To choose You as the candidate for the letter Y could be seen as admitting defeat (look in the Reference Guide index - it goes from X straight to Z!) but I’d prefer to think of it as an acknowledgement of what is really important. I meet so many aspiring engineers and producers and although few of them put it so crudely, what they all want is for me to tell them “the secret”. They pore over opinions on the web (yes I’m aware of the irony of me saying that here…) and rather than practice, look for an individual piece of knowledge which will transform their mixes. Sorry, it doesn’t exist. However, here are some things you (and I) could bear in mind. Although this is written with studio-based audio recording in mind, they have something to offer no matter what you do.
Listen, Make A Decision, Move On
It really is that simple. I wish I always did it. The best mixes I see always show that the engineer has listened to what has actually been recorded (as opposed to what they think was recorded), identified a problem (if one exists) and fixed it. It sounds simple but its can be really difficult. When I look at someone else’s mix I want to be able to understand why they did what they did. The best mixes always show a clarity of purpose that leave you in no doubt that the mixer’s decision making skills is what makes it sound good, not the gear they used.
Always difficult when we have so many tools and so much power at our disposal but if what has been recorded is well played and was properly captured, why should it need anything more? If I see more than three plug-ins on a track I start to wonder why, more than four and I’m definitely looking closely to see what is going on. Thats not to say that there is a maximum number of plug-ins you are “allowed” to use - of course there isn’t. It’s just that I’ve noticed a strong correlation between the number of plug-ins used and the effectiveness of the decision making being made by the mixer - Discuss…
Track Slow, Mix Quick
If there is one thing which I consistently recognise in my own recording it's that most of the time I spend on a difficult mix is trying to address issues with the tracking which could have been avoided if more time had been spent getting sounds right before tracking began. I track very quickly. This is usually a good thing as musicians bore easily and if the energy is good in a session then the performance usually reflects this. The part of the process which needs time spending over it, and is increasingly under pressure as more and more recording is done using mobile rigs in rented spaces, is the setting up of drums and, to a lesser extent, guitars. If you are experienced it is easy to get a good drum sound in under an hour. The difference between a good drum sound and a great drum sound (unless you fluke it - it happens) is spending often a whole day working on the drums. This used to be common practice but because of the spaces so much recording happens in these days its a bit of a luxury today. Guitars are easier. Stick a dynamic in front of the amp and it will sound fine. With more work careful placement and a combination of mics can give better results but I always DI as well. Re-amping is such a useful technique. Why wouldn’t you?
Its The Decisions You Make Not The Tools You Use
I spend most of my time looking at mixes made by students and if there are issues with a mix they are usually problems with the “big picture”. Detailed work has often been carried out on something which isn’t especially important while a fundamental issues remans with the balance of the instruments. While we all enjoy esoteric plug-ins and hardware, if the basics aren’t right none of this will ever help. Perspective while mixing is easily lost and its far and away the most important thing so put the spectrum analyser away, it won’t tell you that the vocals are too quiet, only your ears can do that! Trust your decisions, be honest about your mistakes and your mixes will be all the better for it.