Friday, October 30, 2015

Let Your Mix Be Heard

Mixing is very much a mental ascent. There are elements that require a very precise touch, backed by head knowledge and experience. However, there are areas that necessitate a more "blind" approach. This is what I want to cover today.

Now, when I deliver this there will be many who bulk at it and many who never actually put it into practice. Why? Because it seems so simple. DON'T be one of those who obtains loads of tips, tricks, and head knowledge but never experiments or applies. 

Ok, so enough preface. What's the hack?! Here it is...

Close your eyes.

Yep, I know revelatory, huh? But don't just brush this aside. How many times have you went to adjust something in your DAW and "heard" an audible difference only to realize that that knob you were tweaking wasn't moving at all! (Guilty!)

We are so visual. We want to see results. Yet, mixing is not based off of sight, it is sound we're after. Therefore by eliminating our body's natural inhibition to "see" results we are giving ear to what the craft is calling for, audible results.

 

Action Step:

If you have a Surface Controller this will be easier to do but if not it is still easily achieved by using your mouse or track pad. 

1) Pull up a track in your mix and solo it. 
2) Now, open up that "go to" EQ you love.
3) Remove any settings that may be on it. If you like how it sounds then write down those settings before clearing it out. If it has no settings then make some quick adjustments from your gut. Write them down and clear it out.
4) Pick a band and cut it by -3dbs with a moderate Q (1.5-3.0)
5) Now grab a knob on your Surface Controller or click and hold that same thing with your mouse and close your eyes.
6) Sweep around the frequency spectrum without opening your eyes. 7) Listen critically to the track and hear where that cut makes the most effective difference to get closer to the sound you're after.

Note: If you wrote down your settings from the previous adjustments, look at where your setting ended up and see if it matches your previous one. Which one sounds better? What did you discover!?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Save Time with MIDI

MIDI Recording

Recording, although fun, we still want to speed things up a bit and get something released! This MIDI tip will help you do just that! I recently laid down a track for a song I am arranging and thought mixing would be easier if I could get all my takes from various MIDI sounds at once. Then I thought, arrangement  would go smoother as well if I had all those sounds at my disposal right out of the gate. Audio engineers tend to over-complicate things. So, as an experiment, I thought I would just route all of my sounds to the same controller and play the exact same part at the same time. After it was all said and done I had every sound I wanted at my finger tips. played the exact same way, and setting right in front of me! That was easy! Now I know that this isn't revelatory to some of you , but anything that saves time now days is worth mentioning. I hope this helps. Watch the video below for a visual on this. Oh, and don't forget to subscribe. I am now uploading a new video every Saturday!



Saturday, October 10, 2015

20 Tips for an Outstanding Mix

1. Reference, reference, reference...
Reference your mixes on as many different systems as possible. One can never stress enough how important it is to reference your mixes on a wide variety of playback systems. Yes, you come to know your regular studio and monitors very well, so you learn to trust them. Every time you reference your mix somewhere else however, you’re likely to learn something new about it.
2. Watch those levels...
Don’t monitor too loud during the audio mixing process! You shouldn’t really need to monitor at more than 90dBA because at about this level your ears are at their optimum listening capability. Go any louder and you start to tire your ears sooner and could even cause long term damage. What’s more, monitoring at levels of 100dBA and beyond will tend to give you a false sense that the mix sounds good because of the loudness!
3. Keep it quiet...
Listen to your mix at very low levels as often as possible. This tactic helps you identify general mix level problems and forces your brain to heighten your attentiveness. Get your mix to sound good at very low levels, and it'll probably sound good at higher levels. The opposite certainly can’t be said!
4. Close your eyes, open your ears...
Try to monitor with as little visual distraction as possible at least once or twice during your audio mixing process. So, turn your computer monitor off, turn the lights off, close your eyes and just listen.
You’ll be amazed at how much objectivity this can bring to the table. We tend to attach a lot of conscious importance to what we see, so when we take the visual stimulation away we allow our conscious mind to focus more on what we hear.
5. Mono check, still...
Mono reference your mix, always. There are of course fewer and fewer instances of mono playback in the world today. Mono is however still a reality, so at least make sure important aspects of your mix, like vocals, don’t get affected in unwanted ways when you sum your left/right channels. A mono check might at the very least help you spot a phase problem in your mix which could otherwise have slipped by unnoticed.
6. Stay in context...
Avoid working on an instrument in solo for too long. Whether you want to adjust EQ or compression, stay away from doing it in solo. Remember that the audio mixing process is about making many different instruments work together as one. Adjust one instrument, and you have an impact on the whole mix and the mix is after all what you want to pay attention to.
7. Step away from the L2...
Don't keep a brick-wall limiter such as the L2 on your master bus during the audio mixing process. You don’t gain anything when you limit your mix bus during the mixing process. The limiter makes it difficult to know if and when any peaks in your mix exceed digital 0dB.
A master bus compressor is fine and if it’s something you haven’t tried, I recommend you experiment with it. Master bus compression, when used right, can really help bring a mix together well.
8. Keep an ear on compression...
Avoid the overuse of compression. Too much compression on various tracks can quickly add up to a flat, lifeless and one-dimensional mix. Too much compression may also result in unwanted distortion to the final bus.
9. Group dynamics...
Try to compress instruments as groups rather then as individual seperate tracks. This can often help you achieve more natural and coherent results. There are cases of course where you want to add compression to individual tracks. I find you can often create more organic-sounding mixes when you compress instruments as groups.
10. Compress for dynamic range...
You can use a compressor to increase dynamic range of an instrument. A compressor with a slower attack time could help bring a dull instrument which lacks dynamics, back to life.
11. Think relationships...
It feels natural to turn something you want to hear more of up in the mix. This tactic may not always serve you well though. First try to work out what you should turn down in the audio mix in order to achieve the same result. This way, you keep better control of the overall levels and you also develop a more objective listening approach.
12. Pan apart...
Never have two instruments at exactly the same pan position. It becomes a lot harder to achieve good separation between two or more instruments if they are at exactly the same pan position.
13. Stereo reverbs...
Feed your reverbs from stereo sends. You’ll be surprised how much better a modern stereo reverb will work when fed this way. It can also help you achieve much more accurate placement of instruments in the stereo field.
14. Restrict the reverb...
Don’t use too many different types of reverb and effects in the same mix. Try to limit yourself to only 2 or 3 different reverbs. This way you will keep a better handle on the stereo image and spacial clarity of your mix.
15. Reverb returns EQ...
Equalize reverb returns on the mixer rather than in the reverb unit. Your mixer’s channel EQ will most often be of better quality than a reverb unit’s version. You may often also listen in a different way when you adjust EQ parameters on a reverb unit compared to when you adjust a mixer strip EQ.
16. EQ bandwidth...
Use wider bandwidths for boosts and tighter bandwidths with cuts. In general if you equalize along this guideline principle you'll tend to achieve more musical results.
17. Cut over boost...
It’s better to take out what you don’t want rather than boost what you do want with an EQ. This helps minimize distortion risks and also accomplishes more discreet and musical results.
18. High pass filter...
Apply a high pass filter to all your non-bass related instruments. This can help clean up your low end, especially with live recordings. Low pass filters are pretty much essential should you want to create a sharp, crisp and precise low-end in your mix.
19. Phase reverse it...
Don’t be frightened of the phase reverse button! Phase inversion on a particular instrument can at times improve the way the instrument interacts with the rest of the mix. This is very true for live drum mixes. Try to always listen to the effects of phase inversion on the relationship between different drum microphones in your mix.
20. Resolution...
Work at higher resolution wherever you can, as this will improve the quality and definition of the end result. You want to of course set this at the recording stage of the game, as increasing a session’s resolution after recording by converting all recorded media tends to waste time and processing better spent on other aspects of your audio mixing job.j
I hope you found these audio mixing techniques useful! Please share them on Facebook and Twitter with the buttons below should you think some of your friends or colleagues can benefit from these tips.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Song Arrangement

Song arrangement, in its purest form is making things exciting, engaging, and emotional. Music in
itself demands, at times, an emotional response. While there are several tools we can utilize to add this much needed element to our art, arrangement is the most effective ingredient of a song to keep it
interesting.

Our mix can only go so far with our mixing skills and mixing ninja tricks. Though plug ins, mic
placement, effects ITB and outboard, etc. can provide a great foundation for emotional real estate,
arrangement is the icing on the cake. A great song can be hindered or helped by this one element.

There are at least 8 identifiable arrangement strategies that are used in music. I will explain briefly what each strategy consists of and try to give some examples of how they're
used. They are as follows:

• Minimal
• Reproducible
• Maximal
• Steady-state
• Cumulative/Subtractive
• Stepped
• Dynamic Contrast
• Unplugged/Plugged



Minimal

A minimal arrangement is one in which there are very few instruments and/or they are played in a
minimal style without to much complexity. This arrangement strategy makes good use of silence and
uses the vocals to feed emotion.

Reproducible

This arrangement strategy is one that is recorded with a live sound in a studio or is actually recorded
live. It is one that can be reproduced in a live setting without losing its studio versions fingerprint.

Maximal

This is the proverbial “Wall of Sound”. Anything goes in creating this wall as well. All instruments in, 40 vocal parts, you get the point.

Steady-State

This is where the song is pretty toned down. It may have a loop that plays through the whole song, a
sound effect or something, but it generally stays in the box. This style focuses on the lyrics more.

Cumulative/Subtractive

This arrangement style allows the song to grow and expand as it progresses, and at times may take
away elements to create interest and emotion. It usually ends in a climactic moment.

Stepped

A stepped arrangement is one is which the song uses two or three identifiable sections that are
contrasted by their dynamic level and instrumentation. The song alternates between these, stepping up to one and down to another at times. It also has varying keys and tempos at times.

Dynamic Contrast

The intention of this arrangement strategy is to create ear shock, usually by a sudden loud snare hit or
instrument. This can be achieved as well by volume changes and intensity.

Unplugged/Plugged

Some times a song that is done acoustically will be redone in an electrical fashion and vice versa. There used to be a trend for awhile that almost every artist had to do an unplugged version of some of their songs. It can fill another slot on that album and let new listeners hear something old, as well as old listeners hear something different. This can be really cool if you're predominantly a rocker, and then you put an acoustic song on your album. Keep them guessing and they'll stay interested.

Check out the video below for an example of nearly all of these elements in one song.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Mix Tips-Improving Workflow

In the video below I share with you some ways you can speed up your workflow and make your sessions more efficient. Some tips shared are Sonar specific, however, the concepts can be applied across any platform.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Mixing for Stereo Width

Mixing involves so much more than just moving faders around. It encompasses a whole skill set that has to be fine tuned and honed over years of practice. One prevailing question that I get is , "How do I get my mix to sound wide and full?" Well, as stated above, there are a lot of factors that go into creating stereo image. I am going to cover some of the basics first, and then we will dive a little deeper.

Wide vs. Full

When someone asks me that question I have to correct them in their presumption that both attributes (Wide and full) are one in the same. Although both contribute to one another, when someone asks this question they need to know that they are speaking of two different textures in a mix. For instance, a guitar can sound full and not sound wide, and vice versa.
Just like most everything else in mixing, a "full" sound can be subjective to the listener. However, anyone can spot a wide sound in the right listening environment. To me a "full" sound is a natural sound. It is more a feeling that comes from the instrument that places you in the same room with it, as if it were right in front of you. Whereas, a wide sound, places the instrument all around you and envelops you. So, now that I have set that straight, we can move on to ways we can achieve stereo width.

True Stereo vs. Stereo Shams


When I first started mixing, I thought that simply cloning a track and panning them hard right and left, would give me stereo sound. I soon found that there is no stereo width achieved by doing that. Essentially, all you are doing is creating a louder Mono track that now takes up more real estate on both ears, and your ears cannot decipher the difference between a single Mono track and a double of the same.

The best way to get true stereo sound is to record the same part twice, on two separate tracks, and then pan them out. The small inconsistencies in your playing will add up to  huge sound that your ears can decipher now as two different parts. You can use the same source, and the same settings if you'd like, although it may add more depth to add or remove elements from the second track.

Another way to get decent stereo results is by utilizing different mics and mic placements. There are a ton of ways to set up two microphones to record in stereo. One of my favorites right now is "Mid-Side Recording". In the video below I will cover that in further detail.

Then there are the shams... These are stereo widening plug-ins, delay plug-ins, and others that emulate width. Although you can get some usable results from these in certain situations, if you want real width you can feel, then you need to take a little extra time to layer another track or record in stereo. In the video below I will give you an example of both true stereo and stereo emulation. Don't forget to subscribe to the channel while you 're there.