Have you ever asked yourself this question while recording or mixing? What is your song about? How is it supposed to feel? How did you come up with it?
Book a free feedback call with Benedikt, the host of the show!
These are important questions to ask yourself. And if you find the answer to it, it might transform your mixes and productions.
We’ve received a lot of messages lately from people who are saying things like:
"My demos sound cool, but when I'm done mixing, I feel like something got lost along the way"
"I know exactly what I want my music to sound like, but I can't seem to make it come out of the speakers."
This is a common problem among Self Recording artists and Malcom & Benedikt take a more philosophical approach rather than a technical approach to this topic.
This isn’t something that can be fixed by adjusting a plugin setting. This is a mindset thing.
We’ve heard many songs lately that have incredibly dense arrangements. It's like people are feeling the need to add a lot of stuff to their songs to make them sound exciting and big.
While that can be a good idea sometimes, it’s often not the best approach. You may actually be taking away from your song by continually adding new elements.
So let’s jump in to this weeks episode and find out exactly why your demo is currently sounding better than your final recordings.
One instrument. Record the song with just a vocal and one instrument and don't send me a version until it's a good song, because if you remove all those other elements, it needs to still be a good song, like if you remove the extra synth you added. Does the course suck now, or is it good?Benedikt Hain:
This is the Self Recording Band Podcast, the show where we help you make exciting records on your own wherever you are DIY style, let's go. Hello and welcome to the Self Recording Band Podcast. I'm your host, denadik Tain. If you're new to the show, welcome. If you're already a listener, welcome back, so stoked to have you. If you're discovering this on YouTube, please know that this is also on all podcast apps, like Apple Podcast or Spotify, wherever you enjoy your podcast, so you can listen on the go. And vice versa. If you're discovering us on Spotify, there's a YouTube version and you might want to watch this instead. So today we're talking about a question that came to mind yesterday, actually. So the question is what's the essence of your song, what's the essence of the music that you're working on? It came to me while I was listening to an interview with Michael Brower, who's a really famous, very, very successful mixing engineer, and there were a couple of ideas in this interview, in this episode, that I really enjoyed and I kept thinking about it. And then it occurred to me that lately I got a lot of questions from students, from subscribers, from my listeners. I've been doing a lot of coaching calls with people where they sent me stuff for feedback, and so I got a lot of questions around the topic of why does my finished mix not sound as cool as my demo anymore? My demos were great, but when I'm done mixing it feels like something got lost along the way. Or they say something like I know exactly what my music needs to sound like, or what I want it to sound like, but I can't seem to make it come out of the speakers. Or they say I think I've balanced everything well, I made good EQ decisions, I compressed the way I wanted to, I added all the effects I wanted, but it still doesn't speak to me. It sounds kind of boring and flat. What am I missing? And the thing is, when I listen to those songs, to those mixes, I agree oftentimes it's like they are sometimes good sonically but still not really exciting. Or people are feeling the need to put so many things into these arrangements in an attempt to make it big and exciting and full sounding, and oftentimes they achieve the exact opposite and the essence of the song kind of gets lost and it kind of doesn't work anymore, despite their best efforts to put all they can into the song. And so, long story short, I want to talk about this. It's an interesting topic, I think, and so, yeah, let's try and answer this question, or help you find the answer to the question what's the essence of your song? And once you know that, what do you do with that information? As always, I'm not doing this alone here. I'm with my friend and co-host, malcolm Owen Flutt. How are you, malcolm? Hey, benny, I'm great man. How are you? I'm great too. Thank you, yeah, it's been a good weekend. It started to the week already. We've signed up a lot of new coaching students, which is exciting. Our program is growing.Malcom Owen-Flood:
Yeah, yeah, love and seeing this whole thing keep growing, excited again. I know we keep mentioning this like every episode, but anybody that's going to be in Hamburg for the Studio Zine, studio Zene, that's how you say it right, Got to get that right. Studio Zene conference in Hamburg in October that Benny and I and the whole team are going to be at. Can't wait to meet you all. That's going to be awesome. Benny, have you tried this is like a little off topic, but I'm just kind of over the moon with this plugin have you tried the Soundtoys super plate plugin?Benedikt Hain:
No, I got the little plate, but I actually haven't tried this. I got the super plate too, but I haven't tried it yet actually.Malcom Owen-Flood:
Okay, you got to grab it. Okay, yeah, I haven't, I haven't, but I never tried it.Benedikt Hain:
What's so cool?Malcom Owen-Flood:
about it. I feel like I got too many plate and reverb plugins, but like yeah, Specifically, I just made a video on my YouTube channel for this, but it's got like auto decay feature, which is pretty nifty Like. The implementation is good because it's not just ducking, which a lot of other not a lot actually, you know, not enough reverb plugins even have a ducking feature, but this has like an actual auto decay parameter where you can tell it to shorten the decay time based on a threshold that is being hit, which pretty much you know. If you have a big, long, lush reverb, that is usually nice because you want that to fill the holes in between words, right. But it's kind of just like starts building up and getting muddy when there's like a lot of words being said in, like a dense, you know like whenever there's a lot of syllables and stuff like that, it just kind of like gets overloaded. So this lets you tell it to shorten the decay time and make the actual decay time shorter whenever there's vocals happening, and then it opens back up and extends the decay time after, which I think is just the bees knees.Benedikt Hain:
That sounds very interesting, very cool. I don't know why I've never tried it. I just made a note that I have to check it out because I got it, but I don't know.Malcom Owen-Flood:
Yeah, I mean it's relatively new right, but it's yeah, they don't miss those guys, they're awesome.Benedikt Hain:
Awesome. Yeah, yeah, I can't wait. Their sound is always awesome. These are like very creative, fun plugins to use always, definitely.Malcom Owen-Flood:
Definitely. I recently fell back in love with Panman, for whatever reason, I don't know how to use that. Yeah, Panman's great, so so fun.Benedikt Hain:
Anyway, how did we get from like the coaching to Hamburg, to Soundtoys?Malcom Owen-Flood:
Just because it's like what is it six in the morning for me and I'm just bouncing around, all right, yeah, so just a quick reminder again.Benedikt Hain:
I'm glad you brought Hamburg up, if you got this email from me. I sent out an email to all of our subscribers asking people to like whether or not they would be able to come to this event, because we're trying to do to organize some sort of meet up there with our listeners, and a bunch of people raised their hands already and said they're going to be there, which is amazing. So if you got that email, please get back to me, reply, because we can only do it if we know that a certain number of people is coming. So we need to know, like, where to do it, how to do it, if it's worth organizing certain things, and so please let us know if you plan on coming to Hamburg and yeah, this is going to be super exciting. Look up, like Studio Szene, if you're from Germany. Google yeah, that word is impossible for English speaking people to Google, probably, but like it will be in the show notes, check out the event. We've talked about it a lot on the podcast already. It's going to be super cool. Back to today's episode, or is there anything else? Sorry, malcolm, I didn't even ask you like whatever.Malcom Owen-Flood:
Oh, let's keep going. All right, all right yeah.Benedikt Hain:
By the time this episode comes out, which will probably be next week. I will be happy if I'm still alive. That's the only thing I will. I want to say because, like, my big race is coming up on Saturday, so by the time you're hearing this, maybe you're hearing Benny from the past, and it's not the same person anymore. I don't know.Malcom Owen-Flood:
Yeah, we lost him to a giant mountain. God, yeah, okay, listen, really. I know that I've said this before, but you don't understand how crazy this guy is. It is the most obscene thing.Benedikt Hain:
We'll see. It's my first ultra marathon. It's happening on Saturday. I just want to say it now, because people don't have the chance to hear this before the race, so I don't really care if I like say something and then can't follow through, but it's going to be. You know, whenever you listen to this, it's already over. So, yeah, it's going to be exciting to see what actually happens. So my prediction is it will all go well. Of course, I will be completely trashed in the evening, of course, and it will be completely different than what I expected to be in many ways, and we'll yeah, I don't know, we'll see.Malcom Owen-Flood:
It's going to be insane. I've got your hard facts messages sent me here. It's 68 kilometers, 2500 meters up. That's elevation. 13 gels, three highly concentrated carb drinks which I'm curious what those are four liters of water, potatoes and fruit at the aid station. Let's go.Benedikt Hain:
Yeah, that's my. I made a race plan yesterday I finished the race plan yesterday where I take the gels and the drinks and the water and the and everything Like it's in between aid stations and on the aid stations and so on and so forth. We got to plan that shit. And for an ultra like that, yeah, those highly like. It's just plain sugar basically, but it's a company called Morton M-A-U-R-T-E-N they that's the one that I. You know my body tolerates them the best you know they're crazy expensive but like I can just take obscene amounts of carbs and calories while running with those Keep energy. Yeah, exactly. So I'm like taking 13 of these gels and then three of these drinks and it's still not nearly what I'm burning. So I have to eat in between, like potatoes and fruit and whatever on the aid stations, but this will get me through, I think so.Malcom Owen-Flood:
I'll see. Yeah, it's such a like testament to why you're such a great coach because, like, you've got literally a spreadsheet on how you're going to do this run, mapped out every detail you can imagine. It's so awesome. And then, below all of this, there's plan B, which is just finish. Cut off is 13 hours. Yeah, just survive.Benedikt Hain:
That's the plan B. That's the plan B. When it's like, if I get off, you know, if I, you know, for whatever reasons, if anything happens, that lets me not follow through with this plan, like I'm just trying to crawl over the finish line. I don't know, we'll see.Malcom Owen-Flood:
Yeah, you got this man, I'm sure you're going to crush it. Yeah, we'll see.Benedikt Hain:
Yeah, 10 hours is the goal. 13 hours is the cutoff, so I have to be at the goal in 13 hours. 10 hours would be awesome, we'll see. Anyway, now back to this episode. Can't wait to tell people that I dropped out after like 10K or so. I forgot to tie your shoes, yeah something you know everything could happen. You can like twist an ankle after you know 5K it's over. So we'll see.Malcom Owen-Flood:
Anyway, so back to today's episode.Benedikt Hain:
Malcolm did what I said about this topic. Does this make sense to you? Does this resonate Like? Do you know what I mean here?Malcom Owen-Flood:
Yeah, because what I really think is that a lot of the times we think about mixing or audio production in such a technical way and we forget what it's all about, like the song, the music and how it feels, and you know when I'm guilty of this as well or like sometimes people get, I guess, get wrong what I'm trying to teach sometimes. So I get comments on, for example, standout mixes, the free course that I put out there, that it's about balancing, and I get comments like the best mixes in the world are not balanced and it's not about, like you know, this and that and I know I'm not talking about a static balance or a certain thing that you always do so that the mix is perfect. I'm balancing things so that they serve the song and I'm doing it part by part, sometimes bar by bar. You know, sometimes it's an individual hit that needs to be loud or whatever. I'm trying to serve the song and I always ask myself what's the essence of this part of the song? Because not everything in the arrangement or the mix is equally important at all times, and so this is why I wanted to talk about this, and it's kind of hard to wrap your head around it sometimes and a lot of people want to know the tactics and how to EQ, how to compress and all of that. But it's really just about the music at the end of the day, and that's all the listener cares about. And so how do you make that happen?Malcom Owen-Flood:
Yeah, I mean that is fascinating. I don't know where that misconception came that when people talk about a well-balanced mix, that it means that everything's the same volume. That's not what anybody ever meant. That's not a well-balanced mix and that's somehow what the song calls for. But it's probably not A well-balanced mix just means that everything is the volume it should be, which sounds impossible but like it's just is how it is kind of thing, and a lot of the time that does make sense in a more like linear, logical kind of way where, like you know, a drum kit should sound like a drum kit, you know. If the snare is just twice as loud as everything else, that's going to sound unbalanced in a very logical way. But across the whole mix, once you've got a bunch of different instruments, maybe the guitars are a lot louder than the drums, but that still works for the song and that could be still a balanced mix.Benedikt Hain:
Absolutely, totally agreed. I think it all comes down to a couple of questions, for me at least, and I think if you find the answers to these questions, it might transform the way you mix and produce, because and I don't know if you've ever asked yourself this people listening. So to me, those questions are what is the song about? This is one question like how is it supposed to feel? How did you come up with it and I'll get to what I mean with it Like how did you write the song? How did the song even, you know, appear to exist and everything, and like. So these are important questions to me, and so I want to start with the first one there, which is what is the song about? What I mean here? Is it a sad song? Is it an angry song? Is it a happy song, whatever? And you can always ask yourself does whatever you're doing right now to the mix, the arrangement or whatever? Does that actually sound angry or happy or sad? And this is a very non-technical question to ask yourself. It's not about specific tactics, it's just like what is it supposed to feel, like what's the song about? And I feel that sometimes, when I listen to mixes, I have the impression that people don't ask themselves this, because sometimes it's clearly meant to be an angry song or a sad song, but it doesn't sound like that at all to me, and so somebody missed it, and so that's why I wanted to bring this up.Malcom Owen-Flood:
I mean, there's one little amendment I want to make to that and it's that, yeah, it needs to sound a certain way, like a certain emotion. You need to make sure you get that right, but that doesn't always necessarily correspond with the content. The song that just came to mind is like. I don't know if this was a big hit over in Germany for you, benny, but over here it was huge. It was a song called Pumped Up Kicks by the Cold War Kids. It's like a powder school shooting, but it sounds like a happy, kind of like pop song, which makes it even more powerful and yeah, yeah, like they kind of disguise this thing and it's like when you listen you're like, oh, oh, they kind of snuck this message in there, but it's a very intentional choice. Still, right, it's not like it happened. They made a mistake and forgot it was a sad song and made it happy. You know, it's like this was totally intentional and then, like on the flip side, like rage against the machine, anything by them is just anger. It's like the angriest mixes or productions period, like it's just it conveys that they're angry and that is, you know, in line with the subject matter. So that is a match there. But both are right. It's just that they were intentional and then they pulled that off.Benedikt Hain:
Oh yeah, absolutely Glad you brought that up. Sometimes the message can be even more powerful if you use something like that and you do the opposite of what would be obvious, basically, if it's intentional. But what I often mean is what I mean here is things like I often get mixes from, let's say, hardcore or metal bands, with, like somebody screaming their guts out and it's obviously an angry, aggressive song, but then the drums sound like someone's hitting a soft pillow, you know, or whatever, and it's just not it doesn't. You know, I can hear what they want it to do, but it just doesn't, you know, come through, it just doesn't feel right, it doesn't have the impact, or the guitars are so dull, there's no bite, there's no. You know, everything's far away, not close enough and things like that, or something is really way too quiet when it's to me the voice of the part or the song, and should be like upfront. You know, things like that, and I think it all starts with learning what you actually can do and what works and what makes a song sad or angry or happy or whatever. So, which means think about, you know, are there songs that you like, that you enjoy, that are happy, angry, sad or the opposite of what the lyrics are about, but they are powerful in any way? Like, what are some songs that you really like, or where you really like how they feel? And then just listen to those songs and try and analyze them and try to think, like, what is it that makes this so angry? Is it that the drums are crazy, punchy, like hard hitting? Is there a big room? Is it dry? Is there a big reverb? Is it, you know, is it bright, is it dark? Which elements are loud. Just try to analyze a bunch of things and sort of build your knowledge like your taste in a way. And I think it all starts with that, because you really have to know this when you hear it before you can implement it to your own music. I think that's where it really starts, because if people would compare their mix to whatever other thing they enjoy that has the same kind of vibe, if they really did that they would realize that one has hard hitting drums and the other one's just too soft, for example. But you have to do it and really listen for those details.Malcom Owen-Flood:
That's a great point. I think a lot of people, maybe when they're starting out, think that it's all about the vocal that's going to translate the emotion of the song and they forget that all of the other instruments have to do it as well. So it's easy to be like well, I wrote this song, the lyrics and my voice are going to represent the mood of it, but if you don't translate that to all of the other instruments in your production, then it's just going to miss.Benedikt Hain:
Yes, absolutely, and I think that is much more important. That step is much more important in the beginning than like the tactics and which kind of stuff, like the tactics and which compressor ratio or attack or release or whatever. You first got to know what you actually want to achieve and then you can think about how to get there. But you've got to know that first and have that vision, and you're going to know when it's right or wrong. So that's where I would start. Now, the next thing that I think is really interesting is the concept of thinking about which instrument the song was written on. Because when I open up a mix and I know that like a new mixing session, and I know that the band wrote the song on a guitar, which is very often the case in the genre that I'm working in Somebody wrote this alone at home, maybe on an acoustic guitar even, or just solo on a guitar. They came up with a riff or something. That's how the song started, and then they build up something around that riff or they add another riff, but it all happens on the guitar. At some point they program some drums to it just so they have some kind of beat, but it's kind of an afterthought, and then that's usually one way that a lot of these songs come together. And when I know that, when I open up the mixing session, I can start bringing up those guitars, figuring out the main riff, figuring out the main theme of the song, and then I know, okay, this is the essence, this is what they liked about it. They liked this riff. It feels a certain way, it has this chord progression or whatever. There's something about it where I know, okay, this is how it all started and everything else sort of got added to it later. And then, yeah, the drums are always important and so on and so forth, but usually there's some element that started the song and that is definitely important. That is not something that I want to have buried in the mix and that is something I want to bring up early in the mix, that I want to build other things around. And there might be other elements that are there to support it, but not nearly as important. And there are some bands that start, you know, or some songs that start with the groove and then the drum and the bass is the most important thing, or a vocal line, whatever you have. But if it's your own music. I think it's worth thinking about what was the initial idea, what was it that made me write the song in the first place and what did I like about it when it was really fresh? And you have to try, and I think, preserve that throughout the mix and not, you know, lose it at some point.Malcom Owen-Flood:
Yeah, I do have this thing that I like called the acoustic guitar test, but really it just means whatever instrument you first wrote it on test. But this definitely applies to well, it applies to a lot of people. But it's just this kind of exercise where when we're in pre-production with a band, they've got send me all these songs and then we're trying to workshop it and if something's just not clicking it's like okay, just record this song with just an acoustic guitar assuming that's what they wrote it on originally or just like one instrument. Record the song with just a vocal and one instrument and don't send me a version until it's a good song, because if you remove all those other elements it needs to still be a good song. Like if you remove the extra synth you added, just make the course more interesting. Does the course suck now or is it good? Like you need to have a good song just at its core. So that's kind of the acoustic guitar test. Yeah, I agree, and often that works best by going back to the instrument it was first written on. But you know, even changing that out can actually lead to a totally different direction as well. But at its core, making a good song at that stage will just make it so much better once you've got everything else in there.Benedikt Hain:
Yes, absolutely I love this test and, and yeah, if you don't have a guitar, it could be the, you know, keyboard test, whatever guitar, piano test, I don't know, but same thing, yeah, totally could be a bass guitar like.Malcom Owen-Flood:
It just needs to be like If one person can't play the song and have it be a good song. I think there's more work to be done.Benedikt Hain:
Yes, yes, absolutely. Also a good way to think about it is, I Sometimes thought about, like what would this band do or this artist if they were to play this at a very small venue with like minimal, you know, technical equipment, like in an you know the smallest possible way you could bring this on to stage, and it would still work. Like what would that be? And then all of the additional, the post-production, goes away. All of the additional guitar layers go away, a lot of them, maybe even the vocal layers go away and what's left is maybe you know, the basic beat, kick snare and maybe some micro timing element like hi-hat, so whatever, some percussion, whatever the genre is. Then there would be the root note, the bass line or something. There would be vocals and then some Thing that plays the chord progression, the guitar or a keyboard or whatever. But like that, that would be it. And and Does same thing, like, does the song still work if you remove all the other stuff? And that actually brings me to the next Point here. Where's where I I wanted to say, when you start a mix, go through a discovery process, even if it's your own song and I've, of course, you know, your own song but like, when you start the mix, like you should do it with a little bit of a distance between the production and the mix, anyways, I think so you can start somewhat fresh and then, when you throw up the faders, you just Go through a quick discovery process and pretend you've you hearing the song for the first time. So all the faders down and then you move something up and it's like oh, here's the guitars, interesting, what are they doing? Like, here's a baseline, oh, here's a kick and a snare, and you balance things and you try to find what's actually going on in the song and what are the very few key elements that the song can't live without. And in my case this is usually like kick, snare, the main guitar riff, the baseline, or like the root note that plays along with that, maybe, and then the lead vocal. And if I balance those things out really well and if I find good tones for this, for this, everything else Doesn't really matter as much anymore. I don't. I mean, it's all kind of important, but the song would still work if it was only for these like elements and and if you can make those sound really good without Compromise and everything else sort of can build around that. That's. That's half the battle, actually, or more than that, and and I think it's worth doing that, rather than trying to make every single thing that's in the arrangement like equally important and pristine and stuff like, focus on a few key Things, figure them out quickly and then try to preserve them, try to make sure that they stay the focal point, and then there's gonna be, you know, one specific focal point for each part and stuff like that. But really try to think about it like that what are the very few elements that you absolutely need?Malcom Owen-Flood:
Yeah, I love that. Just boil it down to its core.Benedikt Hain:
Yeah, totally. So what do you think about this whole not everything needs to be crystal clear thing? Because I've heard Like my opinion is that a few key things. Of course they are the focal point. They need to sound the way you want them to sound. But there may be things in the arrangement that you feel more than you hear them. It's okay if they don't stand out as much they support the rest. They can be layers in the background. It's my goal when I'm mixing is not that I can hear every single thing that's in the arrangement like equally well, like that's not. That's not my goal. I want to create a good song as a whole and I want to make sure it feels great to the listener, and I don't really care about each Individual thing necessarily. But I've heard some not many. Most people agree, I think, with what I just said, but I've heard some Very successful, very good mixing engineers say things like Every single thing needs to sound awesome in solo, or everything single thing needs to be crystal clear all the time. I've heard that a couple of times and I don't know. What do you think about this?Malcom Owen-Flood:
I don't think that's true. No, like, and I think most I would say most pros I mean kudos to those folks that make that work but I would say most pros say that something sound terrible in solo and that's why they work in the mix. Yeah, yeah, I don't, I don't care at all what it sounds like in solo. Like vocal line is probably tool you use, right, benny. Yeah, yeah, vocal line for anybody that doesn't know will take like double of your vocal and Pitch and timing align it to your lead vocal so you can just like, with a click of a button, really tighten up your vocal layers and it makes things sound a lot tighter and usually better for at least the rock, the rock music I'm doing. But if you solo those tracks after that process has been done, it sounds ugly and terrible and like there's artifacts and. But it doesn't matter because it's doing a job and in the mix it's way better. So like, yeah, I couldn't care less what they sound like in solo and that's, there's for some reason gonna be a version where that stuff would be louder.Benedikt Hain:
Then you have to consider it, but like, 99% of the time, not a, not an issue totally, and to me it's like it's actually good that some things are not really clear in the mix and others are, because how can something be really up front and big and obvious when everything's trying to be that? I think there can only be a dynamic or like a back and like a front and back in the you know a depth, when, when some things are not really clear, when some things you know, there's this got to be this contrast to me. I don't know if I try to make everything really pristine and I try to make everything crystal clear. Depending on the arrangement, it might work, but that's kind of boring to me. I want the difference between the thing that's up front and grabs my attention and the other thing that's Behind it and supports it. That's, you know.Malcom Owen-Flood:
So yeah, yeah, yeah. The like, a big mix is all contrast. So if everything is big, nothing is big.Benedikt Hain:
Yeah, if you wanted explosive snare sound, something else has to give totally, totally and, and you know, sometimes I there's a lot of tracks, sometimes in a session where are often actually that I don't do anything or not much to them. Like, for example, I might, you know, quickly check that there's a hi-hat track, for example, okay, like, put a you know hi-pass on it and put it somewhere on the side where it, wherever it is in the in the overhead picture, and just call it the day and I just find out the volume for it and that's it. I don't tweak this hi-hat track Forever or like some simple things like that. You know, it's like my kick snare, vocal bass, these things I do whatever I can to make them as good as I can. But the hi-hat that's just doing the micro timing or whatever. As long as there's not a, as long as it sounds okay and there's no problem. I just find a spot in the stereo image, I find a volume and I don't, you know, spend any more time doing like, working on it.Malcom Owen-Flood:
Yeah, so it's just 100%. One example yeah. Yeah, yeah like if I pull up the organ track and it sounds like an organ should, I might not need to do anything. The job could be done if it's just padding along like yeah, it's just like okay, that fills that hole, I don't need to make it the best sounding organ in the world, because nobody's gonna just listen to the organ.Benedikt Hain:
Totally. Yeah, these, these keys or additional production elements are a good example of that. Oftentimes, when people send me this stuff, they sound good the way they are and they're often heavily processed already and all I need to do is like, try to find a level for them and then when I, when I feel like okay, I can't bring him up so that they work without them stepping on other things, I just, you know, find spots where I can carve out a little space for the vocal or whatever, and and, yeah, and that's, that's really it. I just just try to find pockets for everything a little bit. But that's about what I, what I do to them. It's not that I mangle them as I would with like a snare drum or a lead vocal and stuff. So, yeah, cool, yeah, and this, this is why, you know, I don't know what you said in the beginning. I don't know either why people get the idea of balancing so wrong, because balancing, to me at least, is not a static balance. Balancing means I balance every part, every transition, every whatever of the song so that it works. And this might mean that I bring a single drum fill up and then I bring it down again after this drum fill. That might mean that there's a subtle bass lick. That just feels awesome because it's like a call-and-response thing with what happens in the vocal. I don't know, and I just bring up that little lick in this moment because it feels right. It's not that I find a static thing throughout the entire song, and there's multiple ways of doing that. I start with clip gain in the beginning, then there's automation later. But to me a balance means that the song sounds and feels exactly like I wanted to in terms of levels, but not the static thing. That just stays the way it is. If you ever seen someone mix a live show, like a good front of house engineer. They're working the faders all the time. It's not that they set the levels and then they hang outside until the show's over. They're doing it all. They are part of the show. And it's very similar to me when I'm mixing a song in the studio. I have to interact with the music in a way.Malcom Owen-Flood:
Yeah, it's a performance. At the end of the day it's a very slow, plotted-out performance, but it happens Totally.Benedikt Hain:
I love that about Michael Brower. By the way, he said that when he stopped being a drummer in an active touring band and then he did more studio work, he missed being on stage and performing so much and he always saw himself as a performer, as an artist, and not as a technical person. That was kind of a bummer in the beginning, but then he discovered that the console was now his instrument, or he was performing while he was mixing, and he realized that he could now play all the instruments at once. He could just play the song, and that's what he did and it still does, and I love this concept, this idea of you perform the song as you mix and you find things that need to be louder or quieter, and you do cool things and you're actively interacting with the music and engaging with it. It's a completely different approach to just seeing it from a purely technical, static standpoint.Malcom Owen-Flood:
Totally. Yeah, there's another big misconception of balancing which we should make that the episode title Misconceptions of balancing. It comes to tonal EQ curves as well. People sometimes think, well, it needs to sound like equally bassy and treble, it needs to sound flat and not too bright or not too dark, and that's another thing. No, it needs to suit whatever arrangement or the song is calling for. So that could be a very bright and extremely lacking a low end bass, even like something. That counterintuitive could totally happen. And just like again, it has nothing to do with a logical balance. It has everything to do with a creative balance.Benedikt Hain:
Yeah, glad you brought it up. I think that is a problem with many modern productions or DIY productions because people record, quote, unquote, flat all the time, where, you know, in a big studio with all professional like engineers, producers, they would make decisions and commit and print those and things that get recorded would sound a certain way and not flat in any way, but like whatever fits the song and the music and they would like, yeah, make both creative decisions, use the gear they have and record whatever they liked. And these days kind of the idea is you just plug a microphone into the preamp, turn up the gain and then you record and you don't do anything to it which can work. You know all the sound happens in the mix then if you do that, but if you're the same person, it's kind of kind of difficult and I think this whole idea of like everything needs to be flat and careful and you know it's kind of a problem because things can be you know, I don't know what to say. You just said it perfectly, malcolm Things can sound lo-fi or strange or weird if it's the right choice for the song and you can make those decisions and you don't need to make sure that everything sounds flat all the way from like recording to the finished thing. It's like what is flat even. Why would that be good?Malcom Owen-Flood:
Yeah, just don't make the mistake of when you open up your EQ, don't think, okay, like what is missing, that's not the thought, because that only makes sense if you're in solo.Benedikt Hain:
Yeah, totally Also. If you're using analyzers, that's also that's really what this boils down to.Malcom Owen-Flood:
Don't mix in solo.Benedikt Hain:
Yeah, it's right, it's all about context, right? That's really what it boils down to. I also think if you mix with analyzers which I do and I think they're great tools this is also dangerous for some people and you need some practice. And I've fallen into this trap a lot in the past, actually, where I inevitably started mixing with my eyes which I still do to degree. But what I mean is like I was looking at the curve and although it sounded perfectly fine, I was thinking there is a hole at whatever 800. And so I felt like I had to fill it. Or I was thinking, oh, it looks pretty flat. But I know that a lot of songs that I have this dip at 400 or 300 because there's a lot of the mud oftentimes and people clean it up, and so mine doesn't have that, and so my instinct goes to like maybe I should clean it up when it might be perfectly fine having that thicker lower midrange in that particular song. Right, so you can use those tools and you should, but be very careful and, at the end of the day, trust your instinct and do whatever the song calls for and what you think sounds and feels great, even if it looks weird, and I know this is hard to learn but like this is very, very dangerous because we automatically we can't help it, but we automatically think, oh, this can't be right.Malcom Owen-Flood:
Yeah, I want to circle the episode back to like. At the beginning you said, like I know what I want the song to sound like, but it like when I'm done recording it it's not there. Or like my demo sounded good but then once I added everything it's no longer there. Like going back to that. There's a couple things that could be to play here. One is like demo itas definitely happens when you're new to this. You're just like infatuated with whatever you've managed to record for the first time. There's two types of people. There's people that are in love with whatever they recorded for the first time, or there's people that are horrified. You're one of those two, so don't worry, let's say everybody. But like, yeah, like, if you are one of those people that's in love with whatever you first laid down, you get a scratch track down steer, guitar and vocal and then you add a bunch of other stuff and then you're horrified by the end of it. It might just be demo itas that you were in love with it, and if you actually go back and realize that this wasn't all that great, or it might be everything else we covered in this, that you added a bunch of stuff that doesn't really suit the initial vision. So there's that, but the real thing I wanted to talk about was that I think there is a learning process into how to record believable performances in isolation. So if you're overdubbing, this happens with new vocalists a lot. They're used to singing it with a band or with their guitar in their hand and now they've got to sing it alone in a booth with just headphones on, and that's a totally different thing, and it just takes a little bit of practice to be able to still tap into that emotion that you can do on stage, and it's a skill that I think everybody yes, absolutely Great, great, great points.Benedikt Hain:
How do you, I mean? I think it's more difficult, as always, when you do it all by yourself, like when it's all you doing, everything from writing to recording, to mixing and so on, but I still think it comes down to these few key elements. Really, I think, if you lost whatever you liked in the beginning, try to remind yourself of what that actually was that you liked, because in the beginning there wasn't a lot. Probably you were focusing on certain things. You started the song on a guitar or whatever. You added a beat to it, and then you added more and more and more over time, thinking you're making it better, and then at some point you kind of got off track and it doesn't feel good anymore. So what was it in the beginning that immediately made you like it or made you excited about it? It's probably not much. It's probably just the riff or a groove or the combination of both. At this point, you haven't thought about all the other things that you added later, and so are those things still clear in your mix? Are those still up front? Are these the focal point, or have other things now taken over? Are there layers and layers of stuff that is not nearly as important. Or, and then also you're totally right about the whole performance thing. Maybe when you first played it you were excited about it. You played it a certain way that was fun, and in the process that kind of went away and you were focusing too much on perfection. Or, you know, it just didn't have for whatever reason, didn't have the vibe anymore. Maybe you started playing it and then decided to program it and now it sounds Whatever it was that you liked in the beginning. I think it all comes down to these few key elements of the arrangements and then how it was played like why did that sound or feel cool to you? You have to figure that out, and that's also why we always say do pre-pro and capture your demos as often, as much as possible, like just document everything, because you want to be able to go back to that initial phase and double check like what was it that sounded cool about this? And it happens to me I think to you as well, malcolm sometimes in the mix too where you know you start with a rough mix and the song is exciting and you can't wait to mix this, and then at some point it doesn't feel like that anymore. And then you go back to your first rough mix and you're like oh, that was cooler in whatever way. And then you go and address this and now all of a sudden it works again.Malcom Owen-Flood:
So this, at least to me, it happens sometimes where I'm sure we both agree that it happened a lot more when we were learning our craft as well, so it's one of those progress things. Normally I'm not starting a mix or scratch again, but back when I was first starting, especially when I didn't have a clue what acoustic treatment was, I was constantly being like I just got a grenade, this and start over, and that was what it took sometimes.Benedikt Hain:
Yeah, and sometimes it's not. I don't mean like Sometimes you don't have to completely start over, but just last week, for example, I or not last week we did revisions now, but I finished it. A couple of weeks ago. I finished the first version of a metal album mix. That is really really cool, really exciting, and I remember when I was finishing the mix, shortly before I sent it out to the band, I was excited about it, but I had a feeling that something, I don't know, something, was not the way I wanted it to be, and then I went back to our raw record. That was one of the last projects that I also produced and this project was going on forever. But I went back to our original recordings. I went back to the rough mix and then I discovered, oh, the bass is actually super interesting, which is not often in metal, that the bass is that important in a, so that it, like it, does way more than just support the guitars. The dude plays really cool licks and riffs and the way he plays the sound, he has everything about it. To me it's almost the voice of those songs. It's very unique, very special about this band and in the rough mixes, and so we always had it pretty loud and I was just always excited about that bass and so I turned it up. And then in the mix, I did what I often do with metal mixes and buried it a little more or focused. It was there, but it was not as upfront. And so I went back to those mixes, figured that out, turned up the bass and that was really all I needed. I turned it up, added a little more mid-range bass, cut through more and all of a sudden there it was, there was the initial excitement and now it was perfect. So sometimes I just need that sort of reminder.Malcom Owen-Flood:
Totally, totally. This is such a big part of why high-level producers are so gung-ho on hiring amazing studio drummers and we all have our guy or girl, our studio drummer that we're like. We want to use them because we know we're going to get a certain amount of energy off of them. That will make it so easy in the mix. If I can get Marcus Mann has to play on a track, I know that my mix is going to be super easy because he's going to translate the emotion of the song into his performance and it's like that 25% mixed bam. There we go.Benedikt Hain:
It's crazy how that works.Malcom Owen-Flood:
I've got a guitarist for that. In country music you build your arsenal and you don't always have that luxury, especially as a self-recording band. Sometimes you got to do it all yourself, but it takes practice to get up to that level. It takes experience. So just think about it that way that every time you do a new song it's going to get a little bit better and you're going to get more capable of pulling that off. And if it's within your means to bring other people into the fold, look for that, look for people that can do that, because it's like a really magical special skill.Benedikt Hain:
Oh, yes, absolutely. And the performance trumps everything. Really like the song and the performance, those two things. This is why this episode is not technical at all. This is really the point of all of this that you can't. Just don't forget that it's all about the song and the art, and this is more important than everything else. If that doesn't work, whatever you do afterwards doesn't really matter. And so, yeah, you got to think about it. How does it feel? What makes you excited about it? What are the elements that really speak to you? And follow your instinct too. You might want to do something unconventional, you might want to do something that is not typical for the genre, whatever. But if your gut tells you that this is exactly what you like about it and it speaks to you emotionally or whatever, just go for it, do it. And if it fails, better, now and next time you can try something else. But I think good art is not safe. You just have to experiment, you have to be bold, you have to trust your gut in a way. It's not something you can calculate or follow a certain formula. You can have processes around everything to make your life easier, but those processes are there to help you be even more creative and focus more on those things actually. So this is really what it's all about. One thing, malcolm, I want to ask you. I said like maybe, if that's something I do when the song was written on a guitar, that I focus early on in the mix, maybe on that guitar riff, if that is really the most important thing of the song. Although I do that, I might still work on the drums first. And what I wanna why I'm saying this is for some people it works that they bring up sort of the guitars first or the vocal first, start the mix that way and then add drums later. And I mean it all starts with the balance of everything, but then at some point you go into the individual elements and for some people it's starting with something else on the drums. For me it's just drums. But I'm curious to hear your opinion on this, malcolm. I can only do that because I've gone through the discovery process first and because I have the experience that I know, okay, there's this riff, this is gonna be very important. Or there's this lead vocal, this is gonna be very important. And even if I focus on the drums now, I do that with the other thing in mind. You know, I know what the, I have enough experience now and I've listened to the song and what's in there first so that I know if I do this to my kick and the snare it will sound cool but it will not get in the way of the thing that is really important. So I can do that and still respect the really important element of the song, sort of.Malcom Owen-Flood:
Does that make sense? Yeah, yeah, no, the balance is still king. So there's always that initial rough balance where you're listening to the song, poking around, looking at the different tracks, and when I start mixing, I'm usually drums first too, but everything else is turned up. At this point I'm just soloing the drums for a little bit to do their mixing, and then I'm bringing everything in step by step.Benedikt Hain:
And you have that in mind. But if you know there's like a ton of really bright guitars, you probably keep that in mind while you're tweaking the drums, or if you know that there's no really bright element and you're comparing against them, right?Malcom Owen-Flood:
Yeah, it's not like they're muted and won't be brought up for four hours, like you're gonna be checking against them because, again, context.Benedikt Hain:
Totally. Sometimes, or like sometimes, I have a mix where the guitars are really dark and the band tells me maybe they want it that way and there's no really bright element there's. You know, everything's really dark. And then when I tweak the drums, I might either make the decision to make them brighter, so that at least something is shiny and bright, or I might make the drums way darker than I usually do, because I want the overall mix to be dark and I wanted to blend well with the guitars, whatever. But I keep that in mind in a way and yeah, I think this is really important. Or maybe there are some bands that are kind of heavy, you know, are kind of heavy, but don't really have a guitar or just one guitar, but they might have keys or a very aggressive bass, and then you gotta find some other element that does the mid-range part that usually the guitar does. And then you, you know, whatever the song calls for, there's no one way of doing it. Like I might mix a bass or a piano completely differently if there's no big guitars in the way. But if there are, you know, everything changes. So 100%.Malcom Owen-Flood:
Yeah, lots to think about in there. I think we gave a very broad overview on this topic, on this episode.Benedikt Hain:
Yeah, I think so too. If you have any questions about this or if you're still wondering how to actually implement this, just let us know. Or go to the surfrecordingbandcom slash call and book a free call with me, because then we can listen to your music together and I can give you feedback. I can tell you, like as a first time listener of your song, I can tell you how it feels to me, like if I thought it was exciting or if it was like if the emotion came across, and you know, because I got the objectivity there. So that is really really helpful. And I can also show you some ways of like how to actually implement that, to to like how to make that work. I know this episode was not really actionable but again, I think if you find the answers to those questions like what is really important, what's the essence of the song, what is the focal point of the part, what made me love it in the first place, and all these things Then I think you make different mixing, production decisions and really also do the whole learning thing where you compare a lot of other songs, songs that you like, with your own music. I think that is what people should do more often is really training their year, analyzing other songs and comparing them to their own. Yeah, long story short, I think it's. It doesn't seem very actionable, but it actually is, in a way, and it actually is something that you should, can and should implement. And if you need help with it, go to thesurfrecordingbatcom slash call. All right, there you go, there you go. Thank you for listening and, yeah, talk to you next week.Malcom Owen-Flood:
See you next week. Bye
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