Posted October 24, 2012 by Stephan Earl in Tips and Tutorials

Your Album’s Production Quality Matters

Your Album's Production Quality Matters - Home Music Production

by Rick Saxby

To me there are three kinds of mixes: First, there is the mix that has no hope at all. Even if the mix was sent to a top-of-the-line, major league mastering engineer, it still doesn’t matter because the mix is lacking. You could think of it as an unfinished mix being passed off as finished. Second, there is the mix that is great! It’s a C to A when it comes to mixing. This mix is when mastering engineers can take a song and really do something with it and make it shine (turn a C to a B or an A to an A+). Third, there is the mix that needs nothing else done to it (The A+). It doesn’t need any further processing because to do so would only take away from that song. A real mastering engineer knows when not to touch a song. It’s still great to have a mastering engineer listen to your mix even if it’s an A+ just so you can have an expert reaffirm that you actually have an A+ mix on your hands.

You might have heard people say, “The ‘independent’ sound today is trendy and people like it, so my mix is good enough and certainly doesn’t need a mastering engineer”. If you have found yourself thinking that, please consider the following. First off, mix engineers who get that raunchy or raw sound don’t get that sound from lack of talent. It’s because that’s the sound they’re going for and it’s a well balanced mix- just a different kind of sound or tone that’s different from your average pop song. Secondly, I, like many other fellow concert goers, have found myself at certain shows so captivated by the music of the band or M.C. that I decided to purchase a CD after the show only to be very disappointed when I get in my car and listen to the CD. All the songs that moved me at the show only disappoint now. As a result, I don’t listen to the whole disk and I end up misplacing it because I don’t really care about it at all.

I’m sure from talking to some artists that the mix really wasn’t important to them because, according to them, “Nobody actually notices the quality of the mix.” This is only half true.

People never notice when you have a good quality mix … but people DO notice a bad mix.

People never notice when you have a good quality mix (except maybe fellow mix engineers) but people DO notice a bad mix. They may not say it was a bad mix or even think it, but they won’t dig the music like they would have if it had been mixed right.

I know selling CD’s is half the battle but if we are honest with ourselves we don’t want our music that we poured our heart and soul into to end up broken on the bottom of someone’s car floor and forgotten about. We want our CD’s to be the one that is in the disk player being worn out until the listener moves on to something else but at the same time can’t wait until your next album comes out!

Well, what exactly is the missing link between the sound of your show that you performed and your CD’s sound? It’s all in the mix! Sure I know you need a good DAW such as Propellerhead Reason and a quality audio interface such as the Focusrite Pro Series interfaces, and so on, but trust me, what good are those things without a well balanced mix? Here’s my point. When your listener attended your show there was most likely a sound guy at the show making sure everything sounded fine while you were playing on stage. You also made sure everything sounded good as well. It was you on the stage and for the most part if you performed well then it was a good show. But as we all know it’s very hard to fit your band’s song or performance into a set of car stereo speakers.

So how do you get that performance to come through?

1. Get back to the basics

There are tons of great songs and records made back in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s that were “so, so” in the mixing and recording aspect but are still considered classics. What these recordings mainly had going for them were soul. So remember the most important thing is capturing a great performance and not letting anyone in your recording space that will kill the “vibe” when you are doing so. Get into the moment!

2. Try using cut filters

As we all know the high end in our mixes can be hard to deal with. If you are having problems with your guitar try cutting out a little bit of the high end. Maybe cut it off at 10khz. Try this with vocals cutting off at 13khz, 15khz, or 17khz. With cutting the low end you should be a little bit more conservative. If you need to cut some of the low end out of a lead synth, for example, just make sure you’re not taking too much away- just enough so it sits better in the mix. Make sure to A/B it a few times before moving on as well.

3. Use some compression

Vocals are usually one the toughest things for people to get to sit right in the mix. Gentle, or maybe even heavy, compression is usually in order to help cure this or at least a limiter to control the peaks if you’re going for a fuller more open dynamic mix.

Here is how I usually set my vocals when compressing them:

  • Set the attack to about 10ms or if there’s just a fast/slow setting set it to slow.
  • Set the release time to about 1500ms and set the ratio to 6:1.
  • Solo the track and play it. While the track is playing mess around with the threshold until the vocal sounds about right.
  • Start to set the release gradually backwards until you hit the spot you like.
  • Then set the ratio backwards or forwards, depending on your taste.
  • If your compressor has an input section, gradually increase that to see if you like it. You don’t need to increase the input but it can help sometimes to push the compressor a little harder.
  • Last, if the compressor has an output stage make sure the vocal track is no longer muted and adjust accordingly or just use your fader on the mixer.

If you’re an indie artist, try taking some of these basics to heart and give them a shot. Maybe you’ll move up a letter grade or two in your recordings and your next album will get the respect it deserves.


Rick Saxby is a guest writer at HomeMusicProduction.com.Rick Saxby

Rick Saxby lives in the Nashville area and since 1999 has produced and recorded various local independent artists in the area- starting on four tracks in 1998 and then moving on to computer based recording in 2001. He interned at Osborne Studio and Sound for five years and received a Bachelors of Accounting from MTSU. He currently runs a website where he sells hip hop beats, mixing services and his brother’s album art work at www.nashvillebros.com