Keith Everette Smith

Producer, Songwriter, Multi-Instrumentalist

Make up your mind already!

Here’s a good one for you all. It’s not a techie post at all. This one involves making decisions…

As a mixer, I get session files in all kinds of shapes and sizes. I receive them on a hard drive, on a DVD or as downloadable files over the internet. These sessions may be nicely edited, consolidated and color coded; they may be a jumbled up mess of files, extra takes and unfinished ideas; or somewhere in between. It goes without saying that it is easier to work with a producer that hands me a tidy, organized session file.

I remember playing in a brass band in high school. The conductor would stop in the middle of the song and shout (in his heavy british accent), “No! No! No! That’s just not tidy! Not tidy at all!” I laughed every time.

As producers and engineers in a digital world we find it easy to procrastinate decision making and leave tons of options in our session. After all, I have a limitless number of tracks available to me, why not leave options. Why not? Because LIFE IS TOO SHORT!

Here’s an example. A producer may use 3 microphones to record a guitar part (maybe an SM57, an ADK S-7 and a U47 as a room mic). It is totally easy to record these tracks separately and mix them later. By the time you’ve recorded every part and stacked the parts where needed, you could have 8-15 or so guitar parts. 15x3 is 45! You could use up 45 tracks in your session just for guitars! Really? This kind of recording can illustrate a total lack of confidence in the producer’s own ability to make decisions about what he wants the mix to sound like later on.

The reason I began by talking about mix session files is because this is where I see the result of procrastinated decision making the most. I see it in the form of poorly labeled tracks, edits that have not been properly crossfaded, millions of tracking options that need verbally explained by the producer, etc… It is best for EVERYONE if a producer has properly consolidated files, bounced specific FX, meticulously edited and crossfaded audio files and labeled tracks in a simple manner.

I’m speaking to you from experience. This used to be me. I had no confidence in myself as a producer. I thought everyone knew better than I did and that I would make a decision that would alter the quality of the project to it’s detriment. What I came to find out is that I knew what I wanted! My vision was the right one. I could trust my instincts.

Here are some ways you can make decisions on your next project….

1) While engineering your tracking sessions, go ahead and cross-fade all the punches. Stop for 2 minutes and check everything on the track. Then consolidate. That way you know that all your edits are done. Chances are everyone could use 2 minutes to rest before starting the recording of another part.

2) When editing, check that all cross-fades are accurate, then consolidate when you are finished. (Remember, your computer is doing math, don’t consolidate too much but don’t be afraid to either)

3) Make decisions about mic blending. Things like choirs, guitars, piano, B3… make decisions about the blend you prefer and then record to a single stereo track (for stereo instruments). One cool idea is to blend your direct mics but leave your room mics separate. This will leave some good options for the mixer. Even then, don’t be afraid to blend your room mics. Trust your ears!

4) Print FX… if you came up with a great Delay, PRINT IT to a stereo track. Chances are your idea will work. That’s better than hoping the mixer has a better idea. When he doesn’t you’ll be glad you printed.

These things will help you move through recording projects quicker and you’ll learn to trust your instincts in the studio!