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Thread: If You Knew Now...

  1. #1
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    If You Knew Now...

    I just got back from vacation and I've had time to listen to the mixes. I won't go down them cut by cut like others have, but I would like to chat about the approaches to the mixes rather than the details of each mix.

    I think we are all in agreement that the song needed a little help, but I'm just wondering if you would have made the same changes to the song (in some cases they were pretty radical) if you knew that the band was coming by tomorrow to hear and pay for your work?

    For my part, I would have. Raising the overheads and lowering the shakers, as was mentioned in a couple of comments, is easy enough to change. The vocal pastes could easily go away too, but I miss them when they are gone. I would have used it as an excuse to bring up putting some other part in those sections, since I feel they were quite weak.

    Also, did you take the band in the direction that they seemed to want to go, or did you force them into the direction that made you most comfortable?

    There were some clever breakdowns in the mixes, but this arrangement was so thin that I didn't think the mix could be saved by mutes alone. What do you think?

    What did you do to fix up the track? I don't know about you, but when I hear that clipped breath on the very first line of the song, it's hard to listen much further. I was surprised by how few cleaned it up.

    There were also timing issues on the guitars, bass, and drums which could be fixed by pasting from other sections of the song.

    What about the vocals? I hear a lot of vocals that weren't tuned and some that seem to go to the wrong note. When I mix, most poeple expect that that will be taken care of by me, if they didn't get to it.

    The lead guitar played bad notes and was completely out of tune with the track. It didn't sound musical in anyone's mix to me. Did you use it to avoid stepping on a band member's toes, or because you felt you needed something, anything to add to the mix?

    Some submitted mixes without making any comment. I'm not sure that even Logan "claimed" his mix. By the way, I recognized my mix from the comments alone. It was number 6.

    Maybe we can make it up to the point of having more posts about the mixes than about mail delivery before you guys start in on another song. At my house the kids know not to even ask about dessert until the dinner cleaned are cleaned up.

    Chime in.

    Later,

    Steve

  2. #2
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    Steve, welcome back. Hope you had a good time.

    Originally posted by Extreme Mixing:
    <STRONG>I think we are all in agreement that the song needed a little help, but I'm just wondering if you would have made the same changes to the song (in some cases they were pretty radical) if you knew that the band was coming by tomorrow to hear and pay for your work?
    </STRONG>
    Pretty much, yeah. Of course I would expect feedback, and be happy to make changes based on it, with an actual client.

    Originally posted by Extreme Mixing:
    <STRONG>
    The vocal pastes could easily go away too, but I miss them when they are gone. I would have used it as an excuse to bring up putting some other part in those sections, since I feel they were quite weak.
    </STRONG>
    I felt the same way about the edited guitar. Go figure.

    Originally posted by Extreme Mixing:
    <STRONG>
    Also, did you take the band in the direction that they seemed to want to go, or did you force them into the direction that made you most comfortable?
    </STRONG>
    The million dollar question. If there had been a direction, then this would be an answerable question. For me, I attempted to do things that made it make some sort of musical sense TO ME. In the absence of any other input from a producer or artist, which of course would not be the case if this was a paid job. But who knows WHAT the "band" direction is. Is there a band?!

    Originally posted by Extreme Mixing:
    <STRONG>
    There were some clever breakdowns in the mixes, but this arrangement was so thin that I didn't think the mix could be saved by mutes alone. What do you think?
    </STRONG>
    My reading of the "rules" was that we were not allowed to add any new parts. That leaves subtraction, and maybe some copy/paste/move, but it's not like there were many killer moments that could bear repeating. Given carte blanche, I would have saved myself a couple of hours by playing a new lead guitar part.

    Originally posted by Extreme Mixing:
    <STRONG>
    What did you do to fix up the track? I don't know about you, but when I hear that clipped breath on the very first line of the song, it's hard to listen much further. I was surprised by how few cleaned it up.
    </STRONG>
    Not enough. A few edits, but very little. I found that I ended up putting my energy in trying to make something uninteresting a bit more interesting, and by the time I was done, I was so tired of the track, that I couldn't bear to go through it with a fine tooth comb and nitpick.

    Yes, that first vocal glitch got through on mine. The funny thing is that I knew it was there but never paid attention to it, until after sending it off, and not listening for a while. This is why the weak song and arrangement IS important in this discussion, in fact its pivotal. I am sure I could have spent another several hours working on this thing, cleaning things like that up, trying to get happy with the vocal tone, etc. But on an exercise like this you have to draw the line somewhere.

    Originally posted by Extreme Mixing:
    <STRONG>
    There were also timing issues on the guitars, bass, and drums which could be fixed by pasting from other sections of the song.
    </STRONG>
    Did a little of this, but only on things that I couldn't live with.

    Originally posted by Extreme Mixing:
    <STRONG>
    What about the vocals? I hear a lot of vocals that weren't tuned and some that seem to go to the wrong note. When I mix, most poeple expect that that will be taken care of by me, if they didn't get to it.
    </STRONG>
    This is perhaps a philosophical issue. The way I heard this track, I heard it as a kinda throwaway pop-punk thing. Absolutely, the singer is out of tune half the time, but I actually got used to it, and ultimately found it supported the song's vibe as I heard it. Yeah, you could have finessed it a bit, but really, what's the point?

    With all due respect, it's not like I listened to your mix and thought WOW that's So much better - I wonder what he did. I listened to it and heard the same song, sounded perhaps slightly less rough-edged than some (mine included) but I just thought, ok that's Steve's style. Neat and clean and balanced. Personally, I like mistakes and rough edges to a degree. I'd rather hear a bit of feel, and humanity - especially in a rock record - than something that's perfected with a machine. I realize that's not a very fashionable thing to say.

    Originally posted by Extreme Mixing:
    <STRONG>
    The lead guitar played bad notes and was completely out of tune with the track. It didn't sound musical in anyone's mix to me. Did you use it to avoid stepping on a band member's toes, or because you felt you needed something, anything to add to the mix?
    </STRONG>
    Never thought for a second about the band members' toes. Again, what band? Much of the track was out of tune, and unusable. But, the fact remains that the track was on the "tape" - it was not erased. To me, in the absence of information to the contrary, it means we would like it on the record, at least where possible. If the song had been better, and the arrangement more interesting, then I might have just conveniently forgotten about that guitar.

    But I actually thought it added something.

    Not in a perfectionist way. But in some sort of casual rock n roll way I thought it could be used to add a little flava. AFTER editing. There are most certainly some moments in that take that, if left in - especially in the chorus - kill the song stone dead, never to be heard again.

    I admit, I made a decision early into the mix that I was gonna have an attitude about it. Seriously, after the first listen I almost decided against participating, but then figured that I'd just work on it. But I found that I really had to abandon any notions that this was going to be some sort of polished hit record early on, because there is no way that is what it would become.

    And the mixes all prove that to me - not one of them, no matter how competent, makes me want to listen to the song again.

    Which does not make this a wasted exercise - far from it - but it does limit how much I really truly expected from it while I was working on it, especially given that this was an exercise and not paid work. FWIW, if this was a paid job, I would have (a) spent as much time as needed and (b) expected to work more closely with the client to really get to grips with what they wanted for the track. Or possibly (c) rejected it as being something that I didn't feel able to take on without some additional production work.
    Chris Putnam
    (3D VIP member)

  3. #3
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    Chris,

    Thanks for the detailed post.

    Just to clarify, You don't have to defend your mix to me. It sounds cool and I respect the creative effort you put into the mix. That's part of the reason that I didn't go mix by mix pointing out what I did or didn't like about each one.

    I think tuning is important. I know it's not popular with purists, and believe me, it's not my favorite thing to do, but I think having the vocal in tune is way more important than any EQ or reverb choice. You just don't hear much bad pitch on the radio anymore.

    It's too late to write more now...4:45am.

    Steve

  4. #4
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    I think the song needs work, too. It gets booring to listen too.

    I like the drum sounds, though

    As a mix excercise I think it was a good song becuase so many mixers did so much with it. The mixes sounded much more alike previously when the song was better.
    Jim Dugger
    Poorhouse Productions

    At 20 bits, you are on the verge of dynamic range covering fly-farts-at-20-feet to untolerable pain. Really, what more could we need?

  5. #5
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    I think what this excercise has taught me is to maybe be a little bit more ballsy and really go for it. In mix one, my mix was just one of the crowd -- nothing special, nothing bad. In mix 2, guess what, exactly the same.

    What I dislike about my own skills as a mixer is the rarity at which I have truly genius ideas. I'll put my mixes up against anyones in terms of polish, fit and finish, and overall balance, but that alone so rarely makes a great mix, and I so always feel I'm missing something.

    Balance issues aside, I was *knocked down* by mix #1 on the CD this time around. Maybe it's like the Rolling Stones: Get the feel and the song right, and the fact that you play like crap and the recording sucks does not matter. That mix had all one could have expected this song to ever have of any kind of "vibe" -- and it stands as my favourite by far.
    Jim Dugger
    Poorhouse Productions

    At 20 bits, you are on the verge of dynamic range covering fly-farts-at-20-feet to untolerable pain. Really, what more could we need?

  6. #6
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    Right,

    This mix was one large puzzle to figure out. I will freely admit that there are things I would change about my mix. I tried to make make the song something it was not by adding new parts, and structuring the song.

    I like Chris' mix, too. He goes to alot of really creative places. His sounds and balances are great, and the mix builds and drops in cool ways. I just find the lead guitar playing to be too distracting.

    The original artist lays his mix out in a way that really works, too. It builds and the flange FX really make the thing spin. The vocals are balanced really well and so are the instruments.

    Looking forward to the next song, but I'm enjoying the chat.

    Steve

  7. #7
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    Originally posted by Extreme Mixing:
    <STRONG>
    I think tuning is important. I know it's not popular with purists, and believe me, it's not my favorite thing to do, but I think having the vocal in tune is way more important than any EQ or reverb choice. You just don't hear much bad pitch on the radio anymore.
    </STRONG>
    I forget where I heard this, but there was some discussion recently somewhere about tuning, and how accurate tuning changed the sound of music. Wish I could remember who said this, but they suggested that the chorus pedal was invented as an antidote to the guitar tuner.

    If you listen to a lot of old records from the 60's, there's a natural chorusing that happens from instruments that were tuned by ear, and not re-tuned accurately between takes. So there would be this thick sound caused by pitch differences. And then the singer would find some sort of middle ground. And of course in a lot of rock/folk/blues based musical styles, vocal pitch is often deliberately off for effect. Vibrato is deliberate pitch modulation.

    If you listen to older records, especially classic stuff like Dylan or the Stones, the tuning is all over the place, but the performances are unforgettable.

    On fretless strings, like a violin, even a great player may have a different sense of tuning than absolute accuracy, and will pitch differently depending on whether they play a note in a descending or ascending interval. I remember this driving me crazy on a project I did last year, where I'd done string arrangements, and demoed them on a sampler. Printed the scores, had the (very good) players come in and track, and I was convinced until the end of the project that they were playing seriously out of tune. I couldn't believe it when I played it back and the musicians thought it sounded great! I was just so used to hearing the perfect electronic tuning of the keyboard that it took me a long time to adjust, but eventually I did - sounds great to me now.

    I'm not trying to make excuses for sloppy performance, or bad guitar intonation, or a singer being unable to hold a note. But I do think that the current fashion for tuning everything to perfection really does remove a lot of the soul from a lot of music.

    That said, I agree with you that autotune is the sound of the radio right now.

    And sometimes, yes, you really do need to fix a bum note to avoid ruining the track. So, since you're obviously adept at this, let me ask you a question: how do you approach tuning a vocal? Do you just listen for odd notes that are off? Do you just turn on autotune and let it do its thing? And, if you start just correcting one or two notes, do you find that its a slippery slope, and before you know it, you're fixing every track trying to get it to fit together? That's the thing that's often messed me up in the past - if you start correcting one thing, then everything else starts to sound off, even if it otherwise would have been fine. What's your approach?

    Enjoying this discussion too, and thanks much for the kind words.
    Chris Putnam
    (3D VIP member)

  8. #8
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    Originally posted by Chris Putnam:
    <STRONG>
    If you listen to a lot of old records from the 60's, there's a natural chorusing that happens from instruments that were tuned by ear, and not re-tuned accurately between takes. So there would be this thick sound caused by pitch differences. And then the singer would find some sort of middle ground. And of course in a lot of rock/folk/blues based musical styles, vocal pitch is often deliberately off for effect. Vibrato is deliberate pitch modulation.
    </STRONG>
    I think this really hits home when talking about BGV's. Now those are tuned to within an inch of their life too. It's one thing to tune the lead vocal, but being so clinical with the BGV's is just too much. Don't get me wrong, I am not much of an advocate for tuning the lead either. The sound of Auto-Tune pains me to no end. I would much prefer comping a couple takes together to get a good performance. But I realize you might find you need something fixed and the vocalist is spent, or not available.
    Eric

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  9. #9
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    I agree about not liking "laser beam" tuning on background vocals. I think it actually makes the group sound smaller and less exciting.

    I can remember endless hours of punching lead vocals to get the pitch and the feel right. We were limited in tracks, so punching always meant erasing or clipping something that we really wanted to save. It's a stressful process for everyone. If you want to take the life out of a performance, that would be my recomendation.

    When I record vocals I keep nearly everything, and then go back through later, with fresh ears, to do a comp. Sometimes I make a working comp as I go along to get a vibe going for the singer.

    When I tune vocals I go through, line by line with Autotune in graphical mode. I don't tune everything, just the notes that bother me. I don't use auto, or draw straight lines to change the pitch. I use "make curve", which tracks the singers actual pitch, then move that around until I'm satisfied with the tuning. Once I have the phrase, I record it to the Tuned Vocal track. This technique retains more of the singers personality and uniqueness than any auto setting. It takes about 2 hours to tune a 4 minute song.

    Doing things this way, lets me comp the lines that I like the best, rather than using take 15, which was perfect, but also perfectly lifeless and cold.

    By the way, I'm mixing everything in Pro Tools with a keyboard and mouse. Thats why I call my studio ExtremeMixing. 4 years ago, most people thought it was a pretty Xtreme thing to do.

    I work in LA, mostly with some pretty amazing studio musicians and gifted producers. I was a bit shocked by the quality of the players on the track. it's not surprising that the smoke and mirrors came out.

    Chris,

    Thanks for the posative tone of your posts. My point of view is that all of the mixers had differing creative takes on the song that I enjoyed hearing and learning from. This holds true whether or not they had the gear or experience to fully express their artistic vision.

    Looking forward to more discussion.

    Steve

  10. #10
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    Originally posted by Eric.K:
    <STRONG>I work in LA, mostly with some pretty amazing studio musicians and gifted producers. I was a bit shocked by the quality of the players on the track. it's not surprising that the smoke and mirrors came out. </STRONG>
    None of the players were pros, for sure. I'd describe the guitar player and bass player as 'aspiring'. They couldn't have been more than 18 years old -- I think probably younger.

    The guy playing the 12-string would never be invited back to my studio again. Spare the fact that he sucks, have you ever had someone in your studio that made the whole place just reek? I don't allow smoking in my room, but let me tell you, it didn't seem to matter because it smelled just like he did after a little while in there.

    One of the challenges I think we face with Mixtravanganza is the material. I've got some great material that's well played and *fun* to mix, but it's just not available for sharing the raw tracks across the internet.
    Jim Dugger
    Poorhouse Productions

    At 20 bits, you are on the verge of dynamic range covering fly-farts-at-20-feet to untolerable pain. Really, what more could we need?

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