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Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Mixing "Weather The Storm" Pt.5 - Compression

G’day everybody. This is the fifth part in my series of mixing “Weather The Storm”. My friend Jaye gave me this track wondering if I could help him make it brighter, clearer and punchier. I decided to go through a basic process of how I would go about mixing the track from start to finish. Here are the other videos if you missed them.

Part 1 - Setting up the Session

Part 2 - Balance

Part 3 - Mix Bus Processing

Part 4 - EQ

In this video I’ll be adding some compression to the tracks. Through this video I’ll be using Pro Tool’s “Dynamics 3” which is the standard compressor that comes free with the DAW. I use this one here to show you that you don’t need expensive plugins to get a great sound.

Vocal Compression

I started by putting a compressor on the first vocal sound in the track. I did this because it was the first sound that jumped out at me as needing compression. On the voice, some of the louder parts were a bit too loud and some of the quieter words were hidden in the mix a bit.

I used a very basic compressor setting for this with a fast attack (1ms), fast release (37ms), medium ratio (3:1), small knee (10dB) and then brought down the threshold so it was hitting the compressor lightly on the medium level vocals and definitely being effected on the louder notes. I then brought up the gain until it matched the level of the input on the louder parts.

This was a fairly basic setting and I could have gone through and changed the settings for each vocal part, but because they were similar parts with the same singer, it was a lot easier to copy the compressor through to each part. I always have the option to change the settings on each one down the track if I feel like there’s something not quite right with them.

After this, I also added a compressor on the Vocal Bus. This one was a little bit softer with a 2:1 ratio, extremely fast attack (10 microseconds), fast release (37.7ms) and big knee (20dB).

Because this setting is so soft on account of the bigger knee and the low ratio, I could bring the threshold down a bit to make sure the vocals are getting affected. I added this compressor to tame and glue all the vocals together a bit more and also because there are parts where second and third vocals come in during phrases and I wanted to make sure the vocals didn’t get too loud in those parts.

Pumping Drums

I added another compressor to the Drum Bus, however the purpose of this one is a little different to the one I had used for the vocals. Instead of levelling out the sounds, I used this compressor emphasize the transients in the drums and create a bit more feel. 

I started by using the sidechain to choose the frequencies that would trigger the compressor and put a high cut all the way down to 250Hz. This means that only the sound of the kick drum will be triggering the compressor.

I then used a slow attack (38ms) so that you get to hear the punch on the kick and snare hits before the compressor starts working. I used a very slow release, almost half a second, and this was where the compressor finishes releasing just before the next beat, and this is what gives it the pumpy sound.

I used a fairly low ratio (2:1) and the threshold was high so it’s not really affecting the sound too much. When you A/B the compressed track to the dry track, you can’t really hear the sound being compressed but it has a bit more “movement”. I find it hard to explain, but when you bypass it, it starts sounding very robotic. Give it a try to give you electronic drums some more feel.

Usually in a rock production with a live drum kit, percussion, bass and acoustic guitars, there would be a lot more compression required. However, because most of the other sounds were distorted and heavily effected guitars, samples and synths, they didn’t really need compressing and sat very well in the mix already.

If you have any comments or questions about this process, feel free to hit me up in the comments section below. Until next time, have a good one!

Monday, 28 December 2015

Mixing "Weather The Storm" Pt.4 - EQ

G’day guys! This is the fourth video in my series on mixing “Weather The Storm”, an industrial track by my friend Jaye. He sent it in to me and asked how I would mix it and I thought I’d make a video series going through all the basics of how I mix it.

Part 1 - Setting up the Session

Part 2 - Balance

Part 3 - Mix Bus Processing

In this video, I’m going through my EQ moves for the individual tracks in the session. In the Mix Bus blog, I go through how I put an EQ over the mix bus to get the overall feel of the track right, but here I’m getting a bit more in depth.

Speed Racer

You may notice that I get through the EQing of the track in under 10 minutes. This is an extremely quick EQ of the track, but in those 10 minutes I get the song sounding very close to finished using minimal EQ moves.

It’s tempting to get bogged down into soloing each track in the mix one by one and labouring over the individual EQ’s until they sound perfect. I used to do this, but soon found that this process is both extremely time consuming and a bit counter-intuitive.

If you get EQ each individual track by itself, you’ll spend a lot of time getting that one track to sound good by itself. Then, you’ll put it back into the mix. Many of the moves you’ll make will be inaudible, so you’ve wasted time. Some of the other moves will clash with the rest of the mix, so it will sound worse.

Instead, I think it’s more beneficial to listen to the mix as a whole and think about what jumps out to you. A/B with your reference track and check with what you think the song needs. Then you can use your EQ to make those changes in your mix, and then go back and check to see if it helped.

This style of mixing is much more productive, as every move that you make is audible and benefits the mix in a way that you feel is important.

You may have noticed that I put all my EQs in this video in the last insert of each track. The reason for this is that Pro Tools has a feature where you can bypass every insert in a given slot (this one is insert E), by holding Command+option (Control+Alt for PC) and clicking on the insert. Because I have nothing else in these inserts, I can very quickly reference where I started today and where I finished up. Very handy!

Cut The Lows, Boost The Highs

You may have noticed during the video that I was cutting a lot of the low end out of tracks and that I was boosting a lot of high end. You may also remember that in my Setup and Mixbus videos I did the same thing, and by now we have a lot less low end than when we started.

This isn’t a common rule in every single mix that I do, but I tend to find that getting a bright and clear sound usually means cutting quite a bit of low end. Low frequencies tend to build up very quickly in a mix, and they get in the way of the sounds of the low end instruments that you want to be nice and bassy.

I find that cutting the lows from sounds that don’t need it means that sounds like Kick drums and Bass guitar are punchier, tighter and more impactful. There’s also a lot of talk about how speakers can produce other frequencies more accurately when they aren’t occupied with unnecessary low frequency information, but that’s a topic for another day.

My reasons for boosting a lot of the high end in the tracks was because it sounded like it needed it. When A/Bing against the reference track, my mix was sounding a little bit dull, especially in the vocals, so boosting up that high end really gave the mix a bit more clarity and bite.

The rest of the EQ moves mostly involved picking frequencies that I felt sounded a bit annoying and pulling them out a little bit. You’ll notice that I didn’t do anything too drastic, but pulling a little bit from these frequencies that sounded wrong to me in each instrument made quite a bit of difference in the end result.

If you have any questions or comments about this blog, feel free to post in the comments section below. Until next time, Have a good one guys!!!

Monday, 21 December 2015

Recording Your Practice: A Guide To Better Performance

I’ve been doing a lot of blogs recently about production and recording. This one is also about recording, but it’s really about performance. If you’re a singer, songwriter, guitarist, pianist or just about any other type of performer, this one is for you!

Many musicians get to a point in their practice where they just don’t know what to do. I know I’ve been there several times before. A point where, although you know you can always improve, you just don’t know where to start.

I suggest, that if you haven’t been doing it already, start recording yourself performing. This came as a big turning point for me in my practice and made me rethink how I play. With today’s technology, there’s no reason not to be tracking what you’re doing and listening back to it.

Realising Your Weaknesses

I remember the first time I got into a recording studio to record some songs as a teenager. At this point, I’d been playing in a band for ages, played guitar for almost 10 years and done countless live shows.

All was well and good, we got into the studio (some guys house) and we’d laid down the drums. When it came to me playing my guitar parts, I plugged in, had the track in my ears and played along. All was good… until I listened back to my parts.

They were awful. The tone was all out, my playing was out of time and the notes were inconsistent. I was a little heart broken, but the rest of the band didn’t seem to care that much. So I played through the tracks again and again till they were close enough

Then came the vocals. I was singing in this band and I wasn’t very good back then, but I got by. But there was something about singing in the studio that completely threw me off. I’ve seen it many times since, working behind the desk. Some singers can tear it up live but as soon as you put them in front of a mic in the studio, their throats close up and they can’t perform.

I don’t know what the reasons are behind this phenomenon, but some singers just cannot sing in a recording setting. Thankfully, like everything else, this is something that can, and should be practiced.

If you’ve ever heard your voice recorded, you know how much different you sound in your head, compared to what plays back to you. Singing is exactly the same, and this difference can throw a lot of people off. The same can happen with playing an instrument: what you’re hearing while you’re playing can sound very different to what’s being recorded… so what should you do?

Practice being recorded

It’s almost too obvious, but very few musicians actually practice recording themselves. Of all the practicing techniques that I’ve tried over my twenty odd years of performing, recording myself practicing has made the biggest difference to almost every aspect of my performance.

Here’s an exercise for you:
  1.  Take a lick or a riff that you know
  2. Figure out a tempo for that lick/riff and set it up on a metronome.
  3. Hit record and play it in as best you can.
  4. Now here’s the important part. Listen. Is it in time? Is your tone right? Is every note in pitch? Are you being consistent with your playing? If you heard this playing on a professional record, would it be acceptable? 
  5. If the answer to any of these questions is “no” then you have to address the problem, and try again.
  6. And again
  7. And again

Keep recording and changing little things in your performance until this one little lick or riff is 100% perfect. You should listen to the final product and think “there is nothing I would change about the playing of this”. 

When you start this type of practice, it might seem impossible to get to that point where you are completely happy. Try not to stress yourself out, you might be attempting something too hard from the start. Either slow the riff down a bit or try something a little more simple.

Singing Exercise

This one is for singers, but can be used in a similar way for any other instrument. This is an amazing exercise for improving your performances in a huge way. If you’ve never recorded yourself singing before, I definitely suggest you give this a try, it could change your life.

First, pick a song that you know pretty well. Make sure you choose one that is in a comfortable key for you. It could be one that you’ve sung a thousand times before, but that’s good. For the start it’s best to pick something that you know the melody and lyrics for. We want to focus on the performance more than anything else here.

Take that song and load it up into your recording software. Then you need to set up a track for your microphone to record your voice. You’ll need to balance the tracks so that you can easily hear your voice clearly over the song.

If you don’t have recording equipment or software, use your phone. Simply play the song through whatever system you have and sing over the top of it, making sure you can hear yourself clearly. Most phones these days have recording facilities. This isn’t an ideal way of doing it, but it’s better than nothing.

Hit record on whatever device you’re using and record yourself singing through the track from start to finish. This is going to be your reference for when you started, so you can mute this track and put it aside for later. It’s important to show your progress so you can see how far you’ve come.

Next, I want you to skip to about a bar before the first line comes in, hit record and sing only the first line of the song. You’re going to be tracking this one line at a time.

Now listen back to your performance of that one line. Was it in pitch? Was it in time? Did it sound strained? How was your pronunciation? Did you have enough breath? Was there enough feeling in it? Did you emphasize the right words? What is it that you could do better?

Pick the one thing that stands out to you the most as being wrong with the performance. Focus on that one thing and record the line again. Listen back and keep recording that line until you’ve fixed that first thing that you wanted to fix. 

Once you’ve got that right, fix the next thing that you think needs improvement on that line. Dissect each part of your performance until it is exactly how you would want it to be heard. Once that first line is right, move to the second line of the song and do the exact same thing.

You’ll find the first line is the hardest to get right, as you’re going to be trying to really find your voice. As you move on, things will get a little easier as you learn little tricks of how to manipulate your voice to get the sounds you want.

When you get the end of the verse, record it all the way through from start to finish. Now compare that to the version you recorded at the very start of the session and hear how much better you are than where you began.

This technique is very important because it not only teaches you how to be good on the track that you’re recording at that moment, but also how to get better, quicker on other songs. You will soon learn what to change to get different sounds, and how the mechanics of your voice works.

Many people, when practicing, focus on things that they can quantify. They want to get faster playing, bigger ranges, more repertoire, more scales. But the most loved musicians are the ones that have those qualities that can’t be quantified. It doesn’t matter if you can technically play the hardest song in the world, if you can’t play the easiest song and make it sound good.

Do you record yourself playing? Have you got any great tips on improving your performance? Any questions or comments? Hit me up in the comments section below!

Friday, 18 December 2015

Mixing "Weather The Storm" Pt. 3 - Mix Bus

Hey guys, this is the 3rd video in my series of mixing “Weather The Storm”. If you missed the last two videos, here are the links for you.

Setting Up The Session:


In this video I’m going to be taking you through the mix bus processing. This means I’ll be adding processing to my Master Bus to control what is happening over my whole mix. This style of mixing is called a “top down” approach.

What Is a Top Down Approach and Why Use It?

This is a style of mixing that I first encountered while reading a blog on The Recording Revolution. If you haven’t heard of it, check out for heaps of great articles and videos on home recording and mixing techniques.

For their description of the Top Down Approach, here’s a link: 

Basically, this is the technique of adding processing to the mix busses in your chain first in order to save time. This kind of mixing means that you get bigger results to the sound of the mix in less moves of the mouse.

For example: you find that your mix is muddy at around the 300Hz mark. You could:

a) Go through each track in your mix, taking out frequencies of each track to try to get rid of that muddiness, or

b) Put an EQ on the mix bus and pull out 300 Hz.

I find that this is a great way to get your mix sounding the way you want it quicker and with less stress. Sounds tend to come together easier, and you feel better about the sound of your mix earlier on in the process.

There’s a lot of people out there that feel that there should be no processing on the mix bus and that side of things should be saved entirely for the mastering engineer. But in this modern world of limitless, high quality processing, I think we should not be sending anything to a mastering engineer that isn’t exactly how we want it.

One thing to note here is that all of these changes can be undone, altered and removed in the future, should there be some processing in your mix that calls for a change in the mix bus. Although, for the most part, these Mix Bus moves will shape the overall sound of your track.

So, what did you do?

You can watch the video and see exactly how I went about adding the processing to the mix bus, but I’ll go over it a little bit here as well. 

I started by adding an EQ. I think this is the most important part of the mix bus processing and it’s where you’ll hear the biggest changes. I used the 7 band EQ that comes free with Pro Tools and I used that one because I wanted to show that you don’t need fancy plugins to get a great sound.

I started by running a low cut filter up to about 30Hz. This gets rid of any of the ultra low sub information that just muddies up the mix and takes up valuable energy. At this level, these frequencies are practically inaudible.

I then pulled up the low mid EQ and swept it until I found the wooly frequencies. This mix has a lot of those low mids that are filling up the mix so I wanted to find where they were the worst. I pulled them out by about 1.5dB. This is only a small move, but over the mix bus, it’s quite noticeable.

I then went up to the high mids to find where I could add a little more punch and presence to the mix. I ended up settling at around 2kHz, and boosting that by about 2dB. On top of that I also added a high shelf to the upper frequencies of about 0.5dB to give the mix a little more shimmer.

I then added a compressor to the mix. I ended up using waves C1 compressor, which I stated in the video was free, but actually it’s not. Don’t stress though, you can use a standard compressor with similar functionality in the exact same way.

With this compressor, I didn’t use it in the standard way of bringing down the loud parts and bringing up the quiet parts. In fact, I used to to accentuate the loud parts and made it pump to the beat of the song.

The way I did this, is have the threshold trigger only on the kick and snare, and then set a medium ratio (about 4:1). I then dialled up the attack until it let quite a bit of the transient of the kick and snare through. I pushed the release back until it was finished releasing just before the next kick or snare hit.

This style of compression really gives the sound a bit more life as the song pumps in and out to the beat. You will hear this effect on lots of dance tracks, although they usually make it a lot more obvious. What to listen for here is the feel of the track, rather than an obvious compression. When I A/B’d the compressor, you can hear the track get a bit more life and movement to it when enabled.

Finally, I put in a Slate Tape Emulation plugin. This adds the sound of tape saturation to the track, which is a hard thing to explain. It’s not a distortion, EQ, or compressor. It’s more like a combination of all three that has been carefully made to give a pleasant, musical sound.

These types of plugins usually aren’t cheap, but I absolutely love this one and use it on almost every project I do. It’s not necessary for mix bus processing, however I really like how it sounds. 

Make sure you subscribe up the top so you know when I release my next blog. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to chuck it in the comments section below. Until next time, have a good one!

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Velvet Pancakes - The Art of Sound Association

Let's do one more time. Okay, strings, lean into it. I want it real tangy this time. Now, Mike, you're flatting. Bushmen, make it sound like you're in the f##king bush, okay? Alright, Fred, back off the goat on the second pre-chorus. I wanna hear his heart, not his soul. And, Sam, you go back to that thing you did yesterday on the bridge. That thing that sounded like velvet pancakes.

This is a quote taken from the musical comedy “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” where a drug-riddled musician is trying to get his band to sound like what he’s hearing in his head.

Now this might sound like a whole lot of utter jibberish… and that’s because it is. However, there is a lot to be said about using word association when it comes to describing music. You hear it all the time when people say things like “that kick is punchy”, or “that vocal is airy”.

But what does it mean, and why is it important? Each term that is used can be defined in different ways but the point of them being around is that we can communicate our opinions of the sounds that we’re hearing in simple words.

Snare Like A Crunchy Apple

I was watching a tutorial of an engineer working on getting his snare sound right and he said that he was trying to get it sound like he was “biting into a really crunchy apple.” When I heard him say this, I thought “that’s a weird way to describe a snare” but I knew exactly what he meant.

What’s important about this association that he’s made with a sound is that he has a reference point in his head. It could be anything that points you in the direction of the sound you want, but that kind of thought pattern can be really helpful when you’re getting sounds.

Think about it, you hear a snare and think “I love that sound, it sounds like an apple crunching” and you want to replicate a similar sound in your production. When you go to get a snare sound you’re not thinking “I want it to sound like that snare”, What does that snare sound like? Which snare etc. You’ve got a reference that you can easily hear in your head and can easily describe.

This is not only great for your own references, but great for trying to tell other people what kind of sound you want. 
I want a Kick like a basketball, a snare like a car door slamming, guitars like a steel grinder, and vocals like a telephone.

That would be a terrible sounding recording, but associating those elements means that you can already imagine what the sound is going to be like. When you can imagine the sound, you know where you want to go, that’s half the battle. The rest is just figuring out how to get there.

The Thick and Thin Of It

The other type of association is in describing words. There are hundreds out there and different people have different words they use to describe the same kinds of sounds. These can be confusing at some times, but usually they’re fairly easy to decipher. 

These association words can describe many things in a song’s production. From instrumentation, to arrangement, to mixing, to mastering. Any chump can tell you what they want to hear.

With instrumentation, I can say that I want a pounding kick (like in a lot of dance tracks). I want a rolling bass line (like in Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”). I want stabbing guitar, soaring synthesizers, boppy piano, howling vocals, fluttery harp, round toms, flowing lead. These all describe how the instrument is played.

Within the mixing and mastering you can have so many things. Thick, thin, muddy, clear, bright, dark, boomy, hollow, airy, dry, wet, shimmery, sharp, dull, ambient, scratchy, woofy, honky, bitey, deep, shallow, punchy, blurry, bloated, boxy, dirty, clean, focused, edgy, forward, grungy, harsh, mellow, piercing, open, full, empty, snappy, spacious, sweet, tight, loose, warm, wooly. 

These kinds of words are great ways for everyone involved in the production process to communicate things that they do and don’t like about the sounds that they’re hearing. The best part is that you don’t have to have worked in sound and music to understand and communicate what you want to hear.

What is important, if you’re in charge of making the music, is that you know what to do with the associations that you’re either hearing or being told. There are so many words that mean similar, or exactly the same, things and they can mean different things to different people. 

Deciphering the Words

You’ll hear people say these words in the musical world and when you’re producing the music, you have to be the one to decide what to do with the information that you’re given. Where are you supposed to start when someone tells you, “The bass is a little wooly, the vocals is a little honky and the whole thing could do with a little more shimmer”.

Without having listened to whatever it is we’re talking about, I’d take a bit of 250Hz out of the bass guitar, take out some 650Hz from the vocals and boost a shelf at 10kHz on the master bus. This may or may not help what was wrong with the mix, but from experience, that would be where I’d start looking for these sounds that are being described.

Check out this page for a bunch of describing words and a description of what they mean. I’m sure you all have a fair idea of what these sounds mean, but just in case here they are in glossary form:

Almost all of these sounds can be achieved by using EQ, compression, reverb and just levelling the instruments in the track right. The trick is to learn how to make, or fix, these sounds by using the tools at your disposal. 

Learn what the sounds mean to you

Here’s a little exercise to get a sense of what some these describing words mean in a practical way. Import a song into your DAW and get an EQ with a “listen” function (lets you just listen to the frequencies you’re working with) or just boost a sweepable frequency (make sure you turn down the input or have a trim before to avoid clipping and digital distortion). Now pick a word, like “sweet”, and sweep through the frequencies until you think the song sounds the “sweetest”. Note that frequency down and pick another word and try again.

You can do this with all the words in the list above apart from some that are more reverb or balance related. HAVE FUN!

Did you learn anything important from this blog? Are there any words that you think of quite a bit? Are there any non-music related sounds that you reference instrumental sounds to? What’s the strangest sound association you’ve ever heard? Let me know in the comments below!!!

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Mixing "Weather The Storm" Pt 2 - Balance

G’day guys! Here’s my second installment of my mixing videos of “Weather The Storm”. You can check out Part 1, where I set up the session, here:

In this video I tackle a few of the basic things arrangement wise that I wanted to hear in the mix before I started really getting into the mixing. These included adding an extra kick and snare track over the tracks that were given to me, and then cutting out some of the low end of the rhythm guitar and vocal tracks.

The main part of this video is getting the balance of the track happening. I go through the song a few times, always checking my reference track and try to get a nice even sound while only using my volume faders and pan knobs.

Adding a Kick and Snare

This is the first thing that I noticed about Jaye’s mix when he sent it to me. I’m not a big fan of the snare drum sound that can in the loop that he provided. I found it was very short, had little body and was a little bit too harsh.

One thing to remember is that this, and everything in music, comes down to taste. The snare sound isn’t “wrong” by any stretch, I just don’t like it. Because I’m the one mixing this track, I decided to change it. If I was mixing this for Jaye as a client, we would discuss options of how the snare should sound.

I used the beat sample plugin called “Boom” that comes free with Pro Tools. The samples in it are good for electronic music and it’s quite simple to use. I also want to use predominantly free plugins in my tutorials to show that you don’t need a massive budget to get a decent sounding mix.

The sample I ended up using was a very electric snare that has an exaggerated snare wire ring out on it. It also has quite a bit of bottom end and will work great in complementing the snare sound that’s already there.

I also added a compressor to the original drumbeat. This compressor is actually keyed, or “sidechained”, off of my new snare. I did this by sending my new snare to a bus (any bus) and selecting the key input on the drum beat to the same bus.

This means that the compressor will only trigger when the new snare hits and, because I’ve got it on the new snare, it will activate and duck the old snare on the drumbeat, without affecting the rest of the beat. I used a very fast attack and release setting, because I didn’t want it to be too obvious.

The kick that I added to the beat was also from the Boom plugin. I chose a very round kick sound that would compliment the old kick well. Again, I ran this to it’s own audio track so that I can mess with it a bit later on it’s own

Pulling Out Some Low End

I usually try to avoid doing any kind of EQing or compression on a track before I’ve got my overall levels sorted, but this time I made an exception. Listening through the tracks, I knew that the guitars and vocals had a lot of low end information that I was going to have to get rid of before getting into the mixing. These changes would severely affect how I mixed the track.

The rhythm guitar track had a heap of low end information in it that was muddying up the mix a lot. I put a high pass filter up pretty high on that one as well as pulling out a bunch of the low mids around 400Hz. This quickly cleaned the track up a lot and gave it a bit more life. I even had to give the EQ a bit of a boost afterwards because I lost so much level while cutting the low end.

With the vocals, I also put a low cut filter, although I just applied it on the vocal bus and was pretty rough with it. The settings will be a lot more refined in the later stages of the mix, but I just needed to get rid of a bunch of that low end so that when I brought it up in my balance mix, I wasn’t overwhelmed with the amount of bass frequencies in the vocal.

Balancing the Mix

This is where most of your mixing really comes to life. Balance is the most important thing when mixing. It’s great to have expensive compressors and tape saturation and all that fun stuff, but at the end of the day, if your balance is out, it won’t mean anything.

I tried to get the balance down as quickly as possible in this video, but I’ll probably do a little bit more when I’ve got some time. I won’t spend a lot of time on it though, as I’ve found that your first instincts are usually the right ones. 

I’ve said it a million times but I always refer to the reference track. This is how you know what good sounds like, it’s an instant refresh of your ear and it will make you notice the important things that are needed in your mixing. 

If you have any comments or questions, feel free to write them down in the section below. Until next time, have a good one!

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Mixing - Setting Up A Session

Hey guys. This blog is all about setting up a session so that you’re prepared to make an amazing sounding mix. It’s easy to want to jump straight into EQing and compressing sounds, but without a good starting point, a lot of your mix will be spent working against yourself.

This is a track that was given to me by my friend, Jaye, who I’ve worked with briefly before. He’s just started getting into audio production and is completely self taught. It is his own track that he performed and recorded at home.

He is still in the process of mixing this track, but sent me an early mix to give him some feedback on what I think it needed. I asked him to send me stems of all the files so that I could show him, and you guys how I would go about mixing his track.

You’ll see all of this in the video, but I thought I’d give you a brief breakdown here in my blog.

Reference Tracks

I’ve talked about reference tracks a lot as I think they are very important in getting your track to where you want it to sound. You can find a whole blog I wrote on the subject here.

For this track, I trawled through Spotify looking for tracks that I think would be appropriate for referencing this track. I mostly searched Goth and Industrial genre bands and ended up with a track from the classic Industrial heavyweights, Nine Inch Nails, and another track from the band Front Line Assembly.

Both Tracks have similar instrumentation to my track and are in a similar genre and tone. I found songs that were closer in sound to this song, however I didn’t like the mixing as much on them. There’s no use mixing to a track that you don’t actually like the sound of.
I also brought in Jaye’s mix into the session as I wanted to see where he was at with his mix and where I’m at with mine. Partly to make sure my mix is an improvement, and partly to make sure that I don’t go too off track with how he wanted it to sound.

Session Layout

How you layout your session is very important to how you operate. If everything is all over the place, you’re going to spend a lot of time looking for tracks and figuring out what you’re doing rather than actually mixing.

I like to have my Master Fader at the very top, then all my reference tracks, then the Main Mix Bus, then all my Sub Busses, and then the tracks for the session. The session tracks can go in any order, but I like mine to go: Drums, Bass, Guitars, Keys, Samples, Vocals, then finally Effects.

You should always have the tracks named so you can instantly recognise what track you’re working on. These names should be simple and to the point as DAWs usually try to condense the name of a track down and sometimes it’s hard to figure out what “KH41CwU11” is.

Color code your tracks too. Most DAWs give you the function of coloring your tracks. This makes it easy to see where you are in your mix window and will make your moves a little more intuitive. Remember, how you set up your session at the start of mixing will affect your workflow for the rest of the mix.

Gain Staging

This is very important and was something that was particularly relevant to the tracks in this video. The tracks that Jaye gave me for this session were incredibly hot, most of them sitting very close to the 0dB mark. For those of you who are a bit newer to mixing, 0dB on a channel meter is the very highest that a channel can get.

This is important to note, because if you go over 0dB on any channel, mix bus, or master fader, you will introduce digital distortion into the mix. Digital distortion, or digital clipping, is the sound it makes when the sound clips the output of a digital channel and is extremely unpleasant.

Because each of the channels that Jaye gave me were so hot, when combined the channels were clipping quite a lot. You can turn down the output of each channel to stop the busses from clipping but it’s a lot more logical to turn down the trim at the very start of the chain.

This is because you’ll have a lot more headroom later on in your processing, but also because plugins are designed to work at a lower level. If you have your source audio sitting at -1dB and then add an EQ with a boost, you’ll be clipping that EQ’s output.

For this reason, I trim all of my tracks to run at around the -20dB mark. On Pro Tools, that’s about half way up the meter where the meter turns light green. I usually use the Clip Gain function in the Edit Window but you can use a Trim plugin or whatever other way your preferred DAW works.

On these tracks, I found myself having to lower the gain of each channel by about 16dB. That is an enormous drop in volume. Even then, when added up, the mix bus still had a nice healthy signal running to it.

Finally, I then checked all of the levels of the reference tracks. This is important, because you don’t want your references to be a lot louder than your track. You won’t be able to accurately compare them. I pick a sound that is consistent and important in both tracks and bring down the reference track until that sound is at the same level. I usually use the kick drum, but you can use the snare or vocal if you like.

The thing is that mixing loud sounds better, but that doesn’t mean your tracks should be louder when mixing, you just have to adjust your monitoring accordingly. If you’re peaking any channels, you should turn down the trims and turn up your headphone/speaker level.

I hope this has been helpful to you guys at home. If you have any questions or comments on the blog or video, feel free to comment below. Next video I’ll be starting the actual mixing of the track, going over basic balancing of the mix. See you next time!

Monday, 7 December 2015

Live Mixing - Back to Basics

I’ve been mixing live around Melbourne for about 7 years now and I've been going as a punter for about 12. In that time I've learnt a lot of things about mixing live shows and what sounds good and what doesn't. 

There are a few very basic things that I've learned to focus on while mixing that I think everyone should think about when getting behind the desk. Don't get me wrong, I'm guilty of some of the worst live mixing crimes, and I'm far from the best mixer in the world but I'm improving my craft every time and there's some basic tricks to get you started. 

Forget The Rest - Volume Faders

So many times I've looked over to a soundie at a live show and they're meticulously working the parameters of their compressor or their EQ. Meanwhile, the sound of the show is completely unbalanced. The vocals are too low, the kick’s too high, the guitars are drowning everything out or the snare’s getting lost in the mix. 

Sure, if you’ve got the time before the show, or if everything is already balanced, start fine tuning your attack and release settings, but if you're mid show, your focus should be to just get it sounding balanced. You should be able to hear each part of the mix evenly and it's the easiest thing to do because you’ve got your volume faders right in front of you and all you’ve gotta do is push them up or pull them down. 

Now, this isn't a matter of just pushing each channel up a bit more when it's harder to hear. Sometimes you’re going to have to pull sounds that are too loud down to make room for other sounds. It's very easy to be caught just bumping up level more and more until your outputs are red lining and the audience’s ears are bleeding. 

Don't be scared to tell the guitarists to turn down their amps. Guitarists are a strange breed. They have this obsession with how their amps should sound. They think that they can only get the right tone if they have their amps cranked and that getting that sound is more important than the overall sound of the gig. If they're too loud, tell them to turn it down until it's not too loud. If they complain, tell them “the gig will sound worse if you have it this loud”. It's the truth, you don't want to be spending all your time getting the other instruments to sound good around the guitar just to stroke their egos. Of course, you want to get this done before the band starts. 

Next Up - Simple EQ moves

Again, this is assuming that you had little to no sound check time and are trying to get a great sounding mix on the fly. After your volume faders, EQ is your next step to a great sounding mix. 

It's very easy to get bogged down in what frequency of the high mid you should be boosting to get more punch out of your toms. I urge you to focus on the most important elements of the most important instruments first. 

Most of your EQing needs can fall into: too much high/low end, or not enough high/low end. That's where you really need to use your ear to decide what sounds need. Of course, the mid bands are very important as well, but usually sounds are either too harsh or too muddy and when you're rushing to get a mix to sound right on the fly, using these controls is the easiest and quickest way. 

Low end buildup is something you should watch out for. Low end has a tendency to get quite overbearing in a mix and can create problems in getting your mix heard nice and clear. Because most of the sounds are cardioid pattern mics used close up to their sound sources, proximity effect adds a lot of low end information. 

I suggest hitting the low cut filter button on every channel except kick and bass guitar. Many times I put it on bass guitar as well. On top of that, don't be afraid to pull out quite a lot of low end in each channel. Of course, use your ear to see if it needs it, but you'll find your kick and bass guitar really cut through and sound a lot better when there's less other unnecessary low end information in there. 

Back To Volume Faders

Everyone has seen this mixer, or maybe you are this mixer: the guy who gets the sounds to about where he wants them and then spends the rest of the show looking at his phone. 

The vocals aren't heard in the quiet sections and the guitar solos are inaudible. When asked why no one could hear the singing in the bridge, they say “the singer’s mic technique was terrible” or make some other excuse.

As a mixer, you're getting paid to make the band sound good and be heard. Compressors are great for some kinds of levelling but they have their limitations and you have to compensate for that. 

90% of the time, the most important part of a band is the vocal, and that vocal needs to be heard at all times, nice and clear, without being overbearing. I try to keep one hand on the vocal fader and use the other hand for whatever else needs doing. 

It’s become a subconscious process for me to always have control of the lead vocal level. If it's not loud enough, you push it up and if it's too loud, you pull it down. Do this enough and you can predict how a singer will sing and make your vocal level changes before they've started singing. 

I once had a singer who would change between screaming and singing all the time and even with a compressor on the vocal, I was making volume faders moves of 20dB between the two techniques. That is a massive change that had to be levelled out. But if I wasn't changing the level manually, it would be changing between overbearingly loud, to inaudible. 

If I have one piece of advice for any new sound engineer, it's to get off your phone, stop making arbitrary EQ and compressor moves, and ride the main vocal fader. 

The same goes for other instruments. If someone starts playing a lead part and you can't hear it loud and clear, boost it! If the keyboard changes to another patch that is too loud, pull it back. 

I've heard many techs blame the bad mic technique and bad patch levelling for the mix being off, and that’s probably true. But it's your job to make them sound better than they are, and if you won't do it, they'll find someone who will. 

My Mix From Hell

Many of these essential basics of mixing really came to me out of necessity. It was during a mix where I had very little time to get a sound and had to prioritise very quickly what moves I was making because of the lack of time I was given. 

So, here's why I was in that situation:

I was mixing the main stage of a one day music festival for a charity event. I was supposed to mix the first 9 bands of the night and then the second last band had their own soundie but he had agreed to mix the headliner as well, giving me the rest of the night off. 

All the bands if mixed during the day went great and, because we were supplying backline the sounds were consistent and relatively easy to mix. When the second last band got up, their Soundie started and I have him a rundown of how I had it patched and went for a beer. 

He changed all the drum, guitar and vocal mics to his own, which is fine as I was using the venues basic stuff. The problem came when that band finished. 

I was found by a very distraught stage manager, telling me that the Soundie had decided that he didn't want to mix the last band and instead, go and get high with his friends. So he ripped out all his mics and left the leads all over the stage with the headliner setup and ready to go.

I had to very quickly get up and plug in mics into whatever cables I could find to get the sound going ASAP as the band were supposed to have started. This meant that I essentially had to start from scratch on the desk. 

When I had everything on stage looking right, I got back to the desk, pulled out the compressors and gates, put a new strip of tape one the desk and got out my pen to mark my channels. I did the quickest line check ever, asking the band to go through each line, checking where it was metering on the desk and labelling what it was. 

If, by chance, I got the mic in the right channel, I'd leave the old EQ, but if it was different I flattened it out. Once all the channels were labelled and I knew there was a healthy level, I had to push up all the faders and just say “go”. 

Very quickly I realised what was too loud and what was too quiet. I had the vocal mic up where it should be as first priority and then proceeded to level the other instruments around it. Because I was only focussed on a good balance, and doing what needed to be done, I had a decent mix in less than 15 seconds. 

From there, I started addressing whether sounds were too bright or muddy, making quick adjustments with the bass and treble knobs, starting with the vocal channel. In less than a minute I had a good sounding mix that was well balanced without any sounds that were distracting. 

I could relax a bit and for the rest of the song, I kept one hand on the lead vocal fader and used the other to make some finer adjustments in the mid range EQ of each channel and dial in a bit of reverb where needed. The mix was near enough to perfect and all I needed to do was make sure the levels stayed balanced and be a little creative with the vocal delay. 

This was an extreme example of what can go wrong and I hope none of you ever have to be in that situation. However, it did show that, when focussing on the right things, a good mix can come together very quickly. The band were also extremely professional and that helped in keeping it together. 

I didn't use any compressors or gates for the rest of the set because I didn't want to add any more complications. I relied on my hand on the vocal fader to keep the vocal loud and up front. 

Do you have any live mixing horror stories? What’s most important to your live mix? Did this article help you rethink your live mixing? Do you look at your phone too much? Do you ride your vocal channel? Let me know in the comments below. 

Thursday, 3 December 2015

My Acoustic Live Gear

I play a fair few live acoustic covers shows and I thought I’d go through my setup with you guys. I’ve been building up my equipment for about 10 months now and it’s really coming together every show that I do. I’m playing at a local bar tonight called the Elwood Lounge. It’s a nice place with friendly bar staff and they’re good to me. Friday night crowds can be a bit on the small side, but what can you do? I try to make the most of it when I’m there

My Performance

Over the last year, I’ve accumulated quite a bit of gear that I use in a live show, but I’ve also made a conscious effort not to overcomplicate my setup. I’m very aware that you can get very caught up in getting heaps of gear that comes together to make your sound, but if one piece of that gear falls apart, you lose your show.

For this reason, I keep my performance based on the campfire style: acoustic guitar and voice. I’ve added in stomp pad and a harmony generator as well, but these aren’t integral to my sound. The reason for this is that I can rock up anywhere in the world without my equipment, and still have a live show… as long as I have my guitar.

I try to keep the songs I play fairly simple as well. I transpose many of the keys of the tracks I’m singing into a range that is easier for me. I’ve talked to many people that refuse to play a song that’s not in the original key. There are also people out there that refuse to use capo’s, citing them as some kind of cheat, preferring to play everything with barre chords instead.

These are extremely counter-productive ideals. If you’re more comfortable singing a song in a different key it will sound better. If you’re more comfortable playing with a capo it will sound better. Not to mention that you get tired playing and singing for hours on end, so if you’re over-extending your voice and your fingers, you’re going to tire yourself out very quickly.

Sure, when you’re home practicing songs, work on strengthening your fingers using barre chords and extending the range of your voice. But busting it out live, no one in the crowd will care if the key is different or if you’re using a capo, they’re just looking to get drunk and sing along to Jessie’s Girl.

My Gear

I did quite a bit of research while putting together my live setup and had a reason for each piece of gear that I bought. I also tested any piece of equipment that I wasn’t familiar with. Always do this, you don’t want to get your new microphone home and realise that it doesn’t sound good with your voice. So here’s what I have.

Maton ECW80C: Maton are an Australian brand of guitar and are the most popular here, but also have made their mark around the world. This one is is in there upper/mid range of dreadnaught style guitar and has a pickup and a cutaway. I’ve had this baby for years and it’s getting a bit beat up but that just gives it soul.

Shure Beta58: This is my vocal microphone. Everybody has seen the industry standard Shure SM58, well this is the level up from that. It’s got a really solid body and a tough grill, it sounds great and doesn’t get much feedback. I’ve used this live and compared against microphones 3-4 times the price and this one always comes out on top. Definitely recommend it for most singers. Also make sure you’ve got a good stand. There’s nothing more annoying than a stand that droops mid song.

TC Electronics Acoustic Play: Now, this piece of equipment is what really changes my live sound to something a little bit more special and was an amazing investment. It’s a mic/guitar effects processor that means that you don’t need a sound engineer to get a great sound every time.

For my live shows it acts as a resonator, compressor, EQ, guitar tuner, harmonizer, reverb unit, loop pedal and mixer. There are many other features that come with it, but that’s what I use it for. It means that I can pull a great sound at home and then plug directly out into any system and get the sound I want. If you perform solo acoustic, I definitely recommend checking this one out.

Wazinator Stomp Pad: This is my most recent addition to my live show. It’s essentially a piece of wood that’s got a speaker driver stuck to it. The speakers reverse wired with a jack, so you plug that directly into a desk and when you hit it, you get a nice big thud sound. There’s heaps of these style pedals around, all with different tones, but this one is definitely up there as one of the better sounding units.

iPad: This is just a first generation iPad, but that’s good because I got it for free and it only has one very simple function, to be my lyrics sheet. I used to use books, but found it so much easier to get a tablet with a lyrics app. I use OnSong, which is great for creating the lyrics sheets and making playlists. You can find tablet holders that connects to your mic stand.

Wharfedale Powered Speakers: These only come out with me when I am playing a gig that doesn’t have a PA system. Not the best speakers in the world, but I picked them up with stands for just $600, so I can’t complain. The Acoustic Play acts as a mixer for my voice and guitar, so I can just run directly out of that into the speakers for an ultra easy setup.

Leads: Leads are very important if you want to get your sound to the speakers ;). I make my own mic and guitar leads using Neutrik Ends and canare cable. It’s high quality and I use colored ends as to not mix up mine with the venue. Making them yourself means you can also repair them yourself, so they last forever. There’s many tutorials on how to make your own mic leads.

More Leads: Always bring a spare of each type of lead that you’re using. Leads break or become faulty all the time and you don’t want to be caught out without an extra one handy. Also make sure you pack a spare power board and extension cable. Most venues have these but again, things break or get lost and you want to be focused on your set, not running around trying to source a lead.

Miscellaneous: All the other stuff you could need. I bring a capo (and a spare), a spare set of strings (should one break), strap, picks (lots of them) and guitar stand. I also bring my camera and a recording device, because I like to have a reference of what I sounded like on the night.

Preparation: This is the most important thing to bring, you can have the best show in the world, but if you aren’t prepared equipment-wise, it could all come crashing down. Make sure your strings aren’t too old, you’ve replaced your batteries in your guitar or pedals and that everything that can be charged, is charged. Make time to go to the shops if you’re low if picks or any other gear.

What do you bring to a live show? Do you have any piece of equipment that has changed your life. Any tips or tricks for making a great show? Leave a comment below!

Monday, 30 November 2015

EP Recording Plan

I’m starting to flesh out an idea for my first original solo recording and I thought I would post the process as I go on this blog. I’ll be taking it from the very beginning with the songwriting stage, through pre production, recording, mixing, mastering and distribution.

This has been something that I’ve wanted to pursue for quite some time but I’ve haven’t had the time, commitment or confidence to pull it off. Now, as I’m looking to start performing solo, I figured it would be a perfect time to get my ass into gear and get a decent recording off the ground.

This blog is really just to give an overview of how I plan to tackle each of the tasks that go into the process. I think it’s good to have a basic plan in place so that you can check where you’re at in the scheme of things to make sure you don’t go too far off track


I’m planning on releasing an EP of just 5 tracks. I decided not to do an album, mostly because of the extra time that it will take, and also because I’m looking at having a similar instrumentation for each of these songs and will probably change the instrumentation on the next group of tracks.

My first task for the writing of this album is to get 20 songs written and then choose the best ones from there. I’m going to be trying to use similar techniques as I did for my 1 hour songwriting challenge that I made a few weeks ago. Check out that post here:

I’ve already got the 7 songs that I wrote for that challenge, so there’s only 13 more to go for that section of it. I’ll be uploading the rough drafts of the songs onto a SoundCloud playlist that you can check out here:

Once I’ve finished that section of the writing stage, I’m going to pick 10 tracks to continue with. With those tracks I’ll look more into the lyrics, melody, structure and chords and record slightly more polished demos. 

From there I’ll spend a bit of time listening to those tracks and pick the final 5 that will make it to the pre production phase. This is where things start to get a bit more fun.,

Pre production

This is where I’m going to be coming up with the arrangement of the tracks and really getting a vibe of how the track will sound at the end. Many of the parts that are recorded during this phase will most likely end up on the final recording, so I’m going to go quite in depth. The main thing though is that this will be done just from my bedroom.

First step will be picking reference tracks for each track. I’ve talked quite extensively in previous blogs about the importance of using reference tracks and how I feel that you should use them starting earlier in the production stage. This will take a bit of time as the sound of the reference track should represent a similar sound to what I want to end up with

During the preproduction phase, I will have all of the sounds down that I will want to have in the final mix. The difference will be that I’ll re-record many of the acoustic instruments and vocals in a studio with a nice sounding room and some top notch microphones.

It will be important to make sure the tempo is right, and all the parts are arranged and ready for the studio phase. This means it will take the most time and be the most integral part of the process.

For these tracks I’m going to be keeping a very acoustic instrumentation. Because I’m a guitarist/singer, acoustic guitar and vocals will be the main parts of each track. I also plan to use piano, bass, a stomp pad (instead of a kick drum), a floor tom, shakers and tambourines, and maybe some electric guitar. I’ll be adding string sections, organs and synth pads in the box to flesh out the sound.

Recording Studio

This is where I really get to have fun. I’m going to book out a day in the recording studio that I usually work out of. It’s been many many years since I got to sit on the other side of the glass, so this is going to be really fun for me. I’ve got a friend who’ll be taking on engineering duties with this one.

The place that I’ll be using is a great studio up north of Melbourne. It’s got a nice big live room with church-like ceiling and great views of the hills. It’s the sound of this live room that I’m most interested in. 

I’ll be using this studio to record all the acoustic guitars. There’s a nice big grand piano in the studio that I’ll use for all the piano parts. The studio also has some great microphones for recording vocals that I think will sound great on this recording.

Once those main parts are down, I’ll be looking at recording the floor tom parts as well as any percussion sections that are there too, pretty much anything that involves a microphone. However, because it’s only one day, if we don’t have time for those parts, I don’t have any problem recording them at home.

Mixing And Mastering

I’ll be taking care of all the mixing and mastering of this project at home, trying to keep the budget to a minimum. I plan on getting a lot of the sounds as I want them in the final mix, so hopefully there’s not too much to do in the mixing phase. 

Due to my using a top down approach to mixing (using processing on the mix bus to get the sound you want from your master), mastering shouldn’t need much more than a mastering limiter to bring the volume up to a commercial standard.

I will be creating my own artwork for the EP as I want this to be an all around creative adventure. I’m still not sure in what ways I’m going to distribute it yet, but it will definitely be available on iTunes and all that. I’ll hopefully also print some CDs as well.

So this is the start of my journey producing my first solo recording. Please subscribe to my blog if you want to follow my progress or see what else I have to say. Feel free to make comments, ask questions or tell me about your own creative adventures in the comments below.