Keith Everette Smith

Producer, Songwriter, Multi-Instrumentalist

Filtering by Tag: Production

Hillary Scott "Thy Will"

Hillary Scott's "Thy Will" is hope for hurting people.  Everyone experiences disappointment and hurt in this life.  "Thy Will" is an invitation to embrace surrender and HEAL.  I've been ministered to by this song.  I hope you're touched by it too!  

Special thanks to Hillary and Bernie Herms for having me on this amazing song!!  

Nudge me

I just ran into a situation where I’ve been muscling a mix around trying to get it to feel right. I’ve tried just about everything. I just put the mix up on some small speakers and started rebuilding the mix instrument by instrument and realized that the guitars were like 15ms late (I assure you it was an editing mistake. No guitarist drags. No one).

I nudged the guitars ahead a bit and BOOM, the mix feels great.

Don’t be afraid to evaluate the groove of each instrument. I heard Jack Joseph Puig state in an interview once that he received a track that was way too perfect. He ended up un-editing the acoustic guitars to make it feel more alive.

Anything goes. Make it a great mix!

Mixing Out of the Box: An Account of My First Time


In many ways I am a typical twenty-first century recordist. Most everything I do is done with a few preamps, a few microphones and a computer. When I mix, I mix with a computer, a mouse, a Presonus FaderPort, one compressor (a Distressor) and a host of plugins. This is me. This is what I do. This is what I am comfortable with.

Yesterday I stepped out of my typical environment and did something crazy. I stepped into the UNcomfortable. I mixed a song not IN the box, but OUT of the box! That’s right, I put away most of my plugins and traded them in for outboard equipment. I stopped using my mouse and started moving real faders and pots. I traded in my small bedroom studio for a large mixing room at Blackbird Studio B. I had a freakin’ blast!!!

It’s been a while since I posted a blog. I thought this would be the perfect time. I left the studio 14 hours ago. I can still recall most of my settings, my workflow, the equipment I used. I wanna take you through my 11 hour day and tell you what happened to the best of my ability. Feel free to post questions and I’ll be quick to reply.

A huge thanks goes out to Shane Wilson, Reid Shippen, Andy Dodd and Taylor Nyquist for your tips and advice while I prepared for my session. A huge thanks goes out to Leland Elliot, my assistant for all your help! This would have been extremely challenging if it were not for all of your help! Thanks guys!



THE SETTING AND THE SONG

“Love and Life” is the title cut from John Stearns’ upcoming EP written by Tyler Miller of Campaign. John is a vocalist that I met at Saddleback Church. He was the worship leader at Saddleback Irvine and I was an instrumental director at the Lake Forest Campus. John is a great friend and a fantastic artist. He has sung BGVs on countless records that I have produced. The rest of the EP was mixed by Lee Bridges. Lee did a fantastic job on the other tunes so I wanted to rise to the occassion and do a great job mixing “Love and Life.” This sounded like the perfect reason to go all out and mix the song on a console.

I was introduced to Blackbird Studio by engineer, Mitch Dane. When I f
irst visited Nashville, Mitch was kind enough to meet with me for coffee. We met in Barry Hill and he took me
over to Blackbird where Vance Powell was mixing a record for Jars of Clay. I was given a tour of the massive facility and was floored. I had never seen a studio like it. There were 8 studios, over 1,000 microphones and tons of priceless vintage gear.

I mixed “Love and Life” at Blackbird’s Studio B, which features an API Legacy Plus 48/96 channel mixing console. This is actually the same studio Vance was using to mix the Jars record. There were several racks of outboard gear including 1176’s, Neve EQ’s, GML 8200 (2), Tube Tech CL1B, Lexicon Reverbs and more. The studio had ATC full range loudspeakers in the walls, Genelec 1030’s and I brough my ProAc Studio 100’s from home. The studio provided a JBL Sub for me to use with my ProAcs.





WHEN I ARRIVED

When I arrived at the studio, Leland and I plugged in the hard drive and spent about an hour being sure that everything was ready and that I had all of the plugins I needed. I planned on doing a hybrid approach to mixing this song so I figured I would need many of my plugins from home. I brough my ilok and we installed my SSL Bundle and the Sound Toys FX Suite. The studio had nearly everything else I needed.

We spent some time spreading all of the tracks across the desk. There were 48 channels channels with automation and an additional 48 small channel faders where we ended up routing our FX returns. Very few channels needed summed ITB (In The Box) before hitting the console. The only channels that I did this with were the synth tracks and some of the Stacked BGVs. Everything else was split out onto the desk and summed on the console.


BALANCING

One of the cool things about mixing on a console was the ability to easily get balances, panning and general EQ shaping happening. It was really great to be able to reach for any channel at any time to make tweaks. It sounds small, but this kind of tweaking ITB take a bit more time. Anything that must be done with a mouse takes time. This process is made better with control surfaces like Digidesign/Avid’s Icon consoles, but they are expensive (and I want one! ha).


I found myself many times along the way throwing the faders back down and starting over. Each time I did this, I found that my focus on the song got better. I really enjoyed this part and felt it really helped me gain perspective. I do this at times ITB, but it was not as easy and natural as doing it on a desk.

OUTBOARD GEAR

Once I had some overall levels set, it was clear which instruments would need additional compression to level things out. This part was fun. I experimented with different pieces of gear on different instruments until I found what really worked.

DRUMS
Drums on this song were recorded by Dan Bailey playing one of his many vintage Ludwig kits. It was recorded on an API Legacy Console at Signature Sound Studios in San Diego, CA. Kick and Snare Drums and Overhead mics were recorded with Neve 1073 preamps.

KICK DRUM
If I recall the Kick In was recorded with an RE-20 and the Kick out was an NS10 Sub Kick. I used the UAD SSL Channel Strip to gate both tracks (I love the sound of the SSL gates) and I added Waves’ MaxxBass as well. All EQ was done at the console and Compression was added to the Kick In track with a Distressor (4:1, slow attack, quick release with Dist 3 harmonics engaged. About 2-3db of gain reduction). After compression, I added the SPL Transient Designer and added a touch of attack and sustain.

I loved the API EQ on Kick. There’s not a lot of frequency options and the knobs adjust at 2db increments. I was surprised at how much EQ I was able to add without things getting harsh. A great deal of 50hz was added, I cut 2db at 240hz, added 4db at 3k and 2db at 10k.

SNARE DRUM

There were three snare drum tracks. Snare top (SM57), Snare Bottom (AKG 414) and a Snare Sample track (of a Ludwig Black Beauty). The snare top track had LOT of attack with little body to the sound, the snare bottom had a good amount of buzz and the snare sample provided the meat of the sound.

I notched out a bit of ring with a McDSP EQ before sending it out intro the console. I also used a McDSP EQ to take out some low mids from the sample track. These frequencies made the sample sound fake.

Once the channels hit the console I used the console EQ to shape the sound. I added a bit of 3k to the Snare top track and 100hz to get some low end. I added a great deal of 10k and 100hz to the snare bottom track and then compressed it a great deal with one of the console’s compressors (fast attack, fast release).

Once EQ was added, I bussed all three channels into another channel on the console and used a distressor to compress them all. This smoothed things over a bit and made it feel like one drum.

TOMS

Toms were not sampled. They were recorded with Sennheiser 421’s through API 312 pres. If I’m being honest, the high tom could have probably used a sample. It did not have the sustain and body that I needed. It ended up being OK, but perhaps I should have sampled it. I found out at a later session that this lack of sustain was caused by the drum being mounted on a snare drum stand. The stand sucked all of the sustain right off the drum. Those rims mounts work! (wish we had used one).

EQ and Compression were done on the console. I added some 10k for some air, some 3k for some attack and a lot of 100hz to get some tone. I compressed the drums with about 6db of gain reduction with a fast attack and a med-long decay to get try and get as much sustain as possible. At the end of the chain, I used the SPL Transient designer to bring up the attack a bit. The toms were manually gated in Pro Tools.

OVERHEADS

Overheads were panned about 80% and I think I added 10k to the tune of 10 or 12db. I did not roll off the low end at all. I may have done this at the console when we recorded it. I believe we used Soundelux 195 mics to record these.

I used the API Compressors and took off about 4bd with a fast attack and a quick release. Again, I was amazed at how aggressive I could be with EQ.

ROOM MICS

We had used 1176’s to compress the room mics when tracking. No additional compression was added. We tracked these with Neumann U67’s which always adds a fantastic mid range bite which I like from room mics. I did at a bit of 10k to the sound.

I also employed a mono room mic which was recorded with a Royer 121. This mic really added a lot of character to the snare drum. I used the console EQ to remove a bit of 240hz.

DRUM BUSS AND FX

The drums were fed directly into the master buss on the console with no overall compression added. I did, however, add a bit of parallel compression to the drums. Kick, Snare, Toms (and Bass Guitar) were fed one of the console’s 3 master busses and compressed with an EL Fatso and tucked underneath the drum kit. This added some needed thickness to the drums.

We used a TC Electronics Gold Plate algorithm to the drums. The verb was few from the snare drum, toms and room mics. Looking back, I could probably have added 15% less to the drums. A product of being in a new room I guess.


BASS GUITAR

Bass guitar was fun because it wasn’t that hard. It’s easy to mix when it’s played well. Bass was performed by my buddy Matt Campbell.

First thing I did was duplicated the track and add Digi’s new Eleven Free plugin. I dialed in a bass distortion and tucked it underneath the original track. I did this because the bass was too smooth and there was no girth to hold the bass in the mix and allow it to be heard.

I added 4b at 100hz and 2bd of 1.5k. My favorite compressor on bass guitar is a TubeTech CL-1B. Guess what, they had one!! My favorite compressor on bass guitar is a TubeTech CL-1B. Guess what, they had one!! I used a pretty fast attack and a moderately slow release. 2.5:1 ratio and took off about 5-6db.

ELECTRIC GUITARS

Electric guitars were recorded by Mike Payne and he did a great job! There were about 10 guitar tracks (not all playing at once of course). Mike recorded these at his recording studio with an SM57 and a bunch of great guitar gear.

BIG GUITARS

The big guitars were initially a problem. I could not get them to fit in track well. I eventually employed the help of an SSL Stereo Bus Compressed. I used a moderately slow attack and a quick release and used about 1-2 db of gain reduction. This did the trick. I added about 4db at 100hz and 4db at 1.5k. I rolled off the low end at about 80hz (12db slope) with a McDSP EQ while still in pro tools. I also widened the stereo spectrum with Waves’ S-1.


RHYTHM GUITARS

Rhythm guitars were also rolled off at about 80hz with a McDSP EQ. Before they left Pro Tools, I added an 8th note delay using the Massey TD5 analog delay. This added just a little depth to the sound.

I compressed these guitars using an original URIE 1178 Stereo Compressor. I used a moderately slow attack and a fast release to allow the transients to pass through and cut through the big guitars a bit. I only compressed about 2-3db. I added 2db at 10k, 2db at 3k.

LEAD GUITARS/VERSE GUITARS

The lead guitars were compressed using a URIE 1176 with a 4:1 ratio. I worked the attack and release time so it took off just the edge of the transients but still cut through the track. I EQed the guitars so they had a bit more top end than the other guitars. I added 2db at 12k and 2bd at 3k. To my surprise, I used up adding a little 240hz to warm up the sound. This warm things up.

AMBIENT GUITARS

There are some fantastic ambient guitars that follow the lead guitar. This made it so I didn’t need to add much FX to the direct sounding lead guitars. I did however add a long EMT 250 Church Hall algorithm from the TC Electronics unit with a 4 second delay. I added no additional EQ or Compression.

SYNTHS/PADS

All of the synths and pads were summed and blended in the box. I used Massey’s Tape Head to add some warmth to the brightest synth. I EQ’d everything with Waves EQ’s. I added D-Virb to the verse pad to give it some serious depth. I added a bit of the EMT 250 Hall as well to give it even more depth.

DRUM PROGRAMMING/PERCUSSION

All of the EQ and Compression was added ITB with Purple Audio MC77 plugins. Tape Head was added to thicken things up. The tambourine accentuates the backbeat so I used a little faster attack and compressed until 16th note note pattern was brought up and audible in the mix.


LEAD VOCALS

John’s vocal was recorded with my Soundelux E47 through a Neve 1073 and a CL-1B Compressor. John’s voice is big and warm.

I’ve always wanted to try compressing the lead vocal in parallel but I’ve never thought the results ITB was all that pleasing. This was my chance to give it a try.

A single channel within Pro Tools was sent to two channels on the console. I used Massey’s De:Esser plugin for de-essing (though I added this much later in the process).

On the primary vocal channel I used the GML 8200 EQ and added 2.5db at 3.5k and 2db at 10k. The GML 8200 was then routed to a Chandler TG1 Limiter. A very small amount of compression was added to level things out.

The second LV (lead vocal) was EQed on the console with a hefty amount of 10k and 100hz and then routed to a URIE 1176 and compressed in “All Buttons In” mode with a fast attack and fast release. This track was tucked underneath the primary track. Together they created a thick vocal sound with lots of transient information and lots of meat. The vocal fit quite well in the track.

The lead vocal was treated with a lot of different FX. I used a harmonizer to further thicken the track. I then added a vocal plate from a Lexicon 480 unit. A Neve EQ was used to filter the top end of the verb which was initially very bright.

I used two delays each created with SoundToys’ EchoBoy. One was a 15ips delay and the other was a stereo ping pong-type delay for the choruses.

The last delay was a wild space delay for the bridge. I wanted to create a unique, spacey atmosphere for this section.


BACKGROUND VOCALS

The primary harmony vocal EQed to add some top end. 12k I think. It was then compressed with an LA-2a opto tube compressor. A small about of the vocal plate and chorus delay were added for depth.

The chorus background vocals were summed and hard panned inside of Pro Tools. Once at the console I EQ’d to add some top at 5k and 12k. The vocals were not compressed, though they could have used a touch.

MASTER BUS

The API console has three busses (A, B and C) and then it hits the master bus. The entire mix was routed into the A bus. The drum crush channel was using B and I used C to add some parallel compression to the entire mix. I used a GML 8200 EQ where I added 4db at 100hz and 4db at 10k. The EQ was then routed into a Manley Limiter and hit pretty hard. This was then tucked underneath the entire mix, adding thickness and some hype.

All of the three busses were then routed to the master bus where I compressed the entire mix with the console’s 2500. I used a slow attack and a quick release at a 4:1 ratio. I reduced only a db or so to glue everything together.


SUMMARY

All in all, it was a fantastic experience. This was definitely not my most perfect mix but it’s got a lot of character, a lot of width and a lot of depth. Thus, describing the pros and cons of mixing on a console. You gain a lot of warmth, depth and character for mixing on such great stuff, but there’s not as much time to get surgical and precise.

I guess in the end you can be the judge of the success of this experiment. If you happen to think it was a success then feel free to send me a million dollars so I can build a studio like this for myself. :) haha.

THE FINAL MIX

Here’s the final mix. Let me know what you think!



TOP THINGS I DO PAST 1am

It seems like more often than not I find myself forced to work way too late into the night because of deadlines and/or too many projects have become stacked on top of one another. Tonight is no different. Here’s a list of what I find myself most often working on past 1 am.

1) Printing Mixes (and mix versions) - Printing mixes is one of the most boring things on the planet to do. It takes forever and there’s really nothing else you can do but listen and wait. The great thing is that I can multi-task (check facebook, twitter, do pushups)

2) Check/update facebook and twitter - I find myself going back to these pages waaaaay too often as if something magical would have happened.

3) Creating stem mixes for tomorrow morning sessions (what I’m doing right now!) - It’s often last minute that I find the time to prepare session files and arrangements for the quickly approaching sessions in the morning. Nothing like a $1,000 worth of players and studios to make sure I’m ready!

4) Write a blog post. - Most if not all of my blogs have been written late into the night

5) Programming - It really does feel as though my most creative times are at night. I’m lately trying to fight this urge… trying!



So there you have it, the top five things I find myself working on late a night.

CLASP - merging the new and old



I really believe that this technology is something special. I would LOVE to have one of these. In my own recording, I want to strive to make GREAT sounding records sonically as well as creatively.

One of the cool things about this box is the abilty to track different instruments at different tape speeds. Record guitars at 7.5ips and drums at 15ips… very cool. This has never been allowed before.

If you’re wondering what CLASP is, it’s a processor that allows you to record THROUGH tape directly into Pro Tools with NO LATENCY. You get the color of tape with the convenience of Pro Tools. Pretty nifty.

I’m sold. Now I gotta find a tape machine and some more money :)

CLASP WEBSITE

Steve Lillywhite

Steve Lillywhite is a Grammy Winning produced who has MANY great records for U2, Peter Gabriel, Chris Cornell, and many more…. He’s a fantastic producer and a really unique guy (as you’ll soon hear.)

I first noticed Steve Lillywhite because of his work with Dave Matthews Band. I was a huge fan of DMB in high school. My first DMB CD was given to me as a birthday present from my friend Liz. I was very quickly a fan. Me and my best friend Josh blasted Dave Matthews Band OFTEN and as a drummer I did my time trying to learn to be just like Carter Beauford.

Here’s a few interviews with Steve Lillywhite. None of these are incredibly extensive, but hopefully you’ll pick up something helpful along the way.





NPR - Lillywhite Interview
WAVES - INTERVIEW
BILLBOARD INTERVIEW
RECORDING CHRIS CORNELL

Charlie Peacock and the Civil Wars

I mentioned Charlie Peacock in my last post. Tonight I was reading blogs in my blog reader and I became more inspired to create something authentic than I have in a very long time. I truly believe that this post will inspire you in much the same way. I’d love to hear your comments but more than that, please thank Charlie for this wonderful post!

http://recordproducer.typepad.com/record-producer/2010/01/performance-production-the-civil-wars-poison-wine.html

Where's your focus

Where’s the focus?

Mixing for bands can be interesting. Sometimes the guys don’t even need to tell me what instruments they play. I can often tell by listening to their critiques of the mix what they play. The drummer is most concerned with finding the best drum sounds. The guitarist cares most for his solos and on and on.

As a producer I find myself doing the same thing. I am an instrumentalist and sing very little. I can find myself getting really excited about the interesting band arrangement I’ve created and forget about what matters most… the vocal! I think this is a danger for any instrumentalist. I suppose if you’re a vocalist you might care more for the vocal than the band. (I know this is true of at least a few of my vocalist/producer friends so I guess it’s likely to be true across the board.)

The vocal is the most important part of your song. Try to notice when your focus has drifted to some other element, and discern whether or not the focus of the mix has improperly shifted. Maybe the guitars have found themselves too out front in the mix and the energy of the vocal is lost. If so, redirect!

From a production standpoint, remember that everything else in your song has a secondary focus to the vocal. This can actually ease the pain of arranging. Keep your mind’s eye on the vocal and get a feel for what is needed to surround the vocal and lift it into focus.

It can be easy to create arrangements that are distracting and actually take away the vocal’s impact. It might help to play your mix, focus and the vocal and notice when the arrangement has awkwardly stolen the attention. Things like lead guitars, background vocals and programmed FX are typical culprits.

When the vocal is not the focus

Here’s an idea… Rather than placing a busy instrumental part right over the vocal, maybe consider placing these ideas between vocal lines or in vocal-less sections. You should always have something interesting to focus on in your song. When there is no vocal (intro, turnaround, instrumental section, outro) you have a great opportunity to create unique hooks and instrumental melodies that can really support the song without getting in the way.

The mixer and the focus

If you’re a mixer, don’t be afraid to mute, duck and rearrange for the betterment of the song. Be sure you have the blessing of the producer before trying out your arrangement ideas. Some producers are open to re-arranging and some are not. I’ve found that most producers are open to hearing what you can come up with, but don’t get too attached. If he doesn’t like your idea it’s ok. You work for him! At the end of the day the producer should get what he wants from the mix. Hold everything with an open fist (good life advice if you ask me).

Recap:

  • Focus on the vocal
  • eliminate distractions and clutter that distracts from the vocal
  • Find focus in every section of your song

MY FAVORITE DRUM MICS

Here’s a list of my favorite drum mics.

KICK DRUM -

  • INSIDE: (one of the following) EV RE-20, AKG D12, Shure Beta52
  • OUTSIDE: Telefunken Fet 47
  • SUB: NS10M with attenuator (I like this much better than the Yamaha SubKick for some reason)
SNARE DRUM -
  • TOP: Shure SM57 and a Josephson E-e22s
  • BOTTOM: AKG 414 (in hyper cardioid mode) or a Shure SM57
HI HATS
  • Neumann KM84, AKG 451, or AKG 414 (in figure 8 mode)
(Note: using the figure 8 mode on hi hats can sometimes decrease snare bleed but placement is key)

TOMS
  • Sennheiser 421’s, Sennheiser e604’s (potentially an EV-RE20 or AKG D112 on Floor Tom)
OVERHEAD’S
  • Soundelux U95S, Neumann U87’s , Royer SF12 Stereo Ribbon, or AEA R88 Stereo Ribbon
MONO ROOM MIC
  • Telefunken U47, Royer 121 or Shure SM57
CLOSE STEREO ROOM MICS
  • Beyerdynamic M160 Ribbons, or Neumann KM184’s
FAR STEREO ROOM MICS
  • Neumann U67’s, Neumann U87’s
A few notes on why…

I try not to overdo it with too many ribbon microphones all over the place. If I’m using ribbons on overheads I try to use large diaphragm condenser microphones more on room mics and visa versa. Ribbon mics can really warm up the sound of the kit.

In my mixes I’m not necessarily using all of these mics. Sometimes I do. It is a great thing to blend mics together to achieve a certain sound rather than to EQ. I love the sound of a 57 on a snare drum but the e22 has a nice top end. The two working together can sound great.

I love having room mic options because it can give you a lot of different colors and depths while mixing. For instance, your verses could be more dry, featuring the overhead mics and direct mic sounds, your chorus might be roomier. You might turn your mono room mic into an effect for a section of the song, adding massive amounts of compression and distortion to your sound (try running this microphone through an amp or amp simulator). This leaves you with lots of options for creativity later on.

PHASING IS THE ENGINEER’S ONLY ARCH ENEMY!

If you get your phasing right, you’ll be able to fix all other problems. Check your phasing by checking your microphones in mono. It can help to run your room microphones in the same line of sight. This way, some phasing could be corrected with time adjustments later. I have a few friends who are particularly good with phasing. Maybe I’ll ask them to write a blog post for you!)

TRY ANYTHING - I try to have my close room mics be a picture of the kit as it sounds in the room. My far room mics are the sound of the ROOM. For this reason, you can experiment with placement. Try NOT aiming the mics at the kit and see if you enjoy the results. If you’re recording in a bedroom, try putting a room mic in the hallway or close bathroom.


If I knew then what I know now: What I'd buy with $22,500 if I was starting all over again.

My friend John Carl (who is a creative genius in any format) suggested that I write this blog.

In 2005 I put up my first investment for my studio (I purchased the assets of Unseen Sound Studios in Lynchburg, VA). I spent about $22,500 for all the gear. With that I got an Pro Tools HD System, some preamps (Avalon 737sp, Drawmer 1960 and a few other nice pieces), some Mackie 824 Monitors, and a few microphones.

Now that I’ve been at this a while (and sold of most of that original gear) I can safely say that you can buy a LOT with $22,500 and have a COMPLETELY pro setup. I mean, what I got was really great, but in this new age of recording I’d probably go at it a little differently.

So here it is….

IF I KNEW THEN WHAT I KNOW NOW, HERE’S WHAT MY FIRST STUDIO WOULD HAVE LOOKED LIKE



GRAND TOTAL: $22,560

OK, so I’m a little over (and I didn’t include tax) but it’s close. :)

a little explaination….

You might notice that these prices are not exact. They are my estimates and allow for a little bargain shopping on ebay. I 100% recommend buying gear from sellers with high sale counts and near flawless feedback ratings. Especially when you’re buying “vintage status” gear (gear that will likely hold its value), you can end up saving a ton and losing very little if you later decide to sell. I really think you could get everything here under the $22,500 mark if you tried. (I’m not very good at this because I am an impulse shopper :)

This studio is definitely a studio for a pro. It is NOT however a studio to record drums with. I tend to think that there are PLENTY of really affordable professional studios these days that will sound infinitely better than an average bedroom. So, at least at first I would recommend cutting drums at another facility. You could record up to 12 channels of audio if you had a six more preamps. You could record drums if you borrowed a hand full of mics. (I should do a post on my favorite drum microphones.)

You may have noticed that I did not recommend an HD system. LE systems these days are REALLY powerful and handle high track counts and lots of plugins. There’s even a plugin out these days that will handle delay compensation withing LE systems! (that was always a big issue for me.)

With this setup you’ve got…
  • Great microphones (the Manley and SM-7 will handle vocals and you’ve got the best guitar mics around in the Josephsons (acoustic guitars), SM-57 and Royer mics)
  • Class A preamps (the Avedis preamps are very Neve like and sound amazing)
  • Fantastic EQ for correction
  • Incredibly versatile compressors in the EL Distressors.
  • Clean power coming from the Monster Power unit (very important)
  • Great monitoring with the Mackie 824’s
  • A patch bay for easily routing your gear
  • More than enough plugins to handle pro sounding mixing without compromise.
This is all top-of-the-line gear that you will find in professional studios. There is nothing lacking in this system regarding quality. Sure, there are other options and each engineer is going to have a different opinion on gear choices, but these pieces are highly regarded as some of the best stuff money can buy. It will deliver amazing results!

So there you have it, my studio if I had to do it over again :)

THE RIGHT STUFF

As I continue to learn record production and mixing I’m always learning in extremes. I’ve tried producing tracks with extremely light “production” (few lays, fewer instruments, etc.) and I’ve tried massively over-producing tracks (stacks and stacks of guitars and vocals, many parts, heavy tuning). I’ve tried mixing songs the same way. One day I’ll mix with very little EQ, Compression and FX and the next day I might try really pushing things to their limits.

As with anything there are no rules. One engineer is going to find greatness in complexity and pushing limits and another engineer will reach the same heights of success with simplicity. I’m tending to fall somewhere in the middle with my mixes. I don’t particularly like extremely slammed mixes and I don’t get excited over the simple alternative either.

THE REAL SOUND OF COMPRESSED MIXES

I most often think of the “too much” or “too little” debate regarding compression. Modern mixing is the sound of compression. (and lots of other things but compression is a big one)

In my mixes, I feel safest right in the middle. I’m compressing most things in the mix, however, I’m not doing a lot of compression on any one channel. I spread the tast of compression out over several busses.

SHARE THE LOAD (over many compressors in the chain)

>>>A kick drum might be compressed 2-4db (4:1-6:1 ratio)
>>>which is fed to an SSL buss compressor or a Fairchild 660 compressor on the drum buss (compressing 1-3db with a slow release and med-fast release)
>>>which ultimately goes through the master buss which is being compressed as well (SSL buss compressor into a Massey L2000M Limiter).

So you can see, by the end of the chain there’s a decent amount of compression happening, but no one compressor is doing the job on its own.

WHICH COMPRESSOR SHOULD I USE? (and does it make a difference?)

It’s also VERY VERY important to mention how different compressors sound. The circuitry (or digitally emulated circuitry) carries a certain vibe which colors the sound of the source. Each compressor is going to sound soooo different from another even without compressing at all.

When I’m struggling over getting getting an instrument to compress right, I’ll do the following….

  • Decide what I’m trying to accomplish and think of the potential solution (IN MY HEAD… thinking about all the gear that I have available to solve the riddle)
  • Then I try my solution and work at it for a while. In the case of a compressor, I’ll choose a compressor and tweak settings for a bit. I want to be completely satisfied that what I thought up in my head is being achieved or topped!
  • If it’s not happening, I don’t tweak harder or to farther extremes… NOPE, I PICK ANOTHER COMPRESSOR.
  • Most of the time I find that the solution happens pretty fast when I stumble upon the right tool. That’s when I know I’ve got it right.
If you think about this concept from that of a keyboard player selecting his or her sounds then this might makes even more sense…

For the keyboardist, one song might call for a Piano, another might call for a rhodes or Wurli patch, another song might call for a B3 or String patch. If a song is dictating a string patch, the keyboardist is not going to look for another piano patch. He needs to find a great STRING patch.

This concept can be applied to our compressor application or to anything else in music production.
  • Is the drum groove just slightly off or is it the wrong groove altogether?
  • Does the guitarist need to try another pedal or try another amp?
  • Does the horn player need to practice his part for a minute or does he need to be replaced? (kindly and as graciously as possible)
  • Does the EQ needed used heavily or do you need to choose a new EQ?
  • Do you need a new Echo patch or should you be using a reverb?
  • Does the song need a new lyric or does the entire song need to be thrown out?
See what I mean?


Try these tips the next time you’re mixing. I promise you fewer headaches!! (but I’m not you so I take it back… I can’t promise you anything!)

Family Force 5



I’ve become a big fan of these guys. Family Force 5 is really unique, blending tons of influences. Their stuff has energy!!!! It’s so entertaining. In the spirit of producing great records, take a look at this article on how they produced their record. There’s a major focus on how they tracked guitars. Hopefully you’ll get a picture into how they made the record. (Pay attention to the comment about using small amps for big sounds… even a cigarette mini amp!)

Happy guitar tracking!

http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/interviews/interviews/family_force_5_exception_to_the_rules.html

Tips for tracking guitars…. using microphones and don’t forget to use strings!! ;)
(on a serious note, I love SM57’s blended with a Royer 121 or an ADK S7 through API 512 pres into a distressor or LA-3A limiters! Peace out!)

Track labels

Color coding your tracks can help you find things quickly. Here’s my colors of choice and the order they go in…..


DRUMS - RED
PERCUSSION/DRUM PROGRAMMING - PURPLE
BASS/SYNTH BASS - ORANGE
GUITARS - LIGHT GREEN
KEYS/SYNTH PROGRAMMING - LIGHT BLUE
VOCALS - YELLOW
MASTER BUS - DEFAULT COLOR (DARK RED)
FX BUSSES - DEFAULT COLOR (DARK GREEN)


(BELOW: Screen shots from John Stearns’ song “Believe”)

Dropbox and the file sharing revolution

Sharing files, making mix changes and staying organized are very difficult tasks at times. I’ve shared tips and tricks here and there about how I like to work. I use tools like FileChute, Apple’s .mac accounts and google documents to share files. I’ve found a new handy tool that is changing the way I work (and no I’m not being paid to endorse these guys).


It’s called “Drop Box” and it’s a sort of dynamic folder that syncs between many users from anywhere in the world! Any file that is saved or altered in my Drop Box folder will be updated on all of the other users’ computers as well! Better yet, I can have several folders, each setup for different projects, with an entirely different group of users!

For instance…

Folder: “Charles Billingsley” is setup between myself and my producer friend, Adam Lancaster.
Foder: “CPB” is setup for my clients at Liberty University and their upcoming live album I’m mixing.

So, anything I place in the “Charles Billingsley” folder will be updated on Adam’s computer. If I save a mix file in the “CPB” folder, it will notify the other users that a change has been made. I quickly hear back on the approved mixes!

TIP: If you’re mixing a project (or producing for that matter) for a client, include a document called “progress” and keep track of how things are coming along. Include questions you have for your client or request mix approval on a song you’ve mixed. The document becomes a virtual time line as you work on your project.

I must thank my friend Adam Lancaster for introducing me to Drop Box!! Thank buddy!

Organizing Files! The nightmare tamed!

There are two things I really hate… paper and cables! These things clutter my life more than anything else. It happens less now that I’m not doing so much arranging, but I still hate paper… how it piles up. Cables, how they get tangled and messy and how they never wrap up just right.

A close third on my hate list is FILES! Files are a necessary evil for us all (all of us who use computers anyway).

I’ve come up with a plan that seems to work well for me. I realize there’s probably some loopholes in this plan but it has served me well.


MANAGING SESSION FILES -

I recommend saving a new session file whenever you do something major to your session. Your session files act as a timeline for your project. Find significant points in your production/mix to save a new session file.

It’s also important to save the date and time in the session title. Yes, I know that these things are tagged automatically to the file, but I find it useful to put it in the title. For one, it organizes your session files roughly by date and time.

ex. “Get Me 2 U-061709 0554pm drums completed.ptf”

The date and time always follow the title THEN put any additional information. This keeps your files nice and organized.

OLD SESSIONS -

All session files I am not currently using go into a file I’ve created called “old sessions.” Without exception, the only session file in plain sight within my session directory is the current one I’m working on. You can color code it too if you want.

00 BOUNCE -

I also create a folder called “00 BOUNCE” (the ‘00’ ensures that this folder stays at the top of the directory). This is where I save all of my printed mixes.

KEEPING TRACK OF PRINTED MIXES w/SESSION FILES


It’s happened to me time and time again. I print a mix, show it to the client and we move on. Later someone says, “You know, I wish we’d not made those changes. Can we just go back to the last mix you sent and start from there?” That’s when I’d find myself in trouble. If I did not save a session to correspond to the printed mix, I would have no way of getting back to that point. I have your solution!!! ….

When it’s time to print a mix save a new session based on the date and time but add the tag, “upld1” to the end. So your session file would read “Get Me 2 U-061709 0605pm upld1.ptf” Now print your mix and give it the same title “Get Me 2 U-061709 0605pm upld1.wav.” Now once you’re finished printing save a new session file and label it one minute after the print “Get Me 2 U-061709 0606pm.ptf.” That leaves a session file unaltered from the way it was when your song was printed. You tracking with me?

The reason I do this is because I would often save a new session before I print a mix but I would then alter the session file without realizing it. If I needed to recall 'upld1’ the session file would not sound the same. This ensures you’ll be able to pull up the mix because any alteration will be made to your new file. Be sure to then put all of the unused session files in the 'old sessions’ folder.

Adding the tag 'upld1’ or 'upld1’ allows you to track which mixes/session files have been printed and sent to the client. This is extremely helpful when referencing each mix.

FINAL MIXES -

When it’s time to print the final mixes, you treat your session files the same way. Save a session file that corresponds to each printed mix. 'GET ME 2 U-M.wav’ would have a session file titled 'GET ME 2 U-M.ptf.’ I always put the final mixes in all caps to help me find them easily. Putting the final mixes in a unique folder also can help.

Happy organizing!!!

Have to post this...

If you’re not a major audio nerd just LEAVE NOW. I had to post this because it had a lot of sense and I had not heard (read) this.

The topic is harmonic distortion. Harmonic distortion is added by tubes and transistors and adds harmonics on top of the sound fist in octaves, then in fifths…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harmonic_series_(music)

Even order harmonics are more pleasing and add a thickness to the sound. Odd order harmonics introduce more dissonant colors and can be less pleasing. This would come in handy when dealing with your EL Distressor which has a distortion option (DIST 1 is even order and DIST 2 is odd order).

What I was excited to learn was about the pleasing and not so pleasing qualities of these two types of distortion. This was new to me. Thanks to Jim Roberts for posting this post. Check out his blog. It’s great.


You can read more here.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tube_sound#Harmonic_content_and_distortion

Have to post this...

If you’re not a major audio nerd just LEAVE NOW. I had to post this because it had a lot of sense and I had not heard (read) this.

The topic is harmonic distortion. Harmonic distortion is added by tubes and transistors and adds harmonics on top of the sound fist in octaves, then in fifths…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harmonic_series_(music)

Even order harmonics are more pleasing and add a thickness to the sound. Odd order harmonics introduce more dissonant colors and can be less pleasing. This would come in handy when dealing with your EL Distressor which has a distortion option (DIST 1 is even order and DIST 2 is odd order).

What I was excited to learn was about the pleasing and not so pleasing qualities of these two types of distortion. This was new to me. Thanks to Jim Roberts for posting this post. Check out his blog. It’s great.


You can read more here.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tube_sound#Harmonic_content_and_distortion

TOP 10 PRODUCER MISTAKES (I know, I've done them all!)

I notice things about producers… things that people do over and over again that I notice. I notice them because I used to do them, or struggle with these things myself. I thought I’d compile a list of some of these things. Here we go… my top 10 producer mistakes… (in no real order)

#1) Caring more for creating cool, technical band arrangements at the expense of the song and lead vocal.

** Guys, c'mon… it’s about the song! it’s about the vocal!

#2) Leaving bad edits in your song, not cross-fading and checking things before they head off to mix.

** I notice this because some producers do this to me! They leave bad edits, don’t cross-fade those edits and general leave things “unfinished.” This stuff could make it to the final mix! Don’t chance it. Your mixer is not your editor.

#3) Picking the wrong tempo for a song.

** I’m aware that this is preference but I hear a lot of songs that are simply to slow or too fast for the style. If it makes the song sound awkward, then it’s the wrong tempo.

#4) Not being patient enough to get good vocals!

** It can take a lot of effort to get a good vocal take. It takes a lot of psychology to coach an inexperienced or nervous vocalist. What is worse is hearing a poor vocal performance but a killer guitar solo.. THE VOCAL IS KING! Be patient and get the vocal! Nothing else matters.

#5) Over-tuning or not being careful when tuning vocals.

** This takes time, but listen carefully and make sure you can’t hear the auto-tune working. You might have to dig into manual mode and get picky but it’ worth it. I like hearing out of tune vocals more than I like the sound of auto-tune! YUCK!

#6) Double tracking everything!

** To many guys, double tracking is the key to everything. It makes things bigger, covers mistakes, and gets you excited about guitars! Double tracking everything can also make for a boring mix! Double what is necessary. Leaving some stuff un-doubled (does that work to say?) makes the stuff you did double sound bigger in contrast!

#7) Putting high-pass filters on everything.

** I know some people that put HPF’s on everything including kick and bass guitar. Now, this can be necessary but it sound be determined by YOUR EARS not what you think you should do. Use HPF’s on when you have instruments competing for low-end real estate. Your mixes will sound thin otherwise.
NOTE: check stuff on small speakers. If you blow one up, you have too much LOW END :)

#8) Phasing issues with Overhead mics and guitars!

** There’s one thing that my poor hearing has done has made me listen in mono more. What you’ll notice is phasing issues. It is very easy for guitars to be out of phase because of the complexity the wave form (particularly distorted guitars). If you check your work in mono and the gain is decreased and everything falls apart you know you have phasing issues (I say “the mix folds into itself! that’s what I think phasing sounds like.) Search google for ways to avoid phasing.

#9) Using synth pads all the time!

** Sometimes you need space in a mix. I much enjoy it! Pads can make things muddy and ACTUALLY they can make stuff sound dated and lame! Sometimes it is actually the right thing to do, sometimes it’s not.

#10) Not using me as your mixer!

** I’m affordable and good looking. I’m sure to do a good job on your next record :) ha!!



UNTIL NEXT TIME "Stay classy San Diego!”