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5 more audio effects you’re probably not using enough

5 more audio effects you're not using enough

We’ve all heard of the more commonly used audio effects, compression, chorus, reverb, delay… You get the idea, but what about the ones you repeatedly skip over when scrolling through your list of plugins. The ones you don’t see a million YouTube tutorials on because they’re just not as cool or fun. Does that mean they aren’t as useful?

I’ve always had a hard time branching out into the unknown, changing things up, altering my workflow, and trying to implement new techniques and tools. This has been a constant struggle. I’ve had to force myself to use techniques and work with tools that I haven’t used before, or I’m not as familiar with. This is the only way I’ve been able to grow and expand my palette. It took me way too long to start using some very powerful tools just because they were foreign.

Don’t make the same mistake as me!

You can read the first part of the series here,
https://audiohertz.com/2018/04/05/audio-effects-plugins-youre-not-using-enough/

Here is my list of 5 effects that you’ve probably heard of but don’t use enough.

De-esser

oeksound Soothe De-Esser

Say it with me,
“Sally sells seashells by the seashore.”

Now say that into a microphone five times fast without a de-esser, and you’re likely to hear a lot of sssssssss poking out of the speakers. Are you wondering how professional engineers and producers get such smooth vocals? Well besides having a great vocalist, microphone, preamp, compressor, and EQ, it’s also getting rid of those sssssssss’s with a de-esser!

A de-esser is basically a compressor that’s sidechain input has a very sharp bandpass eq. Most de-essers allow you to change this frequency, and you’ll need to adjust it depending on the vocalist. Each vocalist will sssssssss at a different frequency. Vocalists with a higher-pitched voice are going to sssssssss at a higher frequency than a vocalist with a deeper voice. The sssssssss is most commonly somewhere in between 3500-7000 Hz.

The most effective way to set a de-esser is to monitor the side chain input. Most de-essers allow you to listen to what the side chain input is being fed. Highlight and loop a section of the vocal where there is a very noticeable sssssssss. Now while listening to the side chain, sweep through frequencies and figure out where you hear most of the sssssssss poking out. Now switch back to monitoring the regular output and adjust your threshold to taste. Another extremely effective method for de-essing a vocal albeit extremely more time consuming is manually locating all of sssssssss on the track and lowering the clip gain. This method takes time and isn’t possible in certain scenarios, which makes a de-esser a lifesaver.

Favorite De-Esser plugins,
FabFilter Pro-DS
oeksound Soothe

Short/room reverbs

Valhalla Room Reverb

These short reverbs often go overlooked… but start looking down (bad short joke) because they can be extremely useful. Short reverbs are more often felt rather than heard. When you think of reverb you’re probably more likely to think of a nice long-tailed vocal reverb from one of your favorite slow ballads. Short reverbs are not that. I like to think of and use these more as room simulators or vibe injectors. You can get great sounds from short time-based effects without having to push the sound too far away.

If you solo a short reverb, it might not feel dramatic enough, but when you put it on multiple sources and listen to the mix, you’ll notice things tend to gel better. I’m an avid practitioner of using reverbs and delays to put instruments in a similar space. In my mixing template, I have a room reverb on a bus and I like to send multiple instruments through it. I”ll mix the return in slightly, which adds a nice gluing effect. I like to think of this technique as giving myself the ability to put these sounds in the same room, which makes them feel and sound more familiar to the listener.

Favorite room reverb plugins,
Valhalla Room
Audioease Altiverb

Speaker simulators

Logic Cab Simulator

Since I’m often producing hip hop, I find myself working with a lot of samples. Using the same samples that everyone else is using can get boring. I want to change sounds that I’m using so that I can put my touch on it, so it’s not just the same thing that everyone else is using. I’m always looking for fun new ways to add dimension to these types of sources.

Speaker simulators are an effortless way to alter the tone in exciting ways. Along with affecting the tone, it also helps put the source in a different space, which can help seat these often sterile samples in a mix better. Most DAWs include stock speaker simulators that you can throw on and run through dozens of different speaker types, cabinet models, and microphone impulse response to choose.

Slap a speaker simulator on one of your tracks, go through some of the presets and see if you like what it does. You might not end up using it every time, but there’ll be a time when it makes everything better.

Favorite speaker simulator plugins,
Stock Ableton Cabinet
Stock Logic Cab Sims

Auto-Panners

Get those tracks moving! 

I’m a big advocate of adding movement to mixes in very subtle ways. These small fluctuations in volume and rhythm add up to create a push and a pull effect that can significantly enhance the groove of a song.

You can check out an example in this quick tip video on the Audio Hertz YouTube channel.

There are many ways you can make things move in your mixes, but one of my favorites and most often used is auto-panning. Automated panning is a great way to spice up your production and keep things interesting. If you’re like me and you don’t like to get too drastic with panning, most auto-panner plugins have a wet/dry knob that makes it easy to dial in the intensity to taste.

Favorite auto-panner plugins,
Soundtoys Panman
Cableguys Pancake <— FREE

Dynamic EQ

Dynamic Equalizer TDM Nova

Dynamic EQs are equalizers that have a threshold, once signal passes the threshold, the volume is attenuated. The difference between a dynamic EQ and a multiband compressor is with a dynamic EQ, you have the ability to use and adjust Q curves while multiband compressors have general frequency ranges.

I probably still don’t use dynamic EQs enough. I learned this craft mostly in analog studios where dynamic EQs weren’t used. Dynamic equalizer didn’t exist until not very long ago. Plugins made it possible so everyone can now have a dynamic EQ at their fingertips. There’s even a great free plugin from developer TDM called Nova. That’s right, what wasn’t even a thing 20 years ago is now available to everyone with a computer and a DAW, for free.

I think one of the more difficult parts of getting in the habit of using a dynamic EQ is recognizing when’s a good time to use one. Oftentimes I’m used to grabbing something else to fix an issue that could be fixed more effectively or efficiently with a dynamic EQ. There are a million ways to skin a cat in this game.

One great way of using a dynamic EQ is when you have two instruments or tracks clashing. When this happens, standard EQing will completely change the tone of whatever you’re working on for the entirety of the song. By using a dynamic EQ, you’re able to sidechain the conflicting track into the main track. You can then set the EQ to cut a specific band of frequencies only when the other track is playing. This technique leaves the tone exactly the same except when the conflicting track is playing with the main track.

Favorite Dynamic EQ plugins,
FabFilter Pro-Q3
TDR Nova <— FREE

Make sure you’re always pushing yourself to work in situations that make you uncomfortable. Adding new tools and using techniques that aren’t familiar can be scary, but ultimately, it will make you a better audio engineer and producer.

Now go try some of these effects out and let me know how you’re using them in your productions. Did I miss anything? Are there some effects that aren’t on this list that you think engineers and producers don’t use enough? Reach out to me on Instagram or Facebook and let me know!

Related articles:
5 things they don’t teach you in audio school
20 quick and easy tips that will improve your productions
5 mixing mistakes that I used to make… and how to avoid them
The “your mixes sound bad in the car” phenomenon

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Everything you need to know about reverb

Digital Reverb Unit

Disclosure: Audio Hertz is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.


Audio engineers and music producers are often after a very direct sound. This is the reason microphones are typically placed very close to the source. This captures the source with a lot of detail but also takes out most of the natural ambiance of the room. Most producers usually prefer to use emulated spaces that are exaggerated. The ability to use multiple types of reverb with different tonalities helps give the production depth, contrast, and keep things interesting. It also helps engineers deliberately place certain sounds in a mix. For instance, I may want to drench the pad synth to make it sit further back in the mix, so it doesn’t interfere with the lead synth line.

Panning gives us the ability to move sounds left and right and time-based effects give us the ability to move sounds forward and back.

What is reverb?

Reverberation, or more commonly referred to just as reverb, is the sound created when sound waves are being reflected and interacting with the world around us. The time it takes these reflections to dissipate or be absorbed into other objects is the decay time.

When a sound is made in a room, what we are hearing is not just the sound directly from the source but also the waves reflecting off all the surfaces in the room that are then bouncing back into our ears. For instance, if someone yells at you, you’re not just hearing the waves coming directly from the person’s mouth but also how it is interacting with the physical surfaces and walls of the room you’re in.

I have a very early memory of asking why it sounded better when I sang in the shower. The highly reflective tile in most bathrooms creates a natural reverb that helps with your pitch, making it more fun to sing into. I always recommend when recording a vocalist to make sure they are monitoring their vocals with effects like reverb to create the best sound possible. If the artist sounds good in their headphones, it will yield a better performance than if they were monitoring only their dry vocals straight from the microphone.

The history of reverb

Artificial reverb or reverb that isn’t the natural ambiance of the room you’re recording in was first used on a musical production by Bill Putnum and Robert Fine in 1974. Both of these pioneering audio engineers separately came up with the idea to put a speaker in another room, record it with a microphone, and then mixed it back in with the original dry sound. Decay times were adjusted by changing the room acoustics or by moving the microphones. The problem is these require an entire room for just a single reverb, something we can do today with a free plugin.

Hammond started putting reverbs in their organs in 1940, and Fender began to put them in their amps in the late 1950s. Still, it wasn’t until 1957, when EMT released the 140 plate reverb, that studios were finally able to ditch the chambers that took up an entire room for something a little more practical. The 140 plate was the first artificial reverb that studios adopted because it had an incredible sound that could measure up to the finely tuned chambers that were found in the elite studios of the time. The 140 plate was an enormous success, and its sound is so coveted that developers continue to try and replicate the gorgeous sound. In 1976, the EMT 250 was released, the first-ever digital reverb, which opened the doors to seemingly limitless possibilities.

There are three ways an artificial reverb is commonly created. The first type of reverb available to recording studios required a physical or real element, such as an entire room or a humongous steel plate.

The next two types, algorithmic and convolution, are digitally based. With greater computer processing power came the ability to develop convolution reverbs, which use impulse response or IR samples recorded in real physical space by sending a burst of white noise into the room and recording the decay. This gives engineers the ability to capture and reproduce the sound of any room or their favorite plate or spring reverb. These impulse responses are designed to mimic the decay that was initially recorded, which makes them useful when trying to replicate a specific type of ambiance. This makes them extremely useful in post-production when you need to rerecord audio that was recorded somewhere else. An impulse response taken in the original location would allow the mix engineer to add in the same sound of the room when rerecording.

The second way digital reverb is created is through the use of algorithms. The EMT 250 is the first digital reverb ever made and was algorithmic based. I had the honor of talking with Bill Blesser, the original designer. You can view the entire article here. Algorithmic reverbs are created using a mathematical formula that is calculated and rendered by the processor in the hardware or your computer if its a plugin and then spit back out your speakers.

EMT 250 Digital Reverb

These are the 6 most important types of reverb you’ll need to know about.

Room reverb

You know what a room is right?

Room reverbs to create the response of a… you guessed it… a room. Usually, a small room as these reverbs most commonly have a short decay time, typically under 1 second. This reverb can give the sound life and put it in a space that’s familiar to our ears. Because of this familiarity, it adds a pleasing effect to our ears and aids in getting sounds to fit together in a mix. I commonly find myself using room reverbs on drums, especially snares, percussion, and other acoustic instruments that are a bit too dry but don’t need a longer reverb with an audible decay. Because the decay time is so short, the reverb is usually felt rather than heard when putting it in a mix.

Plate reverb

Plate reverb, like the aforementioned legendary EMT 140, consists of an 8 x 4 x 1-foot wood box with a sheet of steel hanging inside. A transducer then sends the signal into the sheet of metal, which causes it to vibrate; the result is then picked up via another transducer and mixed back into the dry signal. The length of the decay is adjusted via a damping mechanism, which can also be controlled via a remote. When I interned at Trout Recording in Brooklyn, New York, owner Bryce Goggin had just purchased a 140 plate, but it didn’t have a remote. I fondly remember being assigned to go down to the basement to adjust the decay time whenever necessary.

Plate reverbs have a very pleasing sound and work well on pretty much everything. Sound waves travel faster in the metal plate than they do in the air, which gives them a higher density, smoother tail, and ultimately a very desirable sound that engineers and producers all over the world have grown to know and love.

Radio City Music Hall in New York City
The famous Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Hall reverb

This type of reverb simulates a finely tuned concert hall. Concert halls are auditoriums that are designed with acoustics being the main priority. These halls are meticulously tuned to remove any negative artifacts that can be detrimental to the sound, such as rings, standing waves, and uneven tonal response. These are a classic artificial reverb that became popular with the rise of digital time-based effect units. Since these rooms are designed for optimal acoustics, it’s no surprise that they are often emulated. Halls can be used on just about anything with successful results. One of the most popular hall reverbs is the Lexicon 480L which can be found at many of the most esteemed studios around the world.

Chamber

Chamber reverb is usually a small to a medium-sized room made up of different types of reflective surfaces strategically placed at different angles. A send and return are set up using speakers and microphones. Chambers offer a thick, dense and lush reverb without being overpowering. These are most commonly found on vocals and acoustic instruments but are great for any source that needs some character.

Echo chamber reverb

Spring reverb

Like a plate reverb except instead of a sheet of metal, these use an actual spring. Spring reverbs most commonly have a short or medium decay time and is used on guitars and keyboards because they are small enough to fit into amplifiers. Don’t let that fool you; spring reverb can sound good on many different sources, including vocals, synths, piano, and of course, guitars. The sound can be described as metallic like a plate but more lively, just with less depth. 

The inside of a spring reverb tank-- Everything you need to know about reverb
The inside of a spring reverb tank.

They are most popular for the sproingy sound they make when you physically shake the reverb tank causing the springs to jostle around. Using a ton of spring reverb is a requirement when playing surf rock or producing dub music. In the late 1960s, AKG released the BX series of spring reverb units that became popular with recording studios.

Ambiances

These are extremely short reverbs with reflections happening between half a second and shorter. This type of reverb is mostly used to add tone since the decay time is so fast, they are more likely to be felt rather than heard. Adding an ambient reverb return and sending multiple sources to it can have a nice gluing effect.

If you got this far, you finally know enough about reverb, maybe too much. Now it’s time to get out there and start reverbing!!! Put a reverb there. Put one over there. Put some reverb everywhere!

Related articles:
Can you tell the difference between real and fake plate reverb?
20 quick and easy tips that will improve your productions
5 mixing mistakes that I used to make… and how to avoid them
The “your mixes sound bad in the car” phenomenon

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9 things you should do to win over your clients

9 things you should do to win over your clients

Disclosure: Audio Hertz is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.


One of the most common questions I hear young engineers and producers asking is “how do I get clients?” They should really be asking how do they keep the ones they already have. It’s way easier to keep a client than it is to gain a new one!

Win over the client, win more clients.

– Russel Crowe’s character in Gladiator I think

Make sure the client knows what to expect

It took me a while to learn that one of the more difficult parts of this job is managing the client’s expectations. This is especially important when you’re working with someone that has never been in a recording studio. Before every session, I like to have a short exchange with all of my clients either via email or phone to get an idea of what they are trying to accomplish in the upcoming session. This allows me to effectively plan how I’d like to run the session. I can also answer any questions that the client may have.

Clients can be overwhelmed by the whole experience. Recording can be extremely intimidating for any artist. Easing their worries is only going to make things go smoother and make the session more enjoyable for everyone. A common misunderstanding I see clients making is underestimating how much time they will need. It’s important to make sure they are aware of how long things like setting up, breaks and exporting and transferring files can take. On large sessions, setting up may take a few hours. It’s crucial to make sure that everyone involved is aware of this and to make sure they are comfortable while they are waiting. This is where having a nice lounge area in your studio comes into play. Everyone will appreciate having access to a TV, video games, and other time-consuming entertainment to help keep them occupied. There is nothing worse than having five band members standing in the control room talking while you’re trying to dial in sounds.

Be prepared, have a plan

You know what they say… If you don’t plan, you plan to fail! Everything’s better when you have a plan.

Writing out a plan forces you to think of possible scenarios and what you might need to prepare for them. During my initial conversation with the client, I like to ask questions to get a better idea of what we will be recording and what they are trying to accomplish. How many people are going to be recording, what instruments, what type of music? What would they like to leave with? In most cases, I’ll already have everything I need ready to go but there will be those times when you don’t. Making sure you have all the tools you need for your session will save you a lot of stress.

I’ll also ask the client if they have any particular preferences on how things should be done. Are they recording completely live? Are they using a backing track? Do they need a specific guitar sound? What kind of kit does the drummer usually play?

Then I will map out the physical setup and where I’d like to place things in the room. I’ll also write out a rough itinerary with a schedule to help me manage time more effectively. I want to make sure the client walks out with exactly what they expected to, and hopefully even more.

Lastly, when things go wrong (and they will), try to remember that nothing ever goes exactly as planned. The ability to adapt to any situation is a skill that every great audio engineer must possess.

Have water, coffee, tea, snacks, and other necessities available

This one is pretty self-explanatory. One of the most important parts of a studios job is to make sure their clients are as comfortable as possible. This means making sure they are well hydrated and have something in their stomach. If you’re working a long session it’s surprisingly easy to forget to eat or drink. A good way to mitigate this is to always have some basic refreshments readily available; this way at least everyone isn’t completely starving or dehydrated. It also shows the client that you are putting in extra effort to make their experience better.

And, coffee. You always need coffee. You can’t record without copious amounts of coffee.

Manage time efficiently

It’s important to keep the session flowing smoothly. Clients are artists and they can be hard on themselves (and sometimes even delusional). There are times when someone you’re working with might want to spend hours doing something that’s not working and is only bringing everyone’s morale down. Fostering positive momentum is extremely important when creating; getting stuck on something for too long can have a detrimental effect on everyone’s mood.

You should’ve already made a plan and figured out how you’d like to manage your time. If you have 10 songs to record in one day and you’ve spent 4 hours on 1 song… That’s probably not good. Whoever is running the session needs to make sure they’re always aware of the clock and make sure things are getting completed in a relatively timely fashion. In the past, I had been way too passive and let the client dictate how their time would be spent. I’d find myself working on a guitar solo for 10 hours when I knew, in the end, it wasn’t going to make any difference. There are certain times when it might be right to work on something for that long or however long but usually, it’s best to just move on. You can always come back to it later.

Set the mood

I feel a lot of studios fail to emphasize how important the actual physical environment is to a recording session. Creating a good vibe in the workspace will not only make you and your clients feel better while working but it will invoke different emotions and feelings that wouldn’t be there in a sterile, harshly lit, plain white room. One of the first studios to realize this is the Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland Studios in New York City. John Storyk, the original designer, made sure the bright, colorful, relaxing environment catered to the vibe of the studio and invited all that entered to create.

Luckily today we have a Home Depot and Amazon which have a ton of options for new ways to spice up your studio on a budget. A good place to start is the lighting. String lights and LED lightbulbs and strips are easy and effective.

Don’t forget about the smells! Our sense of smell is extremely powerful and us studio rats sometimes have a tendency to disregard it. There’s also always the classic lava lamp or what I consider to be the modern lava lamp, the Himalayan Salt Lamp.

Get personal

Yes, this is a business transaction, but it’s much more than that. You’re helping someone create their art, which can, and probably should be a very personal and intimate experience. The easiest way to get clients to come back is to get personal– be friendly, talk to them about their past, their history, what they like, what they don’t like, and why. Everyone wants to work with their friends. The more a client becomes a friend, the more likely they are to want to keep working with you. That doesn’t mean fake it, although at times you might have to, it does mean opening up to be more personal with everyone that walks through your studio’s doors.

Control the session without being controlling

There’s an art to being able to direct a session effectively while also being able to keep it fun. Sometimes you’ll need to tell someone when something isn’t that good or that the best course of action is to move on to the next thing. Artists can be extremely insecure and difficult to work with especially when they are creating something that’s personal to them. Sometimes they are just looking for approval or someone to tell them what to do. Or sometimes they want the complete opposite. The skill there is learning how to read the situation so you can lead the session while making sure the client is happy, and producing a good product.

Do something the client wasn’t expecting

Bring out a cool guitar amp that they’ve never seen, add real tube distortion to the lead vocal, add an instrument the band has never heard of, splice in a dropout, completely edit the arrangement. Enhance their music with impressive production tricks. Make a point to emphasize your special touch (whatever that may be). This helps leave a lasting impression and they’ll know who they need to come back to next time in order to get that same badass production.

Exceed their expectations, make the client sound better than they do

Exceeding the client’s expectations is the most surefire way to get a repeat client. The client will go into the session with an idea of what they want and what they hope the final product will sound like. If you’re able to exceed these expectations and produce a product even better than they had originally imagined, they’ll likely want to return so they can experience the same thing. Now the client isn’t just booking a recording studio, they are booking you because they know you’ll make them sound good.

This is how you form a team and partnership with your clients that can turn into a long term working relationship. If you ask any successful engineer they will tell you that these types of relationships are paramount to sustaining a career in this field. Your loyal clients are not only valuable because of their direct business– they’re also going to be putting your name out there, spreading the word and ultimately bringing you more clients. Word of mouth advertising is by far the most form of marketing for any engineer or producer.

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5 more things they don’t teach you in audio school

Music production and audio students

If you haven’t already, check out the first part of this series “5 things they don’t teach you in audio school.”

I don’t know the curriculum for every audio program but I do know there are required skills needed to be successful in the recording industry that can’t be learned in a classroom setting. These skills need to be learned the old fashioned way, by doing it and making mistakes. These mistakes are a right of passage. The truth is that not everyone that goes to school to learn how to be an audio engineer or music producer is going to have what it takes to turn their passion into a lifelong full-time career.  It’s important to remember that music production is an art form that’s entirely creative based as well as extremely technical. Like most great art, you can’t just learn a set of procedures and become a master. One thing that every great producer must start with that can’t be learned is good taste. Because of this, going to school for audio and production does not guarantee you’ll come out with the ability to produce high quality recorded music, it’s more likely that you won’t. On top of that, even if you’re a technical wizard, make the hardest beats, and have the best mixes, none of that matters if you’re not likable and you don’t meet the right people. After graduation clients aren’t going to be knocking on your door because you have a degree.

You need to have characteristics and skills that go beyond just turning knobs and making things sound good. Now I’m sure some schools with music production programs will touch on some of the things that I am going to mention, but touching on the subject and emphasizing it, are not the same thing. From my experience and what I know about audio programs are that many tend to be very focused on the technical side of things. This is likely due to the large majority of the students being very new to recording and production. The thought process there is before you do anything creative you have to know how to use the equipment. The other issue is a lot of these programs are run like for-profit businesses and there’s a lot of money in selling a dream of working in a recording studio alongside your favorite musicians that you hear on the radio. This is where it starts to taste a little sour for me. When schools focus on selling the dream without giving their students the right knowledge and tools to be successful in this industry.

If you’re trying to decide if studying music production is right for you, read my article “Should you go to audio engineering school?” where I explain things you should consider before making any decisions. 

Troubleshooting

Things can go wrong. And they often do. It’s extremely difficult to be able to remain calm and think clearly when there’s a catastrophic problem, time is money and important people are staring at you waiting for you to get things going.

An often underappreciated skill is the ability to troubleshoot constructively and effectively, Troubleshooting is the process of figuring out the source of an issue so you can fix it. In order to do this, you must start at the beginning of the signal chain and remove variables that could possibly be at fault one by one.

For instance, if you have a microphone connected to a console that has a preamp, you can first try to switch which channel you’re using on the console. If the microphone doesn’t work on the second channel then we know its most likely not the console and more likely something with microphone or cable. This type of guess and check work is essential in order to solve issues in the field.

The next time you find yourself in a situation where there’s a problem, use it as an opportunity to practice troubleshooting. Fixing a problem gives you a great sense of accomplishment.

Working under pressure and making decisions on the fly

We discussed troubleshooting in the previous section but I didn’t talk enough about how much more difficult it is when you’re working under pressure. If you’re the sound guy and the wireless mic goes out, everyone is looking at you to fix it. All eyes will immediately turn to you and give you the “what the f*ck happened?” look. Trying to fix something while hundreds of people are staring at you while you scurry around a stage chasing cables. My point is, this job can be stressful. When working in the studio, broadcast or live environment we are responsible for capturing events that are happening in real time. If we mess up, it’s a mistake that can never be corrected. You can never get that performance back.

There’s no class in the world that’s going to teach you how to work well under pressure. You need to be fed to the wolves, you need to make mistakes, and you need to fail. Then, after you’re embarrassed, humiliated and humbled, you can start to learn from your failures and actually become decent at this job. It’s okay to make mistakes, I’d say it’s necessary to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. It’s also helpful to try and remember that mistakes are part of the process and keep moving forward.

Managing stress

Working under pressure causes stress. The circle of life. Isn’t it beautiful? A lot of gigs in this field require working long hours for long stretches. It’s not uncommon to have a project that lasts multiple weeks and requires 12 hour days. It’s easy to disregard your health and fall into the habit of not eating or sleeping well. It’s going to be extremely difficult to keep up with what can be a strenuous lifestyle if you’re not taking care of yourself. Make sure you make time to relax and enjoy yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in the grind. It’s okay to take a break sometimes.

Managing yourself as a freelancer and business

When I started school way back in the year 2007 I mistakenly thought that there were still opportunities for full time jobs. I thought I could start as an intern, work my way up the ladder and in a few years I’d be tracking Kanye and Drake. I soon realized that wasn’t going to be the case and that full time jobs at recording studios weren’t quite as readily available as they used to be. And by not quite as readily available… I mean pretty much non-existent. 

It was years after I graduated that I finally realized that if I wanted to make a go at this thing that I was going to need to make myself the business. I needed to find a way to set myself up to get my own gigs and be my own boss. It turns out, it’s easier than I thought if you think of yourself as a business, you can start treating everything you do as such. If you keep working at it consistently, eventually you’ll start seeing results. Going to school didn’t help me find this path, and that’s not so much the school’s fault. You can’t teach someone how to make good life decisions. The audio industry has been changing so drastically in the last 10-20 years. Today, it’s the wild west, audio professionals are finding new ways to make a living. You need to be creative in how you market yourself, what services you offer and how you’re offering them. There’s a lot of money to be made in music production but it isn’t in all in recording the actual music. Try to find a path that makes sense, is sustainable, relatively future proof and gets you excited. Then just start running down that path as fast as possible.

Work ethic

Now that I have my own business, how do I… um… do work? I know what it’s like to go to a 9 to 5 desk job, clock in, do the task I am assigned for the day, and then clock out and go home.  Now I have to make my own schedule!? Hold myself accountable and make sure the quality is held to a standard. That takes a completely different set of skills that are not new to me and I’ll be honest, I am terrible at it. The first step is recognizing that I am terrible at it and then working towards correcting these bad habits. I never cared much about school work so I never developed a good work ethic. Finding ways to manage your time is crucial when you’re trying to build a business especially when you have other things going on in your life. I find it helps to focus on setting a schedule for myself. I’ll figure out what I want to accomplish each week/month and then map out what I should do every day in order to achieve that goal. It’s also really helpful to write down specific times you want to do things so you can hold yourself accountable.

Related articles:
5 things they don’t teach you in audio school
20 quick and easy tips that will improve your productions
5 mixing mistakes that I used to make… and how to avoid them
The “your mixes sound bad in the car” phenomenon

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20 quick and easy tips that will improve your productions (part 3)

20 quick and easy tips that will improve your productions (part 3)

You can read the second 20 quick and easy tips that will improve your productions here!

Quick tip 41

On a vocal try using one compressor with a fast attack to control the peaks and a second with a slower attack for tone and character.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bmjl3mXA69Z/

Quick tip 42

Try closing your eyes and listening to your mix every once and awhile. We mix with our ears not our eyes!

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bm34SGRA5CO/

Quick tip 43

Try using a predelay with your reverbs to help with clarity. This lets the dry signal through ebfore the reverb tail is heard.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BnCMh2mAUIg/

Quick tip 44

Learn how to troubleshoot! Don’t expect other people to solve your problems for you.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BnUUjGIA3Oc/

Quick tip 45

The higher the mic preamp gain, the more sensitive the microphone will be.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BncFn_PgeNC/

Quick tip 46

Use delays, vocal effects, and other ear candy to fill in the empty spaces of a song. This keeps the production intersting and the listener engaged even when the elad vocals aren’t in.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BnrQ2d6lGaP/

Quick tip 47

If frequencies are clashing and panning isn’t enough, try using a stereo width plugin to spread out a track even further.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BnzPOETFZSr/

Quick tip 48

Try using a high pass filter on the sidechain input of your compressor to let the bass frequencies pass through withouit affecting the amount of compression.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BoCpym-AlOg/

Quick tip 49

Start to maintain a favorite samples folder. After you finish a song, take your favorite sounds and export them to a seperate folder.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BoRgU4IAWQQ/

Quick tip 50

You have to try a lot of things that won’t work before you can know what things will work.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BocWqpplnnZ/

Quick tip 51

Finishing the project should always be your number one goal. It doesn’t matter how good it sounds if you never finished it.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Boy0Cglg1XA/

Quick tip 52

Mastering is always better left to a professional mastering engineer that has a fresh set of trained ears in a finely tuned room.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bo7WFJxAWIW/

Quick tip 53

Try lightly tucking a quarter note delay into a lead vocal to thicken it up.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bo_sEQ-A-67/

Quick tip 54

Track vocalists with compression, reverb, and delay to help yeild a better performance.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BpsaNc1FIxD/

Quick tip 55

Try not to spend too long working on a single instrument, remember to constnatly listen to the gbig picture and not the indivudal parts.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BpwpoM7Bw-f/

Quick tip 56

Don’t be afraid to stack multiple plugins and don’t be afraid to leave a sound untouched.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bp6_b4HFYUp/

Quick tip 57

You really don’t need that piece of gear! Spend more time learning about the gear you have and actually using it.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BqH6NBmF5B6/

Quick tip 58

Louder always sounds better. Make sure when A/Bing two signals that both are being played back at teh same level so you can accurately judge what sounds better.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BqX5l2hhR-M/

Quick tip 59

Every DAW offers teh ability to write notes directly into a session and on specific tracks. When you hear something that needs to be fixed, make a ntoe of it so you’ll remmeber what you wanted to do later.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bq2mZx8la–/

Quick tip 60

Set aside time for experimentation where you try new processors, effects, adn techniques that you wouldn’t normally use.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bt_IRrElwfG/

Related articles:
20 quick and easy tips that will improve your productions
20 quick and easy tips that will improve your productions (part 2)
5 mixing mistakes that I used to make… and how to avoid them
Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering

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20 quick and easy tips that will improve your productions (part 2)

20 quick and easy tips that will improve your productions (part 2)

You can read the first 20 quick and easy tips that will improve your productions here!

Quick tip 21

Try automating the master fader 1 or 2 decibels in the chorus to add excitement.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bjc8ED6gNKw/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 22

Decide what takes you like and makes comps right away. Don’t leave important decisions for later!

https://www.instagram.com/p/BjnTpaDgKWa/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 23

Treat music like a job, even if it’s not your job!

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bj77NU0APCz/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 24

Make a template and constantly keep refining it.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bj-a2oLgdv8/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 25

If you want your chorus to sound big, don’t make it bigger make what comes before it smaller.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BkBMYWFAL3v/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 26

Separate the times you focus on sound design and sample organization from your actual production sessions.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BkQX3MtAUoH/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 27

Practice shortcuts and hotkeys! Your DAW is an instrument, treat it like one. Learning all of the hotkeys will drastically speed up your workflow.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BkS-ThPgkbf/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 28

Put each vocal section on its own track (lead verse, lead chorus, lead bridge) and send to a vocal bus. This makes it easy to change processing for the vocal between sections.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bkf0YEKARxM/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 29

Don’t bounce and repeatedly listen to songs you are still working on. If you repeatably listen to a work in progress your brain will start to get used to it and it will become more difficult to make changes or add new tracks later.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bkkxse4gKEz/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 30

Try adding chorus before a reverb to help widen and give movement to your return.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BkvO0EAg7Am/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 31

Avoid loopitis by following the structure of a reference track.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BlLwHxqgruF/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 32

CONTRAST! CONTRAST! CONTRAST! Stereo sounds the best when there’s contrast. For the widest sound, make sure what is playing in the left speaker is different than what’s playing in the right.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BlTfNAogGrX/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 33

ADD SOME AIR! For bright and shiny pop vocals make sure to add some “air” or frequencies over 14kHz.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Blf9dhQADRe/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 34

Submix similar sounds and parts prior to mixing so things stay organized and you can easily process multiple tracks at once.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BllogchA9ES/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 35

De-essing vocals allows you to get rid of harsh sibilance while maintaining clarity. I like to use one in the beginning of my vocal chain to make sure I get rid of anything before it’s compressed or equalized.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bl3Y33IgWRa/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 36

Small amounts of compression on multiple channels can really add up and help glue things together.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BmEPEKrALW4/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 37

Don’t set it and forget it! Those faders need to move! Performing volume automation will give your mixes life and make you a lot cooler.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BmJbyumg6Vr/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 38

If a reverb isn’t working on a vocal, try a short delay. It can give you the sense of space you need without cluttering things up.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BmO7H5rgYGz/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 39

Modern digital recordings pick up transients very cleanly. Add saturation before compression to help tame some of those sharp transient peaks so your compressor will not have to work as hard.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BmRcXF-gOmM/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 40

Clean up that low end! Use plenty of hi pass filters on instruments that don’t have fundamental bass frequencies to get a tight and punchy low end.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BmUwOSSAWLc/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Related articles:
20 quick and easy tips that will improve your productions
5 mixing mistakes that I used to make… and how to avoid them
Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering
The “your mixes sound bad in the car” phenomenon

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20 quick and easy tips that will improve your productions

20 quick and easy tips that will improve your productions

I recently started a new series called “Quick tips” on the Audio Hertz Instagram account and decided it would be a good idea to compile them all together and put them up as a single post.

Here are my first 20 quick and easy tips that are guaranteed to improve your productions.

Quick tip 1

Studio monitors should be the last thing turned on and the first thing turned off.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bho_zDHAqmX/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 2

Read the damn manual!

https://www.instagram.com/p/BhrohY9ALkT/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 3

The zero point is where the positive and negative side of a wave meet. By cutting there you can avoid clicks and pops in your audio, although it never hurts to add a short crossfade.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BiAWCCRAch7/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 4

To get a larger sounding floor tom, place foam pads under the feet so you don’t lose any of the low resonances through the floor.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BiKW4X0AOvX/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 5

Trying to get the vocals to pop? Duplicate the lead vocal track, add distortion, a sh*t ton of compression, boost EQ in the 1-5kHz range and automate the new track back in during the parts you need the vocal to cut through more.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BiMq08oASMp/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 6

Don’t be afraid to add processing to your effects returns.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BiPn8NlAZ3H/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 7

Your goal when mixing shouldn’t be to make it sound the best, your goal should be to make it feel the best.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BiSUMiIAgrR/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 8

Automate the tempo of your track to go up a few BPM in the chorus. It adds excitement and life, just like when real musicians play together.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BiUwxptAgxg/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 9

Don’t be afraid of using an extremely wide Q setting on an equalizer. Wider boosts at smaller increments tend to sound less intrusive and more musical.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Biakwa4AVkw/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 10

The best engineers know when to tweak a sound and when to leave it alone. Listen before you decide to add EQ or compression.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bic0VFnAtq4/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 11

Remember to mix at lower volumes! Everything sounds better when it’s louder so make sure your track still retains the balance and punch at lower volumes. I also love adjusting compressors at low volumes, it makes it easier to hear what it’s really doing to the transient.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BifGsvAAFBB/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 12

After mixing for a long time try flipping the left and right to listen from a new perspective.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bim6x76gMHW/?taken-by=audio_hertz

 

Quick tip 13

Having trouble balancing the low end? Try cutting 60-80 Hz in the bass and boosting 60-80 Hz in the kick.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BiztAelATvt/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 14

Try using a transient designer on your drum reverb return. Turning up the attack should yield a tighter and punchier sound.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bi2WzoBl4ze/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 15

Your groove is driven by the interplay between your kick, snare, hi-hat, and bass. If your rhythm section doesn’t groove, ain’t nobody gonna move.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bi4z8tNA1cZ/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 16

Commit to a sound, save CPU power and bounce your virtual instruments to audio. Don’t get stuck in the habit of leaving yourself a ton of decisions to make while mixing.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bi7ek2nAigF/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 17

Try turning off tempo-sync on your time based effects. Subtle timing discrepancies are a cool way to loosen up the groove and give a more human feel to your programmed tracks.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BjF1CAzgxoS/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 18

You don’t always have to mix sounds loud enough to hear them. Sometimes an instrument or effects return only needs to be felt and not heard.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BjKy2GFADvB/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 19

Use a room mic on an electric guitar and blend it in with the amp’s microphone to add space, depth, and attack to your guitar tracks.

*I need to make a correction on this one. If you’re looking for more attack you can try adding a close mic on the guitarist picking hand, this also works well for bass guitar.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BjQo0QOgQAX/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Quick tip 20

Organize your plugins! Just about every DAW these days will allow you to rearrange the way your plugins are laid out.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BjVUy92AyDm/?taken-by=audio_hertz

Related articles:
20 quick and easy tips that will improve your productions (part 2)
5 mixing mistakes that I used to make… and how to avoid them
[Even more] Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering
Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering

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6 audio effects you’re not using enough

Saturators

If I could only have one effect or plugin, it would be a good saturator. You can use saturation to do just about everything from compressing to distorting, to just adding color or harmonics to enhance the overall tone.

One of the major problems with digital recording is everything is captured so “cleanly.” Because digital signal processors lack actual hardware components, the super fast transients are preserved in an almost unnatural way. Super clean digital recordings tend to sound “sterile” compared those recorded to an excellent magnetic tape machine. The analog components inevitably soften transients and add what most engineers describe as warmth and color. Whatever word you want to use to describe it, the end result usually makes things sound better and more importantly blend more easily.

To compensate for these super clean recordings, many software companies that are emulating classic analog gear have added saturation stages into the algorithms. It is common to see a saturation stage in compressors, equalizers and even some delay units such as the Waves H-Delay and Soundtoys Echoboy. The reason for this is because the units they are modeling had transformers, transistors, capacitors and other components that the audio would have to pass through before being outputted to your speakers. In order to accurately model these classic processors programmers needed to make sure the coloration that is happening inside the unit is there as well.

A few favorite saturation plugins of mine are the Kush Omega series, Soundtoys Decapitator and URS Saturation.

M/S Processors

It’s common to hear other audio engineers talking about “width” or “how wide a mix” is. There’s a reason for it, something that sounds wider usually sounds “better” because it sounds fuller. There may be a select few scenarios where a narrow mix might be preferable but for the majority of music, you’ll want to actively try to keep the stereo field as wide as possible.

Normally when adjusting a stereo track, you’re either adjusting a single mono channel individually or both stereo channels together. If you’re adjusting a stereo signal whatever you’re doing to one side will affect the other side exactly the same way.

Midside takes a stereo signal and decodes it into a mid and a side channel rather than the standard left and right. This lets you control the mid and the side channels separately.

The mid channel lets you control the center of the stereo image. If the mid-channel is boosted, the listener will perceive the source as narrower or more mono.

The side channel is the outer edges of the stereo field. Boosting the side channel will give the listener the perception of a wider sound. M/S decoding stems from the microphone technique of the same name invented by Alan Blumlein in 1934.

Mid/Side can be a very powerful tool but a little definitely goes a long way and you need to be careful of going too far as more extreme settings can cause phase and imbalance issues.

Automating Mid/Side effects is a fun way to add width to synths or guitars during a particular section of a song. Another cool trick is to raise the mid-channel on the overheads to get more focus and punch out of the kick and snare.

My favorite M/S plugin for decoding is Brainworx BX Control. I like the Waves Scheps 73 for M/S eqing.

Wideners and Stereo Imagers

In the past, I wish I had been more aware of the stereo field and just how important it is. A good mix engineer is very aware of giving every element of a production its own deliberate space. No two elements can be competing and everything has to be put in a place that makes sense. That’s what makes a good mix. A lot of people underestimate how important and powerful panning is as a tool for engineers. There are many problems that can be solved with just a small move of the pan knob. Instead of trying to cut a conflicting frequency with an equalizer, adjusting the panning can often be a better solution.

The center of a stereo image is where the important stuff is going to happen. The vocals are arguably the most important and you’ll always find them located smack dab in the center. You’ll also need to make sure both channels are balanced. This can sometimes be difficult during the mixing phase as there are times where you’ll want a mono sound playing through both speakers that is conflicting too much with more important elements. A widener is the perfect tool for getting an element out of the way of the center while still keeping stereo image balanced. I hate pulling a guitar or keyboard over to one side without another sound on the other side to balance (unless I’m specifically going for that effect or want something to really stick out). There are multiple ways widening plugins make the image seem wider and most involve some sort of phase manipulation.

My favorites wideners are the stock Stereo Spread in Logic Pro X and also the Waves S1 Stereo Imager.

Transient designers

I learned that It’s hard to know you need SPL Transient Designersomething when you’ve never tried it. No, I’m not talking about drugs (stay away from those kids)! I’m talking about transient designers. I waited a little too long before I decided to try out a transient designer. It’s a tool that serves an important purpose when it comes to newer more transient heavy electronic music and it can not be replaced by any other tool in an audio engineers toolbox.

I think the reason I went so long without using them is if there was ever a sample or some track that would benefit from adjusting the transient, instead of opening up a  transient designer I would opt to replace the sample or find another way to fix whatever issue I was having. That’s the beautiful part about recording and art in general. There’s always more than one way to do something and if it works, it works and it doesn’t matter whether anyone else considers it “right.”

Replacing the sample is one way to fix a problem but using a transient designer is a much quicker and more efficient way if you are looking to adjust the attack or sustain of a particular sound.

My favorites are SPL Transient Designer and Waves Smack Attack.


Harmonic and Subharmonic generators

These synthesize harmonics and allow you to blend them into a dry source. Harmonic generators like the Aphex Aural Exciter have been a long-standing staple of recording studios and are commonly used on vocals to help add extra shine. These units ultimately help the sound pop, they add an excitement which you mostly notice in the high frequencies.

Subharmonic generators like the Peavey Kosmos and Waves R-Bass allow engineers to add synthesized subharmonics into their bass, kick, and synthesizer tracks. Sub frequencies that are 40 Hz below are difficult to capture via a standard microphone. You may have seen engineers recording a kick drum with a sub mic. A subharmonic generator allows you to synthetically add in these frequencies to help give the tracks some extra low-end oomph.

My favorites are Waves R-Bass and Vitamin.


Bit Crushers

Maybe you’ve bit crushed a synth track but have you ever tried bitcrushing a hi-hat? or shaker? Or a vocal double and blending it back in for a lo-fi texture. When you lower the bit depth of an audio signal, you alter the frequency response. The lower the bit depth, the lower the frequency range the audio signal can reproduce. Lowering percussion tracks or other sounds to 16 bit, 8 bit, or even lower can help add some texture that no other processor can.

You’ll find bit crushers are great for adding harsh distortion. They are a goto for engineers that want to absolutely destroy a sound, but they also can add more subtle color effects when used more tamely.

My favorites include Klanghelm SDRR and the stock Bitcrusher in Logic Pro X and Ableton Live

Related articles:
5 mixing mistakes that I used to make… and how to avoid them
How to calibrate your studio monitors
Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering
The “your mixes sound bad in the car” phenomenon

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How to mix faster with the pink noise mixing trick

You’ve probably used your favorite commercially produced song to check mixes and reference overall levels but have you ever tried using pink noise? With this trick, you’ll use pink noise as a reference to check your tracks and make sure the overall balances are relatively even. You may be thinking this sounds crazy, and there’s no way it could work but read this article then try it out yourself, and if you’re still not convinced, then you can move on with your life and never think about this again. Regardless of if you end up using this trick ever in your mixing process, there is something to learn from why it works and how we can implement these types of things into our mixing workflow.

The Pink Noise Mixing Trick

  1. Import a pink noise sample or insert a signal generator on your mix bus. I like to set the output to around -12dbFS which will leave plenty of headroom for mastering.
  2. Solo the pink noise and the first track.
  3. Bring the track down until you can barely hear it above the pink noise.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 with every other track in the session

Tada! Like magic.

Can this quick and easy yet powerful trick save you time on every mix?

If you’re like me, then you’re always trying to figure out ways to get to the fun stuff faster, like adding compressors, reverbs and automation. The pink noise trick isn’t perfect, but it does help establish a basic balance of all the tracks quickly and easily which gives you a good starting point to further develop your mix.

What is pink noise and why would we decide to use it as a reference?

Pink noise is a generated signal used for audio measurement. The significant difference between pink noise and other noise is it reduces in amplitude as the frequency increases which takes psychoacoustics into account. Every octave up is half the amount of the one before it. This allows the human ear to perceive every frequency as balanced, so every frequency sounds like it is the same volume even though it’s not.

Pink Noise Frequency Spectrum

If you look at pink noise through a spectrum analyzer, the shape is very similar to that of a well mixed modern pop song. This is likely the reason it works. When looking at the analyzer, you can see with both examples the low frequencies start off the most prominent and then taper down the rest of the way which is essentially what pink noise is. If we reference with it we can get the same desirable frequency curve on the spectrum analyzer that we also see in a well mixed pop song.

The trick is pretty easy and painless. I’m sure many of you might even argue that depending on the number of tracks, this trick is likely to take longer than just mixing it by ear. If you feel that way, then this trick probably isn’t for you, and you can disregard everything you read so far and move on with your life. This is for the people that want a useful trick that will teach you a few things.

This trick won’t get you the most exciting mix, that’s not the point. The point is for you to be able to achieve a roughly balanced mix quickly and with little to no worry about room acoustics, monitoring and other factors that can negatively affect your mix decisions.

Related articles:
5 mixing mistakes that I used to make… and how to avoid them
How to calibrate your studio monitors
Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering
The “your mixes sound bad in the car” phenomenon

Posted on Leave a comment

5 more mixing mistakes that I used to make… and how to avoid them

5 more mixing mistakes that I used to make… and how to avoid them

Blindly adding effects

Kick drum? Compress it! Guitar amp? Distort it! Vocals? Reverb it! Ok, the majority of the time I will compress the kick drum, or distort a guitar or put reverb on a vocal but I need to be sure I have a good reason for doing so. In the past, I’ve found myself jumping to an EQ or a compressor without first deciding the problem I was trying to solve. If you’re going for a compressor, you should know why! Do you want to control the dynamic range? Add some saturation? Purely for tone? What exactly is that piece of equipment going to be doing for you? If you think about your signal chains more analytically, you’ll become more aware of what you’re doing and ultimately make better decisions.

Not having a mix template

Not only will a mix template save you time, but it will also help streamline your process and allow you to focus on the more critical details. I actually wouldn’t recommend someone who is new to mixing to start with a template. A new engineer doesn’t have enough experience to know what will work the majority of the time which means a template would not help much. When you’re a newer engineer, experimentation has a lot of benefits that will help you grow. Eventually, you will gain enough experience to trust your ears, which will allow you to know precisely when something works and when it doesn’t.

If you have some experience under your belt then having a template with your commonly used effects and routing set-up will save you an enormous amount of time. It’s helpful to look at professional templates and to try and figure out why they have things set up a certain way. You can then start to implement some of the things you see in those templates into your own. If any Audio Hertz readers are interested in seeing my template or would like to see some other professional templates you can reach out to me via Facebook or Instagram.

Not studying enough

Getting your hands dirty is a vital part of learning the art of recording and mixing music, but you can’t rely solely on experience. If I spent 10 hours everyday mixing and mastering I’d probably be pretty good, but there would still be things that I’d miss that I wasn’t able to figure out on my own. This is why it is crucial to incorporate some formal studying into your practice regimen. Treat recording and mixing like a sport: practice every day, study the greats, watch videos, recreate productions, cover old songs.

There is nothing that can replace experience and doing something and finishing it (bolded for importance). You have to put in your hours along with studying the things that have worked for others in the past.

Right now there are a ton of paid and free resources available. YouTube has a lot of material readily available but the problem with YouTube and other similar sites is that you can’t always be sure about the people that are teaching you and if they are a legitimate source information.

I pay for sites like PureMix.net and Mix With the Masters. These sites are comparatively pricey to free YouTube videos, but the information is well worth the monthly fee. I’ve watched some of these videos multiple times and find myself frequently picking up new things that I didn’t catch the first time around. Both sites are readily updating and adding new content and are very adamant about their goal to further advance engineers with the skills from absolute masters of the craft.

Without the ability to go and sit next to these masters in the studio while they are working, this is the next best thing. It’s arguably a better method for learning because they are talking through their process for you. I highly recommend checking both sites out.

Missing the little things

The small things really start to add up. Recording, audio engineering,  playing an instrument, etc. all require a high attention to detail to do them well. In the past, I’ve fallen into bad habits of ignoring things that seem like they may not make an immediately noticeable impact. The truth is, a great mix isn’t made by making massive changes, it’s fine-tuned, small tweaks that are continually being altered until you have sculpted your tracks into a fully produced mix. When you begin a new mix, you have a lot of leeway to start making big broad changes, but pretty quickly it gets into a time where you’re not making differences that a layman would notice. It’s like a painting– you don’t start with the fine details, but if you ignore them then the painting does not seem complete. When you first start recording audio, hearing minor changes is difficult, and it may sound like something that small doesn’t even matter. It all matters, it all adds up, and it all makes a difference.

Not using reference mixes

There’s one thing that keeps me from checking reference mixes while I’m mixing… fear. I’m afraid I’m going to put the highly regarded reference mix on after listening to my current mix only to realize I’ve spent the last 4 hours wasting my time trying to tweak the bass when it sounds terrible.

Have a playlist of your favorite songs of versions that you think sound the best. Listen to them every half hour to an hour while mixing so you can keep the reference fresh as you mix. This helps your ears calibrate as you mix and they get fatigued. It’s easy to get caught up in minor details and forget about the big picture (having said that, don’t forget about the previous tip). The reference reality playlist keeps your ears in perspective. If your mix can stand up against one of the mixes in your playlist, then it’s pretty clear you’re doing something right. This tip was given to Greg Wells by JJP and passed along to me at the live Pensado’s Place at AES in New York City this year.

Related articles:
5 mixing mistakes that I used to make… and how to avoid them
[Even more] Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering
Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering
The “your mixes sound bad in the car” phenomenon