Getting The Demo Done Right – Part 3: The Mix

Posted on September 13, 2010

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The Mix is when you take all the recorded tracks and blend them together so the dynamics and volumes all match. It’s engineering the final sound that will be heard when the CD is played in a car stereo, on the radio or in a club. Having the right Mix will make or break you in the end. Being comfortable with the engineer, as we discussed in the previous articles of this series, is going to help you get that mix down right. Also, knowing your parts is going to help.

I often refer to the Van Halen III disc when discussing The Mix with people. The greatest band in the universe records an album with what might be the most dynamic front man rock and roll has ever seen – Gary Cherone. He puts all his heart and soul into every line he sings, word he writes and note he hits! He’s a real professional. The fact is, on that Van Halen album – the Mix sucks! He’s in the back; drowned out by the guitar and washed into a mid-range mix that hardly reflects the power and control he is capable of. The end result was a one-off Van Halen album that goes down in the archives as a mistake. Such a shame!

Mixing is an art form and should always be considered as an art form. It takes a superior education and a lot of experience to produce a gem and that is why a good engineer doesn’t come cheap and mostly never for free! The details involved in bring up parts when necessary are even overlooked by the band recording the songs and this is why being able to sit with your mixing engineer after all is recorded is part of knowing what you are getting into before you buy in. You can really go 90 percent of the way and ruin all that effort at the mix level.

With experience, players learn that the actual performance of their instrument through the recording process is essential in the mix. There are certain factors that just “upping the volume on it” will not fix. There are those moments when muting a bass string will enhance the vocal power of a line in the song – Sting does this in a lot of Police songs. Drummers use dynamics in their lines to create accents and the intensity at which they record them can not be fixed in the mix, so recording them right during the song is essential. Think Dream Theater and Rush.

One way to learn this is to consider playing for the entire song, not just the instrument you are performing on. Know how each part is going to be heard in the listener’s home and play to it. Imagine Iron Maiden on stage – during certain parts of the song, Steve Harris points that bass head at the audience and pounds out a riff with fervor and intensity. Fans respond because they know that part well. They know it well because it was brought up in the final mix of what he recorded in the studio. It all started from knowing the song in practice and bring it to the soundboard with the recording engineer, producer and mix engineer. The end result was something you’ll have etched into your auditory archives for the rest of your life.

Your best bet too, when finalizing the mix is to let the engineer do his magic and leave the dude alone. Have him call you to hear the final mix after he has set it to what he calls complete. This is going to give you a few days to clear out the studio time from your ears and re-enter the studio with a fresh new listen to the work. At this point, you can listen through and isolate moments that you feel are key to the song and discuss them reasonably with the engineer. Hear it through the studio monitors, because the compressed version you demanded he send you home with isn’t the final version fans will hear. Be patient and make judgment calls on the recording after you’ve heard his final mix. Besides, it’s easier to cut back or increase the intricacies after the rest of the song has been mixed than trying to pinpoint guitar riffs when the drums aren’t mixed yet.

Now, before mastering the recorded project, it’s always best to spin off a master copy of the Track Mix. Reasons for this are – when you change up the lyrics later, or decide to re-record the song with the new bass player – you’ve got everything there in separate tracks and all you have to edit is the one part you want to change. Keep the track mix at all times! Remember – TRACK MIX, I WANT ONE!

With all these things considered and acted upon, the mastered version of your songs is going to be great! Always remember that you are only as good as your weakest component. A low-grade studio will not capture the abilities of high-grade musicians, and of course, taking Nirvana into a high-grade studio still produces low-grade recordings. It’s a fifty-fifty balance.

As you have a finished demo to pitch to the industry – the last thing to remember about professionalism is that it takes courtesy, patience and above all – persistence. Just because the demo is great doesn’t mean you’ve won the battle. If the goal at the end of all of this was to have a great CD take up shelf space with no one hearing it – congratulations. You are a superstar! However, making a living from this demo is going to be a long hard road. This was a series of actions that comprise what some consider step one. Shop that puppy and get responses. If you have to – go back to the Track Mix and fix up a few things. Take all the responses, positive or negative and use them to heart. Don’t blow someone off if the response isn’t what you hoped for – learn from it and give them another version of what they want. You’ll get there if you keep at it, but starting with the right demo is going to get you there faster and with stay power.

Let me know how it goes, I can’t wait to add your work to my personal collection!

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