Friday, July 24, 2009

Learning How to Mix

How did I learn how to mix?

Man, I can’t really say. I’ve been doing it so long and have tried so many approaches- I've had a few work out great and had an incredible number of failures. I’ve read books & magazines, I've harassed older engineers. I’ve mixed loud, quiet, with headphones, on state of the art speakers and on cheap stereo speakers. I’m still learning and still frustrated with the outcome a lot of the time. But the one thing I’ve done that made the biggest difference was to train myself to listen. And one of the best ways to do that is by comparing your mix to a great mix of a hit song that you are familiar with. Here is how you do that:

Take your stereo returns of the mix you are doing and the stereo return from a cd player (or your computer output if you can play cd’s from it independently of your Protools/Logic/DAW output), and put them side by side on your mixer. Go back and forth between your CD and your mix and check the levels on your mixer so that they are the same. Have your mixing un-muted and the CD channels muted. Now, as you are listening to your mix put your fingers of one hand over the mute buttons on your mix and your fingers of your other hand over the mute buttons of the CD channels and press at the same time, quickly switching between your mix and the mix of the hit song. Now the differences will really jump out! Your goal is to make your mix sound like the other. Just try copying it.... I dare you. It is harder than you think. Keep in mind that it helps if the songs are of a similar type, vibe, tempo and so on. The bass is very important, too- If your mix has a lot of short and fast bass notes, but the mix you are comparing to has really long notes, you will never match up because of how bass reacts in the mix, on your speakers and in the room (this is a whole other subject to be covered in my workshops or lessons).

When I first started doing this it nearly drove me crazy. I could hear that my mix didn’t sound as good but I couldn’t place my finger on what the problem was. I had to start removing elements from my mix one at a time and see how that changed the comparison process. After doing this for years I trained my ears to hear things I could never hear before.

Here are two other techniques you can use by applying the same process:
1. Compare two mixes of two different hit songs against each other.
This requires two CD players. You will be amazed by how different the mixes will be sometimes. This is because mixing is not just a science- it is also an art. And a good mixer takes many aspects into account to get a good mix. Mixing is not just about sound but about emotion, and that has to be shown in the spotlight.
2. Use the comparison process to define ranges.
Years ago I pretty much just mixed rock music, which is much more challenging to mix than urban stuff (for me at least). I was always concerned about my low end, how loud the vocals were and how much mid-range I had in the mix. What I did was use 2 songs that were somewhat current to compare to. One was the Goo Goo Dolls song Iris mixed by Jack Joseph Puig. The other was The Verve and their songs Bitter Sweet Symphony and Lucky Man (or anything else off that amazing album) mixed by Christopher Marc Potter. I noticed from comparing them that the Goo Goo Dolls had a tremendous low end, a scooped mid-range and a somewhat lower vocal level. The Verve mixes tended to have way more mid-range and the vocals were mixed a bit louder. So I would do my mix and then make sure that my mixes had no more low end than the Goo Goo Dolls and that the vocals were as loud or louder than theirs. I would then make sure that my mixes were no more mid-rangy than the Verve mixes and that my vocals were no louder than theirs.

Of course then it was out to the car test, the hallway test and so on.

This is just one of many techniques you can use to train your ears and improve your mixing. I hope this helps some of you.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Vistoso Bosses- new video

Here's a project I'm working on- Vistoso Bosses, the song is "Delirious". These ladies are terrific, check them out!

Monday, July 13, 2009

When Mixing Doesn't Matter

I surprise clients sometimes with my attitude about mixing in that I think it is one of the least important parts of the project. Now don’t get me wrong, I will spend forever on a mix and tweak till the wee hours of the morning. But what’s often overlooked in the process is the song. A great mix does not make a great song.

I had a client in here that truly was the biggest pain I’ve EVER had in terms of mix revisions. Normally when I do a mix I will send the client an mp3 for every revision. Most of the time it never goes beyond 3 or 4. On this particular mix I had 20! And the tweaks involve minute changes to nearly inaudible sounds that frankly don’t matter because you can barely hear them and the song SUCKED! (When I am producing you are certainly going to get my input on the quality of the song. But in my role as a mixer I usually keep that to myself). What gets me is how obviously bad this song is in terms of lyrics, style, performance I mean everything. And these guys just can’t see what is so clear to everyone else. The mix at this point sounds great, but it won’t make a difference.

I mixed “Party Like A Rockstar” in 4 hours including recording the guitar part. It isn’t one of my better mixes for sure. I would have spent more time on it, but the song literally blew up in a matter of days and the label decided to just keep running with it. But it didn’t matter that the mix was so-so. The song was a hit!

I spent several days mixing “Throw Some D’s” and had countless revisions over a several month period. I thought Polow was being a little picky about a few minor things. But then Polow is a great producer and he makes hits. This was a situation where some of the changes he made later in the process did make a difference in the outcome and we would never have gotten there if Polow hadn’t been tweaking like crazy.

My point of all this is make sure your song is actually good before you invest so much time and money in it. Test it on people at clubs, performances, at work... anywhere. Be honest with yourself about your work.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

It begins

Attention mixers, producers, engineers and other music professionals:

The Zone Recording Studios of Atlanta and Radiator Records are pleased to announce a new series of mixing, production and recording workshops by Billy Hume! Billy Hume has been building experience in the music business since 1977, first as a musician and later adding recording, production and mixing to his formidable list of talents. His personal studio The Zone was founded in the late 80s, and Billy Hume has used it as his secret headquarters ever since, quietly turning out some of the best sonic work available in the Southeast. For more information, check out his discography ( ). Known and respected throughout the music industry, he has been asked time and again for help learning and troubleshooting from other music professionals. In order to meet this demand, Billy Hume has created these private workshops.

The work shops are designed to teach practical mixing, recording and production techniques that can be used by anyone, whether they are in a large professional studio or a home studio- though the emphasis will be on home-based studios as Billy Hume has made his career out of mixing and producing hit songs from his personal home studio. These workshops are NOT about teaching how to use a particular type of software, but about practices that can be applied to any situation. Each workshop will be 8 hours in length with a 45 min break in the middle and will be conducted at The Zone Recording Studios, just North of Atlanta, GA.