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Solutions for avoiding mix problems! - by John Vestman
Believe it or not, many home-studio and mid-size studio mixes today still have the same problems they did 6 to 7 years ago! The solutions are available, so long as you can get closer to an exact picture of what's happening at mix time. This can be a challenge because (1) many monitor systems don't give high enough resolution and (2) many engineers tend to become submerged in a little bit of a sonic cocoon when they're mixing.

The Do-Don't checklist:

1. Do avoid digital clipping (those pesky red lights... and hidden ear fatigue)
2. Do keep the crash cymbals down
3. Do make the kic a bit louder than you think it should be (or make alternate mixes)
4. Do de-ess the vocals (I know, pluggin de-essers aren't that great)
5. Do compress the bass a little more so it's even sounding
6. Do carefully compress the vocals a little more so you can hear all the lyrics
7. Don't over-process stuff (throw away those 10-band pluggin eq's - four bands is plenty most of the time) - I know, the big mixing guys say ignore the manuals, turn the knobs to 100.... (but remember, many of them are talking about the knobs on analog gear...)
8. Do break more rules (like #7.... but not #1)
9. Do compare your mixes with commercial CDs (not to copy, rather to study)
10. Don't try to make your mix as hot as commercial CDs (that's the mastering engineer's job)
11. Do avoid using digital audio workstation mix engines which come into play when bouncing (or rendering) your mix session into a stereo file (solution: mix to analog tape, 24 bit Masterlink, or 24 bit DAT for your masters. Use the bounced stereo files for your own reference CDs only).

The Gear Checklist:
1. A good source (like the actual musician's performance) is more important than the kind of mic
2. A good all-in-one "channel strip" (mic pre, eq, compression) is more important than the mic
3. A good mic is just as important as the A-D and D-A converters
4. The converters are more important than the kind of workstation software
5. The monitor system is just as important as all of the above, because it's the "lens" you look through to determine how to set all of the above. Example: If you system has too much high end, you'll tend to eq everything slightly dull. If the bottom is mushy, it will take weeks to figure out what really makes low end tight and punchy... because nothing will sound punchy even if it is punchy!
6. Subwoofers are more important than 10 dates with a hot babe (well, maybe 5...)

The cocoon: Low resolution monitoring fogs your viewpoint
Ever had that situation where you get caught up in a blur of sound, an onslaught of frequencies and decisions, and then good sound in the studio just doesn't blow you away in the car? It's studio monitor madness to be sure, but it's the resolution of the source you're feeding into your monitors too. Blurry-sounding stereo feeds from the console mask your decision-making ability. People without a console (who simply send a stereo feed directly to their monitors) don't have the flexibility to monitor different sources for real listening comparisons.

NOTE: This (lack-of) monitor-section-thing is written about in the May 2003 Mix Magazine issue (a must-have). In the article titled "Stop Mousing Around" they have about 6 paragraphs stating "MONITOR SECTIONS: THE MISSING LINK." They ask why haven't manufacturers made a monitor section so you can get pro-studio monitoring-capabilities - and thus BETTER MIXES!

SOLUTION: Discrete Monitor Module makes mastering technology accessible to everyone.


A mastering engineer's monitor system is hand picked and tweaked to perfection in order to make accurate decisions. Just as it is in mastering, tracking and mixing decisions depend upon the information coming out of the monitors too (it took me 10 years in my 24 track studio to get my monitors right).

It's just natural for big studios to adjust their monitors and refine them over the years, with the help of comments from the various hotshot engineers and producers who come in the door. If you don't have those hotshots giving you their feedback every other week, you're kinda on your own. But the good news is that you don't have to go through that 10-year learning curve. The work's been done for you.

The secret: You can get higher resolution monitoring and a foolproof way to compare your sound with the biggies. Comparing your sound with theirs is how you can train yourself to hear the important distinctions - but it has to be convenient so that it becomes an automatic part of your mixing process. Take it from my EQ magazine interview with Stephen Marcussen where he said, "..just put in a CD, see what it is you like about the CD and go for it."

Key: Great speakers reveal what's really there, but monitoring isn't just the speakers - it's the whole system - the pre-amp (like the monitor section of a console), the line-level cables, the power amp, the speaker cables, and the speakers, and the acoustics of the room all play a part. There is many a mastering engineer who hears their client say, "I've never heard everything in my mixes like I'm hearing in the mastering room."

What starts to keep you out of the fog is the monitor section that feeds your mix to the speakers. Up till now, mastering guys were the ones with the gear that was the best.... up till now. ANYONE can have a monitor section that will reveal the truth of their mixes and totally make it easy to compare their mixes with commercial CDs.

To create this solution, I have co-designed a monitor section that is perfect for you. It's easy to use and it's coming in late-summer....

I specified the functions, and the electronics were designed and built by Inward Connections - discrete and tube technology experts - (their VacRac products are used by top-name engineers).


• It's a high-end discrete Class-A monitor module for any studio
• It has more monitoring features than most state-of-the-art mid-sized consoles
• It makes the secret of my sonic success a one-button click for you
• It has technology that is so advanced... no other pro-audio gear manufacturer has it.
• It will include my personal training on how to set the puppy up and get it right from DAY ONE

Functions

• Selectable Source
Listen to your stereo mix buss (the output of your digital workstation or analog console)
Listen to your stand-alone mixdown deck (like a Masterlink or DAT machine)*
Listen to a second source (like a DAT machine or analog tape deck)*
Listen to any consumer CD player, MiniDisc, Cassette deck, you name it...*
Optional source-select remote unit
* Exclusive: Adjust the levels so you can reference sources on an equal-volume playing field
• Selectable Speakers
• Use 2 sets of speakers for more reference options
• Control the volume of the 2nd set of speakers (in case it's louder than the other set)
• Mono button (to check for phase cancellation and video-ready compatibility)
• Mute button (for when the phone rings)
• Talkback button (with optional handheld remote)
• Analog VU meters - retro-style
• Control room level (let's hear it for the big knob!)
• Meter Pad (for when you get carried away)
• Optional remote source selector (the producer's gotta push the buttons too...)

Features

• Discrete Class-A circuitry - high-end stuff - minimal circuit path - solid construction
• Balanced or unbalanced stereo buss input (in case you're using a Roland VS or similar unit)
• Balanced outputs - stereo buss out - headphone out - speaker set A & set B out
• Balanced inputs - stereo 2 Track 1 --- 2 Track 2
• Unbalanced inputs - standard RCA consumer input for CD player, MiniDisc, Computer RCA's
• Talkback mic input (nuff said)
• Heavy duty audiophile power chord (yes it adds to the detail and resolution)
• Switchable to European power requirements
• Alignment CD included - I'll talk you through to get a perfect set-up
• Advanced scientific audiophile technology - hush-hush till it's out on the streets

The concept:
• Digital workstations brought the multitrack recorder into the home studio...
• All-in-one tube gear brought vintage quality and warmth into the home studio....
• Mastering technology in your studio lets you hear your mixes like you've never heard them before.

If you're interested, email me for more info. We're working on the prototypes now, and the first production run will follow. By the end of summer, you can revolutionize your mixes. (Oh, and I'll be giving a discounted price if you pre-order the unit.... more about that soon.) If you want easy enhancements for your sound now, check out the heavy duty and flexible power chords that open up the top end, extend the bottom, and focus the sound of any gear... Plus vibration isolators and more!


John Vestman is a veteran mastering engineer with over 26 years in the industry. His credits include: Hole (Courtney Love), Juice Newton, Ambrosia, Andre Crouch, The Wynans, Great White, Candyman, Billy Davis Jr./Marilyn McCoo and more. John Vestman Mastering is located in Orange County, California, and his web site http://johnvestman.com offers over 40 pages of information about successful studio recording techniques and sound philosophy.




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