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.
Improve Your Vocal Recordings in 5 Easy Steps – Studio 411
Before we get into the nitty gritty, lets dive in to what it means to be intentional with everything we do. We first need to know exactly what we’re recording and understand the approach is never going to be exactly the same.
With regard to vocal recordings, we need to understand that background (supporting parts) and main parts will likely be treated differently. Most of this can be re-created in the mix, but it’s always better that it sounds incredible from the very beginning!
Decide what kind of sound your going for. Ask yourself these important vocal recording questions first:
* Is the vocal supposed to be big and roomy?
* Is the vocal tight and present?
* How important is the part in regards to the whole project?
* What physical space do you have available to use at the present moment?
* Do you have anything to help minimize or maximize the recording space?
* What problems do you want to avoid in your vocal recording?
* What characteristics do you want to accent in the recording?
The most important part of any vocal recording is the performance. The vocalist needs to be in the right frame of mind to make sure they do their best because lets face it, there’s no amount of money or equipment in the world that will get a good recording out of a bad vocal performance.
A bad vocal performance could simply mean the artist was having a bad day, or is going through a breakup. It’s part of the job to make sure the artist is comfortable and in the right headspace.
Try setting up some water, hot tea, and light snacks out. It will help make the artist feel a little more at ease. If you are recording yourself, try to watch an inspirational Youtube video, or scroll through some super funny memes. Do whatever you have to do to get in the right frame of mind!
Next, you’ll want to decide the way you place the microphone. It is always a matter of compromise between what you want to do with the vocal recording, the environment you are recording in, and the vocalist’s tonal character. I’ll give you a quick example of a question we commonly get asked:
What’s the best way to record vocals?
In many cases this question refers to a main vocal in a modern stylistic representation (pop, hip hop, or EDM).
Make sure that the microphone is oriented in a way that will not impede their inspired, energetic performance.
Distance and Levels
For this type of vocal sound, you’ll need a to make sure the microphone is placed about 5 – 7 inches from the artist, and make sure that the levels going into your DAW are, for simplicity’s sake, sitting nicely between the green and yellow lines.
Don’t worry about compression or equalization on the way in. Your environment will factor in more than any of that.
If your room isn’t treated, try to minimize as much of the “room” sound as you can. Try draping heavy blankets over microphone stands and make a makeshift booth for the artist. You can move the microphone stands to really “dial in”
the sound you’re looking for. If you have a reflection filter, use that in conjunction with the blanket booth.
Mixing and Mastering
Mixing and mastering is much different than recording. It’s very important to have room that is designed to let the listener hear what’s really coming out of the speakers. There are special architects that specialize in designing how the audio waves in a room react inside of the very room it lives in. It also takes a specially trained ear to be able to make accurate changes to a recording so that it can sound like a radio ready hit. Studio 411 offers the best online mixing and mastering service available today and have very affordable rates for any budget. For a limited time, try our mixing and mastering service free.
In summery, make sure that the artist gives their best performance first and foremost. Other than that there isn’t a lot too a vocal recording. You can get creative and do some fun stuff with it, but always remember that there’s no right or wrong way to do it.
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.