How To Get The Best Result from your Mixdown Engineer – Rusty’s Tip Of The Week 9

The short answer to getting the best result from your mixdown engineer is "Leave Them Alone".

But seriously, imagine setting up the drum mix while the singer and guitarists are telling you what they want, and at the same time watching out for the drummer slyly pushing up fader number one thinking it’s his kick drum?

(Note to drummers - These days it almost never is).

There’s a time for everything and I’ve found it’s so much more efficient to have time alone to sort out busses and fx, do all the patching, get all the lines up through the board, start pulling sounds and so on.

Some bands still have day jobs and find it works well to come in after work, when there’s a mix up ready for tweaks. At this time everyone can have their turn to listen and talk about what they are hearing and figure out what they would like to hear more or less of.

When mixing albums it’s so great to be able to finish 1-2 songs a day and then start a draft mix of the next song so it can stay up over night and can be listened to with fresh ears in the morning.

Mixing is a very important process and it's all on one guy to pull it the way the band and/or producer are hearing it in their heads. If it has been the same engineer tracking then it’s often easier becuase by that time he will have a very good idea of the band’s ideas and the vision of the overall sound.

It’s harder if it comes in 'cold' with maybe 20 guitar tracks for each song which have to be sorted through, 'the fix it in the mix’ approach where no one has made any decisons during tracking. This can lead to very extended times for each song, often over a bands expectations.

There are counteless articles from name producers and engineers advising people to make those descions early and commit, it really does save a huge amount of time later. It’s also a good idea for the band to listen to rough mixes and make any notes of things they are concerned about or creative ideas to try regarding FX and dynamics.

But the overall message to reinforce today is, it really will be quicker and better if the engineer is given time to simply engineer before any input and ideas are contributed - there’s a lot to be done in the purely technical realm before the creative decisions need to be made.

Russ-T-Rokk Pilling has been mixing bands on his lonesome (and sometimes with a little help :) at Damien Gerard Recording Studios Sydney for over 25 years

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Miking Guitar Amps with Russell Pilling

In this video, Chief Engineer at Damien Gerard Recording Studios Sydney - Russell Pilling - talks about the Miking Guitar Amps.

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Rusty's tip of the week #8 - Communication - How To Get The Best Performances

This topic is infinite and experiential, not something you'd easily be taught at audio college.

Something all great recording engineers know and utilise every session is their communication skills.

From countless hours recording with players and producers, they have discovered what works for both themselves and the artists, to find out exactly what they're after in a take or song and then how to coax them into achieving it in a relaxed and creative way.

This is a key element in recording that is so often brushed over because it's very personal and subjective. There's certainly a reason artists keep going back to a particular engineer or producer for their projects and it's much less about their gear and more about if they 'click' and feel confident and comfortable with that person.

Sales people certainly don't want to hear this but it's so much more about the people than the gear. A great engineer can work with a 4 track or an unlimited track Pro Tools rig and achieve amazing results every time because they understand the process and where the artist wants to go. For example, it may mean they only want to use one microphone and do no overdubs.

Some tips along these lines are -

1/ If you're recording a band get to know them as soon as they arrive, or have a meet beforehand, help them carry some gear in, find out their names and write them down alongside what they play for reference during the session, make them feel like you are part of the band for the day.

2/ Suss out what kind of music they listen to, what sounds they like, what recent and or classic albums and songs you have all heard. This way you can talk about the sonic side of things and have some references to draw from. Finding out what they want to sound like can be really invaluable. They may have previous releases you can discuss to find out what they do or dont like about their earlier stuff.

3/ You can then apply this little bit of inside knowledge in a big way when cutting tracks and takes, as you will be pretty much on the same page from the start.

4/ Spend time helping with their individual sounds, but always be careful about putting your own ideas across, it's a matter of judgement as to when is a good time. Always ask what they think of the sounds when playing back.

5/ With any ideas they ask to try out, start with "it's not a problem, lets give it a go", even if it sounds crazy. They'll figure out themselves if it works or not. You never know, it may end up being a great new part.

6/ Help remind the artists about time, e.g. if they are trying to finish a song in a day keep them moving along in a nice way.

7/ Speak in the positive, never say a part is really really bad. Instead,  'maybe give it another go' or "maybe that guitar needs tuning again'.

Its all about keeping the artists comfortable and not intimidating them. Raving on about some flash new mic you have that they aren't allowed to go within 3 feet of isn't going to do that, but saying - hey why dont we try the vocal on a 'hand held SM58 just for fun'? can be the difference between a nervous vocal take and a great one. Its a matter of spotting those kind of problems early on and solving them before the band have even realised.

This list could be endless of course but hopefully some of the above will help.

Russ T Rokk Pilling has been tracking and communicating with bands at Damien Gerards for over 25 years.

Rusty's tip of the week # 7 - Room Mics

When you have a great live room, then its crazy to not use 'Room Mics' to really capture the full sound.
If you are able to isolate all the amps when live tracking so the drums are 90% the only sound in the main room then a mono mic 20-30 Foot away is a great start but even better is a stereo pair in a stairwell, up high in a corner or utilising another space as we do just outside the live room iso door in a great concrete high ceiling area where we are able to open and close the door to control how much of the room hits the mics.(see pic) This tip is all about using your ears and experimenting, put the room on a separate track and try different compressors and eq - use your imagination and work out where it works/or not in the song.

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