Final Mix

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Final Mix

So, after a day or two of not recording or listening to loud music, your ears should be rested and ready to try some mixing.

Reload the tape onto the recorder (or pop the cassette in if you're using a cassette) and pull the tracks all up so you can hear each of them. You can probably solo (only hear that track without the others) or mute (not hear that track but hear all the others) if your recorder or mixer has buttons for each track labeled like that. This will help in seeing what each track needs. Keep in mind that changes that sound intense when soloed will sound less so when they are "sitting in the track" ( played with the other instruments in the song). Keep in mind here that track can mean either the individual channel or the song. For some reason track is used for both; but you are smart and can tell from the context which one I mean. If you make the snare drum really bright and ringing with the EQ on the drum track while you solo it, it's not going to stand out as much once you bring up the guitars and bass. You will get used to this with time and eventually automatically adjust accordingly . Keep in mind that your first bunch of recordings is not going to be perfect, and that all art is a learning process.

Mess around with the different instruments in a soloed state and also sitting in the track with all the other instruments. There should be at least three knobs of EQ (equalization) to raise and lower the different frequency components of each track (the lows, the mids, and the highs).

The lows (or low end or bass) control affects the bass frequencies, the parts of the sound that you feel more than hear. You'll need speakers with good bass response to even notice these differences.

Music with too much low sounds muddy; too little sounds thin.

The mids (or midrange ) knob controls the middle frequencies. This is where a lot of the program material lives. It is the "punch" of the music, and it is where a lot of the guitar tone and most human vocal sits. Too much mid sounds woody, too little lacks "presence."

The high (or high end or treble) control affects the amount of high frequency. This is where the " breath " of the music lives. Too much of this sounds tinny; too little, muffled.

So, you wanna mess with these three or more knobs to boost (add) or cut these from the sound. Straight up (on a knob) or in the middle (on a slider) on these knobs will usually be no boost and no cut. This will usually be labeled with a zero. The numbers on a mixer are sometimes arbitrary but are usually decibels of boost or cut, depending on whether there is a + sign or sign next to it. To the left (on a knob) or down (on a slider) is usually a cut. To the right or up is usually a boost. Mess with these until you get the sound you like.

Then experiment with reverb. Reverb is usually a knob built into the mixer, or if not, you'll have to hook a reverb unit (hardware or software) through the Effects Sends, which is similar to the input and output for the effects send on some P.A. systems that we discussed in Chapter 5 or the effects loop we saw in some guitar amps in Chapter 4, "Effects."

You will hook the output and input of the reverb unit through the Effects Send jacks on the mixer and use the mixer's Reverb or Effects Send knob to control the amount of reverb in your mix. Some four-track recorders or mixers have reverb built in.

Some people tend to overuse reverb, especially to try to drown bad vocals. I don't do this. I try to have only enough reverb to make things sit well in the track but don't use it to polish turds. I try not to record with turds to begin with.

NOTE

You can leave "out-takes" like false starts or flubbed endings on songs on the final record. This adds to the feel of the record as a "document" of an organic, living session, rather than an airbrushed snapshot of an impossibly perfect thing. I did this on the song "Golden Gate Bridge" on the CD. The drummer started the song a little fast, I stopped him, and we started over.

Don't put too many of these on a record, maybe two, tops. And don't leave them in the middle of the song. That's a mistake, not an interesting quirk.

Sometimes one clam on a record is okay, especially an otherwise great live record. ( Clams are wrong notes. As in, "I sure hit a few clams on that one!") I always thought it was kind of neat when otherwise very good bands leave them in on records. Makes them seem a little more human. Like at 2:48 in Nirvana's cover of "Man Who Sold the World" from the MTV Unplugged album.

It usually sounds best to put some reverb on the drums (particularly the snare) and a little on the vocals, but overall, I don't use a lot of it. You may choose to use more, and in some forms of music (like reggae) it is actually used as an effect. But it's your call. This is your music. Do what you want. Also remember that, like everything else, reverb that is very prominent on a soloed track is not so much so when you add the other instruments back into the mix.

Once you've got all this, you need only get the mix (volume) between the individual instruments to a good point and then get a good balance of stereo mix. Stereo mix is where each instrument sits in the stereo field, left or right. This button is usually called Pan. Experiment with this; putting it all the way to the left will usually pan that track all the way into the left speaker. To the right will be all the way in the right speaker. In the middle will be equally in both.

1960s recordings tended to be extreme with the stereo separation; putting one instrument all the way to the left and another all the way to the right (check out the first couple of Doors records in headphones and you'll see what I mean). But stereo was new then (previous recordings were mono meant to be played through one speaker only), and they were still trying to figure out what to do with it. But modern recordings tend to not have such an extreme stereo field. Usually the vocals, snare drum, and bass drum are dead center. The drums on the left of the kit are partially to the left, the drums on the right partially to the right. The guitars are usually a little left and a little right of center. Listen to how your favorite records are recorded and you'll get a feel for what works how and such. Again, experiment.

NOTE

You can use the stereo mix to pan the two channels (dry and wet) of a stereo chorus or delay. It will add a lot of depth to the mix.

You can do a million other things with effects and such to mix the record the way you want it, but the basics of a good mix are getting these basics right: volume, EQ, reverb, and a good stereo mix. Get that all right (it's different for every song) and you've got it.

When the mix sounds good, mix down your master to tape or to a hard drive (or best of all a DAT digital audio tape). You may or may not have to ride some of the faders at certain points during the output. It's your call, and you'll figure that all out with experience.

Then listen to that for a couple of days and see how you like living with it. If it works for you, you're done. If not, it doesn't cost anything to go change it.

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