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10 Home Studio Production, Mixing & Mastering Tips

Transcript
Hello, everybody. Hope you’re doing marvelously well. In this episode, we’re going to do ten production, mixing, and mastering tips.

[music]

So, we’re back again. Please as ever, subscribe, hit the notifications bell, download the cheat sheet somewhere up here, and of course, down below there. It’s going to have all ten of these tips.

Now, as you know, these days, we are producing, engineering, mixing, and writing songs all at once, and to be honest, that might seem like a novel approach, you know, when you’ve got the laptop, and you’re building a track, and you’re writing it, and you have a singer with you, or another instrumentalist, that might seem something pretty novel, but frankly, some of the greatest albums ever made were done that way.

Whether it be The Beatles turning up to the studio with a few half written ideas, it doesn’t matter who it is. Some of the greatest albums of the time were actually written in the recording studio. So if anything, now we’re in this incredible place where it’s just a laptop, tower, or whatever you have, and just your little IO. Now we have all of these virtual instruments and all of these incredible ways of recording. We have creativity coming out of our ears.

So let’s get stuck into what I believe are ten incredibly valuable tips on producing, engineering, mixing, and mastering your music.

So number one, workflow. Now, this is quite a simple thing. Where I am, I’m blessed that I have tons of inputs. I have tons of mic pres, all kinds of fancy things, and loads of microphones.

So with 40 inputs that I have available, I can leave things permanently patched in, so whenever I get creative, I want to run in and play a drum part, within seconds, I’m playing a drum part, and I’m recording it. If I want to do that with a bass DI that’s split out to an amp, and it’s permanently plugged in and I’m just going to record, then off I go.

Now, for you, if you only have one, two, four, six, or eight inputs on your IO, that isn’t as easy. That’s where patchbays are worth their weight in gold. If you get a patchbay, I’d say maybe 24 ins and outs, you can have your eight mics on your drum kit always setup. You can have a DI for a guitar and/or bass. You’ve got analog keyboard inputs. You could have multiple different — a vocal coming in, and all you have to do is have a patch cable that comes out of that patch bay and plugs into the front and back of your IO. It’s just going to be patching things. So my drums are going to be one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight inputs, go in to record, go in and play.

Now, I want to bring the vocal into input one, I unplug the kick drum mic, plug in the vocal mic on my patch bay, and boom, ready to go. Anything that can increase the speed of your workflow is going to be a massive saving grace. When it comes to the analog world, having things come in a patch bay can really, really help you.

Not to mention of course, running external compressors, or EQs, or whatever else you have, but literally just for mics, it’ll save you hours of work and frustration when you have an idea and your drum mics aren’t setup.

Number two, organize your DAW. Create a template. Not only for mixing, but production as well. This session here, and this is an early session, so it’s not even finished, the vocals on it are a different lyric, but you can see, I basically have my drums setup here at the top, and then I have a bass line, which is actually a virtual instrument, this Vacuum.

[bass]

I have some guitars, I mean, this is a little scattered. I didn’t organize this before to show off to you, but you can see, it’s like drums, bass, guitar, there’s some swishes and some crashes there, followed by some synths and some other guitars, all the vocals are together here. There’s three tracks of lead vocals, because it’s overlapping. There’s the lead vocal effects that I printed, and all of the backgrounds are together. These are all backgrounds here, and then I’ve got some other swishes and bits and pieces and synths which I would’ve done at the end, and then of course, the mix down at the bottom.

Now, the reason why I’m showing you this is just to say, most of that is in my template. At least 60% of it. The drum mics come in, boom, kick, snare, hi hat, toms, overheads, all in one go.

The bass, which normally would be an electric bass, would have a DI and an amp input on my template. Just go in to record. But if you have Addictive Drums, Trigger, Superior Drummer, EZ Drummer, one of those, have it in your template ready to go.

If you have a favorite bass synth that you like, have that ready to go. If you have a virtual guitar amp that you really love, have that ready to go. Build your own template. Some of you might remember that when Logic first came out, there was amazing templates. There was a period of time where half the songs on the radio sounded like they were just using those templates.

So you can see, many people have thought this way, and in your DAW, you may have templates all ready to go, however, you’re going to want to always customize it for your particular workflow.

But templates aren’t always just about mixing, they’re also about recording.

Number three, don’t focus too early on sound design. If you go back to my session over here, there isn’t sound design stuff going on. These are the kind of things I’m sure you all do.

[swell]

There’s an actual explosion in there, there’s a reverse cymbal, all of this stuff, it’s great, but I added that later on in the day. You know, working on this song, I wanted to add these elements to give these choruses kind of impact, you know, that explosion on the down beat.

I did this riser here…

[riser]

Great things, but if I’m sitting there before I’ve figured out arranging my song properly, or most importantly, I haven’t even finished the melodies, or whatever it is, it’s too early for me to be thinking that way.

I’ve done it where I’ve sat there and built tracks and made big splashes and explosions, and sucked things down and spun them around, and all kinds of crazy things, unfortunately, the singer comes in and says, “I don’t like this melody, let’s re-write the chords, that doesn’t work, this doesn’t work,” and I’ve spent six hours doing cool things that ultimately get completely changed.

Now, occasionally you get lucky and they stay, but if you’re in a creative zone and you’re producing a song and you’re writing a song as so many of us are doing at the same time, producing and writing it at the same time, don’t worry about those though. Tips and tricks. The little tiny little fun stuff, leave it to the end, or leave it to a point where it becomes — demands that it has to be in there. Like, you really want that chorus to pop, so you bring in this riser.

[mix]

There you go, you put it in there for some impact. Maybe to inspire the singer, but basically, do not do it too early on. Concentrate on the bulk, the overview of the song itself.

Number four, too much time tweaking. Ah, we are all so guilty of, me in particular.

The thing I can think of, which is a great example, is not necessarily on compression, and EQ, and distortion, and reverb, and delay. I’ve spent hours tweaking something, only to find out it sounded like absolute dog poop. I mean, we’ve all done that. The thing that I want to illustrate is when you’re maybe building an electronic drum kit or something, and you want that snare, and you sit there, and you find this snare, and you’re like, “It’s not quite right,” so you start boosting some EQ, and compressing it, and then trying different sounds of compressors, then running a little delay on it, and saturating it a bit, and before you notice it, you’re an hour into one snare, one electronic snare, when really you could’ve spent three or four minutes and gone through other variations of that same snare, or different snares, and found the exact one you wanted.

We’ve all done it, we’ve all gone down that rabbit hole, we’ve all spent far too long tweaking things. So if you are fighting with the bass sound, the electronic bass sound, or the electronic drum kit, whatever it might be, take time away from it and work on something different. Or throw it out the window and try a completely different kick drum sound, bass guitar sound, bass synth sound, whatever it might be, try something different and just mute that. Try something different and then compare it.

I would say frequent breaks — you’re going to hear this come up a couple of times — are a good thing anyway, but when you find yourself obsessing about something for too long, it doesn’t usually end the right way. At least not for me. So avoid over tweaking.

Number five, monitor in more than one way. This is a huge thing, and there are a couple of reasons. One of them is predominately that not everybody is in a beautifully treated studio with incredible monitors that go down to 20Hz and up to 20kHz. Most of us, even these big Genelecs behind me don’t get the super, super lows, so a sub is handy, or at least an acquired knowledge to know how much low end different instruments have.

The reality is that no room is absolutely perfect, and even the perfect rooms have other issues, and you’ll still need to monitor and check your mixes in other environments.

You can have these little tiny baby speakers like this. That’s great. Ear buds are great. But a decent pair of headphones that you know really well is a godsend in an untreated room. You know, a room that’s got standing waves, or is really super boomy, just put on the headphones. It’s nice to take a break and maybe listen to your favorite song, something you love and know very well, listen to how the low end is on that for instance, then put your mix in, and you’ll be like, “Oh, goodness.”

It’ll give you a great point of reference. This is what I talk about all the time, reference tracks come in handy.

The reality is, if you’re just mixing, make sure you’re listening in lots of different environments. And I know this is contentious, and nobody is going to agree with this, because there’s a lot of talk about it, but some of the biggest mixers I know still go out to the car and listen to their music, because many of us are in the car for a couple of hours a day.

I’m blessed to work very, very close to my house, but a lot of people I know don’t, and they are driving to and from the studio, they are driving at other times in their life, and they’re listening to music all the time. Every A&R guy I know listens to music in the car. They listen during the day, and then they get in the car and listen to demos and stuff like that. So they know their environment.

So don’t be afraid to do a car test as well. It’s particularly good for low end. Cars tend to have a very enhanced, over the top low end, which is not a bad thing, because if you put your mix on in there and the kick drum is blowing out your car speakers, you know you’re in trouble.

So the ultimate moral of the story is listen in as many different ways. Listen to different speakers, ear buds, on headphones that you know, in the car, just monitoring different ways so you’re not just at the mercy of a room that’s maybe not treated very well, acoustically needs a bit of work, and speakers maybe that only have five, six, or even seven inch — you know, woofers that don’t go that way.

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So monitor in different situations.

Number six, use stereo enhancement plugins really sparingly. So we have one going on. Here it is. So it’s this synth.

[synth]

It’s a synth I sidechained to the kick drum. I’ve got a little R-Comp there. So you can hear what it’s doing. It’s being sidechained from the kick drum. It’s a free little divergence for you, but the kick drum is controlling the compression. You see that big flashing yellow light? Turn it off.

[synth]

It’s still doing it, but it’s more exaggerated with this. Okay, so we’ve got sidechain compressors in, then we’ve got stereo width here. It’s set really wide, but it’s set really wide to get out of the way of the kick and the snare, and it’s only in one element in the mix. Maybe on the final mix I used it twice, or on synth pads, or other kind of instruments that are sort of very, very fat, and take up a lot of energy, and are just huge, fat sounds like that, I will widen them, just solely them, so I can sit my kick and my snare and my vocal and my bass down the middle.

Otherwise, I do not put it on my stereo buss. I have known people who put it on the stereo buss that I respect, and they use it sparingly just to widen choruses ever so slightly. I think Mark Needham used a bit of it on his mix if you watch the Jay Clifford mix, if you’ve got that course, you can see he used it on that, and that’s on a very, very analog recording, so it can be used sparingly. Use it sparingly. When you have multiple instances of stereo widening, and it’s messing with the phase and the polarity, it’s fun to listen to when you’re in the zone and mixing the song.

Take a break from it for a couple days, come back, and it’ll just sound like it’s out of phase. It’ll sound very hollowed. Use widening plugins, stereo enhancement plugins, use them very sparingly.

Number seven, monitor at low levels.

Now, I don’t mean like, barely audible, like, “Is there something playing?” It doesn’t have to be — I think that’s one of the confusions when people say monitor at low levels. They say about 85dB, which is not terribly loud, but it’s safe to listen to for long periods of time.

Now, all of the best mixers I know, they mix loud, they mix quiet, they mix loud, and they mix quiet, but they don’t listen for long periods of time. They’ll crank a mix, they want to be blown away, they want to see if it’s pumping, and they feel great about it for maybe 20 seconds, and then they’ll bring it down, and they’ll listen at a lower level. Especially when you’re looping a section and you’re working under great detail.

You do not need to be listening to that super loud, because you’ll burn your ears out.

There’s two things that listening loud will do. Number one is it won’t help you mix, because the frequency balance goes all over the place. You’ll find you’ll turn your ears down, you’ll end up brightening your mix, and before you know it, you think it sounds great, the rest of the world thinks it’s the brightest thing they’ve ever heard. That’s number one.

The second thing is, frankly, you can give yourself hearing damage from long, sustained periods of high volumes. So be careful of that.

Firstly, your mixes will suffer if you mix loud all the time, and secondly and more importantly, you’ll sustain hearing damage over time, so be careful. Your ears are your best tool. They’re better than any plugin, any DAW, any instrument you’ve ever heard of. Your ears are your number one tool.

Number eight. Know your plugins. This one is a good one for me. I have to remember this, because I started experimenting with new plugins, before I really knew the ones I already had.

Now what tends to happen is I go back to some old favorites, and you’ll see me using old plugins, quite a few of them have been around for quite a few years now, basically because I know them inside out, and I know what they do. I know how to make them sound great, I know what instrument to put them on, and I know what levels to boost and cut.

I think one of the most difficult things is not necessarily as much about EQs and compressors, but when you start getting into delays and reverbs, and that kind of stuff, because most delay plugins now, even the stock ones that come in any DAW have many, many different sounds. Many different emulations built into them, and you can manipulate them even inside of the plugin, and if you want to do even more than that, you can put saturation across them, some kind of distortion, EQ, sidechain compression, you can do all of these fun things with them and treat them so dramatically different, just the delay you have stock.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love H-Delay, it’s one of my favorite plugins. SoundToys EchoBoy is amazing. These are plugins that are phenomenal, but I’m just saying, I know EchoBoy and H-Delay really well, and I use them all of the time, but I’ve been using both of them for many, many years, and there was a time I didn’t know them very well. Luckily, both of them are pretty easy to use.

There are some very complicated, especially lots of the all-in-one plugins that may take you awhile to learn to use, however, if you want to put in the time to use one of those multi kind of plugins, then great, but you’re probably going to find you’re going to end up using that particular all-in-one plugin all of the time, which is fine, but you’ll do that because you’ve spent so much time, invested so much energy in learning that, before you know it, every single channel has the same multi-function plugin on it.

So get to know your stock plugins, get to know all the plugins that you have really, really well, and of course, add to them. Please, add to them. There’s so many great plugins out there. There’s nothing worse than having 200 EQs, 200 compressors, 200 delays, 200 reverbs, you name it, and not knowing them well.

You’re better off knowing one or two of each of those plugins, than not knowing 200 and having to literally audition every single one, by which stage, your ideas, your creativity will have gone out the window.

So learn what you have before you invest in other ones.

Number nine, number nine. That’s a reference. Anybody? Number nine? Don’t be afraid to high pass your super low frequencies. The reason why I bring that up is because most of us, even on these speakers here, like these Genelecs are phenomenal, I love them, the 1032s, I’ve been using them for [makes noise] amount of years. When I moved to Los Angeles in the mid/late 90’s, every studio in town, bar none, had a pair of 1032s or 1031s and a pair of NS10s. Every studio. And it was great.

We’d travel from one studio to another, and we’d know how our mixes sounded when we were sat between the speakers in the perfect listening position. It pretty much translated from one studio to another. It was a wonderful thing.

Now of course, everyone is building powered speakers, so they have a lot of competition. For the longest time, they were the industry standard, however, without a sub, I can still miss the lower frequencies. The thing about 20, 30, 40Hz in a lot of instruments is it’s absolutely meaningless. It’s great to have 40-60Hz on your kick drum. It’s phenomenal. With some suber sub bass sounds, it’s even better to have going lower, but tighten your kick drum, taking 20Hz and below off actually makes your mix feel louder, punchier, and you’ll be surprised. Your kick drum will feel like it has more low end in it because it’s focused at 40 to 60Hz low end as opposed to like, 20 or 30.

So even though you don’t hear those frequencies through your five, six, seven, eight inch speakers, it’s really about creating a great mix that doesn’t have a lot of mud down there, and more importantly, isn’t taking away a lot of energy from your mix, because low frequencies take a huge amount of volume out of your mix, believe it or not.

You know, it’s easy to make something sound loud when it’s high mids, etecetera. So consequently, sculpting your low end will really, really help you.

Now, of course, if you don’t have a sub and you just have individual speakers, use a frequency analyzer on individual channels. Many plugins these days actually have frequency analyzers built into the EQ, so you’ll see those super lows that you don’t need.

So it’s a big tip, it will really, really help you, you’ll create a lot of clarity for your low end, and your mixes will benefit massively from it.

Numero ten. This one’s another big one. Don’t overdo your master buss processing. We’ve all been guilty of this. Myself in particular. There’s this tendency to treat our master buss as the fix-it of every situation, which to a minor extent, can be. There’s a lot of videos I’ve been watching where it’s like, “Clean up your mixes,” and they just do big EQ dips in the low mids on their overall mix.

We all know, and if you’ve been watching the channel for awhile now, you’ll know that’s really putting a bandaid on a gaping wound. You’re better off going in and taking out low mids of the instruments that have got it building up, rather than annihilating the whole buss and removing it generically across everything.

That’s something for a mastering engineer to do, and only in extreme cases. So try to mix as you go. On individual tracks, on busses, etcetera before we get to the master buss.

So you don’t really want a ton of plugins on there, however, some gentle compression, just to tame some transients, a bit of EQ, a bit of boom and fizz as they say, maybe a little extra 60, some 10-12kHz lift, something to open up the top and something to reinforce the lows is not going to be an issue, and it’s pretty typical with every single mixer that I’ve worked with.

Whether using hardware like Pultecs, or they’re doing it in the box, a little boom and fizz goes a long way.

And even a little limiting is okay. It’s okay to tame those stray transients that are going absolutely nuts, but once you start getting into the three, four, five, six, seven, eight dB worth of gain reduction across multiple things, you’re not doing yourself any favors, and you really are stopping yourself from learning how to mix as well, because everything is just being annihilated. You’re going to become a much better mixer by leaving that until the very end, and leaving it very gentle.

It can be on there, just leave it very gently. Every mixer I know has an SSL buss compressor or something like that and some EQ. We all mix through that, we don’t annihilate it.

In a perfect situation, you’d actually master your track on another day, or several hours later, or whatever it might be. You’d take a break from it, and you’d take your 2-track final mix, and then master that. That’s the best possible solution. However, I do understand we all have time constraints.

This has happened to me many, many times. I’ve got to print this mix, and I’ve got to get it off to a client. So I will get a little aggressive on my master buss. It does happen. However, be careful. Don’t over process it, because you can get really wrapped up at that stage, and remember, that’s the last stage, that is the stereo mix stage, that is the end of your mix. So if you overdo it there, it can be pretty fatal.

So I thank you ever so much. Of course, you can download the cheat sheet somewhere around about here. Please download the cheat sheet. Thank you ever so much for watching, I really appreciate it. Have a marvelous time recording and mixing, and of course, let’s have some discussion about these ten points. Let’s talk some more about that. Please give me your experiences, I really appreciate it, and have a marvelous time recording and mixing.

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Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at producelikeapro.com.

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