Escape from Mixing Hell

Practical tips for recording, editing, and mastering.

Moderators: khz, MattKingUSA

Post Reply
lykwydchykyn
Established Member
Posts: 223
Joined: Tue May 20, 2014 2:01 pm
Location: Tennessee, USA
Contact:

Escape from Mixing Hell

Post by lykwydchykyn »

Been working for weeks on the song -- drums are sounding good, bass, guitars, keys. Vocals are all comped, feeling good about it all. Finally picked the right reverb, got all the tracks balanced out, groove is happening. Export to flac, head to bed.

Next day, pop it into the car stereo... hmmm, too much kick, that vocal in verse 1 is flat. Ok, overdub the vocal, tweak the kick, fix a few other random things that suddenly bother you.

Next day, listen back.... eh, now 2nd verse vocal seem off. Ok, go fix that, now I hate the reverb. Tweak that a bit, print a mixdown.

Next day... well, you know. That first verse sound stale. Reverb is all wrong now, kick is too quiet, blah blah URRRGGGH!

How do I escape? I want this song done before I really start to hate it. How do YOU escape??

jonetsu
Established Member
Posts: 1959
Joined: Sat Jun 11, 2016 12:05 am

Re: Escape from Mixing Hell

Post by jonetsu »

I usually give it a break. Or a good break. I found that too much focus erases the big picture. It helps to work on several creations in parallel.

Another thing that might help is that if there's a reasonable set deadline. Like got to be done with this a week from now. By 'reasonable' I mean that it makes sense to apply a deadline, that the piece is in a suitable completed stage.

User avatar
sysrqer
Established Member
Posts: 1995
Joined: Thu Nov 14, 2013 11:47 pm
Contact:

Re: Escape from Mixing Hell

Post by sysrqer »

There is no escape! I went down this rabbit hole a few years ago after becoming obsessed with trying to make it right and ended up losing all perspective and ruined the whole thing.

One thing I have learned is that time is invaluable. Leave the song and don't listen to it at all for at least a week, perhaps even a month. When you listen to it again you will hear what is wrong. Write down what needs changing and make those changes only. Repeat.

When you go back to make adjustments to things like level or eq or reverb, change it only half as much as you think. If your kick is too loud then instead of turning it down by 3db try just 1.5db. Sometimes you only need a light adjustment and that can change the entire mix - for example, if the kick is too loud then the bass or low mid frequencies might be interferring with the reverb so reducing the kick slighly will have an effect on how the reverb comes through, as well as how the high end is etc.

Another is not to spend too much time making adjustments in one session. Your ears become tired quickly and can deceive you easily so don't noodle around turning things up and down by 1db or changing eqs slightly for hours on end, you're likely not changing things for the better in this scenario.

If you have some headphones you know well then switch to those to check when you make changes.

Also, try to use reference tracks. Find one in a similar style to your track that you think is really well produced, import it into your session, and change the level so it is roughly the same as your mix. Then solo it for a few bars and switch back to your mix, this can give you a good idea of what's not right. Just be careful if you have effects on your master because you obviously don't want the reference going through those effects as well.

jonetsu
Established Member
Posts: 1959
Joined: Sat Jun 11, 2016 12:05 am

Re: Escape from Mixing Hell

Post by jonetsu »

It's the same as the micro pauses referred to by mixing/mastering engineer Michael White (Whitney Houston, Jagger, Bowie, David Byrne, etc...) that ocurred years ago in recording studios when tapes had to be rewound. A few minutes of pause. White finds that today audio engineers do not have those pauses and are way too focused on their work, all the time. So it's the same principle but at a larger time scale.
Last edited by jonetsu on Wed Nov 18, 2020 6:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
GMaq
Established Member
Posts: 1793
Joined: Fri Sep 25, 2009 1:42 pm

Re: Escape from Mixing Hell

Post by GMaq »

Hi,

I think the rollercoaster of "please shoot me for letting this out in the universe" all the way to "OMG I'm a freakin' engineering genius!!" (or perhaps not so extreme) is pretty normal. Do what you're doing as in the monitor test, the headphone test, the car test, the bathroom floor underneath the toilet tank test and then don't listen to it at all for at least a week.. Maybe listen to stuff from the genres that influenced the piece and make mental note of common production values and stuff like that. Then go listen to it again in the various places and think "what if my best buddy released this... what would i think of it if this was the first time I heard it?".. You may find you're a little less hard on yourself..

The problem always is nobody will ever listen to this with the detailed nuance that you do, nobody will ever note that the second verse with the kick drum mic moved an inch to the left sounds a bit different etc etc. Also if you are playing this to a mixed audience that doesn't necessarily share your musical influences then you may find you are getting criticisms of things you did on purpose because it's a genre thing you like to do... I run into this all the time with panned basses... its a feature not a bug!

Anyway ultimately YOU have to be happy with how it sounds... just you, people will either get it or not and the song as a whole will either resonate or not (or it will resonate in 5 years when the listener has expanded their tastes) but if you are putting it out there conflicted that stink will probably be on it... make it so YOU think it kills, control or influence beyond that is an illusion anyway.

lykwydchykyn
Established Member
Posts: 223
Joined: Tue May 20, 2014 2:01 pm
Location: Tennessee, USA
Contact:

Re: Escape from Mixing Hell

Post by lykwydchykyn »

sysrqer wrote:
Wed Nov 18, 2020 12:43 pm
One thing I have learned is that time is invaluable. Leave the song and don't listen to it at all for at least a week, perhaps even a month. When you listen to it again you will hear what is wrong. Write down what needs changing and make those changes only. Repeat.

When you go back to make adjustments to things like level or eq or reverb, change it only half as much as you think. If your kick is too loud then instead of turning it down by 3db try just 1.5db. Sometimes you only need a light adjustment and that can change the entire mix - for example, if the kick is too loud then the bass or low mid frequencies might be interferring with the reverb so reducing the kick slighly will have an effect on how the reverb comes through, as well as how the high end is etc.

Another is not to spend too much time making adjustments in one session. Your ears become tired quickly and can deceive you easily so don't noodle around turning things up and down by 1db or changing eqs slightly for hours on end, you're likely not changing things for the better in this scenario.

If you have some headphones you know well then switch to those to check when you make changes.

Also, try to use reference tracks. Find one in a similar style to your track that you think is really well produced, import it into your session, and change the level so it is roughly the same as your mix. Then solo it for a few bars and switch back to your mix, this can give you a good idea of what's not right. Just be careful if you have effects on your master because you obviously don't want the reference going through those effects as well.
Yes to all this!

I've been using reference tracks more and more; not only to find the basic sounds, but to stop myself obsessing over perfection in my vocals. I refuse on moral grounds to use auto-tuning, so I have a tendency to keep overdubbing vocals if there's the slightest pitch imperfection. But the more I listen to music I like, I'm struck by how not-in-tune the vocals are (and it never bothered me when other people were singing).

I think the hardest thing for me to get a handle on right now is ambience. I'm a child of the 80's, so my initial thinking is that vocals must be bathed in obvious reverb. But my reference tracks tell me otherwise. I'm actually struck by how flat and dry so many great vocal recordings sound through my studio speakers.

lykwydchykyn
Established Member
Posts: 223
Joined: Tue May 20, 2014 2:01 pm
Location: Tennessee, USA
Contact:

Re: Escape from Mixing Hell

Post by lykwydchykyn »

jonetsu wrote:
Wed Nov 18, 2020 3:01 pm
It's the same as the micro pauses referred to by mixing/mastering engineer Michael White (Whitney Houston, Jagger, Bowie, David Byrne, etc...) that ocurred years ago in recording studios when tapes had to be rewound. A few minutes of pause. White finds that today audio engineers do not have those pauses and are way too focused on their work, all the time. So it's the same principle but at a larger time scale.
Gotta be something to this. I don't remember getting ear fatigue back in the 90's when I used my fostex R8. I just chalked it up to being younger, but I forget how much time I spent rewinding tape and resetting faders & pots.

lykwydchykyn
Established Member
Posts: 223
Joined: Tue May 20, 2014 2:01 pm
Location: Tennessee, USA
Contact:

Re: Escape from Mixing Hell

Post by lykwydchykyn »

GMaq wrote:
Wed Nov 18, 2020 3:31 pm
. Then go listen to it again in the various places and think "what if my best buddy released this... what would i think of it if this was the first time I heard it?".. You may find you're a little less hard on yourself..
I wish I could get that perspective on my music; because I suspect it isn't as bad as it starts sounding to me. After all, at the tracking session it sounded BRILLIANT to me. It's only have repeated critical listening in the mix process that all the warts and blemishes start surfacing.

Time away from the tracks is kind of a double-edged sword; on the one hand, I forget the small things to obsess about, but also sometimes I come back and things which sounded great in the excitement of the moment suddenly seem dull and offputting.

jonetsu
Established Member
Posts: 1959
Joined: Sat Jun 11, 2016 12:05 am

Re: Escape from Mixing Hell

Post by jonetsu »

lykwydchykyn wrote:
Thu Nov 19, 2020 4:52 pm
Time away from the tracks is kind of a double-edged sword; on the one hand, I forget the small things to obsess about, but also sometimes I come back and things which sounded great in the excitement of the moment suddenly seem dull and offputting.
Of course. And that's all good. Because of the distance that was taken. I find that when I come back to a piece after some time I tend to listen to it as being new (and sometimes by surprise as I wonder if I created that) which is a bit like someone else hearing it for the first time. What stands out at that point I tend to consider as what matters most. This said, I also tend to get way too enthusiast about a new piece, which is good at that stage. And years of listening to tapes w/o consideration to audio quality since what mattered most was the intent, the spirit, makes me forget about what's fitting for a mix/master for a larger audience. Regarding this I find that the actual 'physical' so to speak different processes between creating and mixing by using two different softwares (Bitwig and Mixbus32C) helps me in changing hats when I go about mixing.

Gps
Established Member
Posts: 354
Joined: Mon Mar 09, 2015 3:09 pm

Re: Escape from Mixing Hell

Post by Gps »

One mistake I have been making is mixing too long.

I should probably not mix longer then 30 min to an hour.

Then again the next day.

User avatar
nickture
Established Member
Posts: 34
Joined: Fri Aug 15, 2014 2:19 am

Re: Escape from Mixing Hell

Post by nickture »

I totally agree with taking a break, along with only mixing in short little chunks of time. Like everyone else has been saying, and I've fallen into this "trap" myself, it's super easy to get sucked into the tiny minute details and lose sight of the big picture. Also, I think it's important to be able to put a limit on how much mixing you will be doing. For example, I've been working on a couple of projects lately and one of them involves a decent sized choir. I know that I can easily spend weeks, months, even years tweaking every little detail and never being satisfied...but I can't. I know I can't, because the project will never be finished. So I've set a definite window of time for myself strictly for mixing; once that time has been filled, I make myself move on. I personally feel that if you're getting to the point where you're only changing things slightly (in the grand scheme of the project), then you're probably closer to being truly finished than you think. Take all of that with a grain of salt though, because as I'm typing this I'm realizing it's a pretty idiosyncratic way to complete a small part of a large project.

One other thing that has helped me put things into perspective is a post I read in the LM facebook group, actually. Someone had commented how they thought their mixing was terrible (or something along those lines), and asked the group for advice. One individual made a ton of good points, one of which has stuck with me. They said to keep in mind that pro recordings that you hear on the radio, in movies, stuff like that, are mixed and engineered by a GROUP of different people. Like a team of engineers, producers, etc. etc. That means there is a whole slew of fresh ears to listen to a recording and offer their input on it (all the while sticking to the overall vision and desired sound design). Way more $$ to toss around to get a project sounding good than us hobbyists have.

So, don't be too hard on yourself (easier said than done lol)...and keep looking for ways to make yourself more efficient and objective in the way you approach production.

Post Reply