All Posts by Kevin Ward

About the Author

3 Ways To Add More Confidence To Your Mix

[This was a guest post that I did for Graham Cochrane over at TheRecordingRevolution.. Check him out!]

Have you ever been sweating over a mix only to find that you push the snare drum up a db, then pull it back down? You add more ‘verb to the lead vocal and then wonder if that was the right thing to do? Maybe you are wondering if what you are hearing is even too hot.

No matter how many years of experience you have, questions like this are on every conscientious mixer’s mind…

Let me give you a few tips that get me past some of these mix (and confidence) killers.


1. Let someone else hear your mix

When someone else listens to my mix-in-progress,  my perspective on that mix changes somehow.  Suddenly, I KNOW that the snare drum is 1db too loud, and that the first two notes of the guitar solo are too soft , and that the vocal has too much reverb on it.  I don’t really know what happens to my ears, but when I know that someone else is listening, I tend to listen with a “plan” instead of just tweaking.

TIP:  Let your friend, spouse or the client sit in your chair and listen as loud or as soft as they would like… you walk around the room and take some mental notes.  I guarantee that you will notice things you never have  before.

If you don’t want to wait till the last minute and let the client be the one listening while you are finalizing your perfect mix “plan”, you can get your spouse or maybe a friend to stand in.  Sometimes they can give you some insight or suggestions that you need, but most of the time, they will just make you listen with new ears.

2. Take it to the car.

If you are like me, the set of speakers that you listen too the most besides your studio monitors is your car speakers.  So, why not use your car for referencing what sounds right?  Whether you car has an over-exaggerated low end or it sounds very “normal”, you can always benefit by listening in an environment that you are used to.

TIP: Sometimes, I will even put my “reference mix” on the same cd with my mix just to compare things like: where the bass sits in the track, the drums, lead vocal etc,.   As I said in my video, “5 things every great mixer knows“,  Always compare!

3. Let it rest.

Sometimes, you just have to take a break.  It can be anything from overnight to over lunch.  Alternatively, you could just shut the session down and work on something else for awhile… Listen a little later to see if the mix sounds different than you left it.

I hope that these tips will keep YOUR mixes moving forward.  If you have any tricks that have worked for you,  please let me and Graham know in the comments section below.

Thanks for reading,

Kevin – MixCoach

Do You Want To Be A Busy Engineer?

It’s simple actually… You have to start by gaining someone’s trust!

If you decide that you want to record your cousin’s rock band, then make sure that you do it as if you were getting paid the “big bucks” for it… even if you are doing it for free.

When people see that you are committed, they tend to trust you.  They will not only trust you to do their project when there’s money in the budget to pay you, but they will tell their friends about the great job you do.

Just be sure not to build your reputation on your price.. build it on your quality and your consistency.

The funny thing about trust is You can’t demand it, it has to be earned!

If you think about it this way… every working relationship you have was built on some level of trust.  No matter where you are in the food chain, people above you (people that you work for ) have to trust you.

Being a busy recording engineer, producer, etc. is no different.  You just have to treat what you are doing with the same amount of commitment.


A great way to gain trust as an engineer is by showing people the quality of your work. A great “Mix Reel” will go a long way in showing people that they can trust you with their music, though it can be difficult as a new mixer to showcase your work if the songs you have been mixing are not well recorded. As a member of MixCoach Pro Member you can grow your mixing skills with great songs and well recorded tracks every single month, while gaining experioence mixing a wide variety of styles and genres of music. If you are interested, head over to MixCoach.com/free for a look at what you can expect, and some really great FREE content. 

3 Reasons To Mix At Lower Levels

For me, mixing at Low Levels is a basic strategy in mixing, but I thought it was crazy too when I first heard the idea over 20 years ago. Thats why I want to give you MY top 3 reasons for mixing at lower levels.


  1. Because everything sounds good loud– If you can make your mix sound good, punchy and balanced at a low volume, chances are it’s going to sound GREAT when you turn it up.
  2. You can mix longer– As I have covered in some of my “Mix Like A Pro” classes, part of the reasons that professionals are professionals is they deliver on time!  Their mixes are also (for the most part) consistent.   If your ears get fatigued after a couple of songs, how are you going to mix the rest of the record?… Will it be consistent with the first song?
  3. Your ears will thank you– Are you in this for the long-haul or not?  If you listen to music everyday, or several times a week, you need to save your ears as much as you can.  I could think of nothing more frightening than to work hard learning your craft and gain your clients trust only to find out that your ears are fried from mixing so darn loud!

Below, I’d like for you to tell ME more reasons we should mix at a lower volumes?  How do YOU mix?

My Workflow For Comping and Tuning Vocals

Back in the day, when there were only 24 tracks to record to, we used to save one track to put the vocal on. We had to make some pretty critical “last minute” decisions on whether to keep a “pretty good” performance or try for “the Grammy” performance.

That was pretty AWESOME!… can we do it just one more time? – producer to singer

Rachael Gillis

Sometimes it worked in our best interest, sometimes we were a little too optimistic and recorded right over the better performance. 🙁

Now that we have DAWs that record an almost infinite number of tracks, we’ve developed a better way of taking the pressure off of both the performer AND the producer.

What I usually do is prepare at least three tracks to record the vocal to.  I usually label them:

1-Singer’s Name

2-Singers Name and so on…

I put the number before the name so that I can easily identify which take it was.  If you put the number after the singers name, then you usually have 01_05.wav to sort through.  I just find it easier to put the take number before the name.

Tip: Always name the track before you record.  You don’t want a bunch of tracks called Audio 1 Audio 2.  When you have a high track count session, believe me, you’ll want to see recognizable names and take numbers to choose from.

After the tracks are named and all the routing is correct, just get the singer to sing it three times.  You can get three takes as performances (from top to bottom) or you can get each section individually.  Sometimes I’ll get the Choruses first and then gravitate to the verses and Bridge after the singer is more comfortable.

Then, just pick out the best sections, lines or even words to make up the best performance.  The singer should feel no pressure because you are not punching a word here and a syllable there.  You should feel no pressure because you will have at least 3 takes to choose from.

I hope this article helps you become a better engineer!

Kevin

Building Trust : How Is Your First Impression To Your New Client?

Anytime you do a session in your studio, whether it’s your basement, your bedroom, or your high-dollar converted garage, make sure that your studio looks like a professional environment.

Let’s say you invite someone over to your studio, and your workspace is your bedroom. You can still make sure that it looks professional. Make sure the bed is made, laundry is picked up, and there are no personal items lying around.

You don’t want your studio to feel like your client “dropped by unexpectedly”. It can be very difficult to recover from an unprofessional first impression. It is possible to operate your studio and have it feel YOU are professional and that you just “happen to be working out of your bedroom”.

If you are operating out of a dedicated space, there are even a few more things you can do to make your clients feel like recording is more than just your hobby…


  • Have a coffee maker there. It’s no secret that musicians drink a lot of coffee. Why not use this is an advantage? A small perk for your clients… (sorry, couldn’t resist).
  • Have snacks and/or drinks available. In the creative process, people get hungry and if you have snacks there then they will feel like you’re being taken care of.
  • Make sure the bathroom is de-personalized. Think “model home” here. There can be some embarrassing stuff in your bathroom that you tend to overlook. Look at your bathroom with new eyes before your client gets there.
  • Make sure that your studio is setup and ready to record when your client arrives. This way, they won’t have much of a chance to look around while you set up. You don’t want them to feel like their session is an afterthought.

The bottom line is that people need to feel taken care of.

They need to feel comfortable. If you can make your client feel comfortable in the working environment, then, they are likely to come back.

So make a good first impression first impression in your studio is to make it look as professional as you possibly can.

Question: What else could you do in a “less than perfect” environment to make people feel comfortable?

Everything New Mixers Should Know About Panning

I was conducting a recording clinic at a local music store a few weeks ago. One of the questions I got was from a recording student about panning. He said, “I was listening to a mix the other day and things were panned in such a way that the instruments sounded like the were floating between the speakers. I felt like I could just reach out and touch what I was hearing… How do you do that?…”

I told him that the fact that he felt like he could “touch them” in space was likely due to proper filtering and phase integrity of the mix more than it was panning.

In fact, I believe that for new mixers, there are only 4 panning positions that he needed to worry about:

  • Hard Left
  • Hard Right
  • Center
  • Anywhere in between those positions

Of course, panning is important for balance. You definitely don’t want a left-heavy or right-heavy mix. You do want to have things panned in such a way that makes the mix feel balanced. But, no one has ever won a Grammy for “best panning on a record”. So don’t worry about it too much. Make the major issues like phase integrity, balance and artist performance the major issues. The smaller issues will take care of themself over time as you become a better mixer.

Panning Settings to start with

Treat panning like this: pan the kick, snare, bass guitar and lead vocal to the center. Keep most everything else OUT of the center.

If there if there are 2 electric guitars (or acoustic guitars), pan them hard-left and right unless they are distracting that way.

Take the toms and spread them out as if you were sitting behind the drums (if you are panning from a drummer’s perspective). Hi tom at 9 o’clock, mid Tom to 1 o’clock and low Tom to 4 o’clock. Pan the overheads hard-left and right.

Quickly adjust panning on everything else to make your ears happy with the balance and then move on.

It’s not that important. What is important is that you listen to the mix in mono most of the time so that you can detect any phase issues and to make sure that you are listening in the “worse case scenario” (yes, people still hear your mix in mono). When you come out of mono, you should be happy with the panning.

If you will take the time to make sure that things are phase accurate, filtered, and EQ’d correctly, panning should almost be second nature to you.

If you want to learn how to manage phase and balance issues, I show you some of these tricks in my tutorial videos like this one.

What tips do you have for panning? Comment below and let’s discuss it.

panning, blanance, phase

How To Separate Sidesticks From Snare Hits Using Strip Silence

Snare hits vs. Side sticks

Sometimes when you are mixing a great song, you want certain parts of the drums to be louder than the drummer played them. In this case, I wanted a drummers side stick to really “sing” in the track. I liked the amount of natural sounding compression that I had on the snare. I also wanted to keep the automation lanes of the snare open… I don’t like to automate snare drums because I’m usually adjusting levels right down to the last second of the mix and automation just gets in the way of me being free to change my mind without too much trouble.

In the pictures below, I want to show you how to use Pro tools Strip Silence feature to easily and quickly separate the rimshot or sidestick from a snare drum

How To Separate Sidesticks from Snare Hits with Strip Silence

Duplicate the Track

The first thing we need to do is to duplicate the snare track. You can do this by right-clicking the name of the track in the edit window. This menu should pop up. Click Duplicate.

How to duplicate a track in pro tools

Don’t duplicate Active Playlists or Automation

After you click “duplicate”, this menu should appear. Since we are only interested in keeping the inserts, the routing, reverb sends etc., we will un-check Active Playlist, Alternate Playlists, and Automation. I also like for the track to appear just underneath the track that I’m duplicating, so I check “insert after last selected track. Now, press OK.

Duplicate Active Playlists or Automation

Rename Your track

Be sure and name your new track something that’s easy to recognize on your screen. I am naming my new track Sidestick. Other things I’ve named tracks like this… stick, stix rim… When your tracks squeezed together in the mix window and the full name doesn’t appear, a shorter name like rim will serve you well.

Rename tracks in Pro Tools

View of the snare track

The picture below shows the Snare track with two different volume levels. I’ll only be showing one part in this demonstration. Notice that the new blank track with all the correct assignments is now waiting for us to put the rim or sidestick track.

View of the track

Select and Separate the Rim from the Snare

Select the sidestck section from before the first sidestick is played up to where the first snare is played. No need to be super accurate here. We are going to let Strip Silence do the heavy lifting for us. When you get the track selected, press Command-E to separate this region.

Select and Separate the Rim from the Snre

Option Drag to Drag a Copy instead of the region

Now Option Drag the region down to the blank track. Option dragging will allow a copy of the original track to be placed in the track.

Option Drag to Drag a Copy instead of the region

Strip Silence setup

Let’s pull up the strip silence feature of Pro Tools. You can do this by pressing Command-U. Go ahead and set the threshold at 0db, and everything else to the far left. I wish there was a way to make strip silence default to this setting, but as of now, I haven’t found a way.

Strip Silenc setup

Setting your threshold

Now, select the top track and slowly move the strip threshold to the left until all of your rimshots have a gray line through them as you see in the image below.

Setting your threshold in Strip Silenc

Setting Clip Start and End Padding

It’s usually best in this step to “blow up” the wave form and make it bigger so we can make better desicions here. You can do this by pressing option-command-] or option-command-[.

Now what we want to do is set the clip start pad to 17msec. This is the lowest that it wil allow but usually works perfectly for this. The reason we want to set the pad to 17 msec is that we don’t want to cut off any transients.

Also, we need to set the clip End Pad so that the hi hat will not be stripped.

Setting Clip Start and End Pad with Strip Silenc

Extract then Strip

Now press Extract on the Stip silence menu and the rimshot disappears. Don’t worry, we are going to do the exact opposite in the next step.

Now Highlight the Rim track. Instead of pressing Extract, press strip. The settings are the same so, you should have a perfectly cut rimshot track now.

Extract then Strip silenc

Stripping Success!

This is a picture of a successfully separated rim or sidestick track with my settings.

Stripping a track with strip silenc in Pro Tools

Now you’re done!

As you can see, Using the Strip Silence Feature in Pro Tools is pretty straighforward. It can be intimidating if you don’t know just how to use it though. I use this all of the time when I’m mixing drums with sidestick or rim. Hope you have found this useful.

To your mixing….

Have YOU used strip silence to clean up your Snare and Sidestick?

3 MixCoach Mixing Principles + “Cool Yule” Mix Walkthough Exerpt

Hey guys, I just finished up a walkthrough of this month’s song over on MixCoach Pro Member called “Cool Yule”, by TaRanda Greene. It’s a really fun song just in time for the holiday’s, with a Big Band feel that is a ton of fun to mix. In the walkthrough video I talk about 3 of our Mixing Principles that we teach here on MixCoach, as well as give you an inside look at the mix that I did for the album which released this time last year. (You can check out the full album here.)

Check out the video for a sneak peak of the “Cool Yule” Mix Walkthrough video for MixCoach Pro Member.


 

If you are not a MixCoach Pro Member and you would like to check us out, go to MixCoach.com/free. If you come in right now you will still have time to catch this Month’s Song called “Cool Yule”, by TaRanda Greene. Every month you will have access to downloadable session files to practice mixing, as well as access to a Walkthrough of the Mix, and a full Mix Tutorial by one of our coaches. We also offer Members the option to submit mixes for Coach Feedback (for additional cost).

1 3 4 5 6 7 27