All Posts by Jon Wright

About the Author

As a graduate of MTSU with a degree in Audio Engineering and Technology Jon has been working as a full time mixer and engineer in Nashville. He loves running, writing, and all forms of entertainment. He also enjoys long walks on the beach with his wife.

Train Your Ears – Part 2: Hearing Compression and Compression Distortion

We’re in the middle of a series about ear training! Last week I detailed a method of training your ears to hear different frequencies and ranges. Click HERE to check that post out!

This week I want to touch on how to train your ears to hear compression and compression induced distortion.

Over the thousands of mixes Kevin and I have listened to and given feedback on over at MixCoach Member, these are two of the most prevalent problems we hear from beginner’s mixes.

So how do you train your ears to hear Compression and Compression Distortion?

I created a product we sell called the “MixCoach Guide To Mastering Your Own Mix” that goes in depth with tutorials on how to not only master your mixes, but also how to hear what compression and other mastering is doing. What follows is one of the best methods I covered in

The idea here is to experiment.

Training Your Ears To Hear Compression In 10 Steps:

  • Step 1 – Once again, grab your favorite mix and import it into your favorite DAW
  • Step 2 – Insert a compressor and a phase flipping plug-in on this track (We will call this “track 1”)
  • Step 3 – Duplicate that track. (We will call the duplicate “track 2”)
  • Step 4 – Bypass the compressor and phase plug-in on track 1
  • Step 5 – Use the phase plug-in to flip the phase of track 2 (now when you press play you shouldn’t hear anything. Both tracks are canceling each other out)
  • Step 6 – Set the compressor on track 2 to limiter mode with the threshold all the way up (there should still be no sound coming through when the track is playing)
  • Step 7 – Now gradually start adding compression to track 2 while listening. (You will now hear only the difference between the two tracks, therefore isolating what the compressor is actually doing)
  • Step 8 – Continue lowering the threshold until you hear all the crazy distortion.
  • Step 9 – Repeat this on individual tracks on your mix (i.e. the kick track, the snare, the electric guitars, the vocal)
  • Step 10 – Write in your notebook what you are hearing as you increase the distortion. What frequencies are building up as you increase the compression? What are you missing from the mix? What sounds boosted? What sounds cut?

Again, the idea here is to experiment. With each element in a mix there is a slightly different reaction going on. With each compressor you will hear different tonal differences and distortion levels. The key is to identify what each of your favorite compressors is doing to a mix and to keep that in mind while mixing. So say you want a warm distorted compression, now you’ll know what compressor to reach for.

What’s your favorite compressor and how do you use it? Tell us in the comments!

Train Your Ears – Part 1: Frequency Ranges

What’s up MixCoachers!

Hope you all had a great weekend! A couple weeks ago on MixCoach Member, Kevin and I were asked about resources for training your ears. As I was pulling together an answer with some resources I decided to take the time and send everyone the info! So over then next two weeks we’re going to talk about how to train your ears to hear mud, over compression, compression distortion, and more. I’m going to give you guys links to some great products and places to train.

Train to hear frequency ranges in 7 steps:

There are some great places to help with this, but I’m only going to chat about 2 of them today. The first is to purchase a product like “Golden Ears” from Moulton Labs. It’s really revealing to hear various frequency ranges boosted and cut with both white noise and music.

The second method is similar and probably the most simple solution. It’s also what I would consider the most helpful and definitely the least expensive.

What you will need:
1)    Your favorite DAW
2)    An EQ plug-in
3)    Your favorite mix.

The Workflow:

  •     Step 1 – Import your favorite mix
  •     Step 2 – Turn the track down by 13 dB (this is so when you’re boosting EQ ranges you won’t distort the track)
  •     Step 3 – Insert the EQ plug-in on the track. Set it with a Q of 4 or 5.
  •     Step 4 – Select a few frequencies to both boost and cut. I would suggest doing boosts and cuts of 12 dB at 64 Hz, 120 Hz, 250 Hz, 500 Hz, 1 kHz, 2 kHz, 4 kHz, 8 kHz, and 16 kHz. This covers each major octave of the sound spectrum that we can reasonably hear. If you wanted to add in 6 kHz, 315 Hz, and 800 Hz after getting comfortable with the others that would be great.
  •     Step 5 – Boost each frequency climbing up the “ladder” and back then back down. Now do cuts.
  •     Step 6 – At each frequency try to write on a notebook what you hear. What is the sensation? Muddy? Sharp? Pointed? What “real life” sounds can you compare the sounds to? does 8k sound like bacon sizzle? Write what instruments mainly live in each range and are boosted or cut on each range. Does the vocal disappear? Is there more reverb in a certain range? Write comparisons comparing this to how your mixes have sounded in the past.
  •     Step 7 – Repeat.

What’s funny about this method is how long it took me to actually try it. I had trained this way with the “Golden Ears” cd set, but had never thought about trying it with mixes I’ve listened to for years. When I finally broke down and started boosting the EQ in different ranges it was incredibly revealing. I noticed that my mixes at the time typically sounded like they had too much build up around 315 Hz. Once the problem was identified I could then work toward a solution.

There you go! You’re off to a great start of training your ears. Next week we will talk about ways to identify and hear compression and compression distortion in your mixes.

What methods and resources for training your ears have you used? Tell us in the comments!

Is your tracking room too small?

As many of you know, last month a water pipe burst in Kevin’s studio while he was out and it flooded. Luckily, the computer, instruments, and other gear was high enough off the floor to evade the waves, but the main wall between the control room and the tracking room was ruined. After the shock and “wet reverb” jokes wore off, Kevin thought, “instead of just rebuilding the studio, why don’t I improve the studio?” So long story short (you can go back and check out the various plans Kev made by clicking here), Kevin went through a series of layouts and floor plans and finally arrived on one that he thought looked good. He also showed it to me and I thought it looked good. The idea was to take a really large tracking space and split it into three separate spaces, one large room and two really small booths for vocals. This way Kev could track a larger assemble at his studio than he could in the past.

Our friend Dave Rochester is a studio designer and room acoustics specialist. He travels all over creation building, tuning, and consulting studios so Kevin asked if he would come over and take a look at the studio and see how it could be improved. When Dave arrived he very patiently showed Kevin and I why this most recent plan needed a complete overhaul. He stood in the corner about as far from the wall as the projected room size would allow and yelled, spoke, and clapped. There was a high frequency echo, and some crazy mid range build up. Rooms this size would only make the echo and build up worse. This was the moment we shredded the plan for those small rooms.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard of someone building a vocal booth into a small closet-sized space. This seems to make sense to us I guess, because it’s the “perfect size” for a microphone and a person. But a the smaller a room gets, the higher the room’s resonant frequencies will be. And as this resonant frequency is brought into the range of the recorded instrument (in our case vocals) it can make what could have been a great day of tracking, and make it a terrible day. Thinking back, the most troublesome rooms I have recorded vocals, guitars, etc in have been relatively small rooms. The rooms in which I have achieved the best sounds, with less work, were larger rooms.

When we visited Capitol studios a while back I saw pictures of vocal tracking sessions they had done for Katy Perry. The photo showed a large studio space (studio B I believe) with a line of various microphones lined up in the middle of the room. At first glance the size of the room would be mainly to accommodate the large number of microphones they were using and trying out on each song, but the large room also keeps any resonant frequencies from creeping into the range of the vocal. (Plus Capitol Studios just has some amazing sounding spaces)

So what does this mean for most engineers? It means that if you are struggling with recording a vocal or other instrument in a small room, maybe try to move to a larger room. This could mean recording in a bedroom as opposed to a closet sized vocal booth. This could mean moving a drum set from a bedroom to a living room to record. This could mean altering your studio redesign plan to have two large rooms rather than 1 large room and 2 small “vocal” booths.

Needless to say, as the day progressed Dave worked out the best possible plan for Kevin’s studio and talked about the bass traps, the diffusers, and other acoustic treatments that would make a huge difference in this newly designed space. The new plan is moving forward to great success, and we will definitely keep you updated.

Oh… and there’s another lesson in this: Always ask for help from specialized professionals. If you’re getting an album mixed, talk to professional mixers (i.e. the professional team here at MixCoach and MixCoach Member). If you’re building a studio? A studio designer and acoustics specialist is your best bet.

Two of the Most Common Mistakes Beginning Mixers Make

Here at MixCoach and MixCoach Member we see lots of beginning mixers. We listen to and give feedback on their mixes. Throughout the years we’ve noticed some trends in beginners. Here are two of the most common.

They pile on plug-ins.


As with everything in life, the best lessons are the ones learned by experience. So the first thing most beginning mixers do when they start mixing is try to experience all of their plug-ins. Most DAWs come with massive collections of plug-ins. Add to this the seemingly unlimited number you can purchase and you’ve got one massive toolbox to try out. This is great! How will you know what a plug-in does or how you could use it if you’ve never tried it? You can’t. So try them all if you can. Just don’t use them all in one mix.

The problem is that when mixers begin actually mixing their first songs, they are so excited to use their newly acquired plug-ins and tricks, that they forget that you can’t do everything all at once. The mix becomes unfocussed, over processed, and more about the tricks and the mixer than the music.

When I first began mixing I was given a really solid piece of advice. Get the very basics of your workflow down, and then try one new thing every time you mix. If that trick works, save it as a preset to use it again on another mix. This keeps things interesting for you, and keeps the emphasis on the song. You will also build up a large number of cool presets to use when you need/want. Finally, it keeps a mix from getting cluttered with so many tricks that the listener misses most of them, and focuses their attention on the one really cool trick that you did use.

They don’t listen to reference mixes while they mix.


Listening to a great mix in the same style that you are trying to achieve is very important to the learning process. Ever think, “man the snare in this mix sounds so much better than mine,”? Why not listen to that mix while you’re working and try to match it? It seems like a no brainer to “A B test” in this instance, but there are other reasons to use a reference mix while you work.

Our ears are slightly different every day. The pressure on the inside of our heads and in the air affects the way we hear things. Listening to a mix that we have decided is great on multiple days over time helps to center us back on the right track.

Our ears also adjust to certain sounds over time. Ever put on a pair of red tinted sunglasses for a day and then take them off? Everything seems to be colored blue. The same thing is true with our ears. As we listen to frequency patterns we adjust to them. Using a reference mix helps us keep what truly is a good mix in focus so that we can shoot for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Repost of Our Archived Free Mastering Webinar – “Tips and Tricks To Mastering Your Own Mix”

Happy Tuesday MixCoachers! Jon here! As many of you know, last week Kevin and I hosted a free webinar entitled,

“Tips and Tricks to Mastering Your Own Mix.”

We had an amazing response to the webinar and wanted everyone to not only be able to get in on the content via archive video, but also to get in on the special offer at the end!

So as we stated in the video, the brand NEW course,

“The MixCoach Guide to Mastering Your Own Mix,”

is available for purchase from www.mixcoach.com/mastering and includes:

  • Over 4 hours of tutorials!
  • Before and after mastering audio files to practice with!
  • A 25 minute talk about the principles of mastering used in the videos!

If you purchase in the next 24 hours (or so) you’ll get these bonuses:

  • Invite to a Q & A webinar with Kevin and Jon where we will answer YOUR questions!
  • PDF of Kevin and Jon’s mastering checklists!
  • 25% off today!

The offer won’t last much longer (probably less than 24 hours!), and forms for the Q & A will be going out soon, so make sure you get in with the other early adopters!

Mastering Your Own Mix, Master, Tips and Tricks

“Tips and Tricks to Mastering Your Own Mix.”

Mastering Realities

  • Not Always in the budget
  • What is Mastering?
  • Your mix is only as good as the master

3 Phases

  • Pre Mastering
  • Mastering
  • Post Mastering

Pre-Mastering

  • What does the client want from a master
  • Start early if you know you’re mastering
  • Get Reference Mixes
  • Set expectations

Mastering

  • What tools do we use?

iZotope Ozone

Mastering Your Own Mix, Master, Tips and Tricks

Slate Digital FGX

mixcoach

Slate Digital VTMmixcoachMassey L2007

mixcoach

Mastering

  • Master During or After? or Both?
  • Mastering is not a Magic Wand
  • Gain Staging Stories

Post-Mastering

  • Assembling the team
  • Find a Duplicator you trust
  • Find out what they need
  • File types, text files etc

Post-Mastering

  • ISRC Codes (International Standard Recording Code)
  • Learn More usisrc.org/about
  • Spelling (song, artist etc)

Learn to master NOW?

MixCoach Podcast 059: Unconventional Mixing Tricks

unconventional mixing tricks, mix

In this episode we discuss some unconventional mixing tricks and how to use them!

Raw Transcript:

Jon: On this week’s episode we’re going to actually talk about

unconventional recording and mixing techniques. Things you wouldn’t

normally see or situations that you wouldn’t normally get into in the

studio.

 

Hey Kev, how’s it going today?

 

Kevin: Hey Jon, how are you?

 

Jon: I’m good. Today we’re actually going to be talking about some

unconventional things that you could do in a mix or recording situation, or

unconventional situations even that you might find your self in. Are there

things that you do, they’re unconventional that other people would think,

wouldn’t necessarily think, ‘Oh, Kevin did this in a mix or did this in

this style?’

 

Kevin: I don’t know so much about a mix but I know that one of the

things I love doing is producing. I love producing vocals and I love the

challenge of taking a vocalist who is kind of already on, they’re nervous

about being in the studio and you want to make sure that you create a

situation around them that makes them less nervous so that they can perform

better instead of making them more nervous and then just taking the best

you can get. One of the unconventional…

 

Jon: Put the pressure on them. You’ve got to turn up that heat.

 

Kevin: It’s always a challenge for me, I mean getting a good vocal

sound is really not that hard. If you’ve got a good vocalist who knows how

to work a microphone, you’ve got a decent microphone, you’ve got a good

signal path, it’s really not that hard to do. The hard thing to do is to

get the performance out of the,m because they can sound nervous and they

can sound nervous on a $6000 microphone or they can sound just as nervous

on a $300 microphone.

 

Jon: Absolutely.

 

Kevin: It’ll still not be the best take so one of the unconventional

things that I do that I think, ‘This is kind of,’ to me it’s almost a, it’s

something I’ve never seen anybody do until after I did it but one of the

things that I’ll do, if someone’s having trouble singing a part. You’ve

seen me do this before. If someone’s having trouble singing a part I will

usually stop the tape and then without them even knowing about it I’ll go

to the end of the recording where there’s no click, there’s no nothing and

they think they’re just singing it to me and then I’ll just get them to

sing it a few more times. I get them to sing in tempo. I’ll say, ‘Sing this

note just a little bit higher. Stretch that note out just a little bit.

You’ve got it.’ Then I will have been recording the whole time and then

what I’ll do is I’ll just copy that phrase to the place that they were

having trouble with it and then at the very least they can hear how it’s

supposed to sound. At the most, it’s done.

 

Jon: It’s done.

 

Kevin: I think that’s one of the things, because one of the biggest

compliments I’ve ever gotten from singers that I admire is they’ll say, “I

love recording at your studio. It just sounds good.” I’m not sure that it

sounds that much better. Hopefully it does because good microphone, a good,

clean, a good headphone balance, a good headphone mix so that they can

sing, the right amount of verb and them knowing that I care about the way

they sound is one thing. But I think one of the other things is that they

say it’s easy to record here so one of the unconventional things that I do

is I’m always kinds of going around the back and trying to figure out how I

can trick this performance out of them without them feeling any pressure.

 

Jon: Absolutely. We talked about a little bit before that, kind of

the fish bowl type situation with a vocalist is very hard because with

vocalists it’s not like a guitar where the guitar is always in tune no

matter how nervous the player is or not. The vocalist, it’s essentially,

depending on the mood, their vocal cords may or not tense up or be loose.

That sort of thing so it’s a very different ballgame whenever you get into

vocalists.

 

Kevin: Physiological things in there that factor in.

 

Jon: Absolutely. Anything psychological that they have will

eventually manifest itself in the way their performance is, the way their

vocal sounds. Something I’ve seen you do before and we’ve done before is

with like Bluegrass. We had a banjo player and he was doing like a banjo

break. Basically the situation was whenever we listened to it or something

like that it was a little bit pushed, as far as the rhythm goes and

immediately, just after the take, just to make things easy on the back end,

kind of nudged it right into place where it was right in the pocket, where

it felt like it was right time lines. Essentially it never felt right to

the banjo player until we nudged it forward a little bit because in that

style basically if you’re pushing the beat a little bit it helps you stand

out a little bit more on kind of a one microphone or kind of a classic

bluegrass sound. That’s kind of unconventionals, is kind of pushing a

little bit of the rhythm to give it a little bit more of a stand out thing.

 

Kevin: I’m always, whenever I record, I’m always trying to learn a

lesson. I’m like a, I’m a lifetime learner. I’m almost to a fault trying to

learn something new all the time. One of the things that I, in my mind,

remember we talked about back in the day when we first started Mix Coach,

last is loudest. Also this applies to this sort of thing too. In acoustic

music what I discovered was that theory is true for first is loudest too

and he felt like he wasn’t in the pocket, he was behind. He wasn’t loud

enough and then I nudged it back to where he was actually ahead and it was

perfect to him. It wasn’t any louder. It wasn’t any, it was not any queued

any different. It wasn’t compressed but it was just ahead of the beat a

little bit.

 

If you noticed this too. I’ve got one more little factor. It’s kind

of, it always comes in threes, last is loudest, first is loudest and sharp

is loudest. One of the things I’ve noticed in recording orchestras is that

orchestras tend to tune just a little sharp. Did you know that?

 

Jon: Yes. It’s just a tiny bit though.

 

Kevin: It’s just a tiny bit sharp to make it stick out in a mix. It’s

a way that you can make things stick out in a mix and if you notice R&B

singers, R. Kelly for example, he tends to sing some things a little sharp

sometimes and it just makes it sound, you notice it. We’re talking about

unconventional . . .

 

Jon: Unconventional things.

 

Kevin: . . . unconventional things but yes, so I mean, if you’re

having trouble getting something to pop through a mix an unconventional

thing would be . . .

 

Jon: Tune it a couple cents, a few cents up.

 

Kevin: Make it, I would probably make… that would be the last thing

I would do.

 

Jon: I agree.

 

Kevin: Because pitch is… I’m really sensitive to pitch but you could

nudge it ahead just a little bit. Everything, if it’s perfectly in the

pocket and everything’s landing right on the down beat precisely right down

to the sample, it’s really going to, it’s going to be hard to get stuff to

pop through the mix so nudge it ahead just a little bit.

 

One other thing before we wrap this up. You were talking about

unconventional methods of recording. My dream several years ago was always

to just go to a vacation type environment and record.

 

Jon: Nice.

 

Kevin: I got that opportunity with my friend Wayne in a group that we

were working with at that time called Lord Song and we were doing, we did

an a capella record and it was one of the most gratifying and fun records.

You have this idea of what it’s going to be like before you get there and I

was thinking, ‘This lake house, we’re going to be at this lake house.’ All

I could think of was like floor to ceiling windows with an arched roof line

and all you could see was beautiful water and boats going by and all that

kind of stuff. I took my laptop and I took some pre’s and I took three mics

and pop filters and headphones. I had everything. When I got in there it

was not the lake house I was thinking. It was about the size of my bedroom.

 

Jon: Oh, man.

 

Kevin: There was a one window unit for the whole house.

 

Jon: Oh my goodness.

 

Kevin: It was loud.

 

Jon: That’s funny.

 

Kevin: The conventional thing, I always talk about dealing a good

engineer, a good producer, deals with the situation that you have. You kind

of sum up the whole situation. Well the situation was, ‘Here’s what we’re

going to do, guys. We’re going to set up. We’re going to rehearse with the

air conditioner on. I’m going to make sure the levels are good. When we get

this line I’m going to turn the air conditioner off and we’ve got about

five minutes until either we all pass out or you get your product.

 

Jon: That’s awesome.

 

Kevin: You know what? When I listen to that, you can go listen to it.

Look on iTunes for Lord Song and I think the name of the record is “Lord of

the Dance.” When you listen to that record know that it was done on a

laptop in a “very small” lake house but it was an unconventional way of

recording but if you ask any one of the members of Lord Song what they

remember about that it was like, “You stood up and turned the air

conditioner off and we knew it was on.” We had to get it.

 

Jon: It was time.

 

Kevin: That was kind of unconventional but fun.

 

Jon: That’s great. Awesome. Well that kind of wraps up the talk

about unconventional recording and mixing techniques.

 

Thanks for listening. This has been the Mix Coach

Podcast, the podcast dedicated to making your next recording your best

recording. For more tips, tutorials and even a free course be sure and

visit us at mixcoach.com.

Question: What are some unconventional mixing techniques you use?

 

MixCoach Podcast 058: Mix Tricks Downsides

mix tricks trick

In this episode we talk about how mix tricks might get in the way of a great mix.

Raw Transcript:

Announcer: This is the MixCoach podcast episode 58.

Jon: This week on the podcast we’re actually going to be talking about how
you can keep the technical side of mixing and the tricks that you learn
from getting in the way of actually creating a good mix.

Jon: Hey, Kev, who’s it going today?

Kevin: Hi Jon, how are you doing?

Jon: I’m doing good.  So this week, I was going to ask you, and with
MixCoach member and things like that, we’ve listened to hundreds and
hundreds of different mixers’ mixes over the years and months, and I was
wanting to ask you about, either for yourself or for other people that we
coach.  Does the technical side of mixing, do tricks ever get in the way of
actual mixing?  Does it ever affect the actual mix in a negative way?

Kevin: I mean, absolutely.  I think we all kind of have the same mindset
when we’re mixing.  We learn a cool trick and we want to use it, and we
tend to almost always overuse it the first time. So one of the things I do
is I almost always if I learn a new trick I will do it, but I’ll make sure
that it actually sounds better and it’s not just louder.

Jon: Right. It’s like your compression trick or something like that you
pop on and you’re like, yeah, that sounds good and it’s just louder, that
sort of thing.

Kevin: And I think that’s one of the things that why people like Chris Lord-
Alge and Dave Pensado and all those guys they do these things and they show
you how to do it, but they’re like any person who’s seasoned, a seasoned
pro, and they know just how much to add.  It’s a lot like being a musician.
You know when you first learn that lick or that bass lick, and you tended
to want to play it on every song although it didn’t really fit on every
song.  It would probably been better just to play it one time in the whole
set.

Jon: Right.

Kevin: Tricks, mixing tricks like that, you learn them from experienced
engineers, and you think that’s the end-all trick to make your mixes sound
amazing.  And they are one of the little things I always say is that good
mixing or mixing well is not about any one thing you do.

Jon: Right.

Kevin: It’s about hundreds of small things that if you took one out, you
probably wouldn’t even notice it.  If you took five out you might start to
notice it, but it’s all about the subtleties and absolutely tricks can kind
of get in the way, but, how do you get to the place where Pensado or Chris
Lord-Alge or some of these really… J. R. McNeely and those guys like
that.  How do you get to that place without stumbling and making some
mistakes?

The most important thing that a mixer can do is just to mix.  You’ve got to
mix. You’ve got to make those mistakes, and you’ve got to get them behind
you fast and figure out that I probably won’t ever do that trick again on
this kind of song, or whatever.  That’s one thing I love about MixCoach
members, there’s a song every month you can mix, and you’ve got all these
guys who are talking about tricks that they used on this one song.

Jon: And the thing about that to me is like you said, you’ve got to get
that stuff behind you.  Whenever you’re mixing and you’re learning how to
mix.  Just like any craft that you’re learning to hone and things like
that, you’ve got to get a lot of stuff out very quickly because otherwise
you’re stuck for a long amount of time in this curve of learning and of
going oh, man, let me try this.

So many times I’ve run into even like where you get to a new plugin.  And
then it’s like you use that plugin on a mix and then… I always make sure
that I sleep on a mix if I use a new trick in it.  And I listen to it the
next day or a couple days later even before I make sure it’s in.  Or if
it’s a hard deadline on something, most of the time I don’t use a new
trick, that sort of thing, because a lot of the times you wake up the next
day and go whoa, that new reverb sounds great.  It’s just about 11db too
loud.

Kevin: I’ve never done that… I’m kidding. I do it all the time, even
until this day.

Jon: Awesome, so that’s a great way that you guys can definitely can help
yourselves keep the technical stuff from getting in the way and keep those
new plug-ins from inserting themselves and it being a mix all about that
new plug-in for sure.

Announcer: Thanks for listening. This has been the MixCoach podcast, the
podcast dedicated to making your next recording, your best recording.  For
more tips, tutorials, and even a free course be sure and visit us at
Mixcoach.com.

Question: What are some mix tricks you use or a mix trick you have overused?

 

MixCoach Podcast 057: Managing Low End (Bass)

Bass, Low End, Mixing

This episode of the MixCoach Podcast is all about managing the low end in a mix.

Raw Transcript:

Announcer: This is the Mix Coach podcast episode 57.

Jon: On this week, we’re going to talk about the low end of mixing.  We’re
going to talk a little bit about how to balance the low end.  Some tricks
you can use to get the low end right in your mix and talk about how you can
get 80 percent of your mix done with just the low end. Hey Kev, how’s it
going?

Kevin: Hey Jon, how you doing this morning?

Jon: I’m doing good.  So today we’re actually talking about the low end in
a mix.  And I know we’ve talked about this probably on the podcast, but I
don’t think it was specifically about mixing in general.  And to me, if you
get the low end right in a mix, you’re like halfway there.  Because once
that low end is tight, that kind of gets your foot stomping and your head
bobbing and that sort of thing.  And once you get that kind of going you’re
halfway there already.  So what are some tips? Do you have any tips about
mixing the low end?

Kevin: Well, I do have a couple of tips, but I’ve got a story first.  My
story is just like everybody else’s story who’s just starting to mix.  The
biggest challenge is to get the low end to where it doesn’t sound like…
That’s the biggest, the biggest difference between a professionally
sounding mix to me, and even to my very young ears when I was first
learning.  The biggest difference was the tightness of the low end.  I had
heroes that had this monstrous low end but it was not muddy, and we
mentioned it a while ago.  When you get the low end right, you’re like 80
percent there almost.

Jon: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Kevin: Between that and blend. I searched and searched and searched and
finally probably about ten years ago, I think I figured out the biggest
trick, and we talked about this before.  And it’s mainly just to filter out
everything that you don’t need because what happens is you solo a guitar.
And it’s an acoustic guitar. It’s just got beautiful warm low end. Maybe
it’s a Martin or a Gibson.  It’s got that really nice lush round low end.
Then you’ve got this bass guitar it’s all muddy and everything…

Jon: It’s beefy down there.

Kevin: But when you put them together, they start competing with each other
for low end.  The thing I figured out a few years ago was you don’t need
that stuff.  There’s only so much real estate down there below what 60, 60
Hertz.  And usually that’s best served by the kick drum.

Jon: Right.

Kevin: And so the biggest tip I have, actually I have a couple of tips.
First thing is to filter everything you don’t need.  I’m talking about
piano. I’m talking about acoustic guitars, electric guitars, vocals.
Everything usually, as a matter of fact, I’ve got my, “Instant Awesome”, as
you call it, preset on SSL, and it’s built into… I think everything below
120 even.  I mean there’s not a lot of low end.  A tip for doing that is to
turn your hi pass filter up until it starts to sound thin, and then back it
down until it doesn’t sound thin again.  And then you’ve gotten rid of all
the low end that you don’t need and just about everything.

Jon: Right on.

Kevin: And the second thing that I do is I compress the low end.  I use
something like Ozone, iZotope Ozone and I’ll take the lowest band of
frequencies…

Jon: It’s that almost like a multi-band compressor.

Kevin: A multi-band compressor, yeah, and I’ll take the lowest band and
I’ll solo it and I’ll listen to where it’s just awfully muddy, and then, of
course, it’s supposed to be that way.  You don’t have to do any top end to
balance it out, but what I’ll do usually is just solo that and I compress
it just a little bit so I can pull it up a little bit and it keeps the low
end tight.

Jon: Nice, nice.

Kevin: What do you do?

Jon: We’ve talked about this before like even just the extreme lows and
most styles of music, I would say, except for kind of hip hop or even
extreme pop.  You really don’t need much below 40 Hertz or so, anyway.  And
so even on the kick and the bass if on like rock music you roll off up
until 40, 44 Hertz or so is kind of what I shoot for, and it cleans up a
lot of the low end.  It doesn’t hit your compressor nearly as much because
a lot of times those super low end frequencies that you can barely hear hit
your compressor and kind of muddy up the sound of the mix. They cloud it a
little bit with compression distortion, that sort of thing.

So just filtering it a little bit off of that has vastly helped kind of the
low end of my mixing, that sort of thing.  Another thing you can do is
complementary EQ kind of the bass and the kick.  Like wherever the bass,
the kicks frequency is, like it’s resident frequency, a lot of times it’s
around 62, 64, something like that.  You can notch a tiny bit of the bass
out there and leave room for where the kick lives because the bass lives
anywhere from in the hundreds of Hertz all the way down to the low end. And
so if you kind of carve out a little bit of room for that resident
frequency of the kick, it kind of opens up a little bit of possibilities
for your low end there.

Kevin: I don’t think I’ve ever done that.  I mean I’ve heard of people side
chaining a kick to a bass and all that kind of stuff.

Jon: I’ve never done that.

Kevin: And complimentary EQ.  I don’t think I’ve ever done that as kind of
a go-to thing.

Jon: Right.

Kevin: Because we’re in Nashville, there’s really not, when you get a bass
track usually…

Jon: It’s pretty solid.

Kevin: … It’s a really nice bass track.  Usually, more often than not I
don’t do anything to the bass, but I do this one thing because the balance
between the kick and the bass is important.  So one of the tricks that I
use, and this maybe we’ll cover this in another episode or something like
that.   One of the things I do to balance the kick and the bass is I’ll
mute the bass, and then I’ll listen to the mix and see if the kick is
carrying the mix.  Then I’ll mute the kick and un-mute the bass and see if
the bass carries the mix too without the kick in it.  And then usually…

Jon: If yes to both of those, then you’re solid.  If no to one of those,
then you may need a little bit of balance in here and there.

Kevin: Well, you do it as you go, like if you make the kick carry just with
mainly volume with me.

Jon: Right.

Kevin: I never EQ the kick without the bass in it or vice versa, but just
far as balance.  Usually that’s a home run every time for me.

Jon: Right.  And a lot of times in those early days of people’s mixing you
hear things like the bass is super loud and the kick is nowhere to be
found.  Or the kick is super loud and the bass is nowhere to be found.  And
that kind of solves that as well because if you piece together things and
test things along the step of the process, if you’re just kind of listening
to the instruments without the vocals.  A long the whole mixing process if
you do that a few times, where you mute the kick, mute the bass and ask
those questions.  Hey, does it carry?

A lot of times that will just solve pretty much everything. I know whenever
I started doing that, and that was a suggestion from you a couple of years
ago or something like that.  Whenever I started doing that it really made
me think differently about the way my bass and low end was actually being
treated, so…

Kevin: Since we’re talking about side subjects here almost, there’s a lost
art form of balance.  I think that most young engineers, in addition to not
keeping the low end as tight and as clean as it could be one of the things
they do, is they’ll watch a tutorial on YouTube and they’ll say, “Oh man,
I’ve got to do a parallel compression on my drums.”  But they don’t take
into account that you have to have pretty well balanced drums before, or
you’ve got to know what to or what not to put in the parallel compression.

And so one my checks and balances thing that I do with a mix, the kick and
the bass is one of them.  I’ll listen to the mix without the vocals to make
sure the rest of it sounds like a mix.  One of the other things I’ll do is
I’ll take the drums completely out and listen to the bass and instruments.

I subdivide everything like instruments and drums.  I’ll take the drums out
and then just make sure that I’m not being distracted by how cool the drums
sound.  And that’s another thing, it’s kind of like, it’s like building a
house and the foundation.  If it’s held up by one block…

Jon: And you take that away.

Kevin: And you kick the block out, then your mix falls apart. That’s why I
advocate mixing in mono and doing these subtractive sort of things to get
balance.  But we’re off into another podcast now.

Jon: We probably are.

Kevin: But, as far as low end, I think the best thing you could possible
do, as any mixer really, is to really check the low end.  And one of the
things you can do, if you have access to a sub, that changed the way I
mixed too because you can actually hear all that stuff that you’ve never
heard before in your mix.  Subs seem to sing better when they don’t have to
overwork, and they just got kicking bass and effects to worry about.

Jon: And as long as your sub setup correctly.  Another thing is sometimes
there are guys that throw a sub in and just kind of throw it in.  They
don’t necessarily take the time to learn the sub and figure out exactly how
it needs to be set up with their rig.  And so sometimes it can kind of turn
sideways on people that way.  So if you get a sub, make sure it’s set up
right.  There are always manuals and things like that you make sure that
you’ve got to set it up correctly.

For me, a good pair of headphones, like a good pair of nice low end
headphones is always super helpful as well because you can always pop those
on and you hear differently because you don’t hear the sounds of your room
and then things are kind of close. You can always feel it really
differently in your headphones as well.  Alright. So that kind of wraps up
the talk about the low end of the mix.

Kevin: Cool. Well, thanks for tuning in guys, and we’ll see you next week.

Announcer: Thanks for listening. This has been the Mix Coach podcast, the
podcast dedicated to making your next recording your best recording.  For
more tips, tutorials, and even a free course, be sure to visit us at
Mixcoach.com.

Question: How do you control the low end (bass) in your mix?

 

NAMM 2014: Slate Digital – NEW Virtual Microphone System

Probably the most buzzworthy announcement at NAMM 2014 was Slate Digital’s NEW Virtual Microphone System. Slate always shows off some really interesting things at NAMM, and this one does not disappoint. In the video below Kevin lets you know how it performed in his hands on test.