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Five ways to improve your tracking and mixing

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Here's an interesting article...




Have a look and see what you think. And for the more experienced among you, here's a challenge: If you were writing an article on that same subject, what would you put down as your five top tips for helping people improve the quality of their recordings and mixes?




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My top tips in random order:


Import a few different commercially released audio files into your session to use as a comparison. You know what these sound like, if they sound a little different from your studio speakers then you need to compensate your mix accordingly. But use more than one.


Run sound with your ears, not your eyes (ignore labels and price tags). Sometimes the best sounding mic for an application may be more budget-priced and not the four figure option. And as Lou does, intentionally include a set of lower end speakers for your mix comparison since many people are going to be using those anyway.


Nothing replaces natural reverb, if you can capture it in the original track then go for it. Just don't get too much.


Inside the box is great and easy to save, but don't be afraid to use outboard hardware. I've had better luck with my hardware compressor than any plug-in, maybe I haven't spent enough on them.... And hardware doesn't usually have compatibility issues with different DAWs, etc.

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Turn it down...


Assuming you're running 24 bit, don't record too hot, and don't run soft synths at too hot of a level either. Keep plenty of headroom, as in -12 dBFS on a single channel.


And don't sum your mix to a hot level either. Keep the overall mix at that same rough level (-12 dBFS), leaving the top two bits essentially empty. Overall level can be easily recovered during mastering, and you'll then have plenty of headroom for mastering effects. In a 24 bit world, you don't need to slam the meters like the old 16 bit days.

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Craig could offer up his brilliant pink noise or white noise tip.


Keep a track of white or pink noise in your mix, and that will help you spot instruments that will get buried in a car ride, night club, or restaurant. The noise simulates the ambient noise you encounter in normal life. I use this trick all the time. Once you know that instruments are peaking through sufficiently, you can shut off the noise and get back to work.

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I'm not smart as a tech, but will don the former A&R hat for a couple of tips:


* Try to relax. Over-playing, over-singing, etc., are often at the root of bad performances. And most folks react to bad performances with obstinate, time-wasting perseverance.

* Stay sober. ("Geez, it sounded great while we were making it.")

* Have a game plan. This is the one that blows my mind -- know which songs, which arrangements, write stuff down if need be, etc. Commit to this as a separate, do-ahead process.

* Learn to throw stuff away, if need be. Making real the 'sound in your head' can be glorious, or an episode in tail chasing. Learn to move on if need be.

* Keep it short. We love the 'all night session' tales, but IMHO most good stuff happens in the first couple hours.

* Keep doing it. Best thing ever said to me by a friend was "recording is like learning another instrument - you have to keep practicing at it to get better."

* A clean source track can be manipulated a lot, but you can't really subtract things (easily) from original sources. Ergo, keep the effects to a minimum while tracking.

* Bring your thing. A studio may have some insane gear, but it's quite possible that you will get the best sound out of your little Blues Deluxe and Rat because that's what you know, and you'll be comfortable working with it.

* Leave the kids / partners / hot person you picked up last night somewhere else. I think that this is actually quite relevant -- I record other people in my home from time to time, and when they ask if so-and-so can come, I flatly say no - it's work time.


To the great advice about multiple playback / monitoring sessions, I'd add that we used to always try to hit a combination of good studio monitors, a car stereo (because that was where a lot of music is heard) and headphones. No high-end stuff on the last two, either - you want to hear what others are likely to hear.


Learning post-production (really -- learning any/all tech, which is a lifelong process) will pay off enormously. How to use (and not overuse) compression is a good place to start.


Many of these tips are about learning to listen closely, and I would suggest that one thing you can always do to improve your own music-making is to listen closely to music you love, trying to figure out how it's made. Here's an episode of a series done by my pals at Zippah, where they playfully attempt to recreate the sound and style of well known artists, with a couple of minutes discussion about the recording.

Here's there Siamese Dream take -- the Neil Young "Harvest" tune in the series is both well-written and recorded. Some of the others less so, but the point is that you can now learn by watching others.



Edit: adding the URL for Brian's blog which has slightly more tech info:


Edited by Danhedonia
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Go easy on the compression when tracking. All loud all the time makes for a very bland recording. In the days of unlimited tracks, try placing a few room mics around, especially if the room your tracking in has some character. You don't have to use every track you lay down. Along those same lines, trying placing a couple of additional mics in the vocal booth. Sometimes the perfect track isn't perfect for the song. Often times the sum is greater than the parts (tracks) of the song. Listen to isolated tracks on Youtube and watch some of the Classic Albums series (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classic_Albums) for some insight from the people behind iconic albums. Have a method of monitoring (speakers/phones) that you know what to expect from. My secret weapon is below. I've been dragging that thing around for thirty some odd years. I got it on the road with a bar band in the 80's for MIDI tracking and learning tunes in the hotel room. It had an AUX, a phono input and an acceptable headphone output and was very uncolored through its own speakers. It wasn't the over-hyped sounding "street" boom box. I always referred to it a mom's kitchen counter boom box. Off the road it spent many years on top of the console in the home studio as a quick third reference. I quickly found that if I could make something sound good on that thing, it would sound great on almost anything else. These days the old girl sits on a shelf in a rehearsal room, my road days long gone and the studio torn down in favor of more practical uses. Might have to take it for a spin one more time...


Edited by trevcda
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