can also crack as a result of low humidity. RIGHT: Fig. 3. The Humidipak guitar humidifier system. Photo courtesy of Planet Waves
Below 35 percent humidity:
• Action (string height) changes.
• The top flattens out.
• Fret ends feel a little sharp.
Below 25 percent humidity:
• Fret ends become very sharp.
• There are drastic changes in the playability.
• Seams begin to separate.
• There’s a slight separation between the bridge and top.
• The finish starts to sink.
Below 15 percent humidity:
• Cracks appear in the top and body (Fig. 1).
• The bridge and fretboard crack (Fig. 2).
• The glue joints in the neck, bridge, and braces begin to separate.
All of these ailments will greatly lower the value of the instrument—not to mention your enjoyment of playing it—so be sure to maintain your guitar at the proper humidity level.
What is the best humidity level for my guitar?
Most experts say 40-50 percent. At this level, a guitar will sound and play its best. A great way to control humidity is to use a humidifier. Think of it as an inexpensive insurance policy to protect you from very expensive repairs.
A guitar humidifier is easy to use and very effective. Some guitar humidifiers are suspended between the 3rd and 4th strings and contain a damp sponge that needs remoistened every two or three days. This type of product works okay, but it’s not consistent. The humidity will spike at first, then slowly diminish as the sponge dries out.
The more modern guitar humidifiers use a gel that not only emits humidity, but also absorbs it if the humidity gets too high. This technology was first developed for cigar humidors, and now it’s available for guitars. Planet Waves makes a great humidity control system called the Humidipak that uses this technology. I’d also recommend using a hygrometer to measure the humidity.

LEFT: Fig. 4. A room humidifier in action. MIDDLE: Fig. 5. Thanks to heat exposure, this bridge separated from the top leaving a gap big enough to slide in a seam separation knife blade. RIGHT: Fig. 6. Use a wood conditioner to protect your rosewood or ebony fretboard.
Another great way to control humidity is to use a room humidifier. This is a great idea if you have multiple guitars in one room. Humidifiers come in all shapes and sizes, but be very selective, as some work much better than others. I use a programmable humidifier that utilizes both “warm mist” and “ultrasonic technology.” It also has a built-in hygrometer and a UV light to help purify the water. This type of humidifier is much healthier than the “cool mist” types that require a filter.
What guitars need to be humidified?
All guitars should be humidified, even electric solidbodies. Newer guitars generally need more moisture because the wood is kiln-dried, as opposed to a vintage guitar made from air-dried wood. The difference between kiln and air-dried wood is dramatic. Kiln-dried wood uses heat to dry the wood to accelerate the aging process. However, these guitars require more moisture to prevent warping and cracking. Air-dried wood is more stable, especially in vintage guitars, because the wood was generally aged over a decade before being made into a guitar. As a result, the cracked wood was removed from the pile and used for something else. Guitars made from air-dried wood still need humidity to sound best, but they retain moisture better than their modern counterparts.

Too hot to handle!
Heat exposure can also have destructive effects on a guitar. When a guitar is left in the trunk of a car—especially on a sunny day—the glue joints can fail. Imagine the shock of opening your case and finding a pile of wood where your guitar used to be. Once again, I get to charge a fortune for repairing heat-damaged guitars, so be vigilant.

A frigid nightmare.
Cold is also an enemy. When a guitar is exposed to low temperatures and then brought into a warm environment, the finish can develop checking. Checking creates tiny hairline cracks in the finish—like someone laid a spider web over the finish— and you can’t polish this out. Finish checking is permanent and can only be repaired by refinishing (not something I would recommend). Finish checking is basically the result of the finish changing from one temperature extreme to the other. This causes the finish to expand and contract too fast, and that makes it crack. To minimize this, when you bring your guitar in from the cold, don’t open the case until the outside of the case is at room temperature. Even then, there’s no guarantee the finish won’t check, but it will lessen the odds.
Okay, let’s review—here’s how to prevent damage to your beloved guitar:
• Buy a guitar humidifier.
• Keep your guitar at between 40–50 percent humidity.
• Use a hygrometer.
• Keep your guitar in a consistent environment (one that’s comfortable for you).
• Keep it out of direct sunlight and out of the car trunk.
These simple steps can save you hundreds of dollars in repairs.

Adapted from: http://www.premierguitar.com/articles/Fighting_the_Humidity_Battle

John Levan Nashville guitar tech, has written five guitar repair books, all published by Mel Bay. His bestseller, Guitar Care, Setup & Maintenance, is a detailed guide with a forward by Bob Taylor. LeVan welcomes questions about his PG column or books. Drop an email to guitarservices@ aol.com or visit guitarservices.com for more info on his guitar repair workshops..

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Better Mix: Simple Steps (Part 2)

In the previous post I included a video about the process and the concepts I used to dramatically improve my mix on the song "Livin' For The Moment". In the video attached to this post I go step by step explaining the concepts. I hope you enjoy this sort of over the shoulder approach. To hear the podcast associated with this post click here. http://bit.ly/HSS_Podcast

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Better Mix: Simple Steps

After my latest album release I made some resolutions. There have been some things that I have always done just to "get by" and make some music. Well, I realize that I was wrong about a lot of those methods. (Yep, I just said I was wrong)

So I decided if I was going to step it up and get more serious about making better music/better mixes that I had to break away from the norm. This means I would have to work harder, but I have to say, it was worth it! This latest song nearly mixed itself and the truth is, I had more fun with it! Though these things are commonly known, I am reiterating there importance to making better mixes. For the most part I have utilized these in most of mixes, but going forward, I will be takin the time to implement these methods on EVERY mix, EVERY time!

So, check out this video, and let me know if you have any other tips for the community. God Bless!




Friday, September 4, 2015

Following My Own Advice

So recently in the podcast I gave a list of things that I would be doing different in the future when recording or putting an album together. Well, I have been following my own advice. Now though it was respective to things I needed to improve, the advice itself was not solely mine. I have been learning a lot lately and have already put into place several things that are helping, things that I would've overlooked or thought not to be important had someone else not taught me the importance.

So today I share a short list with you of things that are important when it comes to recording, mixing, or just plain studio related work.

• Work on gettin a sound that when recorded will NOT need much done to it in the mix from whatever source you are recording

• Use not only your ears but your resovoir of knowledge to know what a particular source should sound like and go with it

• Record more than one take even if you thought the last one just nailed it

• Make your gear work for you, not against you (
ie; use your gears low pass/high pass filters, impedance controls, etc. to shape the sound to what you want in the way in)

• Don't worry about the length of time it take to get a great sound, it will pay off later

• Record at lower levels -18 to -12 at the highest (if recording 24 bit, not much hotter if you're at 16 bit though)

• Edit, Edit, Edit

Already these few simple steps are improving my latest recording, I will be sharing some other things here soon on the YouTube channel. Stay tuned, subscribe, and share!


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Free Music Download

Want to know how to get my album for FREE?! Just watch this 3 minute video and find out! Also the first person to comment below on how many takes it took to get this video in will receive a little gift from yours truly. Thanks!