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Ultimate Newbie Mistakes

Discussion in 'Recording' started by Rip, Feb 24, 2005.

  1. Rip

    Rip Guest

    Hello, All.

    I am getting ready to do my first mix, and I thought I would tap the wisdom of this forum. I know this is a broad question, but what newbie mistakes did you make when you first started mixing?

    I would appreciate any advice on avoiding things that a newbie might otherwise overlook.

  2. Reggie

    Reggie Well-Known Member

    It would help a bit if you let us know the equipment you are mixing on.....

    In no particular order:
    1. Know your equipment, including your room. Know what knobs do what and when to use them. Play a lot of CDs you know well in your mixing room to learn how things sound. Every room is different. Use acoustic treatment if possible.

    2. Don't overdo anything. This goes for compressing, EQing, wild back and forth panning, etc.

    3. Pay special attention to the bass area (bass guit/kick). This area is hard to hear unless you have a good room and a subwoofer. 40Hz and below does not carry a lot of useful info, but it will muddy things up, distort things if too loud, and eat up headroom for your overall volume. For the most part, ONLY bass and kick should have much of anything below 80-100Hz. Low cut (high pass) filter the other instruments.

    4. Don't try to mix on your stereo/computer speakers/headphones and expect a good result. They only represent a portion of the sound spectrum, and are rarely made to sound neutral and true to the source.

    5. Mess around with mic placement a lot (unless you are just mixing an already tracked song). If possible get some decent isolation headphones so you can place the mic while the instrument is playing. Especially with a SM57 among others, just try pointing the mic in front of the source and moving it this way and that, pointing at an angle or straight, forward and back, etc. The sound will vary greatly, and it is your job to find the place where your mic sounds best on the particular source.

    6. Plugings can overload too. Be careful you don't do this; it will sound bad. Watch your meters and listen for distortion. Also, your main bus must not exceed 0. It probably won't sound bad while playing back, but it will cause digital clipping when you export your mixdown.

    That's all I can think of for now; anyone else?
  3. Rip

    Rip Guest

    Good idea.

    I have a Digidesign 002/LE setup, mac, Waves Gold, and Mackie 824s for monitors.

    Reggie, could you explain #3 a bit more? One of my main concerns is that, in past studio outings, engineers and I have had a tendency to add too much bass in the mix. I kind of understand what you are saying about making sure the other instruments are not competing with the frequencies of the bass and kick, but do I really low cut ALL the other instruments? I am already concerned that some of my guitar sounds are a bit thin...

    Also, how can I tell if I am using too much compression? Especially in regard to vocals and bass?
  4. Reggie

    Reggie Well-Known Member

    Well these general guidelines are about the best I can do without hearing any material, but I'll try.
    You WILL want to lowcut instruments at around 80-100Hz at least. Fool around with how to do this, whether it be with a Waves plugin or a ProtoolsLE track EQ or something. If your guitars are already thin enough where there isn't much sound in this low area to begin with, then you won't really be losing anything anyway. Kick drum you can usually cut quite a bit starting at roughly 35-45 Hz unless your mic can't pick up that low anyway. Bass, well.....depends quite a bit. Try putting an EQ dip here or there, maybe in the 55-100Hz area where the kick usually hits. Perhaps a little boost at around 350-400Hz or 900Hz or not. The biggest EQing will probably be a big cut on kick drum at around 250-400Hz.

    The only true way to tell is your ears. But I usually will need quite a bit on both. Not so much on other things.
  5. Rip

    Rip Guest

    Thanks, Reggie.

    Any others?
  6. anxious

    anxious Guest

    First mistake I made?

    Listened to the advice of people on the Internet, instead of going out and working on as many projects as I could, to learn.

    When I started doing that, I suddenly realized that within 6 months I knew much more about my own tastes, goals and abilities, than 95% of the Internet "experts" who loved to hear themselves talk, but had little actual understanding of MY projects and situations.

  7. Reggie

    Reggie Well-Known Member

    Oooo, BURN. Thanks pal
    What a useful thing to post on an Internet forum. Just trying to give guy a little head start on some things to think about. Although I can't disagree with hands-on experience being way more useful.
  8. jonyoung

    jonyoung Well-Known Member

    My 2cents: Start EQing by cutting unwanted frequencies to get where you want to be, and then try boosting stuff selectively. By the time everything gets to the mainmix bus, you'll be less likely to be dealing with a "reactor meltdown" in terms of levels. Shoot for a mainmix peak level of -4 to -6. That will give you wiggle room to maintain some dynamics in the music when/if you normalize or run the mix through Waves L1, L2 etc......Also, avoid applying tons of reverb to a busy arrangement, it will add to the low end clutter Reggie mentions. Reverb is like garlic.....too much is too much.
  9. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Things to ponder prior to mixdown: There is no PERFECT mix....there is only the mix of the moment

    Never 'settle'...if you have the time and the patience, do it again even if its some other day.

    Warm up your ears......Put on a similar recording to what you'll be listening to....listen to it at several different volumes before you start.

    Take liberal breaks.....Ear fatigue is a REAL thing and will effect your mix in such a way that only several days later will you actually hear the crap in it!

    DO NOT use any EQ unless absolutely necessary....I know that several folks have talked about EQ but it can be a killer of vibe....use it judiciously...

    Listen to your mixes in the car, on the boombox,in someone elses house...find someone who has a stock stereo in their car...use it.....It will tell you where all the bodies are.

    If you have a simple Radio Shack db meter use it on A weighted...try to stay around 85-90db's...all of the tone will be there at these volumes.I do like to mix a bit lower in my shop as I have small nearfeilds....in the BIG STUDIO, I crank it to pain threshhold..........!just kidding...

    A mix is subjective and remember its only a slice of that moment in time that you're freezing for everyone else to hear....be sure you're in a good frame of mind when you put the framework on your art.
  10. Rip

    Rip Guest

    Thanks for the replies, everyone. I appreciate your time and input.

    I realize experience is the best teacher, but it is something that I cannot afford at the moment. I have my project scheduled to be mastered in April, and I just want to make sure I do not do any boneheaded things to the mix that will ultimately result in disaster.

    I know there will be things I will be able to do better down the road as my ears get better, and I have helped mix projects before, but this is my first solo outing on completely different equipment. I guess I am freaking out a little in regard to the unknown. It is a good thing this is solely my project and not a client's. It is also a good thing that my ears are pretty good, which is ultimately what I will have to use.
  11. Rip

    Rip Guest

    @ Dave.

    I actually bought one of the db meters at Radio Shack a couple of months ago, though I have not had a chance to use it.

    Thanks for the settings!
  12. jonyoung

    jonyoung Well-Known Member

    Rip, Everyone second guesses themselves, chalk it up to the learning curve. The most important thing is to remember that the average listener won't be nearly as critical of your work as you are. Davedog's absolutely correct, a mix is a moment in time. Enjoy the ride.
  13. Massive Mastering

    Massive Mastering Well-Known Member

    One of the biggest "rookie warnings" is too much reverb... It's so easy to go overboard...
  14. therecordingart

    therecordingart Well-Known Member

    Amen to all of you....I'm a newbie....I've had a home setup for almost two years and I'm just scratching the surface. I still make huge mistakes but here are a few things that I've learned:

    1. Be careful using any sort of maximizer or aural exciter (BBE for example). These units/plugins can be the devil if not used properly.
    Some people hate them entirely.

    2. I still don't touch any EQ until I get the tracks in rough placements and listen to that dry rough mix of a few sources. Otherwise you can make an EQ change early in the mix, forget about it, then scratch your head wondering what the hell is going on. Or you'll get accustomed to the EQ change without realizing that it is damaging your mix.

    3. Using compression without knowing when or how to compress. That sounds dumb, but I didn't fully understand how to use compression until recently, re-mixed my old stuff, and it is a night/day difference.

    4. Reverb....it's too easy to go overboard on reverb to try to compensate for a not so great sounding track. (I used to tend to put reverb on things that sound like crap to kinda blur the crappiness...I know that isn't good to do, but I didn't know any better)

    5. Basic mic technique and phase issues between mics. VERY IMPORTANT!!!! If the tracks are already recorded...know how to check for phase cancellation.

    6. Once you have a mix that you think is pretty solid....post a link here and I'm sure you'll get at least a few critiques.

    I know most of this was covered, but felt like putting in my whole 2 cents.

    Good luck....you picked a great place to get help!
  15. Rip

    Rip Guest


    I think I am going to be okay when it comes to using reverb. I have heard way too many indie projects sound like they were done in a cave. I will probably err to the other extreme by not using enough. :D

    If there are two things I am uncomfortable using due to lack of experience, it is compression and delay (especially tap delay). So no, therecordingart, it does not sound dumb.
  16. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    How much is Too Much?

    How many licks does it take to get to the center of the Tootsie Pop?

    These are all pertinent yet subjective question which have no right and no wrong answer.

    I would approach Verb and Delay with the idea that it is going to separate and encapsulate the particular instrument/voice its being used on.If you have enough horse power in your DAW and enough plugs, I would look to building specific and individual effects for the important pieces of the mix.This includes EQ'ing the specific Reverb especially on the voice.Pre Verb is where I like to EQ from in this case.I find that globally verbing/delaying is where things tend to get jumbled.This is where the tap function is your friend.Get it into the quarter or eighths or even something inbetween,but have it have a relationship to the beat of a particular instrument with its own EQ and you'll more than likely find a little magic.AND in this scenario, a little truly goes a LONG way.

    About compression.This is a very difficult thing to get just right.Having several different types of compressors with different sounds will help.Again, the individual tracks, other than perhaps the drums,should be compressed alone.Compression can be used effectivly in two different ways.As an effect or as a control.What you choose can only be determined by what the track requires.If used poorly it can lead to some very strange and not easily remedied problems.Compression is a powerful force and not to be taken lightly.This is the primary reason I NEVER compress at tracking.You just cant undo it.If I have a source that needs some sort of control due to peaks and dips, I will get to know the track before I commit to it and ride the fader at recording.Its 'Old School' but it always works.
  17. anxious

    anxious Guest


    My post wasn't directed at you, it was directed at all of us. The best way to learn is to try things and ask specific questions. Otherwise, the advice you get is likely to bias your style towards the mundane, rather than addressing the problems you have getting what you have in your mind.

    One man's opinion.


  18. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Not a reply directed at or in response to anyone other than the original poster 'Rip'..... :!:
  19. Bobby Yarrow

    Bobby Yarrow Guest

    So, assuming you can't take a year or two off from your life and hang around pro studios, I throw in my own two cents and say that, the more I watch other people work, the more impressed I am with how differently everyone approaches this stuff.

    The range of opinions you see here is some indication. Give you another example: busing. In mixing rock music, I submix everything, often submixes feeding submixes. Bus the kick and bass together, and then send that submix to the drum bus, which is itself the sum of at least 2 other buses, and then to the main bus. I've seen very respectable guys send the bass right to the 2-bus. Neither of us are doing it wrong, just a diffent way of working.

    I guess my overarching advice is to take your time, be patient, and know that there's no shortcut to the learning curve. Go get em.

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