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Last Mixing Session - Lessons Learnt

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Last Mixing Session - Lessons Learnt

Postby curlybob43 » Mon Feb 17, 2020 11:06 am

Hi Guys,

I recently produced and mixed a song for my friend, who is an aspiring rap artist. After finishing the song, it has sprung to mind some general lessons I could learn from it - so here goes!

Vocals recorded different mic & room - due to the recording set up, the verses and chorus to this song was recorded in 2 different rooms, with 2 different microphones by the same performer. I found that matching the tone of the different microphones sounded better to the ear between changes, but the overall sound suffered somewhat compared to processing them individually. Could anyone share their approach to this?

Over processing? I had some strings in this track - sampled VST with violins and string ensembles I programmed. I eq'd these with a SSL plug in, but found compressing them individually sounded horrible. The only processing I did on these sounds was gently EQ and some gentle bus compression, finished with Reverb. I guess the question is, how little processing do you allow? I know everything is done by ear, but looking at a track with 1-2 plug-ins does always make you twitch at your VST bank out of habit (admit it ;) ).

Processing, processed samples - midi triggered drum samples are no stranger to hip hop. But I find some samples from Splice sound super compressed already, plus the fact midi programmed samples don't always allow for much dynamics apart from velocity variation. I found with the kick drum, compressing it gave me no other results than a smacking in your face sound that wasn't called for in the track. Any tips on processing samples that are already 'over' squashed?

Any tips are appreciated as always!! :) :SOS:
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Re: Last Mixing Session - Lessons Learnt

Postby Rich Hanson » Mon Feb 17, 2020 11:24 am

With respect to processing, do as little as you need. Don't get tempted to put on plug-ins just because you've got them. If it doesn't need compressing, then don't compress it!

I think this is something that us oldies don't struggle with: back in the day you had limited amounts of hardware that you had to use sparingly and it's a philosophy that follows you. That's why I rarely use more than one reverb as when I started out I only had the one reverb unit.
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Re: Last Mixing Session - Lessons Learnt

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Feb 17, 2020 11:38 am

curlybob43 wrote:Vocals recorded different mic & room...

You can get away with recording in different rooms if they are all equally well treated -- because the room contribution would be near zero. But if the room has a sound then it's always going to be a problem... especially if you need to compress the vocals a lot and thus bring up the room sound even more. Matching room tone is tricky, even with 'de-reverb' plugins, and the differences will always be picked up by the ear as something 'not quite right'. So, unless the rooms are all perfectly dead, don't record in different spaces if you can possibly avoid it!

Similarly, using different mics will impart different characters to the vocal and cutting between them will also trigger that 'not quite right' sense. You can use it for an intentional effect in some cases -- for example, giving the choruses a different tonal character to the verses, perhaps -- but otherwise it pays to be consistent with the mic and mic technique within a track.

Over processing?

Don't do it!

It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking everything needs to be treated, especially now that every DAW has every kind of processing known to man (and woman) in plentiful supply.

Instead, learn to listen critically to the whole mix -- not individual sources -- and analyse how the sounds of different sources blend together (or don't)... and then work out what specific elements need to be processed to make the mix sound better. Fix the most obvious problems first, then enhance other things if strictly necessary... but in general, the less you do the better!

With acoustic instruments, it really comes down to getting the source recordings right -- the right player with the right instrument in the right room and, in the right place, the right mic ... in that order!

With samples and virtual instruments, it's about picking the right sounds. If the raw samples already sound overly processed for your track, choose something more appropriate instead!
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Re: Last Mixing Session - Lessons Learnt

Postby curlybob43 » Mon Feb 17, 2020 12:20 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
curlybob43 wrote:Vocals recorded different mic & room...

You can get away with recording in different rooms if they are all equally well treated -- because the room contribution would be near zero. But if the room has a sound then it's always going to be a problem... especially if you need to compress the vocals a lot and thus bring up the room sound even more. Matching room tone is tricky, even with 'de-reverb' plugins, and the differences will always be picked up by the ear as something 'not quite right'. So, unless the rooms are all perfectly dead, don't record in different spaces if you can possibly avoid it!

Thankfully it was the chorus/verses with different takes. Made things easier for sure, but processing them individually without matching the tone did make your ears pluck up, not in a good way. I will try and avoid it at all costs in the future, it was just the way things had to go this time.

Processing sounds in context of the overall mix is something I try to do all of the time. I'm grateful this is a lesson I learnt fairly early on. I actually struggle the most with bass instruments in this area. I find it much easier to get a good bass tone in isolation, sitting the low end in a track and bringing out enough harmonics for the smaller playback systems, is such a fine balancing act. I think this has highlighted the fact I need to pin down some really good reference tracks for bass.
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Re: Last Mixing Session - Lessons Learnt

Postby curlybob43 » Mon Feb 17, 2020 12:32 pm

Rich Hanson wrote:With respect to processing, do as little as you need. Don't get tempted to put on plug-ins just because you've got them. If it doesn't need compressing, then don't compress it!

I think this is something that us oldies don't struggle with: back in the day you had limited amounts of hardware that you had to use sparingly and it's a philosophy that follows you. That's why I rarely use more than one reverb as when I started out I only had the one reverb unit.

I'm usually quite good with not overdoing it. It isn't really my style to add super amounts of processing. I usually either keep things as natural as possible or absolutely smash the hell out of it with loads of effects, one extreme or the other for me :P

I learnt from the 'oldies' ;) this way and the approach brought over from hardware has significantly helped my understanding of engineering. I find it much more logical when I think of things from an 'analog' signal flow, point of view. I primarily use a DAW when working at home, but still reach for things like SSL channel strips, hardware compressor emus etc. rather than the all bells & whistles digital software. There's too many 'one button' parameters and arbitrary results for my liking. It's all perspective though, there's many producers out there that take that approach and make excellent music!
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Re: Last Mixing Session - Lessons Learnt

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Feb 17, 2020 12:38 pm

curlybob43 wrote:...sitting the low end in a track and bringing out enough harmonics for the smaller playback systems, is such a fine balancing act. I think this has highlighted the fact I need to pin down some really good reference tracks for bass.

It's also much harder with some monitoring room and speaker systems than others! Headphones are often a big help!
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Re: Last Mixing Session - Lessons Learnt

Postby curlybob43 » Mon Feb 17, 2020 2:34 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
curlybob43 wrote:...sitting the low end in a track and bringing out enough harmonics for the smaller playback systems, is such a fine balancing act. I think this has highlighted the fact I need to pin down some really good reference tracks for bass.

It's also much harder with some monitoring room and speaker systems than others! Headphones are often a big help!


About this - I currently have a pair of DT770s. I use these for tracking and as a reference for mixing. When i'm recording with people, I have to rely on them bringing a pair headphones, which is not convenient for a multitude of reasons (even if most tend to have a half decent pair). I have been looking at the DT990s for mixing or just getting another cheap pair of closed backs for the artist to use. I love the 770s and know them pretty well. I'm not the most clued up in what the best cans are so unsure which would be the most useful option. :shifty:
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Re: Last Mixing Session - Lessons Learnt

Postby blinddrew » Mon Feb 17, 2020 4:29 pm

I use 770s for tracking and 990s for mixing, but I also use sonarworks so it could all be irrelevant! :)
More seriously, open backs are nicer to mix with, both for audio and comfort reasons. As well as the 990s it's worth looking at AKG K702 (generally around the same price if you look around a bit).
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Re: Last Mixing Session - Lessons Learnt

Postby CS70 » Mon Feb 17, 2020 4:55 pm

About processing, my $.10 is that the best amount of processing is the right amount. For some tracks it can be very little, for others a lot.

What is almost always wrong is applying processing without having a sonic and emotional objective in mind. Given the recording you have, what you want to achieve? If you know that, you soon find the right amount of processing.

As of headphones, I use 990s but I’m seriously edging towards some LCD-X :-)
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Re: Last Mixing Session - Lessons Learnt

Postby awjoe » Mon Feb 17, 2020 8:12 pm

Rich Hanson wrote:With respect to processing, do as little as you need. Don't get tempted to put on plug-ins just because you've got them.

^ This.

For me nowadays, every plugin I add to the mix is a two-step process. One - put it on and tweak it to where I like it. Two - mute it and listen again. The decision gets made at that point, but the decision quite often is to ditch the plugin.

Related to this, when I got a new computer a couple of years ago I made the painful decision to reduce my plugin hoard. I installed just one or two of my favourite plugins of each type, and left some perfectly good plugins uninstalled. I know I lost something by doing this ("Compressor A doesn't sound, and compressor B doesn't either... maybe Compressor C or D will sound better.") but overall, the simplification has been a win.
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Re: Last Mixing Session - Lessons Learnt

Postby Bob Bickerton » Mon Feb 17, 2020 9:02 pm

Mostly it’s been said. Definitely creating issues by recording vocals with different mics in different rooms. I believe consistency, not only within tracks but also across albums, of individual elements is important, unless you have a specific aesthetic reason not to do so.

Regarding processing, for me this has been a (long) journey of getting to know various plug-ins and how they work to a point where when faced with having to solve a problem I can reach and apply a specific plug-in with minimal experimentation. I know this sounds simplistic, but it means I’m always ‘solution focussed’ rather than ‘plug-in focussed’ if that makes any sense. I have a minimum of plug-ins which I use, I know them all very well - they are simply tools to achieve an outcome.

Regarding headphones, I too like the DT770s for tracking, but they are not the best for mixing. Open backs would serve you better. In fact I use the DT880s semi-open back to check and monitor mixes (and I believe they are more accurate than the DT990s). There are more accurate headphones around, Senny HD650s are more accurate, but for me less comfortable and many people around here like the AKG range of open backs.

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Re: Last Mixing Session - Lessons Learnt

Postby blinddrew » Tue Feb 18, 2020 9:56 am

I had a good experience of over-processing last night, I've got some drums in a mix that i'm just not happy with. So, following some advice from the Elf a couple of years ago, yesterday I went through and turned off all the plugins i'd added on various source and bus channels.
It immediately sounded better. :headbang:
Good enough for me to realise that really the part wasn't good enough and i need to redo it. :headbang: :headbang:
Which in turn led me to the conclusion that the bass part wasn't good enough either... :headbang: :headbang: :headbang:

Ho hum
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Re: Last Mixing Session - Lessons Learnt

Postby Zukan » Tue Feb 18, 2020 10:18 am

The Elf is Jedi! He knows shit.
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Re: Last Mixing Session - Lessons Learnt

Postby Dave B » Wed Feb 19, 2020 9:34 am

But please don't send him any more through the post.... :bouncy:
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Re: Last Mixing Session - Lessons Learnt

Postby curlybob43 » Thu Feb 20, 2020 12:55 pm

awjoe wrote:
Rich Hanson wrote:With respect to processing, do as little as you need. Don't get tempted to put on plug-ins just because you've got them.

Related to this, when I got a new computer a couple of years ago I made the painful decision to reduce my plugin hoard. I installed just one or two of my favourite plugins of each type, and left some perfectly good plugins uninstalled. I know I lost something by doing this ("Compressor A doesn't sound, and compressor B doesn't either... maybe Compressor C or D will sound better.") but overall, the simplification has been a win.

I'm the same - I literally turn to 1 or 2 plug ins in most instances. Echoboy has dominated my delay usage for the last year straight!
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