Thursday, March 7, 2013

Reference Recordings: Getting out of your own mix!

And . . . I'm back at it after a short hiatus while on tour. So far we have only discussed some segmented concepts in the mix. EQing, depth, space, reverb, delay. Now, we are going to take things a step further, but not with adjusting your mix. This time we are going to actually get out of the mix for a moment and into something called reference recordings. A reference recording is anything that you feel you want your music to sound like (a finished, commercially produced product). By sound like, I don't mean copy cat. We are talking about mix, not song-writing. You should already have your song worked out and recorded (and possibly mixed to some degree) if you are delving into this step. At most, your reference recording should be within the same style. Here are a few things to think about before selecting a reference recording:

1. Instrument Sound  

You should ask yourself a few questions. How big are your guitars? What about your kick drum? Snare? Piano? Do they fit in the mix? Or do they sound segmented and out of place? Do specific instruments shine through the way you would like? Regardless of instrument, you need to think about what your mix sounds like when you hit the playback button and then what you WANT it to sound like. What are you going for? 

2. Depth

We have already discussed this in an earlier post and it is something to consider here. Is your track 'deep' enough? Is there enough distance between each instrument? Should there be more? Do you want more? Does the style call for a lot or a little?

3. Compression

I have not discussed the inner workings of compression as of yet in this blog (it is coming soon) but it is something to consider here (please message me if you don't understand this step and I can give you more of a synopsis). Do you want your track squashed and have everything as loud as possible with no dynamic range (lots of hiphop and rap records are mixed in this fashion)? Or do you want to maintain the dynamics of your original track and allow some ebb and flow? 

After thinking about these things, get ready for the mirror. Select a reference recording (or more than one) . . . then play it back to back with your track. Don't be shocked if the difference is pretty great. Keep in mind that a commercial recording is already mastered and has probably been mixed with gear that is worth more than most of your possessions combined. However, don't worry . . . one thing I was told when I first started tearing into audio production, was that 'your mixes aren't going to sound like everyone else's, and that's okay.' You are going to have your own sound, and that is a good thing and nothing to be ashamed of. However, you still want to have a quality product so listen to your reference recordings. Remember the concepts mentioned earlier? Instrument sound, depth, and compression? Analyze the references using these concepts except this time, use the info you find to tweak your own mix. One of the best ways to learn is to watch (in this case listen) what others have done and expand your knowledge and capability accordingly. I have used recordings from Prince, Bruce Hornsby, Whiteheart, Steve Stevens, and others to assist in this process. These artists (among others) have some of the best engineers alive working on their stuff and they are fantastic sources to utilize for learning. Also keep in mind, that this whole thing is very subjective. Finally, if you are unsure of yourself (and you should always be somewhat unsure because that is what will keep you striving towards perfection), let someone whose opinion you trust hear it.

And when you are happy with your mix . . . this is what you'll look like: