Here at Sound On Sound we always try to help out with readers' queries whenever we can, and if we get enough questions on the same topic, that's a cue that we need to be thinking about an article to cover that subject. However, some of the queries that come in via email are either very general or would require a whole book to answer. I received one such query lately when a reader told me that he'd recorded some vocal tracks but wanted to know how he should mix them, what effects and processors he should use and how to end up with a commercial-sounding mix. Unfortunately, there is no short answer to that question.
While those of us who have been recording for a number of years probably know instinctively how to approach this, there's actually an awful lot of ground for the newcomer to the subject to cover. You can't, for example, just say 'first, add some compression to the vocals', as you'd then have to go on to explain how a compressor works, what settings are appropriate for vocals and then explain why you might need to compress things in the first place. That would include an explanation of the differences between using a compressor to create some kind of effect and using it as a form of automatic level control, at which point you'd have to explain using the DAW's level automation to take out the main level discrepancies. And that would lead on to a discussion on DAW routing, because if you want to add compression to a vocal that has been partially levelled using track automation, you have to route the track to a bus and then put the compressor in the bus insert point. If you simply drop it into a track's insert point, the compressor comes before the level automation, which doesn't give the same result at all. That brings up questions like, 'What's an insert point and, while we're at it, what's an aux send, and what's all this pre- and post- business?' And then it's 'What's an algorithmic reverb? What's an early reflection? What's a plate reverb?'
And if the original recording sounds a touch boxy because the recording environment was devoid of any sort of acoustic treatment, you then have to go on to cover basic acoustics, the wonders of polyester duvets and the polar patterns of microphones.
Fortunately, all these topics are covered many times over in the archive section of the www.soundonsound.com web site, and though you may have to do a little digging around to find all the answers you need, you can pick up a wealth of useful stuff in there. What's more, as our regular readers already know, there's no charge for accessing any material that's more than a few months old, and if you take out a subscription you can access all the latest material too. Once you've learned what you can from the web site, then please do feel free to email us with any questions that remain unanswered, but please understand that we can't always find the time to provide a book-length reply.
Paul White Editor In Chief