Posts Tagged ‘mixing’

Ok. A small post about my mixing philosophy. Pretty simple – I’m not a mastering engineer. Every time I go into my  brother’s audiophile listening room, with its $70,000 worth of speakers, preamps, amps, acoustic treatment, etc., I realize that mastering is not the first element in my game. I don’t have the rig. Its a different art entirely from mixing. That doesn’t mean that I don’t do it! I’ve got good software for it, and a fairly good ear for the job. But I’m not going to tell you that I can do what a boutique mastering house can do with several hundred thousand dollars worth of gear.

Whether I’m mixing for my own mastering, or someone else’s, here’s the plan:

1. Whether I’m mastering or sending it out, I provide a final mix that is mastering friendly. Even if the client is not going to pay for mastering, I don’t just assume that I should slap a mastering plugin onto the mix and pump it up. I’d rather that the client listen to a well mixed CD than one that is sloppily mastered, or crammed into the Procrustean bed of someone else’s mastering “preset.” That doesn’t mean I don’t use mastering plugins – but I use them to achieve mixing ends – centering bass frequencies on live mixes, multi-pressing frequencies to add more punch or presence, etc.

2. I try to listen to my final mixes on lots of equipment – car speakers, mid-field monitors, near-field monitors, 2.1 computer speakers, etc. I figure if my mix translates pretty well, then if the client doesn’t pay to have it professionally mastered, at least it will sound good in lots of contexts.

3. I try to listen to my final mixes (and masters) on at least one audiophile system – just to tweak it with all the audio information I can, and with the best soundstage possible. My brother lives in Denver – and I have been known to haul my computer and Apogee Mini-Dac into his listening room when visiting him, spending a few hours with whatever projects I have going. It helps. I have a couple of other options nearby.

Near my home, a new listening room has just been installed at The University of the South, Sewanee, TN. It’s called the Ralston Listening Library. The guy who runs it is Tam Carlson, one of my English Professors when I was a student there years ago. He’s a music lover. When I was a student in the 70’s we used to go to his home and listen to old Toscanini vinyl albums on his electrostatic speakers. Amazing! Last time I was up there, he told me he’ll log me a few hours in the room if I call ahead. He might do the same for you. Here is a picture of Tam hanging out in this amazing room.

Ralston Listening Library, Sewanee, TN

For a great article about this listening room, and more great pictures, check out Stereophile.

4. Finally, I leave as much space in the mix as I can. By this I mean that I don’t hyper-compress the audio – even if it is Heavy Metal. When I bounce the final mix, I don’t want my gain structure and compression to leave the transients looking flat as a doornail. I leave at least 3 db. of headroom overall, and work for clean gain throughout the chain, with no tracks overly compressed or pumping. I focus on building a luxurious stereo soundstage and on getting the kind of sonic palette that works best for the project. In the end, however, I want a good mastering engineer to have something he or she can work with, adding the kinds of finishing touches that only they can add. If I squash out all of the gain, or over-compress, there’s nothing a mastering engineer can do.

What I’m trying to say is this: “to thine own self be true.” I’m a recording and mixing engineer. And I mix in a way that lets the mastering engineer do his job (even if that happens to be ME).

As I mentioned in the “About” page, I have four reasons for posting this blog.

First, in the section entitled Recent Projects, to (gently) advertise my project studio. I try to record 5-6 projects annually, and would be glad to discuss whether what I do is appropriate for your project. From time to time, therefore, I’ll post links to music recorded in the studio so that you can get an idea of what I can do.

Second, in the section entitled Philosophy, to share my philosophy of recording.

Third, in the section entitled Tricks of the Trade, to share ideas that I have about improving both the workflow and quality of project studio recordings.

Fourth, in the section entitled Gear, to discuss gear I have used or found useful in studio production.

For over thirty years now I’ve been recording and mixing music. No, it’s not my “day job.” I teach at Vanderbilt Divinity School. I write books on all kinds of topics. I’ve also been known to blog on a range of topics – in particular preaching and worship, and popular religion. My passion for recording music intersects with my other interests – which focus on the philosophy and impact of sound and words in the public arena.

My life in recording began in my teenage and college age years, in Birmingham, Alabama. I worked for a film company (Metcalf Productions), writing soundtracks (mostly music) for commercial films and television spots. I hung around the studio as much as I could, learning the basics of microphone placement, mixing and editing.

Studio Engineering was not how I wanted to make a living. I had other interests oriented toward scholarship and teaching. But music performance and recording remained my primary hobbies – and soon became a bit more than that, as computers began to make recording more accessible for hobbyists.

In the Control Room

With the advent of computer-based digital sequencing in the 80’s and then the full-blown marketing of digital audio workstations (DAWs) in the 90’s, home recording leapt to new levels, and became more accessible to hobbyists. I began editing on the German based software Emagic Logic in the mid-90s and stuck with it when Apple bought the company and morphed it into Logic Pro. I have stayed with Logic, and have found it to be more than adequate for most forms of studio production.

Moving to Nashville in 2004 changed the whole game for me. Nashville is filled with commercial and boutique studios, and hundreds of project studios (good and bad). At the same time, hundreds of artists move to Nashville each year in order to try to make it in the music industry as either songwriters or performers. The number of people needing good quality demo recordings or affordable project recordings is many times what it is in most cities. And there is a small niche for those of us who can provide a product that is less expensive yet well recorded and mixed. I’ve steadily increased the number of projects I take on. My connections with excellent musicians (for hire), gear rental and other music resources has sky-rocketed in the past three years.

Although gear is important, as you will see in later posts, I believe that the key to recording and mixing is the ear, not the gear. Some of my favorite recordings were made on an old Tascam cassette Portastudio I owned in the late 80s, using mostly dynamic microphones. Training one’s ear to create a good sound and mix is the key to recording at any level. More on this, and other aspects of the game, later.

Welcome to the blog. Hope you enjoy it and get something out of it.