Mix Report 5/25/15 – The mix that wouldn’t quit

Posted by on May 26, 2015 in Uncategorized | No Comments

You guys sick of getting these reports yet?  Well, there are a lot of them all due to one really important lesson I’m going to share with you right now:

I don’t actually know what I’m doing.  Every time I think I know what I’m doing, I learn a bunch of stuff.

Not joking.  And let me tell you, this week has had some really frustrated in the Yea, I’m never going to fucking finish this thing sort of way.

But the reality is, in many cases, after hours in the studio… I figure something out.  And, that’s pretty rewarding.  Even seems to help put this whole project in perspective.

If I keep trying, I will figure it out.  I will get a better mix.  I will not make this mistake on another song (hopefully).

Sometime, around Tuesday, here I am thinking “yea man, I’ve finished another one.  I’ll just review Free and see how I feel”.  Fuck, it didn’t go so well.  Fuck it, I’ve worked hard, back in the studio, I can fix this… right?

And back in the studio I went, again, on Free.  But this time was different.  Absolutely nothing I could do seemed to be improving the mix.  I was just going in circles.  It was like the faders were chasing each other lower.  I had this compensation of 10dB gain on my master bus compressor to make up for this.

No… this is wrong.  I’m doing it wrong.  I need another approach.  And I not need to be lazy.  I mean, 10dB gain on the master bus to compensation for the fact that I mixed everything… too low?  I’m better than that.  I’ve put too much time into that.

Furthermore, I keep making all these somewhat drastic level changes and I’m not managing my bus compressors.  No.  I need to reset this mix.  I need to reset my thinking.

Back in the studio…. aaaaaaaaagain.

Goals:

  • Have the mix at a reasonable level (one where I’m not compensating to have it be a reasonable level versus all the other mixes)
  • Figure out the fucking harshness issues and why nothing I do matters
  • Finish this fucking mix.  Really, finish this fucking mix.

Plan:

  • Turn off all bus compressors, including master bus
  • Set my kick somewhere
  • Put everything around that.
  • Set the bus compressors back
  • A/B way more often on all my favorite speakers
  • Fix
  • If my level changes aren’t getting me anywhere – fuck with eq and verb more

Now, resetting all the levels when you’ve got all your automation is a complete fucking pain in the ass.  Whatever.  I’ve worked for years on this, do I want to put out something that’s not my best?  No.  Time to stop whining and stop being lazy and make it happen.

The Onslaught of Lessons I needed to learn.

Many, many hours past.  The weekend came and I was like “fuckin finishing this shit saturday”.  Do or die.  I’ll bounce as many times as I have to, listen to it in as many places.  I’ll figure this out.  I will.  I keep talking about the motivation here because, getting past myself is one of the hardest parts.  Now it’s memorial day monday.  I didn’t go to any bbq’s or see any friends… and I’m putting some more touches on this mix… but I’ve learned a lot.

Lessons:

  • Are elements in your mix harsh and eq isn’t helping?  Check your compressors
  • Are elements in your mix harsh and eq isn’t helping?  Check your overdrive/distortion
  • Bus compressors can be your enemy.  Especially if set wrong.  They’re easy to set wrong.  See the two bullets above
  • High frequency sounds love their dynamic range.  Think about this when you apply bus compressors
  • Don’t be afraid of mid-range, even though you should be afraid of mid-range
  • 200Hz isn’t quite my enemy as much as 100Hz
  • Because my struggles with the bass and the kick are fucking real.  Still.
  • I can hear the bass in my studio, I just don’t know how like I do in my car
  • There are faster ways to sanity check my mixes on other systems without doing a bounce/upload
  • Is there some strange veil of shit on the mix?  There are better ways to find it.  More than once it’s been an effect choice I’ve made that I can’t control.
  • Don’t over complicate your thinking.
  • Don’t put millions of high passes everywhere.
  • If your mix and eq is starting to get strangely complicated, see that bullet about not over complicating your thinking
  • Introducing the multi-band compressor – when eq or compression alone just isn’t getting you what you want.
  • Ableton Live has found more ways to make mixing difficult.
  • Don’t do too much at a time toward the end of the mix.  Remember the changes you made.  Remember the change in the sound they made – and how those sounds change on different playback systems.
  • I’m still learning, my perception of what’s a good mix is changing while I’m mixing.
  • Relax.

Yea, sure, there are a million videos of dudes doing in-fucking-sane eqs and other things.  Fuck all that noise.  You end up creating this mess you can’t possibly sort your way through.  I know, I did it.

Initial Set of Problems

So, what happened?  When I was resetting the levels, of course I looked at all my buss compressors.  I did some really bad things.  Maybe they were bad, but they weren’t things I knew how to control – and they fucked up my mixes.  I use the PSP Vintage Warmer 2 on all my buses (not my master).   I made these mistakes:

  • Overcompressed, harshing out my highs (hats, shakers, and so on).  EQ’ing them wouldn’t help, just had to back off on the compression
  • I put a ton of overdrive on some of my buses.  Like 3-4dB.  ::shame::
  • I put some delicate high-frequency sounds grouped in with the rest of my drums.  Even a tiny bit of compression and these guys harshed out and were difficult to manage.  They just didn’t need to be compressed with everything else, so I pulled them out.
  • Oh yea, and I did some really really weird eq’ing in all kinds of places to try to compensate.  New rule: fix it in the instrument, don’t get lazy and do it on the bus (*unless you’re fine tuning, which i shouldn’t have been doing).

heh.  fixing all that, resetting the levels so I was sitting around -3 to -4dB on my master – things were looking a lot better.  I bounced, listened back in my car, and realized – my kick and my bass were still shitty.  Well, I knew they were shitty, they were one of the reasons I went back in the first place (I forgot to mention).

I’m afraid of mid-range

Then I started doing more A/B stuff.  I figured, I should A/B in the various playback systems.  I was using Brace Brace by Bonobo (mostly).  My mix was thin.  It lacked any real body.  Okay wait so:

  • My bass and my kicked sucked (too much bass)
  • Not enough mids
  • But at least the highs weren’t quite as harsh.

I mentioned above – don’t be afraid of mids.  I was afraid of mids.  I high passed the shit out of things… twice.  I had this idea that, after compressing, my lows/highs would come back – and I knew I didn’t want them.  I high passed them again.  Turns out, that way way way over did it.  High passing once is enough on any track to manage the lows/mids of whatever sound. Eq’ing generally once is fine (although for fine tuning, a second eq at the end of the chain is still okay).  Problems that lead me to this:

  • I wasn’t actually using my ears (i saw low frequencies on my eq and told myself I wanted to get rid of them).
  • I didn’t know how to use my ears (how much mids?  i don’t fucking know – guess I should have been A/B’ing more regularly)
  • I was thinking about compression and my eq too much and making really complicated decisions.

The Kick and the Bass still suck balls

I got my mids back.  This caused me to reset a bunch of stuff as my perception of all the other sounds was changed.  Fine.  But I still wasn’t getting the bass and kick right.  I was using this patch from a synth I like called Ace which is different than what I normally do (I use a sub from my korg and pick another layer for the top, bus the two and compress them together).  I had this situation where, if I set the bass to not fight with the kick, I lost all the bass in the parts I wanted it.  If I didn’t, I was missing out on some key frequencies in the bass.

What was going on?  My kick was 40-100, my bass was 70-200+ – and they really wanted to coexist.  I spent a million hours fucking with compression and eq.  I was getting no-where.

Hrm.  I know I’ve never used a multiband compresor, but I wonder if I could side-chain the kick to the lows of the bass and have it all.

Turns out this approach is not that un-heard of.  However my experience with the ableton multi-band compressor didn’t go well (neither did my experience with logics for that matter).  The only multi-bus compressor I had was from the Ozone sweet.  Meh, that one wasn’t going to be the one either.

One video I watched they used the Fab Filter Pro-MB.  Marketed towards mastering, the video I watched a guy did just what I was thinking about.  I downloaded the demo, threw it on my bass and uh… proceeded to do nothing for a while.

It turns out, if you want to side chain in Ableton Live and you aren’t using one of their built-in plugins, it’s a complete pain in the ass.  Thanks again Ableton.  Turns out you have to create an audio track to route the audio.  It works like this:

  • Make a new audio track
  • This track can have any input from any device, group, whatever.  Find your drum rack, find your kick, yay.
  • This track can output to any track.  Find your bass.  Find your FabFilter Pro-MB

Sweet, that’s it.  Then set the pro-mb to external and you’re good to go.  So I’m going to say:

Holy shit, the FabFilter Pro-MB is way easier to use than either Ableton’s or Logic’s MB compressor.

Seriously.  It was pretty nice, and also had a lot of visual feedback.  You could think about things in terms of ratios (traditional compression) or ranges (what’s the lowest you want this thing to cut whatever range in your sound).  Plus, it’s got look-ahead which is awesome when you’re gonna compress lows (lookahead helps you avoid distortion of near-instant attack times on compressors used on very low frequencies).  Actually, it’s got a couple other trippy things – attack and release are in percents not times too.  Oh, and finally, you can do expansion too (which apparently, can help you with fixing your highs when you compress your buses, but I’m not good enough to fix this).

A/B and Wrap up

Anyways, long story short – very quickly after applying this plugin I got the bass and the kick to sit well together.  A little bit of EQ and some more fine tuning and bam, something that works.

Okay, finally getting somewhere.  I also realized I needed to iterate faster.  I think this is important – so I set myself up to A/B without bouncing.  Got some new cables and ran them into boom boxes and whatever in my studio.  Since these devices helped me notice things on a regular basis I wanted to play back through them without the expense of a bounce.  The car still requires a bounce, but I’ve got some ideas (the car is important, it has a sub and really points out issues on my low end that I’m still learning to hear).

And yea, A/B’ing more regularly, on more playback systems really helped this mix come along.  It’s still no bonobo or daft punk track… and yea, I killed another 15 hours working on it… but it really is better.

And… look at all that shit I learned.  Anyways, did another hour of tweaks to Free this morning.  And I made many of the same mistakes on my other mixes – so back to them as well.

So what if it takes forever… when am I going to get another chance to do my best?