10 Mixing Lies You’re Telling Yourself

Which one of these lies are you buying into?

(Hint: I’ve been guilty of all of ’em in the past.)

1. I don’t need to listen to my mix on anything other than my studio monitors.

2. The more time I spend on this mix, the more perfect it will be.

3. This mix sounds bad in my car because my car stereo sucks.

4. If I can’t hear something in the mix, it’s because I haven’t compressed it enough.

5. I can make this mix sound huge by mixing through a limiter.

6. It’s better to spend 3 hours “fixing” a crappy guitar recording than to spend 30 minutes re-recording it properly.

7. “Get it right at the source” is only a suggestion. I can still get great mixes, even with bad-sounding recordings.

8. Maybe no one will notice that this guitar part is out of tune.

9. The snare drum gets lost in the mix, but it sounds amazing in solo, and that’s all that matters.

10. This reference mix sounds worse than my mix. I must be awesome!

Mixing’s a tricky business. And knowing the right way to use compression is a big part of the battle.

For the cold, hard truth about compression, go here:

www.UnderstandingCompression.com

Joe Gilder

How to Escape from Prison AND Get Better Mixes

Prison Break

Awesome TV show.

I only recently discovered it on Netflix, and my wife and I have been plowing through all four seasons like nobody’s business.

It’s essentially the story of a guy and his brother breaking out of prison.

There are a few valuable lessons in there for you. I’ve listed three of them below. Each lesson applies both if you’re breaking out of prison OR working on a mix.

And here they are:

* HAVE A PLAN *

PRISON: Hopping the fence and making a run for it is a BAD plan and will get you shot.

STUDIO: Know WHAT you’re trying to accomplish and HOW you’re gonna do it. Just saying, “I want this mix to sound great” isn’t good enough. You need to envision what that mix will sound like when you’re done with it, and have a specific plan of action to get you there.

* KEEP IT SIMPLE *

PRISON: Tunneling through the outer wall of a prison probably isn’t the simplest move. Climbing across a telephone line OVER the wall, however, IS a simpler, better choice.

STUDIO: Mixing is complex, no doubt about it. So is breaking out of a maximum security prison. BUT, just because it CAN be complicated doesn’t mean you should make things MORE complicated. If it takes you two EQ boosts to get the same tone as ONE EQ cut, go with the single cut.

* GET SOME HELP *

PRISON: You can’t pull this off by yourself. You need to make friends with both the mob boss and the prison warden. You’ll use those connections to help you break out.

STUDIO: You need help from others to improve your mixes. This could mean grabbing a beer with your buddy who also likes recording. Or it could mean getting feedback on your mixes from a few friends.

Heck, it could even mean paying somebody to teach you how to get better faster.

I can help you with that last part, if you’re interested:

www.MixWithUs.com

Otherwise, happy escaping/mixing!

Joe Gilder

And…Crappy Speaker for the Win!

I have an arch nemesis.

(You do, too.)

He was a bigger threat when I was first starting out with recording, but he still rears his ugly head.

His name? My car. (If you must know, my car’s name is “Franc.”)

I hate the sound system in my car. Great mixes sound “okay” on it. Bad mixes sound awful. I bet you can relate, no?

So here’s the deal.

I finished up a mix last week. Throughout the entire mix process I only listened to the mix through my nice studio monitors and headphones.

You see, I came down with a small case of overconfidence.

Because the mix was “working” for me, I didn’t see a reason to listen to it elsewhere. Perhaps it’s arrogance. Or maybe stupidity?

Either way, I waited way too long to listen to the mix in my car.

And???

It made me sad. 🙁

The balance between tracks was off. The lead vocal and snare drum were too loud, and there was a general harshness in the upper midrange.

So here’s what I did.

I went back to my studio, and fired up my “crappy speaker.” This is a single speaker I set up a few weeks ago. I use my mixer to send the mix in mono to this cheap little powered speaker I bought years ago.

What’s so awesome about this crappy speaker? It has a 3-inch woofer on it. It’s teeny tiny compared to most studio monitors. It doesn’t have much definition, especially in the low end, and it really emphasizes the mid-range of the audio passing through it.

In short, it sounds like a car stereo speaker, in all of it’s hideous glory.

And you know what? When I play some of my favorite albums through this speaker, they STILL sound great.

When I played my unfinished mix through it, the problems IMMEDIATELY jumped out. I mixed for a while through this crappy speaker until things were sounding good again.

Then I flipped back to my main studio monitors, and…

Yay! It sounded great.

No more mysterious trips to the car.

No more guessing what my mix sounds like in a crappy car stereo.

I brought the crappy car stereo INTO my studio.

And you know what?

I think it’s my favorite thing to mix on right now.

Who’da thunkit?

Regardless of how great or crappy your speakers are, you need to know how to manipulate your mix to sound top notch, and it all starts with a crazy little thing called EQ:

www.UnderstandingEQ.com

Joe Gilder

A Compression-Less Mix? Blasphemy!

Here’s a comment from one of my brand spankin’ new Mix With Us — www.MixWithUs.com — members.

Javier wrote:

“Ok, this is my very first attempt to mix anything…I did not do any compression at all.”

That’s like sweet music to my ears.

He’s new to recording and mixing, and instead of using compression all willy-nilly and messing up the mix, he decided to ditch compression altogether. He focused on simple things like level balance, panning, and EQ.

And you know what?

His mix sounds GREAT, especially for his very first mix ever.

He avoided the classic rookie blunder of overdoing things. He took the “less is more” approach to heart, and his mix sounds worlds better than my first mixes did when I was just starting out.

So often, when I’m critiquing mixes for Mix With Us members, I have to make comments like “There’s too much compression on the lead vocal.” or “There’s too much reverb on the guitars.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of that, but I’d personally rather err on the side of too little than too much. (With anything — EQ, compression, number of tracks, etc.)

How about you?

Want some tracks to practice your mixing skills, followed-up by a mix critique by me?

It’s all hiding behind this link:

www.MixWithUs.com

Joe Gilder

My Little EQ Secret

Last week I finished up a mix for a song I’ve been working on for a while.

(It’s actually the song I’m using to demonstrate everything I’m teaching to my latest round of Production Club students.)

The mix is sounding really incredible…if I do say so myself. It’s clean and full and punchy. It’s pretty much exactly what I envisioned for the mix when I first wrote the song.

But you wanna know a secret? (A secret that some people would rather I didn’t reveal?)

I didn’t use a single “fancy” plugin.

TRANSLATION: I used only the plugins that came free with Pro Tools.

I shared the mix with one of my buddies who sells music gear for a living. When I told him I only used stock plugins, he told me not to tell anyone, or they won’t buy plugin bundles from him!

(He was joking, of course.)

So, am I anti-plugins? Nah, not at all. (I own the Waves SSL and Gold bundles.)

But you know what I AM against? Putting up imaginary barriers.

Every time you say you can’t get a good mix with your “boring” plugins, you’re putting up an imaginary (and false) barrier.

And you know what? It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I can only speak from my experience, but let me encourage you with this:

You CAN get great-sounding mixes.

You can.

Even if you’ve never bought a plugin bundle in your life.

You can.

Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

To learn how to wield a “boring” EQ like a champ:

www.UnderstandingEQ.com

Cheers!

Joe Gilder

Four Horsemen of the Compressalypse

Let me introduce you to four friends of mine.

Okay, they’re not friends. They’re actually evil beasts who live to destroy your mixes.

They’re the Four Horsemen of the Compressalypse:

#1 – The Non-Compression-ist

This is the guy who will tell you that compression is evil and should be avoided at all costs. Using compression will ruin your mix.

He instills fear in your ability to get the compression setting right. He encourages you to just move on and forget compression altogether.

#2 – The Random-Knob-Twister

This guy just tells you to go for it. Pull up a compressor and turn those knobs. The less you actually LOOK at the compressor, the better.

The goal here is to act like you know what you’re doing, and randomly pick a setting that you think sounds good (even if you don’t know why).

#3 – The Limit-the-Mix-Bus-and-Call-it-a-Day-ist

This one is all about the limiter, which is an extreme form of compression. He whispers in your ear, “Your mix will sound professional if you just slap a limiter on your mix bus and make things as loud as possible.”

#4 – The Compressaholic

This horsemen might be the most dangerous of the four.

He understands how compression works…but he simply can’t stop using it.

He’ll tell you that you need a compressor on every track. “It doesn’t really matter what the track sounds like without compression,” he’ll say. “The only way to get that punchy, full-sounding mix is to compress the daylights out of each individual track.”

*****

My advice to you? Avoid these dudes like the plague.

They fail to mention the truth — that compression is a valuable and powerful mixing tool, but only if it’s used properly.

For a safer way to compress (including my step-by-step approach), gallop on over to:

www.UnderstandingCompression.com

“You Can’t Mix on Headphones”

Hey, guess what?

People who say “you can’t mix on headphones” are silly gooses.

Do I enjoy mixing on studio monitors?

Yeppers.

Do I enjoy mixing on headphones?

Again, yes.

Why? Because I really love mixing. And you should, too. It’s stupid fun.

But there are things to consider when mixing on headphones. There are good and bad parts to both headphones and speakers.

What are they?

Graham and I hash it out in detail on the latest episode of the Simply Recording Podcast. You can give ‘er a listen right here:

SimplyRecordingPodcast.com/mixing-on-headphones/

That’s all for today.

Joe Gilder
Home Studio Corner

P.S. If you’re super anxious to “get your mix on,” but you don’t have any tracks to work with, I gotcha covered:

www.MixWithUs.com

The Michael Scott School of Recording

I gotta admit, I’m a huge fan of the TV show “The Office.” (More specifically, the first five or six seasons…not such much the latest stuff.)

If you’re not familiar with the show, it essentially centers around an idiot boss named Michael Scott, who is constantly making bad decisions.

In one episode in particular, it’s “Pretzel Day” at the office. This guy shows up once a year with a pretzel cart and gives out free hot pretzels to everyone in the office.

Michael waits in line all morning for his pretzel, and when he finally makes his way to the front of the line, he has to decide what toppings he wants.

The pretzel guy rattles off at least fifteen different options.

Michael shyly replies, “Is there any way I can get…all of them?”

The guy proceeds to give Michael “the works” — more sugar than any human should ingest in one sitting. Needless to say, a sugar rush is soon to follow…and more hilarity.

But what can a bumbling boss on a sugar high teach us about recording?

We all have a tendency, like Michael, to overdo things. We eat too much sugar. We watch too much TV. (Oops, busted.)

When it comes to recording, it’s easy to take a good song and add so much garbage on top that it becomes a big mess.

This is especially easy to do with compression.

Compression is like sugar.

You get a little taste of it, and you fall in love. “This makes everything sound better!!”

So you compress more and more — track after track — until you realize that suddenly your mixes aren’t sounding good anymore. They sound dull and lifeless.

Is more compression the answer?

Negative Ghostrider.

You need to back it down. Show some moderation. Take a simpler approach.

I’m a firm believer that “less is more.”

And it seems to have paid off for me and my mixes.

More here:

www.UnderstandingCompression.com

Joe Gilder
Home Studio Corner

P.S. Have you heard about Dynamic Range Day? Okay. Stop what you’re doing and check it out here:

DynamicRangeDay.co.uk

My buddy Ian Shepherd puts this on every year, and it’s awesome.

You can learn all about WHY dynamic range is important in your mixes (and why too much compression is a bad thing), plus there’s a huge giveaway. Prizes include free copies of two of my videos: Understanding EQ — www.UnderstandingEQ.com — and Understanding Compression — www.UnderstandingCompression.com.