Announcer: This is the MixCoach podcast, episode 70.
Jon: On this episode of the MixCoach podcast, I’m talking to Kevin about a thing we did on the MixCoach Member site called the Channel Strip Challenge, in which we limited mixers on the numbers of plug-ins they could use per track.
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Jon: Hey, Kev. How’s it going?
Kevin: Hey, Jon. How are you doing today?
Jon: I’m doing good. On MixCoach Member, we’ve been doing this thing. I just want to refer to it. We call it the Channel Strip Challenge. Basically, this is challenging mixers to limit their plug-in usage to one channel strip per track and keeping effects down to two effects for the entire mix. I wanted to ask you what the strategy is in limiting yourself while practicing mixing.
Kevin: MixCoach Member is about three and a half years old, and I figured out the other day that I, personally, have listened to over 2,000 mixes on there. There are some common themes that happen, especially with mixers that are brand new coming in, because it’s unlike any other community. Because everybody in there, you want to impress them, but you can’t impress them the way you think you can. I’ve noticed that the new guys that come in, most of the time, they’ll over process everything. They will do so much to a sound, and they’ll go for that really, really loud sound to the point of distortion and even above that, to where it just doesn’t sound good if you pulled it down. I was thinking, “As a MixCoach, what would be a drill that a coach would put his players through if he was trying to break a bad habit?”
We talked about this when I first thought of it, and it was like, “Let’s limit everybody to the same playing field.” One channel strip. Whatever your favorite channel strip is, use that, or the equivalent of a channel strip. I think the exercise or the drill, if we’re, or the drill, or the drill, if we’re using the coach analogy, is just to practice getting the sound you want from very limited things, because more is not better. Sometimes we end up using a lot of plug-ins, but most of the time, you could get the use out of one plug-in more than just a stack of plug-ins. I think that a lot of new guys, especially, the guys that are going for the Grammy, as I call it, on the mix, they tend to overdo it.
I wanted to pull all that back and go Mr. Miyagi on everybody and just do wax on, wax off, wax on, wax off. Because I think that’s going to serve them well when they go and mix things professionally.
Jon: We had a webinar about minimalist mixing and that sort of thing as well, and we talked a little bit about how minimizing your amount of plug-ins or minimizing the amount of things that you can use and limiting yourself like this kind of actually helps you learn to maximize what you get out of a plug-in. It helps you start from a better baseline, so then if you go ahead and add a ton of effects or add a ton of different plug-ins on to this thing, you’ll still be starting from a better place than you would have if you hadn’t gone ahead and limited yourself in that way.
Kevin: One of the last tutorials I did for the MixCoach members during this Channel Strip Challenge, I did one mix on there where I didn’t use any plug-ins. It was a cool song, but the thing about using plug-ins is if you just strap a plug-in across a kick drum, a lot of times you’ll try to fatten a kick drum with EQ and compression when the real problem is not EQ or compression, it’s phase. A lot of times, you won’t hear that if you’re piling on plug-ins. I think someone asked the other day, “How can you tell if something’s out of phase?” It sounds thin. If something sounds thin, what is your instinct to do? What is your instinct? It’s to EQ.
Jon: Most of the time, yeah. You reach for an EQ.
Kevin: To fatten it up, right? Well, there’s no extra plug-in that’s going to make a kick drum sound fat if it’s out of phase, nothing.
Jon: The waveforms aren’t even there. They cancel each other out, and then there is no low end anymore.
Kevin: So that was the reason I wanted to do the Channel Strip Challenge. It’s just to get people back to the basics of balance. I think one of the missing things… Because we’re in a YouTube age where you can learn just about anything you want to on YouTube, the problem with that is that people tend to go for the tools before the technique, and I wanted to make sure that my guys, my mixers — because my goal is I want to train the best mixers around; I honestly do — I wanted to get the technique before the tricks. I wanted to get the cart before the horse, because then, if you have enough plug-ins or if you’ve got a super duper whizz bang plug-in that does one thing really, really well and you want to use it, then yes, use it, if everything else is in line, even phase.
Jon: Absolutely. It kind of trains the idea of limiting yourself. Even if you didn’t take part in the Channel Strip Challenge, you can always practice mix some of this stuff. That will help you learn to maximize the use of the few plug-ins that you are using, and it will help you learn some things. Whenever we were doing our tutorials for that, I remember that I was like, “Man, I’m surprised about how far I can get with such a limited tool kit.”
It’s just always interesting to limit yourself in such a way as to see, “Hey, what can I do?” Just like we’ve talked about before, limiting the amount of time you take on something. If you say, “I’m going to practice mix here. Let me just limit myself to an hour.” After that hour is over, you’re done. You basically determine what’s the most important thing about mixing within that hour, because you don’t have very much time.
Kevin: Let me mention one thing that I did mention on the webinar, and I have alluded to this on several other formats. There was a study done, a scientific test. Whoever does these kinds of tests, I don’t know. I’ve never seen one happen. They actually interviewed two sets of people. They said, “We want you to pick out some ice cream.” They took one set of people to a store that had almost endless flavors of ice cream. Then, they took the second group to a store that only had three ice creams, and they made them choose.
The first set that had 31 flavors to choose from, they asked them how happy they were with their choice, and then they asked the same question of the people with three choices, and the people with three choices were almost always happier with their choice. As that applies to plug-ins is that would you rather be satisfied with your mix and know that you’ve got the most out of what you could get out of the mix or always wondering, “What would happen if I would have used the Blackface 1176 over the Silverface?”
There’s a lot of pain that is tied to making the wrong decision. In my opinion, you can add plug-ins all you want to, but are you happy with the result of it is what I’m trying to get everybody to. I know that I can make a kick drum sound good with one EQ and nothing else. That’s where I want to get people to, to being able to say that, so when they do the super whizz bang plug-in that really does something really cool to the sound, they’re not just piling it on top of the last two whizz bang plug-ins that they bought…
Jon: We’ve got to come out with a series of plug-ins called the “Whizz Bang Plug-ins” now.
Kevin: “The Super Whizz Bang Plug-ins.”
Jon: Now, if somebody does that, we said it here first. Awesome, man. Awesome. Thank you.
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