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Some of the easiest ways to improve your recordings are also the cheapest. In fact, the most effective techniques require no money at all. Here’s a collection of tips you might find helpful the next time a pricey piece of gear stands between you and great recordings. Help from others Have a friend perform: Home […]

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The process of normalization often confuses newcomers to digital audio production. The word itself, “normalize,” has various meanings, and this certainly contributes to the confusion. However, beginners and experts alike are also tripped up by the myths and misinformation that abound on the topic. I address the 10 most common myths, and the truth behind […]

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Here are some tips and techniques for treating vocal tracks with EQ while mixing. Most importantly: Every voice is different, and every song is different. That advice bears remembering, even if you’ve heard it dozens of times. When you find yourself approaching a vocal mix on auto-pilot, applying effects “because they worked last time,” consider […]

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Pitch correction software has applications from restoration and mix-rescue to outright distortion of a voice or instrument. I’ll discuss some of the more tasteful uses of these auto-tune tools (whether the original from Antares, or a variant like the free GSnap) below. But first I thought I’d highlight their misuse to illustrate the effects we […]

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Over time, I’ve noted several questions that arise repeatedly on the web’s home recording forums. Each question reads as though it should have a simple answer, but none of them do. And indeed, the questions themselves betray their askers’ lack of experience with the subject. In effect, posing one of these questions tells the world […]

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As a songwriter I’m (far too) familiar with writer’s block, and when my creative energy wanes, I’m not above using outside help to keep fresh ideas flowing. In particular, I own and love Naomi Epel’s Observation Deck. If I sense a creative lull creeping on, I pull out a card and ponder its message (for […]

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I’m amazed when I compare Glyn Johns’s early mixes of Let It Be with Phil Spector’s final release. The music and performances are the same, but the mixes couldn’t sound more different. Shouldn’t these men, both professionals practicing a time-honoured craft, have created similar mixes with the same material? Of course, no two listeners hear […]

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To play sound our ears and brain understand, a digital audio system must emit an analog signal. The switch from digital to analog is handled by the digital-to-analog converter, usually just called a DAC. Under specific conditions, which I describe below, the DAC can produce an analog signal that momentarily exceeds the level of the […]

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Inspired by “engineering screw-ups” on Gearslutz, here’s a list of recording and mixing bloopers that made it past the mixing room onto the final release. These aren’t performance missteps, where the band missed a cue, or the singer came in too soon. There are certainly countless examples of those but most were included intentionally, to […]

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Watch for “the wall”: Marathon runners hit a wall somewhere around the 20-mile mark. Mixing engineers experience something similar: After a point, mixes don’t get better, they just get different. Learning to recognize when you’ve reached this point is crucial to improving as a mix engineer. Unlike runners, however, engineers who hit the mixing wall […]

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From homerecording.com, a collection of approaches to mixing: First thing is to do the faders up listening. If you’re a member of the band, or the engineer, or even worse both (as well as the song writer and the overall aranger of the songs….like I am), then TRY REALLY HARD to forget that. You have […]

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I ask most people I talk to where they listen to music: On a home stereo system? Through headphones? In the car? While I haven’t tracked the answers scientifically, I’d say the breakdown looks roughly like: Headphones or earphones: 60% PC speakers: 20% Car speakers: 10% HiFi speakers: 10% A recent CEA study adds that […]

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Some instruments, guitars especially, sound great when double-tracked and separated in the stereo image. Hard-panned electric guitars are a standard in modern rock mixes, and engineers have used the technique on acoustic guitars too for decades. Double-tracking is straightforward: Record a part twice, both takes as similar as possible, and pan one take hard left […]

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In Mix It Like A Record, Charles Dye recommends several methods of checking a mix for mono compatibility. The simplest: Put a finger in one of your ears! There may be slightly more to it, however. Lifehacker recently featured a list of body hacks, and it included this great tip about using our ears: If […]

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Electronic Musician just added an old interview with Bob Clearmountain to their web site. Clearmountain is one of my idols (his work with Radiohead notwithstanding.) And while he’s arguably the most famous mixing engineer on the planet, he doesn’t mind sharing advice with us amateurs on how to mix: I mix at various monitoring levels, […]

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What are some reasons that a mix collapses when summed to mono? It sounds like you are not switching back and forth often enough. Don’t wait until you are committed to a balance to check mono. Make it an every-five-minute-auto button-push thing. After a while, you will get the hang of it. Things to watch […]

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Mixing always takes longer than you expect: We lose track of time when we’re enjoying ourselves. So allow for this, and give yourself lots of time to record and mix. For example, don’t put aside a single day and plan on recording and mixing four or five songs. Instead, set more realistic goals, and you’ll […]

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I advocate checking a reference CD while you mix, to keep your ears honest. The concept works for more than just balancing your final mix, however. Along with my collection of reference CDs, I have a small collection of drum breaks and instrumental sections that I’ve lifted from songs with great drum tones. While I […]

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The Secrets of Mixing – from John Vestman. Vestman’s “Secrets of Mixing” page is more a collection of tips than a mixing tutorial. He starts with advice to get yourself properly set up for mixing (like “organize your files,” “allow extra time,” and the ever-important “check reference CDs while mixing,”) then moves onto compression and […]

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As amateurs, learning to use effects like reverb and compression, we’re often told “bring the effect up until it’s just noticeable in the mix.” Sometimes, this is easier said than done. We’re amateurs after all, and often we haven’t yet learned how an effect is supposed to sound in the mix. How can we judge […]

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Digital equipment simplifies most aspects of recording, yet high profile studios still work in analog, often recording to magnetic tape. Why stick with the older, more expensive technology (especially with the panic over Quantegy’s decision to stop making tape?) Ethan Winer offers some thoughts on the matter in his article Gaining an Edge with Subtle […]

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The optimal sample rate at which to record is a matter of considerable debate. Proponents of recording at sample rates above 44.1 KHz typically claim that the higher frequencies yield greater detail. And while there’s a tradeoff – tracks recorded at 96 KHz need more than twice the storage space of those captured at 44 […]

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Equalizers are mysterious beasts for beginners. And the advice most commonly offered, “try different things” and “use your ears,” is meaningless when you don’t know what you should be trying, and what your ears should be hearing. John Vestman’s EQ Settings That Will Make Your Mixes Come Alive has just those types of getting-started tips. […]

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From PCRecording.com (though the advice applies equally to recording on a Mac,) here are some basic things to consider when mixing: One major mistake many make is to mix by addition rather than subtraction. That is, if you cannot hear one track well enough you turn it up. In addition, the level changes are oftentimes […]

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We’ve all experienced it: 3 seconds into a track you’ve never heard, you know instinctively that it was recorded and mixed in someone’s bedroom. Amateur recordings often sound “amateur.” But what differentiates these hometracked opuses from professional recordings? It’s not just fidelity or sonic quality: Many competent engineers produce lo-fi or distorted mixes on purpose, […]

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What is parallel compression and when should I use it?: parralell[sic] compression is when you double a track and compress one copy very hard, and mix it under the original. It preserves the dynamics of the instrument but makes it sound more solid. Help me learn to properly mix tracks. The key lesson I learned […]

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Guitar players think of distortion as “that pedal I stomp on to add crunch!” But in signal processing, distortion has broader meanings and uses. Harmonic distortion, in particular, is of interest to recording engineers. Aural exciters, such as the industry-standard Aphex 204, use harmonic distortion to alter the sound of recorded tracks in (hopefully) pleasing […]

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This instrument/frequency chart from The Independent Recording Network (and Southside Productions) is the most detailed I’ve ever seen. It shows the fundamental and harmonic ranges for more than 25 instruments (including drums,) along with the perception each creates (“boom”, “warmth”, “crunch”, etc.) in various segments of the audio spectrum. Tufte would be proud. You can […]

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From the Muse’s Muse: “Singing and playing a great song is almost as good as getting a lesson from the person who wrote it.” With recording and mixing, lessons from experts come even easier when the engineers and producers volunteer to share their knowledge. Michael Tretow, the engineer for all of Abba’s studio albums, offers […]

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Practical Mixing – from sound On Sound magazine. This article focuses on tracking and mixing via console (with an aside to address the importance of checking a reference CD while mixing.) But Sound On Sound caters to the masses, so the information in this article is broad and still generally useful. It is important to […]

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Ryan Hewitt contributed to the tracking and mixing of the Red Hot Chili Peppers album Stadium Arcadium, and is happy to share his engineering experiences: In an interview with EQ Magazine: “What makes mixing this band so hard is that you have three musicians who are all laying down serious stuff, and the balance between […]

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In this clip from the Nevermind edition of the Classic Albums DVD series, Butch Vig discusses the track Drain You, which had more guitar overdubs than any other track on NeverMind: … a clean sound on the intro with Kurt’s vocal, as well as 1-2-3-4-5 guitars, 2 tracks of the Mesa Boogie, 2 tracks of […]

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Mixing, from a producer’s perspective – On the Humbucker Music web site. As the article states, many of the mixing tutorials on the web are engineer-centric, focused on tips an engineer can use to create the perfect mix. But more often than not, a great mix starts before the first track has been recorded. If […]

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After reading the importance of checking a reference while mixing, an obvious question is: “What are some decent reference mixes?” John Vestman answers the question with his list of commercial reference CDs. Bob Katz also provides a CD Honor Roll Previously: The importance of checking a reference while mixing

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On homerecording.com, some tips for getting the kick drum to stand out in a mix. Make sure your bass and kik drum center on two different notes on the bottom. Often I’ll like my kik to center at around 80Hz and the bass at either 60ish or 100-125ish. See also this related thread with some […]

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Basic Mixing Method – from the Department of Music at Columbia University. This page outlines a straightforward approach to mixing rock tracks: Start with the drums and bass as a foundation, and build on that. Once the fundamental groove is established the vocals or lead instrument should be added. We work with these two elements […]

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Habituation is the name for our tendency to respond less to something the more we’re exposed to it. While the concept is academically important to psychologists and biologists, it also has enormous significance for anyone serious about mixing or mastering music. We likely come by this tendency through evolution. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors relied on habituation […]

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Some details on the recording of Ryan Adams’ album Rock And Roll. Candiloro used Neumann U47s on all vocals … For guitars, Candiloro always settles on two Shure SM57s, positioned on the amp right where the cone and paper meet. For bass, the L.A.-based engineer miked an Ampeg B15 cabinet with a Sennheiser 421. Drums […]

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Terry Manning (yes, that Terry Manning,) posted a great breakdown of his vocal tracking and mixing technique on ProSoundWeb: I like to build a special area for the singer, moving tall baffles into a “squared-off U shape” behind and to the sides of the singing area, not only for the purpose of controlling unwanted reflections, […]

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An hr.com user gives a detailed description of his vocal “sweetening” technique, complete with examples: So, what is this “effect”? Simply, it is a stereo effect that pitch shifts one channel up 12 cents, and pitch shifts the other other channel down 12 cents, then uses a delay of about 25ms. The effect, again, is […]

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The Web contains dozens of pages written for amateurs learning to mix. Some pages are simple collections of tips, while others are in-depth walkthroughs, containing advice of benefit to even seasoned engineers. I collect the best pages here, updating as I find tutorials with something of value. If you’re new to the science (and art) […]

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