Mixing Advice You Don’t Want to Hear

I’m you are probably similar to me in the fact that you are always on the hunt for new trick and techniques to help make your mixes sound better. You probably also want your recordings to sound as professional as possible, right?

The only thing is that we blindly listen to anyone and everyone who is willing to tell us what we are so desperately looking to hear. We aren’t looking for what we need to hear, but instead what we want to hear. I know because I am the same way.

What Did You Do To Get That Drum Sound?

Not too long ago I was talking to a friend of mine about a question I see asked a lot on the internet: “What did you do to get that sound?” I often tense up when I see that question because I know the answer they are goin go to get is not what they want to hear.

Basically, how I got that drum sound wasn’t through samples at all. I definitely didn’t use that new and exciting VST plugin. It also wasn’t from the use of some cool EQ techniques. The drum sound came by using a drum that sounded like that. Not every exciting, I know.

Often times, there are multiple snares present for a recording session. Some will sound just okay. You can move the mics around but it usually won’t help. It isn’t until you swap out for the right one that you will fall in love with the sound you really wanted.

Mixing Begins With The Source

For almost all of my reader, the reality is that are probably recording your own music or at the very least, music that you have recorded. If that’s true than that’s great because this advice is going to be right up your alley.

I think that out of all the advice I could give you on mixing, the best would be to record anything and anyone that just sounds plain good. Record good sounding drums, that are in tune and have brand new heads on them. If you record guitars amps, try and fine ones with new tubes and great tone.   Try to find acoustic guitars with tones that you already want. Also be sure they have new strings.

We Just Don’t Seem to Do This

Most people reading this probably aren’t doing this even though it sounds super obvious. I know because I never used to do this. I would throw up some mics, push the record button and think that I could make it sound better, later, when I got to mixing.

It must be a disease because I see how common it is when ever I go anywhere or I speak to anyone. We would all rather play with sounds for hours, once they are inside the computer, than take a couple of minutes to record better sounds.

It’s Okay, We’ll Just Photoshop It to Perfection

If you are in the photography world, then you probably see similar problems. A lot of would be photographers will take many pictures without even thinking about getting that perfect picture from the start.

They would rather shoot a bunch of shots and then take them back to the lab to open them up in photoshop? Why is that? Because they want to tweak them create that perfect image.

My fiancé is a pro photographer and she will be the first one to tell you, what separates her from her peers is that the perfect image comes from inside the camera. What happens is that you will get much better pictures in a lot less time.

So What Are You Going to do Now?

So will you believe everything that I just told you? Will you take the advice I am giving you and make better recordings instead of looking for the best mixing tricks?

studio vocal microphone

Vocal Mixing Tips From a Pro

To say that a mix is great if it doesn’t have a great vocal sound, is not true at all. You might think that you need a fancy channel strip or compressor to get a great vocal sound but it’s just not true. The truth is that gear isn’t the most important thing, it’s actually just a simple thought process.

Nobody Listens to Music in Solo

If you’ve been listening to rock music at all in the last 20 years or so, than you’ve probably come across a Chris Lorde Alge mix at some point. In fact, probably multiple times as he is one of the most sought after engineers. He always seems to know how to get big drum sounds and in-your-face vocals. Recently Chris mentioned on Pensado’s Place something that we all need to listen to.

No [listener] ever hears anything in solo. Period. So the only way to get a great vocal sound is when it’s competing with everything else in the mix.” – Chris Lord-Alge, Mixer (Foo Fighters, Green Day, Dave Matthews Band, Switchfoot)

It’s actually quite basic and maybe it’s not super obvious at first glance. What is Chris is trying to get across is that your audience isn’t going to here your vocals solo’d EVER. They are going to hear it sandwiched in with the rest of the sounds. So what’s the point in spending so much time mixing audio in solo? There isn’t.

Try Starting With Something Other than Your Vocal

To start it off, there is no real rule that says you should start with this or that. With that said, one thing you might try to improve your vocal sound, is to stop mixing it first. If you pull up your mixer and start tweaking in solo then when you start bringing everything in your EQ and compression will just start to fall apart.

Mixing alone is hard enough so why waste time working on something that “might” work?   This is one of the reasons why I prefer to mix my vocals last. It truly is the best way that I have found to try to get them to sit on top of the mix in a good position.   If you have most of the other sounds mixed then when you bring in the vocals you should get a good understanding of whether or not it’s going to work or not.

Keep The Bigger Picture In Mind

Finally, my thoughts on Chris’s point about nobody hearing the vocals in solo is that it could be useful if we applied it not only to vocals, but everything else in the mix as well. In essence CLA is saying something along the lines of “Think of a listener and how they hear music – as a whole”. Us mixers, spend so much time focusing in the smallest details that we miss the forest in the trees.

So next time you sit down to mix, concentrate on the whole mix and not the individual parts. You will get to where you want to go a lot faster.

For more info on how to mix vocals check out modernmixing.com.  They have a ton of great tutorials on mixing and mastering and all things audio – so check it out.