Welcome back to another post! This week, we’re going to take a closer look at preserving the natural tones of your recording and achieving a more ‘organic’ sound from your mixes.
When you have brilliant mics like the V67, or the new BB29, there’s very little that needs to done when utilized properly.
With this in mind, let's dive in and talk about how to get the best out of them in a natural sounding mix!
Gain matching is a simple yet effective way to make sure you’re truly hearing the changes to your mix in real time. Too often, engineers fall into the trap of ‘loud is better’ and forget this tiny but crucial step.
Gain matching is simply matching the output level to the same volume as before any changes were made. When compressing, usually you’ll find that the output has decreased from the original dry signal, and thus, usually in modern compressors there is an auto gain adjustment you can turn on and off if needed.
Limiters and EQ’s typically raise the output volume of a source - I include EQ’s here as many new engineers will add frequencies rather than subtract - and so when using one, A/B compare and contrast by bypassing the plugin or the hardware unit if you are using one to make sure you’re not falling for the change in volume.
Gain matching can be a crucial step for new mixing engineers as well, purely because it will train your ears to listen more intently to the compression or EQ moves you make, and increase your critical listen skills further and much faster than if you were to skip this step of your journey and save it for a later date!
Less Is More
When starting out work over a broad spectrum of tracks, it’s common to lose focus on the big picture and concentrate on large swathes of EQ cuts or heavy compression edits,but approaching the mix with a “less is more” mentality, making small cuts and control moves for compression, will amount to a much clearer big picture. In other words your overall mix will be much clearer when you apply this approach.
Take a drum mic for example. With the exception of adding punch using heavy compression on the kick, snare and rooms, EQ is often the worst enemy for less experienced mixers. Large subtractive scoops, layer upon layer of compression, and making moves because it’s what a video told you are all early mistakes I made and I’m here to tell you: don’t make the same mistake! An easy way to go
about this is halving all your moves - So if you’re taking 9db out at 500hz for a rack tom, halve this to -4.5db, and the same applies for compression; if you’re reducing by 10db, try -5db instead. Once you’ve got a solid foundation, if you find you still need to add more control, or there’s certain frequencies that poke out unnaturally, then make them, but again be gentle.
All of this has to be with the bigger picture in mind, so try not to solo a singular track and work on it if you can - the more you do listening to groups of tracks, the easier it becomes to hear what is clouding the mix in the long run!
Saturation as EQ
We’ve touched heavily on saturation recently, talking about everything from tubes to transformers. But we’ve not discussed the impact this can have on your mix when using the harmonics added by saturating a source to fill in gaps you may normally reach for an EQ to fill.
When adding saturation, harmonic content is added to your signal. This is generated by the signal passing through a circuit and subtle, pleasing distortion being added to the signal as it is processed through the unit.
Take the example below, first you can see a sine wave generating a tone with no saturation added.
After adding a tape saturation plugin, you can see that harmonic content has been added when the tape has been pushed hard. The more you push the plugin or unit you’re using to build this harmonic content, the more it’ll become apparent in the signal - again, use sparingly, just because you can focus your ears on it doesn't mean it’s not there, it just means you’re not as attuned to hearing it yet but this will change in time the more you use this technique.
This is literally why analog equipment is so highly sought after even in today's digital world as it’s very hard to recreate accurately in the digital domain, and has been the very simple explanation as to why certain mixing consoles, compressors, EQ’s and preamps are so revered in today's world..
For thin vocals, tubes are great to warm up a source and bring it a new life within the mix - with drums, FET compressors typically add pleasant distortion mixed with their punchy sound to bring great results - transformers are wonderful on electric guitars and amps to bring even more body to an already harmonically rich signal, making it a solid part of your mix.