Carefully Crafting Your Sound can Yield Better Quality Recordings and Save you Time When Mixing

By: Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato

 

You’ve finally finished writing your song, you've tweaked and tweaked, changing phrases, a word here and there until it was just right. You can't wait to start recording and get this baby out into the world. If you want to make the recording and mixing as painless as possible, a little pre-production will go a long way. Here are some things to consider before you hit record.

 

What is your goal?

You should have a really good idea of how the finished product should sound.

 

Is your intention for the song to compete with the current pop hits? Are you recording electronic music or orchestral? Are you going to be the next big country sensation?  Whatever the answer is, this will guide your choices from instrumentation to tone and coloration.

 

Think about the arrangement.  Will there be space for the song to breathe or are you going after a wall of sound? What is the emotion and energy you are trying to express with...

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VCAs, DCAs, and Groups oh my!

Uncategorized Feb 23, 2021

Should you use them?  Which one and why?

VCAs/DCAs and Groups have often confused sound engineers.

Some prefer mixing on one or the other and some use a combination of both.  It’s often about preference but there are reasons to use one over the other.

VCAs or DCAs

VCAs/DCAs work like a remote control for the faders assigned to it.  You can easily control the input fader level of multiple input channels with one VCA fader.  If your kick drum channel fader is at 0 and assigned to VCA 1, moving VCA 1 to + 5 on the VCA will essentially be increasing the level of the kick drum channel at the fader an additional 5dB.  When you have all of your drum channels assigned to a VCA you can easily bring the overall drum mix down with one fader preserving the individual mix between the drum channels.

Mix Groups/Sub Groups/Control Groups

Groups are similar, allowing you to group multiple channels together for easier control, but Groups allow...

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The C word

Uncategorized Feb 23, 2021

Communication!

It’s so important to have clear open lines of communication with the artist/band/client.   

Whether you are hired to mix one show or a tour, the first thing you need to do after introducing yourself, is find out what the artists/band’s/client’s needs are. 

If it’s a band- what does the stage plot and input list look like?

If it’s a client for a corporate gig or public speaking engagement- How many microphones do they need?  Hard wired or Wireless?  Lav, headset, or handheld?  Do they need monitors?  Music or audio playback?  Etc.

Next find out what are their expectations?  

If it’s a band- what do they want their show to sound like?  Do they have specific ideas about their sound, e.g. keep the bass thumping, vocal harmonies are very important, keep the acoustic guitar equal to level with the lead vocal, make it sound like the record, etc.

...
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Be on time!

One of the first rules of the road is Be On Time!   It’s generally considered in the professional concert touring industry that if you are on time, you are late.  That means if bus call is 9 am, you should be already checked out of the hotel, on the bus and ready to roll at 9, preferably at least 5 minutes prior.  If the show starts at 8 you should be in your position no later than 10 minutes prior.  

If you are working a show as a stagehand, it’s very important that you show up on time for labor calls.  Load in, Show call, and Load out all start at a pre-determined time, not whenever you decide to show up.  

You may think being just ten minutes late to a load in is not a big deal when in fact the rest of the crew are now having to work harder to make up for the missing crewman/woman -YOU!  Work happens fast on a live show or event and a LOT happens in a very short time.  So if you show...

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What can you learn today?

Uncategorized Feb 23, 2021

You know one of the most important things I've learned over the years is to never stop learning.  The moment you think you know everything is the moment you become obsolete.  Especially in the world of live sound.  There is always more to learn, new technology, new skills, and other ways of doing things.

I want to tell you a little story about how always being open to learning helped me improve my mixing skills dramatically overnight.

Several years ago I was hired to take over as FOH Engineer for the Legendary rock band STYX.  The now late and dearly missed Gary Loizzo had been mixing STYX for as long as I had been doing sound, well over two decades and he was ready to retire. Gary had also Produced and Engineered most of STYX recordings over the course of their career.

A little side note here- STYX was one of my all time favorite bands when I was growing up so this was a dream gig for me!

While Gary was handing over his mixing duties to me, I had the...

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Compression is Not the Answer

Many people think that compression is the key to great results when mixing. Compression is a very useful tool but it will not fix a bad mix. The truth is you need to know how to build a good mix before you apply compression.

What is compression for anyway?

A compressor is used to control the dynamic range of a signal, closing the gap between the loudest and quietest sounds. This helps prevent clipping or distortion, controls transients, and keeps things from jumping out in the mix.

Compression can be corrective or creative. 

An example of corrective compression would be using it to smooth out the spirited playing of the bass player or a wildly dynamic singer who goes from a whisper to a scream.

Examples of creative compression are using compression to create loudness or to add the particular characteristics of the compressor to color the track or mix. A little compression on the overall mix can increase headroom when mixing live sound, and compression can help to pull a...

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What's the Frequency Kenneth?

If you're old enough to remember, that was the name of a song from the band R.E.M. in the mid 1990s. 

What's the frequency is also a question that scares a lot of music people.

When I first started mixing, ( a long, long time ago ) one thing that scared me the most was feedback.   

I'm sure many of you can relate...you are struggling to get the vocal over the insanely loud stage volume and dodging feedback bullets left and right.  While you search frantically with the EQ to figure out which frequency it is, the audience and band is glaring at you. Not a pleasant situation to be in.

For me, at the time the problem was I couldn't identify frequencies. That also made it very difficult for me to get things to sound the way I wanted them to.

I didn't know how to make muddy sounding vocals really shine and pop in the mix.  I didn't know how to mix so you could hear all of the instruments without them interfering with each other.  I knew EQ was the...

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What Makes a Song Eternal?

songwriting Dec 29, 2020

We’re in the height of the Christmas season, and it’s been weeks of holiday movies, TV specials, Christmas songs on the radio and streaming non-stop.  As we listen to our old favorites and some new ones, there is one song that has piqued my curiosity- ‘Carol of the Bells’.

The song is just over 100 years old and began as a Ukrainian Folk song called “Shchedryk” to usher in the New Year. Yet it has endured, having been recorded and performed across every modern genre of music.

There are many versions of it from orchestral to heavy metal, from techno to a cappella and it’s almost always a hit or at least a fan favorite no matter who it’s performed by. But why?

When I first learned how to play it on the piano in my childhood, it quickly became a holiday favorite of mine. There were a handful of other Christmas songs that I enjoyed playing but there was just something about the melody of Carol of the Bells that grabbed me.

Of course,...

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The Myth of Golden Ears

Are the best sound engineers and producers born with better hearing, a pair of  ‘Golden Ears’ as they say?

Not necessarily, but what they do have is a pair of well trained ears. 

EQ’ing is the manipulation of frequencies. In order to do that effectively, you need to be able to identify what you hear and what adjustments need to be made so you can achieve your desired result.

The first step in doing this is knowing how to listen.

Your ears are always on however, you’re not always listening. We use our ears all the time but exactly how much do we hear and how do we hear?

Hearing is different from listening.  How much of your environment are you tuning out on a daily basis?  If you live in the city, do you even notice the traffic noise anymore?  Sirens blaring, horns honking, garbage trucks emptying dumpsters? If you’ve lived in a noisy city long enough, my guess is that has all become part of background noise that your brain...

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How can you practice your music mixing skills when there is nothing to mix?

Many live sound engineers and technicians have been trying to figure out ways to keep up their mixing skills during the pandemic with the lack of live shows and events.

While it may have been a long time since you’ve had your hands on the faders and it may still be some time before you get back to mixing, there is a simple way that you can improve your skills in the downtime- by focusing on listening. 

It’s easy to forget just how important critical listening is.  When we are in in the midst of a tour or constant work, we tend to operate on auto pilot. For anyone who has been mixing for an ample amount of time, listening becomes kind of like breathing… until we don’t need to do it for a while.

I’m not talking about every day listening, of course we’re always hearing sounds and noises around us, music or television in the background.  What I am talking about is  active listening in the form of critical listening. 

Critical...

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