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Mixing Master Class

Lesson 26 of 27

Translating Artist Notes

Joey Sturgis

Mixing Master Class

Joey Sturgis

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Lesson Info

26. Translating Artist Notes

Lesson Info

Translating Artist Notes

Let's talk about this, the other side of mixing, the side of mixing, that has nothing to do with actually mixing. There's this whole process of where you need to translate artists requests, cuz they don't mix music and maybe some of them do. this is what gets interesting is, that sometimes you have a lot of musicians now, that are starting to get into recording and production and they think they know how to do your job better than you, yet they're hiring you to do the job, which is really interesting. Sometimes you might have a client, saying, "You need to parallel compress the drums, man, this just doesn't sound right". What I try to do is try to look beyond what's being said to me and try to figure out how to translate what it really means. What is it, that they actually don't like about the song or about the mix and how can I adjust for that. One example can be someone says, "I think the mix is just too bassy". You could take this mix, that we have, for example and if I remove all t...

his eq from our guitars, so I removed all the eq from the guitars. Let's just see what the mix sounds like. The guitars are kind of dark without the eq, that might be the reason why they say it's too bassy. It has nothing to do with the bass at all, bass mixed fine, everything's mixed fine, but then your guitars are just lacking that extra little bit of top end and whatever and that can trigger someone to say, "You know what, the song's too bassy". Here you are opening the song and playing around with the bass when it was mixed perfectly and you're just running around in a wheel, where you don't need to. You have to think around what's being asked. Another common one would be vocals are not loud enough. That can mean the guitars are too loud, maybe your bass is swallowing your vocals, it doesn't mean, that the vocals need to physically be turned up. It could even also mean, that your vocals aren't compressed enough, so the quieter parts are still too quiet, there's still too much dynamic range and the vocals take a lot automation to get up over that wall of sound. They might say vocals are too quiet, but that doesn't mean turn the vocals up, keep that in mind. Another good one, guitars not heavy enough. I would say, that that probably means, that you have too much gain, however, a lot of people think more gain equals more heavy. You get someone saying, "Hey, you need to turn the gain up on the guitars", but what they really think is, that the guitars aren't heavy enough and what they should really be saying is the guitar sound doesn't sound the way I want it to, can you take another look at it and see what you could possibly do. Can't hear the keys. This happens a lot when you have a band, that goes through the too much going on syndrome. Too many keyboard parts, too many guitar parts happening all at the same time and they're saying, "I can't hear the piano" and you're like, really? There's one piano part and then there's 16 other parts happening at the same time, what do you want me to do? It's a compromise, There's always gonna have to be something, that's in focus, can't have everything in focus all the time, especially if they're in the same frequency zone. If there's frequency fighting going on, keep in mind, that you might have to do some eq automation to make certain tracks stick out over others. The classic, the guitar lead is too quiet. Try turning the rhythms down instead, don't think you have to reach for that volume knob on the lead guitar, especially if you set it properly the first time you mix the song. Maybe the rhythms just need to be automated down so that lead pops out a little bit more. I wanna go to showing some mixing strategies for how to handle some of these things. These are little tiny movies, that go really far. For example, when this song kicks in, let's just listen to when it kicks in. There's a couple of things, that you can do with automation to make this intro, which is very short, make it more exciting, right? If your vocals actually with the drums, let me start with the drums. Drums go like this. That first crash, it gets lost. If I was to go into my drum overheads and turn automation on, and do a tiny little bump right here. That was huge, let me move this a little over here. What you can also do, though, is to make this really accelerate in, I'm gonna go into my bass on my sub track, I'm gonna automate my bass fading in a tiny amount like this. Then on my guitars I'm going to go to my guitar group and just that first couple of parts, first couple of strums on the guitar riff, I'm gonna turn just that tiny little part up on the guitar, just one little tiny Db like this. Then this needs to fade a little bit more. This first hit, I'm gonna make it super impactful. I'm gonna go into my master track and I'm gonna change the input gain, I'm gonna automate the input gain, because the input gain is kind of like your volume knob going into your compressor. If I automate my input gain being turned down a tiny amount on the first hit, we're talking like one or two Db and then automate up the volume of my kick. Where is it? It's a group track, it's right there. Automate up the volume of my kick and automate down the input gain on my master bus. What that does is that really allows your kick drum to pop out on that first hit. You notice how that first kick drum really punched through. All the little tiny moves of ducking out the entire mix, but making the kick rise for a split second causes this little motion like this to happen and you can make certain elements stick out, if you use the input gain properly, you can move your entire mix down and make little things jump out and it's more effective, than turning up only one thing, because what's happening, when you turn one thing up all the way, you're pushing that compressor, the compressor's fighting you, so the compressor pushes back. By lowering the input gain, you are lowering your ducking underneath that threshold of the compressor and then you can pick elements to jump out by doing volume automations up. The mixing strategy, that I'm trying to convey is, that you can do additional things using subtraction. Another good example would be, let's look at this. That final line, before it goes into the verse. I can take the actual vocal track, I'm gonna put that up half a Db and then on the vocal group I'm gonna go up half a Db there as well. Then on my input gain, I'm gonna go down half a Db. Now that vocal sticks out way more, than it did before. Tiny little moves like that are huge in songs like this and this is the kind of stuff, that the pros, they guys, that are insane at mixing, this is the kind of stuff, that they do. They don't do it with a computer necessarily, some guys do, but I think a lot of them just have the magic in the fingers the way that write stuff. If you are facing specific issues, let's say, your mix is too bassy, you could do something like this, you could go into your mastering settings and during certain parts of your song, where the bass heavy stuff is happening, you can automate these attack levels to be shorter, that will cause the low end of the compressor to react quicker and it'll push the bass frequencies down. You can also automate these ranges to go down like this, which will cause a greater reaction and greater difference on the bass. If I hit play, just watch this low end frequency here. As I move the range up and down, you can hear the bass getting sucked out, but it's happening dynamically. It will react to the performance and the mix of the song, it'll react to the type of notes, that are being played. If the bass player starts to go up on higher notes, those lower notes, if the bass player starts to go on up on higher notes, then there'll be less bass and it react less to those notes, so you'll get the warmth of those notes coming through and you won't be affecting the sub of it. For example, if you're struggling, let's say, you mix has too much bass, maybe the answer is not to turn down your bass, maybe the answer is to increase the range on your multi band frequency range down there. I can balance the relationship between the low end and the high end using attack, using range differences, it's not necessarily always in the eq. That's the other power of having the ability to master your own mixes is, that you can get in there and make decisions like that, where you love the mix, but it's just a little too much bass. Maybe the answer is changing the mastering settings. Let's assume mastering settings are good, everything's cool there, but your mix is still too bassy. You could do eq automation now, let's say you don't want to ruin certain parts. Another strategy, that you could have here is to take this sub mic, you could duplicate the track, remove all the audio from it and then, when there's parts, where you feel like there's too much bass, just cut the bass out, drag it out to this track and then have this track set to a lower volume like this. Now this track is my sub bass, sub bass minus two and this track is my sub bass, and now whenever I want the sub bass to be turned down two decibels, I just go like that and that sets you up for a workflow, where you can accomplish more goals quickly. You don't have to always automate every thing. You could also set yourself up with, let's say your mix is too muddy and it's too blurry, you could set up, let me think here, you could set up a copy of your master. Here's what I'm gonna do, I'm gonna take a group track and I'm gonna call this group master, then send all of my other groups into it, but not the kicks and the snares. Kick and snare goes to drums, tom goes to drums, cymbals goes to drums, drums, that goes to the master, guitar rhythm goes to the master. Vocal main goes to the master, vocal background goes to the master and reverb goes to the master, cool. Then I'm gonna click here, copy and then click here and click paste. That copies my mastering settings to my mastering group. Now I have an additional step going into my master bus. I'm gonna clear out my master bus, that it's just straight up zero, no automation and if I play back my song, I should have the exact same thing I had before. I forgot, one of my bass tracks isn't going to the right place. Let's do it like this. Let's try it now. Okay, there we go, now that you have this extra layer, you can do all kinds of mastering sends. For example, I could take off the limiter, I can add a group and then I can take my master, and send it to that group, and I get two copies of the signal. I've got the original and then the copy. On my copy I could add like a high pass like this and then as I move this fader in, I'm bringing in that band, a copy of that band in again. You guys hear that a little bit? This brings in additional air. Hear that? You can eq the track without using eq, we're just taking a copy of the band and bringing it in and then you can combine those two, you put a limiter on your master bus, and now you're taking those two copies of those signals and putting them into your limiter. It's just a different way of adding life to your track. You can use the same concept on vocals, for example, you could take all your vocals, pass them in through a group, make a second group, send that group to the new group, filter out all the low frequencies and then use the fader to bring in and out air from your vocals. That was another mixing strategy to set your sessions up like that, that you can do cool things like that. Do we have any questions? Yeah, we've got a few and we've got about 10 minutes left here, before we need to wrap up, do you have more you need to talk about or would you like to do some questions now? I think the other thing I was gonna cover was, because we were talking a lot about working with the artist and the clients, and one of the most important things in wanted to show was the concept of keeping track of your changes, that if the artist is requesting, let's say you're on revision number seven and the artist says, "I like the vocals from revision number four". I just wanted to show a way of keeping track of that. Every time you send out a song you should do a save as. Say, I'm happy with this mix and I'm ready to send it to the artist, I'll do save as and I'll call it mix one. Now send it out to the artist. I'm not gonna change mix one ever again now, because I wanna make sure, that my mix one is the same mix one is the one, that they have and then if they send me back notes, I'm gonna open my session and the first thing I'm gonna do is save as mix two and start making changes. Then when I'm done hit save, send mix two out and leave mix two alone on my computer. Then once you get 10 mixes down, you'll be so glad you did that, because if someone's like, "Hey, man, the bass was way better on mix three", how are you gonna know what that was unless you have the ability to open up that session and grab those settings or see what you were doing. That was my last thing, it's just incremental mixing was to keep track of each change, that you make. That's a good tip, as some that Aou turn me on to last time he was here, he said that was the big revelation for him in this last year of his life. Let's take a couple of questions and then close it out for the day. Cook Beat wants to know how and if there's a different approach when you're on a tight deadline versus when you don't have a deadline set? I think a big thing is organization, because it helps with speed, it helps with efficiency and the more organized and more prepped your session is and the better it's set up like the routing, the quicker you can make changes. Let's assume, that you have a deadline and it's within the week, and the biggest problem in the mix is the vocal volume, it's never right. You try to get it right and then you send it out and the labels like, "You know what, the vocals need to be louder here, but they need to be quieter here". If you don't have your vocals set up and routed to a single group to where you can make quick changes, up and down vocals, then you're gonna be spending a lot of extra time going through individual vocal tracks, automating up and down lines, which can be really frustrating. In a scenario like that you would wanna have your session set up to where it was super easy to just go in, open the song, raise or lower the vocal one or two Db and then hit export again and send it out. The strategy is just to be ultra prepared for an ultimate storm of notes, because that's what a lot of mixing sessions turn into nowadays, it's just a bunch of revisions. Being able to recall the session quickly and make the revisions fast is the best preparation you can make. For sure. Alright, for last question, that we have online here, if you were to be hired for mixing and mastering, what would be the ideal situation an artist could create for you, as in, when it comes to what he or she sends you in the information, that they provide you? I have a guide, that I created, I spend a couple of weeks making it and it is several pages long. It says everything, that I want, when I mix a song. It goes through every single step, it talks about how the audio files, how they're named, how the audio files are stored in folders. It talks about how to give me wet versions and dry versions of every single effect in the song. Give me DIs if you have them, any tempo synced effects, i want a reference of that. Any mixes, any rough mixes, if there's three or four rough mixes, I want all of them. Just that kind of stuff. I like to have my own little collection of everything, that has to do with you song, that I can make the best decisions. The more stuff I have, the more empowered I am to be able to mix your song and make it awesome. The other thing too is just to have everything organized and not have these files, that say guitar.8345678105.wav, what is that, I don't have no idea. Descriptive titles, information sheets, all that stuff. Alright and Cook Beat says, "Thank you so much, salute from Serbia, Europe". Shouts from Europe. Hello from America. Yeah and we have one more question. What's the best way to tell a band, that the revisions they requested were terrible and that they're essentially ruining their own mix. It's kind of like over-serving someone at a bar, it sounds like. The interesting challenge with that is if you haven't earned the client's trust, you can end up in a scenario, where the client thinks they know better than you and they don't necessarily trust you fully so. They think they know what's better for them, than you do and unfortunately you might be in a scenario, that you're not gonna be able to get out of. One way, that I would go about that is by demonstrating some of my own points and if the artist didn't trust me, for example, they might say, "You need to make the guitar tone like this". I would try to find three of four songs, that are the top within the genre of music, that they play and demonstrate the reason why I disagree with their guitar tone and I would show they specific examples, specific spots in songs, that you can't argue it, they sound great, because they're at the top in the genre, and say look at this mix. The guitars definitely are doing what I'm saying, that we should do. If you still disagree, that's fine, but here's my argument. Just do your best to give your opinion, but validate it with actual hard evidence, give examples and show the reason why you're right until people just trust you like they would me, because once you get to a point, where people start to trust you, your career gets better and then you become a point of authority and you can use that to your advantage. To be like, hey, you know, I've been doing this a long time, I know what I'm doing, I think this is the right way to go and most of the time the bands are like, "Yeah, you're right, trust you, let's go with that". But if they don't trust you, you gotta earn it. I think the best way to do that is to just give really good examples and back up all of your claims with some kind of hard evidence.

Class Description

Joey Sturgis is the producer behind some of the biggest names in metalcore, including Asking Alexandria, Of Mice & Men, and I See Stars. His sound is one of the most sought after sounds of the last decade and in this class, he’ll show you the unique mixing techniques that are key to getting it.

This class picks up where Joey’s Studio Pass class left off: you’ve got your session tracked and edited, now how do you turn it into a polished, world-class mix? 

He’ll show you how to get his signature sound, including: 

  • EQ and compression strategies for drums, guitar, bass, vocals, and synths/effects 
  • How to use automation to fix problem areas and bring out the song’s dynamics 
  • Tons of little tips and tricks to take your mix from good to great 

If you want to elevate the quality of your mix, don’t miss Mixing Master Class with Joey Sturgis.

Ratings and Reviews

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I don't work exclusively in the same genre as Joey but I always make sure to clear my schedule when he's on CreativeLive. This class definitely didn't disappoint and it was awesome getting to see Joey work on a track from start to finish and what his approaches and thought processes are. And not only that, but I appreciate that he briefly touches on client communication in regards to production, mixing, etc, and the business side to the mixing process as this is an area I'm just now dipping my toes in. Even though I often find myself on the rock, indie or post-rock side of things, a lot of these ideas can apply to anything you're working on and I definitely picked up some ideas to try and work on myself. Joey gives you enough to inspire you and make that light bulb click and does it with an admirable humility that I respect. He gives you more than enough on how and why he does what he does, but I never feel like he reveals all his secrets or magic; I honestly prefer it that way as it leaves a fun challenge of taking the ideas you've learned and figuring out how, when and where you're going to use them in your own mixes. Especially if you're not doing predominantly metal, like I am. The ideas are inspiring. This class isn't about those perfect settings to that phenomenal mix or tone; it's about why you do this and how you do that. It's cool to be able to watch his process and pick his brain, start to finish and all in the box. Joey definitely doesn't need to do these classes for us, but the more I see him getting active on social media the more I get this vibe that he genuinely wants to help make the creative and mixing processes easier and help us expand our knowledge and skills. I get that it's smart business, but I respect and appreciate the hell out of him for taking time to do these classes and answer our questions... Even if there are shameless plugs here and there. I love when these great engineers take time to show us you don't need school, you don't need thousands of dollars of outboard gear, etc. It's your ear, not your gear. We live in an amazing day and age with the Internet and awesome resources like CreativeLive. I love it and these are great classes to watch and get in their heads. It set gets the hamster wheel in my head spinning and I always keep CreativeLive classes on my calendar. They're motivating and inspiring. Looking forward to the next one!


I’ll start off by saying this a amazing class not just for those looking for or interested in “The Sturg” production, but for anyone interested in mixing or mastering. You get everything from the must have fundamentals and basics of mixing and production, to the more advance technical aspects, and of course Joey’s personal approach and method to mixing. Everything from EQ, to compressors, multiband compressors, automation and chain signals. If you ever wondered whether you should place delay in front of your reverb, or reverb in front of delay, or other common chain effects, chances are they get answered in this class. The class is organized in several lessons following a logical order, each covering different topics. All the techniques are shown with examples and Joey does a great job of making it easy to understand and follow as well as explain the reasoning behind the techniques. And it’s not just mixing or production that is covered, but the importance of good songwriting, good communication with artists and good workflow. I highly recommend this for anyone looking to take their mixing or production to the next level. Regardless of skillset, if you’re a noob, intermediate or advanced mixer or producer, you’ll find very helpful and informative lessons, regardless of what style or genre you do.

a Creativelive Student

I own both of Joey`s courses. While both are full of useful information to get you started in the audio production world with lots of good technical explanation and awesome concepts for a fast and individual workflow, Joey actually comes up with average or "mediocre" mixes and tones. If you want some really detailed information about how Joey works, this class is for you. If you want to know what plugins Joey likes to use and wanna see him promote his own plugins, this class is for you! If you expect to learn how to create or come up with outstanding guitar and bass tones (which Joey is famous for) you won`t learn much and won`t hear anything in this particular regard, unfortunately. However, I`d still recomment them, especially the first course he did but again, if you expect to hear a typical Joey Sturgis mix quality, you won`t find what you`re looking for.