Mix Report – The End if Near-ish 8/28/15

Hey all.  It’s friday night and, well, I’m a bit sick.  Cold took me out the last couple days.  Luckily for me it wasn’t super nasty; just enough to make me feel a bit woozy and not think straight.  Between naps I cleaned the house, watched AVGN, and worked on the mixes a bit.

Now, granted, working on mixes with congestion is probably a bad idea.  You pretty much start out hearing as though you’re ear fatigued.  You have to be a bit more forgiving.  On the other hand, the way my hearing changes tends to make me much more sensitive to my previous bad decisions.  You win some, you lose some.

So… it’s been a couple weeks.  Where are things now?

Try and Fail has entered the ‘more or less done’ stage.  This is the stage where things are close, but every couple of days I load up the track, tweak a couple things, and bounce again.  The goal is to listen to this shit a million times and sooner or later, stop wanting to change things.

Now, listening environments and colds can really be your enemy in these situations.  There’s a lot that can be done to your song, affecting your mix, but doesn’t mean your mix sucks.  It’s sort of weird, but when you go into listening on whatever device, you have to do a little mental manipulation to subtract the device.  Really, it’s not “does the thing sound as awesome as it possibly could.”  No, that’s not what you want to listen for.  You want to listen for “shit that pops out in really strange weird ways.”

If you’re caught off guard, that’s a bad thing.  That’s when you missed something, or haven’t quite tuned your ears to your mix environment.

Luckily, this is the kind of thing you get better at over time as you go through this process listening on:

  • Your studio monitors
  • Headphones set 1
  • Headphones set 2
  • Little blue tooth boombox in your studio
  • Little blue tooth boombox in your bedroom
  • Little blue too boombox in your office
  • Car
  • And sooner or later, ear buds, home theater, and uh… other places.

The car is a real kicker too.  That’s where the sub is.  Sub bass frequencies are the hardest ones for me to pick out in my studio.  The car shows me things I keep missing.  I’ve gotten better over time, developing little techniques that help.  But the reality is, the car tends to yield surprises in this arena every time.  It’s got a subwoofer.

Now my monitors can do these frequencies, but here’s where listening environment can fuck up your day.  The reality is, good mixes always sound good in my studio.  Good mixes sound good in my car, or the boom box.  My mixes need to sound good on all these too.  And i’m not saying “hey, I gotta sound like daft punk” but when I switch environments, the mix should still sound pleasurable.

And each environment will point out something you missed.  Although I think at this point my ears are getting tuned to my studio pretty well.  Well, except for that sub-bass bit I was just talking about.

Some days, you really just gotta go the long way around.  I did about four bounces today for Try and Fail trying to get the sub right.  The first time I was way off.  Every time this happens I come in my studio and try to teach my ears to hear what went wrong.  It’s tricky, but I can sort of do it.  Hopefully some day sub isn’t so difficult for me in here.  Then again, some day I might end up in a real studio.

One trippy thing is, when you find the right balance, it pops in just the right way.  I’m listening to Try and Fail right now, and the sub is feeling pretty good.

So, let’s talk a bit about Try and Fail.  This was a song I was dreading quite a bit.  It was the first song I started playing with when I decided I was going to mix the album.  Up front it was all reverbs and transient designers; getting a feel for the new plugins I knew I wanted to use to final this album.  During this process, I realized that this mix was going to be tough for me.

I think the only saving grace for this mix, was what I went through on Free and SRDTRS.  Those two mixes, like this one, were complex.  A lot of moving parts, a lot of instruments that wanted to fight for space.  At the end of the day I employed those techniques, and this was enough to get me most of the way through the song.

I developed a new technique, or rather, realized a mistake I made.  I suppose the new technique will be for next time.  I was using effects on sounds in a way where, sounds had different roles in different parts of the song.  In some cases, they would be dramatically different.  Given where I started on this mix, things were in pretty bad shape, and the first thing you need to do when things are in bad shape… is fuck with the knobs.

So, let’s take this situation where I’ve got one instrument in two massively different roles roles.  I need to turn knobs in one section, without fucking up the other section.  Things are automated.  So what are your options?

My first thought was to just automate the shit out of everything.  This effectively yielded one track with like 10 to 12 lanes of automation.  Something super complicated.  I made it, but it was expensive.  Here’s what I should have done.

Make a copy of the effect.  Disable it on the part that works, and tweak the hell out of it on the part that does.

Yea, that woulda been way easier than managing 12 lanes of automation.  And it’s not like I don’t have the RAM to deal with it.  Ah well, lesson learned.

And my pattern continued.  I started on the track and was overwhelmed.  I picked it apart, set things one at a time, fucked with things until I found the major problems, and refined, refined, refined.  And now, well, it’s sorta on par with the rest of things.

Sure, I listen back and sometimes I think I hear shit.  The rule at this point is I need to hear shit over and over and over.  If I just hear it once, I’m tripping.  If I hear it a few times, time to pop in and take a look.  Usually tweaks at this point are short.  Sure, they still cost 30 to 60 minutes, but most of that’s bounce time.  Gotta remember – keep is simple, subtle changes.

Oh yea, and believe in yourself.

With that, we’re moving along.  In fact, we’re almost done.  There’s one and a half left to mix.  I haven’t really been counting the half – I think it’ll pretty much be a couple of hours of small tweaks.  That one, is Awakening, the intro to the album.

I haven’t decided if I’ll do that one next, or totally last.  The next full length song I need to deal with, well that one is Grey and I’m super excited to work on it.  I’ve been listening to the pre-album cut of it, and I just love it.  Grey was the last song I wrote.  It represents the latest of my style, but doesn’t yet have the frills of my modern mixing ability.  I’ve already started on it, although I may start over.

Mostly, there’s this chirp thing that bugs the shit out of me.  I’ve realized I love it and I hate it all at once.  I think I might do a lot of level automation on it.  This is something I have to way well into a process to do, as it’s a lot of automation, although it’s possible I could take advantage of Logic’s newer region automations (relative automation, what have you), get the patterns the way I want, and still set the levels like a reasonable human being.

It’s particularly exciting to work on a song I like so much.  There’s this crescendo component to the song, the bleeps and bloops solo, there’s this etherial vocal thing I made from some stock logic loops.  Structurally it’s probably less interesting than a lot of my pieces (it calls into a very standard pattern I like to use, and have used more than once on the album).  But, no matter – the piece shines in other ways.  All those ways are present in the cut on my soundcloud, should you be so inclined to try to pick them out myself.  Do you love what I love?  Maybe, maybe not.

When you write music, it’s very much a ‘who knows’ when it comes to who will like it.  My tastes are pretty specific, as are my abilities.  I know that I can listen to the album over and over again.  I had to write something I could stand to listen to constantly.  You don’t believe me?  I listen to everything I’ve worked on every night.  At least, until I pass out.  I always listen to the pieces that I’ve worked on most recently first.  But seriously, I’ve been doing this since March – and that doesn’t count listening to things in the car, or other systems.  And that doesn’t sound the hours spent… on single loops.

ha, I love it when people say, “well, this sounds repetitive” – you should see where I’ve come from.  Granted, I really hope I don’t hear that for the album.  I’ve put a lot into making sure themes are appreciated, while representing continuous change, even if it’s subtle.

So, Grey.  I’m excited.  Also, I think I’m going to change the name to Strangle Quiet Sunset.  Which will also be the title of the record.

And… isn’t it weird to think, I could be pretty close to done with the mix… in like two to four weeks?

After well…