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Critiques from good ears.

Discussion in 'Recording' started by Eelucid8, Dec 29, 2011.

  1. Eelucid8

    Eelucid8 Active Member

    Hello everybody,
    I just finished up my tenth album and would love it if some more experienced engineers could give me a critique. If you could change ONE thing about the mixing of any of the tracks at Kid Ghosts (final mixes before mastering) by williamsteffey on SoundCloud - Create, record and share your sounds for free what would it be? I really really appreciate your time. Thanks much and looking forward to your (brutal) honesty! Regards,
  2. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Hey, I love your sound. You are very good! reminds me of the best times of the 80's . Tears for Fears - Go man!

    You asked for brutal honesty so I'll get to the meat and avoid the compliments.

    Track one and two are phasey to me. Everything is smeared together. Why do you think? I think you can mix this much better. Lets see what others think before I go on.

    Can you tell us about your studio, DAW, gear etc?

    Track 3 sounds better but still has that smeared together. I'll try and listen to more tracks later.
  3. Eelucid8

    Eelucid8 Active Member

    Hi audiokid and thanks for the response. I'm using Sonar X1 with various Waves plugins, Reason 3, and NI Komplete 7. My mic is an AKG C3000B. The vocals are printed uncompressed through a DBX 376 channel strip. I run my Telecaster through either my POD pro or Guitar Rig. My bass is a 1988 Steinberger copy. My 'studio' is my apartment's second bedroom which has no special sonic treatments. I've been recording since I was 12 (my dad was a factory rep for Tascam and Shure), but until the last six months have spent all my energy on the songwriting instead of the audio side.

    I know what you mean about the smearing but have no idea how to go about fixing it. I'm very interested in knowing even a few basic pointers that might head me in the right direction- although I understand it may be impossible to figure out from only a simple mp3 file. Thanks again for your input,
  4. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Thanks for sharing your history and studio info. The room is where I would start. It sounds like you have it all sorted in your mind, composed well and the songs are well constructed but I have a feeling your room is effecting how you are hearing everything.
    There are more experienced engineers here than I, maybe one will chime in to give you a more helpful tip or two but from my experience, if you have it this close, but it sounds like this, your room and monitors are a big problem.

    Do you understand how important these two things are?
    Are you mixing on headphones?
  5. Eelucid8

    Eelucid8 Active Member

    It looks like I have underestimated my recording environment. My monitors are Mackie 624s and I also use Sennheiser HD600s. It sounds from what you say that I might be doing as much as I can with my current setup. You said that you think this may be a problem of my interpreting the sound during the mixing... so this means the tracks are possibly okay and I could take the whole master file and mix it properly in a nicer studio? Were there any things about the mix that you think I'm doing particularly well and that I should keep doing? Thanks again.
  6. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Wow! It almost sounds like you've been almost taking lessons from Bob Clearmountain? But here is what I think you are missing...
    Conceptually, it's marvelous. What you are missing is more radical EQ on just about everything. More radical compression on the vocal utilizing a much slower attack time. Guitars PANNED Left & Right are missing the stereo HAAS effect by not adding some time delay with a low-frequency oscillator LFO' ed to each guitars opposite channel. This will create a feeling of space & Time that is modulated in time & space. I'm cut number one, the drums really aren't happening properly. Bass drum is virtually nonexistent. Snare drum sounds like you are using sticks wrapped with wet socks and hopefully not dirty ones. No! Don't smell your hands. A lot of the drum problems are because you are not utilizing enough EQ & limiter attack times are again too fast preventing any snapping peaks from happening. Harmony vocals stuck into the right channel lacks any stereo depth. In that situation, you might want to try doubling those tracks into left & right channels while adding just a couple of cents worth of pitch change up slightly in the left channel & down slightly in the right channel. This is a similar effect to the Yamaha SPX 90 in pitch change C setting. This will envelop the listener with stereo harmony vocals that will become more ethereal. The reverb on the snare drum is also rather mushy and not very Plate like which I personally like. There is no sizzle anywhere. It just sort of sits there like a wet rag. The bass guitar part also need some help with a little low-frequency rolloff a.k.a. high pass filtering to bring forth its definition. And it certainly doesn't sound like you are using a SM57 on your snare drum either? Why not? All in all, you have too much natural dynamics happening. It needs tighter control. Folks seem to frequently utilize compression with attack times that are too fast. This takes all the life out of everything.

    Cut number two & cut number three seem to be more on the mark. Everything needs a little more excitement factor to it. It's actually all too bland IMHO which is also similar to what I'm sitting on. It's fat and I like fat but FAT also needs definition, which is lacking on everything. So start twiddling those equalizers more and bring it forward, it needs more presence just about everywhere à la upper midrange boost. Natural dynamics really don't work or sound natural. Unnatural dynamics can be more easily controlled and can appear to have more dynamics when your compression on individual tracks allows for a certain amount of overshoot. So hyper control of the dynamics is not what you want but what you've already done. This will allow things to burst forth more naturally sounding while being completely unnatural. Naturally this is confusing because I am suggesting something unnatural in the natural sounding way of description. Which could also be caused by not enough consumption of mind altering substances. Think Strawberry Fields.

    It almost sounds to me like your monitors are too bright for you? So if you could tweak those back a little, it will cause you to do all of the above that I have suggested. These are not ready for mastering. It's a good concept rough mix. Mastering is not going to fix any of these problems. So don't waste your money thinking that mastering is going to make this happen the way it should. Listen to some more Tears for Fears/Simple Minds and listen deep into the mix. Listen to what Bob has done. Of course what he has done required his SSL 4000 E. And I'm not sure anybody on this forum has one of those? I know I don't. Bob knows how to work that console to get exactly what he wants. I know he relies on the VCA's in that SSL which has a tendency to mush up the sound. He can then use more radical EQ to make things cut through relying on the VCA's to add its own peculiar color which most people dislike. My previous console had those and for some things I liked it. For other things, I would bypass them requiring me to utilize the Rotary monitor faders which were passive without VCA's by flipping fader functions on the Sphere Eclipse C I used to own previous to my older Neve which has no VCA's. And the console I currently use since I sold my SSL like American-built Sphere.

    Smearing? Most everything sounds smeared. Where's my Smirnoff? It can clean anything inside and out. Better stop at the store and pick some up for yourself. Don't forget the toilet paper. You'll need the toilet paper to put over your tweeters like Bob used to do on his Yamaha N S-10's. Though I never asked him what his favorite toilet paper was? You'll also be able to utilize the toilet paper for other things since only a couple of sheets will be required for the speakers. And that's probably why Bob utilized more radical EQ. So if you don't utilize the toilet paper for your speakers, you may as well just flush it down the toilet. The MP3 file is not causing this problem your mix is. Listen to Tears for Fears ripped to MP3 and you'll understand.

    So you waited through 10 albums to ask this question? What took you so long to get here? Were you caught in the bathroom all this time without toilet paper?

    I like Charmin ultra-strong since I have a wicked middle finger
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  7. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    How about acoustic treatment?

    If you can afford it, I would take one song ( all the tracks to a professional studio and have them remix it for you. Site in and learn. This will be the best thing you could do. Then, go home and try it yourself. Also, you will have one song done right and will be able to judge your others by comparing.

    Monitoring is more than just monitors. How your room sounds, where you are sitting in proximity to your monitor is critical. Mixing on headphones is not a good idea either. I only use HP for working late hours and for listening for very minute things like tuning, etc. Never mix with HP .

    Check out our friend Ethan Winer. He has the most educational website on this subject. Watch the videos!
    RealTraps - Videos

    Hope this helps! Please get back to us and share how things progress. I'm very excited for you. You have a bright future.
  8. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    There ya go! Remy to the rescue as I was posting the same time, take notes!
  9. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    hehe, Remy, you are funny tonight!

    I think you nailed it here. His room is acoustically challenged so he's not hearing things at all. Most likely his room is too bright with very bad low freq problems and a whacked ceiling.
  10. Eelucid8

    Eelucid8 Active Member

    This is like a frickin' Christmas gift! I can't believe how much you guys are helping me out! This is going to take a while to digest, and I'm not sure how much I can do with my room the way it is, but I'm certainly going to implement everything I can. I generally do mix a little brighter, but lately have been afraid to mix TOO bright, so I will lighten up in that area as well. I will definitely keep you posted as things progress. "Honey- did you use the last of the toilet paper???"

    I don't know why it took me so long to think about improving my mixes. I think my ears (at 40 years old) have had an awakening or something. While I like Tears for Fears, I'm pretty addicted to the production stylings of Mr. Thomas Dolby, so I've definitely got a certain depth that I'm shooting for, which is what is happening with some of the atmospherics on my stuff. If either of you is interested in hearing more, hit up William Steffey on Spotify where there are 70 more great tracks mixed in my crappy rooms over the past 20 years.

    Thanks again for all the info and the good laughs tonight. I can't wait to open up these projects again tomorrow. Sincerely,
  11. Eelucid8

    Eelucid8 Active Member

    Hey Guys, Just wanted to let you know that I'm working hard to get these tracks into shape. I'll post as soon as I've implemented more of your suggestions. Thanks again!
  12. Eelucid8

    Eelucid8 Active Member

    Hey Remi & audiokid,
    I've added many of your suggestions on these three songs now at:
    Kid Ghosts (working mixes) by williamsteffey on SoundCloud - Create, record and share your sounds for free
    I added HAAS delay to guitars in track one, panned the wet opposite the dry positions and put one out of phase. Your LFO suggestion was over my head and I was told this was another good method. It really beefed them up. I also brought out the kick, as well as EQed many of the drums and other tracks. I am somewhat limited as all these songs are firing drum samples and many of them have already been compressed, etc. I slowed attack and increased ratio on the compression. I applied your double, pan & shift technique to those backups that were stuck to the right. I did my best to EQ and mix things to get rid of that smearing effect that I'm sure still exists to some extent, but I did the best I could given my room. I'd love it if you would take another pass and let me know your thoughts! Many thanks,
  13. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Man, that is such a great song. Excellent hooks in it. I love it.

    Its all really balanced but could sound overall better. Vocals are a bit glassy but this is inherent to your vocal chain. Thumbs up for writing a great song and a balnaced mix. To help you get it to a better level, I don't know where to start. Remy is much more experienced than I so maybe she or others here will have more to offer. I hope so.

    A lot of people try and spread a lead vocal out and use effects I feel cause more problems than good. When we do this, it makes it harder to mix everything. I like the lead vox center and in my face with some beat matched delay and a slight amount of reverb with a HPF on it. To me, and others can disagree, a snare, kick and bass sounds great dead center and should be uneffected in stereo or mono. Spreading keys, guitars, harmonies, overheads and specialties outwards works better for me. Right now its all outwards and missing that in your face center.

    Something else I've noticed over the years; When we mix our own music we're more pron to over effect our own vocals. It would be interesting to hear this with less processing on the sides of your vocals to me. Remember, reverb puts distance to a track and washes it all together.

    Kudo's though. Do you have an album of this style?

    You know, it would be cool to do a mix contest with something like this. Get the raw tracks of a song and let all the pro's go at it. Best mix wins a nice prize. The contributer could win something too. Then, winner share's their tips and everyone on the forum wins knowledge. A wins win for the community.
  14. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Now that's more like what I'm talking about. I liked this a lot more. I love the whole cool sound you're getting. Though I felt the bass drum could still appear more prominent with a bit more EQ. Perhaps even phase inverting it? It needs to thwack more. The bass drum that is.

    Most of this now just feels right. More definition to the bass drum will make it pop all the more. Otherwise I feel you are now in the pocket and on your way. Super! Yup, Simple Minds, Tears for Fears, Bob Clearmountain all over again. And it's this kind of familiar stylistically sound , the way you have done it that will suck people in. I like your vocal sound. I like the guitars and synth tracks in the stereo soundscape. The snare drum sounds awesome. Very kitschy indeed.

    You know that Rome & Bob Clearmountain's technical style wasn't born overnight. And he was working in some lovely studios to boot. So imagine how much better you'll get in a short period of time. You're already there.

    I love this!
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  15. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    I agree with all the above and as usual, Remy is spot on. Now let me give my simple-minded assessment.

    I love the movement and feel of the song. I'm definately an 80's fan and am old enough to remember where that era came from......What I think is missing is a bigger drum sound. The guitars are driving the feel and the tonality but , to me, the drums sound really small and plastic compared to the rest. I'm not talking more I'm talking more real tone. You said you're firing samples, so look into your library and find something that is impactful, direct and full of tone.

    I would start by muting everything except the bass line and the major rhythm guitar. Switch out your samples until you have that huge , in place, Mssr. Clearmountain rockin drums....specifically kick and snare. These will fill up space like nothing else and you'll find yourself backing a lot of things off. This will lead to discovering the simplicity of a busy mix. You'll find that a little busy jangly guitar goes a LONG way and that the feel will lead the entire production up several notches. Make sure NONE of the drum samples are over a quarter note beat in decay. Make space. Find the feel. 80's drum samples were all about multiple layers of almost nothing taken individually.

    BTW. If we do actually use something like this in a mix contest you ALL are toast! LOLOL!
  16. Eelucid8

    Eelucid8 Active Member

    Hey Everybody! This is pretty much as far as I can take the mixes. I'm way past the point of flying in new drum samples- especially because I am married to the drum fills (in track one) and these are chopped up loops. I'm tied to using the single samples on that kit so when the 'drummer' starts flailing around everything matches.

    I have a few questions though. First- what kind of systems have you guys been checking these tracks out on? I'm most concerned about the low end, since I've only got 6 inch monitors here.

    Second- how important is the mastering step? The company that I'm using to manufacture my cds offers mastering by Frankford Wayne for $385. I assume this is very cheap and he survives on the sheer bulk of work he's handed. Anybody heard of him? My target for the project is actually college radio, and I've had a good amount of success with tracks that I mastered myself using... plugins. :( I know it's probably horrible, but I am sometimes literally- a starving artist. I don't want to rule out the chance of being added to a local commercial station (if there is such a thing). Any tips on how to get pro mastering of 6 tracks done on a shoestring?
  17. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Why dont you simply post this question in the mastering forum here? We have quite a few truly pro ME's that come here regularly that may be able to advise you or perhaps even give you some sort of great deal.....Not promising that one for sure, but there are some outstanding ME's on these pages with really great discographys. They would be able to answer that question much better than us poor recording and mixing engineers.

    As far as the system I listen to, my computer monitors have NEVER failed me on any sort of material. I know what my studio mains sound like and I'm absolutely sure it would be better on either set in my room, but these speakers at my desk are a perfect example of 'reference' speakers. I could download your material and hear it in my room and my assessment wouldnt change much. BTW. Speaker size is not necessarily the reason something is or isnt translating to other systems.

    I have Genelecs and Tannoys and trust em completely. Not large but neither is my room. My computer monitors are older Gateway/Altecs.
  18. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    I listen on older JBL 4311/4312's on Crown DC 300A II & other assorted amplifiers, in my control room, at home, at my partner's house. Secondary monitors are passive KRK Rock-It's, KRK V6 powered monitors. KRK V 88 powered monitors. FOSTEX Mini powered monitors. The car with its stock Delco radio & speakers. BANG & OLEFSEN with JVC amplifier. Sennheiser 545 & 280's through various amplifiers. Nothing terribly special but terribly practical. So I run the gamut from 12 inch down to 8 & 6 & 4 inch monitors. Those present a adequate representation for what most consumers & musicians will be listening upon themselves. I don't need superduper, audiophile style monitors & amplifiers. Nothing is that crucial except one's own personal tastes and preferences. I'm just ever so slightly Realistic. OK so I have a couple of those crappy speakers also. So I want to reference something to the worst I can think of, it's a couple of Minimus 7's, yup, from Radio Schlock. And when I want the worst of the worst reference, I've got a couple of self powered " computer speakers ", which I generally leave in the back of my car. I use is most often when I go to the drive-in movies and want to sit outside of my car. Yup, I said Drive In Movies at one of the few left in the country, in Baltimore where I've helped to maintain their FM radio transmitter & Dolby processor. So I get in free whenever I want to. They've got a great snack bar also! Actual real lemonade from bags of lemons they squeeze themselves at the BENGIES Drive-in Theater, family-owned and operated since 1956. Very family oriented and a worthy visit for all. Unfortunately, they don't show any of those good old X rated movies where so many babies were invented. Or should I say mixed, conceived?

    Back in the 1970s, I was using Frankford Wayne to cut my vinyl. Later switching to EUROPADISC to cut my vinyl stampers through their Direct Metal Mastering technique. So they weren't cutting to lacquer but were cutting to copper. Back then, whatever you sent, involved no Mastering per se except for the fact that they would utilize their high frequency limiters to prevent excessive high-frequency excursions due to the pre-emphasis curve utilized for RIAA disc cutting equalization. They both utilized Neumann VMS-70's.

    If the recordings weren't good, they definitely would utilize some corrective equalization (aside from the typical combining of left & right channels below 250 Hz which was generally standard practice back in the day), which wasn't utilized for my recordings as there was no need. I would compare my vinyl reference disks, utilizing my Op-Amp Labs & my API 2520 custom RIAA preamps against my original analog & digital masters. Utilizing both Stanton & SHURE moving magnet photo cartridges. Today & in the past 20 years or so, I have Mastered projects myself since I don't need any kind of magic fairy dust from somebody else to fix or improve anything I have done. Of course, if a client wanted " special " Mastering, I would send them out to assorted reputable Mastering Engineers if they express a need for Superduper excessive loudness levels on their CD's. But I myself utilize a hybrid style of Mastering with both analog & digital ITB technique which most folks seem to enjoy. However, I don't consider myself a Mastering Engineer just a good engineer which is fine enough for most folks.

    I love my own stuff so there is no problems.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  19. Eelucid8

    Eelucid8 Active Member

    Ok guys! This thing is all done and I'm using Frankford Wayne (at OasisCD) to master. I'm trying to send the cd to as much press and radio as I can so I've made a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds. Please visit: WILLIAM STEFFEY'S 10th Solo Album: "Kid Ghosts" by William Steffey — Kickstarter and check it out. It would be amazing if you would share the link with others. Thanks so much for being a part of my project!
  20. JoaoSpin

    JoaoSpin Active Member

    my advice to you: read up. there are a lot of good, comprehensive books about mixing. there are blogs, sites and tutorials free online, though the real juicy content you'll find in books. Conduct reasearch, learn, talk to other people who mix. If you're serious about recording and mixing your own music you need knowledge. If that seems too taxing and time consuming for you, take audiokid's advice and have it mixed elsewhere.

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