Parkinson’s law

Here’s some business knowledge for you all
Parkinson’s Law a human will fill whatever time was allotted for its completion.
In other words….humans will naturally expand work to fill the time available for it’s completion. Give yourself 1 hour to complete and you WILL find a way to get it done. Give yourself time limits and stop having everything open-ended.

I have found this SO TRUE. In my early days of doing business I would never give myself a time limit to complete tasks. Instead I would work around the clock and still feel like I didn’t get enough done.

Just because you are productive does not mean you are efficient. That’s some golden wisdom for all people. Have you ever been under serious pressure for a deadline and you only had a certain amount of time to do it? Did you get it done in time? I bet you did, because that’s how Parkinson’s law works. Once I heard the CEO of Pixar say that they never finish movies, they release them. Brilliant. This philosophy goes to show that you give yourself the time to do it, and then you deliver….or else you may be working on your art FOREVER!

Don’t rely on other’s opinions

I received a phone call yesterday from one of my clients. He hired me to mix and master a song a few days before. He was calling because he had a friend give him feedback about the song. Negative feedback….Now even though my client had lots of positive feedback from other friends, the only feedback that really mattered to him was the negative feedback.

The song featured a very talented female singer with a great range. My client’s voice is a more straight-forward style voice like Drake but obviously different than Drake but you know what I mean. His friend commented on the track saying that his vocals couldn’t compete with the female feature on the track. He was insisting that my client redo all of his vocal parts and push to sing more advanced and belted out like the female artist.

I’m glad my client called me because he needed a DIFFERENT opinion. I told my client, is this a song we are talking about or a singing competition? It seems your friend is viewing it as a competition. I told my client that no one listening to the song is going to say “man that girl sings so much better than that guy” instead the listener will either like the SONG or not like the SONG. Can they sing along? Does it get stuck in their head? Can they connect with the lyrics? That’s what matters. You can really tell when someone is too attached to the “skills” or “talent” and not attached to if it’s a great song or not. Do you want OBJ to make a one handed catch and The Browns still LOSE the game? Or the Browns WIN the game, with NO one-handed catch? You know the answer to that.

So I went on to tell my client to ask 10 other friends what they thought without giving a disclaimer or being specific on what to listen for. Simply ask 10 friends…”what do you think of the song? Yay or nay? See what they say and weigh it against what your friend said. Odds are, no one will give the feedback that the one friend did.

In conclusion, I feel that it’s important to have your own opinion. After all, you are putting out music with YOUR name on it so your own opinion should matter the most.

Why artists shouldn’t give mixing engineers pre-mixed material

I’ve been away from the blog a bit because of mixing and mastering business but I’m back to share a big tip for music artists! I have experienced clients sending me stems that were supposedly “pre-mixed”. One in particular sent stems this week that were very heavy in the low-mids as well as the upper high frequencies where the sibilance exists. I really doubt the raw vocal file had problems but I believe that the mixing that was done created the problem. Your hands are sort of tied in this situation because when you fix the low mids, the voice is now harsh in the high mids and when you fix the high mids sibilance, your low mids are out of control. It can be a real task to fix this problem if you are able to at all.

As you may know this makes the job for the mixing engineer challenging and can hinder the results. It is better to use reference tracks than to pre-mix. Mixing engineers are artists too, you never want to tell an artist how to paint a picture, then it’s not true art. I am fully accepting of getting sent a mix to be mastered, that is a different service. As for mixing, it is my advice to let the mixing engineer do what he does best….and that is to take your raw files and turn them into something great.

Does your vocal eq sound balanced?

So what makes a vocal sound so good that it leaves you speechless? Well other than the performance which is up to the singer…. it’s the tone and quality of the vocal. What makes the tone and quality good is a well balanced vocal. The right amount of lows, low-mids, mids, high-mids, and highs.

So how do you achieve this? ….I do it with my ears. After lots of practice, your ears can pinpoint if something sounds off balance. Listen to the vocal with and without the music to determine what needs done. You should be able to find things you don’t like. Maybe it’s not bright enough, maybe it’s too bright. It could be muddy and muffled, or it could need more warmth.

My tip to you is to do one thing at a time and don’t do things too drastically. Handle ONE problem at a time. Look at it as “building the vocal sound” by carving it and shaping it to accommodate your ears and what they want to hear. If you are unsure what frequencies need work to get the vocal balanced, check out my ebook called The Ultimate Vocal Production Handbook!

Taking a long time to mix vs a quick mix

So this is sort of a debate between audio engineers. When you ask people how long they take to mix a song, I have heard a variety of answers. Some say an 8 hour day. Others have said two 8 hour days, some say half a day. So what is technically correct or just a good approach in general?

In my early days I did a lot of rock and metal so an 8 hour day sometimes was the case because of drum replacement, drum editing, pitch correction, cool post production effects etc. However nowadays i get more hiphop, pop, and r&b so its basically just mixing instrumental stems and vocal layers.

So after years of doing this, I have found that less time on a mix results in a better mix.I have done a mix in 1 hour and loved it. Sometimes 3 hours and loved it. Sounds crazy but what your ears naturally hear off the rip and the decisions you make are often the best decisions. Those times where I obsess over the mix and let high expectations of the artist pressure me, are the mixes that don’t turn out right. Mixing is all about trusting your judgement and not thinking too much about what the artist or label will think. You obviously need to have a reference and a goal of how the mix should turn out but don’t over think.

Ask yourself if it sounds good to you. If you were the artist, would you be satisfied? That goes a LONG way.

A good visual is important in your DAW!

This article is targeted towards the non-Pro tools users! I have noticed that programs other than Pro tools have a bad visual for editing audio. Logic, garageband, presonus one, etc are just a few that come to mind. It is very important that we can visually see the gridlines and that we correctly set the tempo right.

First you MUST find the correct tempo of the song and make sure all of the drums and instruments are quantized to perfect time or near perfect time. If this step is done, you should see the gridlines in Pro tools lining up with drum hits etc. Although there may be a way that I’m not aware of, but when I have used Logic before, I could not really see where the grid lines were to be able to edit audio.

If you can’t see where the downbeat is located at, it will be hard to copy paste chorus vocals, or will be tricky to chop and move around vocals that are off time. I have always been a Pro Tools guy because the editing window is so easy on the eyes! Although Logic and other programs may look easier to use when it comes to other things like a mix window or general functions, the edit window I have found almost useless.

Does 1 de-esser plug in do the trick?

Today I want to write about something that I had to learn over the years. One of those things where when you know the rules….you can break them! I always thought that using 1 de-esser plug-in was some sort of rule. If I used more than one then it would hurt the audio. While that can be true if you don’t know how to go about it…it also can keep your hands tied if you are struggling controlling the sibilance and trying to just use one de-esser!

No one ever taught me this, it was something I had to try for myself and experiment. So what I like to do is set one de-esser in the high-mids at around 4k. I select wide band setting because it sounds more natural to me and also compresses frequencies that are nearby as well. Bring down the threshold until you hear the sibilance tighten up just a little. If you are crushing it and taking away the sibilance completely, it’s too much.

If the one plug-in doesn’t do the trick, load a second de-esser. It can be the same plug-in or a different de-esser plug-in. Set the frequency to a higher frequency further away like 6 or 7k. Bring down the threshold until you hear those higher frequencies in the sibilance get smoother. You can try wide band to start, and resort to split, or narrow band on the de-esser. Whichever sounds the best is the keeper. The goal here is to have a natural sounding vocal. If you want to try a third de-esser in another frequency area, do it but be subtle. Just control the ess’s…that’s it!

Don’t experiment during vocal sessions….

As an engineer, you should do your experimenting and playing with plug-ins in your off time or when mixing the song. During recording sessions, it’s best to put on some plug ins you know that will work for the time being and move forward. It can be a real vibe killer for an artist that is amped up and ready to record and you are trying out different plug-ins, effects etc. It’s one thing to adjust the mic or maybe swap out a mic if it isn’t working for the singer’s voice, but everything that is post processing like plug-ins, can wait.

One thing you can do is save a vocal recording plug-in template that you can use for every session. Then it’s very simple. Just import those settings in 30 seconds and you are ready to record with a nice sounding vocal plug-in chain in tact. In Pro Tools you would do this by creating a new session, importing some vocals, mixing the vocals with plug ins like eq,compression, and reverb, and then saving the session’s name as “vocal recording template” or something. Then when you go to record you next client, just hit Shift + Option + I. This will allow you to import the session data from your template. Unselect import audio so you only import the channels with plug-ins.

Tuning the doubled vocals a little less than the main

So here is something that took years to finally figure out because no one teaches this….tuning the doubled vocal less than the main vocal. So obviously you want the main vocal to be pitched very tightly so that the listener isn’t turned off by a sour note here or there. This is a good mindset to have, you should always pitch very tightly while still sounding natural. However with doubled vocals it can be good and sound better to tune them not as perfect. Don’t get me wrong, it still has to be very close to “on pitch” but not pitched as tight as the main because the two vocals will sort of phase out because they are too similar. Also it won’t really give the doubling effect as much and becomes pretty pointless.

A good method to achieve this is to draw with a higher default retune speed setting. This method only works if you are drawing with autotune in graphic mode. When drawing the double vocal’s pitch, go to options and set the default retune speed for the object tool to something higher than what you did for the main vocal. So if you had a default retune speed of 25 when doing the main, try 50 when drawing the doubled vocal.

When using Melodyne or Waves tune you just have to use your ears and move the blobs around without straightening the pitch too much with the pitch modulation tool. Overall it is way easier to not tune the double too tight with these programs because naturally these programs are designed to not tune the vocal very tight leaving it more natural in general. You could always draw the main vocal with Autotune and draw the double with Melodyne. I do this all the time and get superb results!

One ear off or press headphones firmly….

One thing that I have learned over the years is that you can’t hear that well in headphones while recording. You also don’t want to turn them up too loud because then you will get headphone bleed into the mic.

There’s 2 methods that work wonders though. The first method is the “one ear off” method. This is very common for singers to do while recording. It works very well. Take one headphone off, press that headphone against your head to reduce headphone bleed into the mic, and you will hear your voice well! You will also hear your self with no latency. Real-time monitoring will assure that you are singing the parts to your full advantage! This is even a common technique for singers at a live performance. Many singers will take one in-ear monitor out to hear themselves better.

The other method I have found super helpful is what I call the “press firmly” method. With this method you simply take your hands and press the headphones firmly against both ears. This will increase the volume of the headphones, bring in more low end to make your voice sound fuller, and reduce headphone bleed into the mic even more! If you are the type that doesn’t need one ear off, I would recommend using this method at all times! As long as there aren’t a lot of plug-ins causing latency and the buffer settings are low, there should be little to no latency!