AES Section Meeting Reports

University of Massachusetts-Lowell - November 4, 2009

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Connor Smith, current Sound Recording Technology graduate student and all-around knowledgeable guy, gave a talk to students about mixing entirely inside of a Digital Audio Workstation. He used one of his own sessions as a demonstration and showed us how he handles mixing conceptually, without simply saying what he did where. He prefaced this demonstration by telling the students how he views in-box mixing as a three-step process:

1. Organize
2. Listen and think
3. Make it sound better

His entire talk was broken down into those three steps, starting with organization. He strongly emphasized the importance of a well-organized session for both the original engineer and anyone who may receive those sessions later down the line. It was just simple things like making sure tracks were named accurately and completely, labeling musical sections across the timeline, and grouping similar instruments together. All of them are simple things that can be easily overlooked.
For the "listen and think" segment of the talk, Connor played us a rough mix he had done of the project and asked the students to think about what should be done. He wanted to actively engage the audience in the creative process. The students were asked to listen to the lyrics and think about kinds of processing that would reflect the theme of the song. Conner joked that if the song were "about flowers and rowboats, [he] would use one approach. If it was about devils and yelling, [he] would use another." In the same vein, the ability to recognize which musical parts, arrangement-wise, were the most and least important was emphasized and the development of this skill encouraged.
During the "make it sound better" portion, Connor went into more technical detail about the techniques he uses. As examples, he talked about the proper use of auto-tune to fix minor fluctuations and the use of drum sampling to enhance drum sounds (while warning that this was a last resort measure.) Certain artistic processes were explained, such as the use of reverse reverb and distortion on vocals.
At the end of this talk, Connor opened up the floor for questions from the audience. He gave general advice on how to get a start in the business using his own experiences as examples, the importance of time management, and knowing when to be done with a mix. As a final thought for the crowd, Connor advised that the overarching concepts — creative, technical, musical -- were more important than the actual plug-ins used or settings applied. Learn to listen and be prepared to use whatever tools are available to meet your sonic goals.

By Jeremy Wegrzyn

More About University of Massachusetts-Lowell Section

AES - Audio Engineering Society