Tips and Tricks: Mixing in Post

Hey guys and gals. Hopefully you had a great holiday and are finding yourself rested after a long weekend or able to get some extra rest today. I wanted to do a bit of follow up on the last series I did and do a short series on some of the little tips and tricks I’ve learned while making the switch from live to fully in the box post production mixing. These will be discussed in no particular order and I think I have a few weeks of tips for you guys (I’d just do them all today but that would be a really long post). Hopefully you’ll find these to be helpful and as always just hit me up with any questions you have. We will start this off with some big picture tips that really helped me get situated and comfortable mixing in post.

The very first thing I did, and if you’ve read anything I’ve written hopefully you’ll know this about me, I developed a process to step through each week. You’ve been reading about that process over the last month or so. The best thing you can do is think through the things you do every week and make a framework with that. I know this sounds cheesy or unnecessary but if you want consistent mixing, you have to be consistent and patterned. Then even more important is that once you’ve developed the process, you’ve got to stick to it. Every detail. Consistent processes nearly always produce consistent results. There were several weeks where I was writing down the things I did differently so that if things worked well I could bring that into my process. As you learn, you adjust your process so that each week builds on the last.

Because of my process, I treated each week like I would need to be able to update my template in logic. Traditionally in DAWs I like to trim out unused tracks each week so that things are nice and clean. However during this time I’ve started leaving my template as intact as possible in order to be easily able to empty out all the media and update my template with fixes for any changes or issues. Doing this allows me to keep my template up to date with any tricks I learn along the way without spending too much time going between files. My template either has a channel for every input or a preset to be recalled within Studiorack. I’ve really tried to dance the line between having something for everything and keep things streamlined as much as possible for DSP efficiency. The thing to remember is this. Most DAWs have what Logic Pro calls “Dynamic DSP Loading.” That means if there is no audio file associated with a track and no audio passing, it will not activate those plugins leaving you with more DSP for what you’re actually using. This feature allows me to run extra tracks at no extra cost. 

Speaking of DSP usage, Waves StudioRack has been one of the most useful plugins throughout all of this. We were already Waves users at FOH and so it was a natural migration to using them in the box. Because we weren’t using our server there we just brought it over to the studio, installed StudioRack and got everything setup and we were off and running with external DSP assisted processing. Now, I didn’t migrate everything off to the server because the iMac Pro we are using with Logic is well equipped but I did move all the main buss groups and all effects tracks off to the server which helps a lot with stability. We also had the benefit of bringing in presets from SuperRack and using those as a good starting point for developing my presets for mixing in post. When we are back to normal I can use these presets I’ve developed in our new LV1 setup for broadcastas well. So if you’re not using Waves stuff that’s totally cool, however, from my experience, their ecosystem, especially for outboard DSP is one of the best on the market. Others have external servers but they aren’t near as robust. Plus having the presets easily follow you wherever you go is a big plus. If you don’t have a beast machine to edit on, be sure to look into Waves StudioRack

That’s it for this week. Next week I’ll get into the mechanics of my template which should help you to be able to refine yours (i.e. bussing, plugin generalities, etc). One thing that everyone does differently is how they buss through the showfile so I’ll definitely be hitting on how and what I do. If you want to make sure you don’t miss that or any other post, subscribe at this link, and you’ll get an email when anything is posted. If what I talked about today only served to muddy the waters a bit in your situation, don’t be afraid to drop me a comment below or shoot me an email at daniel@studiostagelive.com. See you next week!

Meet an Engineer: Ron Cook

1. Who are you? Where are you from? Where or who do you usually mix for? 

My name is Ron Cook.  I am from the Chicagoland area.  I grew up in Hinsdale, IL and now live in Algonquin, IL. 4 ½ years ago I started Split The Difference Audio.  I am a full time freelance audio engineer.  Before that I was on staff at Willow Creek Community Church for 15 years as a staff audio engineer and for 6 ½ years prior to Willow, I worked at T.C. Furlong, Inc.

(Pre-Covid) Being a freelancer I work for many of the Chicagoland production companies as well as national companies.  I also spend most of my Sunday’s working at City First Church in Rockford, IL mixing FOH for their services.

(Post-Covid)  Over the years I have been building a studio at my home and so that is now my main place of work.  I’m just finised mixing a live record for Skerryvore, a band from Scotland, that will be released July 10th.

2. What type of music do you listen to the most? Is there any music that you just don’t like or can’t get onboard with? 

I’ll listen to almost anything but currently I’m really enjoying the new retro wave stuff from bands like The Midnight.  It’s amazing to relive all the 80’s synth sounds I grew up on. I also really like jazz fusion stuff like Snarky Puppy and my favorite album from the last couple of years still is Above & Beyond’s Acoustic 2 Live from the Hollywood Bowl. All that to say at one time or another in my life I’ve gone through phases of listening to pretty much anything from hip hop to metal to pop. 

3. How did you get into the audio industry in general? What/who inspired you? Play any instruments?

I grew up with musical parents and was taking lessons by the second grade.  I never had enough interest in it to even consider a career until the 7th grade (1985).  My dad was a librarian and just before school was out for summer he took me to New York with him for a convention he had to go to.  While he was in meetings I wandered into the hotel gift shop and saw a Keyboard magazine and bought it.  I had never seen it before and that opened a whole new world to me.  By the fall of 1986 I had bought a Roland Juno-106. I would play in a little group at church and we would also host concerts with national artists.  I had a friend from church, Dave Ross, who was a design engineer at Shure Brothers.  He would bring a PA for these events, and that was my first intro to working live sound.

During spring break of my sophomore year of high school Dave brought his Tascam 8 Track recorder down to help the band I was in record a demo.  By that time I was hooked in doing something with music as a career. As I was finishing high school I played keys, as well as a bunch of brass instruments.  I was seriously considering being a music major in college but decided I wanted music to be the hobby and audio to be the career.  I went to Columbia College in Chicago and got a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts with a concentration in Acoustical Contracting. 

4. Do you specialize in live sound (FOH, monitors, etc) or studio sound (broadcast, recording, etc)? What brought you to that area of our profession? 

I do both live and studio.  I’ve always primarily been a live engineer and that has been the bulk of my career but alongside that I’ve had some form of a studio, from 2 ADATs and a Soundtracs Topaz console in the 90’s to now with my current setup.  Obviously with the current situation studio is all that’s happening right now so I’m fortunate to have that.

6. Would you consider yourself an audiophile? Have any cool gear at home? How do you listen to music (i.e. CDs, records, streaming services, etc)? 

I would not consider myself an audiophile.  I’ve never been into that.  For a long time I always just had basic stereo systems.  Now with my studio if I really want to listen to something I’ll go down there.  Also for our main family entertainment center the speakers are my old original Mackie studio monitors.

7. Favorite console of all time and why? 

I guess I’ll still say the Yamaha PM1D because I had so much history with that thing and it’s layout was amazing.  I’m left-handed so to have the main fader channel right under my left hand all the time was amazing.  That said currently I love the Yamaha Rivage series as well as the other current desks from Digico, SSL, and Avid.

8. Most memorable show for you (one you either attended or mixed)?

For attended shows I’d say there’s 2 and both were at The Park West, in Chicago.  One was King’s X on the Dogman tour, and the other was Bruce Hornsby in the early 2000’s.

For shows I’ve mixed the Cubs rally is one of them.  From a mixing standpoint it was pretty simple but just the whole atmosphere, being a Chicago Sports fan, was amazing.  It was also really last minute.  I got called Wed, afternoon, before game 7.  Watching that game was insane.  Not only from a fan standpoint, but the chance to do one of the biggest gigs I’ve done if they win?  Unbelievable.

But I’ll say the most memorable mixing show I’ve done was this past January at NAMM.  I was brought in by Yamaha to mix a “broadcast” feed for the Grand Plaza Stage.  Yamaha puts on a huge show every year featuring a-list artists and a band that features the best of the best.  It was all very last minute and I literally had to set up and start sound checking after rehearsal had already started. It was crazy, but the time of my life all at once since I was mixing my musical hero’s like Nathan East, Greg Phillinganes, etc.  Not to mention people like Earth, Wind, and Fire, Kenny Loggins, Tower of Power, and Mr. Talkbox. I’ve included a few of the videos from NAMM if you want to take a listen.

9. Favorite or most used audio tool? (no rules here, anything goes, plugins, hardware, etc)

-Avid Pro Tools

-My Amek BCIII Console

-I LOVE Plugin Alliance stuff.  Their ch strip plugin emulations of SSL, Neve, and Focusrite blow everything away. I’m also a big Waves user, mainly for live but in the studio as well.  They keep putting great stuff out.

10. What is something that you do differently than others? Any ideas you think more people should know about? (feel free to describe a few)

I’ll list 2 things.  I don’t know how different they are but over time I’ve noticed these.

-Hi Pass filter freq:  I will use hi pass on almost everything but especially on vocals I like to get away with having it as low as possible.  I’ve just seen when i’ve come in after other mixers sometimes that the hi pass is way higher than I like.  I always want to have as full of a voice as possible, within reason.

-Band verb:  I will always have a reverb that the entire band goes into.  It’s a way to add space to the entire band.  Usually kick and bass will be lower in this mix but they are still there.  This isn’t so different from others but since being freelance and working in smaller venues, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard it stated that, with a small room you don’t need verb.  I think you need it even more and when done just right really adds dimension to your mix.  I heard Dave Pensado say on a video that he tries to feel the reverb rather than hear it and in this case it’s exactly what you’re going for.

11. If possible, where can we listen to your work (online web stream, published music, etc)? Do you have a site we can visit if we’d like to contact you?

I’ve been doing some Yamaha webinars and those will be posted so check out my socials for that.  I also have a DPA Microphones webinar coming up on July 9 (here is a link to that webinar: https://bit.ly/380OZY3).

My site and socials are below.  Again the Skerryvore record drops July 10.  Look for a revamped website soon as well as some training content.

Website: http://splitthedifferenceaudio.com

Instagram: @splitthedifferenceaudio

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ron-cook-b2a2313/

YouTube Playlist:  https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLPVZkrg4dWwFG7Jb25fj4VyfEoyZkiXtJ

How To: Making a Broadcast Mix – Part 6

Hey there! We are on week 6 of our series talking about making a broadcast mix. Over the last 5 weeks I’ve been covering my process to develop consistent mixes including recording, file ingest, and many more (here are the links to the previous weeks: Week 1 – Recording, Week 2 – Ingest, Week 3 – Processing, Week 4 – Mixing, Week 5 – Mastering). This week is about my review process. In my opinion, this is likely one of the most important steps you can do to make sure that your mix is received well. Any audio engineer, at any level, still must make their customer happy. For my job, the customer is the worship pastor, technical director, and teaching pastor. For a studio engineer, that customer is going to be the recording artist. If anyone knows this already it’s the monitor engineers among us. They are continually having to make adjustments to suit the musicians need despite what they think might be better. 

So here’s how I do it. As soon as I have some semblance of a mix that I’ve been able to spend time on I try to export it as it stands knowing there is probably more to do. This not only keeps the musicians involved (in the studio they would often be right with you as you mix so this emulates that experience) but allows for feedback regarding tonal blend and general feedback. Maybe they like a thicker kick, or a snappier snare, or maybe just less sibilant vocals. Doing this step early allows me to make any major course corrections early so that I don’t spend a lot of time mixing and tweaking and then end up redoing a lot of work. If I have enough time I might even send daily updates that show what I’ve been doing that day. The only thing I’ve found in this time is that if you decide to do daily or more than one export in order to facilitate conversation, make sure you share your delivery deadlines for the mix so the artists are motivated to provide feedback in a timely manner. Secondly, limit who you ask for feedback to only the people whose opinion you need to pay attention to. Everyone has an opinion but unfortunately in this business, personal preference are a huge pat of things. So try to only ask for feedback from people who you’ll actually need to listen to so you don’t end up making changes that don’t really matter.

One of the hardest things about asking for feedback is a good delivery method that makes it easy for people to listen in. There are several options out there but I prefer to just use Soundcloud. There is a free tier that only limits you to 90 minutes of playtime but allows for as many tracks as can fit in that time frame. The great thing is that people can leave comments in time within the browser version but also it shows waveform so it’s easy to track where the songs are. It’s really easy to upload, send the link, and just sit back and wait. This also works well for trying the mix in your car or with a Bluetooth speaker because you can pull your mix up on your phone.

Last thing I wanted to talk about this week is something that is a bit harder to do. Don’t take feedback on your mix personally. It’s really easy to get bummed out and feel like you are just awful but just realize that it’s impossible for you to hear your mix on every type of playback device. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought things sounded great on my studio speakers and on my crappy computer speakers but it just doesn’t seem to work well from my phone or TV. That’s OK. It’s really hard to do really well for any medium. But what asking for feedback for is good at is employing a small group of people to listen to the mix in what is likely a variety of different speakers and whatnot. I weigh each suggestion I get against what I hear from my speakers and make sure that it’s an improvement because if it is, you are effectively improving both listening scenarios. With my coworkers help, I can effectively raise up the lowest common denominator which will help my stream sound better in general. It’s a win-win!

This was a quick week but hopefully there were a few nuggets that you can take and translate to your process. That is it process wise for the series but I have at least one week, maybe two, of tips and tricks that I’ve learned along the way that I will start next week as an abbreviated tips and tricks series. If you want to be emailed when that post goes live next week, subscribe at this link, and you won’t miss a beat! If you have any questions or concerns please don’t hesitate to reach out here or on Facebook in the respective comments sections. Lastly, I’m aware of some issues within the site that I have been working to mitigate (I was recently hacked). There is a redirect code I’ve been trying to track down. Don’t worry, just going to the link won’t cause issues but any clicks on their page might be problematic. Just reload the page and you should get to the right place. My hope is to be able to take care of this without too much damage but if I’m unable to I will be taking the site down at the conclusion of the tips and tricks series starting next week and rebuilding, which would mean a short shut down of service for a week or two. I’ll keep you all up to date as much as possible. Thanks again for stopping by!