2015

What makes a great Mixing Engineer?

What makes a great Mixing Engineer?I get asked the question about what makes a great mixing engineer a lot. It seems most people think it’s some voodoo magic audio equipment that only the top mixing engineers can afford. Well, that’s not the case at all and I’m going to try and dispel that myth.

A lot of the top audio mixing guys now only mix “in the box” and are using the exact same plug-ins that you do. What I’ve noticed through my years of experience of being a mix engineer/studio rat, is that it boils down to 3 simple things……

 

  1. Practice
  2. Listening
  3. Communication skills

 

Practice – I’d have to say this is probably the most important part of what makes a great mixing engineer. Just like at anything, the more you practice mixing, the better you’ll get at it. It’s a craft. No one is born a natural mix engineer. The more mixes you do a week, the more experience you get. The better you become. It’s that simple. As a mixing engineer, you want to get to a point where you’re not having to think at all about the technical side of things. It’s getting to the point where you can flawlessly turn your technical knowledge into the creative vision you hear for the song. Constantly practicing will get you there.

My mixing has only gotten better with age and I think the main reason for that is that I’m constantly learning new mixing tips from people and mixing songs every day, working on my craft. Even now, as experienced as I am, you can always be learning new things every day and adapting to new technologies. Try taking 20 minutes out of your day and learn a new mix tip. Do that for 6 months and put them into practice and see how much better you become. There’s so much free information on youtube and a plethora of online music tutorials available at your fingertips that there’s no reason not too. Also, another great tip is to listen to mixes that inspire you and A/B them against your own mixes. This technique is great to see where you’re coming up short on your mix and to make the correction accordingly.

 

Listening – Listening and knowing what the song needs. This is another huge aspect of becoming a great mixing engineer. Every song is going to be different and present you with a different set of challenges, whether it be a lot of room noise in the vocal, or the guitar has crazy amounts of high end that’s taking up all the space in the mix, whatever it is, you as the mix engineer have to diagnosis the problem and be able to confidently make the right decision.

Plugin “presets” that sounded great before in earlier mixes aren’t always going to work on a different song that’s been recorded differently. This to me is what makes being a mix engineer so much fun. It’s always a different equation every time to solve a mix problem. If I used the same plug-in and gear the exact same way on every song, I would be bored to tears! There is really no right or wrong way to do something. It’s all about trusting your ears. I can be doing some crazy compression or EQ cuts that visually make no sense whatsoever, but if it sounds good within the mix, you bet I’m going to do it!

 

Communication Skills – Being able to effectively communicate with your mix clients is crucial and I feel like one of the most overlooked traits of great mixing engineers. Mixing music can be very subjective. What you think is a great mix, your client might think is overly compressed or has too much bass in it. Everyone has different tastes. What’s important for you as a mix engineer is to respect the creativity of your artist’s song and take into consideration their suggestions. Your job is to see their vision and take it to that next level they couldn’t. One great way to point your mixes in the right direction is to ask the artist for a couple reference mixes. No one is a mind reader. If they like tons of reverb on their vocals, this will tell you right away. I’m not saying not to make mixing suggestions if you completely disagree with them on a certain direction, because I promise you, you will. But always try their ideas out and maybe give them a different version of where you were hearing the song go.

What you have to remember as a mix engineer is at the end of the day, the client is paying you, and they’re the ones who have to live with the end result of the mix forever. So making them happy and being able to effectively communicate both their ideas and yours together is vital to becoming the great mix engineer you want to be.

 

 

Beat Camp NYC

Beat Camp NYC

My production partner and I will be speaking at SAE institute this weekend (Nov. 15th) for Beat Camp NYC run by the iStandard team. If you’re in the NYC area this weekend I highly recommend grabbing a weekend ticket. There’s going to be some great speakers doing classes and 1 on 1 sessions……Illmind, Just Blaze, Lee on the Beats to name a few. Tickets are running around $99 but definitely worth it for all the knowledge  and networking opportunities.  Here’s a link for more info.
l’ll be there on Sunday doing 1 on 1 critiques at 12:30 and having a master class at 1:00 for producers and mix engineers about what it takes to get seen and heard in today’s music industry.

Vocal Mixing Compression Tips

Vocal mixing compression tips

Vocal mixing compression tips

I’m going to start writing about mixing and production tips on this blog from time to time. There’s a lot of great information out there online and also a lot of completely wrong ways to do things. The best way I learned when I started out was from just being in the same room with mix engineers and watching them. Probably the most valuable part of me watching and studying mix engineers was  taking notes.  Because if you’re anything like me, I would usually forget whatever I had learned the next day unless I wrote it down. I ended up always carrying around with me this giant notepad full of tips at all times.  It pretty much became my music reference bible. I recommend you doing the same. Try keeping some form of notation of all the music tips you get from people that you think are worth trying. It’s easy to forget things with so much information being thrown at us everyday.

Below are just some general rules I go by when compressing vocals in a mix. Hope you get something out of these.

1. When compressing vocals, I usually hit them relatively hard with the compressor. This is especially true for a big pop mix as the vocal is usually competing with a ton of tracks. My go to compressor when mixing vocals “in the box” is the MasseyL2007. If you can’t afford that plug-in, the wavs R-vox is always a solid choice.

Vocal mixing compression tips

2. Be careful using presets on compressor plugins as they can’t tell you how much gain reduction is going to work for your specific signal. This is where it’s best to just use your ears.
3. I usually use fast attack and release times for vocal compression. Generally though, it’s always good to set attack and release times by ear as well. Most compressors are very signal dependent.
4. When I record vocals with hardware compressors, it’s mainly to get the warmth, depth, and character of that particular compressor. My favorite hardware unit is the Thermionic Culture Phoenix-SB tube compressor. That thing is smooth as silk.
5. Whenever you use a compressor in conjunction with an EQ, play around with putting the compressor either before or after the EQ as both places might produce a different musical feel…. especially if it’s a full-band type compressor. For instance, let’s say you’re boosting low frequencies on your EQ, when you put a compressor after the EQ, the compressor will respond to the loudest signal peaks. In this case, it will most likely be the low frequencies that you just boosted. This might give you a completely different desired musical result then if you put the compressor before the EQ.
6. Good rule of thumb to go by when compressing vocals and in general is that over processing is almost always worse then under processing whatever audio file you’re working with.
7. Great way to learn about vocal compression is just listening to the radio. Pick out some of your favorite mixes, and A/B the mixes with yours.
8. Pay attention to breaths coming from the vocal after you compress. They will be brought out a lot more. Make sure you gain stage these down as they can become distracting from the vocal. Some people like to get rid of the breaths completely. I don’t recommend that as it doesn’t sound natural to my ears.

Jamie Foxx “On The Dot” Feat. Fabolous

Jamie Foxx "On The Dot" Feat. Fabolous

I did additional production for the song “On the Dot” on Jamie Foxx’s recently released album called Hollywood: A Story of A Dozen Roses. Mainly all the drums you hear Ken and I did. The song was produced by Vinylz and Boi-1da, both hugely talented in their own right and not to mention good guys of the music industry.

The song kind of has this old school swing to it that I love. Reminds me of a D’Angelo beat.