Mixing yourself?

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Seventh Wave Studio
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Post by Seventh Wave Studio » Tue Mar 28, 2006 2:00 pm

Do a song yourself. Hire the guy/girl you spoke about to do the same song. Compare. That's the easy way for someone to hear the differences in mixing at home vs. professional.

If you do it yourself, awsome. Take your time. Good luck. I rarely even mix with the client present. It ends up being 4 guys saying, "make me louder".

Mixing is roughly 1,000 other things besides the vocal level. There are two schools of thought...

1. Do it yourself. Nobody knows how your music should sound more than you. I respect the people with that kind of laser-sharp vision.

or

2. Hire a professional to do all the gritty mixing. Sit back and tell him how it should sound in an "artsy" manner, while he/she does the technical stuff.


There is something to be said about someone who does it for a living. Most guys will tell you the first 4 years or 200 songs they mix are just practice until they can get it right.

Could you imagine what movies would be like if the cast did the editing?

When I do a mix, I automate anywhere from 3 to 10 parameters on every track, which could easily rack up to 100 tracks. With submixes, parallel compression, EQ choices, compresssor settings, automating reverb parameters, delays, making choices in things down to a quarter of a decibel and etc etc, make sure you are up to it. One bad choice on anything and it's over. It will sound home-made.

I just finished mixing a single for a girl and even though I have been doing this full-time for several years, I did 17 versions of the mix to decide what works best. That was a simple song....only 26 tracks before the 6 submixes.

Either way, good luck and trust your gut. If you do it yourself, ask questions on here. The people will help.

The other main point is the outcome you need. If the songs are your hobby, it is a win/win either way. If you are established and NEED these songs to be your main source of income for the next two years, everyone involved should decide how much of a risk you are willing to take.

Good luck to you!
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Post by lee » Wed Mar 29, 2006 1:35 pm

if the tracks are awesome; no. if you recorded them well then mixing is just moving the faders and effects to the right level. ...not very tough, even for an autist.
if youre unsure of your tracks and are reaching for some "professional support", ...still do it yourself. thinking on your feet is the best way to learn.
whichever you choose, fuckin good luck!
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Post by nick_a » Wed Mar 29, 2006 10:05 pm

i shouldn't start off by saying this, but if i had a 2" 16 track and a 1/4" machine, i'd mix the record by myself. seeing that a record was produced completely by one person makes me feel like i'm looking through a window into a little piece in time of that person's life. i think that's really awesome (provided it's not a weird egotistical thing, which it can be). plus, you won't get any better if you don't do it. plus, if you have your own studio already, spend the money (which is probably a serious chunk, if you're asking someone to do a whole record at 600 bucks a day) on something (or some things) you could use to mix. i say go for it, man. what have you got to lose? if it sound terrible, it's excused because it's your first self-mixed record and you won't make the same mistake next time. but if it sounds great, you're a genius!

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Post by papercuts » Wed Mar 29, 2006 10:43 pm

Nick your reply was the type I was hoping for in the first place, to justify putting the money I would have spent in another mixing engineer into my own place... (I keep thinking about a new console at 600+ a day)... But yes it's about the record itself, and what is best for it. Since I posted this I've flip flopped several times about what to do. The point someone made about me standing over someones shoulder would probably be true... I thought about putting a song on digital for someone to spec mix, but then thought of the DETAILED notes I would have to include, things they would probably not intuitively do. I have been running this analog studio for the last couple years, which doesn't make me a great mixer by any means but makes me know enough to have plenty of opinions (and I know mixing is more than vocal level, it was an example). On the other hand, if someone who tracked here had a little budget I'd probably tell them to mix somehwere else with a Neve and a plate, with someone who does it for a living... AHHHH. Well, I will post what happens. Probably a month or so from a decision. If I do it myself I have spoken with a friend who has a lot of experience about helping me do it...

Thanks for all the comments, obviously I knew this would have no answer but some interesting points have been made. It seems like they reflect the different mentalities out there, people who are and arent in the wolrd affected by radio. And I don't want to sound critical of those people... Maybe things currently on the radio must sound perfect to compete or fit in, but besides the White Stripes they sound overproduced to me. I don't really think that any of my favorite records would have suffered from a "quarter decible" change here or there... Well, I guess it is clear which way I am leaning at this moment... Bye

Jason

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Re: Mixing yourself?

Post by Fletcher » Thu Mar 30, 2006 7:17 am

knobtwirler wrote:
Fletcher wrote:If it's a "major label" thing then chances are way better than even that Racks 1 & 2 will have their Elco's pulled, their covers placed on them, their "travel patchbays" tested, and get queued by the back door along with my workbox, the case that holds my nearfields and possibly the "Mercenary Editions demo rack" [if there is a problem getting the "M-E" stuff rented at whatever studio I'm about to be working].
Always fun to hear a top level pro's POV but this paragraph even goes over my head. I'm guessing you are saying that you are moving your stuff to another studio when it's a major label.
Sorry, I should have clarified.

There are times when I have to work outside our studio [usually on sessions with bigger budgets like 'major label' gigs as it's not cheap to move all my crap].

The outboard gear in our studio is wired on multipin connectors and mounted in road cases so it can be moved, changed, replaced, whatever is necessary.

We have accomodations in the room so if a "visiting engineer" comes in with his racks of gear then our stuff can be moved out of the room or used to supplement the visiting engineer's collection.

At the same time... if I have a gig "out of the building" then we can pack up my outboard gear; monitors; workbox [with tools, adapters, office supplies, you name it] and all of this can be carted to any other studio, anywhere in the world, and interfaced with their system in hopefully under an hour.

While we do have a fixed console and fixed patchbay in our studio [the bay containing well over 1,000 points though I don't really recall how many] the outboard racks are movable, and there are additional patchbays that can travel with the cases to be easily interfaced with any other studio's patchbay without a struggle.

"Queued at the backdoor" references from where everything in our building is shipped. The backdoor opens up to a loading dock that is capable of accepting up to 6 trucks varying in height from a 12' Ryder box truck to a 55' Semi-Trailer. Whenever I'm taking stuff on an outside gig, each case is assigned a number and the inventory of each numbered case is filled out on a "bill of lading" and submitted to our insurance company [as well as any management office that needs to add it to a carnet when working internationally].

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Post by Fletcher » Thu Mar 30, 2006 7:27 am

papercuts wrote:I thought about putting a song on digital for someone to spec mix, but then thought of the DETAILED notes I would have to include, things they would probably not intuitively do.
I know in my case I wouldn't have read the "detailed notes" until well after I had finished at least my first shot at mixing the product. I like to approach everything fresh... it's the first time I'm hearing the stuff... I want to roll with my initial impression of how the final presentation should smell.

I am about to start a mix for a dude who has said to me [at least 3 times to this point]... yeah, I'll get you a rough mix along with the files... to which I've replied that I absolutely do NOT want to hear his rough mix before I do my mix as I am afraid it will influence my interpretation of the song/product.

It's like back in the days when I was dating... I wanted to find out what my date liked on my own... I didn't want to hear "oh, she really likes it 'doggy style'" or "dude, she's totally into anal"... I wanted to see where the experience would lead on it's own... be enveloped in the moment instead of heading into it with preconceptions and expectations.

To me, engineering [and cooking] are very similar to sex. Each experience should be something new, something bold, something exciting and spontaneous... it's why I will not do "total recalls". If I didn't get it spot fucking on the first time why would I want to start at that place the second time? ...but this could just be some symptoms of larger personal problems which I reckon I'll have to deal with on my own.

Peace.

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Post by joelpatterson » Thu Mar 30, 2006 8:03 am

"Dude... she's really into guys with unresolved personal problems..."
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Post by vvv » Thu Mar 30, 2006 10:52 am

Fletcher wrote: I didn't want to hear "oh, she really likes it 'doggy style'" or "dude, she's totally into anal"...
:lol:

I never minded heerin' that...
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Post by Fletcher » Thu Mar 30, 2006 12:14 pm

vvv wrote:
Fletcher wrote: I didn't want to hear "oh, she really likes it 'doggy style'" or "dude, she's totally into anal"...
:lol:

I never minded heerin' that...
Then I would have to make the assumption that you prefer detailed mix notes rather than hearing what the song has to tell you...

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Post by hyde maintenance » Thu Mar 30, 2006 1:06 pm

"Dude... she's really into guys with unresolved personal problems..."

:wink:

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Post by bannerj » Thu Mar 30, 2006 1:42 pm

I spent over $12000 on my first two records (of course not a lot of money to some people for some budgets) and I had other people track it and mix them because I was intimidated by the learning curve. At that point I have the home studio version of cakewalk, a 57, the two channel audio buddy thing, and a nasty pair of headphones...and didn't understand anything about monitoring levels and signal to noise ratios.

I wish I had put that money into $12000 of gear, but there is no way I could have written the songs, arragned the songs, co-produced, tracked and mixed it myself then. It would have been too much. Some people are genius and can pick this stuff up easily, but it has been hard for me. I have been tracking now for three years and am only now feeling like I am confident that I will be able to get a useable or interesting sound every time. Now I am beginning the learning curve of mixing and it is much more difficult than tracking.

But it is all worth it now. I love the process...get impatient at times and jealous at what others can do...and then I find something that I have done that I actually enjoyed learning to do...and it is worth it. Just takes time and patience.

It all depends on what you want. It might take you several months...maybe a year even...of screwing up mixes before you get anything worth printing.

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Post by Fletcher » Thu Mar 30, 2006 6:25 pm

bannerj wrote:Now I am beginning the learning curve of mixing and it is much more difficult than tracking.
Well I'm getting ready to "feel the hate" any moment now... mixing is a breeze when the material is well tracked. Mixing is only a bitch when you have to spend the bulk of your time doing "resurrection" work instead of "creative" work.

When a project is well tracked it will pretty much just fall together... when there were room "issues" or microphone selection "issues" or microphone placement "issues", or too much "processing" which nets other "issues" for which you have to compensate... well, that's when mixing is harder than tracking.

At the risk of sounding like I've grown two additional vertebrae and am sucking my own dick... when I've tracked a project you can bring the faders up to "-5" on the desk and have your "mix" 85-90% done. Yeah, you'll want to do some EQ tweezes here and there, some compression stuff here and there, chances are way better than even that you'll move some of the pan knobs and bring some things up a bit and down a bit... add some FX; delays, reverbs, flanges, Leslie's whatever helps... but the starting point is everything in a nice straight line at "-5" across the desk [like I've had assistants run rough mixes for clients by bringing all the faders to -5 and burning a reference CD with all the songs on it while I get to leave the session a couple hours early because I don't need to be there to do rough mixes].

The whole "mixing" thing has become a dodge to cover for shlubs that can't track worth a shit. One of my absolute favorite Steve Albini quotes from his essay The Problem with Music is: "Tape machines ought to be big and cumbersome and difficult to use, if only to keep the riff-raff out." We have half a culture that thinks that because you have a G5 running Pro-sTools "LE", a couple of 'Studio Projects' mics and a Focusrite channel strip that you're actually "driving a studio". Sorry to break it to you... you're not. Your driving a KIA.

There is a ton of merit to the democratization of audio production, it has allowed many more artists who should be heard to be heard... but make no mistake, buying some hardware at the local Banjo Mart and sitting in your "home studio" for 3 years while working at recording as time permits around your "day gig" / "life" makes you no more a "recording engineer" than visiting Buckingham Palace makes you "Prince Charles".

Yeah... you've gotten a glimpse... yeah, you might actually be able to begin learning the craft... and who knows, you could indeed be talented enough to "Forrest Gump" your way into a hell of a good career... but the greater reality is that you're a hobbyist, not a professional recording engineer. You can accomplish the minor miracle of getting music to travel through a wire... but you've got a way to go with the instrument before you're able to make that instrument sing [I consider a recording studio an instrument... there is a hell of a lot more "touch" and "art" to working one than just pushing the right buttons in the right sequence like a trained monkey].

With a half dozen years of training [working 12-15 hour days 27+ days a month while dining on Ramen Noodles and having nothing that could even remotely be considered a life] you will be well on the road to becoming a recording engineer. Rekordin' Skool training is [on it's best day with a tail wind] is merely training to get you to a point where you might be able to either learn the craft through doing or put you in the position to become an apprentice and learn the craft of recording [the trade] from an actual recording engineer the way apprentice plumbers learn the plumbing trade from actual plumbers.

Just as walking out of Banjo Mart with a White Stratocaster? ain't gonna make you Jimi Hendrix [even if you practice for 3 years], buying some gear and learning the instrument called a recording studio ain't happening without seriously applying yourself to the trade [and pretty much nothing but the trade].

I don't mean to sound like some pissed off old man in some old man's/fireman bar somewhere talking about how he used to walk 15 miles uphill to school barefoot through 3 feet of snow [though I'm sure that's exactly how I'm coming across]... all I'm trying to say is that "mixing" ain't the craft. The recording part is "building the hot rod"... mixing is just the paint job. If the motor ain't happenin' ain't no "12 coats of midnight blue metal flake with 10 coats of clear laquer and Von Dutch pinstriping" is going to do you much good when you're trying to run a 1/4 mile in under 11 seconds... because the guy you're running against can do an 11 second 1/4... and you've got 'pink slips' on the line. Paint is nice... the motor, transmission, suspension and frame are what make the car... the paint is what makes the girls in the stands go "I think it's pretty".

The "recording phase" of the project is seriously where the rubber meets the road. It is the foundation upon which the mix can build that song and bring it to it's emotional apex... but you can't shine shit... even if you freeze it and give it a good waxing... at some point you have to come to the unfortunate realization that it's still a waxed and polished turd... of course that's the point where you either decide to quit or make the decision to work you balls off to be the best fucking engineer you have the talent to be... and trust me... you'll be better off if you quit and keep the sport as a hobby than trying to be a full time engineer... but that my friends is another rant for another day.

Peace.

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Post by Rufer » Thu Mar 30, 2006 6:49 pm

I would suppose tracking someone who is playing really well doesn't hurt on the mixing end either.

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Post by Barry Jive » Thu Mar 30, 2006 10:06 pm

Fletcher wrote:
bannerj wrote:Now I am beginning the learning curve of mixing and it is much more difficult than tracking.
The whole "mixing" thing has become a dodge to cover for shlubs that can't track worth a shit. One of my absolute favorite Steve Albini quotes from his essay The Problem with Music is: "Tape machines ought to be big and cumbersome and difficult to use, if only to keep the riff-raff out." We have half a culture that thinks that because you have a G5 running Pro-sTools "LE", a couple of 'Studio Projects' mics and a Focusrite channel strip that you're actually "driving a studio". Sorry to break it to you... you're not. Your driving a KIA.

There is a ton of merit to the democratization of audio production, it has allowed many more artists who should be heard to be heard... but make no mistake, buying some hardware at the local Banjo Mart and sitting in your "home studio" for 3 years while working at recording as time permits around your "day gig" / "life" makes you no more a "recording engineer" than visiting Buckingham Palace makes you "Prince Charles".

Yeah... you've gotten a glimpse... yeah, you might actually be able to begin learning the craft... and who knows, you could indeed be talented enough to "Forrest Gump" your way into a hell of a good career... but the greater reality is that you're a hobbyist, not a professional recording engineer. You can accomplish the minor miracle of getting music to travel through a wire... but you've got a way to go with the instrument before you're able to make that instrument sing [I consider a recording studio an instrument... there is a hell of a lot more "touch" and "art" to working one than just pushing the right buttons in the right sequence like a trained monkey].

With a half dozen years of training [working 12-15 hour days 27+ days a month while dining on Ramen Noodles and having nothing that could even remotely be considered a life] you will be well on the road to becoming a recording engineer. Rekordin' Skool training is [on it's best day with a tail wind] is merely training to get you to a point where you might be able to either learn the craft through doing or put you in the position to become an apprentice and learn the craft of recording [the trade] from an actual recording engineer the way apprentice plumbers learn the plumbing trade from actual plumbers.

Just as walking out of Banjo Mart with a White Stratocaster? ain't gonna make you Jimi Hendrix [even if you practice for 3 years], buying some gear and learning the instrument called a recording studio ain't happening without seriously applying yourself to the trade [and pretty much nothing but the trade].

I don't mean to sound like some pissed off old man in some old man's/fireman bar somewhere talking about how he used to walk 15 miles uphill to school barefoot through 3 feet of snow [though I'm sure that's exactly how I'm coming across]... all I'm trying to say is that "mixing" ain't the craft. The recording part is "building the hot rod"... mixing is just the paint job. If the motor ain't happenin' ain't no "12 coats of midnight blue metal flake with 10 coats of clear laquer and Von Dutch pinstriping" is going to do you much good when you're trying to run a 1/4 mile in under 11 seconds... because the guy you're running against can do an 11 second 1/4... and you've got 'pink slips' on the line. Paint is nice... the motor, transmission, suspension and frame are what make the car... the paint is what makes the girls in the stands go "I think it's pretty".

The "recording phase" of the project is seriously where the rubber meets the road. It is the foundation upon which the mix can build that song and bring it to it's emotional apex... but you can't shine shit... even if you freeze it and give it a good waxing... at some point you have to come to the unfortunate realization that it's still a waxed and polished turd... of course that's the point where you either decide to quit or make the decision to work you balls off to be the best fucking engineer you have the talent to be... and trust me... you'll be better off if you quit and keep the sport as a hobby than trying to be a full time engineer... but that my friends is another rant for another day.

Peace.
This initially seems like a reasonable argument, but what I don't like about it is that it explains the quality of a recording in linear terms, like you could rate any given recording on a scale of 1-10 for how "good" it is. You draw an appropriate analogy of playing a recording studio like you're playing an instrument saying "Just as walking out of Banjo Mart with a White Stratocaster? ain't gonna make you Jimi Hendrix". While it's true Jimi made amazing music, and that he was a paragon of technical proficiency, lots of people who aren't as proficient have made great music too. This same thinking can be applied to recording. Just because you don't know how to make your recordings sound like Steely Dan or Bad Company or whatever doesn't mean you can't make great recordings. It just means you'll make different ones.

Take The Shins to use a well known example. According to James Mercer (the singer and engineer) the best (most expensive?) mic used on those recordings was an SM-57. That's a great album, with great songs, and a great "sound". If you gave that band two weeks with Fletcher I have no doubt they would have made a very different, though perhaps still good, album. Does the fact that Mercer was some schmuck with a Digi 001 make the album sound bad? No. Would recording it in a more traditional studio make it sound better? Not necessarily, just different.

My idea of a "recording engineer" is someone who records music. No more and no less. To say you have to be some arbitrary x amount of "good" at recording seems silly. You can spend all day talking about what a recording engineer isn't, but I'd like to hear a good definition of what one is.

Just hoping to stir up a good discussion-

-Eric

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Post by Fletcher » Fri Mar 31, 2006 6:22 am

Barry Jive wrote:Take The Shins to use a well known example. According to James Mercer (the singer and engineer) the best (most expensive?) mic used on those recordings was an SM-57. That's a great album, with great songs, and a great "sound". If you gave that band two weeks with Fletcher I have no doubt they would have made a very different, though perhaps still good, album. Does the fact that Mercer was some schmuck with a Digi 001 make the album sound bad? No. Would recording it in a more traditional studio make it sound better? Not necessarily, just different.

My idea of a "recording engineer" is someone who records music. No more and no less. To say you have to be some arbitrary x amount of "good" at recording seems silly. You can spend all day talking about what a recording engineer isn't, but I'd like to hear a good definition of what one is.
All really good points Eric... I've said it a bunch of times that two of the best vocals I've ever recorded were done with handheld 57's... one was a scratch track that just couldn't be beat and the other was a VERY seasoned vetran whose mic of choice was a Shure 57 [the product went on to do about 4 million units].

My point isn't about "the tools"; though good tools do make life easier... but like any technician you have to know what to do with the tools before they can make your life easier.

My point was that when you RECORD the project you should be able to sculp the sound to be at least 85-90% of the way you want the record to turn out. You can do that with a 001; you can do that in analog, you can do that with a combination of the two... you can perform these kinds of tasks with Studio Projects mics and a Focusrite channel strip if you have a good idea of how to get the end result you're trying to achieve from those tools. That the recording is "made" in the recording phase of the project... NOT the mixing phase of the project. By the time the music gets to the "mixing phase" that "phase" should just be the icing on the cake... not a resurrection of audio that is getting in the way of the artist's aesthetic for the music.

There was an earlier comment from "bannerj" that he felt he was better off having dropped $12k on having someone take part of the job off his plate than having put the same $12k into hardware he would have then had to learn how to use [which would have interfered with his creative process as it would be a distraction from the creation of the music].

My point on the 'skilled engineer' thing is that a 'skilled engineer' will be able to free up the artist from the technical aspects of recording allowing them to focus on their music.

That said, I also feel that no matter how "neutral" we might like to be, every engineer [like any piece of equipment, or 'player', does indeed have "a sound". That "sound" can be complimentary to the project or can clash with the aesthetic of the project... so much like a musician may have to make the choice of whether to use a Strat or a Paul for a specific track they should pick the engineer with whom they work with equal care. There should be a complimentary sense of aesthetic between "artist" and "engineer".

As for the 'definition of an engineer'... my definition of the job description is that "the engineer is the person who translates variations in air pressure [sound] to a storage medium in a manner conducive to the artist's sense of aesthetic"... nothing more, nothing less. The "art value judgement" bullshit is a personal relationship between collaborators [artist(s) and engineer(s)].

Back in the days when gas was bloody expensive at under $0.50/gallon we used to build hot rods. Now none of us had real "shops", we used the 'auto shop' at school and putzed around in the driveway [sometimes pooling our money for a tool or a lift, etc. kinda like you'll see guys borrowing mics and pre's from each other or going in on them together].

We could build some pretty fucking cool cars for kids in High School with damn little money... cars that could earn you some serious fucking coin if you had a good car and knew how to drive it [like ending the weekend with a few hundred in your pocket after racing on the Clearview Expressway Service road]... but when we took those same cars to the track we were put in a category called "Class C - Gas".

We're talking about cars that could do a 1/4 mi. in like 11 seconds that we built in high school... a $100,000- Porsche might get through the 1/4 in 14... a new "Mustang" might do it in 16-17... in other words... these were fast fucking cars!!!... but when we went to the track, we were hobbyists. The "professionals" were running in classes like "Top Fuel" where they'd be looking at 4.5 seconds in that same 1/4 mi. Our cars were fast, but next to those machines it looked like we had pulled over to take a leak.

One day Don "Snake" Prudhomme took my car down the track... motherfucker pulled it in under 10.5!! Like a good 3/4's of a second faster than my best time ever. Difference was he had 50+ drag racing championships under his belt, and I was a kid with a fast car. There was nothing wrong with being a kid with a fast car... but I wasn't a "pro" by any stretch of the imagination. Prudhomme offered me a gig that day which with shit like school to finish and my band being signed and not really wanting to be a race car driver for a living I passed on taking... but had I wanted to have been a race car driver that would been one serious motherfucker from whom to learn the craft.

Would "The Shins" record have come out differently if I had been involved... most probably. Would it have been what "James Mercer" had wanted from the project? Most definitely... and if it wasn't then I should have been fired and someone with a better feel for Mr. Mercer's sense of aesthetic should have been hired for the gig.

FWIW, I don't feel that anyone can even start to call themselves a professional until they understand that "getting fired from a gig" isn't personal... it's about being the wrong person to accomplish the goals of the artist/production team. Getting fired should also be a learning experience about better understanding the client's requirements... or that you need better training/more experience before you're good enough to call yourself "an engineer"... and there is also a point where you're a kid with a fast car that may be the shiznet on the local street racing scene... but ain't shit in the world of professional racing [though with the proper talent and dedication to the craft you may very well have the potential to become that 50+ championship kind of driver].

...am I doing the old man Alzheimer's rambling thing again... I'm sorry.

Carry on... nothing to see here.

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