I’ve been recording for seven years now, but it’s only been from the past two years that I began to find my feet when recording and mixing. I want to write a post about not painting yourself into a corner when mixing. One thing I’ve recently learnt is that you should only start mixing an artist’s tracks when EVERYTHING has been recorded. Don’t give into the temptation of mixing early, as you’ll paint yourself into a corner and will have wasted HOURS if not DAYS mixing… trust me, it’s not fun to do that.
I have made this mistake countless times; it’s so tempting to get those drums really smacking, or to EQ those nasally guitars, but without all the tracks in your recording project, this is pointless, as we don’t know how these tracks will sit with the other instruments.
By having all the tracks in your project, you’re able to balance out the levels and see what you’re working with. Before adding any EQ, see what you can do just by moving the faders, this forces you to balance out the tracks the best you can without the aid of EQ or compression. Another great tip to start practicing, if you’re not already, is to mix in mono. It’s so easy to gain separation in a mix with panning, but by restricting yourself and mixing in mono, you’re forced to make all the tracks balanced in a one-dimensional setting. Then once you pan everything out wide, everything pops out of the speakers and you get a great sounding mix.
Mixing in mono is a great tip, but another tip is to make sure the level coming out of your speakers is REALLY quiet. Mixing at low volumes is key to getting a great sounding mix. By mixing at low volumes, you have to make your mix sound punchy and full without the aid of volume; volume will excite the low and high end, which deceives you into thinking your mix sounds full when it really isn’t. By mixing at low volumes, when you eventually crank the volume knob, your mix will come together.
Another great tip when mixing is not to mix ANYTHING when soloed. The listener will never be listening to just the keyboard part or the drums on their own, they’ll be listening to the whole song as a stereo file. This is great for us engineers as we’re again forced to make sure things cut through a dense mix and finding creative ways to do this. You may find that when you solo what you’ve been mixing, the EQ sounds really bad on its own, but in the context of the whole mix, you don’t notice that bad EQ sound.
So to recap, do this on your next mixing project:
- Only start mixing when everything has been recorded
- Before adding EQ or compression, use volume faders to balance out tracks
- Mix in mono
- Mix at low volumes
- Never mix in solo
Summer Drive Home have just released this DIY video of one of their songs from their debut EP. It’s got some scenic shots of my hometown, them at practice and also us all at the recording sessions.
I’m pretty pleased how this EP came out considering the circumstances we were in. I recorded drums in a great sounding room, but in the same room as the drummer and not being able to properly hear his takes. The rest of the time, we had 4 hour windows to get the rest of the stuff done. We were rushed the whole the time, constantly racing the clock to get a great sounding EP, and I think we achieved that.
Of course, listening back now, I would’ve done a lot of things differently, but overall I’m pretty happy how it came out. The EP is out on the 18th of this month on iTunes, Spotify and many other online stores.
So tonight, we finished tracking Light Fire Down’s second EP. We added harmonies and backing vocals, and redid a few bits and pieces. Really pleased how it’s sounding already, particularly drums, considering the EP has had no mix processing whatsoever besides volume and panning. I’m really looking forward to sinking my teeth into mixing this record, I’ve recently bought a Yamaha SPX90, and I’m currently waiting on a DBX 160x which I’m going to use on drums.
I’m taking a different approach to mixing this EP, like I said in previous posts. I want to save myself unnecessary hours of work by only mixing when everything has been recorded; before I even touch an EQ or compressor, I’m going to get separation by volume changes, and I may even mix in mono. I’m also going to add vocal automation to level out volume inconsistencies first before I compress them. I want to break the usual habits of my mixing routine and potentially save myself time, yet still get great results in the process.
The unnamed band that I recorded drums for back in January have hired me back in to record the rest of their EP. Their guitarist has equipment himself that he uses to record, and so they wanted to keep costs down, but due to equipment failure (and them not being happy with how the takes were sounding), they hired me back in.
A few weeks back, I tracked bass with them. We went through a Fender American P-Bass into a Ashdown NM2 overdrive and then into an Ampeg PF500 and TC Electronic RS 2×12 cab. The guys wanted some meaty dirt, and the Ashdown NM2 really gets there without any fuss. I took a DI signal from a Sansamp as well, and I’ve added the Orange amp that comes with Guitar Rig to growl it up some more.
Today, we tracked guitars. as with bass, we tracked round the guitarist’s house in a couple of spare bedrooms (put the amp in one room, and we were in the other). Having a separate room away from the amp is such a blessing, as you’re not bombarded with an ear-piercing amp for 8 hours, and it’s just generally a lot more comfortable. Tom, their guitarist, has this Boss 2.1 system which we used just for hearing the songs rather than using them to objectively listen to amp tones, as I had my Sennheiser HD280s for that.
We tracked with a Vox AC30 which was recorded with a Fathead II, SM57 and MD421, but I’ll probably just use the Fathead and the 57. The Fathead II and the MD421 went through my Warm Audio WA12s whilst the SM57 went straight into my FireStudio Project. The band want to have a sort of lo-fi “live” feeling to their tracks, but still sound good. I guess the best way to put it is “just listen to Thrice’s ‘Beggars’ or ‘Major/Minor’ albums”, and you’ll get the idea.
This project has been long in the works, and the guys are looking to wrap it up fairly soonish. Next up is vocals.
My friends in Summer Drive Home have just released the title track from their debut EP. Like I said in the previous post, I’m really pleased how this one’s turned out. It’s crazy to think that we started this project back in early March and finished it mid May. It’s been a hard old slog, but I think the efforts have definitely paid off.
It’s also good to see that Weymouth’s music scene is finally getting more diverse again. We’re seeing bands such as Light Fire Down, Summer Drive Home, and the unnamed band that I’m currently working with that sound like a combination of Thrice, Letlive and Bad Sign. We’ve also had a couple of Punk Rock shows put on at a local venue with great turnouts. Perhaps this is the start of Weymouth’s music scene picking up again, like how it was back in 2006-2010.
Anyway, here’s a video that the band have put up of “Purgatory”. The EP is out on iTunes, Spotify and more from July 18th, so pick up a copy and help these guys out!
My good friends, Summer Drive Home, who I recorded from the beginning of March up until late May, have released this teaser video of my favourite song on their EP “This is Purgatory”. I’m pretty pleased overall how this one turned out, and I’m looking forward to people eventually hearing it in its entirety. For the mix on this EP, I was listening to Decade’s ‘Good Luck’ album a lot, and so I tried capturing the sort of sound for this release. Head over to Summer Drive Home’s Facebook page and give them a like, if you like! See what I did there? And buy their EP in July if you’re kind enough.
This week, I recorded vocals for Light Fire Down’s second release. We only have backing vocals left to do, and I’m looking forward to mixing it! The boys have really stepped up the songwriting on this EP, and they’re a lot catchier than their previous release. The vocal chain for this session was pretty simple, literally just one of my KSM32s straight into the inbuilt pres on the FireStudio Project.
Rich has become quite the belter when singing, and in hindsight, I wish I had an SM7B to use for his voice, as there’s a few harsh bits when he sings louder. The KSM32 is relatively flat microphone though, so I’m glad I chose that over a condenser like a Rode or the cheaper Chinese-built mics, where the 8kHz-and-up range has a wide bump.
I’ve also learnt that vocal sessions are particularly delicate and precarious. Unlike drums and guitars where you can tune back up to pitch and do as many takes as you like, vocalists will soon wear out if you work in this way. There’s a hard compromise that you need to make, where you either get less takes and save the vocalists voice, and hope that you’ve got enough takes to comp from; or record more takes and get that performance, but the vocalists voice will wear out quicker. I’ve found that the former certainly works better.
Despite me pushing Rich really hard on vocal takes, particularly on their song “Carolena” (also my favourite on this EP), he did extremely well. I’m really looking forward to wrapping this one up and mixing it! The boys have a great work ethic towards recording, and they’ve grown well as a band following their last release.