I started final mixes this past week-end on a project that started last February. The process of mixing combines fairly tedious housekeeping activities with wide ranging creative effort.
The tedious housekeeping activities include:
- Chopping – I go through all of the tracks and take out any unintended and unnecessary noises such as guitar amp hiss, clearing of throat sounds, etc.
- Consolidating tracks – During tracking, individual tracks are often split into separate regions for overdubs. I consolidate or flatten all of the tracks so that I have one “final” region per track prior to mixing.
- Deleting unused regions – not unusual to have 50 or more tracks per song and yet, when it comes down to mixing, maybe a third of those tracks are not going to be used at all. They may be multiple takes of a vocal or a guitar solo. I keep all of the original takes but for mixing I want to focus on the keepers so I remove the unused regions.
- Prepare sends/returns – there are stock effects that I use when mixing. I usually have four reverbs, one harmonizer, and four delays prepped for each song. There are obviously individual effects that get applied to each track but each session will need some or all of these effects.
- Align tracks – I check for alignment between kick and bass, background vocals, drums and percussion and I make adjustments as required.
- Documentation – I ensure that each track has basic comments in terms of its content. For example, I will identify the signal chain, instrument, contributor on each track. I also prepare a Pro Tools Interchange document for the session to allow someone else a running chance at remixing the material at a later date.
- Backup – I prepare a premix backup of the material on a separate firewire drive. This helps ease my anxiety over catastrophic loss.
So, before I even move a fader or automate a mix, I have spent several hours just getting the session ready for mixing. I will often spend between 10 and 20 hours to mix one song.
The creative side requires a lot of technical knowledge and experience to correctly apply mixing techniques against the program material. I always tune my ears by doing some reference listening prior to mixing. I admit that having somewhere over 25 years of experience in audio does help the process along a little bit.
I needed to rebuild some of my plugin collection after migrating away from Windows to Mac. I do a significant amount of recording and mixing work “in-the-box” these days and I have a wide array of software-based audio processors.
One plugin that I use, reluctantly, is Auto Tune. When recording finish vocals it is not unusual to create composite tracks. The singer puts down somewhere between 3 and 30 takes of a vocal and the best portions of each take are selected and then combined into a composite track. I prefer to catch a great vocal performance and deal with any minor issues through overdubs. Having said that, I still take between 4 and 6 runs of vocals.
And then, there is Auto Tune.
I upgraded my Windows version to version 4.0 on Mac OSX.
Auto Tune is a brilliant piece of technology that seeks out notes that are out of pitch and automatically corrects pitch. You can work on just the section that is out of pitch or you can apply the pitch correction widely across the entire track. Some producers have used Auto Tune as an effect. The most widely recognized Auto Tune effect is one that was used on Cher’s hit song “Believe”. Many engineers now call this the “Cher Effect”.
Is it possible for singers to be pitch perfect in the studio? I have worked with some very talented singers who can make an exceptional performance happen but they might be a tad under or over in a few areas. I will reluctantly use Auto Tune to pitch correct those minor flaws and save an otherwise strong performance.
I was back into tracking activities last week after a marathon month of mixing. I find mixing to be far more demanding from both a technical and creative perspective.
Last Saturday we had Paul Neufeld in the studio tracking keyboards. Paul is a Juno award-winning, Toronto-based composer, pianist, and tuba player working in a number of large and small band contexts. He co-leads and composes for Neufeld-Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra (NOJO). He did not bring his tuba out to the session but he managed to work through 11 songs and 50 tracks in one day. Fantastic musician.
From a technical perspective, tracking keyboards is very straightforward. I find it to be the easiest set of instruments to get a sound in the pocket.
During the session, I found myself thinking about the best way to get a great sound from a tuba.
I need a life 😉
I was looking at the latest figures on unit sales in Canada for DVDs and CDs. Year to date 1,699,000 DVD units were shipped which is up 38% from last year (1,233,000 units). 22,562,000 CD units were shipped which is up 6% from last year (21,211,000 units).
There is a great deal of concern about the overall decline worldwide in the sale of CDs. Global music sales dropped 7.6 percent to $32 billion in 2003. This has been the fourth straight annual decline according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.
CD units shipped in the U.S. increased by 9.6% percent in the first four months of the year leading to some cautious optimism that anti-piracy actions are having a positive impact.
Retail shipments of DVDs rose 52% in the first six months of 2004, while sales of DVD players rose 25%, according to the Digital Entertainment Group. On a unit basis, 649 million DVD titles were shipped to retail stores in the first six months of the year, while 13 million new DVD players were sold to play those discs.
Why rent when you can buy. Maybe it is time to get out of two-channel music production 😉
The CRTC made a request for applications for digital audio broadcasting (DAB) radio services in December of 2003. Canadian Satellite Radio (CSR), CBC and CHUM submitted proposals to the CRTC. Canadian Satellite Radio is a joint venture of former Toronto Raptors owner John Bitove Jr. and XM Satellite Radio Holdings. CBC is in partnership with Sirius Satellite Radio. CHUM is the only company to respond without an American partner.
The CSR and CBC proposals would leverage existing S-band (2320-2345 MHz) digital radio satellite services. In effect, this is the same infrastructure that XM and Sirius use in the U.S. although packaged for Canadian audiences with somewhat different channel lineups.
CSR would offer 101 channels, four of which would be produced in Canada, for a monthly fee of $12.99. CBC would offer 78 channels, with four produced by CBC, for a monthly fee of $12.95. Canadian-produced channels could also be offered to U.S. subscribers.
CHUM would use Eureka-147 terrestrial digital audio broadcasting for its service and its first offering would be 50 channels for a monthly fee of $9.95. All of CHUM’s content would be produced in Canada. Because of the broadcast technology, CHUM would be subject to the Canadian content requirements: 35% Canadian origin. The satellite services are not subject to this rule. CRTC is currently soliciting public comment regarding such policies for Canadian subscription radio.
CRTC closed the filing period for proposals and it will accept public comment until Sept. 15, 2004. It will hold a hearing on the subject Nov. 1, and may issue rules and license(s) in 2005.
Digital Radio will offer another channel for Canadian musicians to distribute their work. Long overdue.
I delivered the third and final set of mix candidates for a project that I started tracking almost two years ago. The producer signed off on the finals and the project is now closed.
Funny thing though. I am a bit sad that the project has closed. When I work closely with people on a creative challenge I usually develop strong friendships. In a very real sense, the project and its contributors become part of my family. I will miss the artist and the producer from this project. They were wonderful people to work with and I hope that they are delighted with the outcome.
I am also sad because my oldest child is starting a new chapter in her life. My daughter starts her first year at university. I am thrilled for her and I know that she will have a wonderful experience. She came into my life over 18 years ago and she means everything to me.
I was able to hold back the tears today when we said good-bye. I wasn’t so controlled when I returned home. I will miss her very much.
There are many times when I am mixing where I turn to a set of reference CDs to get my ears in tune. There are so many variables associated with creating good sounding mixes that can translate well to different playback devices that having a point of reference can be very helpful.
The following recordings represent signature efforts by highly accomplished and creative people. Even if you do not mix audio you should consider them for your own CD collection. Highly recommended.
Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
Mastered by Doug Sax. Engineered by Alan Parsons. Capitol Records, C2-46001 (several re-releases), (c)1973.
The Night Fly – Donald Fagen
Mastered by Bob Ludwig. Engineered by Roger Nichols and Eliot Scheiner. Warner Brothers, 923696-2, (c)1982.
Citizen – Steely Dan
Mastered by Glenn Meadows. Engineered by Roger Nichols, Elliot Scheiner, and Al Schmitt. MCA Records, 4-10-981, (c)1993.
In a Sentimental Mood – Dr. John with guest Ricky Lee Jones
Original master by Doug Sax. Produced by Tommy Lipuma. Engineered by Bill Schnee. Warner Brothers Records, 9 25889-2, (c)1989.
Innervisions – Stevie Wonder
Mastered by George Marino. Engineered by Dan Barbiero and Austin Godsey. Motown Records, 3746303262. (c)1973.
Joshua Judges Ruth – Lyle Lovett
Mastered by Doug Sax. Recorded by George Massenburg and Nathaniel Kunkel; mixed by George Massenburg. MCA Records, MCAD-10475. (c)1992.
Amused to Death – Roger Waters
Mastered by Doug Sax and Ron Lester, Recorded by Nick Griffiths, Engineered by James Guthrie. Columbia Records, CK47127, (c)1992.
Feeling Alright – Jerry Medina
Mastered by David Rodriguez. Engineered by Francisco Hurrado. RMM Records. RMD 82259, (c)1998.
The Gershwin Connection – Dave Grusin
Mastered by Wally Traugott. Engineered by Ed Rak. GRP Records, GRD-2005, (c)1991.
Luck of the Draw – Bonnie Raitt
Original Master by Doug Sax. Engineered by Ed Cherney. Produced by Don Was. Capitol Records, 07777-96111-2, (c)1991.
Sergeant Pepper – Beatles
Produced by George Martin. Engineered by Geoff Emmerick . Capitol, Apple Records, CDP746442-2, (c)1998.
You Won’t Forget Me – Shirley Horn
Mastered by Bob Ludwig, recorded and mixed by David Baker. Verve Records, 422-847482-2, (c)1990.
Forgiving Eden – A Triggering Myth
Mastered by Bob Katz. Engineered by Vic Stevens. Lasers Edge, LE1036, (c)2002.
Hourglass – James Taylor
Mastered by Ted Jensen. Engineered by Frank Filipetti. Columbia Records, CK67912, (c)1997.
New Favorite – Allison Krauss and Union Station
Mastered by Doug Sax. Engineered by Gary Paezosa on DSD. Rounder Records. 11661-0495-2, (c)2001.
Recycler – ZZ Top
Mastered by Bob Ludwig. Engineered by Terry Manning. Warner Brother Records, 926265-2, (c)1990.
Diamonds and Rust– Joan Baez
Mastered by Mike Reese. Engineered by Rick Ruggieri. A&M Records, D 3233, (c)1975.
Brand New Day – Sting
Mastered by Chris Blair. Engineered by Simon Osborne. A&M Records, 0694904432, (c)1999.
Every Single Day – Lucy Kaplansky
Mastered by David Glasser. Engineered by Ben Wisch. Red House Records, RHR CD156, (c)2001.
Pieces of the Sun – Tony Levin
Mastered by Trevor Sadler. Engineered by Kevin Killen. Narada, 72438-11626-2-0, (c)2002.
You’re the One – Paul Simon
Mastered by Bob Ludwig. Engineered by Andy Smith. Warner Brothers, 947844-2, (c)2000.
I have been having way too much fun with the Mac. My interaction with Windows had always been so pedestrian that I did not expect to enjoy using a computer. After all, it is just a tool and, in a studio setting, a stable and reliable computing platform is essential.
After three weeks of heavy lifting I have had nothing but flawless performance from the G5.
I had to backfill some applications on the Mac for casual CD dubs and editing two track audio files. I used Sony’s Sound Forge and CD Architect on the Windows platform. Now I use Bias Peak and Roxio’s Toast with Jam.
I am quite impressed with Jam’s ease of use. Drag audio files in. Burn CD. What a novel concept.
On to another item of interest. Microsoft has entered the online digital music business partly in response to the success of Apple’s iTunes store. Apple currently holds about 70% market share in the market. Today, about 2% of all purchased music comes through the Internet channel. Some analysts believe that the market may expand to about 12% over the next few years.
Even the major PC manufacturers have entered the fray. HP offers an iPod licensed from Apple. Perhaps Microsoft will need to introduce their own portable digital player… after all an X Box needs a Y box.