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Ask – Mixed “Sound”

February 22, 2012
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I mostly record bands “in the box,” and have plug-ins that are supposedly among the best (Waves, PSP, and Universal Audio). I monitor through them while tracking to get the sound I want, record the tracks dry, then use the same basic settings during mixdown. But, I’m just not happy with my overall mixed “sound”—it seems sort of “hazy,” and lacks presence. Is this what people complain about when doing everything “in the box”? Would I be better off with some quality hardware processors.

Keith Albrecht
Tacoma, WA
via Email
 
 
Effects can be compared to spices, and it sounds to us like you’re more concerned about the horseradish and pepper you’re adding to the steak than getting a good cut of meat in the first place. Just as too much spice can ruin a good meal, too many effects can ruin a good performance.
 
Next time you’re tracking, try this: Pretend that none of your plug-ins exist. If you’re not happy with the guitar tone, don’t reach for EQ; mic and mic placement are basically an infinitely variable EQ. Not enough highs? Then change the strings. If the bass is fighting with the kick, ask the bassist to use a pick, or change from flatwounds to roundwounds. Or during mixdown, nudge the bass 20ms later so that the kick has the first 20ms of attack all to itself. Instead of compressing the vocals, have the singer move further away from the mic when singing loud, and closer when singing softly (yes, you may need to teach proper mic technique). Use fewer, not more, mics on the drum to avoid phase issues and increase coherence.
 
Optimize the sound as much as you can while tracking, before even thinking about adding effects. Then during mixdown, use effects sparingly to add the extra 10% that transforms a sound from “great” to “outstanding.”
 
They say that less is more: Use less processing by getting your sound right at the source, and you’ll almost certainly be more happy with your mixes.  THE EDITORS
 
 
To the untrained eye, these objects look like a mic, some
strings, and picks—but they’re also tone controls.
 
 
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