The 12 Pains of Mix-mas

The 12 Pains of Mix-mas.

On the first day of mixing, it may just make you scream. Where do you start? What is the right way to do this? Why does everything sound so horrible? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Every mixer goes through different phases during the process. It sounds amazing – it sounds terrible – I want to crawl into a corner and cry – ah, this is gold! Here are 12 tips I’d like to share to with you this holiday season – sorry I forgot to wrap them.

12) Drummers Drumming

When mixing, I generally begin with the drums. I don’t try and do everything all at once. Instead, I concentrate on one particular track/effect at a time. My initial focus is EQ. I’ll solo out the kick track, and adjust the frequencies. Once it sounds smooth, I’ll mute the kick and move onto the snare implementing the same technique. After I’ve achieved my goal of EQing each drum track individually, I’ll repeat the entire process – but this time I’ll be applying compression instead of EQ.

Once that’s finished, I’ll create 3 busses – one for my snares, one for my kicks (if I’ve used some samples), and one for my overall drums. I’ll solo out the snare tracks, and adjust the EQ/Compression on the snare bus. Then I’ll repeat this process with the kick drum bus. Finally, I’ll solo out all of my EQ’d/Compressed drum tracks, balance my levels, and adjust the EQ and Compression on the overall Drum Bus.

Lastly, I’ll create a drum reverb auxiliary track. I’ll add a send to each individual drum track (not the busses) and adjust the reverb so I have a great sounding drum mix. Then I simply mute my drums and move onto guitars.

11) Guitarists Guitarring

I attack my guitars with a similar approach. I’ll solo out each track individually and adjust the EQ. Then I repeat, tweaking the compression until each guitar track sounds perfect. Once that’s all said and done, I’ll send all of my guitars to a Guitar Bus where – you guessed it – I will adjust the overall EQ and compression.

Here’s where I start to effect my guitars. I’ll balance them – panning left and right where appropriate. For leads I’ll add some delay. When it comes to reverb I can add a ton, or just a touch (depending what the song may call for). I don’t go too in depth yet – I save that for the whole mix so I can hear how everything blends together. Once these basic effects are all set up, I’ll create a balanced guitar mix and move on to the bass.

10) Bassists Bassing

When I start mixing bass, I stick to my standard routine. I’ll solo it out and adjust the EQ followed by compression. Once I’m done effecting the bass by itself, I’ll start mixing in relation to another instrument for the first time. I’ll turn up the guitars, and adjust my bass EQ accordingly. If some bass frequencies feel like they’re fighting with the guitars, I’ll tweak them until they sit comfortably together. If the compression feels like it’s slamming the guitars too hard now that we’ve added a bass, then I’ll pull back on that as well. Once I feel like this is all working together nicely, I’ll move to my old faithful technique of muting all my tracks.

9) Singers Singing

I think you’re starting to get the picture here. Since everything is muted, I will go through each vocal track individually tweaking the EQ followed by the compression and creating a vocal bus. Yada yada yada, (the same way we’ve done with every instrument so far). I’ll add a vocal reverb auxiliary track and send each vocal track to the reverb. I’ll adjust slightly – because I know this will change as I start bringing up the faders for each instrument. Once my vocals sound perfect by themselves, I’ll mute them and continue.

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8) Macro Mixing

Here’s where the fun begins. At this point I know that each instrument sounds great by itself, but now I have the joy of ensuring that they will play nice together. I’ll slowly start taking my drum faders up. Followed by the guitars, followed by the bass. Listening to the instrumentals, I can really hone in on where the frequencies are clashing and between which instruments. I can listen for panning issues (making sure they’re balanced), what compression needs to be adjusted, and how things are sitting in the perspective mix. I’ll need to start playing the part of the janitor and cleaning up this mess.

Once I have a fantastic sounding instrumental mix, the battle is only just beginning. I’ll need to slowly bring in my vocal tracks and see how they fit in the mix. Are they on top? Are they getting lost? I’ll start adjusting reverb, EQ, and compression as I’m listening to the song as a whole. Occasionally I’ll solo out 2 instruments together to see how they react, this can help to pinpoint problem areas. Once everything feels comfortable, I’ll have a great basis for my final mix.

7) Track Referencing

After creating my initial mix, I may feel as though it’s lacking something. “You know, I really wanted this thing to sound like the Foo Fighters, but it’s just not there”. Here’s what I can do… Grab The Pretender off of my iTunes, bring it into Pro Tools and A-B my song to theirs. “Wow their guitars are so much beefier than mine, maybe I should boost some mids”, “Their kick drum has a lot more umph to it, maybe I’ll make my sample a bit louder”, “their vocals are more pronounced than mine, I should definitely turn down a bunch of that reverb”. These are some things I’ve often found myself saying after listening to a reference track. Incorporating what I hear from other mixes has helped me immensely throughout my career, and it’ll really help to train and develop your ears.

6) Reverb Using

Reverb makes everything sound better – it’s a scientific fact. Ok, not really, but it’s a scientific opinion. Adding a ton of reverb can be a great effect, but sometimes all you need is the slightest touch. Turning your wetness to 2% may seem insignificant, but it can honestly make a world of difference. Remember – you don’t always need to go heavy – if it sounds right, who cares what the percentage is?

5) Compression

A common thread with effects is that sometimes the smallest adjustment can make the biggest impact. You don’t need to slam each of your tracks with compression, in fact, I tend to use as little as possible when I’m mixing. I’ll barely touch some of my tracks, and this can create a huge dynamic impact throughout each of my songs. Less compression means that more of the natural feel of the song is piercing through the mix and this can be a wonderful thing.

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4) EQ and Sweeps

There is nothing worse than listening to a track and hearing a frequency that literally hurts your ears. Seriously, you’ll want to jump in there and punch it in the face, but instead, take some advice from Uncle Joey and just cut it out. I’m a big fan of negative EQ-ing – that is, taking out frequencies instead of adding them. I’d rather create the space for instruments, but that’s just a personal choice. I know plenty of mixers who add EQ all the time. As we said with all of our effects – don’t go crazy. An inch can go a mile.

3) Effects

Once the 3 essential effects are taken care of (Reverb, Compression, & EQ), I’ll add them one more time on my master track.  After this, I usually want to throw other cool effects onto my song. At this point, I’ll start listening for ear candy that will help make the mix sound special. I’ll listen for places to throw delay on vocals, 808s on drums, or flange on guitars. I’ll even throw some overall effects like a filter sweep over the entire track, or a reversed guitar leading into a chorus. By this stage, the mix is pretty clean, so these effects shouldn’t get too in the way.

2) Balance The Mix

The last step of the mix is making sure that it’s balanced both vertically and horizontally. Vertically I’m listening to make sure that the volumes are all aligned with one another. I generally like to ride my vocals a little louder so they stand on top of everything, but it will always depend on the artist, and the actual song. Mixing horizontally means I’m listening for panning balance. If there are 4 guitars playing at the same time and they are all panned right down the middle, this is a serious issue. I’d pan 2 hard left and hard right, and the other two at a softer left and right in order to create some space. Hearing an unbalanced song (everything leaning more towards one speaker – or even worse, not leaning towards any speakers at all) can leave the listener feeling uneasy and make a song feel lifeless and boring.

1) And Importing Your Session Data

This last little tidbit will save you a ton of time. If you’re working on a record, or even an EP, the first mix is ALWAYS the hardest. This is because you’ll need to go through the entire process from scratch. However, once you’ve done all the groundwork for your first mix, the rest of the album becomes much easier. Importing your mix settings will complete 90% of the job. You’ll still need to tweak things here and there, but the settings should be close enough to make your task infinitely easier.

I know it’s not a new iPad or anything, but I hope this will help fulfill at least one item on your Christmas list. And please, get into the holiday spirit by sharing this post with all your friends. Santa will streamline you to the top of his nice list, and I may even bring you more goodies throughout the year! Please like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our YouTube channel. Peace and Rock on.


The Most Important Part of a Record

I’ve heard the debate time and time again, what is the most important part of a record? Ask the singers, and they’ll tell you the vocals. The bass players will insist that their fatty groove is what makes the CD so special. The mixer will obviously tell you the mix, and he’ll fight with the engineer who says it’s the mic placement and process of actually recording. But who’s right in all this? Could it really be the bass player?

An argument can be made for each step in the process, but my vote goes straight towards Pre Production. Think about it. What is the one common thread that strings every aspect on the record together? If you said bass, you’re pushing pretty hard, but sorry, that isn’t the answer we’re looking for. Pre pro covers every facet on a record and I’ll prove it to you.


Before recording even begins, a producer needs to be comfortable with the genre of the band. Once the style is determined, the producer and the band can set goals for the album. Will they stick to one specific vibe, or are they looking to branch out and try to hit across multiple markets? Are they trying to achieve a polished sound, or a raw natural feel? Do they want a 5 song EP aiming for 3 singles, or do they have their sights set on a roller coaster of emotion for a full length? When everyone has a similar mindset, they can all get on the same page, which is extremely beneficial when it comes to tracking, editing, and mixing.


Once everyone has agreed upon a style, the decisions become more defined. If it was agreed that an album was going to be progressive rock, then there’s no need talking the band into a typical structure of Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus for every song. Sticking to the guidelines of what works within a specific genre is key. Good producers aren’t one trick ponies either, they know the value of incorporating different formats on a record. Sometimes that typical pop structure will actually work really nicely for a song on the progressive album. And on the other side of the spectrum, a progressive structure could help a poppier band to get out of their comfort zone. But I digress, borrowing ideas from different genres is another topic for another day. Mixing and matching ideas here and there is cool, but producers should never change the style of the band or the integrity of their songs.


When focusing on arrangements, pre production will hone in on individual parts of songs. If Billy’s metal band is screaming throughout the entire piece, it may become monotonous (especially if it is happening in every song.) This is not an uncommon occurrence for many inexperienced bands. When it happens, producers will suggest to Billy, the idea of removing some vocals. Removing some screams can open up the song and help it breathe, thus creating different dynamics. These different feels are ultimately what keep a listener engaged. Having these different vibes will also separate one band from another in the scene. This phenomenon doesn’t just occur with metal vocals either. Producers will listen intently when it comes to guitar, bass, and drums in all different styles of music.

So you see, pre production takes place well before tracking, but it leaves it’s impression long after. As the blueprint to the record, it will give the songs a specific direction full of guidance and clarity. The ideals established during pre pro will carry over to how the musicians will play, how the engineer will record, and how the mixer will mix – there’s no doubt about it. Without pre pro, you’re just a kid building legos without the instructions. You may piece something together that looks ok, but wouldn’t you rather have that awesome looking rocket ship on the front of the box? For more information on pre pro and tracking, please feel free to check out our free production site, like us, and subscribe. Peace and rock on.


5 Reasons Music Producers Should Sleep Around

I chose the term music producers carefully. Not only should record producers sleep around; I think artists should sleep around as well. Anyone involved in producing musical content needs to experience different music. If you’re a metal producer, spend some time with alternative rock or pop. Don’t tell me that working with pop artists will make you less metal. Machine produced Lamb Of God and Fallout Boy. If you’re a pop vocalist, try out some rock. Even Britney Spears loved rock and roll. You should get into bed with every genre of music you can for these 5 reasons:

1. Where’d you learn that from? When you work with different genres you pick up new tricks of the trade. You might find out that layering and spreading vocals on pop songs works great when you want ambient screams on a metal song. (It does. Try it out.) Different genres have different best practices. As you explore the genre, you’ll figure out what they are and how to use them. The next step is adapting them to your core genre.

2. I’m going to put this somewhere it’s never been. You know how to bring production elements. Now, it’s time to bring actual sounds. 808’s are used in everything from pop to metal. Where did they start? Pop … but that’s okay metal heads. You have made it your own.

3. Don’t knock it till you try it. You’ve heard this phrased different ways. My favorite version is a bit more descript. I once told a friend that I’d never date a smoker. Her response “Until you meet a smoker you want to date.” You may think a genre is terrible. Maybe you hate the simple progressions that have made pop punk a major musical genre. But one day, there will be a punk band you like (no matter how many cigarettes they smoke.) *I mentioned joining online communities in “How To Skip Audio Engineering School (Part 2)” Let me take a moment to acknowledge how a pop punk Facebook group has brought new music lovers to the scene lately. I’m a member of the “Defend Pop Punk Group” on Facebook. That community is all about having fun and being supportive. Participating in that group will teach you about musical psychology. Music is something we lean on, and in that group, people ask questions like “I need some songs to listen to. The guy I like just got a girlfriend. Suggestions?” I know some of you think that’s childish. But, listening to music during particular emotional states can help. They can get you ready to go out and have fun with your friends. They can also bring you back to the place you were when you first listened to it. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. I don’t consider myself hyper-emotional, but there are some songs I purposely skip because they bring back memories I rather not relive. I suggest my producer and musician friends join that group and learn from its members.

4. I’m sick of doing this missionary sweetie. Do something to impress me.Different genres have different structural staples. A music producer that sleeps around can bring these one-time structure and arrangement staples to new genres. One of my favorite is the whole step modulated chorus. This comes primarily from country, but it can be used in everything from metal to pop punk. It’s as easy as creating a quick pause, and then playing the final chorus up 2 frets on guitar and bass. It’s a little more complicated for keyboard players due to chord shapes. But, for those of us with a chromatic fret board in front of us, this is simple. It’s also very effective, and it shows some musical prowess.

5. Lets make a baby. I just scared every guy reading this! But, when you know your child is on the way, you hope it has the best genes. Which usually means that you hope the baby has her smile, her eyes, and if you’re in love, pretty much her everything. A child is given genes from its parents. Thousands of years of genetics go into making a new human. Do you do the same amount of research when creating new music? When we make a baby we want it to have all of the best genes. When making new music, you can afford it all the best genes by investing your time. Learning what makes great music in different genres will give you a sort of genetic edge.

If I haven’t convinced you to study new musical styles, please read “The Four Dimensional Record Producer.” It may take a different type of thinking to get you there, and this article explains producers should approach a song in order to get the best mix. The more you focus on how to get the best finished product, the more you’ll want to learn from other musical genres.

Please leave your comments and feel free to contact me directly at or at my facebook page I’ll do my best to respond to you and answer any of your questions. Now, go out there and make great music!


So You’re Looking to Become a Record Producer (Part 4)

4 Essential Components of Recording

If you’ve stumbled across this article, you may want to check out parts 1, 2 and 3 before you proceed. I’m sure you’ve got a million questions running through your mind. I wish I could give you a million answers, but I’m going to be honest, I don’t have the finger stamina for such a feat. But fear not! I’ve stretched out my digits, cracked a few knuckles, and I’m ready to start typing this bad boy! The key to remember here is that “The expert at anything was once a beginner”.

In fact, I was a beginner once. Before I started interning at my first studio, I knew two things:

1) How to sing.
2) How to play guitar.

THAT’S IT. So when I tell you I didn’t know the first thing about recording, I literally did not know one thing about recording. Poor past me didn’t even know what a sine wave was. Of course I knew about microphones, cables, instruments, and speakers (or their fancy name, monitors). But I didn’t know about any of the recording gear itself. If I could go back in time and tell myself about 4 essentials components of recording I’d school myself on these 4:

1) DAW

DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation. This is the software you’ll be using to record your music. There are many different DAWs, including Ableton, Fruity Loops, and Pro Tools. It’s almost the same as having different means of typing your essays. You can use Google Docs, TextEdit, or Word. They’ll all do the same thing, but choosing the right one for you is just a matter of comfort, familiarity, and workflow.

2) Interface

The interface is basically your converter. When you’re playing an instrument, or singing into a microphone, your computer cannot process those sounds. The interface converts these sounds into a digital signal that the computer can interpret and understand. Chain of command (or signal flow): Instrument plugs into interface, interface plugs into computer. Voila, now when you strum your guitar, your interface turns the sound into a digital signal for your computer!

3) Preamps

(Pronounced Pre-Amp) A preamp is essentially an electronic amplifier that will boost your signal. In Layman’s terms, if instruments are coming in at too low of a volume, preamps will make them louder.

4) Plugins

Your DAW is going to come with plugins. These are basically effects you can throw onto your tracks. If you want reverb, flange, delay, or any other effect, your DAW will have a plugin for it. (There are literally thousands of different plugins.)

Now that you’ve stuck with me for this long, I hope you’ve gained at least some insight to music production. I’m a very accessible person, and very easy to talk to. If you have any questions on anything, please feel free to contact me directly or send me a message on my Producer page. I’ll help you in any way that I can. And as always, please feel free to like, share and subscribe to the post. Peace and rock on.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3