Meeting Topic: The Art of the Mix
Moderator Name: Rob DiVito
Speaker Name: Mark Makoway - Mark Makoway Mixing and Production Shahab Mobasher — Instructor Harris Institute; Engineer Dan Weston -- Producer, Engineer
Other business or activities at the meeting:
Rob stepped down as chair and introduced new chair Blair Francey.
Blair thanked everyone, including the engineers, for making this presentation actually happen, referencing previous delays and postponements.
Meeting Location: Society of Sound - 1444 Dupont Street, Suite 41 - Toronto ON
This meeting was a joint effort between AES Toronto, IndieWeek and Revolution Recording studio. Being the last meeting of the season, as well as a day long event, it also incorporated the year-end social.
The initial idea for this meeting came from a two-day panel discussion the AES Toronto section presented at the PAL/MIAC show in 2010 called eStudio. It was, simply, to provide a winning band free studio time to record a song, and then have different engineers create their own mix and discuss their approach.
Here, three mix engineers presented their workflows to the attendees. This event was video archived.
The engineers were given the freedom to use whatever techniques they wished. The meeting then gave them the opportunity to play back their work and discuss their thought processes, as well as answer questions and comments from the audience.
Daryl Hurs at IndieWeek sourced the winning band ("Leading Armies" from the UK) Joe Dunphy of Revolution Recording provided the recording facilities, and Rob DiVito was the recording engineer.
This event was possible because of the support of both IndieWeek, Revolution Recording, and the talented mix engineers presenting at this meeting.
Rob began by thanking Joe Dunphy, Tania and Steve at Revolution Recording, and Daryl at IndieWeek who was present in the audience.
Rob played only a few minutes of the raw tracks in a "faders-up" mix, just as he recorded them during an 8 hour session several months earlier.
Rob left the mixers with complete control, presenting a static "information-less" mix, in order to provide them as clean a slate as possible. He stressed this was in no way a competition, and it was up to the band to choose the mix they would use for their release.
Rob then introduced Daryl and asked him to speak briefly about the band, Leading Armies. Daryl thanked Rob, the AES and Revolution Recording before his talk. Someone asked: "Will we get free tickets?!" (to their concerts).
Rob sees this event as a breeding ground for similar future presentations.
Rob discussed the recording session. The group was using borrowed instruments. They performed live but were isolated. Only minimal pre-processing was used before the mix was sent off. For example, a (real) Fairchild compressor was used on the bass.
Rob briefly played the sounds raw and with his pre-processing. This also provided the audience with a taste for the tune.
With the exception of Mark Makoway, all presenters brought their own computer. This allowed the attendees to see fader positions and effects, as well as letting presenters solo individual tracks with and without effects, and give before and after demonstrations.
Mark was the first presenter. He suggested Rob play his raw mix all the way through first after which Rob provided the audience with Mark's background.
Before playing his own mix, Mark noted his first concern was that the chorus was weak. He played his version of the mix. In the discussion it was noted the band didn't play with a click, but while they were steady (with their timing) it made editing and transplanting sections challenging.
Mark's video monitors, in his studio, are at his side in order to avoid "mixing with the eyes". A multed guitar thru Amp Farm was used to add growl underneath the guitar. Also, samples added to drums layered 'just enough' to enhance.
When asked about the bass sound of his mix, he replied that phase alignment dramatically improved it, as was obvious.
Mark's verses were very 'mono' and the chorus was very 'stereo'.
Asked about software plugins, he replied it's a game of inches between the plugin and hardware. He can't make software do what he does with hardware. However, he does like the Waves SSL emulation, the Massenburg EQ, Massey, and occasionally the Sony Oxford (Sonnox) plugs.
In response to more questions:
He likes Massey for its transparency: he's looking more for level taming, than colouration.
He brings things down to a nice even level before compressing or processing anything.
If he needs to do edits to arrangements, he'll discuss it with a band's management first. For his mix he took out about a minute and a half. If it's not too extreme he'll generally do edits, but when they're extreme he will discuss it first.
Pop songs have certain expectations that have to be met.
He was not tempted to use much echo despite the song having a strong reggae type beat (the Clash was mentioned several times throughout the meeting).
His kick and snare sound choices are genre driven.
Rob played back Mark's mix once more at the end his presentation, after which the audience had a break.
Rob briefly discussed the background behind the meeting to introduce Shahab and his credentials (B.A., M.A., Instructor at Harris Institute, Producer, Recording & Mix Engineer, Avid Certified Pro Tools Expert).
Shahab thanked everyone for putting this meeting together. He then played his mix. It was much 'warmer' than Mark's as well as longer. He stayed 'true' to the original arrangement, not re-editing anything. He said being a 'student', he's here to learn, as much as present, his workflow!
Comparing his mix, he felt his guitars weren't as aggressive as Mark's version. He described his own approach as 'full on'.
The first part of his presentation involved discussing the drum sound. No triggers or samples were used. He was going a for a full clean sound. He relied on the Waves Maxx Bass plugin for a 'full' kick sound.
He had to deal with the 'battle' between the kick and bass. He wanted the bass to hold the bottom and the kick to reinforce the accents.
Discussing ambience, he used UAD's new Ocean Way plugin. Here, Rob mentioned recording the drums in the centre of the room with the back end baffled and the curtains drawn over the walls in the studio.
Shahab basically used all the parts and takes in his mix, hard panning many elements. If only single mic's/takes were available, his usual approach would involve parallel processing.
He'll use many effects at a time but all very minimally, rather than one or two at maximum.
He mixed vocals 'last', processing them after he had set the rest of the mix up first.
When he sculpts individual sounds, he does so within context of the mix, and then checks by soloing afterwards.
He stated he had wished he had used some bass alignment as Mark had. He had the opportunity to try this out 'live' during his presentation after being asked by one of the audience members. It did make an improvement.
He doesn't like to over-compress background vocals much. He prefers riding faders as much as possible.
Overall he kept his approach to the mix 'natural' rather than 'get creative'. He felt Rob did a great job on the recording.
Fitting the keys (organ sound) into the mix was the most difficult part for him because there was much competition from the guitars. He used a Leslie effect from Guitar Rig (a software effect by IK Multimedia) adding just a touch of rotation. He's not afraid to be aggressive with processing if it helps the mix - "just use your ears".
Rob mentioned the guitar player was supposed to send a new guitar solo but that never happened.
Shahab's mix was played once more before everyone took a break for lunch.
When the session re-started, Rob informed the audience that Brian Moncarz who was to have been the fourth mix engineer/presenter couldn't make it today as he was flying to San Francisco.
This led to Dan Weston's introduction as the final presenter. Rob gave Dan's background, noting also that he approached Dan first about the idea for this meeting
Dan admitted to making last minute changes to his mix the previous evening and early morning. Dan's mix had a touch more reverb present in his mix. Dan also used the entire song, with no fade at the ending, making it the longest mix by a few seconds. As part of his last minute changes, he mentioned adding a dB to his vocals, and that now, listening back, decided they were maybe a dB too loud!
He uses a lot of outboard gear running live during his mix, so for his presentation he used software emulations. He left out the acoustic guitar completely as he felt it didn't have any space in his mix.
Dan discussed the drums first. He did use a sample underneath his kick and snare to give some more prominence and 'excitement'.
When he finds himself "wondering" if he should change things after settling on a final mix (and further experimenting), he finds his first results are usually the best.
Regarding taking an "80's" approach, he felt it was just the way the drums were recorded that brought him to that decision. He also admitted to listening to a lot of '80's songs, lately, which may also have contributed to his decision.
Once he gets a mix sitting right, he'll listen on a pair of computer speakers at a lower level as a check. When he mixes on his large speakers, he says he does so at a volume "that's way too loud"!
An ensuing voice intelligibility discussion (specifically: someone mentioned that the cymbals seemed to be taking away, or competing with, the vocal harmonics) led Rob to mention that the lead singer was very articulate, and the lead voice cut well through all the mixes.
Rob then asked all three engineers: "How do you throw a 'wrench' in to do completely new things and attack a project in a new way?"
Dan doesn't use templates. As soon as he hears a sound he likes, he just "starts to mess with it". He felt he didn't do anything "crazy" with this song, though.
Mark says it's often dictated by the rough mix that's brought in and is very artist driven. It's the mixer's job do a sonically better version than what's brought in.
Shabab tries to reduce his options.
Continuing with his presentation, Dan uses a similar approach on his groups as Michael Brower. But he finds when emulating an approach others use, he never quite gets the same results as the originator does. So he either modifies, or abandons said approach.
Then there was a group discussion about bass. Rob mentioned again, he applied a (real) Fairchild (compressor) on it. It was agreed bass was the hardest thing to get right. It's what separates the pros from the rest.
Mark never leaves things (unfinished) before going to mastering because it won't come back how he wants it. If it doesn't get right before the mastering, it won't come back right.
Responses to some questions:
Dan doesn't re-track: he'd much rather turn an EQ. An audience member discussed '60's recordings where everyone tried to get the sound right, basically at the source. Dan agreed that's how it should (still) be done.
Dan's not concerned about things like Mastered for iTunes. He hopes that what he does will translate well.
Regarding editing, Rob re-iterated that he wanted to give the engineers a clean slate. Most of the engineers stated they don't often have that liberty.
Dan's mix was played once more again.
At the close of the meeting, Rob presented the speakers with Toronto AES certificates of appreciation; and although "the keeper of the AES coffee mugs" was not present at this meeting, they would all receive one later.
Rob added meetings like this bring out the potential in everyone.
New chair, Blair Francey, thanked Rob for making this meeting possible.
There was some more socializing and individual conversations with the engineers before people began leaving.
Written By: Karl Machat; introductory paragraphs Earl McCluskie