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THE 7 DEADLY SINS

(OF MIXING)
Presented by RecordingStudioProfits.com

TABLE OF CONTENTS Deadly Sin #1 Before You Record Anything...3 Deadly Sin #2 Equalization......4 Deadly Sin #3 Reverb...5 Deadly Sin #4 Compression.....6 Deadly Sin #5 Panning.....7 Deadly Sin #6 Balance.....8 Deadly Sin #7 Testing Your Mix.....9 Bonus Deadly Sins....10

7 Deadly Sins (of mixing) - 2

Deadly Sin #1 Before You Record Anything! Before any of the mixing, any of the CD release parties, and any of the Grammys, you have one goal that you must accomplish. Your mission: record tracks that sound great without effects. Thats right, and Im sure youve heard it before. But its the best thing you can do for your mixes. Start with good sound, and youll have an easier time ending with a good sound. How to do it: Spend as much time as possible getting good sound from the source. If youre recording guitars, make the amp, guitar, pedals, even the player sound as pristine as you can. If anything in this chain sucks, your recorded tracks will suck. And thats a hard thing to fix with effects. Experiment with microphone selection, microphone position, and room acoustics to get the sound you want. Youll know it when you hear it. It just clicks, and you think wow, that sounds awesome! The key is experimentation until it sounds right. Once you have a solid set of tracks, you can move on. But do not skip this step. If you decide, sounds good enough, Ill fix that tone later, you will not get the results you need. So give yourself a fighting chance and record clean tracks first.

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Deadly Sin #2 Equalization When I listen to a recording for the first time, one thing that always stands out to me is the equalization. I can immediately tell if a competent engineer was mixing the tracks. Sometimes the EQ is so bad, I wonder if it was mixed by a 12 year old! That sounds mean, but its the truth. And if you want your mix to sound better, you are going to have to learn how to EQ properly. Lucky for you, Im about to reveal some of the big secrets behind using equalization the right way. Okay, you have your tracks recorded. One big mistake that amateurs make is reaching for the EQ immediately. Most people will listen to the playback, say the snare needs some pizzazz, and start turning the EQ knobs (or moving the mouse toward the EQ plug-ins). Wrong. Leave that EQ alone! Once youve put away the plug-ins, you can move to the next step. Start arranging every piece of your mix. You will be amazed at how much clarity and detail you can get just by playing with the mix. Try panning instruments to different places, and get the volume levels balanced out so it sounds natural. Give every instrument its own space and it will start to sound better sans EQ! Next, you will need to allow each instrument to exist in its natural frequency range. Think about it, should your guitars have as much low end as your bass? Of course not. But when you record a guitar track, you tend to think that bassiness makes the guitar sound thicker or more full. This is a mistake. Because once that thick guitar track is mixed with a bass track and drums, the whole mix will sound way to bassy (muddy)! How do you fix it? This is when you can start using EQ. Instead of adding something to your track with EQ, you want to take something away. Figure out the problem frequencies in your tracks, and EQ them out. It will make the entire mix fit together more cohesively. So cut some lows out of your guitars and vocals, cut mids out of your bass guitar and kick drum, but dont add anything quite yet. Your mix is probably sounding much better at this point. Youve worked on getting a good balance between all of your tracks, and given every instrument its own space. Youve also gotten rid of problem frequencies so your mix doesnt get muddy. Now, you can very carefully consider what frequencies should be added in with EQ. Consider adding a bit of low end, around 80Hz, if your bass track is lacking in that area. Dont just assume your track needs this boost it might sound just fine without it. The key is moderation. You cant make your mix sound more professional by EQing everything until its a mess. The pros are extremely picky about equalizing anything, and you should be too.

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Deadly Sin #3 Reverb I know it can be fun to play with all your reverb settings and come up with some crazy sounds, but it isnt always necessary. In fact, bad reverb choices are a sign of crappy work on the part of the engineer. Dont be that guy! Adding reverb is a delicate art, or science if you want. Either way, it requires careful consideration of many elements. You cannot simply pick a reverb, slap it on, and have a masterpiece. First, think about the song in the context if its genre. Is it metal? Jazz? Go listen to some popular CDs from that genre and get a taste for the reverbs used on that album. This should give you a good general idea of what to aim for. After all, you dont want to just shoot in the dark thats what amateurs do. Second, be aware that your reverb can become overpowering very quickly. It will muddy up your entire mix if you make bad choices. Be careful of this, because you can ruin your mix quickly with this effect. I like to start with drums. Experiment with a few reverbs on the snare until you find something that matches up well with your reference CD (the one you listened to earlier, right?). Then, apply the verb to that track and see how it sounds with the mix. Good? Bad? No difference? Tweak it until you get what youre looking for. Your snare reverb is very important, so spend some time here. Try different decay times, different wet/dry mixes, different rooms, etc. It just takes a little time. But be sure to check it with the whole mix and see how it affects your sound as a whole. Eventually, youll learn what sounds are appropriate for certain genres. With this knowledge you can usually pick a good reverb setting off the top of your head, then make small changes until it is perfect. Heres a cool tip: instead of applying reverb directly to a track, make a duplicate of your track. Then apply the reverb to that duplicate. Now you have one dry track, and one wet track. This can help you really fine tune your reverb sound. You can even create multiple reverb tracks and pan them for a cool effect. But dont overdo it! Keep it tasteful and appropriate.

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Deadly Sin #4 Compression This mistake is very common, and not just in amateurs. Actually, many engineers have been complaining for years that every new recording is way over-compressed. Its sort of the trend in popular music these days. But that doesnt make it right. Why are good engineers using too much compression? Because they know their song has to compete with other songs on the market. Compressing a lot can add perceived volume to your final mix. And when every other song out there is louder than yours, it makes you want to pump up the comp, too (or the label demands it). Avoid this trend, and use compression that is subtle and maintains the musical quality and dynamics of your recording. Any monkey can squeeze the heck out of a track and call it a day. It takes a true pro to step back and ignore the hype. So how much is too much? Well, heavy compression on every track in your mix is probably too much. Compression so that a certain track sounds totally lifeless is too much. The things I usually compress are: Kick drum Snare Toms, hi hat, overheads (mildly compressed) Bass Sometimes guitars Vocals (mildly)

I know what youre thinking you compress everything! And many times, there is some compression on every track in my mixes. But I keep it light and tasteful. And you should, too. A lot of people say that compressing distorted guitars is pointless, and I tend to agree. Thats why I lightly use a multiband compressor. I can compress certain frequency ranges to smooth them out just a bit. I lightly compress vocals while Im tracking. This really helps with vocalists that tend to move around while they sing. Instead of compressing again during mixing, I ride the fader. This can take some practice, but it is much more subtle than compressing and killing your great vocal tracks. These need to sound real, and too much compression can stomp the life right out of your vocals. Finally, bass guitar just has to get compressed. Thats the reality. If you zoom in on your bass tracks, you can see how dynamic they are. Some notes really stick out and others just fall short. Imagine how a mix would sound with a really uneven bass track. It would suck. So feel free to compress the bass but try to preserve the tone. You can duplicate your bass track, then compress one and leave the other dry. Keep them panned to the center and work on finding a good balance between the two.

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Deadly Sin #5 Panning Panning is a simple science if you really think about it. But it is very easy to forget the simple rules and pan things wherever you want. If you are trying to be experimental because the music is really different, feel free to pan things anywhere. Be aware that it might not be pleasing to your audiences ears. Think of your mix like a stage. If you were watching this band live, where would each sound come from? If you try to think like this while doing your basic mixing, you will get solid results. You can build onto your mix after this, but always start by thinking of the stage. When mixing drums, leave your snare and kick dead center. Pan these anywhere else and you will confuse and disorient the listener. Maybe thats what you are going for. Next, you will have to make a decision. Pan the drums from the audiences perspective, or the drummers perspective. I generally use the audience perspective, just because I like the stage example from above. If you like the stage idea, pan overheads accordingly. You can spread these tracks really wide, but you dont have too. Most modern rock makes the mix as wide as possible, so keep that in mind. Then pan your toms from right to left highest tom to lowest tom. Keep these panned moderately, you dont want to make them too wide. Bass should also be dead center to avoid confusing the listener. Guitars would be left and right in the mix. Be aware that you have some freedom here, especially if you have a lot of different guitar tracks. If possible, isolate the two main tracks throughout the song. Pan these left and right equally. Just like drum overheads, you can pan them all the way or not. I like to do this on most recordings, mostly because I record pop rock and metal more than anything else. A wide stereo field is appropriate for this kind of music. If you have additional guitar tracks, you can experiment with placement. But try to give each track its own space, otherwise they will clutter together. Panning vocals is an art form. Your lead vocal should be centered, with all your backing vocals panned to the sides. This will require some experimentation, so feel free to decide where you like your backing vocals. If you have any other tracks to fit in, just make sure you give them their own space. As long as everything can breathe in your mix, individual tracks will maintain their details. If you start losing definition in a track, adjust your panning before trying to use EQ or any other effects.

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Deadly Sin #6 Checking in Mono If you have heard this advice before, but still arent taking it reconsider. You must check your mixes in mono. Some of you are probably thinking, dude, nobody has a mono system in their house anymore. This isnt 1957! For the most part, thats true. But checking your mix in mono is still extremely important, especially if you plan on getting this recording out into the world. There are lots of times when your mix will get played back in mono. For instance, you go to a club to see a band. During the set change, the sound guy throws on some music to keep the audience from dying of boredom. What do ya know? Its your recording! Or is it? Suddenly, the balance sounds way off. You can hardly hear the backing guitars, and man are those toms funky. What happened? You didnt check your mix in mono, and your recording stinks. Not all clubs run their P.A. in stereo, especially smaller venues. Even I sometimes run in mono when I do sound at a show. Its just a reality you have to face. So how can you avoid this headache? Always, always check your mix in mono. If something sounds wrong (overpowering or masked), fix it. After you have made a few adjustments, check it again. Dont rest until your mix sounds correct in stereo and in mono.

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Deadly Sin #7 Testing Your Mix So you think youve finished mixing, and youre ready for mastering. Hang on a minute. You really need to check that mix somewhere other than the studio. Why? Because the people listening to your recording will not be sitting in your studio. They wont have the acoustics of your room, or the speakers you are mixing on. There are a million variables here. While youre testing your mix, keep this in mind. Your ears will adapt to a new listening environment quickly. So you have to trick yourself into hearing the problems of your mix. Warm up by listening to a popular CD from the same genre first. Spend about five or ten minutes doing this, then quickly switch to your mix. Write down any discrepancies you hear. Anything that keeps your mix from sounding like the reference CD should be noted. This way, youll remember what changes to make when you head back into the studio. Now, export your tracks, burn them to a CD, and then test it in different systems. Try it in your car. This is my personal favorite. I have a small 10 subwoofer in my car, and I opted for the premium audio package when I bought it. What can I say; Im an audio nerd! In my situation, testing in my car lets me hear the mix through a bassy system. I can tell instantly if my bass and kick drum sound right. A lot of people will listen to your recording in their cars, so test it in yours. Even if you dont have a subwoofer to hear your bass and kick pumping, do it anyway. Also, check your mix on a crappy consumer stereo. Head down to the local super discount store and grab the cheapest CD player you can find. I found one for $25, and I keep it in my studio all the time. People ask me why this piece of junk is sitting next to all my nicer stuff, but its just as important to me as a fancy microphone. I suggest you do the same. Listen to your mix and see if the bass is causing your cheap speakers to break up. This is pretty common with inexperienced mixes, but with practice you will learn to control your low end. Can you still hear all your tracks well? Make a note of anything that stands out. Repeat this process on computer speakers, your iPod, and even your TV. Thats right, you can check your mix on your TV. Those speakers are often cheap and shady as they come, so you can get a real good idea of how your mix holds up.

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Bonus Deadly Sins I couldnt leave you with just 7 suggestions, so I had to add a bonus chapter. Lucky you! Here are a few more quick tips to help improve your mixes: Take a break this is important. Your ears wear out quickly, and you will lose objectivity if you try to mix for too long. Ive had personal experience with this. Once, I mixed a couple songs for my band for 7 hours straight. It was the night before tour, and I had to get the mixes done quickly. We still had to make copies and package the CDs! I ended up staying in the studio with the guys until 8am the next morning. We left for tour at 9am. What a night! The mix didnt turn out so great, though. Somewhere around the third or fourth hour, I lost my attention to detail and missed some things. Dont let this happen to you! You need to take breaks often. It might even be helpful to stop for a day at a time. This way, you can come back to your mix with fresh ears and catch the little mistakes you were missing before. Get a second opinion. If you want your mix to sound good to someone else, you have to ask someone else. Usually, the band you are working with will be happy to lend an ear. Sometimes, they insist on it. Have them listen to the tracks all the way through, and make notes of their observations. They know how they should sound, and will tell you if you miss the mark. Dont get annoyed, this is helpful. It can also help to ask someone outside of the industry. Even after years together, my wife has no clue what makes a good mix. So I ask her to listen to everything before I call it a day. If she says something sucks, it must really suck otherwise she wouldnt have noticed it. Mix alone. This may or may not work for you. But chances are, it will fit in somewhere with your mixing routine. It is very common for a band to insist on being there while you mix. Tell them politely, I am a professional, and I have to mix without distractions. You will be able to approve everything and make suggestions later. Why do this? Because most bands dont understand the detail work that goes into your mix. You have to clean up tracks, and organize them properly, and maybe even make some cuts (the band doesnt have to know). The last thing you need is some know-it-all singer telling you to put some more reverb on my voice while you are working on something else. Later, you might want others to join you in the mix process. After I have a basic mix, I will invite my band to listen while I add finishing touches. Together, we have come up with some cool vocal tricks and other things. The energy can be helpful, but get your busy work done first.

Thats it for this guide. I hope you have learned a couple new tricks. If not, maybe you are rethinking some of your own techniques. Remember that these sins are not really set in stone, and you can experiment anytime you want. These are just suggestions to keep you on the right path while you mix, and to help you avoid common problems. Keep practicing, and your mixes will improve with time! Best of luck.

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