Obsessive In The Mixing Stage Of Recording
There has been a lot of attention in the online audio recording space about mixing lately. It's as if two things pervade the rest of the folks teaching and talking about home recording: the idea that music is the only thing people are doing (voice-over recording rarely involves much in the way of mixing - maybe background music and that's usually it), and that if you are recording music, mixing is the most important part of doing it.
Here are Home Brew Audio, we talk about both music AND voice-over recording. I know there is a very large proportion of the home recording space devoted to voice-over recording. Plus I am a voice-over actor. So we devote a significant percentage of our content to VO stuff.
The second seemingly pervasive presupposition is that between the mixing and record phases of a music recording project, it's the mixing that is the most important. It follows, then, that a majority of producing time, assuming you do all your own recording (tracking), mixing and mastering (see our article on these three phases of a recording project - Recording Engineer, Mix Engineer and Mastering Engineer – Oh My), a majority of the time spent on the project should be mixing, as opposed to recording/tracking. I actually agree with that. It's certainly true for me anyway.
My music niche - the renaissance re-enactors and medieval re-creation folks (mainly SCA) - has a LOT of musicians writing and recording songs. Most of them have the same basic equipment - a decent computer audio interface and a few decent mics along with some recording software. But (and this is going to sound a bit like boasting, but its true) so many people ask me what my secret is to getting such a professional sound compared to a majority of the other recordings out there in my niche. And you know what the answer is? OCD! OK, well that may be over-stating things a bit (no it isn't!), but I spend a LOT more time mixing than recording. My recording to mix ratio is like 1:10.
I truly believe this is where the difference is made. Since I mix in a converted bedroom like most home recordists, I don't have an ideal mixing space. So to get a good portable mix (one that will sound just as good in the car, on an iPod or on a large entertainment system), I have to literally mix for each of those playback systems. I start out with a draft mix, then take it with me in the car. It will have several balance problems - bass to loud or not loud enough, lead vocal uneven, can't hear the drum, etc. So I take copious notes and go back to the computer and make adjustments. Then I take it with me in the car again. This repeats at least 3 or 4 times.
Then I will listen in headphones on an iPod. I'll notice some problems that didn't come across in the car, usually excess sibilance (SSS sounds) and maybe some more vocal mix issues. So I repeat the process until it now sounds good on both a car stereo and in the headphones with an iPod.
Finally, I'll listen on the big stereo in the living room (CD player). I'll notice some more problems there - typically to do with the way the lead vocal sits in the mix, but also problems in the high frequencies are usually revealed here, along with issues with reverb. So I go back and remix and repeat the same way as earlier until it sounds great on the big speakers. Then I listen to THAT mix in the car and on the iPod until it sounds great in all three places.
If I were wealthy and could afford to build an awesome acoustically ideal mixing/mastering listening space, along with a pair of high-end mixing loudspeakers (actually two or three different pair of monitors), I could save a lot of time in the mixing stage. But I can't afford that yet. And until I do, I am going to get comfortable with my OCD in the mixing stage.
Timeless advice. Anything creative takes time to get right and shouldn't be rushed - unfortunately so many people need instant gratification, and they don't take their time over things (something I can easily be guilty of too).
I don't have a car so listening in that environment is difficult for me, but I still use the old trick of listening in the next room with the door still open - amazing how it brings out level imbalances so easily, especially vocals.
Thanks for the comment, Rich. Yes, listening in the next room is one I forgot to mention. You can also try it with the door closed.
My wife thinks I totally overthink it though. that's why I have her produce most of our recordings;).