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10 Tips for Creating Better Mixes (Part 5 of 5)

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10 Tips for Creating Better Mixes (Part 5 of 5)
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Enrique: The last three actually, eight, nine, and ten are not things that are so hands on, but rather more concepts that I like to think about. So now that we have done all of this hands on work, and you can imagine, if we go through and really sculpt the frequency on everything, we’re going to get to a point where it’s sounding pretty friggin’ good, and now we just need to embellish what is there with some compression, with some effects, etcetera, etcetera.

So for me, number eight is — once you’re done with this, you’re going to be tired. Are you guys tired? Because we’ve been talking a lot.

Jonathan: They seem okay, but they’ve been watching in shorter segments.

Enrique: You in the back! [laughs] So the thing is, when this video started, we were all, “Yeah, lets go!” And then the video gets going, and people start slowing down a little bit, and you start checking your phone, and that will happen. Along with that goes your objectivity. It also goes away. So one thing that I always keep in mind is how am I doing? How is my stamina?

So for me, tip number eight is fatigue is the enemy of objectivity. If I get too tired, I can’t start making really clear judgements anymore. So what do I do? You take breaks. You need to take a break.

The key is, you can’t say it’s two hours, because for me, I can take a beating for four, and then I need to take breaks every 30 minutes.

For you, you might do two hours and then take two minute breaks every fifteen minutes. It’s different for everyone, and you guys have to go and do this, and learn what is your own pace, but that is huge.

How can you get perspective, which is the thing that we’re trying to gain? Taking a break, and also having your work be listened to by other people. Which this is kind of interesting, because if you just bring your homie who doesn’t know too much about music, doesn’t like the music that you’re making, and there’s a comment that might just cut your mix down, it’s going to feel like a bar. So who you bring into listening to the work that you’re doing is really important, just choosing that.

But I think that even if the person doesn’t know, just having another human in the room changes your experience. You know?

So that. That to me is point number eight. Really, really simple. Any other thing that you can think about that belongs there?

Jonathan: In terms of objectivity?

Enrique: Yeah, and fatigue.

Jonathan: Well, I think it’s easy to lose focus of needing to eat.

Enrique: Oh yeah!

Jonathan: And getting perspective. And it’s funny, because I think there is a way in which this work is very, very, very subjective. Right? I mean, ultimately, we’re making this work to please ourselves, but I’ve — and I think maybe that will sort of draw out a little bit of what the value is of having somebody else come into the room and getting to here through the lens of their ears, their eyes, or whatever it is.

I think what that can do is help you get a different perspective on your own work, and you can decide.

You know, if somebody says to you, it seems a little dull, you can step back and say, “You know what, that resonates with me. I actually think that they’re right.” It’s no longer what they said, it’s what you think, it’s what you feel. There’s value to that.

If they said to you, “It’s really dull,” and you realize in the back of your mind, “I actually wanted to make something that was kind of dark and heavy, and I’m okay with that.”

So they’ve offered me something, I’ve heard it, I’ve thanked them, I wait until they leave, and I’m like, “Yes, it’s dull!” You know, whatever the thing is, but it’s a great perspective to get.

Enrique: That’s awesome, and that’s a great segue to number — oh, here’s the Spanish quiz.

Jonathan: Nueve.

Enrique: Si. Who are you? So yes. Tip numero nueve. Tip number nine is — I always have this thing in the back of my mind, which is for you engineers, who are the defenders of good audio? Right? It’s kind of us.

So one thing that I like to just think a little bit about is that even though there’s a ton of technique that goes into that stuff, we can also flip it and say, “But there are no rules.” Why? Because it’s art. You know?

But I do think that there is something in understanding that we are the defenders of the craft in a way. You know?

So if we think of let’s say, something that is not engineering, but rather, cooking for instance. [laughs] I never talk about it, but let’s just go there. If you think of — I’m going to go make a cake, you can read the recipe, and these are all of the items that I need to get, and you can buy the most kind of cheapest, horrible things, but they do —

Jonathan: They fit the list.

Enrique: Exactly, of ingredients, and you put them together, and sure, it’s a cake, but it’s eh. So it’s kind of the same thing for us. That you know what you need to do, but it’s the ingredients and how you treat them that kind of honors what — the craft and what you’re going to get at the end of the day.

Now, who does not love Mac and Cheese? Right? So is there a moment for Mac and Cheese? Of course!

Jonathan: There’s some really good Mac and Cheese. There’s probably lactose intolerant versions of it too.

Enrique: But if you think of just kind of comfort food that’s kind of butter, with butter, and a side order of butter, and enough flour to hold the butter, it feels awesome, but you’re going in knowing that you’re going to consume this thing that you can’t live off of all the time.

So sometimes in audio, like us, this song, specifically, it’s kind of a — it’s happy, but it’s got this garage-y, kind of gritty, creepy almost thing to it. So I would like to distort the drums.

Jonathan: Oh, interesting.

Enrique: Dun, dun, dun! So does the society of Gandalf engineers of the universe say that you can not distort drums? Who cares. I’m going to distort the drums. But it’s me assertively choosing to do something. I’m going to eat that Mac and Cheese. Does that make sense?

Jonathan: Yes. And I would justify your choice by saying this is no longer about goodness in the sense of ultimate fidelity. This is goodness in the sense of from the production side. There’s something about — something you want to do to create a feeling, to create an ambience that’s going to support the track, right?

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Enrique: Yeah. There’s a reason why.

Jonathan: There’s a reason, that’s right.

Enrique: Sometimes, you hear a beautiful song that has been crushed in mastering, and it’s not because it’s a musical decision, it’s because it might be an ego driven decision. The thing that I’m competing with is louder, and I need to match and compete. You know?

So I think you guys get it.

Jonathan: I think they do.

Enrique: Number ten, now that you’ve done all of the stuff and you’re feeling good, now you have to start all over again, and go through every single one of those points again. Why?

Because we parachuted into this forest that was super confusing, and we started doing these steps to get us through it. Now, we feel like we’re great, but we’ve lived so much, we’ve experienced so much, we’re so in the box that we need to check back with — are all these things that we’re doing connecting with the intention? The original intention?

Is our mix organization, once we’ve started chopping things, once we’ve started going, can we still work efficiently? We need to go and check if our reference mix — how are we doing along our reference mix?

So any time that I get to number nine and go, “I’m feeling pretty good,” I need to go and start all over again.

Jonathan: You don’t go back and rebalance the track, but you go back and think about — yeah.

Enrique: Check. So I always go and check and check and check. Once I’ve done that, I play for other people, so it’s this constant cycle until — I’m going to ask a question that I think is a little bit hard. So how do you know when you’re done?

Jonathan: How do you know when you’re done? That’s a great question.

Enrique: Thank you.

Jonathan: I certainly have my own version of that. There’s the time constraint, there’s the money constraint, right? Those are two things. There’s actually setting a deadline, which is awesome, because that makes you be done, but the other thing that I often tell myself is if I can’t make something better, don’t do anything.

Enrique: If I’m perfect!

Jonathan: No, it’s not perfect, it could be within the limits of my own ability. It could be within the limits of what I have to work with. It’s just at some point, you recognize, I have pushed this to the place where I — if I keep pushing it, I’m not going to help.

Enrique: I’m not going to help.

Jonathan: I’m not going to keep adding more salt to my cake.

Enrique: My version of it is I go back to point number one. Whatever the intention is, and the thing about the breed of us engineers is that we’re very happy to touch and tweak, and touch and tweak, and touch and tweak until we mangle stuff out of shape.

So if you can connect to thing number one, and you hit play…

[mix]

And this happens, and my intention, emotional meter is happy, and I don’t have this necessity to tweak, then I’m done.

If I’m listening to this…

[mix]

And it’s doing what it’s supposed to do, probably after I take a break and come back to it, it’s doing what it needs to do, and I don’t have the, “But the hi-hat isn’t bright enough.” The hi-hat is not bright enough is always in favor of, is it doing what it needs to do musically?

If it doesn’t, then I can go tweak. Once I can just hit play and it does, then I’m done.

So it’s just that. It just needs to make me be 13 again, and I need to disengage. I don’t need to know what a compressor is, it just needs to feel like the best thing that I know emotionally it could.

Jonathan: That’s it. Awesome. Well, we’ve definitely wound our way through a large chunk of the creative process around mixing, and I think Enrique’s method, if you will, for kind of wandering into the forest, right? Circling through it a few times, and hopefully you end up with — you’ve gone for a nice hike?

Enrique: Yeah. So as I said before to you guys, it’s my way of going through stuff, and if it seems kind of proprietary or a little bit quirky, always just think back to the concept, and I think these concepts are useful, and even for my Berkeley students, they’ve worked wonders.

So I hope that they’re useful to you. Have fun with them and just go get your hands dirty with the stuff, and I want to hear back. I want to hear some good music out there.

Jonathan: Fantastic.

Enrique: Thank you.

Jonathan: Well thank you. Thank you so much, and if you want some more educational materials, there’s stuff at Berkeley, there’s stuff at the iZotope website. We’re always making mixing guides and mastering guides, and things to help people make better music. So I hope you’ve enjoyed!

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