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Record with Intent. Address your F.E.A.R.

Record with Intent. Address your F.E.A.R.

Welcome! I’m happy to report Musician’s Survival Guide to a Killer Record is currently available! To celebrate, I would like to share with you the Intro from the book a section at a time. Without further adieu, here is the third installment of the Intro, in which we cover Intent and F.E.A.R.

Intent

I can’t tell you how often I’m handed a track to mix in which a grand piano was recorded in stereo despite its role as a secondary part meant to offer texture within the production. That kind of piano part is often best presented as a lo-fi, dark, over-compressed mono piano. The crazy thing is the recordist will admit outright that she was uncomfortable with the idea of recording the part mono because, well, her job is to capture good sound.

Everything in recording is relative, and, as such, it’s not good sound if it’s the wrong sound. A hard rock kik drum that would make the most ardent metal-head smile will likely sound whack and out of place on a hip-hop production. Where judging sound is concerned, context matters. And yes, we can easily break that stereo piano recording down to mono and mangle the part after the fact with minimal repercussions. But wouldn’t it have made more sense to record the part in the manner it was intended rather than adhering to someone else’s idea of what a good piano recording is?

I can certainly understand how a professional recordist might be uncomfortable sticking a relatively inexpensive dynamic microphone in the sound hole of a $50,000 grand piano. It only takes one or two clients to berate you for sloughing off the piano capture before you decide it’s best to record everything as if it’s a featured instrument. That’s how you cover your ass as a recordist. That’s not how you make a Killer Record.

Fortunately, you’re not a recordist at all. You’re a musician making a record and you only have to answer to yourself. You aren’t judged on your ability to pull an amazing tone, nor should you care about what anyone thinks of your tones. All that really matters is the song and the arrangement and the performances. As someone who has produced, recorded, and mixed hundreds of records over the course of 30 years, I’m here to tell you, recording becomes downright efficient when you build your parts with intent throughout the process.

Still, there will be many of you who can’t fathom the idea of recording a mono piano, because, well, you might regret the decision.

What if I decide later that I want a big beautiful piano on the last chorus? Shouldn’t I protect against that possibility?

How do you protect against the possibility of a mistake when you perform live?

I mean, when you perform live you don’t have the luxury of a safety net. You go out there, some of you nearly every night, some on the weekends, and you perform in front of people. Strangers even! Do you worry about making mistakes? Does concern over mistakes help matters?

To operate with intent requires that you trust yourself. When you approach your record based on preconceived notions of process rather than the purposeful intent of your production, you approach your record based on fear. This is when self-doubt creeps in, and you begin to second-guess your earlier decisions. The worst is when you begin to second-guess your second-guessing.

When you build your arrangement with intent, whether through the pre-production process or the overdub process, then every decision that you make is based on the decisions that came before. By the time you get to the end of the process, you are unlikely to second-guess anything, because everything already works together and you can hear it for yourself. And while the process can be front-loaded with quite a bit of experimentation in which all parts are in play, the moment good things begin to happen–the moment you begin to react–you’ll want to build upon that success.

If the concern over a mono piano is that you want the option to change your mind later, that would have nothing to do with the piano, and only to do with your inability to trust yourself.

Record-making is not a wholly linear process, and it’s okay if you’re not 100 percent sure of your intent when you record a part. I’ve spent far more time recording fruitless things than my discography would indicate. And it’s okay to leave yourself options if you’re on the fence about a part. Just keep in mind that any decision you defer for the now, will have to be made later. Some of those decisions will resolve themselves, which is a good reason for putting them off. Unfortunately, the motivational factor for many recording decisions is fear.

F.E.A.R.

Future Events Already Ruined
False Evidence Appearing Real
Fuck Everything And Run

When it comes to Art, there is nothing more debilitating than fear.

Fear is a constant motivation in our lives. Some fear is good as it helps to protect us from dangerous things. Like bears, for instance. It’s totally reasonable for me to fear a large Asheville bear staring at me through my open front door as I wake from slumber on my couch. I can tell you, 25 years in Los Angeles didn’t really prepare me for that.

Unfortunately, where it comes to a record, most fear is unfounded, overblown, and downright destructive. We all have to face fear in life. Fear of failure and fear of success are probably the most prevalent for us artistic types. They can be especially debilitating when they happen concurrently.

Ain’t that some shit? Fear of success concurrent with fear of failure? Who could make a record under those circumstances, let alone a Killer Record? 99 percent of all great performances are born from confidence. And this isn’t just about music. I’m talking about life too.

When you believe in yourself you operate without fear. When you operate without fear, you’re no longer getting in your own way. As a musician you have surely experienced this mindset. That solo that left the whole room gobsmacked? That was just a momentary burst of confidence in which you operated within yourself, without fear. If only we could summon that kind of confidence any time we needed it. We can. It’s just that sometimes our own brain will work against us.

When it comes to Art, fear often manifests as self-doubt, which is the most nebulous fear of them all as there’s rarely a specific outcome associated with it. To make matters worse, it all seems so rational at the time we go through it. The way I figure it, self-doubt is just an efficient way to beat ourselves up, as it’s the social contract of the Artist to be put down, and if others won’t step up to offer a lashing, then we must do it ourselves. Regardless of what you think about that theory, everyone goes through periods of self-doubt, even if it’s fleeting.

Exhaustion only serves to magnify self-doubt. It’s rather disconcerting to realize your record sucks while you’re in the middle of making it. But if the record isn’t finished, to proclaim it sucks would be a wholly unfair evaluation, as you don’t get to greatness without wading through the shit. Not everything you do will come out great. Which is why we don’t release everything we make.

A fellow writer friend once told me that, as an author, I must give myself permission to write badly. The reason for the permission? Because writing badly can’t be prevented, and I must push through those times to get to the moments where writing is effortless. And besides, there’s an editing process which allows me to address my bad writing, which is often far easier than dealing with a blank page.

Any work of Art in an unfinished state can only be judged on its potential, which is only realized upon its completion. Until the work is finished, it can’t be considered a work of Art.

When you listen to your unfinished work in total disarray–as your brain is over-saturated and hyper-sensitive and, thereby, wholly susceptible to self-doubt–this is about the time when you drop your forehead to your desk in exasperation, as you wonder why you ever thought to make a record in the first place.

My forehead has hit the desk in front of me more times than I care to admit. This is about the time I take a few days off. All of those problems that seemed insurmountable at the time are either not as bad as I thought, or easily rectified with a fresh perspective. Even if the ultimate decision is to undo or discard hours of fruitless work, that’s a normal part of the process when you build a record with intent. What’s important is that you don’t tear everything down at a time when you’re in a fragile state.

I always chuckle when people freak out about their record in the middle of the process. Is the record coming out tomorrow? Because that would be something to worry about. If you don’t waste some portion of your time on bad ideas, you’re playing it too safe. Bad ideas often lead to unintended greatness.

I have invested hundreds of hours on creative projects that I’ve chucked after completion. I’ve written 40,000 word documents that never saw the light of day. I’ve recorded entire songs that never made the album. Welcome to the world of Art. You try things, they don’t work, you move forward. The bottom line is, you’re not going to release your record until it’s right. So, there’s really no reason to freak out over its current state. It’s not done.

Early on in my mixing career, shortly after the success of Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, I would often take home a cassette reference of the day’s mixes. Cassettes were fraught with problems, and a slight misalignment of the heads between the record deck and the playback deck could result in a significant loss of high end. As a young mixer, I would bring home a cassette reference, only to plummet myself into self-doubt because the cassette lost much of the brilliance from the studio. Invariably, I would return to the studio the next day, only to realize all of my concerns were unfounded.

I went through this for way longer than I should have, and at some point I realized, cassette references were only good for one thing–losing sleep. They didn’t actually tell me much beyond the fact that I was highly susceptible to self-doubt. The best way to deal with that was to trust myself. Which seems odd. You can cure all self-doubt just by trusting yourself? Why, yes you can.

Rather than continue to bring home unreliable references, I stopped bringing them home at all. Even after purchasing a DAT player for home, it was rare for me to listen to mixes there. My time at home was best served away from the project. Not to immerse myself in it further after a full 12-hour day of obsessing. That required trusting myself.

Self-doubt, while destructive, does have its redeeming qualities. For starters, it can be quite useful for putting ego in check. Don’t mistake ego for confidence now. Ego and self-doubt are similar tonics in that ego provides us the elixir of confidence with the side effects of self-doubt. Good things rarely come from ego, as it is merely arrogance born out of conceit which either manifests itself through comparison or delusion. I’m better than you areis ego due to the comparison. I will make a Killer Recordis an expression of confidence as it puts the focus on self. I will make a Killer Record just like I always dois ego, because the conceit lies in your attempts to convince yourself that you’re infallible.

Whereas ego often puts the focus on others, confidence puts the focus on ourselves. Confidence is where we operate best. It’s just an insanely difficult headspace to maintain.

When you operate from a place of confidence, you’re doing, not thinking. And you’re certainly not concerned with what others might think. That’s a great place to be. Yes, you’re using your brain power to problem solve and that’s surely thinking. But you’re certainly not all wrapped up in yourself nor the analysis paralysis that goes along with overthinking matters.

When you’re confident, you don’t second-guess yourself. You don’t usurp your own power. You trust yourself, and you work assiduously towards a goal. In confidence, when something is right, you know it’s right. When something is wrong you know it’s wrong, and all you care about is fixing it. Really, what could be more efficient than that?

In sports, this is called being in the zone. It’s the point where your brain and your body are so in tune, that everything you’ve practiced for years becomes momentarily effortless and automatic. Once self-doubt seeps in, it’s over. You’re out of the zone.

Sadly, no matter how confident we might be in our abilities, and no matter how good we’ve become at maintaining our confidence, fear does still come into play. An outside trigger can instantly neutralize all of that hard work, and our worst thoughts can return in an instant. As much as I’d like to supply you with a foolproof method to harness fear in general, that will require an entire lifetime to achieve, and not even then. In other words, I’m still working on it myself. So, perhaps we should address some more specific fears, and try to break them down into their absurdities.

Do you fear that people will hate your record?

That’s going to happen regardless. There’s no such thing as a universally adored record, and if there was, I already hate it. Therefore, there’s no such thing as a universally adored record. You’re going to fear something that we can guarantee is going to happen anyway? Do you fear the sun rising? Because you won’t stop that either. People will hate your record, and more people will hate it than love it, and the same is true of every record ever made.

As I’ve already pointed out to you, our goal as an Artist is to cause a reaction. Really, it doesn’t matter what that reaction is, so long as it’s a strong one. The worst reaction is ambivalence, which is technically no reaction at all. It’s a non-reaction reaction in which your work generates nothing more than a yawn. As much as it can be unpleasant to be told how bad you suck, at least you moved someone enough to care.

Do you fear writing a bad song?

It doesn’t take long before any songwriter realizes they’re playing a numbers game. Most of us record our good songs and let our bad songs fade away from our consciousness. Some of you may record everything that you write as a live to 2-track demo, which is great. But your records themselves should be confined to your stand-out songs. These days there’s little room for filler material given the strange slow death of the album as an artform.

Oddly, you’re more likely to fear producing a bad record than you are to fear writing a bad song, despite your song being of supreme importance and the production nothing more than a delivery medium. Much of that has to do with confidence. You believe in your ability to write a great song. You like your songs, or at least some of them, which is why you wish to document them. Therefore, it’s easy to be confident about them. Your recordings, on the other hand, might not come out the way you intend, and that’s going to create self-doubt.

Let me ask you this. Was your first song your best song? Or did you have to write a bunch of songs before you really started to get good at it? Why would it be any different for recording your song? Why would you be good at recording the first time out? Why would you be good at recording the tenth time out for that matter?

You didn’t pick up your musical instrument for the first time and play it like a champ. You had to learn scales and chords, and to read musical notation. You had to practice for hours upon hours merely to achieve incremental improvement. Even if you learned to play an instrument by ear, there was still lots and lots of practice involved.

The difference is, of course, aside from perhaps your mother, the world didn’t have to sit through all of your awful practice sessions. Yet, once you complete your record, the first thing many of you will do is put it up on the Internet. And you’re going to put it on the Internet for the same reason you were so excited to record it. Because you think the song is amazing. Which is exactly the reason why you shouldput it on the Internet.

All that matters are your songs. Those are yours forever. The songs have potential value in the future. Your recordings have none and can be redone. If one of your songs becomes popular, it will be recorded tens of thousands of times by others, and the predominance of those records will be awful renditions of your song. People will still love the song. And if you happen to record the first horrendous version of your own song? That’s okay too. A lousy recording is nothing to fear. It’s the song that must stand the test of time.


The Intro will continue in a few days. If you know you’re going to order the book, then go ahead and order it now. The links are below here. And remember, sharing is caring.

Enjoy, #mixerman

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Record with Intent. Address your F.E.A.R.

Get your copy of Musician’s Survival Guide to a Killer Record

Order the paperback at Amazon US

Order the eBook at the Kindle store for just $9.99 (Read from any device or computer)

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Working Class Audio #202 with Mixerman

I spent a little over an hour with Matt Boudreau for his super popular Working Class Audio Podcast. We talked about some history, recording philosophies, and of course the new book, Musician’s Survival Guide to a Killer Record. Here are the results.

Remember, sharing is caring.

Enjoy, #mixerman

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Working Class Audio #202 with Mixerman

Get your copy of Musician’s Survival Guide to a Killer Record

Order the paperback at Amazon US

Order the eBook at the Kindle store for just $9.99 (Read from any device or computer)

Order the paperback at Indiegogo (Only $25 for all International buyers)


Join My Mailing List

Get news, updates, and product release notices direct to your inbox.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Mixerman, Owenby Cove Rd., Asheville, NC, 28803, https://mixerman.net. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact
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Mindset. Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Mindset. Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Welcome! I’m happy to report Musician’s Survival Guide to a Killer Record is currently available! To celebrate, I would like to share with you the Intro to the book in installments. Your overall mindset is crucial to manifesting a Killer Record. Sometimes the best strategy is to keep things simple.

Mindset

You’ve probably noticed the cover of this book is modeled off a US Army Field Manual. Much like a Field Manual, this document is meant to provide you an enormous amount of practical and useful information in a relatively compact package. Unlike a Field Manual, it’s intended to be somewhat entertaining. At the very least engaging.

I can assure you, dryly explaining signal flow and gain staging is neither entertaining nor engaging, and you’re not going to get a whole lot of that kind of nonsense from me. Sure, I’ll address both of those wholly technical considerations, but let us not forget that the goal here is to make a Killer Record. Not a technically perfect recording, whatever the hell that is.

Now, I recognize that it’s quite possible you don’t want to make a Killer Record at all and don’t understand why anyone would. Perhaps what you want is a Phat record. Worry not. I can help you with that too! Or maybe you want your record to be wicked. Or awesome. Dope, stellar, righteous, super, super-duper, bomb, epic, kick-ass, unmotherfuckingdeniable. It doesn’t really matter what word you choose, these terms all describe the same thing. A record that moves you.

Clearly, some of those descriptors will resonate with you more than others. After all, we identify with certain expressions based on our culture, our location, even our friendships. When you think about it, it’s no different with music. Some music resonates with us. Some doesn’t. And although the manner in which we describe our favorite records can vary greatly, we do have one thing in common. We’re musicians. And as such, we record music.

Let me repeat that. We record music.

Yet for some inexplicable reason, most musicians I know, and I assume most that I don’t, seek to improve their engineering skills. If you spend any time at all on audio forums, the trend is obvious. Musicians everywhere mistakenly believe they should think like recordists. Perhaps because that’s how you improve your recordings.

It’s not really. In fact, the headspace of a recordist is literally the last place you want to be in when you’re recording music. Strange, I know.

As someone who has operated as a professional recordist at the highest level (the $1000 per day kind), when you’re recording someone amazing, when you’re recording someone who understands how to project confidence and perform with artistry, you literally need only to set a mic in front of that amazingness and make sure that you’re in record when it matters. Yet, when you’re capturing something particularly atrocious, you’ll have to muster every bit of your experience and creativity in order to deliver what we can ostensibly refer to as a halfway decent recording.

Right. So, as a recordist or an engineer, if you merely avoid fucking a record up you’re a genius. But if you bring it miles ahead of where it was, you’ll be judged as wholly mediocre.

Which begs the obvious question: Why would anyone want to be a recordist? Because going from the thankless job of musician to an even more thankless job, with no chance of fame or the corresponding perks is somehow forward movement? Nearly every recordist I know is either a frustrated musician or a roadie who wanted more out of life. This is what you want to strive for as a musician? To be a recordist?

Look, I’m not saying there’s no merit to being a recordist, or even an engineer for that matter. But the main purpose of the gig, done properly, is to keep technology out of the way of the performers. The recordist concentrates on all the technical bullshit, so that the rest of us can concentrate on the music. Yet, like every other job in this industry, it has been elevated in importance beyond reason, despite the complete erosion of the position. These days, you’re far more likely to record yourself than to hire a recordist to do the job.

Anyone and everyone who has ever spent any part of their career as a designated recordist can tell you without equivocation, that the quality of a recording is based purely on the artistry before them. If the artistry is great, the recording will be great.

Notice I used the word artistry and not musicianship. Whether someone is a great musician or not is somewhat irrelevant. U2’s The Edge was no virtuoso back in the early eighties when they put out Boy. But he sure understood how to convert his limitations into strengths. That’s what artistry is. Understanding how to use the resources around and within you in order to make a statement that moves people. Art can be technically ugly and artistically beautiful at the same time. In other words, you don’t have to be a great musician to make a Killer Record. You just need artistry.

It makes far more sense for a musician to think like an Artist than to think like a recordist. As such, your artistry is your musicianship. And whereas recordists focus on how the music sounds, Artists and producers focus on how the music makes them feel. After all, that’s how Music Fan judges our work, by how it makes her feel. So, if the listener feels the music, why then would we ever concentrate on the sound? Because if the music makes you feel a certain way, then there’s a good chance it’ll make the listener feel that way too.

The thing we have to keep in mind is music is inexorably attached to sound. Yes, you can have sound without music. But you can’t have music without sound. Therefore, if you get the music right, if you arrange the parts such that they work together in balance and push the listener forward through the track, it’s going to sound good too.

I operated for many years as both producer and recordist. As such, I began to realize that anytime I was antsy about the sound during a take, it was actually a performance issue. The take didn’t sound good because the music wasn’t being performed well, and no amount of knob twiddling or fader riding could fix that.

Surely, when you first open up a haphazardly placed mic it can sound horrible. There is a process after all and we’re going to go through all of that. But once you’ve pulled your tones and you’re happy with them, barring some weird electrical anomaly or perhaps a bumped mic, what could possibly cause the sound to change other than the performance?

Oh, I know. The drummer played way harder once he was making a take.

For anyone with a little seasoning, that’s predictable.

Hitting the skins harder will certainly change the timbre of the drum, which will produce less overall tone. The drums will also be louder, which means the mic preamps are hit with more signal, same with the compressors. And yeah, one possible solution to the problem is to notch down the mic pres, which will also address the over-compression. But not only is that the least simple solution, it’s a technical evaluation that only serves to ignore the more likely possibilities.

For starters, if the drummer is hitting the drums harder than usual during a take, her performance can stiffen. This will often manifest as sonic degradation, even when you inherently understand it as a performance issue. If the drummer is doing anything outside of her normal practices, the performance very well could suffer. Notching down the mic pres isn’t going to fix that.

There’s no doubt that you need to understand how to get a mic into a mic preamp into an EQ and a compressor. You also need to understand the basics of how all those operate. And you can use these tools to mangle and to manipulate your tones to some degree. But if the initial rundown of the track sounds better than the early takes, this is a performance issue far more often than not. A bad performance can, and will, cause the sound to fall apart.

Still don’t believe me? If I bring super cellist Yo-Yo Ma into a world class studio, and place a good mic in front of him, he will sound amazing. If I immediately bring in Ma-Ma Yo—a first year cellist of questionable talent—and ask her to play the same song, with the same cello, in the same place, it will most assuredly disappoint.

What changed? The player and therefore the performance.

Logically speaking, if a poor performance can cause the sound to crumble, then to address the performance is to address the sound. Admittedly, when you’re in the act of setting up a cheaply built microphone that’s distorting both at the capsule and the preamp, it becomes a little difficult to keep the focus on the music. That’s what mantras are for. Repeat after me:

May all of my recording decisions be musical ones, and all of my technical decisions practical ones.

Say that three times. That should fix it!

Ahem.

Okay, so unfortunately, a mantra alone isn’t going to do it. You’ll also need to understand some recording things in order to keep the technical process out of your way. At least now, going forward, you no longer need to feel pressure to become a great engineer. Really, you just need to learn how not to fuck things up. The best way to accomplish that? Keep it simple.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

It never ceases to amaze me how many people wish to complicate recording. Take acoustic guitar. For whatever reason, this seems to be the instrument that musicians and would-be recordists are most interested in overcomplicating. Before you know it, there’s two microphones on that guitar in the hopes of capturing every nuance of a secondary strumming guitar part–one mic on the bridge to get that lovely honkiness, and another on the 7th fret (or some-odd nonsense) to pick up the brilliance. Which may seem like a solid strategy, until you consider that the player shifts as she plays. That’s problematic.

Mics in close proximity to a relatively small instrument, such as an acoustic guitar, don’t have enough distance (and thereby time) to produce a proper stereo image. To make matters worse, the guitar sits in your lap and, therefore, isn’t stationary. Which means those two mics will interact audibly and negatively any time the player shifts her body or her guitar. Once combined as a mono signal, there will be obvious frequency cancellation and comb filtering. And if those two mics are panned out to the sides for stereo? Not only will the image shift and frequencies cancel, the sound will swirl uncomfortably around your head due to what we call phase coherency issues. That may all sound like gibberish at the moment, but once you understand what phase coherency issues sound like and how they occur, you will likely seek to avoid them.

You complicate matters significantly when you place multiple mics in close proximity to a relatively small and shifting source. And sometimes that’s necessary such as in the case of an acoustic guitar/vocal capture. But overall, we want to simplify matters. Not complicate them. A faux stereo acoustic guitar on your production not only complicates matters, it offers no real advantage. So, why on earth do people do it?

One reason is that young recordists can’t fathom an asymmetrical image. The horror! Sorry, but to seek symmetry in your sonic image at all times is a ridiculous distraction, one that completely ignores 50 years of precedence in stereo record production. Aggressive hard panning is commonplace in music, as is an asymmetrical image. These are not things to fear.

Rather than to attempt to capture an acoustic guitar employing a two-mic technique that I don’t recommend to the most seasoned of recordists, you would be far better off to consider precisely what you want that part to accomplish in your arrangement aside from symmetry.

Is the acoustic guitar part meant to provide the driving rhythm for the track? Is the part meant to fill in the low-mid frequencies? Is the part offering countermelodies? Musical call and response interjections? And what of the player? Do you have the right player for the part? Even if it’s you? Would another player make that part pop more appropriately for the production?

You can spend your time recording in fancy ways if you like, but it’s your musical decisions that affect your record most significantly. Seemingly sophisticated recording techniques are nothing but a distraction.

It’s an acoustic guitar. If you record it with one mic, it will still sound like an acoustic guitar, and no music fan on earth is going to question the decision to record an acoustic guitar mono. All that matters is how that acoustic guitar works within the production. And if it’s the featured instrument? I would just point out that a vocal is a featured instrument in most musical productions. How often do you hear a stereo vocal? I’ll answer that. Almost never. If you want a stereo image on your featured instrument, either record the room stereo and balance it with your close mic or introduce a stereo reverb to your mono capture. In the case of vocals and guitars, the stereo image is best derived from the space around it, not the instrument itself.

There was a ton of information packed into all of that, and if you’re relatively new to recording, some of it may have been difficult to follow. By the time you finish this book, not only will it all make perfect sense to you, you’ll know what all of it sounds like too. How? You’re going to open your DAW and we’re going to try some things so that you can hear what happens for yourself. That’s how. At the moment, we have a bit more to discuss.


The Intro will continue in a few days. If you know you’re going to order the book, then go ahead and order it now. The links are below here. And remember, sharing is caring.

Enjoy, #mixerman

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Mindset. Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Get your copy of Musician’s Survival Guide to a Killer Record

Order the paperback at Amazon US

Order the eBook at the Kindle store for just $9.99 (Read from any device or computer)

Order the paperback at Indiegogo (Only $25 for all International buyers)


Join My Mailing List

Get news, updates, and product release notices direct to your inbox.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Mixerman, Owenby Cove Rd., Asheville, NC, 28803, https://mixerman.net. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact
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The Intro

The Intro

Welcome! I’m happy to report Musician’s Survival Guide to a Killer Record will begin to ship by the end of this week. To celebrate, I would like to share with you the Intro to the book. If you like it, there will be links that you might want to click at the end. I’m going to break this up into multiple posts for you all so the entries aren’t too long. I call it:

The Intro

This Survival Guide is not intended to make you a better recordist. It’s designed to get you thinking about your Art and the creation of it from a musical place–regardless of genre–and to turn technical decisions into practical ones.

Given the title, it should be no surprise that I wrote this guide specifically for musicians. Every explanation and recommendation that I make is based on the realities of the recording musician today. Some of you are relatively new to the process. Others of you have recorded for years, but may be frustrated with the incremental improvements in your records.

This is not the book to learn how to plug in an interface or how to choose a DAW. This is a Survival Guide, it’s not a From-The-Ground-Up Guide. If you don’t know what converters are, or what a mic preamp is, or a compressor, or the difference between a real mic and a USB mic, then this book will be a little advanced for you. If, on the other hand, you want to know how to make all of those tools work for you rather than against you–that I can help you with.

Very few of us operate purely as a musician these days. You’re probably also an Artist, a producer, a recordist and a mixer. Those creative positions were formerly held by a team of people who were ideally experts at their respective jobs. These days, it’s more likely that one person is doing them all.

You.

Which is a little problematic, because there’s an inherent tension that occurs between the recordist, who is tasked with an accurate capture, and the producer, who is more concerned with performance. This sometimes results in making a take before the recordist is ready (which really annoys the recordist I have to say).

Personally, I’d rather have a less than ideal capture of my Artist when she’s itching to perform, than to have her shut down because my recordist spent too much time dicking around with tone. If there’s a usable signal coming through the monitors, and an inspired singer standing in front of the mic, I’m hitting record, regardless of protests from my recordist. I’m not going to allow technical bullshit to prevent me from capturing the performance of a lifetime. Even if there’s a sonic technical issue, if it’s a great performance, we’re good. Sound Schmound.

Unfortunately, if you’re both the performer and the recordist and there’s no producer to crack the whip, it can be difficult to extract yourself from the engineering mindset, mostly because you want your record to sound good, and if you don’t focus on the sound, you could very well ruin your record. In reality it’s an uninspired performance that will ruin your record, and the best way I know to achieve an uninspired performance is to focus on sound.

So does that mean you should just haphazardly throw up a mic, plug it into the nearest preamp and hope for the best? Of course not. But there are strategies that you can implement. In the case of a vocal, you could do some advance work, so that the mic and the preamp are ready to go the moment you’re inspired.

It’s critical that you learn good habits in your quest to make a Killer Record. Oh, and not just one Killer Record, but many. As such, the intent of this book is to provide you with a blueprint—a method, as it were—to bring you along the path of success. Which all starts with the acceptance that if you want a prosperous and successful record career, the music is where you should focus your attention.

This requires discipline. Not in doing the work. Most of you love recording and if you could do it all day and night you would. No, I’m talking about the discipline to make musical decisions rather than sonic ones. That will take some practice. Hey, you’re a musician. You should be used to practice by now.

You don’t need to know anything about how anything works from a technical perspective where it comes to making a Killer Record. Seriously, for many years I couldn’t tell you how any of this shit works beyond the basics myself. I literally learned how to record by rote, and picked up everything else along the way. Here we are five gold records, one platinum, and a multi-platinum record later, so clearly, all that you need to know is how things work from a practical perspective. And if you’d like to dive deeper into the technical aspects of recording, then by all means jump on the Internet and do some research.

It’s not like it’s difficult to find obviously reputable sources who can accurately explain how recording tools work. I just typed “how does ratio work on a compressor,” into my search engine, and on the first page there are several legitimate articles, and a few questionable ones. All of the well-known sources offer an accurate technical explanation of how ratio works. None of them really offers a practical explanation of how to choose your ratio.

Despite the ubiquitous nature of information on how to get started recording, somehow that doesn’t stop people from going on to a professional recording forum and asking what an interface does (bless their hearts). Fortunately, there are many people with far more patience than I who will gladly dispense that sort of information to you. They’re called Gear Pimps. Seriously, why would you ask strangers on the Internet advice on gear when a Gear Pimp will go out of her way to give you the best consultation she can based on your needs and workflow? Because she wants to sell you something? Good! She wants to sell you lots of somethings, and it makes no sense for her to sell you the wrong thing. If you’re asking about the best converter under $1000, then you clearly want to buy something. Go talk to the person who wants to sell you something.

Sheesh.

The mantra of this book is you have what you have and what you have is going to change. In fact, I did not mention any audio gear brands or models in the body of this book, nor did I need to. In other words, if all you have is a DAW, an interface, and a mic, that’s probably enough to get you started. But you have to face some reality here. You will be severely limited in what you can do.

There’s nothing wrong with limitations. We deal with them on a daily basis. Music has limitations. Our creativity manifests in how we operate within those limitations. And when you get really good, you learn how to expand your limitations into assets.

I peruse the various recording forums on the Internet a fair bit, and the mythology that is passed around in regards to recording and mixing is rather remarkable. Oftentimes, those who would be educators don’t know much of anything themselves and have never been involved in a record of note. Believe me, a record of note is not a prerequisite for explaining basic signal flow. It is, however, an absolute requirement when it comes to understanding how to make a record of note.

Further problematic, where Internet recording questions are concerned, the situation at hand is rarely considered. For the last 20 years, I’ve advised young mixers to put a compressor on their main stereo outputs (often called the 2-bus). I’m downright adamant about it. But if you ask me if a musician making her own record should put a compressor on the 2-bus? Probably not. It took me several days of internal debate to finally come to that conclusion.

That’s why I decided I had to write this book. It was clear that musicians are getting answers that don’t take into account their reality. Of course, some people don’t seem able to properly set up a question either. And social media all but trains us to post open-ended statements posing as inquiries designed to provoke a reaction. That’s rarely a good way to get information.

Hey fellow recording enthusiasts! Longtime lurker, first time poster. Should I mix with headphones?

Absolutely not.

300 posts later we find out the original poster is a hobbyist who gets complaints from neighbors when she uses her monitors, and is in danger of being evicted, which will be a real problem since her credit rating is down around 500 and no one else will rent to her.

Should I mix with headphones?

Um. Yes?

Of course, who is answering the question might influence the response.

Should I mix with headphones?

Absolutely not! Says the major label mix engineer.

Absolutely! Says the home recordist whose wife is fast asleep in the bed behind her.

As you might imagine, I spend quite a bit of time thinking about recording, mixing, and producing. Things have changed dramatically in the past few years. There is no doubt in my mind there are more musicians producing their own records than ever before in history. DAWs are powerful tools that generally don’t cost very much, and often come stocked with massive libraries and impressive manipulation tools. As such, there is a definitive need for practical information based on the current realities.

When it comes to record-making, there are no rules, and we’re going to use that fact to our advantage. But as I pointed out, there are indeed limitations, and you need to understand and accept those limitations in order to operate within them. If you go into your record with a vision that can’t be achieved given the circumstances, then you’re going to be disappointed with the results.

In order to set you up for success, the first thing that we must address is your thinking. So long as your expectations align with reality, you’ll have a good shot at making a record you’ll adore. That is to say, a Killer Record.

Mindset

To be continued . . .

The Intro will continue in a few days. If you know you’re going to order the book, then go ahead and order it now. The links are below here. And remember, sharing is caring.

Enjoy, #mixerman

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The Intro

Get your copy of Musician’s Survival Guide to a Killer Record

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Mastering and Mixing

Mastering and Mixing

© 2018 All Rights Reserved

Great News! Musician’s Survival Guide is complete and paperback copies will begin to ship soon.

The following is an excerpt from The Outro chapter. In it, I explain the difference between mastering and mixing.

“Mastering and Mixing

I get many requests from Indie bands who want me to quote them a rate for mixing their records. I don’t even offer a quote anymore. I mean, if a band is crying poor on their introductory note to me, then I’m certainly not going to bother to negotiate against myself. But if you want to make me an offer? I’ll certainly consider it.

I’ve been accepting offers like this for several years now, and the first thing that I do is listen to some roughs, and if I like the music, then I’ll consider an offer. But I rarely take the gig because the large majority of bids come in around $100 for a track. And I get it, musicians are often young and poor. The crazy part? The same people who would offer me $100 to mix their track will pay a mastering engineer (ME) $100 to master it.

I’d like to address this phenomenon by explaining the stark differences between MEs and mixers, how they think, and what they do.

Whereas a mixer employs balance to cause a reaction. The ME merely shapes the EQ curve of the stereo mix and brings it to the appropriate level, as determined by you. The mixer deals with emotion. The ME touches up the sound. She doesn’t have enough control to do much more. She can only adjust internal balances at the margins through the implementation of compressors, EQs, and limiters on the 2-track mix itself. All great mixes were great before the record ever went to an ME.

The world is full of frustrated MEs these days. Many were once mixers themselves who may have had trouble finding gigs. As a result there is a whole class of MEs that seek to fill in their schedules and stroke their own egos by offering stem mixing. Why do I find the concept so offensive? Because stem mixing is wholly predatory in nature. As such, it’s a “service” best avoided.

Stems are basically stereo sub-mixes that make up your mix when combined at unity gain. The stems aren’t for mixing. Stems are for movie directors and television broadcasters who need some modicum of control over the music. Film also has dialogue, Foley, and sound FX, all of which must work together. The stems provide the re-recording engineer control over the levels of your production for purposes of theirs. As important as your music is to you, for the director, it’s just another part of the big picture, and they must be able to fully manipulate the parts.

Your stems depend on your instrumentation, but a typical Stems configuration would look something like this:

Bass L&R;
Drums and Perc L&R
Keys L&R
Guitars L&R
Vocals L&R
Background Vocals L&R

Many MEs now offer stem mixing as a mastering service. That sounds kind of weird already, doesn’t it? In reality, it’s neither mixing, nor mastering, because those two jobs can’t be done concurrently. Mixing is an aggressive sport in which you seek to maximize the impact of dynamics and pull an emotional response from the listener by how you balance the arrangement. Mastering is a passive sport in which the goal is to limit dynamics for purposes of level, and tone shape for purposes of translation. You cannot operate from both an aggressive and passive stance at the same time. It doesn’t work. It’s not even possible.

The goal of stem mixing has only to do with balance and sound and nothing to do with pulling a reaction. How do I know this? Because the ME doesn’t have enough control to view it any other way.

It’s the height of arrogance for someone to suggest to you, that she can mix your record better than you, and with less control over the individual elements. No, she can’t. Never. Won’t happen, because it ignores emotional impact. Maybe she can balance the overall sound better than you, but that has nothing to do with a great mix.

If you suck at mixing, it’s probably because you have an issue with your monitoring–typically the room. And if that’s not the problem, then you’re not taking frequency into account, or your productions are too dense, and we have addressed all of those maladies in this Guide. A good mix starts with your arrangement, and with a little practice on that front, your mixes will come together without the help of someone who believes music is about sound. Besides, if you’re so terrible at mixing, then how is it you can even deliver decent sub-mixes? The whole concept is just remarkably disconnected from reality. It’s a service that serves no one, least of all you. If someone offers you stem mixing, run.

The level of competition is actually a problem at this point, with young MEs looking to break into the business with $40 masters that you wouldn’t play for your own mother. If you’re just learning, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to send your work to someone equally as green because you get no benefit from it. You would be far better off going to a well-regarded ME. At least then you get some knowledgeable consultation.

There are plenty of legitimate MEs in the world who can help to bring your record to the next level, especially if you have it mixed professionally. Unfortunately, the hack MEs outnumber the pros 1000 to one. You can find a successful ME with a hit-laden discography to master a record for $100 at this point. You want to pay the $40 guy, why? Because it’s $60 less, of course, but if the results are unusable, then you wasted $40 to save $60. A $40 per track ME can literally render your record unlistenable. The problem is, there are no guarantees that someone won’t butcher it equally as well for $100.

Given this, how do you choose an ME? I don’t know that you do.

Look, if you’re putting out records, and you’re hiring professionals such as myself to produce and mix them, it only makes sense to have your record mastered. You’re going to spend good money on a mixer only to skimp out at the end? But really, if you’re just starting out, or if you merely want to focus-group a new song, I don’t think it makes much sense to pay to have it mastered.

That said, you do need to get your record to level, or no one will be able to turn it up loud enough to hear it in their car. So, at this point–and I can’t believe I’m about to write this–it would seem to make more sense to use an automated mastering service.

The problem with automated mastering is that there is no notes process. You can’t just call up the bot and ask: could you add a little top? And you most certainly don’t want to try and chase the algorithms of the automated mastering system with changes to your mix. So, you get what you get and that’s what you get. But if the song is unproven, then what exactly is the point of having it mastered other than to give it some level? Because if you don’t have it mastered, the production won’t compare? What about the mix? I mean, that’s where we derive the emotional impact. There just seems to be quite a bit of confusion in regards to what a mixer actually does.

As your mixer, I will spend an average of six to eight hours mixing your production. It could go days. It could go for an hour. There are many factors that go into how long a mix will take me, and the price isn’t really one of those factors.

By the time I make my initial print of your mix, I’ll know every nuance of your production, I’ll know what parts come in where and why. I’ll underdub parts that aren’t serving the production. I’ll maximize the payoff. I’ll automate the parts so that the balances push the listener forward through the song. I’ll be able to explain every arrangement decision and every pan decision. I’ll recognize where you may have gotten confused along the way and will have addressed those sorts of issues. And all of this will be based, not purely on what I think is best, but on what you reveal to me through your recording. Your decisions in recording the track will dictate my decisions in the mix. My goal throughout will be to maximize impact in order to cause a reaction from myself in the hopes of causing the same reaction from the listener.

After the initial print, we will go through a notes process in which you tell me the issues you’re having with the mix. I’ll listen to you, share my thoughts and offer you my consultation, and then I will implement your first set of Notes. We will go back and forth once or twice like this, which will include a negotiation and pushback from me, because I’m not there just to do what you want me to do. I’m there to provide my expertise, my consultation, and ultimately a mix.

Ideally, by the time we’re through the second or third round of notes, I won’t even be able to get through the song because I’ll keep forgetting to listen to it as it causes me to react. Same with you.

That sounds downright valuable. Now, let’s evaluate what the ME will do.

The ME will spend at most twenty minutes with your mix, she will apply some processing to the track–some EQ, perhaps some compression and probably some brickwall limiting for purposes of level. Somehow, that has equal value?

This idea that the ME is somehow as important as the mixer is nothing but a crock. And if you can’t pay a mixer, ostensibly because it’s too expensive, then why on earth would you pay an ME? The ME can’t deliver you a mix. The ME can only master what you give her. And if you give the ME stems? Not only did you retard your own progress, you got ripped off to boot. Rather than to complete your record with intent, you will have passed it to someone whose only goal is to make you dependent upon them.

Until you have a fanbase, and until you’re putting out records on a regular basis–until you’re making money from your music–I wouldn’t bother mastering your records. Just run your production through an online automated mastering service and be done with it. Or get yourself a good brickwall limiter and bring it to level yourself. That suggestion alone will cause people to pull their hair out. You have to hire a mastering engineer! No, you really don’t. If you’re going to hire anyone, hire a bona fide mixer.

Let me just be perfectly clear, because I’m sometimes paraphrased poorly on the Internet. My records are mastered by a professional mastering engineer. I’m a professional producer and a mixer, and I intimately understand the process. I hire people who hear like I do, and whose consultation I trust. I know what the mastering process does and, as a mixer, I automatically compensate for what will happen in that process. While the difference between what I deliver and what I get back from an ME is nothing short of subtle, it often feels like the biggest difference in the world. So, a great ME can bring a great mix up another level.

That said, unless you’re paying to have your record mixed, you shouldn’t pay to have it mastered either.”

Remember, if you’re not sharing, you’re not caring. If you liked this post, Share!

As is usual when I finally complete a book (because I apparently can only do one thing at a time), I have some mix time available. If you have some tracks that need mixing, reach out. mixerman@mixerman.net. If you merely want your tracks mastered, send me the stems. I kid! I kid! I don’t do no stinking’ Stem Mixing. Neither should you.

Enjoy, #mixerman

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Mastering and Mixing

Get your copy of Musician’s Survival Guide to a Killer Record

Order the paperback at Amazon US

Order the eBook at the Kindle store for just $9.99 (Read from any device or computer)

Order the paperback at Indiegogo (Only $25 for all International buyers)


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