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Music Production and Mixing Tips & Tricks

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What makes a pro recording pro? What is the “sound” that the pros get and how can you make your recordings sound more professional? The simple answer is – there’s no simple answer. But with careful listening and a little experience you can create excellent results with modest equipment.

 

Good mixing starts ear

The first and most important item of equipment is – who knows? Anyone? It’s your ears! Sorry to tell you this, but listening to ten hours of Rave at 110dB will do nothing for them and you might as well give your mix to a turtle as try to mix with misused ears.

Listen to commercial recordings of mixes you like, analyse them, listen for the effects and get to know what constitutes the sort of sound you’re after.

Mixing secrets

There’s no hidden secret to getting a good sound, but if we had to sum up the secret of mixing in two words it would be this – EQ and compression. Okay that’s three words.

These are probably the two most important tools used by professional producers. However, like any tools, if you don’t know how to use them you’ll be carving Habitat tables instead of Chippendale chairs.

That’s where your ears and experience come in. Here we have assembled some production ideas, suggestions, tips and tricks but they can only be guidelines and need to be adapted to suit your material. There are no presets you can switch in to make a bad recording sound good. And if your original material has been poorly recorded not even Abbey Road could salvage your mix. But follow these suggestions and see how much your mixes improve.

Tips for Becoming a Better Singer

Get the level right

You can’t push the levels when recording digitally as you can when recording to tape but you still want to get as much signal into the system as possible. This means watching the levels very carefully for clipping, and recording at an even and constant level.

Some recording software lets you monitor and set the input level from within. Some expect you to use the soundcard’s mixer while others have no facility for internally adjusting the input level and expect you to set this at source.
Monitors

Your ears are only as good as the monitors they listen to. DO NOT expect to produce a good, pro mix on tiny computer speakers. It may sound fine on a computer system, but try it on a hi fi, in a disco and through a car stereo.

Oddly enough, you don’t necessarily need the most expensive Mic. Many top artists use what some might call “average” Mics because they work well and get the job done. You can spend a wad on a large diaphragm capacitor Mic (yes, they’re good for vocals) if you have the lolly but check out dynamic Mics which are much more affordable and can be turned to several tasks.

 

Mixing MIDI and audio

One of the great things about computer-based recording is that the parts can so easily be changed, edited and processed. It’s also so easy to combine MIDI and audio tracks and many musicians use a combination of sample loops, MIDI parts and audio recording.

Audio recordings are generally guitar and acoustic instruments such as the sax and vocals. Incidentally, the best way to record guitars is by sticking a Mic in front of its speakers. You can DI them and process them later and this may be cleaner but for a natural guitar sound a Miced amp is hard to beat.

It’s not necessary to record drums live and, in fact, it’s difficult to do and retain a modern sound. You can buy off-the-shelf MIDI drum riffs and audio drum loops, or program your own. The quality of the gear which makes drum noises these days is such that anyone with a good riff can sound like a pro.
MIDI Mixing

As MIDI and audio parts appear on the same screen in modern sequencers, it’s very easy to arrange them into a song. However, when you come to mix everything down there’s another consideration. If you are recording to DAT you can simply route the audio and MIDI outputs through a mixer and into the DAT machine.

However, if you want to create a CD you must first convert the MIDI parts to audio data. The entire song can then be mixed to hard disk and burned to CD. Converting MIDI to audio can have another benefit and that’s the ability to process the MIDI tracks using digital effects.
Effects

There are three positions for effects known as Master, Send and Insert. Use the Master for effects you want to apply to the entire mix. These will often be EQ, compression and reverb.

Although giving each channel its own Insert effects is kinda neat, each one uses a corresponding amount of CPU power. So if your computer is struggling and if you’re using the same effect on more than one channel, make the effect a Send effect and route those channels to it.

Many pieces of software let you apply an effect Pre or Post fader. With Post fader, the amount of sound sent to the effect is controlled by the fader. With Pre fader, the total volume level of the signal is sent. Post fader is the usual default and the one you’ll use the most.
EQ

EQ is the most popular and the most over-used effect. Yes, it can be used to try to “fix a mix” but you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear as me Gran used to say and what she didn’t know about mixing could be written in the margin of the book of honest politicians.

But before you start messing with EQ – or any other effect for that matter – make sure you have a decent set of speakers. Have we said that already? Oh, must be important, then.

There are plug-in effects such as MaxxBass which can psychoacoustically enhance the bass frequencies to make it sound better on smaller speakers. However, this is by no means the same as getting a good bass sound in the first place by observing good recording principles.

Gloss and sheen

EQ can enhance a mix to add gloss, fairy dust, shimmer, sheen, a sweetener or whatever you want to call it to the final production. It can be done with enhancers and spectralisers, too, although these tend to mess with the harmonics which some producers don’t like. However, don’t dismiss them out of hand.

General EQ lore says that you should cut rather than boost. If a sound is top-heavy, the temptation is to boost the mid and bass ranges. But then what usually happens is you start boosting the upper range to compensate and you simply end up boosting everything and you’re back where you started – only louder!

The reason why cutting is preferred is that boosting also boosts the noise in the signal which is not what you want. Try it. Boost every frequency and listen to the result. If you think it sounds okay, fine. What do we know?

But when you’re fiddling, do keep an eye on the output meter. Boosting EQ inevitably means increasing the gain and it’s so-o-o-o easy to clip the output causing distortion which does not sound good.

Finally, check EQ changes to single tracks while playing back the entire piece. In other words, listen to the tracks in context with all the other tracks. It may sound fine in isolation but some frequencies may overlap onto other tracks making the piece frequency rich in some places and frequency poor in others.
Reverb

Reverb creates space. It gives the impression that a sound was recorded in a hall or canyon instead of the broom cupboard. Recording lore suggests that you record everything dry, with no reverb, so you can experiment with a choice later on. You can’t un-reverb a track once it’s been recorded.

The more reverb you apply, the further away sound will seem. To make a vocal up-front, use only enough reverb to take away the dryness. Vocals don’t want to be mushy (lyrics can be mushy) so use a bright reverb.

A common novice error is to swamp everything with different types of reverb. Don’t – it sounds horrible!
Mixing down

You’ve done all the recordings, done the edits, applied the effects and now it’s time to mix everything into a Big Number One Hit! Before you do, go home and have a good night’s sleep. Have two. In fact, sleep for a week.

Yes, we know you’re hot and raring to go but your ears are tired. They’re falling asleep. Listen carefully and you might hear then snore!

There is a phenomenon known as ear fatigue and consistent exposure to sound, especially the same frequencies, makes our ears less responsive to them. Goes back to the bit about spending your life in a Rave club – you’ll never be a master producer. If you try to mix after spending a day arranging, your ears will not be as responsive, so do them and your mix a favour by waiting at least a day.

Now, go forth and mix! And don’t forget – you get better with practice.

(via making-music.com)

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Tips for Music Production

The music production tips you’ll discover below contain a mix of practical and psychological suggestions to help you advance your music production.

1. The Producer, Not The Gear, Makes The Music

A producer who doesn’t know what he’s doing cannot produce golden sound, even with the best gear on the planet. Give a great producer even just decent gear and he’ll still manage to produce quality results.

The point? New gear won’t make you better. Work on your super-ninja production skillz first! Learn how to use the gear you have, learn and use different mic techniques, study the basics of acoustics, computer recording and mixing. Apply this knowledge and refine it as you go along.

2. Crapola In, Crapola Out

You’ve probably heard of the fix-it-in-the-mix mentality by now and you also know you should avoid that line from ever entering your mind. Heaping on the effects or compressing the living life out of a track during the mixing stage won’t give you the fat sound you lust after.

A low-level recorded or weak signal will be much closer to your noise-floor. Adding compression to this weak signal during mixing will pull up the noise along with the signal.

The same goes for out-of-time-or-out-of-rhythm instrumentalists. Headache to fix in the mix.

The point? Always aim to get the best possible signal down while recording. Don’t settle for less-than-great takes unless you’re absolutely pressured to do so.

3. Monkey See, Monkey Do

You learn the most valuable things by watching and talking to other producers. Advancement by osmosis!

Manuals and text-books are good maps, though they don’t always show you the actual territory. This is where seeing producers at work can pay huge dividends for your own music production progress.

Luckily, you can now also watch producers, even some of the pros, on YouTube and other video sites. Music production forums also give you the opportunity to connect with other producers.

The point? Connect with other producers and talk craft. This is always where you’ll get the best music production tips. Watch how others do it and learn faster. Easy.

4. S.O.S (Save Obsessively Silly!)

Computer music production is great, no doubt. Computers and software however like to sometimes crash.

It sucks to get a mix just right, crash and then realize the last half-hour of your work has vanished into the abyss where all non-saved work dwells.

The point? Develop the save often habit into a compulsion. You may find yourself hitting the save shortcut (Ctrl+S) even while browsing the web! That’s fine. At least your work will be captured.

5. Close Your Eyes To Open Your Ears

The visual sense takes priority with most of us which means that while your eyes are open the ears are pushed to second place.

The visual aspect of computer-based DAWs makes music production much more of a visual activity, often at the expense of good sound.

The point? Close your eyes to make your ears into the top priority sense. Trust your ears when hunting for a good sound. If it sounds good to you, it probably is good.

6. Record Dry, Add Effects Later

This one’s simple: You can add all the effects you want in post-production. Removing effects is much harder.

The point? Keep your recordings clean on the way in and the mixing stage will offer many more possibilities for creative work.

7. Order Is Freedom

As an artist you may draw inspiration from chaotic environments. This changes the moment you put on your producer cap.

Tidiness, whether it be in your studio, your computer file-system or your DAW session, will allow you to be creative.

The point? Keep things tidy so you won’t get overwhelmed or bogged-down with technical issues or searching for files when you want to be creative or productive.

8. Inspiration Comes While You Work

Pros sit their behinds down every day and work. This is what makes them pro. They don’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike.

What you focus on grows. So, when you focus on music production the inspiration will arise in that area. Ideas will flow and things will happen.

The point? Work your craft daily and the Muse will visit you often. Waiting for inspiration is a fool’s game.

9. Give Me a Break!

Your ears and brain need a little R&R or they cross over a threshold where they start to shut out incoming signals. No, I’ve not scientifically verified this. I’m sure the papers must be out there in some academic journal. 😉

The point? Take regular breaks every 15 to 20 minutes to avoid brain-fry and cloth-ears, especially when mixing. This will save your ears, give you more perspective and boost your output. I swearz!

10. The Many Paths To The Grail

A great final mix is all that matters to a good music producer. It’s what you work towards at every step of the music production process. How you get to the holy grail is up to you.

The point? Rules are for robots. You’ll develop your own techniques and work-flow. Use what you have to produce an excellent track and it won’t matter how you did it. What matters is only what it sounds like when you press play.

11. The Hump Turns Into A Snowball

You’ll reach stages where you’ll feel stuck and like you’re making no progress. You’ll see other producers make it look easy and doubt your own ability to ever do it well.

This is natural. Most producers go through this process. The ones who make it are the ones who ignore their doubts and fears and push on.

The point? Persist. You will reach a point where you can produce like a pro. The hump you’re pushing up against will reach a peak and start to go down, causing a snowball of good results. Keep growing, pay your dues and soon you’ll be the one who makes it look easy.

(Credit: Renegade Producer)

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