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Tag: mix

Native or DSP

I always hear that native is the future. And honestly I think it’s true. But then many says we can throw out our DSP solutions because native is already has plenty of power, and it is in fact a better choice than any DSP solution available today. This is where I usually raise my eyebrows.

I know that post production and scoring is a somewhat special part of the industry, requires immense power, usually much more than a regular music or simple production. For example in scoring it’s a daily practice to deal with hundreds of tracks more often than not mixed in surround. Even without too many plugins, the size of the session is a huge burden on any machine. Just quickly add up for example 200 tracks divided into 5 stems, all with its own audio subgroups, own effects. To this you must add the final routing and the stem recorder tracks. This all have to work together without any issue. And imagine if you need to EQ a few things, want to use some dynamics processing, special effects, saturation, spatial effects. Oh, and don’t forget the last steps in the chain, the stem processing, which is essentially a high quality mastering chain in surround, and it’s usually the same on all stems.

So while I definitely think that native is the future, I don’t think that we are already there. Here’s a screen photo of the current score mix I’m working on, and it still lacks some material, so it’s going to be bigger.

This is a trashcan MacPro with Pro Tools HDX2. Imagine if all this would be on the MacPro, which is a very powerful machine by the way.

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Solo is NOT your enemy

Recently I saw many blog posts, tweets, shorter and longer articles that suggest the Solo button is against us, the use of it literally ruins your mix. The reason behind this is when you listen to something in solo, you take that sound out of context while adjusting it, then try to make it fit into the mix, and this is the wrong way they say. And there’s some truth to it. Some.

Solo is your friend

In my opinion solo is actually one of your greatest ally. Or to be more precise, it can be, if used wisely. For example during a fast paced sound-check the only way you can isolate and identify problem spots is to use solo. This is probably the most obvious usage. Nevertheless it’s an important one.

During mixing as we progress towards the final mix we tend to use solo less and less and this is a very natural progress. As every building block start to achieve its final sonic shape, adding to the final soundscape it would be a mistake to overuse solo. But don’t rush it. Until that you might need it more than you think.

During a big mix solo is the fastest and most precise way to properly identify problem spots, frequency build-ups, nasty resonances, clashing instruments, phase problems. With it you can quickly check suspected problematic things like hum, buzz or other errors.

But it is not only there for using as a magnifier glass for the smallest things like instruments. It’s also very useful to quickly check groups of instruments, effect balance, stem balance. If your mix utilise some audio sub groups based on certain selection of instruments, solo is a great way to re-set internal balances or just to remind yourself what parts are coming through a particular stem. At first this might sound a bit funny, but for example on a huge score mix with 7-15 stems and hundreds of tracks sometimes things are not that obvious.

When solo becomes your enemy

With all that said solo definitely can be your enemy. The most obvious thing is relying on it too often and too much. A common mistake to judge final eq and compression decisions isolated from the mix. It is almost always bad.

Fiddling with tiny things too much in solo also can lead to loose perspective. Solo tend to be addictive make us work on things until we feel they’re perfect. But remember, what seem to be perfect in isolation might fail miserably in context. The most common issues usually too much or too little of something. You might think that you achieved the most perfect, thick guitar or kick drum sound, until you hear it in context to find out that it’s too boomy and lack clarity.

The same in a score mix situation when the high strings has some mid-hi resonance. This example may seem a bit of an exaggeration but actually it is based on many real life events. The engineer hit the solo button on the first violin and find that it has a 2.3kHz nasty resonant sound so grabs the EQ and cut a healthy 5-6dB at that frequency and the nasty part of the sound disappears. But after the moment he releases the solo, it become obvious that the other violins has that nasty resonance too. In today’s DAWs it’s ridiculously easy to copy the first violin’s EQ to the other channels. The resonant frequency now eliminated completely. Well only to find out in the next few bars that he probably killed of too much mid-hi and lost the clarity of the whole violin section. If he would have EQ the violins in context, then it would’ve been obvious that a 2-3dB cut could eliminate the most annoying resonance while still retaining ample clarity.

solo

I’ve seen fellow engineers to completely ruin otherwise perfectly fine effects fine-tuning them in solo. It’s so tempting to make everything smooth and beautiful, but it’s counterproductive.

To solo or not to solo…

Well, as in most other things the solution is find the right balance. Use it when it’s necessary but don’t overuse it. The hard part is to learn when you don’t need it anymore. It’s a moving target. Every mix is so different you can’t make a proper formula to tell anyone how much and how often it should be used. It’s bit like learning to walk, there’s no shortcut, we have to fall, stumble many times before we can safely walk. And still, there are certain days when we’d stumble on something no matter how careful we are.

Probably the best way to find the right balance is to pay attention and always evaluate the use of solo. That way it won’t be your enemy, it can become your great help in achieving the prefect mix.

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Plugin revision (again)

Every year I stop and look back, re-open older sessions to see what I’ve done and how I’ve done it. And also to see what tools I’ve been using, which are the ones I seldom use. To be honest my iLok is very valuable not for the obvious reason that it holds the licenses, but because I’ve spent huge amount of money to software in the last couple of years. But only spent money which was really worth, which I really needed for my job.

Test, demo, test

As you might know I’m very picky when it comes to plugins. I always, always thoroughly test before deciding if I really need or want something. I’m a true believer in that you don’t need 100 different EQs and 200 different compressors to mix. A few carefully selected ones will make your life easier, will help you to achieve the SOUND you’re after, but that’s it. No need to a mile long list of fetish emulation. Don’t get me wrong, there are superb emulations out there, but you certainly don’t need them all.

ilok2

Plugin companies want you to believe that their new/old/emulation stuff will make your mix so much better, even they ask famous engineers to endorse/promote their plugins. In reality though, you need only a few to make a word class mix.

On my iLok I have 77 activated plugins. Including different Pro Tools licenses, EQs, Compressors, Reverbs and other miscellaneous stuff. I think it’s a bit too much, but going through the list I realise that I use almost all of it. Only 4 activated plugins sitting there mostly unused. Not because they’re bad, but whether I’ve found some better alternative, or I don’t really need it.

This yearly housekeeping always reminds me how important to choose our weapons wisely, and to not listen to promising advertising. Instead, if you feel the urge to buy something, I suggest to always, always make time to really test it. Do what you want to do with it, then do more, do crazy things with it to see-hear under all possible circumstances. After these first tests, try to recreate the behaviour with other plugins you already have in your arsenal. If, with some effort, it is possible to recreate that thing, you’ve got your answer, you don’t need the new plugin.

I take this very seriously. I could’ve spent many thousands on different emulations, but honestly many times they’re not that far apart from each other.

My very strict test process saved me huge amount of money over the years, so I stick with it. It takes more time and effort to always test the newcomers, but this way I really know that I have the best possible tools for my job.

Be your own judge, don’t let the marketing department fool you!

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Final mix session – reality

I’m in the middle of a huge final mix session, again. Hence the lack of posts on the blog. I’ve made several emergency plans in the past so that I can write more, but apparently every plan failed. Or, to be honest I failed to keep my plans. Because the reality is, if you’re drowned in a huge job, simply, you don’t have the necessary extra energy. At least this is true about me. I put in as much energy as possible, and at the end of the day the only viable aim is to reach my bed to get some sleep.

Deadlines

Again, as this becomes more and more usual these days, our deadline is crazy, I mean it clearly seems impossible to finish everything properly. For a few days now we’re operating well behind the original schedule, because the scope of the material just gets bigger, while, obviously, our deadline stay the same.

Here’s some quick tips on how to treat situations like this. At least a few tips that seems to work for me, I hope it’ll work for you too.

  • While you’re in, be there. Don’t second-guess yourself, don’t overthink what has to be done, don’t think about the deadline. Just be there and do your job calmly. I know it’s sounds like some Zen teaching, but believe me, you’re going to have many egos on the dub-stage, you have to be the one who constantly make things happen, and don’t engage in personal fights.
  • If you see some opportunities, do more than you’re required. During the mix, you’ll need that extra and everyone will appreciate the fact that you’ve been so thoughtful that you did more than the original idea.
  • Another Zen sounding advise: learn to let things go. During a good mix session in a creative environment ideas come and go, you have to experiment while still mustn’t loose track of the whole mix. Everyone’s going to have good and maybe not so good ideas. Try to treat them equally while keep some perspective. It’s not necessarily you who has the best ideas. Live with it. Do what the mix need.
  • Learn to listen. Not technically. Many times, composers and directors don’t really know how to tell you what they really want to hear. When they talk about ideas, feelings, emotions, pay attention, that is your key to understand what they want to hear. It is simply impossible to have every person in the room talk to you in proper technical terms. Decipher the real meaning from their stories, and more importantly, make it happen sonically.

I know these may sound rather obvious to you, but too many people try to only focus on the technical side of things, while that is not the most important bit in the equation. I don’t say it’s not important, but far from being the most important. Now, back to mixing…

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Preparing a live broadcast and record day 3

And here we are, this is probably the most important day as this concert will serve as the master version of the concert. In case we need to change or correct something, we have all the previous rehearsals recorded. In Pro Tools we not only record the multi-track but also the processed stereo mix. This comes handy if we need to change some small thing later.

Final session

As I mixed both rehearsals I made some notes on how to refine this mix session in order to really fit my needs. In some parts it become more complicated, but if we look at the whole big session, it become somewhat more simple.
For example I considerably reduced the number of layouts I use. I made twelve when I set up the session and I felt that I need all of it to reach everything easily, but later on I felt that this time it’s too much. The layouts combined with the VCA spill is powerful enough so I don’t need that many in this session. After two days I ended up using only four layouts, one being an “escape” that brings all the VCAs right in front of me. I’ve got two ways to do this, this is one way. The other way is to bank to the right-most part of the session. I always order my tracks so I have all the VCAs at the right side of my tracks. It doesn’t really matter if they’re at the left or ride side of the session, the point is they need to be all left or right, so you can reach them with one button push. With this, anytime I want instant total control, I recall my VCA layout, or bank there from the surface.

Only one major thing has changed, I removed the chamber fx and made another hall but this time I chose a more natural, real life like hall from Phoenix verb. So now I use a combination of three verbs:

  • early reverb (Phoenix verb)
  • real hall (Phoenix verb)
  • big hall (R2)

The right combination of these can add real depth, without sacrificing detail. Although now I mix this in stereo, it still need to sound good in mono. Don’t overthink this, sometimes push the mono button and listen to the detail and balance, if it’s right, then it’s good, that’s it.

The other very useful thing I use is to lock parameter to certain buttons next to the touchscreen. Right now, on the left side I have the ProLimiter parameters locked, on the right side I have the Sonnox Dynamics controls locked. Call me a control freak, but I love to have these important parameters almost always within reach.
One more thing which comes very handy during a live mix like this is to check VCA assignments. It’s very handy that with only one button (bus) you can see all the contributing channels above the VCA. In short, you see the channel name and the fader position in dB, if you like it is possible to make minor adjustments from there with the pots.

mastersection

So this is the final broadcast/record session which will become the mix session eventually.
The whole show went really well, in my opinion this all in-the-box method is definitely the future. If not now, then in a few years. Do something big live, and when you start to mix, you already have a very good starting point, your session, with a good mix, automated VCAs or tracks, routing, markers.

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