Why the attention to details?

Discussion in 'Mixing & Song Critique' started by DonnyThompson, Aug 5, 2015.

  1. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Nov 25, 2012
    Akron/Cleveland, OH
    Home Page:
    This isn't rhetorical question. I really am sincere in wanting to hear opinons from my colleagues as to why so many of us suffer over the "fine" details of a mix.

    Understanding that there are huge differences between both song and mix styles; and we all know that recording and mixing a three piece blues act is a lot different from doing the same with modern pop.

    Yet, we still listen - often very critically - to those finer details... it might be a tuning issue, or a rattle on a drum kit that bothers us. It may be a performance thing, where the bass player played a certain section not quite as tightly as another, or it could be that one synth note that, while in itself isn't earth shattering, but when put into context with everything else, seems to be very important.

    I'm just curious as to how much others here will sweat the small stuff, or if, at the end of the day, it really just all comes down to the basics - can you hear and discern the vocal? Is the performance locked? Can you hear the guitars equally with the keys equally to the drums, equally to the bass?
    And perhaps most importantly: is it a good song?

    And, is sweating over the small details really going to make all that much difference, when everything is said and done, and the "average" John or Jane Doe listener hears the song through a cheap pair of earbuds?

    At what point do you consider a mix to be finished?

    Or, will there always be something that you felt you could have done better, and in the end, you're just compromising, because at some point, for better or worse... that song needs to be finally wrapped and released?

    Do you think it's remotely possible that someone like Roger Nichols ever listened to a track off of Aja', or Alan Parsons heard a song from DSOTM, and for as great as both those albums sounded, they still felt that there was something they could have done to make it sound better ?

  2. pcrecord

    pcrecord Quality recording seeker ! Distinguished Member

    Feb 21, 2013
    Quebec, Canada
    Home Page:
    Everytime I go back to a mix, I will find something to change. Different state of mind, the attention gets to different parts of the song.
    It's a bit like entering a room with dirty stuff on the floor. You'd start by removing them and cleaning up then when the floor is clean, you realise that the ceilling needs new paint. Would you have seen the ceilling before the cleaning? Probably not, because your attention was on the floor.
    So you have to decide, do I paint the ceilling or is it good enough? But remember there is a good chance that if you take care of it, some other details may be reveal that your attention was taken away from.

    What I'm saying is, one could mix forever and end with a worst mix than it was after a few hours.
    We need.. sorry, I need to set a limit of time when I mix and I try to stick with it. More and more I try to apply the 'less is more' modo. Believe it or not, it's paying off because when I get back to those mixes after a couple of months, I can still enjoy them.. ;)

    The worst thing to do is to overmix a song to a point you are starting to create problems instead of fixing some...
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  3. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Apr 19, 2006
    Home Page:
    The eye-opener for me was when I happened to go back to mixes I did 5+ years ago and realise that these sounded as good if not better than many I was currently spending inordinate amounts of time on trying to fix details. I know for certain that the older mixes were done in much less time and with less sophistication in terms of technique and equipment than I use today, but instead what you could call heart and hunch shone through.

    It's my belief that natural exuberance, the odd performance mistake and not pandering to the need for maximal loudness actually creates something that the ear responds to in a way that artificial perfection in the performance, recording and mix does not.

    How do I get more life and spontaneity to come out in my present mixes?
    dvdhawk, audiokid and pcrecord like this.
  4. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Dec 18, 2008
    Western Pennsylvania, USA
    There is your two word summary.
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  5. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    Jul 21, 2009
    Boston, Massachusetts
    Home Page:
    I think it's because the mixes at a certain level, don't have any basic problems. All that's left is the details. I have OCD so details and specifics are part of my natural brain function/tendencies.

    As an engineer, you never hear your work like an "average listener" until long after it's done.

    The reason we get carried away is the pursuit of artistic satisfaction. Mediocre is just fine for the average untrained listener, we know this. We buy 3k peices of wood and strings, and expensive speakers, to satisfy the creative hunger. It's the point, that we want to get our point across exactly. We don't want them to miss a note, we want that song represented. Sometimes the process is necessary just for exploration, or really maybe the song needs to be burned out during the process, for emotional reasons, or to finals just get it done. For real this time lol.
  6. audiokid

    audiokid Chris Staff

    Mar 20, 2000
    BC, Canada
    Home Page:
    Donny, our method is quite different from others who are simply recordists (for people). A mass of what we do is non existent to recordists. It gets more complicated when you wear all the hats.

    So this is how I deal with it when I wear those hats.

    There can be big problems when you are producing music you are also recording and mixing. I find we have to know how to differentiate all these steps unbiased as possible and not cross-over (back and forth) as a song and/or project evolves along.

    I never (if at all possible) mix anything while I am recording and even better, I never (if at all possible) mix an album until all the songs are done recording.
    If I start mixing as I am building a song, it usually turns into plastic and has a sound of way over produced music. Artificial perfection, overkill, etc etc etc.

    Personally I'd much rather hear mistakes, natural finger noises and just the overall natural sound of something that is off the cuff rather than the sound of a song that sounds like it was retracted 100 times, overdubbed and so on. Problem is, some people go to great extents to fix every thing to a point they cannot hear how this is a curse.
    Those mixes never sound as interesting as ones that where tracked start to finish and left more open sounding. Which is why I will (when possible) grab my guitar and play something all the way through and have it playing in the background, even if you can't really hear it. I will also add the background of nature in a track.
    This will at least add some sort of natural flow that was none existent from pieced together music. It doesn't work for everything, but when it does, its special.
    I get mixes from people that are a mess and horrible to mix. When I strip them down and just mix it, they always sound better to me. The client will usually be listening for all the unnecessary detail in everything they added over the course of weeks. All that extra junk does is fill up the core of what makes a song special in the first place.

    Its really hard to mix the same song you've been recording for weeks. Let a song age before you mix it and when you start mixing, get it done and move on. Don't keep going back at it trying to get the junk in there too. If it makes you stop, then its most likely a problem that might not be good for the song.

    Its complicated wearing all those hats and not sounding like you are mom in the background.
    Its even worse when you ask the client for opinions too.

    And to think we hope the ME can improve it all.. No wonder the old methods of record companies worked so well.
    kmetal likes this.
  7. Makzimia

    Makzimia Well-Known Member

    Aug 20, 2014
    Falkirk, Scotland
    I began blindly recording my music on a Tascam 244 31 years ago. When I began, I plugged a mic in, or keyboard, or direct from guitar effects. I didn't know or care about a lot of stuff. I think as you learn more, you are more and more capable of stifling yourself. I like the idea of recording once, walking away and coming back later to mix. It's not how it usually happens. Back then it was record 3 tracks, bounce and repeat if needed. Now's there is just too much that can, and does get done. Add to that the feeling of needing to hit some mark well. I am sitting on a single track for my latest song right now.

    I recorded my 6 string Taylor and me in my new room with just a baby blue bottle into the RC-500 at about midway and 4 feet away. I didn't get a great take (I dropped some of the words), but, it sounds clear and organic. Shame is, I feel the need obviously to re-record it, as it's not 100% right. It wasn't the first take, and I know I can do better. I've performed the song many times, know it off by heart. I hit record, and something f's up :).

    I would ramble if I said more LOL.

  8. thatjeffguy

    thatjeffguy Active Member

    Oct 31, 2009
    Vashon Island, Washington
    Home Page:
    I think part of this is knowing your client and his/her own expectations contributes to how far I will go to sweat the details.

    I have one client who is very adamant that he wants the more spontaneous "warts and all" approach. In this setting, I will correct only the most obvious flubs or pitch problems.

    By contrast, I have another client, who has done a lot of recording with me, who wants every syllable of every word to be pitch perfect. I will spend days with her side-by-side in front of the computer screens listening to every word of every take... comparing, directing, splicing even syllables from one take to the next when comping her vocals.

    Just because I can hear the details and have the ability to work magic on them, I don't feel a compulsion to do so. The client's expectations are something I openly and clearly discuss in early meetings, before recording has begun. I explain that the total cost of their project will, in part, be determined by their expectations as well as their preparedness coming in to the studio and their facility with their craft. Attention to every detail can get expensive when the client is paying by the hour!

    audiokid likes this.
  9. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Dec 10, 2001
    Pacific NW
    If I am producing, I will not allow anything to distract from the performance even if it is part of the performance. There's not a musician alive who doesn't strive for being as perfect as possible playing their music. The 'right' edit will allow this to happen.

    My method goes in this order. Tracking: Get the performance that best embodies the feeling and the directive of the song. Try as best as can done to get ONE performance that has all of these elements in it. Add several other performances with as much of the feeling of the song as possible.

    Post Tracking Mix: I begin my mix right at the tracking stage and will do a mix of the raw tracks with all the instruments taken at the tracking. This helps in two major ways....one, it gives a clearer view of the song and its basic structure..especially if its something that isn't being performed live....and two, it establishes a headphone mix to dub to.

    Mixing As Overdubbing Grows: Never lose sight of the original point of the song. Readies the tracks for editing

    EDITS: This where we make or break things. There are ways to mechanize the feel of a song but a great edit does NOT do this. Your final mix is only going to be as good as your edit.

    Mix and Rinse: Finalizing the mix and readying for MASTERING

    Typically the reactions are along the lines of "HEY, you fixed that guitar flub in the third verse" "WOW I really sang in pitch!!" "The drum sound is so smooth"

    Attention to details involves not just timing and pitch issues but their relationship to the vibe of the music and the intent of the song and its feel throughout the performance. A quality and attentive use of editing will never show in the end.


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