Why 90% of Musicians Outsource Their Mixing and Mastering
I wanted to go into depth with this one because it’s apparent that in today’s industry everyone wants to be a master at everything. I won’t go as far as saying that it isn’t possible, but like a good friend of mine said before, “People overestimate what they can get done in a day, but they underestimate what they can get done in a year.”
It’s so common today that everyone is a, “Singer/Songwriter, Multi-Instrumentalist, Producer, DJ, Mixing and Mastering Engineer, Record Label Owner, A&R, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, Author, Humanitarian, Mother/Father of 3, and leading innovator under 30.”
There’s a small percentage of people where that most certainty applies, but for a lot of people that’s not the case. The rest of us are just trying to make our way through the world just like everybody else. So let me explain:
If I wanted to to have a killer flute or violin solo on my song, the last thing that would come to mind is, “I need to learn to play the flute.” I can play the guitar and I’m a solid keyboard player, but I know the limits to my ability. I’m aware I probably could learn to play the flute, but it would take me a lot of time to be able to play well enough to finish the project. There are a lot of people that understand this simple yet fundamental flaw in humanity that we simply can not know everything.
Master Mind Group
Henry Ford was known to have a row of buttons on his desk that by pushing the right one he can summon someone that had all the knowledge he could need about the business he devoted most of his time to. He called those people his Master Mind Group, and is cited as saying,
“Why should I clutter up my mind with general knowledge for the purpose of being able to answer questions, when I have men around me who can supply any knowledge I require?”
Outsourcing is a major time savor on many projects. Whatever your release schedule is, outsourcing your mixing and mastering will let you work on the release and marketing plan and focus on the important business aspects of the job. Many professional engineers don’t own a recording studio. Why, you ask? Well what good does it do someone to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions on going into business as a recording studio, when they can rent it from someone else that already has it? An engineer can move to any city and go right to work because someone has already done the work on starting up the studio. The engineer will make the studio some money and help keep them in business and the studio will continue to thrive. It’s a win/win. The same is true with with a musician that’s outsourcing their mixing and mastering. It’s more practical to rent someones knowledge and experience for a small fee, than fuss with it for hours, days, or in some cases even years!
Bruce Lee is famous for saying:
“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.”
Lets be honest, the most important and valuable assets we have in life is our time and our mind. Every successful person in the world understands the value of time. It’s important to focus your mind on the things that you value most in life.
There’s a huge difference between a musician/singer/producer and an engineer. They are two completely different professions. It’s important to understand that there can be a lot of parallels between them but it’s most certainty not the same. Let me explain.
A real estate agent is not a real estate investor. An agent buys and sells homes for a fee, whereas an investor buys properties to turn a profit. Can they be the same person? Probably, but does an investor want to deal with clients and showings and phone calls? Probably not. Does an agent have tenants living in the houses he/she sells? Sometimes, but they probably aren’t paying him rent.
As a musician, singer, songwriter, or producer is it your job to mix and master your music? Not necessarily. Sometimes you might choose to do so because you have the time to do it. Instead of trying to juggle everyone’s job as your own (especially if you don’t really know what you’re doing), focus on your post release marketing strategy. That’s one of the most ignored parts of the process. Many musicians work on the release and throw it on CD Baby and forget about it. It’s expected that by some supernatural phenomenon the song will get discovered and “blow up”.
All in all, it isn’t a bad thing to work on your own music. Take the time to focus on your craft by working on the practical and important business aspects on how to get your art off the ground by building a Master Mind Group. Have a team of people that will help you on your journey and will make the process easier for you. Always be on the lookout for great talent and be mindful of the people in your circle. Consider adding us to your circle: for a limited time, try our online mixing and mastering service absolutely free. Learn More
As an engineer for 10 years there are some things I’ve been able to learn over the years. There are several things I can advise you as a beginner to avoid, but I’m just going to share the top 7, in no particular order.
1.Something From Nothing
The first thing to avoid is trying to turn sound into something it isn’t. Even as an engineer with years of experience, I am very careful with doing this. Why? It can take a lot of time and if it is not done right it tends to sound unnatural. Without experience, this particular feat is quite difficult, BUT this is not to say that you should never try this, you should. Get creative. We live in a digital age where anything is possible. Just don’t beat yourself up over it, let it be fun until you get the hang of it.
The problem with trying to get something from nothing is that you can spend hours or even days on trying to get it “perfect”. A lot of the times, the sound that’s there is going to be the sound. The key to mixing professional mixes is how good you can get the work to sound within in a given set of time. Some projects only have a budget for a few days, some only a few hours. Speed is a matter of knowing what your doing. The more you do it, the better you’ll know your tools and how to get something to sound the way you want it to. It comes around full circle though, if you don’t experiment you’ll never know how to get from Point A to Point B.
2. Dip your Toes In
Putting reverb on every track is something producers tend to do in fear of having a dry signal. It is important to know which reverbs belong to particular genres and trends. Limiting yourself to as few reverbs as possible can help you grow the most. This can be true for other effects too. Simplicity is key and less is more in some of these situations. Too much reverb causes problems all across the board so instead of getting your mixes to swim in reverb, it’s better to just dip your toes in.
3. Han Solo
Working in solo for too long is another mistake a young engineer can make. It can cause you to lose perspective quite rapidly when you are mixing single sound. Of course, working in solo is necessary to work on specific details, but as far as doing it for everything, it’s just not the best idea. Remember that the mix is about getting everything to work together. If you listen to something in solo, you may find that it doesn’t sound “good” on it’s own. That’s not a bad thing. Remember you want everything to work together.
*Extra Tip: If you’re working on an analogue console, the solo bus is not even the same circuitry as the main LR. If you solo something you’re not listening to it go through even the same path as everything else.
4.The Bigger Picture
Utilizing too much processing on a track is one of the biggest beginner mistakes made. This is something that takes time and skill to develop. It requires you to take some free time to mess around with it in order to get good enough to implement it into your more serious mixes. Basically, you need to develop your method before you get mad with it.
The problem with going in guns blazing is there’s more problems to fix toward the end. It’s basically like pushing the faders up instead of pulling them down. Before you know it, your destroying your master.
It’s best to be deliberate with everything you’re doing. Everything needs to make sense for the bigger picture. You need to be thinking about processing power (if you’re running a slower machine), important elements that need or don’t need a lot of processing, what elements are UN-necessary, and when the mix should or shouldn’t be balanced.
Clarity is something that is essential in any industry. It is important to know what you want to. Take time to stop and think about what it is that you are trying to accomplish. In my experience, this saves frustration and time down the road.
6. A Mix is NOT a Master
Going for a mastered sound is something that is easy to fall into. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a fully polished record right from the get-go. This is another one of those things that requires time and experience in order to master. Getting the hang of perfecting the little details should be a greater focus before jumping into mastering. When you feel confident with your mixes, start diving into mastering. Unless you feel you’ll never be good at mixing, jump straight into mastering, but whatever you do stick with it. Either one of the two professions will take years to develop.
7. Don’t Smile Too Often
Adding tons of bass and treble is the last mistake I’ll mention (the smile curve). These should be treated as sprinkles on a cupcake – they shouldn’t overwhelm the track. They can translate poorly on speakers and can fatigue the ear. Unless you know in your bones that the track calls for it, don’t feel the need to do it.
If you don’t have a well treated room, get yourself a great pair of reference headphones to mix on. You’ll be better off mixing on those than any untreated room with the best and most expensive studio monitors. I’ve mixed and mastered countless records on the road, in airports, and in hotel rooms on great headphones. All of which released through major labels. It’s the ear, not the gear.
If you are looking to send files to any mixing engineer, most likely they are going to ask you to send them what are called “Stems” or “Track-outs”. Too many people complicate this very simple process, but you’ll have everything you need in less than 5 minutes reading this blog post. Lets get started:
Step 1: Export a Rough Mix or Demo Before you do anything else, it’s important to save a version of how you have everything at the present moment. That’ll give your mix engineer the opportunity to hear what you have so far and get a better idea of your vision for the track.
Step 2. Decide what effects or plugins you want to keep This is probably the most important step because whatever you decide will be staying, is going to forever be on the song. If you have any doubts at all, remove everything.
*Sometimes the plugins or effects are an important part of the sound.
Ex.1 You may have a synth bass that’s too crazy so you shaped it with some EQ and then decided you wanted it to be even crazier and added a bit of distortion.
Ex.2 You have an autotune effect on the vocals for a certain “flair”.
Most of the time, your mix engineer will be able to replicate what you have done to the sound. Only keep those plugins if you are 100% sure that you want to commit to that sound. If you want to get really fancy, you can export 2 versions: one without any effects (dry version), and one with the effects you want to keep (wet version). Keep in mind that some mix engineers charge by track count, so that might eat into your budget. If you have a million background vocals, you might want to consolidate those too.
Step 3: Remove Everything Else Bypass every plugin and aux send in the DAW. Yes, everything. Reverb, Delays, EQ, Compression, and any other cool plugin you have.
Step 4: Make A Selection You’ll need to select the length of the entire song in your timeline/edit window. Make sure that when you hit “play” it starts and ENDS where you want.
This is important because all the tracks need to start and end at the same spot. Your mix engineer will import everything and throw it at the start of the session. When he does that, everything will line up exactly the way you had it.
Step 5: Export Every platform has different ways of making this part faster. The old school way of doing it is literally hitting SOLO (yes the little “S”) and bouncing a .wav file of every single element on your session.
If you have offline bouncing, congratulations! If not, you’ll be sitting there for a couple hours.
Now that you have exported your tracks, you can send them to us through our handy upload form.
Have an idea for future blog posts? Let us know in the comments.