This post is inspired by a number of recent events. The first one is having to go through mixes sent by those new to mixing and finding the most common error is the overuse of parameters. It’s almost as if a compressor is not really working unless it’s squashing the mix to within one inch of its life, or an eq can’t possibly be working on a vocal unless the top end is as harsh as nails. Secondly it was also inspired by my reading a somewhat bizarre post about the dissatisfaction of user testing a plug-in, which seemed to the poster to not be as good as they had hoped. Although to read the post you would have thought the plug-in manufacture had just set fire to his house and thrown puppies into the flames, not simply missed the mark in their ‘humble’opinion.
Spend any time around top producers and engineers and there’s one thing that is a common trait, that is the understatement in much of their work. Our friend, mix guru and all around nice guy Dave Pensado uses a lovely phrase “kissing the needle” which really sums up this philosophy.
Now there are of course exceptions to the rule, for example the Phil Collins drum sound or the crushed synth part in a dance track, this isn’t a treatise against excess and imagination, sometimes the amp on 11 is what is needed.
However, your mixes may not be suffering from a lack of anything, they may be suffering from an overuse of everything. Plug-ins in the wrong mixers hands are like clip-art in the wrong graphic design hands, often used in the absence of substance or experience. My first piece of advice is if in doubt then leave it out.
I want to give you two excellent and very different examples of great production one very loud and one not so loud. Take a listen to AC/DC “Back In Black” - a big album in every way, but listen to how little processing that is apparent on the many tracks, there’s some great use of effects but never to the point of stealing the show, be that the drums, bass, guitar or vocals. Then take a listen to Shawn Colvin “A Few Small Repairs” and again the use of effects and compression is so well executed it’s a lesson in production. Listen to the track ‘Facts About Jimmy” the electric piano, vocals, drums, in fact the entire track. Remember it’s the song and the performance that are the stars of the show not the gear you use, if that’s all that’s apparent in the final mix then I think we have somewhat missed the point.
Sometimes a song needs a big statement, but in my ‘humble’ opinion there are far too many mixes that could do with less NOT more. Discuss…