My good friend, Joe Gilder, over at Home Studio Corner is starting up his production club again. This is a really amazing opportunity to get some new skills in production, engineering, songwriting… the whole package start to finish. Joe is an accomplished songwriter and producer in Nashville. It is a 19 week course and Joe walks you through the entire process of recording a song to mastering the final product. I could not recommend it any more highly. With all the money and time you have investing in writing and producing music, why not learn how to do it much more effectively. I know you’ll get a lot out of it and you’ll have more fun along the way, which it is all about.
Check out the details here:
You’ll be so glad you did!
Quite simply put the fastest way to get better at mixing or songwriting is to just listen to music. Any music. All music. Listen to stuff you don’t normally listen to. Learn from it. Listen to how the song comes together. Listen for the hook. Check out the structure of the song. Listen for the way the bass sits in the mix or the relationship between the kick and bass.
I have the opportunity to meet many really amazing engineers at Sweetwater. The one thing I can clearly say they all have in common is that they all are actively listening to music all the time. Music from all kinds of different genres and sources. If you want to be better as a songwriter or engineer, you need to be an active listener.
Want a great way to do this legally and without spending much? Check out Noisetrade. You’ll thank me.
My friend, Joe, over at HomeStudioCorner can often be heard talking about using cuts rather than boosts for EQ. His recent post “why boosting with EQ is the devil” got me thinking. So I called him to talk more about it. Let’s create a simple example for argument’s sake. Say you boost 3 db at 500hz and 6 db at 12 kHz.
Since you are adding gain now, it’s likely that you’ll need to do some gain reduction to avoid eating up all your headroom on that channel.
So say you reduce output by 6 db here is what you’re left with:
Now as you can see, it looks like we’ve done a pretty significant cut across all frequencies and essentially “normalized” the EQ by taking my biggest boost and putting that at zero. The curves are totally identical.
So that is how I can turn a boost into a cut. Why does all this matter? I think it’s all a matter of the mind. The mindset of boosting and the mindset of cutting are drastically different. As Joe will tell you, a lot of people make the mistake of just grabbing an EQ and start boosting more out of habit than necessity. The boosting mindset says something is missing and I need to add it, which often isn’t so successful. The boosting mindset is very narrowly focused. The cutting mindset is broad. The cutting mindset is all about sculpting, pulling out the fluff until you are left with the core – focused on the end result of getting a great mix.
Bottom line there are plenty of times you’ll boost, but the next time you reach for your favorite EQ consider doing more sculpting. Stop and listen, then make your best call. Of course, make your life easier and just get it right at the source.
The most valuable thing you can add to your mix as a producer, songwriter, or engineer is not another piece of gear, it is another set of ears. OK another brain may help too. If you want to grow and get better, you can go the long road and figure it all out on your own OR you can take the expressway and learn from others who know what you don’t know. Working with someone better than you is great, but I’d take it a step further – collaboration in any form is going to make you better. Why? Because you lack perspective. You have labored and agonized over each little bit of your song or your production and it is so easy to lose sight of the song or album or project.
I’ve had a number of key guys I’ve worked with over the years and I’m grateful to each of them. Currently I’m collaborating with a friend for songwriting. It has been amazing. Have we finished anything yet? Nope. But I have learned so much. Creative people approach things differently and there is so much to be learned about writing and the creative process. This collaboration is pushing me to see things differently and approach songwriting in a totally new way.
Let’s open some dialogue. Do you collaborate? What does that look like for you?
To be fair, I didn’t catch all of the Grammys and I was in and out of the room the entire time. This lead to some really interesting observations. My main observation was, unless you are in front of the TV it is nearly impossible to distinguish most of the music being “performed” from the commercials. If you ‘ve been following my posts at all, you know how important authenticity is to me. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I’d much rather hear an amazing performance by someone who has honed their craft than watch someone jump up and down on big cubes. My 3 year old can jump up and down on cubes.
The other notable and I’m linking below was Dave Grohl’s acceptance speech. If you haven’t watched it, you need to. Rather than work in a world class studio on their last record (which they could have picked ANY in the world) they chose to work in their garage. To be fair they had some really good gear… oh yeah and this other guy – Butch Vig who was there too. So this is not exactly the same as you hanging out with your buddies jamming in the garage, but still Dave spoke to something missing and deeper in our industry. I hope it inspires a new direction for something more authentic and more human in our industry.
You can never EQ heart. There is no plugin that adds passion to a track. It is there or it isn’t. If you have it, it’s almost impossible to do anything that pulls away from it. If you don’t have it, there is nothing you can do to put it back in. Let me clarify that authenticity is not perfection. Authenticity is heart and soul. It is absolutely the hardest thing to get. The radio is full of perfectly tuned vocals that are completely and totally lifeless. While grids and quantization are great tools but they aren’t law. You don’t have to follow them. Listen to the Black Keys record. There is no perfect tempo or no grid on that, but the record has vibe – it breathes. It has life. Just because you have the ability to do something doesn’t mean that you should.
Some things to consider:
What is your song about?
This might sound silly, but how many times do you really think about what you are singing/saying when you record the song? Most often you throw up the mic and start singing right? Take a minute, pause and consider what you are trying to convey and draw on the emotion that those thoughts evoke.
Bleed baby bleed
While we love a good isolated vocal or guitar, sometimes you’ll have more life when you are singing AND playing. Do you best to get the track right, but if the overall track is going to be better with the bleed – go for it. Just a tip: Use two mics with figure 8 patterns – you can use the null points to get great isolation. Recording a band? Stick them all in a room. Here’s a great video where they recorded a 4 piece band with an 8 channel interface.
Josh Doyle Effect
To me no one exemplifies this more than Josh Doyle. I met Josh through work. Josh fronted a band called the Dum Dums from 1997-2001. They exploded on the scene and quickly rose to the top playing sold out shows across the UK including playing a packed out Wembley Stadium. Fast forward to this summer. Josh was in town for a concert so I went to see him at a local pub. He was in a 20×50 room with about 15 people. Letdown? If so you couldn’t tell. Josh was going for it just like I’m sure he did at Wembley back in 2000. Listen to any of Josh’s recordings it’s there. He just goes for it and puts it out there. He puts out a really great recording and isn’t working in a million dollar studio. More than anyone I know he understands what a song is about and how to convey that message in a way that grabs you and draws you in. Give him a listen, you won’t regret it.
OK I’m as guilty as anyone else on this. I have way too many plugins and way too many virtual instruments. The problem is that when it comes down to making a decision you have too many choices and spend too much time deciding between what compressor to use rather than actually mixing.
That being said I’m going to highlight an upcoming product that saved me on this project I’m finishing up (which I will be featuring here). This is a redo of a country song for a demo with a fantastic local singer. The track required a lot of piano (which I played) and no matter what I did, not of the piano libraries were cutting it. After looking at adding more plugins yet again, I finally thought “this just isn’t working”. If I have to EQ it that much and compress it so much to make it “work” then I just need to go back and find a new sound.
Enter VIlabs and their new product True Keys. I don’t plan on doing a lot of product reviews, but I don’t mind highlighting great products here that solve problems. My problem with all the libraries I have are that they don’t offer the perspective on the piano or air. Sure you can add reverb, but most just sound really sterile and lifeless. One of the perks of my job is that I sometimes get sneak peaks at new products and I am lucky to have a beta of one of the pianos from the new library. This is amazing and totally solved my problem. The solution came from their 3 mic positions. By combining those I was able to better match the piano sound I wanted and use WAY less EQ. The result was a much better track and helped the piano sit in the mix. Wanna hear it? Well you can’t just yet, but keep checking back under audio and hear it for yourself!