Cut The Crap
There are a million different techniques and methods for EQing different items in a session, but most people would agree subtractive EQ is one of the best ways to clear up a muddy mix. Subtractive EQ is just that, subtracting frequencies that you do not want to hear. I’d recommend before you go through your tracks boosting all over the place, start cutting instead the frequencies that may be blocking or clogging your mix with muddiness. So I meant literally to cut the “crap” out of your mix.
A Kick Trick
I can’t claim the rights to this trick as I’m sure a million other mix engineers already do this but I saw Joe Gilder do this in a video once and I’ve been doing it ever since. Thanks Joe! The image here is a screen shot of my EQ curve for my kick track in this particular session. Keep in mind every recording is different. Depending on how well the kick was originally recorded and how great the kick sounded to begin with, I might take a different approach accordingly. For this particular session, the kick was all attack and no balls. The bottom end was missing and all I could here was the click of the beater so I needed a drastic EQ curve.
The “kick trick” I’m talking about is the giant cut around 120hz. Here’s why I recommend cutting before boosting: simply by getting rid of a good portion around 120hz, I opened up the kick to breath and allowed the lower range to heard a bit more. This frequency range is typically known as the “boxy” sound of a kick drum. I almost always do this on my kick tracks but obviously in different amounts based on how good it sounds to begin with. I’m sure you also noticed the 7.5 db boost around 60hz. The problem with this track began with the kick drum itself. This was a live concert I tracked and I didn’t have much time to setup so I left it up to the drummer to tune, or *not tune the drums. Anyhow I needed a major boost around 60hz to bring out the balls in this kick. Before you make any judgements you can have a listen for yourself how this mix turned out:
Be sure to let me know what you think and leave some comments below. Again you should always consider the track you are working with it and give it what it needs. Maybe you don’t need any EQ at, but many times this little EQ trick helps bring out the bottom of your kick. Cheers my friends!
If you’ve been mixing for very long, you might have noticed that the balance of your mixes might come out a bit differently after the mastering process. Sometimes it’s subtle and sometimes it’s very noticeable. In the mastering process there is added compression, limiting and EQ done to the mix as per the individual mastering engineer and his/her preferences. This processing can and many times does affect your mix in ways you might not expect.
In my experience the lead vocal is one thing I’ve had to go back and adjust the most. As a limiter decreases dynamic range it leaves a much smaller spot in the mix for a vocal to sit. Without the limiter it might sound pretty good but if the vocal was just a bit low, it might be drowned out with the limiter in place. Conversely if it’s a bit too hot, it will sit too high in the mix once the limiter is placed.
I usually do all the mixing and mastering for projects that come to me so I have noticed this and developed a habit that helps me get my mixes where I want them in a quicker fashion. One thing that I do is throw a limiter on the master bus about 3/4 the way through the mix. I wont slam it but I’ll hit it with about 3 db of reduction and listen to my mix for a little while and see how the overall balance is affected. If everything is sounding great I’ll move on. If I feel I need to make some adjustments I’ll do that of course and move from there. I leave the limiter off for the remainder of the mix then I repeat the process and check levels and balances once more.
Since I started doing this I have noticed my mixes come together a bit quicker and when I begin mastering I know my mixes will not fall apart. The mastering process actually happens faster as well since I seldom need to go back and adjust a mix any more. Give it a try on your next mix and you might just start doing it every time. Have a great week and happy mixing!
If you haven’t noticed yet, I tend to write mostly about personal experiences related to music production. In addition, I write a lot about the little problems I’ve faced, that most of us face when writing, producing and recording music. Some of my posts might be geared toward more advanced audiophiles, and some more toward newbies and hobbyists. Keep that in mind.
Recently I started collaborating with a guy I met through CraigsList. He sent me 13 tracks that were in the hip-hop/rap genre. They were all vocal tracks he recorded at his home. He didn’t send me the loops he had for the song, and they were all out of order with no timeline. I was to write a melody, create some loops and basically use his lyrics and vocal tracks to put a song together. It sounded like a challenge and although the genre isn’t necessarily my strong point, I was eager to put my skills to the test and impress this guy.
As I started listening to each track, naming it and arranging it in Pro Tools according to its placement, I noticed right off that there was immense bleed through in his mic. I think he actually played the loops through his loudspeakers when he recorded his vocals. No matter what I did, I could not lessen the effect of hearing the loops behind his voice and it completely prevented me from doing anything useful with the tracks.
As it turned out, he admitted he was new to recording and hadn’t even thought about this issue. He asked me what he could do to fix the problem. So for anyone out there who is just starting out or hasn’t dealt with this yet, you will almost ALWAYS want to record your vocal tracks using headphones. I recommend circumaural headphones. That just means that they completely cover your ears. This will prevent your microphone from hearing the sound from a reference track and give you a nice clean track to work with. Now even with headphones you have to be careful because some things like drums or a click track can still bleed through to the mic. It’s always a good idea to listen closely before hitting record.
Some advice on buying headphones… you must consider what use you will have for them. If you are tracking vocals or instruments, you might not need the most expensive or highest quality, but if you are mixing with them, I recommend the highest you can afford. I will also say that you should use closed back cans, as open back will let out much of the sound for a mic to pick up. Open backs are mostly used for mixing purposes and closed back for tracking or mixing. Personally I use Audio Technica ATH M50s. Not only are they perfect for tracking, but they are very clean and flat for mixing as well. Yes there are more expensive cans out there but it’s what I use and have had great success. So there ya go. I hope that helps some of you. Don’t hesitate to write me if you are having issues in your home studio. Cheers!
As songwriters we all have different styles, molds, rules if you will, when it comes to the songwriting process. Have you ever loved another song so much that you wanted to write one like it? I’m sure we’ve all at some point intentionally written a song to sound similar to another artist. Its natural that we want to write music that sounds like the music we love to jam to in the car. Lately I’ve found myself trying harder to mimick my favorite artists, and its driving me nuts! I’ve realized that the more I try to sound like someone else, the harder it is to write. I think it has been killing my creativity. I look at some of my songs that people have loved the most, and they sound completely original. They came from deep inside me. More importantly, they came out my brain with ease because I wasn’t trying to match another sound, I simply was laying down what I felt at that moment. I want to encourage you songwriters out there to embrace your own sound. Find whatever it is that inspires you, write what you feel and own it! If you will get beyond trying to sound like someone else, you will see your own style and creativity jump out and flourish. Another thing that keeps me from bleeding out original thoughts and melodies is distraction. If there are kids running around the house screaming, or unpaid bills laying at my workstation, or even my wife silently reading in the same room, I have a hard time focusing and releasing my creativity. The times that I have most easily written music and poured out ideas, were times that I was completely alone, with a clean and tidy workstation, and late at night when the house is quiet and still. So I recommend that you recognize your own ideal moments of creativity and utilize them. You will benefit far greater in the long run. So GO! Write! Don’t forget to drop me a line of your own songwriting process and recommendations. Cheers!
This week’s tip is a collection of things you can and should do to improve your guitar’s performance. Many guitarists, even those who have been playing for years never utilize some of these simple tactics. Not only do I recommend them, I use them myself. For starters, when you put new strings on your guitar, do you properly stretch them? A guitar string is made of metal, therefore it can and will expand and contract with temperature changes. As each new string goes on I recommend a series of stretching and re-tuning until when stretched, it will only fall slightly out of tune, or not at all. This performed on all strings will greatly help your guitar stay in tune. Ok, another recommendation of mine is using locking tuners. While this does cost $ its a small price for a great improvement. There are several manufacturers and designs but they all perform the same basic task: locking your string in place to prevent it from dropping out of tune. Personally I use Sperzel locking tuners on my Strat, and Grover automatic locking tuners on my Les Paul. Both work flawlessly and were less than $100 per set. Notice the first two tips are in regards to being in tune. Nothing sounds worse than being out of tune. And your ability to stay in tune for longer periods and through different conditions will only making things easier. My next tip: intonation. Have you ever tuned your guitar strings open, only to find them way off at higher frets? More than likely your intonation isn’t set correctly. Many times, a strobe tuner is used for precision but a regular guitar tuner will work as well. Proper intonation is crucial when it comes to keeping your guitar sounding in tune across the lenth of the fretboard. I won’t go into the how to’s here but you can follow this link for a great video of how to set intonation. Also, you might look for a local guitar tech to set it for you. Ok, moving on to straplocks. While this is less of a performance issue and more of a convenience/safety feature, it has proven to be an extremely useful addition to both of my electric guitars. I remember several instances of my 10lb Les Paul coming out of its strap and nearly crashing but since the day I installed the strap locks it has been a non-issue. Again there are different designs and manufacturers, I use Dunlop pushbutton locks on both my guitars. Simple. Easy. They just work. Well friends that’s all I’ve got for you on this Tip Of The Week. Stay tuned for more and leave your comments and suggestions below. Cheers!