Ask Weiss: Maintaining Consistency Throughout an Album

Transcript:

Hey, folks. Matthew Weiss here — weiss-sound.com, theproaudiofiles.com, and mixthru.co.

Welcome to the Ask Weiss series, and today’s question comes from Daniel Simmons via The Pro Audio Files Facebook page.

Daniel writes, “What’s a good way to maintain consistency throughout mixing a whole project? How do you make sure the tracks have a unified sound?”

Great question. This is where there are levels to engineering. Yes, being able to mix and record a record in and of itself requires a great deal of skill, but we go one level up when it comes to taking on the entirety of a project, and making it all feel consistent or flow or have some kind of connection.

So, I think that this answer sort of separates into two frames of thought. One being the album as a whole picture of art, and the other one being an album as a collection of unique, individual songs, and I think in this day and age, it’s a bit more applicable to think of both as being equally valid, because the main consumer system is one of picking out individual songs, rather than entire albums, and that’s important.

That means in a lot of situations, we actually have to favor the unique qualities of every individual song, regardless of how they’re necessarily going to fit into the bigger picture of an album. So that might lead to albums sounding a little bit more diverse sonically or content wise than they have in the past, and I think that’s okay.

So, one of the answers to that, is sometimes it’s alright not to be totally consistent. We just have to make sure that we’re doing it in an informed and – in a way that is with the artist’s best interests in mind.

Now, there’s certainly validity to an album being an entire concept, where there is supposed to be connection and consistency between the overall record.

So, I would say about 90% of that actually comes from the arrangement of the record. The way that the record innately sounds to itself. So, that really does happen in the production phase.

However, in the mix phase, when we start conceptualizing how the vocals are going to sound, how the different elements of the record are going to sound, I almost like to think of it in terms of business and branding.

There are vocalists who have a signature vocal sound. Drake has a signature vocal sound. Rick Ross has a signature vocal sound. This expands into every genre, and for some people, it’s having a vocal that’s way up front. For other people, it’s having a vocal that’s way behind. You know, this also extends of course to the musicality of the record.

Some styles of records have very, very large kick and bass, some of them, those are pulled a little back, and the guitars are way forward, and the snare is way forward, and it depends on the genre and depends on what you want.

Basically, you come to understand what the artist’s brand and aesthetic is, and once you embrace that, and once you internalize that, you calibrate your internal mechanism to focusing on those ideas, as you mix the records, that will start to naturally occur.

The curveballs show up when you start having to mix other peoples’ records in between mixing the record for one artist. So you know, one completely different sound comes at you while you’re trying to do this. That can mess up your calibration, so it’s important to go back and re-listen to everything that you had been doing, all of the influences and references that you had been observing, and really bring that together.

And the last way that all of this really comes together is in the mastering. As a mix engineer, I don’t like to defer too much to the mastering, so I will try and get internal consistency myself first, but if there’s one thing that I think that a mastering engineer can be deferred to for, it is maintaining and assisting the consistency of an entire record. That’s kind of what they do. That’s sort of their main thing.

So mastering comes into it, and mastering is generally a process where everything is done at once. All of the different mixes come together, and they’re laid out in one DAW and setup to sound like they belong all together.

So the mastering is also an important part of that maintaining an overall tonal curve that makes sense, and a stylistic drive that makes sense. There’s a lot of idiosyncrasies that come into play about that. The real difficulty is when you’re getting projects where there are multiple engineers on the same project, because then you really have to calibrate, okay, what is this one engineer doing, how did this other engineer do it, is there something I can take from both to help the consistency of the record…

It becomes a sort of sticky situation where there isn’t necessarily an easy solution, but mostly it comes down to listening and setting an internal calibration for what the artist’s brand and image and sound is.

Alright, thank you for the great question, Daniel. If you or anybody you know has a question, please feel free to drop it in the YouTube comment section below.

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com.
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