If elevating your recording consciousness from the science of engineering to the art of mixing sounds appealing, there's a reality show you might be interested in: The DAW Apprentice. You're eligible if you've ever had the feeling someone else could do a better job with your mixes than you can. You might be too close to the songs to evaluate them objectively, or you simply may not have the skill level necessary to make your tracks sound truly professional. In either case, your options are to keep plugging along, hoping to make it work, or to seek out the assistance of a top-gun engineer. The latter option comes with a significant benefit: by interacting closely with a top pro, any mentoring you receive stays with you for the rest of your life.
Mark “Captain EQ” Rossi''s success proves that a skilled and experienced engineer can produce world-class mixes with welfare plugs.
Even though sentient beings enjoyed my mixes for a self-recorded CD, in my heart of hearts, I suspected the tracks had sonic possibilities that my mixes failed to exploit. These suspicions were confirmed after Grammy-winner Larry Seyer gave the final CD a thorough going-over. In Electric Larryland — Seyer's studio — timing issues were resolved by “slipping” audio, or using the Split and Slip tools on misaligned waveforms via a series of keyboard shortcuts. Zooming in and out of waveforms and nudging audio horizontally required more keyboard shortcuts and plenty of trial and error. These operations would have burned up alarming amounts of time and money if Seyer hadn't attacked his shortcuts like Edward Scissorhands shaping topiary. Seeing exactly how one of the big boys manipulated digital audio in the course of enhancing my mixes was a nice twist on adult education. Picking up the ability to fix other people's timing problems was a bonus.
You can have similar experiences with top pros by hiring them to mix what you've tracked or to reveal tips and tricks one-on-one. Perhaps you've heard the adage that a great engineer can get more out of “welfare plugs” (the free plugs that come with DAW software) than a lesser one can accomplish with standalone plugs? I witnessed living proof when I hired Mark “Captain EQ” Rossi for the final mix of a complex production anchored by the piano part.
During tracking, I'd been unable to dissuade the player from depressing a MIDI sustain pedal for any moment of a 6-minute take. I was convinced the take was unsalvageable, and fretted that an otherwise sterling performance would be consigned to the bit bin. My attempts to communicate these concerns to Captain EQ elicited no response. Rossi was preoccupied calculating the results of minute EQ corrections over four frequency bands. He was also deliberating how these calibrations would effect his approach to seasoning dozens of instruments and voices. After its makeover with a welfare plug, my “unsalvageable” piano part had the gloss and sheen of Burt Bacharach's Steinway B. Bringing in Rossi gave me an opportunity to pick up invaluable tips about EQ, compression, and creating reverb space that I never would have learned trying to fix the track on my own.
Even if you can afford only one session with a seasoned pro, the benefit to your tracks and your knowledge base is priceless. DAW forums are particularly fertile grounds for identifying potential mentors. Pro audio dealers are also good sources for leads. It is easy to find out which pros are most knowledgeable, but make sure you choose one who will convey the most. You want someone capable of slowing down and letting you drive, enabling you to get the most out of your sessions.
If you worry that asking for help on your tracks is a sign of weakness, consider that working with someone else can provide a catalyst for positive change. Just as aspiring moguls want to work side-by-side with Donald Trump to learn the secret of his success, you can reap the rewards of mixing next to a top pro. Someone may even aspire to be your apprentice one day.
Lory Kohn has apprenticed with Larry Seyer of Electric Larryland (firstname.lastname@example.org;www.larryseyer.com) and Mark Rossi of AVR New Media (email@example.com). Contact Lory firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you're in the market for milk lore, check outwww.themilkmen.com.