Tracking your band in the basement? Producing a record on your laptop for that awesome singer/waitress around town? Working on your own music with no outside help or opinion? Don’t worry, these days that’s the norm, and although those aren’t at all perfect scenarios, let’s do what we can to keep the music sounding awesome and people digging it.These days it’s extremely possible to record your own stuff if you’re in a band, and actually helpful to do so whether you release it or not. If you’re an independent artist or songwriter, it’s a great way to work on a single to get noticed. Once you make the decision to release your song, your music gets thrown up there with everyone else’s onto iTunes, and you’ve either nailed your sound or you haven’t. With many years as a mixing engineer, i’ve heard my share of do-it-yourself-mixes and self-proclaimed audio engineers. Outside help can be vital and is sometimes an absolute must when it comes to mixing, and unless the guy you’re trying to hire has a last name like Lord-Alge, Brauer, Wallace or Puig, rad and awesome mixers can be found at rates that are way cheaper than the average lame mixing rig. These are some essential questions to go through prior to sending your song out to the mixer and calling your song finished, and I find this clears up 99% of any snags that producers go through, leaving just a great tone and vibe enhancing experience to those that find the right audio mixing engineer.
1. Know when to say when – Are you done recording?
Hold on there, Timba Jr, push back that duplication deadline! This may at first seem ridiculously obvious, but this is the number one issue that makes finishing music well, so difficult. It started out great, but once you listen to the finished product, it just doesn’t speak to you the way other recordings do. Here’s where things went wrong: you either mixed it yourself without any experience, or you didn’t help the mixer get the best out of the tracks. You may be certain you’re done recording, you send off the tracks, but then you end up sending more tracks, and more redos, and extra parts; the mixing gig just turned into the track management gig. This is the biggest reason people end up mixing their own music: their recording isn’t good and they’re still figuring out how to produce during the mix stage. That isn’t fun. The overdubs probably should have happened, and a part might really need tweaking, but if all this stuff needs addressing, why start mixing in the first place? You’re not mixing until you’re not tracking. Until you can sleep well at night knowing the tracks sound the way they should, you’re not ready to call it finished. The mixer can even recommend overdubs and an outside opinion is a good thing, but if you’ve spent time and effort getting your song to sound exactly the way you want and you’re completely happy, you can safely call the recording finished. Which leads to question 2….
2. Get me out of here! – Have you had time away from the song?
Take a break! Back that thing up, and go enjoy some sunshine. Recording sessions can go a long time, and in the days of the self-producer, objectivity and perspective are a rare commodity. Sometimes we end sessions just because we can’t think or hear straight. It takes time off to reset your senses so that when you come back, you’ll instantly identify what you like and don’t like about your recording. Always go with your first instincts. The only problem is that the longer you work on something, the farther away your first instincts get! Don’t send that song away or call it done yet, until you’ve had time off for at least a week to have a final listen and maybe a tweak or two, or even a complete overhaul. Whatever your first instinct is! But if you call it too early, you’re back to problem 1 and it’ll take you wayyyyyyyy longer to iron things out; you’ll lose more perspective than you gain. The best producers have perspective, objectivity, know their own limits, and make smart decisions like not running around in circles at 3am on a long session. Take your time.
3. Danger Batman… – Are the tracks labeled and organized in a way a complete idiot (the mixer) would be able to understand?
People who mix songs everyday get really good at it. They get great at finding flattering balances that please the ear, sit right, and get great tones. Some are absolute masters at it, and their mixes sound just great. Of course, all this doesn’t matter if they mix the wrong tracks, because you left an extra guitar part in there, plus the scratch synth track, and they used the rough vocal instead of the final, which was in pieces scattered throughout the tune. Getting up to speed with where your music is going becomes just plain impossible when we’re not listening to the music the way you are. Before sending the song out for mixing, make a new file and remove all the spare and useless tracks, so they can’t even accidentally be heard by someone. Label the tracks by what they are and what they do. Make sure you haven’t combined any tracks in silly ways, such as different people on the same vocal track. It’s eery to hear a man change into a woman for a chorus while in the middle of a mix! It’s totally unnecessary with today’s track counts. Simple, straightforward labeling. That way we keep focusing on the sound.
4. Bzzzz Zip – Are the files consolidated well? No glitches or clipping?
This is the boring one, but it comes up a lot, usually on the first listen back from duplication. CRACKLE. When doing your own engineering, or even just being the guy in charge of sending the files out, you need to make sure the files are free of glitches and artifacts. These can come from bad fades or funky edits, pops from electrical power etc… they happen. Best thing to do is fix them as you hear them in the recording phase. Another biggie: not checking the volume coming out of the soft synths and drum machines, and the files have audible clipping that doesn’t at all sound like the good distortion. You’ve basically just made your song worse by clipping the synths and trying to mix from that. Open up the session, check the files for bad levels, check the fades for smoothness, add fades in the awkward spots, and your music sounds that much better.
5. Master Conductor – Are you sure of the arrangement, and there aren’t any instruments or takes that aren’t meant to be there?
The art of mixing has a lot to do with maximizing the arrangement, so starting with a great arrangement just, well, makes sense. Once again this is a great opportunity to check for tracks that don’t belong, and maybe you’ll find one or two spots where things clash or a minor traffic jam happens. Here’s the spot to clean things up, that way you’re doing something you’re creatively ok with and your mixer doesn’t have to decode your thoughts.
6. Are you double sure of the arrangement? There aren’t any spots that are too busy or instruments fighting?
Yep, this really is that important. The number one thing that comes up after a mixer spends 9 hours trying to shoehorn 85 tracks into a 2 track Left-Right master, is that the client asks for some tracks muted, or worse yet, that they didn’t like the way the mixer muted certain tracks in spots. The solution: mute them yourself before sending. This usually ties in with points 1 and 2; just not enough attention put into the song.
Of course, the opposite can happen, where maybe you tried to go a little too indie or minimalist, and turns out that there just isn’t enough going on to sound the way you’d like. This can happen when someone wants a wall of sound and shows up with, well, two bricks. Mind you, the answer isn’t to just add gratuitous tracks and double everything until we think we’re not seeing straight. Take a listen to some of your favorite songs: notice how the arrangement sounds full, yet the parts are both different and compliment each other. This is huge. A couple parts doing different things can sound pretty big, and just the right amount of parts won’t sound too cluttered. Just like mixing, arranging takes balance.
7. Fooled ya! – The rough mix is up to date, and has all the right tracks in it and is exactly the same as the consolidated tracks?
When you’ve been listening to the song a certain way with a certain basic mix for weeks or months, it’d be nice to let your mixer in on your mindset a little too. But here’s the thing: don’t send a rough mix and then add tracks later on, or keep tracks in the rough mix you end up cutting later. Rough mix the song exactly as you’re hearing the final version you approve for mixing. 100%. That way, your mixer will be on the same page 100%, and you’ll be 100% blown away and satisfied.
8. Nooooooooo! – Can you admit the rough mix isn’t perfect, and know what you want differently?
The other end of the coin is being so attached to the rough mix you don’t like when anything’s changed. This ties in with point 2. Rough mixes are exactly that: rough, and not final. Being so attached to the rough you think it’s perfect means you probably haven’t had enough time away from the song entirely, so when you go back, you’ll realize what it needs after gaining some perspective for a week and resetting your ears. True, while it’s great to be in the moment, and capture those moments, we make music that tries to survive the long term, and hopefully even lasts 1000 listens. Don’t set yourself up for things to bug you years after it’s done.
Another option: don’t get it mixed, just release the rough! Hmmmm, doesn’t sound so perfect now… Just needs one tweak… then that tweak makes something else need a tweak, and before long you don’t even like how it sounds anymore….. thus the endless cycle of the self-producing-self-mixing goes. If you’re going to release this for other people to hear and judge anyway, getting someone in a little earlier with experience and tools and sounds can only help to be received better by your audience. But have perspective with what you like about the rough, what you don’t like, and what you’d like to end up with. Getting attached to the version nobody’s going to hear sure won’t help you translate your ideas to them.
9. Are you allergic to editing/tuning/cowbell tracks?
Mixers, having come in contact with just about every kind of track imaginable, from Grandpa Willy playing his false teeth, to the 4am vocal take in the basement with the mic facing the wrong way, have developed and learned an array of tools to tweak a track with needs beyond those of the average mix. But there’s a creative line, and if you don’t want your inspired-on-the-porch-folk sound turned into a T Pain sound, let your guy know! Sometimes, the feel you have in the tracks is just perfect, other times a drum part could use a tweak, or whatever. Also from time to time, a mixer might fly a part over to another part of the song to help out, and in even rarer cases, might lay down an overdub. Not a backup vocal overdub, mind you, but subtle and still there. Lay down the creative line, the elements that are essential to your style, and the ones you think are detrimental to your style. Your mixer will gladly help out.
10. Is this song most authentic to who you are, and it’s the one you’re ready to make the push with?
One of the most important questions is last: how’s the song you chose? Is this the one worth pushing, more than the rest? Is it selling out? Do people like it? Do you like it? Is it at the core of what you do, or is this the crazy dance or acoustic version? Careful what you end up releasing, it could become your hit and you’ll be stuck playing it at every gig the rest of your life! But in all seriousness, a great song, with a great arrangement, with a great performance, with a great recording, with a great mix will be the best career booster anyone could hope for, and a much needed inspiration for us music lovers. It’s just as easy to have false perspective here as it is in the recording.
Follow these guidelines like a checklist and you’ll develop awesome producing skills, avoiding many of the annoying, frustrating, and musically uninspiring shortfalls that everyone has when they’re trying to get their music out there. And of course remember that mixers are some of the friendliest, down-to-earth people in the industry. Way cooler than A&R guys. We aim to please, and work with songs in whatever shape they come in. These are to help you make music with as much fun and as little tears as possible. For competitive rates on high quality online mixing, check out Resosound Productions.
Jordan Rory Jackiew for Resosound Productions – online mixing for clients all around the world, mixing singles for terrestrial or internet radio, and mixing albums/EP’s for digital release.
Jordan Rory Jackiew
Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/5314633