Guidelines to Get Started in Improving Your Final Product
Introduction Ever wondered why your mixes don’t have that professional sound in records heard on the radio? You might have heard that getting that punchy, “in the face”, crispy and big sound may take you years and of course a lot of money invested in gear. Well, don’t get frustrated just yet before you read this. Here are the good news and advice in dealing with music production nowadays.
Some Things to Remember: a. Today’s audio technology which is available and affordable for most of home studio owners is significantly better than thousands (or even hundreds) of dollars worth gear in professional recording studios several years back. Digital Audio Workstations make the producers and mixing engineers life much easier, as most of the processors used are software-based and the level of manipulation at hand for audio processing is almost limitless. And all of this at a very affordable level. Even if you can not afford buying professional audio plugins, the market is flooded with freebies and affordable plugins you can get your hands around without breaking you saving account.
b. Knowledge and experience is much more accessible than several years ago, audio processing, mixing and mastering courses are available online, and even though not all material is considered a true professional piece of advice to be considered, some of them can effectively guide you through the process of working your way out in the production process at home. Learning from experienced professionals is key. c. Improving your music production skills is not a one magical step ahead of you or some sort of secret discovery thing on how everybody does it. Having said that the process of improving your mixes is a combination of few things.
Be patient with yourself and be conscious about your product quality. You need to be able to learn more from your “bad” mixes than from a good one, ask yourself, what is it in your mix that makes it, in your mind, less attractive than commercial music. Be honest and write down all the things you don’t like and make a list of things you believe you should change the next time.
Never be in a vacuum. Sometimes we hear our product and we believe it’s great up until we hear a commercial record. Then we get depressed and frustrated (I’ve been there). This is the first step of getting in the learning curve the fastest. I used to have a comparison project file in which I would import my mix along with a reference commercial record in my own music genre, which I wanted to be as close as possible to. The comparison was around loudness, frequency balance, dynamics and space in the final mix.
Regarding audio plugins: You don’t have to own the most expensive plugins to make a commercially viable record, but if you only use freebies it will be very difficult to get along. The most important processors I recommend you invest are Equalizer (Linear Phase), Buss and Channel Compressors and Reverbs. These three types of processors are the basic of every mix and you can not compromise on them. Other processors which are also needed at hand are Tube Simulators, Console Emulators, which are digital process units which emulate analog consoles and deliver a warmth feel in the mix. All other processors such as modulation, delay, etc: I can safely say that the market is full of low cost/free options you can choose from and being sure you will not be compromising the final quality.
Yes, it takes time to realize and solve the mistakes you make, make sure you have access to professional information and resources for mixing and mastering, this will make the process shorter, however the key is hands-on training. You need to work on a mix, re-mix implementing your improvement list, check again and rework as needed. From my personal experience: it took me 15 years to get the sound I was after for a final mix, so patience and willing to learn are key.
What you hear is what you mix. If your room doesn’t provide you with a fairly balance environment to mix it’ll be like shooting in the dark. You should test your room – using room testing softwares available in the market, and make necessary corrections to prevent excessive buildup of frequencies ranges which will deceive you. For example , If there is too much buildup on the 100 to 200 Hz range in your room, most chances you will be mixing a “thin” mix, because you will attempt to compensate since that’s what you are hearing during the mixing process. For some final touch up for room acoustic corrections I do recommend to use software-based room correction tools such as ARC. The software will produce a room acoustic equalizer curve to achieve room flat response, after measuring your room frequency response. Important to say that if you see significant issues with your mixing room, you should probably correct things in your room first and fine tune with software based tool later as needed.
Do not trust magical resources such as automatic master tools. Understand that music is an art, and as such it involves a human to make aesthetical calls also in the music production process. There are some guidance tools , such as Ozone Master Assistant to help you get you in the ballpark so you can validate your assessments after hearing the material. But it will eventually be what your ears judgement when playing the song. All considerations above are key aspects for you to consider when walking your way through the learning process, hopefully they have provided you a fair starting point. As usual please use the contact form for any questions or clarifications I can assist you with. Have Fun!