If In Doubt: Delete!

Delete stuff? ‘That’s no way to finish songs!’ I hear you say.

Well let me explain: the meaning of this is twofold. The first I guess is coming from personal experience. Something I find myself doing over and over again when producing and mixing tracks is putting in way too many parts, and right at the end of mixing I end up deleting sounds, layers, and even entire tracks.

delete-buttonI think the reason for this is that as I’m building up instrumentation and parts I constantly try and fill out and fill up all the space. I tend to try and compensate for something missing in the track by adding more and more to it.

Listening to commercial productions, it often amazes me how sparse the arrangement is in some tracks, and they still sound fantastic. It’s far better to have fewer instruments playing amazing parts than loads of them playing filler. It’s something I’m always having to remind myself of, but it’s worth it in the end.

When putting in parts, always ask yourself: what’s the reason for this sound? Continue reading

Stuck In A Rut? (How to avoid production-by-numbers)

Today I thought I’d get a bit less technical and share some of my methods for getting over ‘producer’s block’ (like ‘writer’s block’ but with more knobs and buttons).

 

imagesAs a professional producer, writer and mixer sometimes I find myself sitting in the studio without a clue how to tackle what’s in front of me. If I can hear in my head roughly how I want the finished track to sound then I can set about getting there, but if I have absolutely no idea what the track should be I can lose entire days in the studio messing around and getting exactly nowhere.

If I’m producing & mixing a track from start to finish I’m asking myself questions like:

‘what’s the point of this track? Is it about the song?’

‘Is this a club track that’s all about the dancefloor? Does it need to work on the radio?’

‘What sort of current popular tracks should this sit alongside? What sort of DJs would play it?’

Continue reading

Kickin’ Kick Drums

Before I get to the kick drums, let me get you warmed up…

We had a bit of a chuckle last week in the studio when I was sent a track to mix. I opened up the zip file with all the stems only to find about 8 tracks of synths and nothing else. We called up the guy who had sent them and asked him where everything else was (the rough mix also had full drums, vocals & fx), and his response has gone straight to the top of my WTF studio moments.

bass-drum-stand-1Upon questioning he said

“I didn’t send you the drums and vocals because they were rubbish.”

Ummmmm….. So how were we supposed to mix the track without them?

“Oh… right… I didn’t think of that”

After sitting in disbelief for a few minutes we eventually persuaded him to send over the vocals in whatever state he had them, and I added all new drums myself. For the record, I should add that there was really nothing wrong with either his drums or his vocals, apart from needing to be mixed, but it got me thinking. Continue reading

How To Make Synth Leads Bigger, Wider and Shinier

 

Peter O, of Funkytown, UK, writes:

Chris can I ask you a quick question regarding reverb… 

I remember when I sent you my Felix Hot remix – which is a similar style to this new track I’m working on- the leads where quite dry…

When it come back they sounded ‘WIDE’ and more full, I’m taking the more full feel would of been reverb? 

Its the one thing I’m getting stuck with constantly making the leads sound FULL.

Looking forward to your reply, thanks chris!

Peter

(Demo mix supplied)

 

Christian replies… (some comments refer to the demo mix)

uad_lexicon_224

UAD Lexicon 224

If you’re trying to get those lead synths to sound bigger and more powerful… unfortunately there’s no one single answer, but there are a few things you could try.

Firstly, from a production point of view, you could add a layer or layers playing the same pattern underneath on a sound that is wetter, wider, but with less attack than the one you have. Your current sound is drier and cleaner than the reference mix. Look for sounds with names like “super saw” to add underneath.

From a mixing perspective:

Reverb – it’s not that the sound you have is overly dry; there’s a nice little reverb in there. The challenge is to get the reverb sounding epic without making the whole thing sound too distant. I usually prefer to get rid of the built-in reverb from the VST itself and add my own in the DAW mixer via a aux send. This gives a lot more control over the tone, shape and placement of the reverb.

Some reverb ideas to experiment with… Continue reading

Serban Ghenea Interview

Interesting interview with the elusive man of mixing, Mr Serban Ghenea (Katy Perry, Jessie J, Rihanna, Jason Derulo, Avril Lavign, Taio Cruz, Usher, Justin Beiber…. pretty much everyone)

I found this in an old Digidesign archive here – this guy hardly ever gives interviews and has a very limited web presence, so if anybody comes across any up-to-date info from him please let me know!

EDIT – another interview with Serban HERE


Pro Techniques from Serban Ghenea

SerbanBy Randy Alberts

Serban Ghenea

Reading production credits, Grammy nominations, and chart positions is one way to gauge a mixer’s talents. Reading how an online audio forum treats them is another, as this recent heated exchange on the state of hip-hop mixing illustrates:

axe24: You obviously know nothing about mixing OR hip-hop, that record sounds like sh#%, just horrible, horrible!

DV91b: Ok, I must really suck then. I’ve been spending 6-12 hours a night for years in the studio now on my hip-hop & R&B mixes, so I don’t know anything. Maybe you can do it for me, then??? I’m sure it will only take you a couple of minutes, axe.

jmpz1: Hey Axe, another tip for ya…. Continue reading

Ten Top Tips To A Bigger Mix

explosionsEvery time I ask on my Twitter or Facebook page what sort of posts people would like to see on here, one question comes up time and time again: why don’t my mixes sound good?
It’s always phrased in a different way. Everything from “How can I get tighter low-end in my mixes?” or “Why do my vocals sound cheap?” all the way through to the ridiculously generic “Tell us how you do your mixdowns!”.

You could write an entire book about getting better mixes (many people have) and still not even come close to covering everything. In no particular order, here are ten things that might help take your mixes to the next level.

These are all based around my experience in mixing dance music, but many of the tips apply to mixing in any genre. I thought I should probably point that out.

1. Mix into a compressor

ssl4buscompressor_lOften a hotly debated topic on the forums, the question of whether you should mix into a compressor seems to come up a lot, and everyone seems to have an opinion. I am firmly in the Yes camp. I have my compressor on the 2-buss right from the start, and mix into it, which generally means I need less compression on individual tracks. This sort of compression is often referred to as ‘glue’ because when it’s set up correctly it sounds like it’s glueing all the elements of the mix together. This is usually what people mean if you hear them say “it makes it sound like a record.”
Which compressor you choose is entirely up to you. Continue reading

Creative vocal sampling and looping

Peter O, of Funkytown, California, writes:

Alright Chris,
I’ve got another question…
VOCAL SAMPLNG /PITCHING/CHOPPING ETC…

I’ve noticed a lot in progressive house at the minute there’s vocal samples going on left right and centre, they fill the mix so much, you touched on it slightly with our track we did when we came over to the studio, looping the vocal to fill the intro etc.
In this particular track here… https://soundcloud.com/biganddirtyrecords/first-state-get-low-preview-avaiable-december-22

Can you hear in the break how there’s a vocal sample playing all different notes – what’s the best way to approach that? Start with an acapella? Would you make sure that the original acapella was in key, and then where would you go from there to get the whole pitching and HUGE vocal width?

Been bugging me for a couple of weeks this. I just keep getting a chipmunk vocal when I tr,y and to be honest no matter how hard I try i don’t think chipmunks will catch on in EDM!

When you get a minute i’d really appreciate a heads up!

Christian replies:
Use a sampler!

logic-studio1Oh, you want more than three words?
I imagine at the moment you’re probably hacking up bits of vocals and moving them around in your arrangement page, maybe adding a few effects here and there. This is wrong. Or rather, it’s the wrong way to go about getting those effects.

You obviously need to start with some sort of vocal, or vocal-type noise. If you’ve got vocals from the track you’re remixing… Continue reading