It’s been easy at the studio!!
We are working on a new film and are recording new music, it’s shaping up really well and I’m quite excited about the final product coming your way.
Today’s post is the follow up to Part 1 , which describes how I go about the tracking process. We’ll be looking at editing, mixing and mastering. These 3 processes are basically post production. If you hear someone say “We’ll fix it in post (please hit them)”, they are basically saying they will use one (or all of the above) to make a performance that wasn’t quite up to the mark acceptable. Let’s dive in.
EDITING: Usually the place to start in post, editing deals with making corrections in the recording. Editing is basically ‘Cut, copy and paste (and delete)’. It can be used to fix or mangle performances depending on what kind of music you are making. As an example, let’s say we have 2 takes of a drum recording where the snare hits are a little ahead of the beat, the drum roll isn’t great on one of them. Using our basic cut and paste tools, we can take all the snare hits (look up strip silence and tab to transient) and push them behind in time to make them feel right. The drum roll at the end we can cut from one take and paste it on to the final one. This process is repeated for all the other elements in the song until everything sounds right. There are a variety of things you wouldn’t want on your recording, like a bad note, an out of time hit, an out of tune vocal or a friend who walks yapping just when you’ve finished a take you’re happy with. You would be surprised by how much editing happens to make a song feel right, that is if the performance isn’t good. If the performance is actually amazing you’ll find yourself just editing out the ends of the audio file to take out clicks and pops!! It can also be used to change the arrangement of a song. Say your song structure is Intro – Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Outro and the singer is about to record. You feel the 2nd chorus should be twice as long. You can copy and paste the elements of the chorus to make it longer. Mischief managed.
MIXING: This is what one of my mix sessions looks like in Pro-Tools.
All the tracks that I have arranged and edited in pitch and time are now laid out, ready to be mixed together. This is the part where we go from what sounds like a collection of sounds to one cohesive sounding song. A lot of newbies expect mixing to be this magical process that fixes any and every mistake. This is a myth. Garbage in, garbage out, this never changes. Mixing is all about making the most space for the most important elements, and accommodating every other element of the song. It’s the process where every element of the song is balanced in amplitude(volume) and tonality to with respect to the others. In a mix, the engineer changes various parameters on every track. Let’s take a look:
• Volume – Pretty straightforward, the engineer sets the levels of the instruments relative to each other. For example if the vocal is the main element that drives the song, the mix engineer creates a balance where the vocals are the loudest with respect to the other tracks.
• Panning – It’s where the placement of the track is decided in the stereo spectrum. Tracks can be placed dead center, hard right, hard left and in between. Using panning creatively helps you create a sense of size of a song. For example, everything might be dead centre in the intro + first verse of the song. When the chorus hits, you open up the stereo spectrum by placing your guitars (or synths) and the listener will perceive it as the song having more energy and excitement than before.
• Timbre – Say you have a dull sounding voice that lacks ‘the brightness and sheen’ and is pulling the song back. You can use an equaliser to add some highs(I.e higher frequencies) to taste until it sounds right. An equaliser is mostly used to make sure all the instruments work together well tonally.
• Compression – IS THE MOST MISUSED TOOL EVER !!!!! Let’s say you have a singer who goes from very soft to very loud in the same line. You could bring up the volume up on one or down on one. But now this is happening in every line in the song. This is where compression comes in. You can use a compressor to ‘compress’ or reduce the dynamic range of the singer bringing forward the quiet bits and controlling the loud ones. There is a lot more that compression is used for in modern music, we’ll be looking at some of these tricks later.
• Reverb – Reverb helps create a sense of space in the mix. You can take all your instruments and change the perception of where the performance happened by tweaking the reverb settings. Your options will usually be halls, chambers, plates, small, medium and big sized rooms.
• FX – You can use effects such as distortion, delay, pitch shifting, auto-tune, chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo to make the sounds interesting. There are many ways to use these effects, which cannot be listed here. A good place to start is by finding out what effects were used on your favourite songs, and applying the same ones to yours. Youtube is a great resource for this.
• Automation – Automation is the process of automating certain parameters of the above over the course of the mix. Say you want the reverb on the vocals to increase during the chorus, you set the parameters for the verse and chorus and automation will make this change automatically for you when you go from the verse to the chorus. Most parameters in almost every plugin can be automated, giving you endless possibilities for sonic manipulation. If you spend some time with this, you will find that you are only limited by your imagination.
MASTERING: The final stage of the production process. The mix is tweaked using analog/digital tools to make sure that it translates well across all types of real world listening systems ranging from the cheapest earphones to the most expensive sound systems. This is done by tweaking the same parameters as above, though there is a marked difference in how the tools are used. This is a fairly complex process, and takes a fair degree of expertise to carry out. However, we will have a more in depth look at this process in the future. We’ve taken a look at the 3 core processes of post production and I’m hoping this has been helpful to you. Yes it is a lot of work, but with the right kind of engineer and team it does get easier. As I always say, do what you do best, Outsource the rest.