Hey man, I've been a subscriber to your newsletter for about 4 months now. I really like a lot of the conversation brought up.
If you'll allow me to elaborate on what you said about upfrontiness... this is something I tend to go by a lot and since I started doing this, it has worked well. This is with the idea that things were recorded properly to start off with......
Start off with the panning of everything in the middle, whether it be a stereo track, mono, or MIDI track.
Know which instruments need to be in the middle and choose those that need to be panned hard left or hard right.
Know which instruments need to take EQ and use good samples for MIDI (when I say good sounds, I mean anything by Spectrasonics - Stylus RMX and Atmosphere are amazing, but your computer had better be able to handle them, Eastwest, etc...)
Vocals must be accurate, have vibe and sit right up front in the mix and be in freakin' tune......not using Autotune these days, even if you think your vocalist is perfect, is just not acceptable, ESPECIALLY for pop. Everything must be flawless. Learn to use it in a musical way in graphical mode.
Learn compression, use of different reverbs and EQ not just technically, but learn to use them musically. When tracking vocals in, I try never to get more than 2 or 3 dB of gain reduction on the vocalist if any. I know, they'll get another 2-3 dB in the mixing stage, that the master buss will more likely use another instance of a compressor which will round off more peaks and that whoever is mastering will probably limit or throw even more compression on it. If you compress a lot from the beginning, you're dooming your mix, unless you want to squash the crap out of it, but don't expect people to want to listen to it more than once cause their ears will be fatigued after one listen.
Learn to use your aux tracks wisely. A reverb and compressor used right and maybe a couple other things like McDSP Analog channel, maybe like a DUY or Antares Tube emulator will do the trick. Doing things like this will save CPU and allow you not to have to write down the setting on a plug-ins to load them up on another track. You'll also get a more even sound out of your mix this way.
One good mic, a good preamp and solid converters is all you need unless you're pressed for time and need to be able to run MIDI tracks through more than one channel of a nice preamp at once. If you're doing demos for people, all you need is one good preamp to run everything through, even MIDI... MIDI fattens up nicely when you use a tube preamp or a nice colored Neve or API.
Depth perception within your mix... understand it!! Yes, good converters will give you more of it and good analog summing will do it even better, but you can still get decent sounding mixes inside the DAW.
Good song, good melody... high level of musicianship... always!!!!!!!!!
That's what I go by really, I do a lot of pop, meaning the track is just about all MIDI and the BV's and lead vocals sit on top of that, but it's a very general, yet accurate description of what needs to happen when producing a song. No, we don't all have nice equipment. I'm not entirely happy with everything I have even though I do have a nice Allen & Heath mixer with some Focusrite and Universal Audio pieces in my studio. It's a process, but that's what learning's all about. David, feel free to add in what I might have missed.
Julian Ear Candy Studios Parkland, Florida Owner, Head Producer www.earcandystudios.org
David Mellor responds...
Thank you for your comments. The interesting point you raise is whether upfrontiness is a quality of individual tracks, or a quality achieved by the entire mix and blend of instruments against the lead vocal?
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