Mixing

Mixing is an art form. Many times the person who cuts your tracks won’t be the person who mixes them. My forte is mixing and my personal studio is set up exclusively for that and vocal tracking. Granted many of my projects are full productions. But the bulk of my work comes from the fact that there are few real mix engineers as compared to the amount of studios and tracking engineers. I have mixed award-winning major label and independent records over a wide span of musical styles. What your mix will sound like actually starts from the moment you arrange your song in your head. Here is my philosophy on mixing and how you can provide me with the best opportunity to give you an awesome mix.

  • The tonal range of the instruments in your production are as important as the parts they play. Use instruments that don’t overlap sound wise. You can hear issues immediately in your rough mixes if things sound murky, muffled and unclear.
  • Use recordings of music in the genre you are doing to help guide you in how the arrangement of top songs are structured
  • Be careful not to overdo your production when you get in the studio. Laying 5 part harmonies on a hook with power chords and hearing all the vocal notes is going to take away from the guitars forcefulness. There is only so much that can fit sonically in a recording while still having the song come across powerfully.
  • When doing Pop, Rap and R&B be aware of the value of your lead vocal track. Many times people lay so many ad libs, counter lines and double tracks that the message and beauty of the lead vocal gets lost. Again LISTEN to hit productions in these genres. Most of them are pretty bare in comparison to tracks that people bring in to be mixed.
  • Bring the mix engineer CD’s, not mp3’s, of music as close as possible to the style, tempo and arrangement of your song… CD’s that you like the overall sound of. You needn’t know why and explain it in technical terms but bring in ones where you “feel” the sound is bumping. The mixer will use this as a guide for your song and a good mixer will A/B those songs against your mix to show you how close he got. Sometimes you might like the sound of one rhythm track but like the vocal treatment on another track. Bring both in. Your engineer can take elements of these separate parts and try to incorporate them in your mix.
  • If the tracking engineer isn’t the mix engineer make sure to have both speak or at least tell the tracking engineer to clean up any noise between tracks, delete or mute any unused parts and name all the tracks intelligently.

Best of wishes and looking forward to working with you!

Choosing An Engineer/Studio

Determining what you shooting for and explaining it to the potential engineer in advance is an important part of the production process. Many times especially with novice or intermediate artist/producers there are things you might be unsure of. Don’t be afraid to question the engineer about any uncertainties you may have. With any level of experience there are definitely things that need to be explained and/or asked up front to avoid misunderstandings, thereby making your recording endeavor the best it can be.
    • How do you charge and what are your rates?
      • Some people charge by the hour, some by the day, others charge per tune or per project. Many times an engineer or studio will customize a deal for you depending on the amount of work you will be doing. Find out exactly what is included in the rate and what are considered “extra” charges. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Make sure, if they are charging per tune or project, what they believe the time limits are. What might seem like a great deal could turn into a big headache if their idea of how long a song or album takes to record and your ideas are different. People can cut an album in a day or it may take months. Neither approach is right or wrong. It is all dependent on your budget and expectations. Let these be know right off the bat and your project will have the best chance of turning out the way you want it.
    • Who have you worked for and what did you do?
      • Ask specifically what the engineer has done with their particular clients. Some people may have engineered a tambourine or a guitar overdub on a platinum album and have a RIAA award on their wall for it. Or they played an instrument on it [many musicians today moonlight as “engineers”]. Although they get an award for working on the project it doesn’t mean they are a good engineer. Generally, if they cut the rhythm track, recorded the main vocals or mixed the project and the sound is good you can assume they have the chops needed to do quality work. Ask for referrals and call their clients to find out how happy they were with the engineers work and what duties the engineer performed. Listen to copies of work the engineer has done in the genre of music you will be performing.
  • What is your approach to recording projects?
    • There are many different approaches to engineering today. Traditional boundaries between engineers and producers have blurred. Ask your potential engineer what his recording philosophy is. How does he get his sound and what sounds does he personally like? What medium does he record to? [this could become and issue if you plan on working with different people in different studios] How does he like to track? Everyone at once, or drums and scratch instruments recorded direct with those being replaced later? Is he willing to listen to your input? [you are paying for his services after all] If need be, can he help direct your project in a production sense?

Checklist for Success

    • Decide what it is that your are trying to accomplish
      • Looking to make a demo for label consideration? Putting out a record on your own? CD single, CD album? CD to give to clubs and booking agents to get gigs? Each of these scenarios begs a different line of attack. Let’s look at a realistic approach to these options that gives you the most flexibility and best bang for your buck.I rarely recommend people who have live bands [drum kits guitars…] to come in and cut just one song. The amount of time to set up drums get sounds etc. etc. makes this an expensive proposition. Three songs are the minimum you should plan on doing with a live band if money and efficiency are important to you.

        It’s always been hard to get a record deal and today it’s harder than ever. A 3 to 5 song demo is what is used to present material to a record label. Today’s A&R people expect to hear a “finished product” demo. So a demo is no longer what it used to be. If you are going the “demo for label” route consider it an EP. If the deal doesn’t happen you can press some up yourself to recoup your costs and gain exposure. Plus you can use it to find investors who might want to help you create a full length CD.

        If you decide to record a full length CD make sure your goal is to press it and release it yourself. Don’t record a full length with the idea of getting a deal as the only thing on your mind. It will be a waste of your time and money. Speaking of time and money. If you feel you are really stretching your budget but want to cut a full length CD, cut all the basic rhythm tracks, overdub and mix the ones you feel have the strongest potential and then wait to complete the rest. That way your stuff will be easier to finish and mix as the drums were all cut during the same session block.

    • Rehearse reheasrse rehearse!
      • Be prepared to play your tightest and best! Before you go into the studio rehearse all songs and RECORD them even if with a cheap plastic microphone and your computers audio recorder. So many times people go in they studio and after playback realize the tempo they have been playing at and even what chords changes are in the song are not right. Every time you rehearse, record and then listen to each song until all components of tempo, pitch and arrangement are the way you want them. Don’t waste valuable time in the studio doing things that are best done beforehand.
    • Create a schedule
      • Coordinate a schedule between all the band members, the engineer, studio and anyone else that needs to be present during each phase of the recording process. Make a calendar and give it to all pertinent people. Today the best way to do this is by email. Any changes to the schedule should be emailed and a confirmation returned so that everyone is always informed and “on the same page”.
    • Keep notes
      • Make a list of every song you will be working on and every overdub each of those songs will need. Take home rough mixes after every session and notate what instruments need to be fixed with punch ins. Keep notes on the setting of your instruments and amplifiers for each track you record with them. That way, if you have to punch anything in, you can get right back to the sound you had for that particular part. Your engineer should also be doing this with any outboard hardware he uses while tracking you. Coordinate a schedule between all the band members, the engineer, studio and anyone else that needs to be present during each phase of the recording process. Make a calendar and give it to all pertinent people.

Have fun

If you apply all the suggestions in this checklist, you will be able to do the single most important thing in any successful recording project… HAVE FUN! It will show in your music and infect everyone from the other collaborators in the project to the listening audience. Good luck and hope to have a call from you to book your session time soon.