Every Step You Take

Let’s face it, I don’t have the most capable computer in the world and I don’t have the budget for heavy duty equipment. This forces me to concentrate on getting the most out of whatever I happen to have at hand. One of the difficulties of working with an old computer and a weak hard disc is facing the frequent crashes and latency issues. The computer itself hasn’t crashed per se but the programs I use, like additional plug ins and the DAW can’t seem to handle over certain number of tracks together. They either slow down and make it impossible for me to listen to the combination of my tracks or abruptly shut down, which incidentally only seems to happen at times when I have forgotten to save my current work, hurray!!!

There are ways to go around that.

For example, I record and prepare the parts of a given song separately in different DAW files and then I try combining, preferably, the wav audio tracks of those separate parts in a single DAW file. This is not a very smooth way and comes with a lot of complications in itself but it is, however, much less demanding on my computer.

Recently, I was working on a guitar solo and the backing of it for a song. As I mentioned above, I used a completely different DAW file for the whole solo section.

First, I had the whole thing planned on paper:
The rough solo idea, the counterpoint for it, the harmony and the distribution of it to several tracks, etc.

Then I performed all the parts and programmed the additional percussion and whatnot. The whole thing sounded quite good by itself.

But when I inserted them as individual tracks into the main DAW file, the solo part didn’t quite blend with the rest right away. I did some adjustments, like changing the drum patterns and easing down on the delays for the guitar, etc. and the result was pleasing enough. So, I moved on to the other parts.

After some time, as I was listening to many alternate takes of my song, I realized how much I like the sound and the feel of the original DAW track for the solo. Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to change it so much to make it sit well with the rest of the tracks such as the following chorus part that came right after the solo. Maybe I should have altered the other tracks a bit to fit the solo part and it should have been a two-way compromise.

But now, I had come such a long way and put down so many different changes and extra bits all over the place many of which worked perfectly. I didn’t want to mess them up trying to conjure the ancient soul of an old part. It was going to be a challenge to go back and figure out the way everything was, what was to be changed, replaced and what was to remain the same. In a scenario like this, the hardest part is to remember what you were doing back then. The thoughts are not fresh any more and if you’re like me, a musician who comes up with 100 ideas a second, goes through endless combinations of trials and errors, who ends up having to choose one out of several very interesting possibilities for every tiny part, extreme frustration or the total break down of your brain functions are not unlikely possibilities.

Luckily, not only do I use a duplicate of the main DAW file to work on each time I turn on my computer but I try to keep a log of what I’m doing at each step in a notebook or on a paper. I number all “the dailies”, meaning the mp3 or wav test files that I listen to in between, to check the results on different sound devices. So, when I’m stuck somewhere and I feel like the previous version of something was better, yet an undo button couldn’t take me back there, since it was 700 takes ago, not to mention in a completely different DAW file, I simply check out my notes or the number on the mp3 file, open the DAW file with that exact number, then either I transferee those track files (MIDI or AUDIO) into the recent DAW file; or if the issue is only about the track settings, the effects plug-ins, I just manually change the settings on the recent file by copying the previous ones.

So far, I talked about writing down what you have done at a session that you have finished to review it in the future. But that’s not all I would recommend you to write down. When you’re doing these make over works, it is also a good idea to write down what you’re GOING to do; I mean each step, however simple it may seem. Because it takes a load of your mind that frees it to do creative work, rather then leg work and unnecessarily get burdened by it.

Even though you may know all the steps of what you’re supposed to do next, the little surprises along the way during a simple process may make you go off the rails and lose your way or they may bring on the stress of having to constantly remember where you are at any given moment and where you have to get back to.

Anyone who has spent some time recording and mixing wouldn’t be a stranger to the “rabbit hole” phenomenon. For example, you sit down to fix some guitar track settings, then before you’re quite done with the guitars, you realize that the the bass is a bit off. You try to fix it but halfway, you mess up the drum part so you leave the bass tracks aside for a while and you start working on drums. While at it, you come up with good fill ideas, you leave your half finished drum patterns and you start adding fills to them; they’re good but the tone of the toms may require some EQing; you start working on those now, eventually, they end up sounding great but now the rest of the drum dynamics are weak compared to those with the tom fills. You decide to redo the whole drum track. As a result, the drum and the guitars are ok together but in addition to the earlier half-finished bass parts, the motif on the fill in bars need adjusting, etc.

Eventually, you get very tired and burnt out. Your mind freezes and it doesn’t let in any more information. It starts giving “System Overload!” warnings.

You ask yourself,
“Where am I? What the hell was I doing?”

Where as, in the beginning, all you had to do was shape the rough edges of your guitar track. Instead, now you have a complete mess in your hand and you’re way tired to even go on.

A simple list of steps on a piece of paper or on any device with a word editor can keep your feet firmly on the ground. Even if you get distracted with ideas that may give you fantastic results, you can always find your way back home. If you’re a young musician/mixer you may get away with more adventurous ways but after a certain age, it begins to become harder to focus on things and forcing your mind to constantly remember what was next seriously break your flow; it’s unfortunate but it’s a fact of life.

To cut this loooong story short, I would simply advice you write down your past and future steps and refer to them when needed. If you don’t happen to need them, that’s fine, but at least you will have the comfort of knowing that you have saved yourself from the possibility of a lot of headache.

Mix on, friends.

What’s the Tempo? 138.44 bpm or 140.02 bpm?

What is your tempo?
What is your PRECISE tempo for that particular song that you’re working on, right now?
Do you know? Do you really know?

When writing a song there is a comfortable speed for each individual musician. This is a generalization of course, but nevertheless, often times a musician tends to stick with similar tempos for certain types of songs. If he/she writes a rocking tune at, say, 140 bpm (beats per minute), the next similar song usually ends up in the same ball park.

When you’re talking about a song with vocal parts, even the slightest changes in tempo would affect the way the words are pronounced tremendously. A guitar player may survive the hardship with a bit of muscle support but a singer would not like to strain his/her voice unnecessarily, especially when he/she is the one who decides what words to use, how loud and how fast to get, etc. It would be a secondary aspect anyway, because a musician would be more likely to be paying attention to the feel of a particular song than anything else and would expect the right tempo to be one of the by products that come naturally.

Live performances would normally take care of the issue by themselves, especially if the band who is playing the tune is a tight one that has the right chemistry. Every musician in it would instinctively adjust his/her speed and phrasing according to the way the others jell into the groove.

Recording could be a whole other game, however. A metronome is a very useful tool when arranging and organizing a song, for adding and removing parts to it later on. But it also tends to bring in some stiffness. The song becomes too perfect, rhythm wise, unlike human beings trying their best to stay steady, a drum machine, or some sort of technological equivalent of it IS the "best" when it comes to steadiness. There are ways to get around that problem and it may take a lot of work but it’s definitely worth the effort in the end.

By the way, in my opinion nothing beats a tight band playing the core of a song from beginning till the end, but that's not my subject I want to talk about today.

So, what is it? The subject… the issue?

A recording enthusiast, like myself, tend to round the numbers up or down when it comes to tempo.
Say, the tempo that the band in the studio plays a particular song is 117 bpm. More often than not we tend to set our metronomes to 120 or 115 bpm; mostly for mathematical reasons by the way. Because it is easier to calculate delay times, attack times, reverb settings, etc.

It might not look like a big deal, and indeed, in many cases, musicians can handle these changes. But I feel like musicians shouldn't be “handling” challenges when recording, at least not the unnecessary ones. They should have all the comfort in the world, to flow easily and go for beyond what is expected; in other words, creating unpredictable magic. Especially when a band has been playing a tune for some time and their inner clock is already set, I don’t think it is a good idea to try fixing what’s not broken.

Having said that all, I am NOT saying that musicians shouldn't experiment with different tempos on a song, especially at the writing stage. Because, as a result, they might end up with a better, even more comfortable rhythm and groove feel, who knows.

One other issue is writing the parts of the song at different times; sometimes by different people with "different inner clocks", no less. This way, say, the verse and the chorus may sound perfect by themselves but when you combine them something would feel awkward.
This can be solved by:

- Finding a tempo in between

- Deciding which part is supposed to be superior to the other (usually that would be the chorus) and setting its tempo as the main tempo.

- Keeping the tempos of those parts different but adjusting it to the point that the awkwardness is gone.

- Last, and the least likely to happen, re-write it and replace the inferior part with a completely different one that flows with the tempo of the superior part.

At the end of the day, these are all nuances and they depend on the ears and individual taste of the music makers and recorders.

Mix on, friends.

Reverse Everything, Chisel Away at Your Rough Mix

Do I like detail? Do I like tailoring every tiny sound that I happen to have laid down deliberately or by shear accident?

Yes… oh yes!

Does it take forever to finish a mix? Does editing a track always lead to having to fix another? Does each track sound marvelous but making them make sense together is a pain in the ass?

Also… yes oh yes!

I usually start fixing bits and then get to the overall sound but recently I decided to give going the other way around a chance on a project and it seems to work quite well.

What I mean is, in the beginning, I don’t worry about the settings of a guitar track, drums or a bass sub or whatnot. I just play and pile everything together. I don’t touch the EQ or the compressors. I just adjust the gain controls of my recording and then mess with the track levels.

This way I seem to get a fuller richer sound right from the start with some flaws here and there, of course; there is no free lunch after all, right?

Next step is finding out what ARE those flaws. They are necessarily that obvious every time; you know, something isn’t happening at a certain part but you can’t just put your finger on it… yet. Then you decide whether or not you should re-record those parts or small touches of EQ, Compressor, De-Esser, etc. would easily solve your problems.

I think one can liken it to chiseling a clay or something. Pretend that you have a mass that you get to fine tune to create a desired shape, instead of combining little chunks of clay to create a whole big figure.

I' m not saying this is the best approach, per se. But it is AN option. I am very glad that I could put aside my perfectionist point of view and get some pretty good results this way because my last recording took forever and still sounded thinner than I was hoping for; I had to re-start the whole process again but that’s a whole other story that involves computer failures, etc.

Mix on, friends.


All is Fair While Recording

When you're watching a live music video of your favorite guitar player, have you ever noticed the that the way he/she plays, say, a particular solo is not quite the way you imagined it would go? Sometimes not even the tab books get it right, right?

Sure, the notes are the same but the positions, the string choices etc. make you go "huh"?

The reason for that difference is, 9 out of 10, is practicality. When you're playing live, you don't want to complicate things more than you should. Because there are already a million things that can go wrong which you may have to fix on the spot.

When you're recording, all is fair, because the way you put it down will be an entity of forever. That's when you want to put your best foot forward and use all the colors available to you to get the best result possible. As long as the flow and the groove are in tact, the listeners won't care whether or not you had used 10 guitar tracks, 20 different amps in 100 different takes. All is good when it sounds good.

I am definitely guilty of taking advantage of a studio situation anytime possible, especially when it comes to recording guitars. For example, when I play a part, I try to find the best strings and frets on my guitar that will make that particular melody ring better. This may mean starting with my left hand (fingering-hand) near the neck, playing Part A, but suddenly having to jump 5 - 10 steps towards the bridge to play the Part B on the same strings. The fact is, it IS indeed possible to play it that way; I mean technically it is doable. But this forced jump may break the continuity of my playing; depending on how demanding the notes of the melody at hand, of course. If I use the nearer frets and higher strings, now my flow will be unaffected but Part B will, very likely, sound too thin and it won’t be as pleasing to my ears as the earlier version was.

What to do?

This is when I choose punching in and recording Part A and Part B in different takes, on frets and strings that make them sound best and combining them later. It takes a lot of study and practice to play those parts in places on the guitar that I am not used to but once they are down, I have the freedom to forget about them as a momentarily memorized phone number. If I have to play the same part live someday, I would probably choose the earlier version whereby it is easier to play all the parts back to back although the sound may not be as impressive as the recorded one. Besides, during a gig, one can always use variety of pedals like gains, harmonizers, choruses etc. in creative ways to make up for whatever that is lacking.

At the end of the day, these are just my choices and suggestions. But even a lot of big names who could possibly afford to hire a few more musicians to play all those overdubbed parts on their albums, choose simpler approaches in live situations instead. Because the rhythm and the flow are more important than a few weak notes here and there.

To wrap it up,

Be it recording or be it live, don't limit yourself in either situation. Just go for what the moment calls for and make the best of it.

Mix on, friends.


Clutter Obstacle, the Thorn in Your Side

There has been too many times when I had a good idea but I was too lazy to go and turn on all the equipment, plug stuff, adjust the settings, place the microphone, etc.

So, what did I do instead? Nothing! I've ended up doing nothing at all. Add to that "pile of work" the untidiness of my room, my computer desk, in other words, my whole recording area.

Mess and clutter just casts a shadow over my creativity, I just wanna run away. Whereas when I know that my path is clean and all I have to do is get to the performance as soon as the inspiration strikes, I work fast and definitely get things done almost effortlessly, not to mention having a ball all the way and contaminating(!) the result with that joy.

I am not the only one who doesn't like to deal with the boring stuff while the fresh, exciting and rare moments are calling. Even if one doesn't mind all that, it is still safe to assume that they would come up with better recordings just as well as the rest of us, the crazy ones

My reccomendation would be,
Keep your recording area tidy.
Keep your recording equipment set and ready to go by just switching on a few buttons.
Keep the preparation process to a minimum.

Make your bed, so that you can lie when you feel like it.

To me it's all about capturing magic moments, especially with lead instruments and vocal performances. The details, side instruments, the icing on the cake, can be dealt with later, even when you are not that inspired, but your focal tracks must be treated like royalty. Because they are what your listener will pay attention to first and moved by, hopefully.

At the end of the day, a recording is not about perfection, it's about emotions, about what the song stirs up in the listener's heart. It is not an easy task to capture and hold a feeling long enough to connect the right cables, get the right compression and eq settings, find a chair that doesn't squeak, fix the mic-stand, place the pop-filter, dim the lights, light a candle, yell at your neighbor to shut that friggin' dog, so on...

Mix on, friends.

The Cable Guy, the Killer WAS the Butler After All!

Playing and recording electric guitars, especially distorted tones is nothing but a noise management; at least that’s how I can’t help but feel more often than I would like to. In the days of the past when I got to play live and I used my antique(!) fuzz pedal, I was completely care-free. Drums were loud, I was loud, everyone seemed to be having fun.

I remember the first time that I tried recording some metallic rhythms on my brand new Fostex 4-track, playing my guitar through BOSS Metalizer MZ-2 effect pedal. The result sounded nothing like what I had heard while I I was playing. I didn’t have a noise gate or anything like that; I didn’t even know it existed or what it was for. Then I found out about it but I just didn’t want to pay for one. Because with the same money, I could, and did, buy more exciting tools like a drum machine or a fancy delay/reverb unit that only danced around my sloppy noise pourage. Those toys were great but they couldn’t quite cover my noisy signals. I have to admit though, they made my demos sound somewhat sophisticated. Especially in early 90s, they gave me a grunge-like, contemporary tone. The only problem was that…uh… I wasn’t trying to play grunge or sound like I was from Seattle, regardless of my guitar tone.

Don’t get me wrong I loved Nirvana, Alice in Chains and whomever but what I wanted play was mainly plain rock music; lots of melodic lines and all that. I was into jazz, as well, but it was way out of my reach at the time.

My struggle with noise lasted for years. Even in the digital era. My guitar’s pick ups seemed to be picking up some kind of magnetic wave and sending it straight into my tracks. I managed it to a point by trying to stay as far away from my monitor and whatnot. It helped a bit, so, I thought that was the reason for all the problems, plus, I didn’t have the best quality when it came to gear and it is always a factor, unfortunately.

Then one day, out of the blue, I asked myself, “Wait a minute, wait a damn minute! What if… it was not the guitar, the raggedy switch, the PC monitor or the local FM radio? What if it was my damn cable?” I had a few cables lying around. But they were all the same brand, hence they all sounded the same. I went to a music store and asked for the least noisy cable. I got what I could afford from the bundle that they offered. After the replacement, my first reaction was “S***********ttt!!! Why didn’t I think of this before? Why didn’t anybody tell me?” Suddenly I had less, much less noise in my signal, with or without the computer monitor in front of me. Okay, the noise wasn’t completely gone but now it was in more digestible proportions.

Years went by and I took a long, long break from recording. I forgot about many details. When I made my “big comeback”, I was still using my, supposedly, noise-proof cables, but lo and behold, that old, annoying magnetic noise was determined to join me in my comeback plans.

It feels weird, even while I am writing these lines but for some reason, I had forgotten all about my earlier cable experiences. So, just like I had done years ago, I started looking for the problem elsewhere; besides, even if I COULD’VE remembered what had happened almost a decade ago, about the cables, these were my exact good old cables that I had used forever and had no trouble with. I’d still would’ve skipped the possibility. Look, I am no expert on the subject, but I think it is safe to assume that some deterioration had taken place and those cables weren’t any good anymore.

After a few more months of oblivion, misery and frustration, I suddenly figured what had been staring me in the eye:
The problem could be the cable… again! Yes, it was; the butler WAS the killer. I went through my boxes and found a spare cable that apparently, I hadn’t use before. Tested it and voila! Minimum noise. I didn’t even remember buying it or why I hadn’t used it before. It worked fine, I was happy.

Why do I have such a lousy memory? I don’t know.

What I do know, however, is that one should always check the gear, the strings, the cables, in other words, the usual suspects first. Better yet, just replace them periodically and lose no sleep. I know it is costly and I am one of the laziest people on Earth when it comes to do fixing stuff when it ain’t broke, but in the long run, it all seems to pay off.

Mix on, friends.


Dot Connecting Brain

Has the following ever happened to you?

You're outdoors somewhere. In the distance, you hear a vague melody. It's one of your favorite songs on the radio. You start humming or nodding your head and friends around you look at you like you’re crazy. They don't seem to have a clue about what's going on. As it turns out, you're the only one who can hear or recognize the song. When they concentrate, they can hear the sound alright but they can't quite make out what song it is.

What's happening there is that your ear manages to catch some clues, little nuances from the song. You may not actually be hearing the whole song properly, just like your friends can't, but for some reason, probably because you're more familiar with it than they are, your brain connects the dots and make you feel like you're hearing the whole thing.

Another example would be this,

When I’m listening to some tunes on my phone in my kitchen during breakfast, acoustics in the room are terrible, the phone is on the counter, the signal is mono and affected by every possible object around. Add to that, the noise that the gluten-free crackers I am eating make in my head... But none of those seems to matter, somehow. I’m just enjoying the song. Because what I THINK I am hearing and what my ears are actually receiving are not the same thing, not by a long shot, UNLESS… I force myself to get out of that box and concentrate, that is. It's like imagining what your language would sound like to foreigners.

In my humble opinion, this should be any home recorder's concern, especially if you're the musician/songwriter. Because in that case, it's very likely that you've practiced your tune a hundred billion times, not to mention listening to it during your takes and mixing process. The chances are that your fabulous, overzealous brain cannot wait to jump in and connect those merry dots for you.

So, what to do?

I’d say,

Take a lot of breaks during mixing. Don't wear your ears out and desensitize them to what's actually there.

Concentrate. Pretend that you're not "you" but a stranger who happens to be listening your song. Try hearing things like, "Is my guitar too loud or is the vocal too quiet?", "Is everything that should be in the focus at a given moment really clear enough?", "Is the reverb too heavy on that specific track, is it making everything sound way too mellow?", etc.

I know it is a bit hard to explain with just words and it is an issue that may differ depending on a person but it is something to consider nevertheless.

Mix on, friends


In the past, before the digital audio workstations existed, at least for me, I used to use a 4- track cassette recorder to create demos. It may not be a pleasant experience in today's standards but in those days, it was a "Thrill Ride". You had to be very creative to get the most out of those machines. Recording had to be correct, performance had to be correct, you couldn't fix much in the mix.

Let’s say, the act was captured well and the balance between your endless(!) choice of tracks could be perfect; that didn’t mean you weren't done yet. You had to do the final mix and give the master touch in other words transfer your song into an ordinary cassette, in actual time, moving the faders up and down. It was another performance all together and it didn't tolerate any lack of concentration. Well, in the end, you did what you could without ever getting quite what you had imagined when you started.


How would I describe automation?

Planning and programming when the faders will move and where in the song.

Working manually not only on master mix bus but on individual tracks, one by one beforehand.

Then in the end letting your DAW apply all your settings.

Something like that.


Why automation?

Because it is your personal touch where you can go into absolute details and accentuate the best parts of your performances. Sure, you could set the main faders in one stationary position, leaving the tracks as they are and you could trust your tools like EQ and Compressor to handle the rest, but unless you know a way to guide them throughout the song and tell them exactly what to do second by second, they will act in a standard way. They may give you a pleasant enough result but it's very likely that that wouldn't necessarily the one that you had in mind.


Well… if you mess with the original tracks more than you should, especially with the audio files, you might end up making the whole thing sound weird and artificial. So, one has to be subtle with the faders without jumping up and down too much and too fast, unless a particular part really, REALLY calls for it, of course.

At the end of the day, compared to the old ways that I mentioned above, automation is pretty easy to do these days. It just takes a bit of time, that's all. Give it to it, dammit!

Mix on, my friends.


Demoitis, There ain’t No Cure for Love!

When I write a song, I literally WRITE it, down on a staff paper. But it takes a bit of time; what ends up happening is half the flow and the ideas are gone by the time I have, FINALLY, managed to put down a few lines. So, as a solution to that, I turn on a voice or better yet my video recorder (thank you, my dear phone) and I capture the moment first. I let everything in, however silly it may be. Then I go through the file and write down what’s usable out of that chunk on a paper. I organize it roughly. I practice it to bring myself to a point where I can perform it just good enough so that I can record a combination of the selected parts. Then I start listening to it to memorize it. In the past, I used to go back to my sheet music to do the same, but what that meant was that I needed my instrument with me and I needed to be at home or at a location where it was possible for me to perform the new song over and over again without disturbing anyone; not a very easy thing to achieve. Whereas now, I just have the rough recording in my phone, that’s it. I can listen to it whenever, wherever, no limits.

Next step is writing down the basic backings like drum, bass, harmonies and create a rough demo out of them without worrying much about the sound quality, bumps and holes in various places, etc.

Once I have a good idea on what works and what doesn’t, I start the” real” recording process then move on to the mixing.

Sounds like the plan, right? Go step by step as mentioned above and nothing will be a problem.

Not quite.

When you’re as obsessed with details as I am, not everything moves that smoothly, not even when it actually does.

Let me explain,

When I record a rough demo, there is a looseness to it. There are nice mistakes that occur unexpectedly, like squeaking of a guitar string, cracking of your voice, a short breath before a phrase, etc. They are technically” mistakes and flaws” … yet, they create unique qualities which are quite nice, they add a lot to the music. You take your time getting to know your song, you get used to hearing those little things while you listen to your demo over and over again and you end up falling in love with them. You may say” So what? Do them again when you’re re-recording”, right? The problem with that is that all those small things are spontaneous little occurrences that are difficult to re-create. Even when you DO do a perfect job, they sound artificial. Because that moment when the original flaw had happened is history now. Something is not quite the same, whatever you do, at least to the ears of the creator. Someone else might find the second version even more appealing but you and your ears will always know better and disagree.

This is something called DEMOITIS and many songwriters or mixers suffer from it. Living in the shadow of an earlier version of your work and feeling like nothing ever will live up to it and be good enough. This can be even more problematic for those who only do the songwriting part and have to let his/her baby grow up in the hands of studio craftsmen who don’t necessarily see the exact the picture that’s bloomed in the songwriter’s mind or, simply put, they just don’t think, that’s the best idea for that particular song, period. Tricky business.

So, what to do?

There basically two things you CAN do.

Let it go. Let past be past and learn to live with what you’ve got now.

Or… never record a demo again. Instead, start your real recording as a demo and do many loose takes, keep what works with all the nice flaws and later delete what doesn’t work. With all the digital technology of today it shouldn’t be very difficult to do.

However… of course, that second option may bring in some issues like RAM and CPU failings. Because you will be piling up all that audio junk into your program and, especially at earlier stages, it will probably be very demanding for your computer unless you have a separate one that is capable enough and that you only use it for your music making projects.

It always seems to be win some lose some with these things, dammit!

Anyway, good luck with all that.

Mix on, my friends.


Backbone and a Star

For the sake of this particular subject, let’s assume that you’re a home recorder/mixer who usually produces his/her rock, pop songs at home. Although following rule can be applied to any genre, as far as I am concerned, pop/rock songs tend to have more of a solid frame, a box if you will, that we try not to get out of too much whereas a jazz recording might be more spontaneous and adventurous. A pop/rock song have the risk of being mundane and boring if not seasoned craftily. On the other hand, from a mixer’s stand point, it has the advantage of being safer and more predictable; once the basic factors are settled, that is.

What are those basic factors?

In most cases it’s the drum, bass and vocal tracks.

In the grand scheme of things, if you get the balance between those three, you don’t have to worry much about anything else.


Because drum and bass are the backbone of your mix. When they are solid, a listener would feel comfortable tapping his/her foot or headbanging to it, etc. Even if what you’ve put on top of them has some flaws, they’d be tolerable to a relatively higher extent.

Then we have the vocal. That’s what a listener pays attention to the most, and rightfully so, because vocal is the messenger, the communicator; it’s the main connection source to the heart of a listener.

I am not saying the that the rest of the instruments aren’t important but once you’ve got the drum, bass, vocal balance right and it’s got a groove, it will only leave room for the rest to settle in nicely. Now they won’t have to struggle and fight throughout the song. Their job is to be the color, the embellishment that will enhance the experience.

We assumed that the vocal track was the star here, however, it doesn’t have to be. Maybe you are a, say, saxophone player. Still the same rule applies. Get your drum and bass to sound solid, blend your sax track in, make them groove together smoothly then add your piano, guitar, etc.

Mix on, friends.


Mixing with Earbuds?

I know that it’s not such a healthy thing to do for my ears, but I happen to use earbuds a lot in my everyday life; when I’m listening to music or when I’m watching a program or a movie on my mobile phone, etc. I like the isolation aspect of it. A huge headphone set could provide a better result maybe but I don’t find it comfortable to walk around with a monstrosity on my head like an alien.

Needless to say, a headphone cannot provide what a quality speaker or a monitor may give you but more often than not, the convenience of it leads you in that direction. The same goes when you’re working on a mix. When you don’t have a professional studio and you are surrounded by neighbors who are ready to jump at your throat at the hint of a beat, regardless of its level. You don’t have any other choice but to use headphones. In all fairness, I understand your neighbors, too, because I AM one of them. I hate being forced to listen to someone else’s choice of noise, even when it is the breeziest, the nicest example of some classical music piece.

For years, I used regular headphones (Sennheiser, Sony, AKG) which were quite good for listening to anything as a LISTENER. But when I mixed my demos with them and then I tested them on different sound devices, the results were either terrible or not at all like what I had heard on MY recoding system. I had to go through waaay too many trials before I could get a tolerable final mix.

Not that all my problems are fixed now but what I’ve realized is that earbuds that go inside my ears are way more useful than usual headphones when it comes to monitoring my mainly rock/pop kind of mixes. I still have to do a lot of trial and error but the results are closer to what I hear at the source and more reliable than what I get from bigger headphones that leave some air between the signal and your ear that may be somewhat deceiving.

Of course, my ears get worn out way quicker and I’m sure, the high frequencies are doing no good for my hearing. But I think, when used carefully and without over-doing it, the earbuds are a good technical alternative for a home-recorder like me.


the qualities of earbuds and their frequency responses vary, they are limited in many cases. Not only that, they are designed to make anything sound nice and friendly; that’s not what we’re looking for when we’re mixing, we WANT to hear the ugly and the unpleasant so that we can fix it, right?

Disclaimer: I am not saying that one SHOULD use earbuds or headphones; on the contrary try NOT to use headphones when you’re mixing if possible. Nothing beats a good monitor in an appropriately arranged room. I just wanted mention what I happen to be doing with my tiny, tiny budget, that’s all.

Mix on, friends.


Brick by Brick, Step by Step

Although, I am a very organized person in general, especially when it comes to musical projects, a mistake that I still make is diving into too many ideas once in a while and trying to gather and combine them too quickly. Neither do I have the energy nor do I have the time to make them turn into the entity that I am imagining in my head. Of course, in the end, I get somewhere but it’s hell until that moment arrives. I get overwhelmed by the tons of half-finished bits and pieces that someone has to saw together now.

For example,

I’d start writing a bass pattern for the chorus, meanwhile I’d have an idea for the guitar solo. I’d start working on that which brings another drum idea to mind that would go well with certain parts of that particular melody. I’d make changes in vocal track that would mean that all the backing parts that had been recorded before the “star” arrived would have to be re-arranged and re-recorded. All this is before I even start recording or mixing, mind you.

Sometimes I try recording all the possible ideas that I can think of so that I can go back and choose whatever suits best to whatever part. It is not necessarily a wrong to do… for some maybe, especially if you have the time. But in my case the longer I dwell on a project the more frustrated I get. I like moving fast and finishing a project before I lose interest in it. Just like anyone, I enjoy working on fresh ideas that excite me and I am not short of them, either.

To cut the long story short, what I’ve happen to discover is, even though skipping a due planning and/or small boring details may seem like a short cut and a ticket to jump into more fun and creative steps, in the long run, and more often than not, it all blows up in your face and prolongs the process. Again, and again, you are forced to go back and do what you should’ve done in the beginning anyway.

Go step by step, brick by brick. Don’t jump into another part before the one you’re working on is ready. Some people like starting out with laying down the kick drum and bass, some people choose recording a guitar riff as a dynamics-guide track to drive the rest of the song. It all depends on your genre and your personal choices but I think it would be more productive if we decide what will happen in what order.

Mix on, friends.


Main Mix Bus, Effects On or Off

When you’re working on a project, once you get the initial balance right and you know that all your signals are clean, don’t exclude all the effects and wait till the end to bring them in, especially the ones on the Main Mix Bus. Because the effects, inevitably, will bring in new characteristics to the tracks. They will almost become new instruments that have their own unique timbres which means more harmonics and frequencies you have to consider, tame and balance.

For example, if you happen to add some sort of saturation plug in to the main bus track, or keep some overall mild compressor action going on, it will not affect all the tracks in the same way. Say, drums may end up being compressed more than the bass, or something like that, and this may mean that their relationship which was perfect when they were all dry has changed completely; a new ratio is required. You set them right, the bass and drums are perfect together, but now they over shadow the piano and so on…

That’s why, once I got the basics down, I keep the effects on at all times and try mixing that way. That’s my approach anyway. Because otherwise, after all the work has been done and I turn the effects on, I still have to go back and start all over. Maybe wiser ones know their way around it, but this is how I manage to roll.

Mix on, friends.


Copy the Hell Out of Everything!

Make it a habit to create a copy of the file that you’re working on, even if it’s just a small wave file you’re trimming; actually, especially then. Because it’s like going down a rabbit hole. You start by thinking “I’m just going to roll off the hiss in the beginning and chop off a tiny, tiny transient in the end, why bother with a copy now?” right?

Before you know it, you’ve changed the file completely. Your ears are tired and your mind has begun to wander off a lot after the concentration torture that you put it through for at least an hour. “An hour? Wait a minute!” You check the clock. Oh no! You’ve been working on that “tiny” file for 5 hours. You haven’t even noticed.

At least the result, it sounds okay, right? But is it really?  Because now you don’t exactly remember what it sounded like in the beginning.  You don’t have anything to compare it with anymore. Not only that, you slowly realize, you were over zealous and you’ve messed up all the dynamics of the track. This wasn’t even what you sat down in front of your computer for in the first place. You were going to record some bass parts that you were very excited about and the mood was just right. But now you can’t just leave this part half finished which was probably quite alright to begin with anyway.

You’re getting more and more frustrated because you’ve lost the momentum for a difficult and important performance over an unimportant detail.

All this could be avoided if you simply had duplicated the track that you were going to “quickly” fix before you started with your bass lines.

This may sound too obvious and like too simple of an issue to worry about, but ask anyone who’s done some recording and mixing and you can bet that they wouldn’t be short of some studio horror stories.

Mix safe, friends.


Noisy Vocal Tracks, Anyone?

Let’s say you were a bit stingy or you simply didn’t have the budget for that pop filter. You were too lazy to build one yourself out of a hanger wire and your girlfriend’s (or your mom’s) old tights. Not only that you couldn’t bother with the proper mic positioning, technique and proximity adjustments…orrr just like in my case, you were only recording a throw away guide vocal track without giving a crap but somehow you ended up capturing a good vibe and now you’re stuck with a track that has a great performance and all the pops, hiss, chair cracks, computer monitor humming and whatnot.

Before you dive into your go-to toolbox, meaning your “Plugins Folder”, and you pull out an amazing EQ or De-Esser that your brother landed you (come again?), hold on a second. Sure, all that may help you to a point but nothing beats an old-fashioned tailoring act on each one of those tracks. 

Only your mouse and your index finger are required. Yes, it is boring and may take forever but the results will be more natural, organic in a way, than any plugin may give you. Sure, you may not fix everything this way especially if your “t”s and “s”s are nothing more than a chunk of distortion that takes away the consonants all together when you crop it but that’s when you can either perform the bit all over again or use a magical plugin of your choice.

If you’re new to editing signals it may be a bit frustrating in the beginning when you can’t get the exact sounds you were hoping at every click but don’t quit because the more you keep at it the more familiar you will get with the signal waves, what they mean, where to chop, where to increase or decrease the volume and what shapes to use to be able to do that.

Here’s an example of how I fix the vocal track noises in my Digital Audio Work Station.

What was very surprising to me was realizing how easy it was to fix some hopeless sounding noises. I mean I was sure that I would have to go and sing all the parts again but with a few moves I ended up with tracks that were clean as a whistle.

One tip, try not to cut off any teeth and tongue noises, rather, spot them, mark them and reduce the volume drastically at first and increase it bit by bit and test it until you’re pleased with the overall sound. Test it at different volumes. When your monitors are quiet “s”s may seem under control but when you bring the level up, they may show up again. If there are several backing tracks using the same words, they all must be cleaned up and tested together.

A good idea would be choosing a track or two whereby it is okay for those trouble consonants to be present and then getting all the other backing tracks rid of those consonants or any consonant for that matter, if you’ve got the time and patience for it.

After all that bring in all the instrument tracks and see how the vocal tracks hold up against them. The chances are you’re going to have to do more adjustments to make them sit in well within the overall sound. But hey, that’s what mixing is all about, right? Constant trial and error.

Mix on, my friends.


My Home Recording Hell, Intro

Hi fellow musicians,

It had been a while since I did my last recording and mixing; years to be correct. One forgets a lot during that time, although some chops tend to show up when you least expect them, as well. I’ve never stayed away music completely while I was busy with other creative projects but I didn’t record anything except for short videos for Instagram and Facebook. The longer I took the scarier it got. In the beginning of 2018, finally, I decided to go for it again but sudden, unexpected and sad incidents that occurred set me back for a few months more.

After a bumpy start and some over due annoyances I’ve begun to re-discover my way around the knobs and faders. In fear of forgetting some info and having to re-invent the wheel in the near future I’ve started taking notes constantly. Then about a week ago I said to myself “hey this is simple but useful information, why not share it with others on a blog, vlog, etc.?” That’s exactly what I intend to do, share files from My Home Recording Hell.

If you already know this stuff, skip it, but if you happen to find an idea that you can benefit from, grab it.

Mix on, friends.