Mixing Desk

The tracking and Mixing process for the CD I’m working on, basically all the creation and manipulation of audio before the master is made, was started on 19th August 2012 and is still in progress as of October 4th 2013. I haven’t engineered and produced before so it’s taking a long time. However, having a 6-week break was good for my enthusiasm and my ears. Since then I’ve become enmeshed in an endless round of tweaking. A tweak a day keeps lack of progress at bay.

I don’t have a Mixing mentor but I’ve followed the example of singer-songwriters I know like Happy Joe down in New Jersey and Seb Agnello here in Toronto. These guys, like me, are independent artists with a strong inclination to write songs and make records, no matter what the world thinks, and have learned how to produce, which is what I’m seeking to do at this point in my recording journey.

Like many others before me, I was excited when I had some rough mixes and played them to a few people. This was either a show of immaturity on my part or a significant step in the process. When these were done I realized, having read Bobby Owsinski’s The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook (Artistpro, 2006) that I had failed to follow 2 main guidelines:

1) Always position the master fader at 0 db (decibels) and the individual channel faders below that, leaving headroom so that most of the track is comfortably below 0 db and nothing exceeds it, thus enabling the mastering engineer to equalize, compress and turn up as he/she sees fit.

2) Use panning to place every instrument at a unique point in the stereo spectrum and use differing levels of reverb, including zero, so that some things sound close to the listener, others further back. This gives the mix a 3-dimensional quality.

I got the drums sounding as good as they could, with a few helpful comments from Rosie, who played them. After the bass was slotted in I turned up the vocal, taking care not to use the autotune (referred to as ‘pitch correct’ in my software) facility. I’m hearing that on so many recordings and I find it particularly inappropriate in a folk style, where the voice should sound a bit rough, or jazz, where perfect intonation can also sterilize the music. Maybe in current pop music people are used to hearing a voice that sounds like a machine but not in the kind of music I want to make.

The guitars and keyboards were not particularly hard to mix in. After a few adjustments of individual levels and the minimizing of certain digital effects I listened to the mixes on a few systems, confident that I could trust my speakers to reproduce all the relevant frequencies without the need for a subwoofer. The manual for my speakers is also the manual for their companion, the subwoofer, but I didn’t think I needed one.

I breathed a sigh of relief and sent the mixes to Jeff, who is going to be mastering the album. The day after this I went to a family do at my brother-in-law’s, who’s forever upgrading his rig and he kindly gave me his old hi-fi system, which came with 5 speakers equipped for surround sound and a subwoofer. As Jeff (the mastering engineer) had advised me that the mixes were too bass-dominated, I plugged the computer into the newly-donated hi-fi and reviewed the mixes.

The bass sounded absolutely MASSIVE. It was as if a giant was sitting in with a band of midgets and producing an earthquake every time he plucked a string. So I’ve spent the last 3 days turning down the bass on every song, sometimes as much as 4 dbs which, considering I thought the mixes were as good as possible, is a big decrease. Thankfully there are a few people out there advising me, otherwise something horrible might have happened. And thank you for that subwoofer, Steve.

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