Keith Everette Smith

Producer, Songwriter, Multi-Instrumentalist

Filtering by Tag: Tips and Tricks

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!



QUICK TIP-"Removing Automation"

When I’m preparing files to be mixed it is standard practice to remove all the plugins, sends and automation from the session so that the mixer has a blank session to work from. Here are a few shortcuts that will help you perform these tasks quickly.

REMOVING PLUGINS/SEND ASSIGNMENTS


By holding down [option] and removing a plugin it will remove all of the plugins in that row of inserts across the session. It works the same for removing send assignments too. If you perform this once on every row of you’ll have removed all of the plugins and sends from your session.

(Note: This function will only work on channels of the same type. In other words in you “[option] remove” a plugin from a mono channel it will delete all the plugins from other MONO channels in that row. You’ll have to perform the function again for stereo channels and master channels. It’s still faster than the alternative!)

REMOVING AUTOMATION

Here’s an neat little trick for removing ALL of the automation from a session.

1) From the “groups” menu select “ALL” so that every channel in your session is grouped together.

2) From the “edit” menu select “Select All.” (you’ll notice that the entire session becomes highlighted.)

3) For our last step, within the “edit” menu you’ll see “Clear Special.” Within this drop down menu select “All Automation”.

BAM!!! Just like that, all of the automation in your session is now gone and you can continue getting your session prepped for the mixer.

Onion Mixing

Mixing (and producing) is like peeling an onion… you mix slowly, one layer at a time. The difference is that in mixing you might put a few layers back on if you’ve gone too far :) Oh, and you peel away the layers with your ears not your hands (hahaha! stupid joke).

It’s true, you’ve gotta mix with your ears and not get too bogged down with one particular task. This is where I overdo it at times. This is where my mixes fall apart, become small and uninteresting.

I find that my best mixes happen when I build a strong foundation, try to make EVERYTHING as big as possible, and move on (or take a break) when I start getting frustrated. I’m just peeling away the layers, making small adjustments until the mix falls into place.

My friend Justin watched me mix for a few days last week and he mentioned how amazed he was at watching this very thing happen. He said, “Wow, you just fight it and fight it and the mix is never good enough until, BAM, it just starts happening!”

So peel away that mix. Fight it to the ground until it’s beautiful and finished!

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!)

2010... my new era

I remember the year 2000. I was really young (still in high school actually) and wide-eyed about my future. There was so much I wanted to do and accomplish with my life and I was eager to get started. 10 years later I’m proud of where I’ve been and I’m still very excited about the future.

This year I’ve resolved to make several changes in my life and strengthen the things that have worked for me in the last ten years.

This year I’m going to spend some extra time on my blog writing helpful articles, posting reviews of gear, pointing you to other helpful resources to help you grow as a musician/recordist/writer!! It’ll be fun and I hope you’ll find it very informative.


WHAT DO YOU NEED? HOW CAN I HELP?

I get emails from time to time from young recordists asking questions, soliciting advice, etc. These questions could often be answered in the blog.

If you have a topic you’d like me to address on this blog, please let me know by posting a comment or emailing me at producerkeith1@gmail.com.

Here we go!!

Plugins are so dang expensive!!!

As you know, plugins can be very expensive. I think I’d be jaw dropped at the amount of money I’ve spent on plugins in the last five years or so. Without counting, I must have about 100 plugins and software instruments and I’ve purchased every single one of them. (I’m a big proponent for PAYING for the tools and music you use… anything else is stealing, right?)

There is hope though! Have you ever considered buying plugins on ebay? Well, if not you should! In the last few years I’ve purchased many plugins and plugin bundles on ebay at massive discounts. I paid about $60 for Smack!, $125 for the Focusrite Bundle and I purchased the Waves SSL TDM bundle for $600 and the entire Sound Toys Suite for $750. Now, that’s still a lot of money, but it’s still a great deal! I’ve purchased the above plugs as well as things like TL Space, the Pultec Bundle, Moog FX, Fairchild Compressors, Auto Tune, etc.

So, before you go spending full price for your plugins, do an ebay search for what you need. You can save your search criteria and ebay will notify you when what you are looking for becomes available.

Merry Christmas everyone. Enjoy giving gifts but I pray you’ll spend some time enjoying your families and celebrating Jesus Christ this season.

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!

Write me a song you're the songwriter man!

Ever had an idea, recorded it on your iphone or hand-held recorder, played it back later and couldn’t for the life of you remember HOW you played it? Well, I was watching a video interview with a producer named Tommy-D. He had a great idea…


record your song ideas with isight or your computer’s video recorder!!! You can now hear AND see your song idea and thus see how you played that cool guitar riff or piano part.

Neat, huh?

Reverb ideas

I’m not sure what’s been going on, but the links I’ve been posting have not been showing up. Hopefully this will be different.

Reverbs are a tough game. Very difficult to get right. Things that sound dry in a recording are not necessarily completely dry. Perhaps verbs have been used in a way to give thickness but not add a reverberated sound. These psycho-acoustical techniques take a long time to develop and a lot of attention to detail.

My recommendation, spend a great deal of time with the ambient environments in your tracks. The use of compression is often considered the tell tale sign of a pro or amateur, but a close second is the use of ambient effects in a track.

Here’s a simple article with some tips for using verbs.

Hope all is well with you all!!

http://www.looperman.com/tutorials-production-33-15_reverb_tips.html

EQ... pre or post compression

When engineers get together we talk about silly recording stuff. It’s goofy and silly and if I pretend I’m listening in on the conversation rather than participating in it, I find myself laughing hysterically at how much of a total dork I am. But, that’s what happens when you love what you do… you don’t care how much of a dork you are. In fact, being a dork about your craft will make you better at it. Because you care!

In those geeky conversations we’ll often talk about our techniques for EQ and COMPRESSION. One frequent topic is whether or not to EQ pre or post compression. Meaning, whether or not we choose to EQ before a compressor (pre) or after (post). Everyone has their techniques and no one is wrong. I have a very basic way of approaching this. Hopefully these guidelines will help you. Feel free to reply with your techniques for this is in no way a holistic approach. I am still developing my ear too.

WHAT COMPRESSION DOES…

We all know that compression controls dynamics but what you may not be clued into is how it affects the sound. In addition to dynamic control compression also does 2 things…

emphasizes dominant frequencies and rolls off the top end.

1) It’s important to note that compression is going to overemphasize the dominant frequencies in the instrument you are compressing. The more extreme the compression the more extreme the result. This is important to know because if there is an odd frequency in your bass guitar and you’re really smashing it with a limiter, you may end up with a very odd sounding instrument. You may have guessed what you should do… PRE EQ.

If the compressor is doing odd things to the sound of the instrument, do some PRE EQ carving to shape the instrument so the compressor has a more even sound to compress. (TIP, always compare what it sounded like before you tweaked it.)

2) You are almost always going to lose some top end fidelity when compressing. For this reason (and others) many people choose to EQ post compression to try and make up some of the sound lost in the high frequency range caused by compression. Some people compress post EQ almost all the time to try and make up for compression. Not a bad idea.

This topic came up when I was discussing Chris Lord Alge’s techniques for mixing. He has a very over-the-top compression sound and he is also known to HEAVILY EQ things. Well, you’ll notice if you have the CLA Waves SSL Bundle that all of his presets use EQ before compression. The presets boast a lot of EQ and a lot of compression.

Now, the SSL EQ’s are extremely aggressive. They have a bite that is coveted by many engineers. What I’ve noticed is that you can use this aggressive EQ and the compressor will take off some of the bite. You would also need to add a lot of HF EQ because of how much the compressor is affecting the sound. I guess what I’m getting at… CLA can heavily EQ because he runs the EQ in PRE and then compresses so heavily (dulling the EQ and making it not so extreme). This is part of CLA’s massive sound.

Now I don’t subscribe to this all the time. I think I’m a bit less extreme than CLA is… and he’s a freakin’ beast and makes amazing music. To draw a comparison feels pretentious at the least… so I don’t :) I do find it useful to use both techniques for different situations.

As you are learning, try being aggressive with compressors and EQ in order to learn the sound of your gear BUT I would encourage you that LESS is definitely more. Your more natural sounding mixes will be loved… I promise. You can slowly work your way into more aggressive mixing as you learn where “too far” is. You’ve gotta learn what real instruments sound like and how to finesse them into musical submission. It takes a long time. I’m still working at it!!

Hope this stuff helps!!

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!!!

When the chorus gotta pop the bass gotta drop!

OK the title is pretty gay but it’s just something I thought about doing (and had heard before but forgot about).

Try duplicating your bass track in order to process the low end differently on the verses and the choruses. The idea is to decrease the low end by a few db in the verses so when the chorus comes in there’s an added amount of low end!

Short post but I thought you might want to try it. Also, try listening for this technique in other mixes. It happens more than you might think!

Happy mixing!!!

Keith

P.S. I just got new monitors. ProAc Studio 100’s paired with a Bryston 4B (the amp is borrowed for now). I’m in mixer heaven. Up next: a summing mixer and new clock! (more on the clock soon!)

Thoughts in my head while mixing

I consider this to be my most revealing blog post yet. While mixing, I’m constantly having remind myself of fundamental mixing techniques that lead to good mixes. I have a horrible memory so I started to write many of my techniques down so that I could reference them when I was having a bad day. I may not do these things all the time, but in those times where I’m struggling with a mix, it is most likely because I forgot to do one or more of the following.

If I had to point to one thing that leads to poor mixing it’s moving too fast and not LISTENING enough. You’ve gotta be patient. The following all relate to patient mixing.

DISCLAIMER: These are not all MY ideas. They are things I’ve picked up on from all kinds of engineers and mixers. I’d also add that everyone’s mix style is personal. These are just things that I do and I may not do them forever. For all I know I’ll check it up tomorrow :) For now… here they are.



36 TIPS/REMINDERS FROM SUCCESSFUL MIXES


* Listen a lot in mono. Panning, balance, and phase relationships are more easily adjusted when in mono.


* Listen mostly at one volume level. This allows you to judge energy levels and keeps you from getting pumped up simply by turning up the volume. Sometimes you need pumped up, but generally one volume will do.


* Start with Kick, bringing their volume up to -10db on the meter. This gives you plenty of headroom to build a dynamic mix. Next, bring up the snare (probably close to -10db as well). After that bring up the bass (level is typically a touch lower than the K and Sn). Often times vocals are next!


* Balance is the most important part of mixing. Set general levels before adding compression and EQ.


* Set levels with one section of the song (perhaps the second chorus). Set up a loop and start pulling up faders while adjusting balance and panning.


* Try setting up the vocal ambience with just K, SN, bass and the vocal. This ensures that you’re giving priority to the vocal’s needed space in the mix.


* Try filtering out the low end and/or high end before reaching for the EQ pots. This could be the needed solution when your trying to get instruments to pop out in the mix


* Make things bigger and more exciting by using chorusing, harmonizers, delays and other audio enhancers


* Make small adjustments! A little goes a long way.


* Even when using many FX in a mix, try using one reverb to glue things together. I’ve had a lot of success with a large hall setting for “bigger than life” mixes and medium studio spaces on more intimate tracks.


* You can use more ambience if you use pre-delay. Try using a delay plugin on the bus before the reverb instead of using the pre delay on the reverb itself.


* Listen to see if compression to control dynamics is actually needed before automatically adding compression. Yes, at times you want to “color” the sound with a compressor, but many times you don’t. Being conservative with compression will make your mixes bigger.


* Leave overheads, toms and room mics out of the mix until much of your levels are set, then begin adding them in as needed. This will make for a very direct sounding drum sound, but I can even get a nice roomy sound with this approach.


* Separation and clarity are the goal. Don’t automatically try to dirty things up.


* Make automation changes manually rather than drawing them in. This helps the mix breathe and stay organic. It will also challenge you to use your ears more!


* EQ FX sends before the FX unit/plugin. This helps keep phase in check.


* Ride verbs and delays around the vocal to keep things clear and “in your face.”


* Use different FX for different parts of the song.


* Find the most important elements of the arrangement and emphasize them! … or de-emphasize things around them.


* Ride the master bus to add energy and dynamics. (i.e. bump the master bus by .8db during the choruses)


* Subtractive EQ is cleaner, but additive EQ can be very musical and can bring things forward in the mix.


* Ride the vocal for excitement or to gain intimacy. Particularly listen for interesting parts of the vocal that might get missed… bring these up.


* Make balance decisions at low volumes, especially vocals.


* EQ the vocal after you compress it UNLESS odd frequencies are being emphasized by compressions. If this happens then add an EQ before the compressor and notch out the bad frequencies.


* Vocalists often have a different tonality when singing high and singing low. Try automating EQ when needed OR set up separate tracks and EQ each track a little differently.


* Keep the “motor running” throughout the entire song. Be sure that the motor (hihats, ride, ghost notes on snare) are present in each section.


* Use “EQ Carving” to make space for each instrument. This is even important when instruments are panned hard left and hard right. If carve these instruments too, your mono mix will be better and so will the stereo mix.


* Do fade outs in mastering (because the master fader is pre-fader… the mix will fall apart as the master bus compressor is disengaged)


* Compress less than 3db on the master bus.


* Be conservative when limiting the master bus. Take the limiting off (or decrease it a great deal) when sending off for mastering. I try to limit less than 3db.


* Begin the mix with nothing on the master bus, ½ way add some buss compression, when you’re close to the end add a limiter just to see what mastering might do to your mix.


* If the groove is off or everything seems unsettled, try nudging certain tracks. It may be that the guitars or bass are ahead. Nudging things back a big can make things settle down.


* Step away once every hour or so for a 5-15 minute break. If you get to the point where nothing sounds good… just stop. You’re getting nowhere.


* Check balances sometimes from the bathroom or hallway. This “real world” listen will help you make good decisions.


* The vocal is most important… don’t forget it.


* Even when creating a dry sounding mix, FX can still help with dimension. Just use short verbs and very short delays.

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!”

Hearing Loss

Hey guys. I thought I’d post this article I found. I have a great amount of hearing loss in my left ear. The high end is gone and my stereo image is off. It bothers me a great deal because I wish I had been more careful. So, I plead with you… turn down the monitors, get a sound pressure meter for your studio and protect your ears against loud noises.

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/83516.php

Also, it’s a good idea to invest in a good pair of molded in ear monitors if you are a performer (especially a drummer). 2 companies I recommend…

http://livewiresforyou.com/


http://www.ultimateears.com/_ultimateears/
(I have the UE-7’s with the ambient feature)

Monitors and listening environment

Hey gang. I’ve been asked recently about my preference in monitors. GOOD QUESTION!

Your monitoring environment is extremely important. It’s how you hear the music you create. You are taking a huge gamble when you produce/mix without good monitoring. Without good monitoring how will you know that what you are recording is accurate? How will you know if the bottom end of your mixes are punchy? Will your mixes translate? YOU WON’T KNOW.

OK, so I’m playing up the scenario a little bit for effect. The above is true, yes, but obviously what is MOST important is that you know your gear and how it sounds. Crummy speakers can be used to mix if you know how they respond. I’m sure you’ve heard someone tell you that your car is very important to your mixes (or your ipod in this modern day). The reason is that your car is most likely where you listen to the most music. Your ears recognize a good sounding mix in that environment. I heard of a mixer who actually owned a radio transmitter with a radio-type compressor set to the input. This engineer would play a song and transmit it to his car stereo… he felt that the best way to understand the way a mix would translate on the radio was to hear it on the radio! ha! Pretty crazy, huh?

Here’s a little help for purchasing monitors…

1) go to a music store or local studio and try out some monitors!!! Use YOUR ears to find monitors that suite your personality. I don’t like the same monitors that everyone else necessarily likes. Bring a few CDs that you know intimately. This will help you hear the differences in each monitors as it relates to music you know well.

2) get recommendations from other engineers… though using your own ear is most important, the experience of others can help you along the way. Russ Fowler recommended KRK V4 monitors to me a few years ago. He and Mike Clark (recently passed away… he was the owner of the famed “Southern Tracks Studio” in Atlanta) went to guitar center and both loved these. I eventually tried them and then purchased a pair and added a small 10" sub to add a touch of low end.

3) consider your style… R&B music can call for a different type of monitor than rock music. Rock music is rugged and midrang-y. R&B has lots of highs and extreme lows. If you are purchasing a monitor for R&B or electronic music you’ll need monitors with a good low end and highs that don’t fatigue. If you’re buying for rock, something like NS-10’s may be perfect for coming up with a raw edgy mix.

4) monitors should sound the same at all volume levels. Some monitors have a volume “sweet spot” where the drivers are activating the cones correctly on at certain volumes. The best monitors are ones that sound good at all volume levels.

5) good monitors should also have a decent sized stereo image “sweet spot.” This will happen when the monitors are positioned correctly and if the monitors are built properly. You want to be able to move around your desk without having the sound change a ton.

6) good low end - I personally believe that mixing is best accomplished with a sub. It’s only with a sub woofer that I can understand what is really going on down in the extreme low end of the mix. Mixes are done without subs, sure, but I believe the mixes with the best low end are done with monitors with good low end.

7) accurate mids - “hyped” monitors are not good monitors. Small speaker component surround-sound systems have taught us to hear music with highs and lows only. This is not a good thing for music mixing. The mid-range in your monitors should be present and accurate.

8) smooth high end - You’ll likely spend hours upon hours in your studio. The worst thing you could do is fatigue your ears before you’re tired of working. Make sure the high end of your monitors is smooth and even.

9) passive or active - It seems that most monitors these days are “active” meaning they have amplifiers built into the monitor. This is great! It insures that the amp is perfectly matched to give the right amount of power to each speaker. If you’re looking for a passive speaker (like NS-10’s) you’ll need to purchase an amp too. An amp should have plenty of power to handle the speaker. Too little power and you can actually blow the speaker.


MY MONITOR SETUP….

Mackie 824 Monitors attached to JBL 4300 sub
KRK V4 Monitors with Tapco 10" sub
Sharp Desktop Stereo (from John Carl.. thanks John)

not setup right now..

JBL 4300 Monitors with matching sub

OTHER GREAT MONITOR COMPANIES…

Adams
DynAudio
Blue Sky
Yamaha NS10 with Bryston 4B amp
Barefoot (if you got too much money to spend)



TIP: do most of your instrument rides (especially vocals) on small monitors at lower volumes. It is easiest to hear balance issues at low volumes.

TIP: double check your low end (kick and bass in relation to the mix) on small speakers (this will let you know if you’re gonna blow someone elses speakers with your mix).

TIP: put your mix up on the big speakers to WOW the client.


Have fun SHOPPING!

Gear Heads Don't Get It!

Jeremy Cowart is one of the most gifted commercial photographers around. I am not a photographer but I do have many friends who make their living at photography and graphic design.  I do enjoy going to Jeremy’s site to see who he’s shot lately. It will most likely be the artist soaring at the top of the pop charts or the stars from ABC’s newest hit show.

While looking through Jeremy’s blog I was drawn to a title “GEAR HEADS DON’T GET IT.” Automatically I am interested. I mean, I am a gear head after all.

You’ll want to take a quick glance at this article as it is a simple explanation as to why creativity comes before gear.

ARTICLE

MY THOUGHTS:

I am still a gear head, though, I feel as though I’d recovering. I can admit that I have a problem and I am facing my addiction head on! I have a decent amount of gear… larger than most home studios and smaller than most commercial studios. I have plenty of gear to make my recordings. Gear is one thing.. A TOOL! If you are an engineer/producer you should know your gear inside and out for 2 reasons: #1 - so you know what each piece of gear is capable of and #2 so that you can use your gear quickly.. so you don’t interrupt your creativity.

CREATIVITY! - I noticed something a few years ago. When I would ask another professional to critique my work, I never heard comments about the quality of my recordings. I heard critiques of the song itself or the vocal performance. Things like that. I also noticed that when listening to hit songs, the common denominator was not audio quality. The thing that every song had in common was that it was a great song that had character and life!

To quickly get to the point. I hope that all of you are seeking for hone your craft as a musician before crafting developing your craft as an engineer. Even engineers should consider themselves musicians first. Buy only the gear you HAVE to have and learn to create art within the creative walls of your current setup.

10 things you can do to fuel creativity/musicianship…

#10 - Don’t compare your work critically to others

#9 - Create things that have nothing to do with your music

#8 - Take music lessons

#7 - Look at nature, don’t move, breathe deep and stay a while

#6 - Create something truly unique… something only you may enjoy.

#5 - When being creative, don’t compare your work to others’ work.

#4 - Share your work with others… often! Share the bad stuff too!

#3 - Be willing to truly hear the opinions of other. You don’t have to agree.

#2 - Don’t be afraid to have your own taste and your own opinions.

#1 - Smile at your work!

Birthdays and Music That inspires

Yesterday was my birthday. It was a good birthday. I went up to LA and played in a reading band… it’s a big band where musicians come sit in and play through music… jazz, funk, contemporary stuff mostly. It was a lot of fun and a good way to spend the 26th anniversary of my birth! Without going into details, the circumstances surrounding the rehearsal were a little difficult.  You know how that can be… tense and frustrating. After spending a few hours in my car (without AC!) I was greeted by my friends and family and we had a great evening!

I mention this story because it illustrates something very powerful about music. That is this:

music is much more about tension than it is about perfect harmony.

You don’t notice blissful moments without some tension to remind you that you are actually in a blissful state. Tension is the reason why I love cluster chords rather than simple triads, the reason why I love distortion, the reason why I love an emotive performance and the reason why

perfection is the enemy.

Creating tension can be especially hard in Christian music. I mean, the end result is a Savior who loves us and would do anything for us. We have to look for creative ways to add tension to our music in order that it is something compelling. Christian music is BETTER than it was 20-30 years ago, not just different. Christian musicians, I believe, have become better artists and have found ways to add tension to music. Music in the 90’s was GREAT at this. It was raw and edgy and bands like Audio Adrenaline, Jars of Clay and DC Talk were creating great music that included tension.

Here’s the problem… digital editing has allowed us the “luxury” of releasing too much tension from our music. We can perfect every hit and tune every note until a very important part of our music is tension free. It is the element of human performance. The answer to this is to

use your ears, not your eyes

when editing. Musical tension does not happen with your eyes anyway, it happens with your ears. To use your eyes while editing is pretty ridiculous. When you listen, you will listen for actual mistakes and fix those instead of sucking the life out of your music.

Now, I will say that there are some times when you will say, “I’d like to tighten this up more.” The feel is not flawed, but certain genres call for a tighter feel. Electronic and Pop music is pretty rigid these days… on purpose, though it can be very FRESH to infuse live performances unaltered within your electronic or pop songs. That’s what many producers have done with R&B and Hip Hop. You’ll hear a lot of groove on R&B albums these days. Very cool!

WAYS TO KEEP THINGS TENSE!

  • don’t over-tune vocals
  • don’t over-time align vocals
  • don’t alter your groove too much
  • take the time to record GREAT performances
  • Never say “I can fix it in the mix”
  • Don’t over-compress
  • DO over-compress sometimes
  • release the tension every now and then so you notice it when you’ve got it
  • make music that inspires you to sing along, bob your head and dance!

Check out

Tristan Prettyman’s song “Hello”

for an example of a song that would have been utterly RUINED had it been auto-tuned to death. An amazing vocal performance!

I’m off to over-tune some vocals :)