Audio Recording Issues – Nice sound when tracking, but way too much "-----" when blending parts together, Part OneIn the past several posts, I have been writing about scenarios where you have a great sounding mix in progress and a great sounding track you just recorded, but the track doesn't work in the context of the mix. Now I want to discuss a similar scenario where this is happening across several tracks, or even across every track in the mix. I'm not necessarily talking about a situation where every track is completely wrong for the mix, as this would suggest something wrong in the technique, or maybe this song wasn't ready for recording at all. I am rather talking about the actual process in mixing where we are blending all of the creative elements together.
Whether it is at a stage of working with raw tracks, in the process of editing, or through the process of adding effects and making changes, that it seems as though tracks are simply not working well together. It is easy to run into issues during the tracking and mixing process that are simply not relevant until real mixing begins. Sometimes we are working under the pressure of time constraints and other times we have to play multiple roles, where we are thinking in terms of doing everything as an engineer to capture the best sound, and later flipping to the role of critical listening in the context of a mix.
Regardless of the reason, often we find that when it comes to balancing levels, panning, EQ'ing, adding compression, reverb and other effects, we run into a situation where the overall spectral balance is totally out of balance. How does this happen? You may have a very well-tuned room. You might choose great microphones and preamps and have the best singers and musicians with awesome equipment. You might even be using everything correctly. But, now that you are in the mode of serious, critical listener Mixing Engineer, you start to pile on the tracks and the Frequencies are simply not working well with each other. We often run into this with the “too much of a good thing” scenario, where the exact reason that everything seemed to go so well in tracking is now the downfall, as every layer is adding the same room elements, the same subtle boosts and cuts of microphone and preamp combinations, or it may not be anything technical to blame.
The chances are good that you have the same excellent sounding mid range Frequencies pounding the tom toms as you do screaming from the Marshall Cabs, and if the lead vocals are roaring through at the same notes as the rhythm guitar guy, then you are going to have a lot of mid range Frequencies in your mix. This might sound like it is ideal. Sure, just make sure the kick and bass guitar have some killer low Frequencies and the hi hat is spitting out a beautiful high end, and it should all come together, right? Well, the problem isn't necessarily about this kind of balance.
That sounds like the perfect imaginary land we have all pictured before reality sets in during session work. The truth of the matter is that every studio session that involves multi-tracking and mixdown has some element of surprise that will be dealt with in some unique manner. The way we react, the way we hear things, and the skills we acquire will be the parameters that affect the end result. This is where we put our signature to our sound in the mix.