Mixing … any “Good” yet? Part I

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Creating, Engineering, Music/Audio, Opinions, Personal, Tech 8 Comments

An old Hometracked blog entry recently surfaced via the Off Topic Area in the Zoomforum entitled “10 Hallmarks of Amateur Recordings“.  It’s a good read and I can say that I have been, at one time or another (perhaps still am), guilty of all of these Hallmarks.

Here’s a quick run-down of the list:

  1. Too much bass
  2. Poor drum levels
  3. Clashing instruments
  4. Uneven vocals
  5. Overused reverb
  6. Cheap reverb
  7. “Fake” drums
  8. Muddy, indistinct vocals
  9. Too much bad room sound
  10. Timing problems

I, by no means, am what you’d call an awesome or great mixer (at least I don’t think I am), but I feel that I’ve gotten better over the years and can do a decent job.  I’ve tried some things, fallen into some pitfalls, discovered some gems and tried to keep learning some new things all along the way. The post and some of the discussion at the Zoomforum got me thinking:

What have I learned about mixing over the years?
What kinds of tips and tricks have I picked up?
What have I done to improve upon some of the things I used to do?

The Mixing Bug…

Like some others, I got bitten by the audio engineering bug when I discovered what could be done with music and computers – in my case, it was Cakewalk Pro Audio 7 (I believe).  I’d used other MIDI sequencer-based systems, but this was the first one that introduced the Audio component as well. Very cool – after that, it was registering for an Audio Engineering course at BCIT, then University of Washington (U-Dub) in Seattle a few years later.  Beyond that, it was a process of reading (magazines, books, newsgroups, blogs…), chatting with people, getting feedback and trying new things out.

Then and Now

I dug out one of the first mixes I did (couldn’t find the file for what I know to be THE first) and my most recent mix:

  1. Belly of the Beast – from over six years ago.  I recorded and mixed this in Sonar.
  2. I’ve Given Up – from a month ago.  Recorded and mixed in Logic

Neither of these mixes are what I’d consider “professional” – there are performance “whoops”, some odd things that need polishing and such, but I think (IMHO) that, barring style differences, #2 sounds like a better mix than #1.

Belly of the Beast has a lot of what I think are examples of the 10 Hallmarks of Amateur Recordings list:  The bass is muddy, the drums are indistinct in certain places, the vocals are kind of uneven, there’s too much reverb, panning is almost non-existent…

I could go on.

The Grasshopper Moment…

(appologies to those who do not catch the ’70’s “Kung Fu” TV Show reference)

So, what happened between then and now?

One of the key things I can point to is experience.  Not experience in the hauty-tauty, “I’m better than you” kind of sense, but in terms of practicing or repeating something over time – going through the process again and again with each iteration getting closer and closer to that “desired” point.

I’ve read articles on compression, seen video demos on how to apply reverb, talked to folks on how to apply delay…  There’s a lot of stuff filed away in the deep, dark, scary recesses of my mind that stipulate how one SHOULD do: {fill in technique}.  A lot of the stuff you read is quite useful and, when applied, can be great, but I like to put all these tidbits away in the brain as tools to be brought out in certain cases.

If there IS one thing that I’ve learned that’s remained consistent:  Your ears and your judgement are king (or queen) because there ARE NO RULES.  I’ll get into more specifics in my “Part II” post later, but there is a point as a mixer that you stop using the “standard” double-track-guitars-pan-left-and-right-apply-moderate-compression-add-slight-delay-and-reverb techniques and start to see what else can be done to spice things up.

I’m not saying that I throw those “standard” techniques away.  I do sometimes start with them, but then try and figure out how to put a unique stamp on a sound without worrying about whether adjusting a certain parameter is “proper” or not.

The Road Ahead

It’s all been a fantastic journey so far – just trying new things out and discovering that, although I may not have the “golden ears” yet, I’ve been able to excavate some sort of semi-precious nuggets out of the things on the side of my head over time.

The next post will be on some more specific things I’ve learned about mixing that seem to have helped out.

Until then … happy knob tweedlin’

Comments 8

  1. Pingback: Mixing – any “Good” yet? Part II | Hatched Productions

  2. Great write up Dave.
    I relate to everything you talked about. A few years back your “10 Hallmarks…” would have been more like “10 trademarks of a Josiah song”. haha funny, but no. Seriously.

    Thanks to your podcast and a handful of other incredible online resources I’ve made my way out of mud, but still have a ways to go. So it’s very encouraging to read posts like this. Reminds me that others, many far more skilled and experienced then myself, had once been in the same places that I am.

    Thanks Dave,
    Off to read part 2 🙂

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