What a cool way way to start the New Year — New Year’s Day: fire up the brand new video DAW (2.66gHz Mac Pro with quad Xeon processors!) and start installation of Final Cut Pro… in typical Mac fashion, installation went without a hitch. This thing is FAST… an hour-long video project on my other DAW was a 17-hour rendering job… the Mac chewed through it in 28 minutes. I kid you not. So I hit the ground running at a turtle’s pace as I get used Final Cut Pro… nothing like jumping-into-the-fire with a client’s video editing project (multi-camera angles, plus needing to create an interesting intro segment)… I spent a couple of days reading the manuals and tutorials to get me going and got a good chunk of the project done in the process…. its amazing how much increase in productivity there is by simply adding a 2nd DAW to the control room… as the month progressed I had about 8 other video projects of varying sizes that I worked on in tandem with other audio editing projects at the same time. All kinds of media was being churned out at a previously unheard of rate! (Before the Mac, video was a chore: edit the project – say 9hrs average… then a 10-17hr render…then send first cut to client for proof… make requested changes – an hour or so… then a 10-17hr render again… then send back out to client… in the meantime, the client forgot to tell me additional changes, so it’s another edit… another render… you get the idea… a simple video project could take over a week of processing/rendering cycles… now, it’s down to minutes instead of hours or days!)
Anyways, that was my video DAW excitement…. there was lots more happening than just video in January…. I had quite a few bands in for Live-Off-The-Floor sessions.
Those are always interesting – they’re about as close as I want to get to doing Live sound. For those that don’t know, LOTF sessions are short (3 hr) spots where the band sets up in the studio, much like they would for a rehearsal, and they get mic’d-up much like they might during a live show (although I mitigate bleed and try to maintain a certain level of isolation – much more than one would have on-stage.)
We go through a soundcheck and then set-up a console mix that the band is happy with (after soundcheck, the band plays while I set the mix up and record a test cut, then I bring the band in to hear it.) Once the console mix is done, I route the mix digitally to the 2-track (either the Masterlink or my audio DAW) and roll tape for about an hour or so… the band runs through their demo set (several times if the guitarist screws-up the solos) and then tear-down while I prep a disc for them.
These sessions more than anything, really show the differences the band itself makes to the overall sound. Same rooms, same gear, very similar configurations, but the final sound all rests on the band’s overall talent and performance. I get bands in that can sound almost like a polished multitrack production, and yet others that sound like a gang of 14-year-olds in a garage right after Christmas with their first new instruments! Thankfully, I didn’t have to endure that kind of torture – the bands that came in all did quite well and turned out respectable-sounding demos.
Mixing was also part of the game in January – a client I’d worked with in the past had finished recording more tracks for his upcoming album, so he uploaded the tracks for half his songs to my FTP server, and I dug-in. My basic mixing process – particularly if it’s an album’s worth of songs – is something like this:
- receive the client tracks (FTP, or via data CD / DVD)
- load them into the audio DAW (into Cubase) (organizing them into appropriate folders, etc…)
- open up each song and listen to what I’ve got (making mental notes of what’s fighting and what’s working, tonal issues, and getting a feel for the overall arrangement and structure.)
- I then go through each track of the song and see what I’ve got to work with (basically a track quality check)
- make any adjustments to the track in terms of cut-outs or mutes (removing excess noise or “junk” from the track)
- decide on things like how much track shaping is needed (drum track enhancement or even replacement with samples, fattening-up DI’d bass tracks, enhancing the depth / richness of vocals, sweetening acoustic gtrs, etc…) This isn’t EQ’ing as such – it’s a “shaping” process in which I enhance what’s there to make it “bigger” – fundamental EQ’ing comes later. This whole process is really about a series of “little things” adding up to an overall “big thing” by the end of the process. If a track needs serious “rescuing” – this is the point in the process where I handle that too.
- when the QA on the tracks is done, I then turn my attention to the arrangement / structure… while the artist created the song the way they did, they don’t have objective ears, and they may lose their focus in being subjective about their song… you generally want to build a song up in dynamics – much like telling a story, expanding on the track elements as the song progresses – many DIY artists don’t think of their arrangements in those terms. So I’ll re-examine the song structure and determine if I can do anything to improve – sometimes the changes can be significant – more often, they’re minor adjustments (maybe a few additional mutes). For large changes, I’ll consult with the artist present my proposed changes; and they’ll either agree or disagree. If I firmly believe the change is a significant improvement, I’ll certainly argue my case (strenuously if I feel they’re making a mistake!), but in the end, the artist is paying the bill, so it’s their decision. I find clients really do appreciate the honesty and value the objective view I can give them – after all, I’m trying to present their vision in its best light, so clients are generally receptive to my ideas. The clients that don’t want changes are usually the ones who’ve written material that doesn’t need structural changes – everything’s already well-structured!
- so after this, the tracks are ready to be moved over to my multitrack unit – I abhor mixing in the box – everything I do with respect to music gets mixed through my Sony console, which, even though everything is digital, still seems to do a much better job of summing than in-the-box ever can – at least to my ears!
- I create the track sheets, mark-up the console (not literally – the console lets you name each track on its display!) and prepare to mix…..
To be continued…