Take Your Mixes To The Next Level

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Lynyrd Skynyrd "Free Bird" Isolated Guitar Solos

A few weeks ago I posted an analysis of the solo section to Lynyrd Skynyrd's iconic "Free Bird," and now here's the isolated tracks of the guitar solos. There are a number of really interesting things that you hear when the tracks are isolated that you don't notice with the rest of the tracks.

1. The solo is doubled (and towards the end tripled), but each one begins to vary from around the 1:30 mark. Since the song was composed two years previously and played live over that time period, the solo was mostly composed before it was recorded, so there were several takes. When both sounded so good together, they were allowed to stay in the mix.

2. Until 3:48, the sound of the guitar is exactly the same (and even when it changes, it only sounds like a coil-tap of a pickup), as all the tracks were played by the late Alan Collins on a Gibson Explorer.

3. As is many times the case, the record label didn't want this song on the album, yet it went on to become the song that defined the band and has remained a rock anthem 40 years later.

4. Guitar World Magazine rates the solo as the 3rd greatest ever.


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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How EDM Is Changing Mixing And Mastering

T-RackS Standalone app image
Both mixing engineers and mastering engineers are tied at the hip, though many don't realize it. Yes, it's true that many mastering engineers are dependent upon a mixer's business to keep the doors open, but that's been changing, since many times there's a shoot-out between mastering engineers to see who gets the gig. Usually, the one who can provide the loudest master wins (there's that loudness war again).

But that's not the real issue, nor where mixing and mastering engineers are mostly tied together. In fact, the concept of a separate specialized mixing engineer and a creative mastering engineer both began at nearly the same time during the late 70s, and continued to grow in prominence from that point until today. Before then, engineers were somewhat interchangeable and came with the studio that you rented. Usually the same engineer that recorded the project would mix it, since the projects were generally short (as in a few weeks) to begin with.

As for mastering engineers, they were just part of the process of transferring the audio signal from tape to vinyl disc (and later CD). It wasn't until legends like Bernie Grundman, Doug Sax and Bob Ludwig began to make mixes sound better, and louder, than the mixer could, that the mastering engineer came to be what he is today - the last part of the creative process.

But EDM is changing all of that. Today there's less perceived need for someone to mix an EDM track. The writer/programmer gets the sound he wants right from the start of the track, and since the kick and bass are already out in front and have a lot of impact, most feel that there's no reason to hire a specialized mixer for that particular bag of tricks.

The same goes for mastering engineers. Thanks to some great tools from a variety of plungin companies like Waves, Slate Digital, Universal Audio and iZotope to name a few (the same tools that many mastering engineers use), EDM mixers can pretty much make their mixes as loud as needed, so it's not surprising when they ask, "Why do I even need a mastering engineer?"

One of the things about EDM is that there's a different kind of finesse involved in its creation from what a great many of the industry veterans are used to, where manipulation of the sound is encouraged and celebrated, and distortion is viewed as simply a byproduct of that manipulation. That's the antithesis of most mix and mastering engineers that don't deal in EDM, where in their world distortion is something to be avoided. In fact, getting impact from the rhythm section without it is almost revered.

As my buddy (and mixing legend) Dave Pensado recently expressed to me, "We've (mixers) been too concerned with sonic quality, and it's hurt mixers when it comes to EDM as a result." It should be noted that Dave is one of the few mixers who does a fair amount of EDM, so he can speak with some authority on the subject.

Is this trend going to kill the market for mix and mastering engineers? Probably not. When it comes to music made by real instruments instead of samples and loops, it takes a great deal of expertise that only comes from experience with that type of music. I have a friend who creates fantastic electronic music, but is hopeless when it comes to either recording or mixing real instruments (especially the drums).

In many ways, it's apples and oranges, but EDM is an ever-growing musical genre that now dominates the music business. As Aaron Ray, a principle in the management company The Collective said last week during a talk that I attended, "EDM has decimated rock. It's now an entirely different business."

The point of this post is to open up the eyes of those in our business who may be a little too tied to the past way of doing things, since there's a whole genre of music that's mostly ignoring you. In the end, we're all in a service business and the client is still king. It's great to have principles, but if you hold them too tightly, you might find yourself not working as much as a result. If a client wants something that violates your aesthetic sense, in today's world, you might consider suppressing your arty urges and give them what they want, because there's a whole group of people right behind you that are more than willing to do just that.
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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Rolling Stones Mixing "Little Queenie"

Here's a great piece of history in a behind the scenes look at Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stone's (along with piano player Ian Stewart) mixing "Little Queenie," a single they released from their 1969 live album Get Your Ya Ya's Out.

You'll see a good example of the way mixing was done before automation, with multiple hands on the board, each with a different move to do. The engineer is the esteemed Glyn Johns, but you also see his brother Andy at the console (which looks like a Helios) as well.

Check out the sound that the tape made as it rewinds, something that was later fixed on next generation machines. It's 8 track, of course.


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Monday, June 3, 2013

The Master Checklist For Mixing

Music Mixing image
One of the questions that many new to mixing ask is, "How do I know when I'm finished?" While many times your mix is dictated more by time than creativity where you have no choice but to declare a mix finished, even if it's before its time, there are a number of ways to know when you've reached the threshold where you're just making it different instead of better. Here's a mixing checklist from the 3rd edition of The Mixing Engineer's Handbook that can help you determine when it's time to say "finished!"

"Here are a number of items to check to determine the strength of your mix.
  • Does your mix have contrast? Does it build as the song goes along? Are different instruments, sounds or lines added in different sections?
  • Does your mix have a focal point? Is the mix built around the instrument or vocal that’s the most important?
  • Does your mix sound noisy? Have you gotten rid of any count-offs, guitar amps noises, bad edits, and breaths that stand out?
  • Does your mix lack clarity or punch? Can you clearly distinguish every instrument? Does the rhythm section sound great by itself?
  • Does your mix sound distant? Try using less reverb and effects.
  • Can your hear every lyric? Every word must be heard.
  • Can your hear every note being played? Automate to hear every note.
  • Are the sounds dull or uninteresting? Are you using generic synth patches or predictable guitar or keyboard sounds?
  • Does the song groove? Does it feel as good as your favorite song? Is the instrument that supplies the groove loud enough?
  • What’s the direction of the song? Should it be close and intimate or big and loud?
  • Are you compressing too much? Does the mix feel squashed? Is it fatiguing to listen to? Is all the life gone?
  • Are you EQing too much? Is it too bright or too big?
  • Are your fades too tight? Does the beginning or ending of the song sound clipped?
  • Do you need alternate mixes? Did you do at least in instrumental-only mix (TV mix)?
  • Did you document the keeper mixes? Are all files properly named? Are you sure which file is the master?
An interesting mix is all in the details and those take time to sort out. Working through each one of these steps may take a while, but the end result can definitely be worth it."

To read additional excerpts from this and other books, go to bobbyowsinski.com.
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Sunday, June 2, 2013

New Music Gear Monday: Sennheiser Laser Drum Mics

Sennheiser laser mic clip imageTalk about hi-tech, what if you had lasers controlling your mics? That's exactly what Sennheiser is proposing with their e904 and e604 clip-on mics.

Actually, the laser mic is a misnomer. It's actually a laser mic clip that's the innovative piece.

Everyone knows that leakage into drum mics, even from other drums in the kit, is something that we'd like to get rid of in many situations to clean up a mix. By placing a laser and a sensor in the mic clip, the laser can then precisely measure when the drum head is struck and open up a noise gate, so what you're actually hearing is a laser-controlled mic (we'll get to those real "laser mics" someday soon, as this is the just a glimpse into the future).

The laser drum clips are still in the prototype stage, so there's no pricing yet, but you can see and hear how well they work in this video.

A big shout-out to my buddy Frank Coleman for the heads up on this.


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You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

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