Recently, I produced a track. It was a song I wrote, I had quite big plans for it. I pulled in quite a few people in for the recording, even planned for the MV.
Then I asked my teacher for advice on the track. He gave me some rather good advice, then I managed to solve it and he was ok with the track. He then offered me to send him the track for him to do an alternate mix.
He received my project and was appalled at how many plugins were used. He said that I shouldn’t have edited so much and made it so perfect. He then went on to send me his mix and to be honest, I didn’t like his mix.
He did several stuff to my mix.
1. The Eguit was toned down to be made gentler.
2. A constant delay was added to the vocals.
3. My synths became the drive for the song.
4. Noise in my acoustic guitar was removed
5. Keys seem more mono
Overall, I felt that my song lost its edge. Sure it is warmer, but it lacked the excitement that I would expect from my track. The vocal delay was rather distracting for me. Synths becoming the drive was rather nice! Noise taken out was great, but seem to have a lack of character. Keys sounding more mono wasn’t that bad either. It didn’t have the kind of sound I was looking for. The bright and interesting kinda sound. It sounded a bit dated.
There is really no offence to my teacher. There are of course flaws to my mix too. Like, you can hear the tuning on the voice; it might be rather irritating. The ambience I left in, would be questioned too, cause it was rather distracting I guess. I left it in as some sort of styling.
I guess it really boils down to preference.
My teacher said that I used too many plugins on the tracks. Back in school, I would probably follow that school of thought of just do minimal stuff. However, I kinda changed my workflow and work mentality quite a bit. My point is, sure if I can get the job done with less, sure all the better. However, if I am unhappy with the sound, I don’t see why I cannot just use more plugins to arrive at where I want to. As long as I can arrive at a sound that I am happy with, why not? Why settle for a sound that is not what I want for the song just because I try to limit myself with the number of plugins?
My work flow has always been, EQ-Comp first. Then if I am unhappy with the tone, I might throw in an exciter after that to spice up the mix. For guitars I might pull in an amp simulator for more drive and grit.
A magical use for compressors I have found to be extremely helpful is side-chain! Lovely feature. Totally cleared the mix and made the mix sound a lot clearer and dynamic. Since we as musicians often listen and react to other musicians, why not do that mechanically? It does wonders to a mix. Too bad the feature of side chain is only available for compressor on logic. So I can’t do side chain on a multi-band compressor.
A work around is to duplicate the channel with he plugins. Add in a multipressor on both. Solo the lows on one and the highs on the other. Then side chain compress one. Viola, side chain on a multi band compressor.
I think mixing cannot be just a scientific thing. I often teach my students to achieve two things before artistic preference.
1. Everything can be heard
2. Everything sounds like it should
However, in a studio production situation, quite a bit changes.
Mixing in post production and not live almost always guarantees everything can be heard. However, now comes artistic preference and boy is it a handful. Now you can choose something to be heard WAY upfront or just something that is meant to be felt.
The Sounds-like-it-should rule also changes because now you will have plenty of toys to play around to shape the soundscape. I can make an Aguit sound like an Eguit if I want. I can distort a voice. I can automate delays. It is incredible how much you can do to a sound.
Having so many tools but not using it to shape sound to exactly how you like it, is like having a $4000 camera and you don’t process your shots and giving the raw files to people. It will be dull and won’t pop. Or like having this amazing set of 64 colour pencils but only using the Red Green Blue colour pencils.
Reason why? To reminisce the past when people had to settle with less; only able to have a few compressors and EQs on hand. Sure, I understand, there are some great records during those times, but do you seriously think that if they had the technology back then, that they won’t use it?
I bet you those engineers did all they could to get the best sound they could. Why settle? A good engineer needs to know what to leave in for character and what to correct for perfection.
A track needs to be almost perfect before release. The engineer needs to do his best.
I am so thankful to be in the era I am in.
Haha, I guess I am seeing mixing more and more like an art than science now.