Author: brubart

10 Questions to Ask Yourself While Mixing

When you mix a song, you might find it helpful to ask some questions about what you’re hearing. The questions can keep you focused, and they make sure that you’re not overlooking anything. Here are a few things to ask yourself as you’re mixing. Can I hear everything? This is the most important question. Seems obvious, but sometimes a musical part becomes hidden. While the mix is playing, listen just for the sound of each track and make sure it‘s there. If not, raise its fader (or turn down competing tracks). Don’t know what to listen for? Solo each track (or if you’re mixing live, solo each channel over headphones). With any genre of music, the minimum requirement for a good mix is that you can hear all the instruments and vocals. Nothing is missing and nothing sticks out. If a vocal or instrument sticks out only once it a while, compress it. Can I understand the lyrics? If you can‘t tell what the words are in certain spots, raise the vocal level there with a volume envelope (automation). Also, you might compress the vocals, make sure they have enough clarity around 5 to 10 kHz, and maybe reduce 3–6 kHz in instruments that compete in the same range as the vocals. The lead vocal in rock music should be just loud enough so you can understand the lyrics...

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 Clean sound. That’s one of the marks of a professional recording, or professional sound reinforcement. “Clean” means free of noise and distortion. Getting that sound is a result of correct gain staging. Gain staging (or gain structure) is the process of setting the gain optimally in each stage of a recording system or reinforcement system. We’ll explain how to do that so you can create some beautiful audio. First, let’s define noise and distortion. Noise Every audio component produces a little noise—a rushing sound like wind in trees. Noise in a recording is undesirable unless it’s part of the music. You can make noise less audible by keeping the signal level in a device relatively high. If the level is low, you have to turn up the listening volume in order to hear the signal well. Turning up the volume of the signal also turns up the volume of the noise, so you hear noise along with the signal. But if the signal level is high, you don’t have to turn up the listening level as much. Then the noise remains in the background. Distortion If you turn up the signal level too high in a device or software, the signal distorts and you hear a gritty, grainy sound or clicks. This type of distortion is sometimes called “clipping” because the peaks of the signal are clipped off so...

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Bad Mix? Or Is It Your Monitors?

Have you ever sent your mixes to a good mastering engineer, but were disappointed in the sound of those mixes after mastering? For example, the mastered mixes might sound too thin (weak in the bass or midbass) compared to your mixes. That mastering engineer might be incompetent. But maybe your monitor speakers are the problem. Let’s explain using a real-world example. An engineer sent me his mixes to master into an album. On first listen, all his mixes sounded bloated and puffy, with way more midbass than commercial mixes – especially in the lead vocal. So I EQ’d out a broad region centered at 250 Hz. Immediately the sound became more clear and open, less congested. The tonal balance sounded more like commercial CDs, and the measured spectrum (level vs. frequency) better matched the spectrum of commercial CDs of the same genre. I sent the mastered mixes to the engineer for approval. He said that the mastered mixes sounded too thin compared to his original mixes. He wanted more lower mids. So is the problem in the mastering, or in his monitor speakers? Here’s what I wrote to the engineer: Suppose you measured your monitors and found a significant dip around 250 Hz. It might be caused by a reflection from surfaces near the monitors, such as the wall behind them or the desk below them. So you’d put...

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Record Your Rehearsals

Most bands I record are surprised that recording can be so educational. By listening to their recording, the band members can hear their performance very clearly. That helps them play better.   As one musician told me, “We’re playing a lot tighter since we recorded our CD.”   A recording holds up a mirror to your performance. Is the group tight? Is the rhythm backup working? Is the arrangement too busy? The recording will tell you.   It’s easier to evaluate your performance when you’re just listening to a recording of it, without playing your instrument. Then you can take steps to improve.   I’ll describe how to record your rehearsals with simple methods, so that the technology doesn’t get in the way as you’re playing. Once you settle on a recording style that works for you, it can become a standard part of your rehearsals.   Recorder with a Built-in Mic   This is the easiest way to record, and it might work fine for you. Get a handheld digital recorder or boom box with a built-in microphone. In your practice room, walk around as the band is playing and find a spot where you hear a good mix of the instruments and PA vocals.   Put the recorder there, on a table or on the floor—whatever gives the best-sounding recordings.   Many portable recorders have an automatic...

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Acoustic Fixes For Your Studio

Do your recordings sound mushy or distant, even without any effects added? Do your monitor speakers sound boomy?   The cause might be bad room acoustics and the first step to a good studio is optimizing the physical space so let’s look at some low-cost ways to control acoustic problems.   How do you know if the acoustics need to be improved?   You clap your hands next to a wall and you hear flutter echoes (a fluttering sound).  These are caused by sounds bouncing back and forth between hard parallel walls.   Your studio is a very live...

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