Welcome back to Studio.Stage.Live.com! Hopefully you have enjoyed my writing recently. I have been touching on subjects that probably aren’t as popular as plugin reviews or live mixing videos but rather things that I have personally been working through or helped others through. I did want to add that if you ever have feedback about any of the posts on this site please leave a comment in the post or shoot me a quick email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I truly want this to be a useful tool in for audio engineers. I’m not out to make money on this, my goal is to truly just be a resource people can use to better themselves or help others. I’m also looking for additional writers to further that goal. If you’re interested shoot me an email or drop me a message on facebook. I’d love to follow up.
My TD, where I work, has a great analogy. It applies to most things but it’s his overarching policy when it comes to technical matters. “We need to have a great cake before we frost it.” In other words before you get into all the crazy or cool stuff, you need to have the basics nailed down and basically flawless. Following closely after that he says things like “stop trying to re-invent the wheel.” Meaning, if someone else is already doing that task well, look at what they are doing and start there, don’t try some crazy method before you’ve tried the normal methods. The last thing I hear him say is “consistency is king,” in that whatever we do and however we do it, those results need to be reproducible and predictable. This week I want to dissect those phrases and how they should shape what we do in audio production.
That first statement is “we need to have a great cake before we frost it.” For audio the meaning is pretty simple. The basics of our mix (i.e. the balance, EQ, basic verbs, most importantly mic choice/placement) need to be solid before we get into crazy routing or compression to do cool stuff. I’ve been guilty of this in past personally where I’m focused on getting the drum tones to sound good and not realizing that my gates aren’t opening when they should be or chasing feedback issues when it’s clear that I have a gain staging issues in my dynamics processing. Probably the biggest example of this is new engineers wanting to get into waves processing ASAP before they’ve even mastered how the console they are mixing on works. No matter the circumstances, make sure you can get to a good mix without any of the extra tools (I have plenty and need to be continually checking this) and then consider using those tools to further enhance your mix.
The second line I hear a lot is “don’t reinvent the wheel.” This comes in all areas but I think applies especially in the studio environment. The best example I can think of is using presets. I wouldn’t argue that any of those presets are perfect but they are all at least a great starting point. When I have a new source come down the pipe at me I’ll do a bit of research on what others are doing with that type of input and load up some stuff and click through the preset menus to see if I can find something to start with. Not only can this save you time but it can save you from going down some rabbit hole and ending up with something that just doesn’t sound right. This also applies to mic techniques as well. I’m all for experimenting but at some point, if you’re having issues, you’ve got to fall back on what you already have found out works. Apply those basics you’ve hopefully learned and just do what others have done. At the very least it’s a starting point and will get you going.
That last phrase he says a lot is “consistency is king.” In the live sound realm, where I spend most of my time, consistency is a huge value of my work. It’s important to my TD and those above him that people who come in and hear my mixes be treated to similar balance, week to week. If you’re touring, the artist you’re mixing for is probably asking for the same thing. This often means using templates that have EQ settings baked in and gain staging already setup for the most part. But consistency is more than just pre-programming everything you can to generate consistency of sound, it’s also about using gear that will work consistently, every….single….time. Risk assessment should be part of your job in the live sound and touring worlds. Especially when it comes to gear choice. What can we get our hands on that will produce consistent results every time it’s used? What processes can we put into place that will drive us down specific paths in our mixing style and ensure zero downtime? Be asking yourselves these questions if you haven’t already. If you’re constantly trying to Frankenstein conversion cables and wireless units each week, be ok with a little downtime. However if zero downtime is the goal, you may need to spend a bit more on your equipment to lower that failure risk quite a bit. There are a lot of off brand audio manufacturers that, in all honesty, probably work pretty well as their name brand competitors, but, the difference is in the internals. Usually when it comes to electronics you get what you pay for. If you buy the cheapest option it’s likely going to have some Chineseum in it and have lower quality control standards. However, when you get more mainstream gear, like what you’d find on a tour, you’re going to find yourself needing to do less maintenance and have fewer issues that cause downtime in your rig. You’ll also get very consistent sounds as well, which from what I’ve learned helps take you to that next level pretty quickly.
I’m sure you guys have heard phrases like this before or have been considering their impact, the key is to actually implement the principles. If you are looking to get the next best audio tool or plugin, before you buy it, ask yourself, “do I have all my ducks in a row with what I have and is this the only solution to my issue?” Or “am I trying to do something a lot of people are doing but doing it in a completely different way?” Lastly, “is the real complaint from my client about consistency?” I’m not out here trying to stop you from buying that new tool or poke holes in your work, the goal here to make sure that as engineers we are as best as we can be. In this age of technology it’s easy to miss simple solutions because a friend of ours got something new. The underlying principle here is that we need to have thought out our decisions before we pull the trigger. So sit down this week sometime, think through these three statements and how they might apply and see what new innovations come to mind as you apply it to your work. Happy mixing!