Full blown production for mp3?

Posted in Inspiration, Music, Production on Februar 14th, 2011 by EO-Manager

When you look at the music listening habits of, let’s say, the last ten years you will undoubtedly notice that they have changed. Not that we listen to less music, no, not at all. Quite the contrary: you might get the impression that music is almost everywhere – on mp3 players, telephones, in shops, elevators, even public toilets.

It has become easy to listen: almost every gadget that has some sort of memory or disk built in can produce it. So obviously it is not the amount of music that has changed, it rather is the quality (where quality does not refer to the music itself but the sound).

Not so long ago prices for music were incredibly high. We paid so much because too many people tried to earn as much as possible on one product. In other words: we paid more for the form rather than the content. This changed drastically when mp3 (only just 15 years go!) was spread through the internet and began to conquer the world. More and more people did not care for the „original cd“ anymore and stripped the music product down to the very core; the music itself, rendered to 128kbit/s and 44kHz. Although it is a fantastic compression it has been far from the master cd right from the start. We all know it – and mostly we don’t care.

Now, taking this for granted: what does that mean for our productions at home? I mean, we usually use the internet to distribute our music, we also compress everything to mp3 with the usual 128kbit/44kHz and – you might not like to hear it but it’s true – kill our own songs‘ quality. Ok, given the fact, that most people would probably not listen to our music in awe and silence on their high end stereo systems…should we bother putting so much time and effort into our production? All the hours and hours of recording, mixing, and mastering?

Well, I think „yes“! Why? Because the elaboration process of songs is part of the fun. Especially when you are free from all sales figures und customer deadlines … does it really matter, how much time you put into your work? I don’t think it does, anyway. And with every song you are processing to your personal maximum you add knowledge and gain experience. To me, it’s more fun than force. It’s similar to practicing an instrument – and most of all: I like to become as close to perfection as possible. Don’t you?

You would not do that, if you did not care about the production as much as the songs. More to the point, you wouldn’t even need all that equipment that you probably have. Are you getting my point? Right, I believe that the journey is the reward. And I also believe that your listeners will like and even notice it.  And if they don’t – it doesn’t matter, because your fun part isn’t cut by that. It’s like playing a good football game – your muscles might ache but you still feel good.

For me these are good reasons enough to put everything in the songs AND the production. How about you? Let us know and comment.

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Beginner mistakes in mixes

Posted in Recording on Februar 1st, 2011 by EO-Manager

When mixing music you have to keep in mind a lot of things. Even though (or maybe because) I mixed a many songs I found no golden rule or formula for everything and certainly no handbook or article replaces personal experience. But a couple of mistakes happen all the time. This article can’t cover all aspects of the mixing process. If you are really into mixing I strongly advise to buy pro books about it or attend courses. Here are my top ten.

Ok: first of all when you’re mixing you’re mixing, not mastering. Be absolutely clear about that.  Primarily it means equalizing, effecting and levelling all the different tracks to one stereo output track. Here is tip number one: do it with fresh ears. Don’t mix immediately after all tracks have been recorded. Leave it alone for a night.

Two: beginners tend to do everything at once and quickly. Record a track, immediately mix it afterwards, tweak it, compress it, engineer it – NO! Don’t. Leave the track alone and record the next. Nothing else – no fx, no limiter, no eq. You will do this later. Concentrate on recording – that’s enough to do.

Three: drums are NOT one big unit. If you want a pro sound make sure each part has a different channel, eg. bassdrum, snare, toms, hihat, cymbals and mix them seperately. If you record analog drums you have to tweak with the microphones, distances, even drumskins until you have your sound.  Don’t let the drummer argue with you! (I know what it’s like, I AM a drummer). If you record drums from cds or drum machines it is easier, because very likely these are already optimized. If they are perfect – leave them perfect. You don’t have to mix everything just because!

Four: Listen and read. You need to have an idea what kind of sound you want to end up with. If you don’t know it you will mix yourself to death. Have your favourite CD nearby and compare. Make sure the CD and your song have the same loudness level. Louder seems better (even when it’s not) compared to softer. Do A/B comparisons. Make sure you get as close as possible to your favourite sound. Learn about frequencies, waves and eqing. Read before you start so you have a „cookbook“ of the things that never change and you do automatically (e.g. cut rumbling frequencies) Buy Bob Katz’s book „Mastering Audio“.

Five: Clean your tracks from all kind of things you don’t want, like rumble, breathing, pops and other acoustic dirt. If you don’t do it, it will be enhanced and amplified with each step of the process. Yes, I know, this is dead boring but unless you are a mega producer with mega bucks and a couple of studio slaves (commonly know as „junior engineers“) who do that for you… it is part of your job, sorry.

Six: Everybody does it a little different, but my method is: when mixing, reduce levels rather than amplify. Which means starting with all faders  on zero db. If things are too loud, reduce them. If everything is louder than, let’s say the guitar, reduce everything but the guitar. Or record the guitar again, if possible. Do I use compressors and limiters during the mixing process? Well, sometimes. But the reason is we do the mastering ourselves and I know what has been compressed. And I accept that we will never get to that mastering pro level. But when you give it to a pro mastering studio, just don’t do it. Why? Because even the best engineer can’t reverse it. Plus they have better tools for compression than you . Guaranteed.

Seven: when you do everything from playing the instruments to mastering, it’s not a bad idea to have a plan, a sort of how to do what when. Have a workflow: record basic tracks (dr, b, gt or piano, vox) – overdub with more instruments or reduce the orignal instrumentation – edit, cut, remove noise – mix – master.

Eight: Avoid extrem mixes. Especially in the beginning you believe more is better. Forget it! Fact is, the better the original recording, the less you have to do. Tracks that need 5 or more fx and/or extreme cuts or amplification have a problem.  Don’t think you can fix it during the mixing process. You can’t and you won’t. Mix gently, like a surgeon.

Nine: you have to invest time. Usually you need at least the same amount of time for mixing and mastering as you needed for the recording. Don’t haste things. When you are an amateur you don’t need to. Be brave enough to start all over again and throw mixes away, if they don’t sound right. If you don’t like it now, you won’t like it later either. And let’s say, a voice with too much reverb WILL be noticed by your friends, too. So, take your time and be true to yourself.

Ten: don’t give up. Be persistent. Yes , it takes a long time until you know what you are doing and which multiband compressor you want to use on what. But the good thing is: you learn with every song. You are getting better with each track. Don’t use VSTs because they are there. It is better to use a limited number  knowing what they do than throwing everything in you have with no idea. Remember, it is not the effect that does it – it’s you.

And never forget: mixing (and mastering) is neither witchcraft nor mystic. It’s experience and time. You will get there, I am sure.

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