There are no rules. Be
creative. Create a major "Wow!" factor. Create something unique with a
twist. Ask yourself, "What is different about our music?" Imagine the
unimaginable and make it real.
Organize all your files, plug ins,
folders, track groups, audio files, mix sessions, etc. Never break this
rule! Do a pre-mixdown clean-up session.
Take time to erase all the throat-clearing, lip-clicking, guitar
blips, the out-take solos, etc. You'll feel fresher at mix time,
because you can concentrate on the creativity, not the housekeeping.
Watch the vocal
SS's:When you add
clarity to vocals with eq, the SS's jump out
too much. Natural sounding SS's are preferable. Be sure they aren't
louder than the snare!, Software de-essers and multiband compressors
have improved, but hardware de-essers can help this issue before the
sound hits the tape (I mean the DAW track). Another solution in mixing:
use your volume automation
(I prefer doing it manually with the line-with-dots -- fader
riding isn't always fast enough to just duck those quick SS spots) to
soften the SS's and SH's and sharp T's etc. This keeps the SS's
natural sounding and reduces the need for an extra de-esser plug
in. Sometimes less (processing) is more.
Key:Remember, your DAW is not a
mixer. It's a big calculator.
The more processing you do, the less coherency remains from the
original source you recorded. Less is more. The initial recording stage
important to get that tone solid and meaty (better word clocking and
A-D converters help a lot). Also check your volume automation
(line-dots) and see if there are massive amounts of those dots that
aren't really changing levels at certain points, but are just
hovering... select-delete excess automation dots so the computer
doesn't have to calculate and calculate tiny up-down-hover moves that
may not be doing that much.
Don't obsess for
months. You don't
have to erase every speck
of sound that isn't the exact part of each individual track. Take
leakage for example (the bleed-through of a different instrument into
any given track - like rhythm guitar leaking into drum overhead
tracks). Leakage on different tracks can add dimension and fullness in
some cases. In fact, some leakage gave a sense of acoustic space to
many vintage recordings. However, if the leakage on one track is making
other tracks sound tubby or blurring an image that you want more
precise, then clean the track as needed - or reduce the level of the
areas of "space" where the instrument isn't playing - this is a form of
Separation Mastering process (back in '05) we've
had a lot of experience "seeing" into the inner workings of a lot of
mixes. Most often the majority of
enhancement we do is on drums and
tracks is a growing concern. So
much advertising is spent on software products and A-List engineer's
"favorite settings" and of course the favorite "Turn the knobs all the
way up!!!" advice....... I submit to you that the lost art
of "Less is more" should be a healthy balance in your bag of
We often hear drums that have been overly compressed. This can
create a cool sound, but often this cool sound works better in a
mixdown than it does once it hits the mastering rig. Loud CD
Mastering changes the dynamics of your mix. So if you've
compressed a snare drum and the compressor's attack is slower (than a
limiter, for instance) -- then the transient spike of that snare will
be substantial, while the body of the snare will be reduced by the
Thus you think
getting a nice "pop" on that snare and a smooth
sounding decay. Nice. Up till the point when we get it into
the mastering rig, and in order to bring up your overall level, we have
to (fast attack/ fast release) limit that initial transient of your
snare. The more that transient comes down, the less we're
retaining the sound you had, and it starts to extend or sustain the
decay of that snare... thus making the snare start to sound more like
it did in the studio, and less like it did in your mix. If we
have more control over the drums by using Separation Mastering, we can
work with this issue more so than if we only have a stereo
mixdown. Waveform Polarity
We're one of
a few mastering studios who will work with Separations, and thus we are better able to "look
under the hood" at the components of many mixes. We've seen a common
mixing problem:the drums are
POLARITY in over 60% of
home recording projects. This means that if you zoom in and look
closely at the leading edge of a given drum (kic, toms, snare) -- the
waveform goes down first instead of up first.
This means the
reproducing your sound is pulling first instead
of pushing first. The
initial excursion always goes up first. In nature, sound never pulls first. In
the womb we hear 9 months of a heartbeat that is polarity correct. This means that
if we hear a kic drum that is out-of-polarity, at some level, it is
uncomfortable to us.
to be sure that your digital recording system is giving you the correct
polarity. This is different (but kinda sorta similar) than
phase. Some plug ins may say "Invert Phase" -- when
this is being done over the entire track, not just one side or one
portion -- it's really inverting the polarity, not the phase. Read more and see images of
Phase is relative to something else - polarity is "absolute" - which is
just a fancy way of saying it only relates to itself. Sometimes these
terms are used interchangeably. Yikes, whatta ya gonna do? Nobody's
wrong... we spend too much
time obsessing over "wrong" when the bottom line is using what works
vs. what doesn't work. Reduces arguments and internet
New!Since we've been in the
"mindset" of mastering with Separations, we've
developed better solutions even when we're given stereo mixes for
mastering. There's much more that can be done now than before,
and sometimes it's as simple as sending us a dry snare track along with
your stereo mix.... when we encounter this issue. Frankly, we
couldn't have predicted how much more "out of the box engineering" that
we would now be putting into the mastering process in 2009! As
the plug in's and computers have gotten better, we've gotten better in
our basic engineering skill sets - all for your benefit.
If you've newly arrived to the Digital Audio Workstation recording/
mixing world -- our solutions work wonders but time is needed to
produce the outstanding results created by this process. Account
for this possibility in your budget. We don't commonly use
"one-button-fixes-all" engineering techniques, because every project/
sound is different. We come from 20 years of analog recording and
mixing -- and there's a fundamental understanding of sound that comes
from that experience. We remember how big and smooth the sound of
analog tape was -- and we also totally dig what technology offers
today! So... book
time with us
or keep reading...
Allow for more time than you think you need
worse than thinking it will take three
to mix a song, and it ends up taking five hours. You're under pressure,
engineer's under pressure, and the studio's next client is pacing back
and forth in the waiting room. Have extra money (if you're paying the
studio) on hand, so that if you go over budget (always the case) you
aren't sweating bullets.
conservative with stereo buss
compression. If you use it,
bypass it from time-to-time - match
the volume with-and-without to be sure it's helping the whole sound. I
recommend making master mix versions both with and without
limiting/compression added level. I don't recommend using compression
just for the purposes of getting your mixes louder on pre-mastered
CDRs! Mastering is the best place to get more level. Overly compressed
mixes box the mastering engineer into a corner, reduce the openness of
the mix, and lower the number of enhancement options.
be conservative with
stereo buss compression. Wha???? Remember rule
#1. There are no rules. You might get the coolest sound
ever by turning the knobs all the way up. Your sound is your
sound. Just don't think that compression is the magic
"mastering" plug-ins. They can seem too good to be true. In
can make your mix seem a little easier, but in the long run, lack
the spark and vitality you could have with a little more work on the
"insides" of the mix. Focus on getting the mix you want by using good
the individual tracks, even if you have to work a little harder to get
it all nailed. Usually the extra energy pays off - just don't burn out
from over-doing plug-in addiction!
Quick tip: It's
not best to record your project at 44.1 even if it's going to
end up as a 44.1 CD.
48k 24 bit sampling rate is definitely
better. The higher the sampling rate, generally the smoother the
sound. However you'll want to allow for the processing
capabilities of your computer -- because 88.2 and 96 will make your
computer and your plug ins work harder. Be sure that your
stereo buss does not ever go into clipping (digital overs) when it is
set at Unity Gain -0-. Even
better: keep 2-3 dB of headroom in your stereo mixdowns! Once you know
you're not making any digital
overs, remove your master fader if possible - your mix will sound
your mix with great sounding commercial
CD's. (NOT CD's made off of iTunes. Anything could be off using an
iTunes reference. Level-match and
compare your mix to the other CD's and
adjust according to what you hear over your monitor system! For every
four hours of mixing, spend one hour within that time listening to your
"competition." I know, it can be a stretch to listen to the best
recordings in the world up next to yours. So what! Stretching makes us
better engineers! A better sounding mix than yours is not an insult -
it's an opportunity to improve your
skills. Every reference CD
you hear is another opportunity. Be sure to include older, more
conservatively mastered CD's in your reference selection so you have a
sense of more musically-based dynamics vs. the super-squashed levels of
some newer albums.
The A-B technique helps you get your
sonic "bearing" around
balance, frequency spread, panning, vocal placement and more. Since
commercial CDs have such different volume levels, you'll want to
compare your mixes without it just being a volume contest. When you A/B
- only play short segments of music - 10-20 seconds - and then switch
over to the other reference.
mix doesn't impress you as much when you first A-B to a
big-name album, don't rag on the engineer (or yourself)! Mixing is a
being diplomatic will save you time and increase the creative flow.
Just say, "I like a lot of what we have now, and I'd like to get a
little more of [fill in the blank]. I'd like to listen to these to get
some ideas." Be sure to check out my page on commercial CD references,
and see Studio
for more info about
speaker system and it's effects on mixing.
Quick Tip: Get a pair of Grado
headphones (about $100) but special order the foam muff that
comes with the SR60. This is important because the open-foam of the
SR80 makes it sound too edgy and brittle, but the full-covered foam of
the SR60 is just right. You can use a single hole puncher for paper and
punch one small hole in the center of the SR60 muff if you want a tiny
bit more high end to come though. I use the more expensive RS2 Grados
every day in the
mastering studio and for the price of either of these headsets you'll
get big insights into
your mix. Even with the RS2's I
still prefer the SR60 muffs because the enclosure "sits" closer in to
your ears and increases the bass response.
Want a great in-ear headphone to go with your iPod? Get these
I recommend both of these headphones for gaining an additional
perspective, but not for fully mixing all the time. They also reveal
distortion very nicely.
not sure about me giving you this A-B
says, "...it can
help to put up records that you like, compare them whilst you're
working and try to copy the sound. I've done that."
Still not convinced?
How about when I
EQ Magazine/Pro Sound News and
he said, "...just put in a commercial CD, see
what it is you like about the CD and go for it."See the complete interview here.
More info here on effective
ways to A-B.
Music Award Winner: Win The Day - HD Separation Mastering
make Separations - or speak
about our new enhanced
Without a doubt, this cutting
edge format is revolutionizing the way engineers approach the final
mixing stages, as well as the end result coming out of the mastering
You mix like you normally mix, and then you record separate groups of
instruments. Similar in concept to color separations, these sub-mixes
are similar to stems, but set up in a different way, and specifically
meant for stereo mastering.
first I was
skeptical about using Separations - but after hearing the end result I
was blown away. The mixes sounded a lot more clear and each element in
the mix is more recognizable. This makes the old model of mastering
Wright - Producer, engineer, artist
Separations is like adding a few more speakers on a 2-stereo set - the
difference is that big. It's not like you're taking a chance with this
method - the bigger chance is NOT mastering this way."
- Brandon McCambridge - "A Secret Life"
has more detail and clarity for a project like mine with all these
great drummers. There's no other way to go. I highly recommend anyone
with a project to use Separations - you'll be blown away with the
Duets Volume 1 - LA, California
clarity, space, and even front-to-back depth is so noticeable you just
know there's no going back to a limited 2-track mastering technique.
This is the future."
Laurie Morvan, Lisa Grubbs - The
Laurie Morvan Band
- Blues rock
sound is better
than I ever expected it to be and the Separation Mastering technique
really did the trick. You
proved to be
helpful, kind, patient and a real pro, Mr. Goldenears." -
George Sanford Jackson -Vienna, Austria
What about really slamming
at the mix stage can give you a
closer idea of
how the instruments and vocals interact - but it can be an area where
distortion can show up. Be careful how much slamming you do at the
mixing stage - a Waves L2 limiter plug-in over the stereo buss is a
useful tool - or limiting/gain increase using a Masterlink's DSP.
Observe how the mix changes with more limiting/more level.
always known: Hot levels
tend to flatten out the peaks, thereby
adding some sustainto
things like kic drum and bass, so be sure you account
for added sustain when you pick your sounds. You also may want to do a
slammin mix, and then back down the stereo output for an alternate mix,
because you may find that this opens up the sound. Less slamming opens
up more options at the mastering stage too. High-end mastering can
definitely raise the volume level as much or more as you can, and
retain a more dynamic sound.
Step 1 - make a normal mix: Get it to
without compressing the stereo buss (and don't allow any digital overs
- headroom is better). Make a CDR reference copy - it should sound
right musically - you should like this mix. Do not worry if the volume
isn't as loud as a commercial CD right now. Just turn up the volume of
the consumer system you're playing it on! Keep this version
(the 24 bit file) as your uncompressed master mix.
Step 2 - make a slammin' mix: Go at your
but insert a limiter (not a compressor) over the stereo buss (limiters
are fast, compressors are slow). Increase the input signal going into
the limiter (set the output about .5dB below 0dBFS) so you can now make
this hot CDR version, getting closer to the level of newer CDs.
Listen to the way the kic, snare, vocals and instruments start to blend
when the tops of the peaks are cut off, which is required to make the
overall output louder. Listen to the hotter CDs again to see if there's
enough kic punching through the mix. You may have to bring up certain
things (like the kic) more than you expect in order to bring back the
punch in your mix.... Get this version to where you like it, and keep
it as another master mix - labeled as "SlamMix2" or something else
to make it easy to keep track of.
Step 3 - remove the stereo slammin
once you are hearing the kic more like you did on the original
non-limited masters, go back and remove the limiter (adjust the level
for no overs if necessary) and keep this as a third master. Keep the
overload lights OFF. Digital clipping (on any system) is not
your friend. Keep this mix, uniquely named or labeled. Now
when you submit your mixes for mastering, include all the mixes: Normal
dynamics, SlamMix2, and Non SlamMix3 mix (exaggerated kic, trimmed bass
and whatever other changes).
This gives you more options at mastering time. This whole technique
really wasn't needed back in the mid-'90's because the labels and major
artists weren't pressing the volume so far beyond normal... as they are
If this all seems complicated.... it is.
Making Separations is way easier than this, and way more
effective. We've just gotta put this stuff out there so folks
can check out all the options and choose what they prefer. Note: If you are
making a loud rock project using Separations, we HIGHLY
recommend that you make two sets for your drums: [Your Song] Drums.aif
and [Your Song] OHs.aif (overheads). This makes a big difference
and can save mastering time.
Make sure your equipment
hums or buzzes) and you are using
everywhere possible and to the greatest
degree that is appropriate for your budget - digital cables - musical
instrument cables - mic cables - even power cables. Buy the best
monitors and power amps you can responsibly afford - the resolution of
your monitoring system is the "lens" you are looking through.
Know your market. What radio
station would play your music? What are the CDs they play often? Which
music sounds good over the air? Who's drum sound do you like? Who's
vocal, guitar, string, piano sound do you like? Your idea of a big
sound may be different from your engineer's, so if you bring in a CD,
hand it to him/her, and say, "Check out cut 5 for the vocal sound."
he/she knows exactly what you like. "Put in this other CD and listen to
the guitars." You get the idea.
There are only so many one's and zeroes
on a CD.There are no
+2dB or +3dBs
on analog. So when the peaks (like kick drums, snare drums, etc.) hit
the top of that digital ceiling, that's IT. There are no more numbers.
In order to make the CD appear louder, the only thing left to bring up
is the quieter non-peaky stuff.
perfectly happy cutting a loud CD for you. Just know
that the problem is that
all the transients take on a different shape and sound when we do this.
For instance, many musicians like punch. Well, think about it. The
punch you feel from the bottom or mid-bottom comes from the speaker
excursion. The cone moves forward a certain amount and then moves back,
and so forth. When we limit/compress the peaks, we are able to bring up
the body of the music (the non-peak stuff) higher. That's what gives
you that louder, RMS level on a cd. BUT THE RELATIVE DISTANCE THAT THE
SPEAKER MOVES IS LESS. That means that the over-all sound is louder,
but since the speaker doesn't push the sound wave forward as far, there
is less impact from the movement of the air. (Unless you turn it up to
glass-shattering levels, in which case the sheer intensity creates the
Ah, the old school... Competing for
level is an old trick that dates back to vinyl, but with vinyl, there
was a different reason for cutting a hotter lacquer. Since vinyl
inherently had surface noise to it, the hotter the sound (and therefore
the wider and deeper the grooves), the less you'd hear the surface
noise. Also, if the song come on strong, level-wise, it seems more
exciting right out of the gate. (You never get a second chance to make
a first impression, right?) Vinyl is an analog medium, and it is a
flexible medium, in that there is an acceptable range where the signal
can be increased depending on the dynamics of the music.
In the analog world, we
watched levels to reduce or eliminate tape
hiss, keeping our eyes on how much headroom we had above zero VU to
avoid distortion. With CDs, it's different. We set the high peaks right
at "0" and bring up the rest of the program material (as desired by the
client) to make the product hot, but still maintain some degree of
Quick tip: Never put paper
labels on your CDRs - they inhibit the rotational balance and
can cause the player's error correction to work harder. Only write on
the top of CDRs with a soft felt-tip pen (preferably alcohol free) prior
to burning the CDR, not after. The top is more fragile than the
bottom! I also love this little gadget: the Ionoclast!
"teeter-totter principle" -- when you bring somethtng down (frequency,
instrument, vocal), something else appears to go up. Example: bring
down the cymbal crashes (and/or hi hat), the toms and snare appear
you for visiting. Click here to
book a session with us!
Erik Zobler, mix engineer for
Dianne Reeves, George Duke, Natalie Cole,
Anita Baker, Teena Marie, etc.