Mentoring and Giving Mix Feedback

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losthighway
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Mentoring and Giving Mix Feedback

Post by losthighway » Tue May 11, 2021 8:15 pm

I have had some friends jumping deeper into home recording since the quarantine etc started last year. I see this boom as a net positive. People being creative at home, working on song craft and arrangements is a good thing in of itself, and it will likely translate into some more efficient and successful sessions at "regular" studios. But as people start to dig in they start looking for feedback.

It's strange to find myself on this side of this equation, because I'm used to being on the other end, and to this day I have a lot to learn from people who've done more. But good lord, I hear a thin, smeary, limp, grainy mix along with a question of what I'd do with it and I'm stumped. It's no wonder that all of these years when I've asked such broad questions to engineers they've haven't been able to generate concise action items.

I suppose what I'm realizing is that the sum of 1,000 decisions and somewhere between 2 and 30 signal chains (containing cost prohibitive equipment to a casual hobbyist) are the result of one of my recordings. It's no wonder that in that stream of data I only improve in baby steps, and that what I know can't be quickly summarized for someone else's use.

So I guess the question here is, how can a person be helpful when listening to what's clearly a beginner's work?

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Re: Mentoring and Giving Mix Feedback

Post by vvv » Wed May 12, 2021 12:04 am

I have similar experience with collaborators.

Aside from writing, performance and timing, tuning and general arrangement issues, I try to stress clarity and balance.


You can ignore this part, what is ramble:

I try to get 'em to be aware of what they are hearing, vs. what they want to be hearing - what they want to be apparent and focused and what they can sacrifice to get that.

Sometimes I have to talk about compression (it's usually underdone on individual tracks and overdone on mixes) and mic placement and EQ, and always about pass-filters.

And I advise 'em to read, and listen, and listen some more, and at different volumes, and consider different sources (headphone types vs. home stereo speakers vs. monitors vs. the car, etc.)

And I often hafta explain why a 128kps MP3 kinda sucks, and why internet playback usually sucks.

But yeah, thousands of little things, proximity effect, masking, digital overs, delay vs. reverb and other effects analog and digital, even vs. odd order distortion, "normalizing" (hate that shite!), RMS and peak and other levels and types of metering, mic types and brands and patterns and sensitivity, close and far and stereo and M/S mic'ing, and phase cancellation, phase and polarity, amps vs. simulators and DI mebbe vs. both, parallel vs. series processing, gain-staging, recording and mixing environments, clean power, grounding and ground loops, RFI and 60Hz hum, Auratones and single point and two and 3-way speakers with or without front or back ports and driver composition and speaker placement, tweeter types, woofer size, sub-woofers, and pedantic fools lecturing them about the art parts ...

I never charge 'em that $15.00, tho'. :twisted:
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Re: Mentoring and Giving Mix Feedback

Post by Scodiddly » Wed May 12, 2021 5:25 am

Something I learned years ago and in a much different art was that it's best if you only try to correct one mistake at a time. If you send a long list of things it's just lead to giving up.

Probably the biggest mistake I hear in other amateur's productions is piling up too many layers and parts. Maybe you can start by asking them to just send you a mix of the core elements.

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Re: Mentoring and Giving Mix Feedback

Post by Nick Sevilla » Wed May 12, 2021 5:26 am

When I am asked for my opinion, I usually ask them what they don't like about what they did.

I do try to keep it to one or two items. And then try to keep the explanation / advice to the most bare minimum and easy to understand.
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Re: Mentoring and Giving Mix Feedback

Post by roscoenyc » Wed May 12, 2021 6:03 am

When people record together wether they understand it or not they are working out an arrangement to make their parts work together.

I find the biggest thing lacking in the neophyte home recorder folks is the arrangement.

So many parts, so many tracks trying to fight for space.

I try to show them how they can think about muting certain parts to create an arrangement.

Just because there are more parts the pie itself doesn't get bigger, the slices get smaller.

Achieving a good mix with music that has a more specific arrangement is always easier. (For me)

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Re: Mentoring and Giving Mix Feedback

Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Wed May 12, 2021 6:32 am

Mixing is such a hard thing to explain and give advice on because it's so completely connected to and affected by every other stage of the production. Are the failures in a mix due to the mix itself? They could just as easily be a result of bad practices in the tracking stage. Or it could be a performance issue. Or it could be an arrangement problem. Or it could be a problem baked right into the song itself. Identifying where the problem lies is a huge skill. It took me years and many failures to get to the stage where I can spot problems and advise on sorting them out.

It's kind of like being a film editor. How would anyone ever know if you did a good job without seeing what you had to work with at the start of the process? You may have been given exactly what you needed and only had to put it together. Or you may have been given thousands of hours of footage and had to cut it all away to arrive at the finished product.

The most truthful thing I can say about my best mixes is that I didn't have to do much to make them sound great. The really good ones are easy and often very quick because all of the other production elements are good. The arrangement works the way it's supposed to. The tracking was done well and I don't have to spend my time mitigating errors or issues that were missed. The performance is engaging and exciting. When all those things are in place you can push up the faders and hear that the mix is already in there waiting.
I do more work and use more of my skills, tricks and techniques on songs that were unsuccessful in the earlier stages. It's like making a jig saw puzzle with pieces that don't fit. I often start by muting things and throwing away tracks that don't serve any purpose. There are more and more of those these days. I ride levels all over to try to make dynamics where there are none. I come up with different treatments for various sections of the song because the performance is flat and uninteresting. In short I try to move mountains to make the recording work. Sometimes it comes together against all odds and I get something really cool and intersting. More often than not it's a huge effort that elevates the recording from bad to mediocre. If it's all good I can make it great. If it's bad nothing I can do will make it good.

The long and short of this whole ramble is that there isn't really any magic to mixing. Advise the client not to think of it as a fix for all the other issues that have come before. If they can't get a rough mix to sound good it's an indication that there are real problems that will still be problems in the mix stage. Help them to identify where the problems really lie. Have them disable all the plug ins, bussing etc, etc and push up the faders. Is the mix waiting in there? If it isn't ask them why. Start muting tracks that seem unnecessary. Better? If not ask them why? Is it performance? Is it the sounds? ie: are all the guitars tracked using the same guitar/pick-up/amp/mic set-up? Is everybody playing in the same range? Do the kick and bass sounds work together? Help them see that a successful mix is merely the culmination of success in all the previous stages of production.

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Re: Mentoring and Giving Mix Feedback

Post by joninc » Wed May 12, 2021 1:35 pm

losthighway wrote:
Tue May 11, 2021 8:15 pm
So I guess the question here is, how can a person be helpful when listening to what's clearly a beginner's work?
aside from all the great points already mentioned... I tell anyone who asks that I have been banging my head against this wall for nearly 20 years and for me, nothing is gonna take the place of all that practice and learning from mistakes. there's no shortcuts really - you got practice practice practice. it's the 10,000 hours...

and... listen to tons of great music as much as possible to calibrate your ears and mind to what makes great recordings.

And ... read every Tape Op article you can

and ... get a subscription for Mix with the masters for a year and watch every video. There's so many different ways to arrive at a finished song.... always more to learn.
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Re: Mentoring and Giving Mix Feedback

Post by Recycled_Brains » Wed May 12, 2021 2:56 pm

I try hard to avoid this sort of thing. I HATE critiquing another person's mix. I don't necessarily think that is a good quality, but I'm incapable of not being brutally honest and/or hiding my distaste for something, and I'm also incapable of not feeling like I'm sapping a person's mojo when I do. Feels like I'm being put on the spot too, which is probably my least favorite feeling next to nausea.

I often will pick something about it that I do like, and talk about that if anything.

There are some exceptions, but they are people that are close to me and know me well enough to know I'm not being a prick if I tell you "the guitars sound like shit" or something eloquent like that.
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Re: Mentoring and Giving Mix Feedback

Post by winky dinglehoffer » Thu May 13, 2021 12:07 pm

Maybe the chief lesson for people asking for mix feedback is that mixing ain't easy? That there's a reason to hire experienced professionals to do the job?

OTOH, I am a home recording type, & over the past year of recording pandemically, I guess the two biggest things have been to get jiggy with the High Pass Filters (so many tracks have low end information that is unnecessary and simply clutters the mixes), and to simplify arrangements/lower track counts.

Other than that: Recording yourself takes a while to get used to, and a while to get good at. Patience and practice will make you better and more comfortable with getting good signal in.

Also: Practice mixing. Do it, listen to it, figure out what bugs you, then go back and try to make it better. That may mean changing EQ or balance or effects, or it may mean rerecording.

That's all I got.

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Re: Mentoring and Giving Mix Feedback

Post by Scodiddly » Thu May 13, 2021 6:27 pm

winky dinglehoffer wrote:
Thu May 13, 2021 12:07 pm
Maybe the chief lesson for people asking for mix feedback is that mixing ain't easy? That there's a reason to hire experienced professionals to do the job?
It's tough for most people. One of those weird little talents, I guess.

Been hearing from church sound people who've been forced to start mixing for streaming, and there's a lot of frustration. A lot of churches with the modern rock band and such have managed to become mostly OK with the live sound even just using volunteers (some of whom are quite good). But then you add streaming, which is like mixing *and* mastering all on the fly. Definitely a higher standard than before. Plus the streamed mix goes through at least one meat grinder of processing after it leaves the church, ouch.

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Re: Mentoring and Giving Mix Feedback

Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Thu May 13, 2021 7:54 pm

Scodiddly wrote:
Thu May 13, 2021 6:27 pm
winky dinglehoffer wrote:
Thu May 13, 2021 12:07 pm
Maybe the chief lesson for people asking for mix feedback is that mixing ain't easy? That there's a reason to hire experienced professionals to do the job?
It's tough for most people. One of those weird little talents, I guess.

Been hearing from church sound people who've been forced to start mixing for streaming, and there's a lot of frustration. A lot of churches with the modern rock band and such have managed to become mostly OK with the live sound even just using volunteers (some of whom are quite good). But then you add streaming, which is like mixing *and* mastering all on the fly. Definitely a higher standard than before. Plus the streamed mix goes through at least one meat grinder of processing after it leaves the church, ouch.
Live streaming feels like the great lost opportunity of this last year. As an engineer I listen to people's terrible sounding streamed shows and see a whole new avenue of jobs I could be doing. But I can't be in the room to work the gig. And if I could be in the room then so could a real audience and the need for a streamed show goes out the window. It's a catch 22.
If it's something that lasts past Covid there's a goldmine there.

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Re: Mentoring and Giving Mix Feedback

Post by Scodiddly » Thu May 13, 2021 8:05 pm

A.David.MacKinnon wrote:
Thu May 13, 2021 7:54 pm
Live streaming feels like the great lost opportunity of this last year. As an engineer I listen to people's terrible sounding streamed shows and see a whole new avenue of jobs I could be doing. But I can't be in the room to work the gig. And if I could be in the room then so could a real audience and the need for a streamed show goes out the window. It's a catch 22.
If it's something that lasts past Covid there's a goldmine there.
There really isn't a lot of money to pay people for that, though. Definitely not in many of the smaller churches. The big churches were already doing some form of broadcast. My little congregation went straight to Zoom and all the music has been pre-recorded, which has been an interesting change for me as I'm professionally a live sound guy.

I did get to do the streaming mix for a virtual jazz festival last fall, though. The bands played to an empty hall over a couple of days, mixed live to stereo, and then strung together for the virtual festival a week later. I had to be in the same room because that's where the mixer was located, so I was wearing molded IEM earbuds under hearing muffs just to get enough isolation.

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Re: Mentoring and Giving Mix Feedback

Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Fri May 14, 2021 10:43 am

Scodiddly wrote:
Thu May 13, 2021 8:05 pm
A.David.MacKinnon wrote:
Thu May 13, 2021 7:54 pm
Live streaming feels like the great lost opportunity of this last year. As an engineer I listen to people's terrible sounding streamed shows and see a whole new avenue of jobs I could be doing. But I can't be in the room to work the gig. And if I could be in the room then so could a real audience and the need for a streamed show goes out the window. It's a catch 22.
If it's something that lasts past Covid there's a goldmine there.
There really isn't a lot of money to pay people for that, though. Definitely not in many of the smaller churches. The big churches were already doing some form of broadcast. My little congregation went straight to Zoom and all the music has been pre-recorded, which has been an interesting change for me as I'm professionally a live sound guy.

I did get to do the streaming mix for a virtual jazz festival last fall, though. The bands played to an empty hall over a couple of days, mixed live to stereo, and then strung together for the virtual festival a week later. I had to be in the same room because that's where the mixer was located, so I was wearing molded IEM earbuds under hearing muffs just to get enough isolation.
Yeah, I thinking more of artists live streaming shows from home. They almost all sound terrible. If it's something that continues I could see it maybe being another quick revenue stream. Kind of like when I discovered live recording stand up comedy.

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Re: Mentoring and Giving Mix Feedback

Post by vvv » Fri May 14, 2021 10:56 am

I've watched a few streaming shows and IMO, the better sounding ones have less musos. I especially enjoyed James McMurtry solo, and Steve Wynn with Linda Pitmon.

Jason Isbell with Amanda Shires (and sometimes one guest) has been fun from their barn, altho' there's just as much talking as tunes, and it's sounded pretty good - you can catch that on the uchoob.
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Re: Mentoring and Giving Mix Feedback

Post by Scodiddly » Fri May 14, 2021 12:41 pm

A.David.MacKinnon wrote:
Fri May 14, 2021 10:43 am
Yeah, I thinking more of artists live streaming shows from home. They almost all sound terrible. If it's something that continues I could see it maybe being another quick revenue stream. Kind of like when I discovered live recording stand up comedy.
On the other hand I've seen at least one where it sounds terrible, being filmed on a phone camera and mic gets overloaded, but that effect really hits you with the emotion of the performance.

Maybe in a few years or decades people will be deliberately reproducing that effect. Just like you hear those saturated, distorted old rock tunes in Vietnam War movies. It's the sound of something really big happening in the world.

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