What’s an Artist?

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Creating, Engineering, Opinions, Ramblings Leave a Comment

I go on these spurts every once in a while where I’ll revisit some of the forums that I’m registered at. Depending on my workload or how I’m feeling, this will be every other week or every other month. It’s kind of like this blog on my site – not really a regular thing. Just when I feel that I have something to say or I’d like to poke around a bit to see how people are doing.

I got into a discussion with a few guys (at least I’m assuming they’re guys … wouldn’t matter anyway) that evolved into a general discussion of what is considered an “art form”. The original posting was asking whether Mastering was an art form and hence were folks who do mastering “artists”?

If you’ve ever participated in an online forum, you’ll know that there are always a few folks who get on the threads who just seem to want to rock the boat. Don’t know whether they’re doing it to just get folks to flame them or whether they truly believe what they’re saying.

angryOf course, there was one of these guys on there who dug his feet in stating that the only true artist in the chain was the person who wrote the music and everyone else involved was a facilitator. He equated a recordist, mixer and mastering engineer to being similar to the guy driving the truck to deliver bricks to a construction site.

I can sort of see where he’s coming from. Depending on the project, there are different functions that COULD be viewed as contributing more than others to the final outcome.

BUT

That does not preclude the fact that there is a creative element being evoked by each and every person that touches the album along the way. Those creative elements require skill and experience, but they also require VISION.

Being able to realize that vision is being an artist.

If everyone involved after the initial author of a piece of music was simply a facilitator, then there’d be no differentiation on who you had play your music, who recorded it, who mixed it and who mastered it. You’d be able to pick ten different people from a sea of possible candidates and get the exact same product every time.

Fortunately, that’s not the case. Every person brings a different perspective to the table – there are those you’d trust and there are those you stay away from.

To me, being and Artist is about creating or manipulating something (tangible or abstract) with the intent of eliciting an emotion from the “art consumer”. I see everyone in the process having an active hand in that goal – that’s why they’re artists.

2012 “Discoveries”

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Opinions, Personal Leave a Comment

My third “annual” discoveries post is finally here!

It was odd, in that I’ve been thinking about this for the past month – not obsessively or anything like that. I found myself almost dreading “drudging” through the music I’d downloaded as I couldn’t really think of any key albums or bands that really stood head-and-shoulders above the rest.

Once I got into reviewing my “finds” in iTunes, I found that I really had quite an eclectic variety of a LOT of albums that I had on heavy rotation throughout the year. The hardest part was whittling THAT list down to something manageable for this post.

In no particular order, here are some of the musical discoveries that I really enjoyed this past year:

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 11.41.26 AMNightwish: Imaginaerum

Ever since Dream Theater released “Scenes from a Memory” way back in 1999, I’ve been hoping and looking for a prog-rock(ish) album that was similar in concept and ambition. I took a crack at exploring Scandinavian metal acts earlier last year and came across Nightwish. They’ve been around for years and are apparently on their third female singer now.

They specialize in what might be termed as “Operatic Metal”. Anette Olzon is a bit less “pretty” than their first singer (Tarja Turunen), but brings a bit more of a rock edge to this album

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 11.43.24 AMSlash: Apocalyptic Love

Slash’s previous solo effort had a host of guest vocalists lend their pipes to his tunes. It resulted in an album that had more ups and downs than a roller-coaster. This go-around, he recruited Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge who brings some welcome vocal consistency to superb straight-ahead rock songwriting.

There are hints of Axl Rose, but Myles shows that he’s much more than that with some fantastic versatility.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 11.39.37 AMThe 88: Not Only… But Also

This was apparently the first album I bought last year and it looks as though it got a LOT of plays.

Saying that this album is bread and butter pop-rock wouldn’t do justice to the journey on which the band guides you. There’s a consistent je-ne-sais-quoi throughout the album, but each song has a fresh hook and sound to it which kept me coming back to this one.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 11.45.29 AMLadyhawke: Anxiety

Ladyhawke was probably the first surprise of the year for me. I’m a sucker for female singers who are talented, well produced and versatile. I remember having this on my iPhone throughout the construction of my new studio and just putting the album on repeat.

There’s a strong “organic” rock element to this album, but it’s got that spit-n-polish to it where there are electronic elements throughout and everything is tight. Kind of reminds me of good Lenny Kravitz albums where everything has some fuzz and hair on it, but it’s all tidy, organized and tucked away in the right places.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 11.46.30 AMOwl City: The Midsummer Station

If you know me, top 40 music has an extremely hard time finding its way into my music library. A bit of a confession here: Up until a few months ago, I just assumed that this was one of Ben Gibbard’s many projects outside of Death Cab for Cutie. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one.

There’s no sugar-coating it, this is a POP ALBUM – complete with Carly Rae Jepson on “Good Time”. I do have to admit though – it’s quite addictive. The songs are simple, but contrary to lazy top-40 fluff on the airwaves these days, the melodies are very well-thought out and of course, catchy. The production is clean and punchy, the arrangements have ebb and flow and the overall sound is fantastic.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 11.48.10 AMMuse: The 2nd Law

After the first listen to this album, I have to admit, I was quite disappointed with Muse’s latest effort.

I think it was about the 3rd listen on a long walk with the dog where the entire album started to dig its hooks into me. There are not the overt “hits” that were on The Resistance, but this album has a lot of subtlety throughout. This is one of those albums that I’d say will age like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. It’ll take a few years, but will probably be something that I’ll find myself revisiting once or twice a year

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 11.49.14 AMShinedown: Amaryllis

Shinedown has been an über-favourite band of mine for years.

This is RAWK as it should be – straight ahead, heavy, forceful and lots of soul. Brent Smith on vocals is like the second-coming of Chris Cornell. He’s just a bang-on rock-band vocalist. The songwriting with Shinedown has been quite consistent through each album and the sound never seems to get old.

This is what Nickelback should have been like if they hadn’t stagnated.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 11.51.13 AMFoxy Shazam: Church of Rock & Roll

I can’t seem to look at this bands’ name without thinking that it’s the title of a ’70’s porn flick.

Imagine Rocky Horror Picture Show mixed with a bit of Queen and various ’70’s glam-rock bands. There’s a lot to listen to in this album – ear candy with some grit and grime all over it. The overall mix and fidelity of this recording is pushed to the limit – as though it was pushed hard through analog gear and the whole band got to mix their own part. It’s got this really exciting gritty saturated sound that adds to the whole listening experience.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 11.52.43 AMVersaEmerge: Fixed at Zero

Fixed at Zero kind of snuck up on me as one that got inserted into heavy rotation around the house and in the car. Ever since Garbage came onto the scene, I’ve absolutely loved the sound of well-produced, dense mixes with catchy tunes … all fronted by a great female voice.

Much like Garbage 2.0, I foresee this album being one that I’ll be digging out for years to come.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 11.53.53 AMNeon Trees: Picture Show

I was sorely disappointed by how consistently I was disappointed by releases that I was anticipating. Neon Trees was one of a handful that was NOT in that category. I absolutely loved their previous release, Habits and was pleasantly surprised that Picture Show upped the ante.

If you know me, I’m a total sucker for ear candy – layers and little “Easter eggs” in a song that have me discovering new things each listen. Combined with well-crafted songs, this album has ear candy through and through.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 11.58.45 AMMinus the Bear: Infinity Overhead

Minus the Bear has been one of my favourites the past few years – they’re in the same place as Porcupine Tree for me. It’s been one of those bands that doesn’t suit everyone’s taste, but it doesn’t “offend” either – kind of flies under the radar.

I wouldn’t absolutely classify Minus the Bear in the “Prog” category, but more in the “tending-to-be-prog” camp. Their longest song is just over five minutes and solos are kept to standard length. That being said, there’s a lot of non-standard song structures and REALLY interesting stuff happening on this album.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 12.00.27 PMThe Asteroids Galaxy Tour: Out Of Frequency

You probably have heard AGT a couple of years back on the iPod Touch commercial and more recently on Heineken ads. To put it bluntly, they have a very unique sound… or more precisely, their singer has a very unique timbre to her voice. It’s part of their gently grating charm.

If you can get over the voice, there’s a lot of interesting songs with non-standard arrangements and instrumentation. There’s kind of a quasi summer-of-love feel to this album, but without the sitars and the tape loops played backwards. Very unique sound.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 12.02.23 PMPassion Pit: Gossamer

Passion Pit has been one of those odd acts that I thought was EDM (electronic dance music), but was pleasantly surprised that they weren’t. They’re definitely electronic, but with none of the annoying monotony.

There are catchy tunes on this album and its’ well produced. What got me coming back to PP was the effort they put into putting so many interesting twists and turns in each song. Back to the ear candy fetish I have!

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 12.03.32 PMThousand Foot Krutch: The End is Where We Begin

Thousand Foot Krutch was a band that I’ve been keeping an eye on for a couple of years. Supposedly they’re classified as a “Christian Rock” band – whatever that means.

Regardless, their tunes are catchy, and they’re fun to turn up loud. Lots of heavy guitars, but there’s a production sheen that gives this album a lot of punch, tightness and variety that I like.

Cheep (rim shot) Speaker Stands

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Engineering, Music/Audio, Personal, Tech Leave a Comment

My new space, “The Incubator” finally gave me the room and opportunity to PROPERLY have two sets of monitor speakers for mixing.

I had built my original monitor speaker stands back 10 years ago, and they’ve served me quite well through two moves back and forth across the continent. The cool thing about them is that they’re easy and cheap to make AND they’re mighty effective too.

I spent probably less than $30 on materials and put them together in around an hours’ time.

They’re a simple design with both sturdiness and speaker isolation in mind. As you’ll see in the photo gallery, I build the stands so that there is a gap between the top/bottom plates and the post. The intent here is to make it very troublesome for sound vibrations from the speakers to travel down the post. Vibrations lose signficant energy as they move through different materials – forcing them to transfer from the plate, the brackets, the post, the bracket and then the final plate before hitting the floor is the idea here.

A possible upgrade to this design might be to insert rubber or some other dampening material grommits / washers between the brackets and the wood plates / post.

Materials:

  1. One 4×4 post cut to two 3-foot lengths.
  2. A nice piece of thick (3/4″ or 1″) plywood to cut into top and bottom plates
  3. 16 shelving brackets
  4. Bunch o’ screws

Tools:

  • Drill / Screw driver
  • Level / Angle
  • Ruler
  • Pencil / Marker

Taming the Clucks – Part II

Dave Adventures, Cracked Up (Blog), Engineering, Music/Audio, Personal 3 Comments

I know that these posts are slow and infrequent – appologies for that, but a LOT of different things have happened in life, work and everything lately.

The IHR podcast has suffered unfortunately, but will definitely be propped up in the weeks to come. I’ve actually finished and been using the “Incubator” for the past month or so – really enjoying the space. There’s always going to be SOMETHING that needs to be tweaked, improved, adjusted in the studio, but, I’m extremely happy with the result. I’m always excited to fire things up and work on stuff in here.

Here’s a pic of the final product:

For this post, I thought I’d present a gallery of what I did to construct corner bass traps.

I’ve been mulling over different designs out there when designing the space:

Wedge

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Corner with Space

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Perpendicular Panels

I opted for option 1 (wedge) with a bit of some space behind them as this looked to be the best “bang for the buck” option. I had the space and materials to accomplish this, so I went for it:

 

 

Taming the Clucks in the Incubator

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Engineering, Music/Audio 1 Comment

I’ve neglected updating my blog AND getting IHR 101 out.

Life has taken over my … well, life lately and between dealing with work, family and building out the Incubator, I haven’t had much time to pay attention to tossing up a post.

Needless to say, I’ve got a lot of fodder to throw your way and here’s the first picture blog of building sound treatment panels (some call them traps) for my studio.

Background

I researched a lot through various “DIY sound treatment” search variations on Google and found a LOT of different designs. Gary Cable has a very good design detailed on the IHR site.

I got inspired to design my own based upon one simple principle: to maximize the exposed area of insulation batts. With this in mind, and considering that, at maximum, two batts are relatively light-weight, I opted to construct a relatively thin frame to which the batts would be attached with fabric.

I chose to construct the rectangular frame out of 1×2’s and use burlap to wrap the whole thing up.

All-in-all, the material for the 8 panels I built cost well under $200.

I’ve JUST gotten the opportunity to test out the room with the panels, corner bass-traps and cloud (more on those in a later post) in place and … I am freakin’ impressed.

Here are the pics:

Incubator Improvements

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Personal, Ramblings Leave a Comment

I’ve been a little lax in updates on the Incubator. A LOT has gone on since the last post I tossed up with a photo-diary of running Cat 5e cable out to the “Incubator”.

Buh Bye...

The first of a couple of projects I’ve been working on was getting better lighting out there. The previous owner had used the structure as a woodshop and had four flourescent light fixtures plugged into recepticles mounted on the beams which in turn were wired to a switch on the wall.

The old fixtures were wired here...

The light fixtures had to go.

Period.

I decided on getting a four halogen spots for ambient lighting and place those along the perimeter of the room. In order to get that done, the wiring had to be re-run from the wall switch and distributed to four different spots in the room.

I decided the most efficient way would be to run wire from the switch to the ceiling and spoke out from a couple of junction boxes back down to the light boxes I’d place where the roof meets the wall.

Signal Path

Said junction box

Can NOT forget about this...

Wiring lights is a lot like tracing signal paths in mixing or recording. If you keep track of where things are going and where things are coming from, then it’s quite logical:

Connect all the black wires to each other, connect all the whites to each other and make sure the ground copper wire has a connection path to the post driven into the earth.

I ran the Romex wire to all the junction boxes, and branched out to each of the light boxes.

Wiring each of the lights was pretty simple and when power was restored, I tested it out and BING, the lightbulbs turned on … all complete with a new dimmer switch!

 

Three Reasons Music Theory Could Help Your Mix

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Creating, Engineering, Music/Audio Leave a Comment

You’ve heard of all the pre-mix “rituals” and administrative things that you’re supposed to do before you mix … haven’t you?

You know, all those things about organizing your tracks, editing your tracks, putting in markers, colouring things, loading templates… all that stuff. Well, of course, that’s golden advice! Anything that’ll help you work more efficiently and effectively is going to be a plus.

I like to include creating chord charts (and possibly lead sheets) of the track I’m mixing as one of those key pre-mixing essentials. I haven’t taught music theory at Ai for a while now, but when I did, I’d always have a course pre-amble about how music theory can help the audio engineer.

Sure, it’s not absolutely necessary and you can definitely create a good mix without them, but hear me out.

Pitch Correction

I am participating in Brandon Drury’s Slate Digital Cup event – a year long mixing competition where there are monthly mixing challenges that forum members compete in. March’s mix challenge was a very non-standard song – non-standard in structure and in harmonic content. It was a very cool song – you can listen to my mix of the song if you’d like.

I started out by trying to figure out the basic sections of the song and inserting the appropriate markers – while listening to the tracks, I could tell that the chords being used weren’t your standard I, IV and V chords. I then went through and dove into chord analysis mode only to confirm what I’d suspected – the song was using non-diatonic chords throughout. This meant that there wasn’t a specific “major” or “minor” scale from which all the chords were being derived, but rather the chords being used were borrowed from a variety of keys and scales throughout.

The singer had a very interesting voice, but his pitch was challenged in some places. … In comes the pitch correction plug-in (I like to use the Waves pitch corrector).

 

What most pitch correction applications will allow you to do is pick which scales to limit the pitches to (or you can do this manually by selecting notes you’d like to include or exclude). In the instance of this song, if you assumed that the first or “home” chord you heard was the key of the entire song, and you set your pitch-correction software to limit pitches to that key, then once the chord changed, you’d be excluding notes that might be crucial to and possibly including ones that clashed the next chord.

A couple of mixes unfortunately fell into this trap and nothing sticks out more than a pitch-corrected singer hitting the wrong note.

Having knowledge of the harmonic content of the song you’re mixing and how different notes will work with that harmony will definitely keep your pitch-correction adventures from going down the wrong path – you know, the path with quicksand at the end…

Mixing & Matching

Unless a band or artist has explicitly told me: “DON’T MUTE, ADD OR MOVE ANYTHING AROUND”, I’ll venture into those territories to see if there’s some added value that I can provide.

I’ll very rarely pull out my musical instruments and add my own tracks to someone else’s song – unless they’ve asked me. Rather, I like to see if there’s something I can do with the included material to give the client a possible alternate spin on the track. It’s usually subtle, but sometimes, inspiration strikes! My rule when doing this is to be able to mute or take out my changes easily if need be – never to destroy the original tracks.

Besides using the mute button (an often overlooked creative tool!), I’ll look to see if there are possibly parts of tracks played in other parts of the song that can be used in another section.

Having a chord chart handy allows me to easily determine whether something played in a specific section would fit harmonically in another section. In other words, can I copy and paste a portion of one track to another section of the song? It cuts out a lot of trial and error and guess-work.

EQ

This last point may not be quite so obvious. but I’ve had some great success adding “punch” to a song by using EQ to emphasize frequencies that are important to the song and de-emphasizing ones that are not.

Let’s say you’ve got a typical five-string bass with a low B string and there’s a section of the song that comes home dramtically to the tonic note of C. The bassist strikes that low string to really lay down that foundation … and it didn’t come through with the intended punch or that rumbling-in-your-chest party you wanted.

The problem could be the mic, it could be that the strings were dirty, it could be …

Before you get the bassist in to trouble-shoot and do another take with a new bass or new strings, perhaps EQ is the problem. Did you apply a high-Q high-pass filter at 40 Hz? That low C comes in at 32 and change and it’s probably getting totally suppressed.

That’s just one example – you can probably apply the same thing to pretty well every tonal instrument to which you’re applying EQ: how do the frequencies that you’re cutting or boosting affect the harmonic impact of the entire track?

Seventh String Software has a fantastic page on the notes and their corresponding frequencies here.

Theory and Practice

Can you mix successfully without knowing music theory? Of course you can and lots of mixers do so everyday.

It’s just one of the many tools that I can pull out of my ever-expanding mixing toolbox that helps me put together mixes.

Tethering the “Incubator”

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Music/Audio, Personal, Ramblings, Tech 3 Comments

Yeah, yeah…

I haven’t been posting for the past little while. And I’ll skip the excuses, but please head on over to the IHR site to get a hint about what’s been taking so long…

In Vancouver, the sun was out and Spring seems to have arrived. I took the break in weather as an opportunity to tackle one of the most important projects on my list to bring the Incubator into reality.

For those who don’t know, the “Incubator” is what I’m calling the shed on our property – I blogged about it back in the fall with my plans to convert it into a studio.

It’s got power, but it does not have network connectivity. I had to fix that. Earlier in the week was a trip to Home Depot to pick up 40′ of 1/2″ PVC pipe, some joints, Cat5e cable and other useful stuff.

So here’s a photo album of how I rectified the connectivity issue:

 

Say “No” to Stock Responses

Dave Business, Cracked Up (Blog), Music/Audio, Opinions, Personal Leave a Comment

Over the past few days, I’ve been able to kind of sit on the proverbial “other side” of the boss’s desk. Instead of me pounding the pavement and knocking on doors offering my wares, I’ve been (the “boss”) entertaining requests from around the world to consider the merits of others’ creations.

It’s been enlightening to see the variety of approaches folks take to “market” themselves.

Some tactics seem to be in line with my own marketing techniques: there has been some research and familiarization done to try and focus the “product” to the “need”.

Then, there’s the other side of the coin. But, before I get into my rant, some background might be in order…

The Product

You may or may not know about my “alternate identity”.

Besides running this company / site, I also run the podcast: Inside Home Recording. The podcast is quickly coming up on its 100th episode and I thought it’d be interesting to mark the occassion with a new theme for the show.

I guess I could have written it myself, but I thought it’d be much better to put it out to the listeners of the show and put a little competition together to choose a theme!

Over the Christmas break, I decided to go searching for a “carrot” or two to sweeten the pot and entice folks to enter the songwriting contest.

The response to my request for sponsorship has been overwhelming! I got some great offers from old and newly-made friends and I’ve been able to put together some fantastic prize packages that are sure to bring a lot of folks out of the woodwork!

Marketing 101 – Sending the Right Message

Entertaining sponsorship is a two-way street. Of course, these aren’t just gifts that these guys and gals are handing out. They’re expecting some decent exposure out of the whole deal.

Cue the wheels and set them in motion!

In order to get the word out, I thought to myself:

“Self, you need to tap into any and every vehicle I can to drive traffic to the contest … and get some eyeballs moving over to the sponsor sites.”

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+: come last Thursday evening and Friday morning, I posted some messages to generate some interest.

Boy, did I get a nice, hefty bump in traffic to the site – almost FIVE TIMES the regular traffic … a noticeable spike in visitor volume for sure!

Getting the word out continues – trying different angles and employing different avenues.

Enough of the background. Now, back to the point….

Seriously?… Seriously Missing the Mark

I have some pretty clear instructions (and there really aren’t that many) on the site about how to enter, what I’m looking for and of course, the contest rules.

I mentioned, above, that I’ve gotten some great responses and entries that have shown me that the instructions aren’t hard to follow at all. I’ve also received some valid questions asking for some more details to help them focus their creative muse – which is all cool to me.

In sharp contrast to the above, I’ve gotten a few “dashing by” responses from supposed professionals that had me scratching my head. I’ll protect the innocent and not mention any names.

The Nameless

As part of getting the word out, I posted a link to the relevant pages with some details on a couple LinkedIn groups and forums in which I participate. They’ve generated some great responses, but also, some not-so-great ones – supposedly from “professionals”.

I got emails and forum responses in the form of:

  1. A link to a ReverbNation / BandCamp / MySpace / Insert-music-sharing-site page and
  2. an email address…

Except for one dude who added: “Yo, check out my dope tracks.” (seriously? seriously.)... that was it.

Not a lot of effort put in at all … Barring the fact that these guys obviously didn’t read past the title (even that’s doubtful) of the post before deciding to reply…

WHY WOULD I WANT TO GO CHECK OUT YOUR “DOPE” TRACKS
BASED ON A RESPONSE LIKE THAT???

I put in a bit more effort than they did and replied (resisting the urge to be sarcastic and snarky)- pointing them to the site and the appropriate entry details.

A Little Effort Might Work Better

I recognized a couple of the above “pros” from the LinkedIn group as the same people who complained and whined about the state of the music industry and the lack of jobs. If these guys consistently market themselves to folks using the method outlined above, then I truly wonder if they’re getting gigs at all.

It seems like common sense to me, but if you’re truly looking to get hired to do something, wouldn’t you want to make the best impression possible?

How about making your “proposal” personal, focused and above all, easy for the recipient to find what they’re looking for?

Putting together a stock, impersonable response that requires the potential “employer” to do a lot of the heavy lifting is only going to be headed to the Deleted folder and promptly forgotten.

At least, that’s what I think.

Silence Can Be Creative

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Creating, Engineering, Music/Audio, Opinions, Personal Leave a Comment

I’ve done my fair share of mixes – both for myself and for others.

When I mix my own tracks, I tend to mix while I work. “Mixing” as a stand-alone activity tends to be a relatively short process as I’ve already made a lot of choices in terms of instrumentation, panning, features, etc.

Mixing becomes an activity of rising up out of the details and trying to listen to the song as a first-time listener: making sure that the balance, flow and overall sound gel.

Mixing as Art

When I mix other’s tracks, I take a few steps back to listen to what’s going on and start formulating decisions on how the tracks should contribute to the ebb and flow of the song.

Some may say that I’m treading into producers’ territory, but I’d have to differ.

To put it in movie production terms:

  • the producer is like the director – he or she is responsible for spearheading the recording session (and perhaps writing) so as to get the best performance out of each musician
  • the mixer is akin to the film editor – he or she is responsible for taking each of the individual takes and piecing them together so that the entire story has a proper pace and flow. Editors never use EVERY shot that was filmed, nor do they typically use the entire length of a shot. There’s a lot of creativity in film editing – and a bad film editting job can do some serious damage to the story a film is trying to convey.

“M” is for Mute

Now, why am I going on about all this?

Well, I had a day off last week and took a stab at mixing Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer in a contest called “Reindeer Ruckus 2011” over at the RecordingReview forum.

I didn’t listen to the reference mix, nor did I listen to others before I started working.

The band did a “punk” rendition of the song, so it’s your pretty standard drums, bass, guitars and vocals setup. The guitars came with DI tracks, and I made use of those – almost exclussively. I didn’t spend too much time on the mix and really just wanted to do something to pass the time while I was a bit under the weather.

I banged the mix out and posted it for poops and giggles – it’s definitely not something that I’d send off to a client as a final draft.

As is usual for posts up on RecordingReview, and especially the contests that Brandon runs, comments started coming in – some glowing, some not-so-glowing … to be expected.

One of the comments that came back was:

[quote]”Love the way you just muted stuff at will… heh heh, that never even occurred to me – and sometimes less IS more” [/quote]

A few other commentors brought this up as well – some equally baffled as to why they hadn’t thought of this.

Full Circle Time

One of the key lessons I learned while stumbling and fumbling (something I still do) through mixing was that more tracks can quickly translate into more … blech. You can keep things simple and still make things sound big, clear and awesome. Using the mute button to bring a few choice tracks into focus can keep the listener engaged and excited much more than a wall of sound or ear candy.

The mute button can also help you sculpt the way a song evolves…

For the above mix, the energy you hear in the second verse was pretty well a duplicate of what was tracked for the first verse. Drums, guitars and all the band was going full-tilt.

As the mixer, I decided to mute the drum kit, re-amp the guitar DI signal to be something with a lot less bite and reserve all that hard, gritty energy to come in on the chorus.

When the chorus comes in, it’s a wild contrast in energy rather than a slight change.

I didn’t add anything to the song, but rather made choices on what to take away … all with help from the lowly Mute button.