This past weekend was the very first Simply Recording Academy. Graham Cochrane and I got together with a bunch of home studio guys like you and tracked and mixed a band here in Nashville over two days.

It was epic.

I’ll be writing about it more, but my brain is still processing everything.

There were a lot of great moments over the weekend, but one that really stands out was on the second day. We spend the entire first day tracking a band (a really, REALLY good band called Manic Bloom — check them out, buy their music). We spent the second day mixing the song.

The moment that struck me was when we were probably over halfway through the mixing process, and Graham and I had only used the stock EQ and compressor plugins that come with Pro Tools. That’s it. We literally didn’t touch another plugin for most of the mix session.

That’s when David said it. The mix was sounding incredible. The drums were huge, the guitars were epic, the bass was punchy…everything was working really well. And David said, “But there are so many plugins we haven’t used yet!”

The studio we rented for the weekend had plenty of high-end plugins to choose from, but we intentionally didn’t use any of them. The result? The mix was sounding awesome. David and the other attendees were blown away that you could get such a great-sounding mix by only using very basic plugins.

We talked about this a lot of the weekend. Great gear is really great. But it doesn’t guarantee a great-sounding mix. So, you might ask, what DOES guarantee a great-sounding mix?

It’s simple. Record great-sounding tracks and then learn to blend them together using light EQ and compression.

For example, why did our drum tracks sound so good?

  1. Because the drums themselves sounded good.
  2. We spent at least an hour getting the right overhead sound.
  3. We used EQ to remove unnecessary frequencies in the mix.
  4. We used a little bit of compression to glue the tracks together, adding punch and attack.

You can’t have one without the other. Great mixing skills without great recordings will yield mediocre results. If you focus on great-sounding recordings (and get rid of that silly “fix-it-in-the-mix” mentality), then you’re giving yourself a HUGE advantage when it’s time to mix.

Instead of scurrying around, trying to FIX the tracks, you’re simply making subtle changes here and there to MIX the track together.

Why do you think we make it more difficult than it really is?

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  • Xan

    “The drums were huge, the guitars were epic, the bass was punchy…everything was working really well.”

    Then render the mix down and many times, bam! It then sounds like shit. No matter how many skills you think you have mixing is a gamble.

    I’m sure even the really old hand pros would agree on this, it’s just that their skills mean their mixes range from decent to f***kin eh awesome..! Within this range it’s still a gamble though, even for them. Every band they produce and/or engineer does not become a classic.

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  • Sarang

    Joe ur absolutely right,but some time even we just program everything in song,except singer,we must used different plugins for differ the instruments from each other.Ya that time arranging is important,but clients wants lots of instruments,so…….what should we do?

    • I think it’s a little different when we’re talking about instruments. What this article is talking about is fancy EQ’s, compressors, reverbs, delays, etc.

      I think instrument plugins are a different story. Since the goal is to have great-sounding source tracks, then a great-sounding piano soft synth is certainly the right thing to use.

  • True! It all starts with the great instrument being well tuned. Then mic positioning. When you get the raw stuff sounding great- you can just build from there and shape a great mix. 
    Great article. 

  • Philip Sapp

    A Professionally Tuned and Treated Studio.  Choice of High End Mics.  High End Mic Pres.  And the Outboard gear you would find in a professional studio.  With all of these amenities I would hope someone could get it right at the source. 

    Getting It Right at the source is the Key.

    But without having all the above luxuries how can you can get it right at the source?

    By Learning and knowing the limitations of your recording environment and the limitations of your recording equipment.

    Knowing what will not work can be ones greatest advantage in a project studio environment.

  • by far i have way to big of an arsenal of plug ins. I could never possibly
    A) use them all
    B) KNOW what each one of them sounds like
    C) remember each one to be able to use them specifically

    Im better off with the 3 compressors, 3 EQs, 2 reverbs, and 3 delays. I limit myself to these plugins alone for basic mixing procedures. IT HAS MADE A HUGE DIFFERENCE. I spend way less time trying plugins and now I use one of mine, fix the problem, and move on.