Mixing 4 Beginners

Thinking about my career as a live sound reinforcement engineer for the past 30 years, and since those days are over due to an injury I had in 2019, I have been paying close attention to evolving singer-songwriters and listening to their self-recordings. And while the requirement of basic knowledge of recording techniques is essential to accomplish a decent-sounding recording, the basic knowledge of software and hardware is a must. 

The technology in audio gear involved in recordings has evolved dramatically since I started my career back in the mid-80s. We had analog sound consoles that were exceptionally huge in size accompanied by an endless amount of racks full of gates, compressors, de-essers, limiters, and time-based processors (effects) to grab the attention of your audience but we were restricted to a limited amount of channels on a live sound console (we always called it a desk) and the need for more inputs would allow us to use more than one console on a show to accommodate the massive amount of inputs from the stage. Think about the professor master drummer Neil Peart (R.I.P September 12, 1952 – January 7, 2020), the most technically accurate drummer of all time, and his massive drum set with over 22 microphone inputs from the acoustic set by itself along with all the other direct inputs from the electronic drums he played.

The Professor, May He Rest In Peace. 🙏

Home recordings require a special skill called patience as your first recording might not sound as good as it should but as we all say, practice makes perfect. As I wrote earlier, I hear some self-recordings that are great but some are very hard to listen to because it is just harsh on your ears. One aspect of it, in particular, is the use of effects on a song. I was listening to a song and I could not understand one word. A song without a clear understanding of the lyrics is a complete waste of time and energy. Reverb for example is supposed to enhance the vocals of a singer if applied conservatively and tastefully. There is no need to drown the vocals in reverb or delay to the point that makes it hard to understand as doing so will decrease their intelligibility. 

I understand that an excessive amount of effects (reverb, delay, harmonizer, pitch change) might sound great on an electric guitar or even on horn instruments (Sax, trumpet, or trombone), but doing so on vocals is not necessary unless the objective is not to understand the meaning of the song and the lyrics.

During my 17 years of teaching career, I have always indicated to my classes that I can teach someone the technicalities of a live sound system, and what components are necessary. I can teach the microphone technique, how to delicately add a snare bottom microphone or whether a dynamic microphone over a condenser is a better choice, I can not teach anyone how to mix as mixing music is subjective, it is emotional with human feelings in the process. 

Digital technology made it extremely possible for any ambitious musician at an early stage of their career to have the perfect home studio at an affordable price. From the capabilities of producing an entire album using one single audio interface (hardware) with built-in software that might cost less than $200 plus the price of a laptop (everyone has nowadays), it is a great time we live in. Be careful out there, mixing music is an art that needs nourishment and once again, practice makes perfect. Cheers!

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