Writing on mixing is a difficult task. Try explaining to someone, without actually being there, how to paint a picture, how to play the blues, or how to remove a spleen. These basic few points just scratch the surface of good mixing habits. Bottom line, the best mixes come from well-written, well-arranged, well-played and well-recorded songs.
Run the console at its optimum operating level. Pushing fader levels all the way up adds unnecessary noise. Keep all the gain trims as low as possible, and the master buss level at zero for clearer, more transparent mixes – crucial on budget consoles when distortion increases as gains are boosted. Plus, with the master fader always set at zero, you know if it has been moved or not, and lets you know where to return after every fade.
Turn down not up. Before changing a track’s level, see if you can turn something else down to make the track jump out a bit more. Continually raising certain tracks because they are getting lost means there may be an equalization problem. Check to see if frequencies are overlapping, or if any frequencies could be pulled rather than added.
Try this: Set the volume at a reasonable level. Plug your ears with your fingers, close your eyes and listen to the track. This seems to give a different perspective of levels, and is a good method of checking the vocal and snare drum levels. But sometimes you just lose the groove in the levels. Pulling all the faders down and re-setting levels doesn’t take long and may help you regain perspective as you bring each instrument back into the mix. Once you have your levels set where you like them, leave them.
Mix at lower volume levels. Lower volume protects your valuable hearing and the sounds tend to be more accurate. Plus the loud levels might wake up the producer.
As Time Goes By
Take a silence break every few hours. Ears need time to relax and rejuvenate every few hours. Your ears are organs, not muscles – overuse does not make them stronger. If that were the case, I would have a liver of steel.
As with the recording process, don’t go solo too often. It’s great to have the solo button to get a basic sense of an instrument, or to zero in on a problem, but get in the habit of changing equalization with the rest of the tracks in the monitor mix. When you can’t hear the other tracks, you can’t effectively equalize a track to fit in, yet stand out. Don’t spend too long on any single instrument Get a basic sound, then move on, tweaking each instrument as you mix.
Occasionally, listen to the mix through headphones to catch any buzzes, clicks, pops, hums etc. Tiny flaws sometimes not evident in the monitors can come through loud and clear in the headphones. At low levels, headphones may help give you a true feeling of the placement of all instruments. Many listeners enjoy their music through headphones.
Long hours benefit no one. Spending 20 hours on a mix will not make it twice as good as spending 10 hours on a mix. At some point, the best has been done, and continuing on is fruitless.
Finally, and most important, when deciding which instrument takes precedence in the mix, make the guy who signs your cheque sound best!
This article is excerpted with permission from Tim Crich’s book Recording Tips For Engineers. He also wrote the bestseller Assistant Engineers Handbook. He has over 20 years of experience in the recording studio and has worked on records by the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, KISS, Billy Joel, Bryan Adams, Cher, Bon Jovi and many more. Find it online at www.aehandbook.com or www.musicbooksplus.com.