#0 Monitor Placement and Room (click for: Set-Up Ideas)
This is huge. Monitoring/room is more imporant than conversion or mic pres. It's right up there with mics and musicians. You can only mix what you can hear ... and understand. Setting up a monitor is important, as you'll learn it and learn your room through the critical listening process. Engineering is about critical listening, artistic vision and physics. A nice room, or at least a well bass-trapped room is needed. After that, the better the monitor the less mental interpolation you'll need to do for the mixes to translate the world over. And as you may know, I sell a great mixing monitor, the Spiral Groove Studio One. These set up guidelines are from Spiral Groove ... but they apply to all moniors. With any monitor the set up matters, and small moves can mean a lot.
#1 Mix a Mix. (do not master a mix)
Tracking, Mixing and Mastering are three distinct steps in music
production, best done by three unique engineers. You want to mix the best sounding tracks that you
can, without trying to match the levels of a mastered release. Mixing should focus on musicality,
dynamic-to-transient balances and eq relationships, everything EXCEPT the overall volume.
There should be distinct high, mid and low frequency material
to suit the style ... dynamics to make the music move ... left,
center, right, front, middle and rear placements, etc. Experiement with LCR (Cardinal Points Panning), and experiment with stereo files using one track ( mono). Three mono tracks, panned LCR is the biggest possible mix. It's physics. To make your mix
sound great with no concern for the volume is the right idea. When comparing
your mix to mastered CDs, ignore the overall level as mastered
CDs will almost always be much, much louder. Crank up the mix and enjoy the musicality of the mixing process, leave volume concerns for mastering. And please, no limiting
or normalization on the 2 buss.
#2 Compression (good for tone or glue, not a mix tool for making loud records)
Compression on the 2 mix for color and glue can be great, yet
never compress for level. The color and sound quality of mixing into
a compressor is unique, so strap it on the mix early, or skip it. Compression makes
distortion, and a mix can only take so much distortion before it sounds small, so be wise in your
choices. Always make what I call positive compromises. A really loud master is often the result of a dynamic
mix with great frequency balance. If you want high volume, mix for great balance. Don't Compensate the mix for your ME.
A great ME wants a great mix made with vision, not compromises. A bad ME wants you to work for him.
If your ME is bossing you around on things that don't make musical sense to you, look elsewhere.
For the newbie, please remember that even with a 2 mix compressor
you like the sound of, artifacts you can't hear in any one set
of monitors can be more invasive than you might guess. If you're
in doubt at all, please provide both a compressed and an uncompressed
version for my reference at mastering. If I end up choosing the
uncompressed version I can hear what you wanted from your compression
and make that happen better in the master.
#3 Peak levels for digital mixes (need not exceed -3 or -2dbfs)
Peak levels as low as -15dbfs all the way up to -1dbfs are fine. Peaks touching
0dbfs are also fine, yet an unnecessary risk. If you are reconverting
with a 'Soft Limit' Apogee A/D, a HEDD, or any limiter plug-ins,
please turn them off and simply lower the level 3db overall.
There is no quality loss with a lower level in a 24 bit world.
Mixing is one stage, mastering is another ... if you resist
the temptation to slam everything at mixing and let the music breathe, volume knob up, you'll have a fighting chance of getting
the levels you want at mastering, while sounding better on the radio and the web. Radio uses complex multi-band limiters,
read all about them from their designers here. Even MySpace uses a horrific limiting scheme.
You're a mixer ... mix! Enjoy it ... don't fear that your RMS level will be too low after mastering, fear that your mix sucks right now. A great mix is easy to get loud enough.
Loud records are here to stay and if you want level I'm happy to
go there. My default
mode is likely loud enough, and if you want dynamics intact I'm thrilled to help. So no matter your aim, feel free to enjoy mixing, and let me do the volume. If you want a timeless sounding record it can still be
loud, but it doesn't have to suck. Mixing for volume makes sucking much more likely. Mix for musicality and emotional power, not a hot level.
Mastering is ... Maximum Results.
Great mastering takes a record, and each of it's single tracks over the top. If the mixing is good it can become great. If the mixing is great, it can be top drawer.
Properly mastered records sound consistently strong on $50 to
$50,000 systems, car stereos, boom boxes, iPods and the radio.
An essential stage in the recording process that is easy to overlook when cash is tight and everyone is in a hurry to be finished, the actual value of
quality mastering is a relative bargain compared to
the myriad expenses involved with writing, performing and recording
that go into every record. I'm priced as low as I can get by, friendly pricing for high end work.You can pay a little less or a lot more,
but the best value is right here. Major label clients and first time mixers are equally served.