Mix Refinement and Alt Mixes


Gear Gods presents Studio Pass: Kurt Ballou


Lesson Info

Mix Refinement and Alt Mixes

Once you get yourself to say eighty five percent or what you think is maybe eighty five teo ninety percent of the way there with the mix now you want to solicit feedback from the client the first thing you want to know about the mix is does the client like just the overall vibe make sure the client understands you're not particularly interested yet in like you if you nailed the guitar solo volume or if the backing vocal volume is perfect like that stuff is subjective and not yet important wantto mail all the objective stuff first because if there's you know if the backing vocal sounds a little bit too loud right now but then the overall vocal tone is wrong then once you fix the overall vocal tone the backing vocal volume might feel like it's in a different place so tryto get really close with all the objective stuff first before you start sweating all of the subject of stuff and so as the feeds as the client how they feel love mix this actual probably good good time to play what my fir...

st version of this mix wass actually know what before even do that let's uh let's check out my stems or let's check out let's check out my raw tracks and then let's check out my stems um so raw in the box tracks which is not how it worked but should be just level set basic basic tracks cool malice here what my mix of the drums were this is this's a drum stem so it's a stereo bounce of just the drums coming off my console and I actually can't remember if this one threw my two bus chain or not I think it did so it's a little more bombastic a little more edgy than the raw tracks are I think I did cem cem upper mid boosting some low mid cutting and various housekeeping on the tracks and let's hear the based on in the guitar stone I can really hear a little bit bus compression on the guitar that sort of, uh just sort of helping tuck the guitar into the mix and keeping it focused the vocal stem you should hear some of the effects are on the ball. What that bang it out! I think I did some kind of like low fiish type effect on the talkie vocal that's doubling the scream to lead vocal. The talking vocal was quite a bit more dynamic than the screen vocal so it's a filtering little bit gain and a lot of compression on that helped keep it pretty steady so the individual civil syllables didn't poke in and out. All right, so now let's, check out the first mix that I shared with the client um that's not it here it is so that's certainly brighter van the and the raw tracks are and there's a tendency, I think, in mixing to just sort of as you get closer to the finish line, you're listening to things quiet, area years have a different perspective on it. You start making things brighter and brighter when you realized that you want stuff to cut through a little bit, maurine the size and the depth of it isn't as important to you, especially to you as you start to sort of pare down where your bottom and is coming from. So I sent that mixed to the band and talking to a few of the guys in the band, and they each had some of their own ideas about things that that irks them about it, and they referenced their previous record that I also recorded as something that they wanted to push it in that direction. This this recording was a little bit mohr, organic and unprocessed sounding than their previous record was, so they said, hey, throw on a previous record, take a listen to it, it's a little bit maur, hollywood standing a little more crispy on top and a little less less mid range, and we don't want to go entirely in that direction, but we want to push it a little bit more in that direction, so so then, um, and I got the two guys that I was talking to in the band to kind of agree upon what it was they wanted me to do before proceeding, because if one person has one idea about what they want to do in another person has a different idea what they want to do, then you don't really know what you should do, and you can sort of only impart your own taste on the mix. It's important to build consensus with everybody involved, who has an opinion and make sure that everybody's on the same page before you start, you know, bus and asked to do any makes revisions. So when it came time to the first mix revision, uh, first thing I did was save the previous one, because sometimes you actually pass the mix, maybe the earlier mix was actually better, and the later mixes aren't as good going to make sure you always have access to earlier mixes. It certainly, like bit me in the ass before that, I didn't have my earlier mixes, so make sure you have a copy of your old mixes if you start making changes so that one's, like, quite a bit more mid range forward and, uh, a little less low mid tech stuff, so again. Save your mix solicit more feedback try to make sure people are giving you good feedback at this point we're getting closer to the vibes and now we're starting to kind of dial in all the little details and in this in this particular song the real sticking point for them was not so much the tone of the mix but kind of dialing in exactly how that kind of talking backing vocal fit into the mix so mostly what you'll hear over the next few mixes his adjustments to that so just run through those next few mixes kind of quickly so here's rough three and then run for it that one's got the talking vocal quite a bit lower and actually something will notice as you're mixing which just just reminded of and hearing the difference between three and four I instantly noticed that for was a little quieter and three and that's because sometimes when you're mixing you you find that like no one ever says turn that down people always they turned this up so you get this sort of race to the finish line with the failures and then eventually get to a point we have no headroom left so uh once in a while you find yourself needing to sort of reset whether that be pull elevators down and bring him back up or just say across the board on go down five decibels on all my failures or however you choose to approach it just be aware that as you approach the end of the next year you gotta be careful about losing the headroom other mix because whichever mixed buster using whether it's a digital next boss or an analog next bus things when you're old there front as you start pushing harder so um here from here the difference between four and five oh wait I have something else going on you know what I had ah another track on this whole time let's go back let's go back to uh why is that coming up here let's go let's go back to beginning this whole mixed comparison so rough one rough one was actually my level set rough mix before we started tracking vocals so rough to is the first one the first real rough mix with vocals and or processing ah that feels better to me thiss other thing was sorry my mistake so that one's getting the vibe but sort of bottom and lo me it is a little out of control and a little round and then by rough three I started getting it a little bit more slick sounding all right in the last couple versions of it are not hugely different but sort of some of the some of the internal balance is very low yeah so it sounds like on for that's when I decided to give myself a little more headroom which is why you're hearing a little quieter bye by rough five I can really hear that difference between sort of bottom end coming into the coming into focus from the toms the kick in the bass guitar guitars are getting out of the way of that bottom end and then drums are getting out of the way of you know the basic you basic human guitar e q aren't so much in the same area and rather than the early rough mix which seems like, you know, one just big blob of sounds now this while still sounding like a band there's a little bit of space carved out more for each instrument so let's, check out the final thanks all right, so that's my final mix um I think sounds pretty cool, I hope you guys like it. The band seemed to like it, but you know, I'm never happy with anything I do and, you know, this was this was a pretty quick recording session, so I didn't have time to dial in everything I really wanted. I probably would have auditioned some additional symbols if I had extra time. Some of these ones were a little too zippy sounding for my taste, but I think since pretty rad captures the vibe of the band and they were happy with it, so I'm happy with it, so next thing to talk about before we get into a discussion of mastering I just wanted quickly mentioned um some concepts about alternate mixes we show the slide for the old mixes um so there's a bunch of different reasons to do alternate mixes if you're not sure about your vocal level, you might want to print an instrumental mix as well as an acapella mix if you think if your client are their record label or something asks for instrumentals, you want different some instrumental mix is sometimes, you know, publishing companies air marking people want to like solicit things to various soundtracks and uh they a lot of the soundtracks will ask for instrumental mix is so if you think there's any prayer of that being required, do it during the mix stage, otherwise we'll have to go back and do it later, which if you're mixing in the box and you still have access to all the same plug ins that you did when you were originally mixed it you can do after the fact pretty easily for me we're mixing mostly on analog equipment and returning to the mix to do an instrumental or not capella essentially means a full remix, so I try to make sure that any mixes somebody needs I do um in the moment and also um I make sure that all my clients understand that with it seems like people are very accustomed to in the box mixing now a cz clients so I try to make sure they understand that I'm mixing using analog year, so they really do pay attention to the mix is that I'm providing them and make sure that they're happy with them because if at a later date they decide they want the backing vocal a little louder or whatever it's not possible without a full remix, and then if I do a full remix, I might fix the one little thing that they had an issue with, but maybe something else the mixed suffers because it is a new max it's not gonna sound exactly the same if you're if you're really unsure about some of those balances, you're not happy with your mix or, you know, the band's trying to get their song on rock band or something guitar hero, whatever that is, you may want to do something called stems and played back stands for this song I printed stems in the song on ly for the for demonstration purposes it's not something that I do typically, but if you don't want stem mixing is what it is is two create a stereo bounce of individual elements within the mix, so you're taking all of the processing that you're doing to tracks and and capturing that in the form of a way file typically a steri away file. So, like, I have a stereo file here, that's capture of all my drums with their processing on them, a cz well as my guitar, bass and vocals, some people will stem things out even further. They might have, ah, rhythm, guitar, stamina, lead guitar stem, or they might have an affect stem, separate from from the tracks they might have for the drums. They might have a close mike stamm and indian mike stem there's, no right or wrong way to print stems on dh it's way to give yourself additional control over the mix after the fact, and if I feel it, so band is going to be really indecisive about my mix, and I have the time to do it, I will print stands for the entire mix, and then if they have miss adjustments later, I'll go back in the box and combine the stems that I printed through my analog year down to a new mix. If people need this done, make sure that they understand that it takes extra time to do this, and you can't just do it instantly. You know, free in the last album that I recorded was about, I think about sixty three minutes long, so if I were to print, you know, drum, bass, guitar and vocal stem that's an extra you know, at least an extra four hours of work running those stems so make sure they understand that it takes extra time and if they need that that they compensate you for um and also be aware that mastering engineers don't usually like stamps uh it's more work for them that does give them more control that it's more work for them and the other thing is that you know, think about the longer that you're on a project the mohr emotionally invested you become in that project you know, if it's your band and you've written songs and put the effort into in the rehearsal space sweating him out and, you know, hacking your way through the songs, developing the song long and recording the song that you spent a lot of time with these songs and they're really important to you you're emotionally invested in them if you're the recording engineer on those songs maybe you spent a weekend or a week or ah months or however long working on the songs you've become emotionally invested in the songs if you didn't write the songs or record them and you're just mixing them you're maybe only spending a few days on the songs and while I'm sure you take pride in your work, you don't have the same emotional connection to those songs because you haven't lived with the development of them and then for a mastering engineer you know they you know, they might master one, two, four albums per day, so you wantto while there's, a lot of great master engineers were super creative people. You want to treat the role of mastering not as a creative role, but as a sort of maura technician kind of role, it's a very technical side where they're really they're trying to optimize what you've provided them, but they're not a good master engineer is not trying to put their creative stamp on new york korea about, but they're just trying to optimize your creative but make you look good and, you know, the best master engineers know howto make you as a mix engineer look good, and they know when to do stuff, and they know when your mixes great when it doesn't really need anything. So if you send mastering engineers stems, then you open up a huge amount of opportunity for the master engineer to impart their own creative input into your mix and with them not being as emotionally invested in what the song is and where it should go it's kind of giving them too much control, and I think that good master and you will be the first one to admit that that that the mastering from stems is a is an often times, eh, is to do creative decisions that really are sort of beyond on the scope of what their job is and they're have some some of them are happy to do it but just understand that it's it's maybe a little bit too much control for them so tryto avoid sending a mastering engineer stems if you can keep it if you do print stems keep those stands for yourself and if you're not happy with the master and you feel as though an adjustment with stands could do it maybe do that by doing the stems on your end as opposed to the mastering engineers hand one of the things kind of neat about stems is that if um if your tracks and if your stems and your mixes all line up together perfectly inside your dog you can actually blenda stem in with the final mix so let's say let's say you do the final mix you think of super rocket and it's awesome but after mastering you realize you know I wish the drums were just a little bit louder you might rather than do like a full stem remix you might blend just a hair of the drum stem in with your final mix and if they line up perfectly in your dog then there shouldn't be any fazing introduced into it by doing that the other thing you can do is if you know if you decide after mastering like hopes the drums are too loud actually what you could do is invert the polarity of your drum stem and then suddenly blend that in with the mix. And that will actually turned down the drums in the mix. It can be a can of worms, because, because of stereo bus processing, this stem that you're blending in is not subject to the stereo bus process from that happened within your neck. So sometimes some weird stuff that happens will be aware of that.

Class Description

In this two-day course, prolific producer Kurt Ballou will take you behind-the-scenes of GodCity Studios to show you exactly how the magic happens. This all-access studio pass will immerse you in every aspect of Kurt’s distinctive sound — from choosing and setting up gear, to tracking and mixing.

Kurt will show you the basic and advanced techniques he uses in his studio every day, and teach you how to apply them to your own recording — regardless of whether you’re working in a studio or at home with a DIY setup. Using anecdotes from his years behind the board, Kurt will also teach you his best practices for working with bands to extract the best and most inventive sounds.


Keith Foster

First off, even though I'm neither a beginner nor a recording professional, this class is absolutely worth the money you spend on it - especially if you plan on making heavy music. There are enough tips, tricks and guidance in here to get your money's worth many times over. That said, as an indie artist who goes to a studio to record drum tracks, then does the rest ina home studio I found some of the things disheartening. Much of the class follows a "I do this thing using item / amp / microphone / plugin (X), it's pretty cool" vibe, and it sounds cool.... until you check the price. As an example, the 'stereo buss processing' section sounds fun to try, except for the part where the three pieces of gear cost about $8K. As a result I found myself figuring out how to incorporate the essence of what he was saying without the gear budget to do so. Maybe I'm not the intended audience but a little more concept and less gearhead would have been even better. That said you should totally get it, it's a low price for so many hours of great content.