I'm completely new to mixing and I find myself obsessing over levels rather than the sound of the mix. Im starting to break myself from being so technical, but my training has taught me to BE technical. How would you suggest to find a nice, happy medium?
experience... have fun... get experience... walk away often - the 24 hour mix session is over-rated and no longer needed (since we have total recall on just about everything and if you do patch something funky, print it to another track because you'll never get analog controls set exactly right a second time)...
I will be the first to say that levels ARE what you should be stressing over. Not necessarily the technical levels (although important) but the perceived levels of items in a mix. The art of mixing is about balance. What we call mix engineers were actually called Balance Engineers way back when recording started. There were separate engineers who handled all the microphones, plugging in gear, running a tape machines, etc., but the guy in the control room, responsible for the level of all the instruments and vocals was the Balance Engineer.
Now with that said, there are many things you can learn to do that affect balance, such as the way individual things sound, but in the end, it is not the most happening kick drum sound that makes a great mix...
You might try starting your mixes by just blending tracks with no compression, eq or effects, then once you have a great balance start to tweak things with subtle bits of eq and compression, to make certain things stand out more or allow other things to cut through more. Then you might add effects like you would add icing to a cake. Now that's not too technical is it? :)
Good replies here, just remember that the vocals need to be up front,( if it's a Demo to try and get a deal on a song,) Make sure that you or your singer can sing, and it's the right voice for that particular song.
Balance matters, of course but also remember that certain lyrics that look good to the eye do not always sing right and it's all about the sounds of words, It's a waste of time being great at recording with rubbish songs, and if that future hit sounds and sings great with just a guitar or paino,you are on a winner.
Cheyenne < A and R at Warners.
Re mixing fifteen hours is far too long( re someones quote,) I find it best to leave it for a couple, of days sleep on it , the sub cocious gives us answers all the time.
Meanwhile listen to other songs in the same genre and tempo as your song. the sound of your demo should be a todays sound, thats where lots of studios slip up because they dont listen to what's happening today.
It's a case of all our yesterdays in the way they mix , and that will get you nowhere, except excite a few traditionalist's
Two things. A professor of mine taught me many years ago that creativity starts where technique stops. I think once you gain enough experience and become comfortable with the gear you're using, the creative process will take over. The other thing that really helped me a long time ago was learn to mix in mono at a very soft volume. When you get your basic mix together, balance, as Bret says, in mono. If you have the ability to do this, turn one of your speakers off completely. It's almost like mixing on a clock radio. If you can hear everything in your mix then you are probably on the right track. It's much harder to get everything to come out of one speaker and make it sound good than two since there is less space. What this helps you to do is put things in the right perspective sonically and when you turn your other speaker back on and go to stereo, your mix will come alive that much more. Also, doing it at a low volume is less fatiguing on your ears.
Another thing while I'm at it is listen to your mixes from other parts in the room other than the sweet spot, even go to another room and leave the door open to the control room and see what it sounds like from a distance. You will know if you have everything balanced or not. There is no great joy than sitting back in another room while listening to your mixes and knowing you've nailed them. Hope some of that helps.
One last thing, passive eq. If you can learn how to take away rather than add in the eq process that is wonderful thing too. I have never been able to master this fully but some of the things I've read over the years from truly great engineers have been that passive eq is their friend. Cut rather than boost whenever you can. It doesn't make things as harsh that way.
I concluded that subtractive eq. is mostly just more idiot-proof because the ear is much less sensitive to the magnatude of dips in response.
One of the most important things is to check balances at a variety of different monitoring levels. This is because our hearing system compresses everything above around 500 Hz. When we listen soft, it is brought up and when we listen loud it is broughty down. Volume changes below 500 Hz. are much more linear. If you listen for this, it becomes pretty obvious. A great test for a mix is listening to what happens as you slowly increase the volume control. Great mixes and arrangements hang together remarkably well while any problems with a mix become pretty obvious. I learned to do this at Motown from Cal Harris who had interned during the mid 1960s at Western Recorders under Chuck Britz doing the Beach Boys.
These are all great tips guys (and gals)! Thanks for sharing!
I check my mixes in a mono a lot and I love to go out in the hallway or other room to check. It really helps me put the vocal level in perspective. An engineer told me once: "Mono is for the masses, stereo is just for the one lucky guy in the middle" Haha I love it! How often do any of us even, outside of work, sit perfectly center in front of nice speakers and listen to music without distractions?
Many times I'll notice glaring issues while the mix is playing and I'm barely paying attention. I'll be in the back of the room, or the next room, doing paperwork or cleaning up and find something that needs fixin.
I try to keep my process as organic as I can and try to not get too bogged down on one aspect for too long. One thing that may help you is like Bret said, get a balance of the tracks up quickly without overthinking it. When it sounds good to you, print a version of this back to tape. Now when you are 5 more hours into your mix and you are thinking you've made tons of great changes, go back and check your first pass mix. You maybe surprised that you've mixed past the magic in the song and you can try to work your way back. I can get carried away with the mix details sometimes and after a break be frustrated that the mix has lost something. Generally if I can reference what I had at the beginning it can help bring the mix back to life.
Good luck and just keep trying! Experience will calm your fears. :) hopefully