It’s probably THE most frustrating part of the online mixing process…mix revisions.
It has to be said, online mixing is very convenient and cost effective but there comes a cost when the first mix is good but not quite what you want and your mixing package includes two or three rounds of revisions.
Revisions are all part of the process and depending on how you approach them, can be simple or frustrating especially if the mixes come back sounding nothing like your remarks.
Whilst working with my clients over the years, I’ve come up with a few tips for getting the information I need as the mix engineer to understand your needs and make the process go smoothly and quickly.
With the following guidelines, revisions in my studio are usually completed within three rounds, not in every case of course because it depends how the tracks were recorded, arranged and performed as well as the practicalities of what can realistically be achieved for the budget and timescale but, let’s say, 8 times out of ten.
So, how can you make sure everything goes swimmingly next time you send notes back to your mixing engineer?
Well, after reading this article, you’re going to:
- see how to structure your band listening sessions for the most effective notes
- what devices to listen to your mix on
- why listening quietly is key to getting the vocal level right
- have a set of questions that you can ask yourself to make sure you don’t miss what really matters.
So let’s get to it!
How to listen
Arrange a listening party with the band and anyone who has a say in how the mix should sound.
1. Get in a few beers and a pizza and sit down to listen to the mix.
Nominate a band spokesperson, it’s usually the person who’s already in contact with the engineer but it’s important that there be just one spokesperson for the band and all comments go though that person who compiles and sends the feedback email to your engineer.
2. Issue everyone with a pen and paper and press play.
3. Play your reference tracks first, you know, the ones you gave to your engineer as a guide and get your ears accustomed to the sound system in the room.
4. Make notes as the song plays, wait until the end to compare notes and discuss them.
5. Go back to the reference tracks to really get clear on what needs fixing.
6. Make a master list that you all agree on grouped by instrument with each remark given a timestamp to help your engineer quickly locate the parts you’re referring to.
Here’s what it might look like:
General Mix Notes:
Snare is too loud all the way through
Rhythm guitars need to be louder in all choruses
Mix sounds dull or muffled on my headphones
All good apart from the snare (see above)
2:33 – mute until 2:55
3:30 – make louder for the final chorus
2:43 – “oh baby, baby” lyric lead voc down
0:35 – lo-fi vox effect required
3:31- make bgv vocals sound more shouty
3:33 – Guitar lead- more reverb. less delay, volume down slightly
1:54 – make this guitar louder
2:32 – add a quarter note delay to this lead
Listen and compare to your references on a few devices to get an idea how the mix works in different listening environments:
- PC speakers
- Best hi-fi speakers you can
- Speakers or headphones you know really well
- In the car
Listen loudly (where you have to raise your voice slightly to be heard over the music) and listen quietly (below normal conversation volume). Our ears hear frequencies differently at different volume levels (Fletcher Munson). Listening at a healthy level should give you a good idea of how the low end of the mix sounds and feels. This includes the kick drum, bass guitar and how they interact with everything else in the mix.
If you’re not sure about the relative level of something in the mix, try turning the monitoring level down really low. Listen quietly and you’ll hear if the vocals are too loud or if the vocal and snare are balanced. Think of your Mum’s radio in the kitchen while she’s cooking and listening to BBC Radio 2.
So, in a nutshell:
- Compile a band agreed list of changes
- Group your changes by instrument type
- Give each remark a timestamp
- Include lyric lines or song sections if that will help
- Try to be as specific as possible
- Use clear language (see my Audio Glossary)
- Can you provide an example?
- Refer to the rough mix if you provided one
- Refer to the references you’re using
Another thing I find really helpful is when I’m given a commercial example of a special effect that the band want but find it easier to show rather than explain. A YouTube or Spotify link with a timestamp works really well to illustrate anything audible that can be difficult to put into words.
As you’re listening, especially the very first listen, elements can jump out as being the wrong balance, the wrong tone or stereo positioning (…or awesomely right!) This is why it’s good to have pen and paper to hand and to not stop playing the track until the end.
It’s a “gut feel” thing that slowly dies after the 4th or 5th listen and it can be difficult to maintain objectivity but more on that later.
Before you start listening or on the second listen, try using the following questions as a prompt to help you pin-point any areas that deserve a mention on the master list:
- Can I hear the vocals all the way through?
- Is the mix too bright or too dark?
- Are the kick and bass working together, are they defined or a muddy mess?
- Are the kick and snare loud enough?
- Is the bass loud enough? (Especially on laptops or your phone)
- What do I love?
- What do I hate?
- Do the choruses sound big enough?
The longer you listen, the more you lose focus and perspective. The first listen is gold dust for the most valuable feedback notes but you’ll probably have to listen more than once across the entire mixing process and it can quickly turn into indecision.
As the mix progresses, the moves are likely to be smaller and smaller. Subtle moves with EQ and level balance that only the trained ear can hear so it’s important the think, does this 0.5dB move on the tambourine in the last chorus really matter in the grand scheme of things? Will my Mum notice?
Why not give yourself your own limit on the number of revisions you are going to use especially when working with an unlimited revision mixing package. This will stop you going round and round in circles, chasing your tail and get the mix done and released quickly so you can move on to some new, exciting song ideas.
Take a break, give your gut a chance.
Our ears get tired very quickly so take breaks.
If you feel you’re not making progress or have lost focus, stop, switch off the computer and go watch a movie or Game of Thrones instead. Come back later or the next day with fresh ears and” go with your gut” on that magic first listen again.
Take 24hrs between listens or even 2 weeks if you need to. This is great for getting that “gut feel” back into action again but you might not have the time so 24-48hrs should do the trick.
Making and releasing new music is always exciting. Getting feedback from your fans, new opportunities to play great gigs and some local press interest. You work hard on your music, you love what you do and want each release to be your best yet.
The last thing I want for my clients and for you is for frustration to kick in or make you dread sending your work out to an online mixing service in the first place.
We both make music, we both love music so let’s all love the process! This is an exciting time after all!!
These tips will help your next revision round go quicker and more smoothly, from the listening party to getting a final mix where all your expectations have been far exceeded!
If you are interested in having me mix your music and are wondering how to prepare your mix then check out my blog post how-to-prepare-your-track-for-professional-mixing
How about you? What have you found most frustrating mixing online? Do you think any of my points above will help you with your next online mixing session? I’d love to know!