Monday, 6 June 2016

Self-Producing an EP Pt.5: Mixing

After some discussion we opted to mix it ourselves for a few reasons.

  1. It's our first EP, it's not going to be heard by a huge amount of people and while it's important that it sounds good, it's expensive to get done properly and we might be able to manage 'good enough' on our own with a lot of work.
  2. Mixing as an online service seems to be the main way to go for small/starting out bands and that seems too creatively detached. There are many stories floating around of people who've sent things off for mixing and the mixer has a much different idea of how it sounds.

Maybe it's not the best choice, but it seemed an acceptable risk that we would at least attempt to have it 'look' how we want and it be a bit wonky than potentially end up with something we're not happy with in a different way. The benefit would have been being able to just ship the stems off and make it someone else's problem instead of weeks of being unsure while swimming in these unfamiliar waters. Someone with professional level skills. Maybe next time.

The most blindingly obvious thing here is that the recording stage should have finished before this stage begun. It restarted a few times due to what was ultimately just me being unhappy with the vocals. What eventually happened after a few false starts was the bit that should have been done before anyway. Editing. Some time was taken to look at the detail of the tracks and fixing some timing issues (but not all of them, just the important ones), removing in-breaths from the vocal tracks, making the volume consistent and some tuning. The first pass of tuning was way too heavy handed. I suspect this was as a result of me editing my own vocals. At the end of a pass of tuning they'd just sound robotic, and I'd end up undoing it all and only tweaking where necessary, and even then 'un-fixing' them later to stop the tweaks from making them perfect.

After the editing had been done the mixing started properly. Through the process of demo'ing and refining, the first track had got to a point where the mixing was mostly done and it was sounding pretty good. Some of this was from testing out general wisdom I'd found on the internet, such as removing bass from guitars/vocals to let it through on the instruments that needed it. I used this to make some track-based preset chains to apply to the tracks that weren't finished and use them as a starting point later and made a long list of things to do to prepare them all for the more detailed and contextual changes. The presets were helpful but needed changing more than I thought. New iterations would go into the bands Telegram channel for critiquing, and listening to on some different devices (good headphones, bad headphones, monitors, an iPod dock) to see where the problems were.

The EZMix mastering preset was removed and replaced with a chain of things I'd put together from Waves Gold (Black Friday Sale win) and some free plugins from the rest of the internet (FerricTDS and Molot, for starters) so everything was still being mixed into something consistent.
There were then a few weeks of successively spotting and hammering all the sticking out nails in. When you fixed the biggest, the next one appears. Eventually we ran out of nails (that we could percieve anyway) that seemed worth fixing. There might be some element of fatigue here having taken a few weeks or more at this point and I sent it to a handful of friends for critiquing further before we locked it down.

Things that were important:

  • The internet is a great resource for learning and I picked up a lot quite quickly.
  • Starting with presets that came with Reaper or Waves plug-ins and then tweaking/adjusting/playing to find what I wanted was quite educational.
  • There's a point where you have to leave it alone and the thing that seems like a blatant error to you after 100 hours of listening is completely inaudible to anyone else.
  • Recognising that even across 3 people there's variations in what they think it should sound like and ultimately 1 person should be driving.
  • Getting external feedback at the point where everyone is too fatigued to hear anything anymore.
  • Having task list and a set time frame (it slipped but it did at least force some focus) to complete by.
Improvements:
  • Given the time and the resources, we'd have someone else mix it, but incredibly selectively.
  • Make sure editing is completed and everything sounds good before getting to this point.
  • Do vocal tuning with context, what sounds bad with the track solo'd might be completely unnoticeable with everything else going on, and tuning it might even make it worse.
  • Avoid tracks that are completely out of genre while doing this, instead of hearing something by another band doing something entirely different and comparing them.