75: The One Engineering And Mixing Skill That Will Give You 80% Of The Results

Balancing - 75: The One Engineering And Mixing Skill That Will Give You 80% Of The Results

There's one thing that we immediately pick out as listeners...

...even if we don't have very trained ears and even if we're not very experienced or familiar with the genre:

We immediately notice when something is way too loud or way too quiet.

And we subconsciously notice when the song doesn't feel right, maybe because it's hard to make out the bass line, or the drum groove is just not hitting hard enough, or there's this weird, buried thing in the background that's distracting us, while something else is jumping out too much.

We might not be able to put it into words, but we definitely notice when there's something wrong with the balance.

So there is one skill that we have to learn and constantly improve as engineers and mixers if we want our music to translate well and deliver all the emotion and energy with minimal distraction: 

Balancing. Simply finding the right levels for every track in every part of the song and every mic on a every source that we record.

Technically it's super simple, but it's also incredibly difficult to get right. If you get it right, however, assuming that your source tones are good, you're 80% there. Without touching an EQ, compressor or effect.

Let's discuss!


This episode was edited by Thomas Krottenthaler.

The VU-Meter Plugin We've Recommended In The Episode:

Klanghelm - VUMT

Automatic Episode Transcript — Please excuse any errors, not reviewed for accuracy (click for full transcript)

TSRB Podcast 75 - Balancing

[00:00:00] Malcom: [00:00:00] Of concerts. Everybody goes to a show and is like, I can't hear the vocals. Or like, why is that bass guitar so loud or, you know, stuff like that. We, we pick up volume first and then not at all. All of that is sorted out to be somewhere in the book. 

Benedikt: [00:00:16] 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. To the surf recording band podcast. I am your host and at a time, and I'm here with my friend and cohost Malcolm Owens. How are you Malcolm? Hello? 

Malcom: [00:00:37] I'm good, man. How are 

Benedikt: [00:00:38] you? I'm good too. Thank you. Um, we've been talking before we started this episode and I told you about myself, but I didn't hear about you.

So go ahead. What's next? 

Malcom: [00:00:48] Well, I thought, uh, for this episode, I would talk about, uh, the need for a good sun hat still. I don't know if you're not in our Facebook community, you would have missed this. So this is yet another reason to go check out our [00:01:00] Facebook community and probably the worst reason, but our podcast editor, Thomas.

Photoshop than edit, like a picture of me wearing this ridiculous location, sound mixing hat. I mentioned on another episode, which is like a hat with holes cut in it so that you can have a sun hat, but also wear headphones, pretty ridiculous looking. And he did a really good job getting the edited. I got to say, it looks like I'm wearing the hat.

Um, yeah, pretty funny. But anyways, I didn't get that hat and I went and did another gig yesterday and I am yet again. Very sunburned. So this is all my fault, dude. I know. I thought I was working inside and I, uh, yeah. And there's just no way around it. This is all my fault. We have a heck of a town by the end of the year.

Benedikt: [00:01:49] Yeah, I I'm pretty sure you have. Yeah. So that means you, you were on, um, yeah. Film locations, right? 

Malcom: [00:01:56] Yes. Yes. I see. Not like a super allowed to talk about what [00:02:00] we were working on this. There's always these little NDA things, but I can say that we gave away over 3000 bags of chips. So it was a pretty fun game.

Benedikt: [00:02:11] When you said ships in Canada, do you mean chips or do you mean fries? 

Malcom: [00:02:15] We mean potato chips. Yeah. Yeah. Yes. Not fries, not fries. Okay, cool. Cool. 

Benedikt: [00:02:21] Yeah. 

Malcom: [00:02:21] Okay. Yeah. Wait, you're up. Your chip game is really weak. You guys don't have chips figured out. It's like a way of life over here. There's so many different flavors and different brands.

And I couldn't find, I found kettle chips in. In Denmark. I think when I was on tour there, um, and it was the only place in Europe, I found them and they were like, you know, 10 bags for a bag or 10 bucks for a bag or something crazy expensive. 

Benedikt: [00:02:47] You're totally right. I think we have them. Um, yeah, but it's not our, it's not what we're best at.

Malcom: [00:02:54] Right. Have you ever come over to Canada? I'm going to treat you to the Cusine of. Very high quality chips. 

[00:03:00] Benedikt: [00:03:01] Yeah. That that's that's that sounds like a plan. Awesome. Um, yeah, by the way, if I sound a little weird today or different, or if there is a lot of background noise or whatever, I'm not sure yet if that will be the case I'm using, um, because I'm using a new microphone because the.

Wonderful people from antelope audio sent me an  synergy core, I think. Is it called? It's called it's a USB mic. I think I posted it in the community once. Um, because I, I just saw it and thought it was a cool concept. It's like a USB mic and it has Mike modeling built into it. So you can switch between different mic models, um, emulations.

It has. Pre-amps there's a, B, B a E Neve, like thing simulation in there. There's API, EQs, and compressors, and all these things, um, built into the software and you can use all of those simulations and you have. It's an interface at the [00:04:00] same time, it's like one USB cable and it's like the interface and the mic in one thing.

And I just wanted to try it and they sent it over to me to try it. And now I am testing it and see if I'm going to keep it or not. Or I don't know. We haven't talked about that yet for now. I just have it. And I'm curious to hear if you think that's better or worse compared to our other episodes. So that's why I'm sounding a little weird.


Malcom: [00:04:23] Yeah. I mean, so far, I think it sounds good, man, from what I can hear just over the, the feed. So yeah, I'm excited to hear that 

Benedikt: [00:04:29] it as well. Cool. Yeah, me too. Me too. I'm just concerned about the room and the fan noise of my computer, because those are the two reasons I kept using the SM seven as we've been talking about a lot and we always recommend to you guys, when you record it.

Uh, vocals, especially that you use, uh, or try a dynamic microphone for that very reason, because if your laptop is close to the mic, it will be pretty loud. The fans of it will be pretty loud. Mine is loud as hell. And then the room as well, um, is going to be a problem in many [00:05:00] rooms and with a condenser. Um, those, yeah, these are real issues.

And with the dynamic, you can sort of get around it a little bit. I'm curious, maybe my room is good enough. Maybe not. We'll see. 

Malcom: [00:05:13] We'll find out. Yeah. 

Benedikt: [00:05:15] All right. Um, other than that, um, we are talking about a basic audio concept today. That is probably one of the most important concepts, but or skills to have, but also one that I think many people don't think about too much or don't practice a lot because it seems so obvious and so simple and easy to do.

And that. Being able to create a proper balance, like just balancing out your tracks, setting the right volumes and pan positions without like touching plugins without que, without compression, just fader volumes, clip volumes, panning, um, just the levels of things like balancing that out properly. I think that is the most important thing in any mix and it doesn't matter how good your drum sound or your vocal sound.

If you [00:06:00] mess up the balance, the mix will not work and it will not. Um, translate well, and the emotion will not like come across. So I think that this is a really good mixing skill, but it also is good. Um, it's a good thing. Do you know, and how to do when you recording, because you want to do a rough mix, you want to hear things in relation.

You want to hear things in context, you want to be able to know to judge if a guitar too. Actually fits the song and you can only do that if you hear it in context and you have proper levels going. And so, yeah, I think balancing is really, really important. And I don't think that you practice it enough, maybe if you're listening right now, because I, for sure didn't for a long time, because like dialing any cues and compressors and all that as much more excited.

Then yeah, just moving faders and we all think we can already do that, but we probably can't. 

Malcom: [00:06:54] Yeah. Yeah. It's a lot less sexy than grabbing your favorite plugin or hardware or whatever you're [00:07:00] trying to use. And just like to change how the audio sounds on its own. Right. That's also something we've talked about a lot on this podcast is not working in solar.

Where we're working in context. So it's really easy just to solo the instrument you're focused on and start sculpting it. Right. But it doesn't really matter how it sounds on its own. It's matters, how it sounds in relation to everything else. And the main thing that dictates how that sounds with everything else is the volume of it.

Just straight up the volume of it. Second would be panning, I think. Um, so really when we say like, we're talking about the basics of balancing the mix. We're talking about volume and pan and just those two tools can get you so far. 

Benedikt: [00:07:43] Yeah, absolutely. And if you think about it, if you've ever played a song to a friend of yours or your spouse or family, I don't know.

Um, and you asked for feedback. The one thing they probably say, or the first thing they probably see is if they say anything, they say [00:08:00] the vocal is too loud or too quiet, or I can't hear the guitar or this is too loud or whatever. Like the first thing they're going to notice are the lines. They probably not.

They're probably not talking about, um, I don't know, transience or the DQ curve or whatever, like. Unless you really messed it up. Like they won't notice those things, but what they will notice is if something's too quiet or too loud, that's the first thing. And so that is obviously the most important thing.

And you don't want to mess, mess that up so that, I think that makes it really clear how important that really is. And even, even we, I think they'll come with, uh, like experienced ear. Um, when we listened to music and something is just not right. Like the level of it, it's just too quiet or too loud. It's it's like not, not, not, not pleasing to listen to not Austin.


Malcom: [00:08:51] It is just naturally the first thing that we'll pick out. Um, you're right. And it's the same at live concerts. Everybody goes to a show and is like, I can't hear the vocals. Or like, [00:09:00] why is that bass guitar so loud or, you know, stuff like that. Um, we, we pick up volume first and then not until all of that is sorted out.

Do we start worrying about tone? 

Benedikt: [00:09:09] Yes. Now, why do you think. Is it difficult? Or why can that even happen? That you end up with a wrong balance because you would think you listened to your song and you set the levels. And because you listen to music yourself, you should know how loud things are supposed to be, and then it should be fine.

So why is it the case that so many mixes are actually not well-balanced like, how can you end up with them with the wrong band? Um, 

Malcom: [00:09:36] I mean, it's so easy to wind up with a wrong balance. I think it's, I think it's a lot easier than it is to get a good one that like it's a skill I'm always working on. Um, it, uh, it's always different for one, you know, there isn't, I've seen people like make cheat sheets, like your bass guitar should be this many DB quieter than your kick drum or something.

It's like, that is just bullshit. Sorry. There's [00:10:00] no, that doesn't work. It's always dependent on. Everything Lakey though, the whole arrangement, the tones do play a role into how things would be perceived the volume as well. Um, just the speed of the song, the parts, the emotion behind it. Everything's different.

So it's always different. So you have to get really good at reacting. Um, and it's funny, I was thinking about this the other day and, uh, So much of what we do is actually using our ears. And we say that all the time, but what we really do is learn a new technique and then try and use it. But we're meant to just listen and respond.

No steps that we make in engineering or mixing or mastering should ever be done without us hearing something and wanting to change. But I think often we do things just because, just because we've heard of it being cool or it's something we did that worked on a previous mix or a previous song, but there should be no decision.

That's not made based on what our ears [00:11:00] hear. Um, and this is no exception. We just, we have to get really good at hearing. Two channels together or two or more channels together and figuring out what volume they need to live together at. And another reason getting back to your question, video for why it could be wrong.

Um, and it's that as you add things to your production, so it brings us to the context of recording your band. As you add things over w all of the work you put in before could potentially change based on the new thing that you have. Interesting. To your song. So you have to constantly rebalance as well.

Benedikt: [00:11:39] Yeah. Um, absolutely. I think you have to, and I think I just, while you were saying that I just wrote down a couple of things, so I don't forget it because I, I can think of a couple of, um, reasons or assume these are the reasons. And I know for a fact that these were reasons for my, for me, at least, um, that, that lead to people [00:12:00] making wrong balancing.

Um, so yeah, I, I agree that it will probably change throughout the project and you have to rebalance stuff and you, it starts with like balancing things out while you record. But I think that the main reasons for a wrong balance or a weird balance, eh, Monitoring too loud is it is a big one. I think I definitely, I have a very hard time.

I want to monitor loud often because I just want to feel how the song feels. And like, I have a volume, I have a couple of spots on my monitor controller that I like switch back and forth between like I have my standard listening Walliams and I have a very quiet volume and I have a super loud volume just so I can feel the low end and all that.

So that it's fun to listen to, to the mix like that. But I, I feel that if I listened too loud, um, that I can't, I like balancing is the hardest part when you're listening so loud. I think that you can't really hear the top end in relation to everything else. So, um, you can't really [00:13:00] hear like everything.

It's just, whenever I turn it down really quietly, I immediately notice if things jump. And that doesn't happen when I listened loud. I don't know. It's the compression that your ears automatically do. And it's like, I don't know, but I think that's a big one, like monitoring too loud. Um, I don't know if you would 

Malcom: [00:13:17] with that or, oh, entirely.

And it's, it's, it is tricky because I actually think. Tracking loud. There's some real good reasons to do it. Like you said, feeling the low end, just getting the musicians in the room on, on like an emotional level with the song that is easier at a high volume. It's fun, you know, keeping the mood up. Um, but to get the balance, right.

You have, have to turn it down. I, I, and I, yeah, I'll go so quiet that like the musicians in the room, right. Doing, give me a second. Give me a second. It's going to be better. 

Benedikt: [00:13:51] Absolutely. Especially the top end. If you've ever tried to balance high hats or symbols, for example, with the rest of the mix and you do that while you're listening [00:14:00] super loud, it's not going to work.

Um, the top end will likely be way too loud. Um, or like, yeah, probably too loud because I find, I, I can't hear at the top end properly, if I'm listening very loud, like the mid range and the low end and all that gets super loud, but the top end kind of disappears or my ears tend to ignore it. And if I turn it down, I noticed that I have symbols, for example.

So that's one thing. Yeah. Then. Yeah. And I, and the second one, and that kind of goes hand in hand with the first point here is. Fatigue. If you're listening for too long, if you don't take breaks or if you just know the song too well, if you've worked on it for too long and you're not objective anymore, then that leads to bad balancing decisions because it's, you're just so used to how things sound that you can still hear something that is actually too quiet and you don't turn it up enough because you just know what it should sound like or what it sounds like.

Um, even if it's very, very quiet, but that's not how a new person hears the song and you probably don't notice [00:15:00] that anymore. Or maybe something has been like, you don't like the sound of something or you've been battling an issue for a while, and then you turn it down too much because it's annoying you, but it actually has to be loud or whatever, like things like that.

And I think the more you work, the longer you work on a song. Um, your fatigue, you have the harder, it also gets to, to balance it out. And that's when you absolutely need feedback from someone else or just the longer break. Yeah. 

Malcom: [00:15:27] Yeah. There's a very, yeah, very good argument to balancing as early as you can, especially in the mix, you know, it's just should be step number one, I think.

Um, and, uh, and then taking breaks, getting context, you know, like all of these things are things we have to do just to have our year. Unbiased enough to do a good job at balancing. 

Benedikt: [00:15:50] Yeah, totally. And then the next one here, um, is in that deck is interesting now. And, uh, we need to talk about that in in-depth I think, and that [00:16:00] is that one reason for about balance is that people don't make a rough mix.

They don't really make a rough mix before they start to mix. What I mean by that is. And I did that for a long time as well. And I'm just starting to remind myself to have that again and then do it properly in a way. And that is like I would open a session and start a mix and I would immediately go to like the kick drum or the snare drum or whatever.

I would just have a quick listen. And then I would immediately jump into the individual elements and like tweak the kicked around, tweak the scenario, tweak the vocals, whatever. And before. Um, actually listen to the whole song and created a good balance. I'm like knees deep into like all those, um, you know, And I th I don't think that's good.

I think the better way to do it is to make really quick, intuitive, rough mix first, like, like you said, like react to the song, um, just hit play and set quick levels that just make sure you can hear everything clearly and just make sure you get familiar [00:17:00] with you. Make yourself familiar with the song and only do it by.

I'd say let's, that's something we need to discuss. I'd say leave the faders at zero. So you have full fader resolution and you can always that way you can also always go back to your rough mix easily if in case you screw up. So I tend to leave the faders it's zero and only grab the clip gain. Or if you have a gain knob or a gain plugin or something like that, you can use that.

But I do just with the clip gain and cube. And then I just go through the song and turn things up and down really quickly, just reacting to the song and find quick levels. And when I'm done with that, like one or two passes, I want to have a rough mix that so that I can like, that's just working. So when I hit play, I can hear the song.

I can hear everything. It's not sounding perfect, but I can hear the vocals. I can hear the kick drum. I can hear the snare drum. Um, and while I'm doing that, I've already identified a lot of the problems that I might need to address. If I don't do that and immediately start with the kick drum or the snare or the vocals or whatever, [00:18:00] I might address problems that are not really problems in context.

And I might take things out that don't really matter in the whole. Thanks thing. And so by making a proper rough mix first and intuitively, and very quickly, you'll have your initial reaction, your gut feeling, um, baked into that rough mix. And if you keep the faders at zero and you saved your sessions as our session, as a rough mix, you can always go back to that later.

You can just put the faders back to zero or like open up the rough mix. If you saved it as a separate thing and start over, if you need to, or just compare your rough initial balance with your mix later in the process. Um, just in case you lost perspective. So I think making a rough mix and saving it is a great way to make sure you still have a good balance in the end, because that first reaction is probably more accurate.

Um, then what you will do after working on it for eight. 

Malcom: [00:18:53] Absolutely. Yeah. To give some examples of, uh, focusing on something that might not matter. [00:19:00] Um, I think anybody that's gotten into recording drums has probably gone through a phase where they're way too concerned about bleed. You know, they're like, oh, there's like a little high hat in the snare.

And they're just like freaking out trying to figure out how to knock that out or gate it out or whatever. Exactly what you should do, but once you do a rough balance and there's, you know, a huge hi-hat groove in the song, it's like, oh, I should've just left that. It's out of fun. You know, like it doesn't have to go just because it's there.

Um, uh, another one might be like asses on vocals. We always record vocals last, unfortunately, I mean, we advocated for not doing that, but it often happens and your ears are exhausted and all of a sudden, like S noises are just like the worst noise on the planet to you. You just hate them. And you're freaking out about getting rid of assets and then you come back the next day and your singer has a list and it's like, whoops.

So, uh, yeah. Context is everything yet again. 

Benedikt: [00:19:54] Yeah, I agree. Absolutely. And I really think that this is such a good [00:20:00] way of such a good way of doing it. And I'm curious if you do the same or if you, if, if, if you've ever done the same, like the whole faders at zero thing, because now that I've explained it, this was like, when I started mixed, this is about mixing and I know that many of you, like if you're listening right now and you're mixed, I know chances are you're mixing.

We know because we've asked, asked our audience and we will actually do a little more, um, mixing content in the future as well, because a lot of you are mixing and maybe you just do a rough mix or demos, but still you probably, um, yeah. Play around with that. And so this was relevant for you if you're mixing, but it's also relevant for you if you're just recording, because I think building that rough mix, that rough balance and use edit as well.

Crucial from the beginning. It's I think you should do that. You might have to rebalance, you might have to adjust things. You want to have the thing you're recording right now. You want that to be the loudest thing probably, but still you should in between. Sessions or whatever, you should still [00:21:00] make rough mixes and create a quick balance and see if everything's working together the way you intended.

That's just, no, there's no way around it. I think. And in both scenarios, I'll do the faders at zero thing. I didn't do that for a long time, but I really enjoy it now, like when you record and you leave the faders in the doll at zero and you just turn up the mic preamp loud enough so that what you recording is at the right volume in context to everything else.

Yeah. You'll already have a rough mix when the recording is done, like you don't even have to create one. The rough mix is already there from the beginning and in most home studio scenarios, you don't have, um, preempt that, do anything special if you crank them. So there's no reason to record hot. And we've, we've talked about that on the podcast already.

And even if you do have gear that requires you to crank it, maybe there's an output knob or something like that, or another way to just turn it down. But I find. Recording quiet. If the source is supposed to be quiet [00:22:00] is a great way of doing it. And that way you, you just build one thing on top of the other, you always have your rough balance, your rough mix, and you don't have to do as much later to come up with that rough mix.

And I don't know if you do the same, but I really enjoy this whole feed is at zero thing a lot. And I try to keep it that way throughout the whole process. And whenever I, I changed something, whenever I process something. I tried to compensate for that gain, change, that volume change so that the fatal can stay around zero and whatever cue or compression I'm using, um, is always, this is not giving me a complete, completely different level if at all possible.

Right. Um, so do you do something. 

Malcom: [00:22:40] I, I don't do the, the faders at zero thing. Um, and it is just because of me driving preamps that can't really be turned down properly now. So it's just a workflow thing for me. Um, and also just like hitting some hardware at certain levels and stuff like that. So it's. I mean, it's totally possible.

I could find a way [00:23:00] around it, but it's just not how I work, but I love the idea of it so much. It's great. And then imagine doing that like Benny system, and then you send your tracks to get mixed by somebody you're essentially giving them your mix already because it's already balanced. It's such a good idea.

Um, and a mixture. It would be very impressed receiving those files, just pulling them into their session and be like, whoa. It's sounds awesome. Um, so it's a, it's a good way to. To, I guess, impress as well, which is cool, but I do, uh, a hundred percent stand by the rough mix being like an essential skill to be an attraction engineer.

Not even if, if, even if you don't plan on being a mixing engineer at all, it is hugely important to the process. I listened to a conversation. Yeah. Tom ward, LG talking about getting the gig from his brother, crystal at LG. Um, and they're like two of the most famous mixers on the planet. If you don't know who they are, but, uh, I guess crystal, Tom, just whenever you click play in front of clients, it should sound like a mix [00:24:00] like in tracking as well.

And I was like that's yes, that is it. Because they need to be impressed every single time. And. So that essentially means you have to be doing this all the time as you're recording. Um, and, and, you know, keep everybody on track with the vision. If you don't do this, people in the room will start to think the song sucks.

Cause it sounds like it sucks. Right? So it's constant. Um, we've talked about the 80, 20 rule way back on this podcast. This is almost like a 10 90 rule where it's like it's 10% of the work, but eat tools 90% of the way. Yeah. Um, so much it's so, so important and it takes very little time. You honestly, actually, if you want to practice this, just do like little, 10 minute bouts of just.

Reset everything, mixtape where it's just all blank and then set a timer for 10 minutes and go and just, or like, you know, real time start to finish the song been so like three and a half minutes on average, you know, um, it's a great [00:25:00] way to get good at it and, and something you should totally do. Um, yeah, I, I do.

I guess I do the same thing as you just not with that method, but I do a mix where everything just gets balanced kind of at the start of every day at every instrument and that, especially at the start of a mix, that's my, my number one step. Um, the only exception I would say that I think we should mention is in the tracking situation, if say you're doing vocals, the vocals are probably going to be a little bit louder than they will be while you track the vocals.

That I guess could just be preference. But I think for me anyways, I like to hear it a little louder and then I know I will want it just so I can really take up the details really easily. And I still want it to sound in context of the music, but it just ends up being that little bit louder. And then once we're done it, it ducks back down to where it should.

Benedikt: [00:25:53] Yeah, I totally, totally agree. Yeah. You want to do that? Do you want to hear the details when you track and the same with, as with guitars, as you were telling me before we [00:26:00] started, uh, you want to hear the noise in between, um, the chords or when, when a chord rings out, you want to hear what happens. And, um, yeah, totally.

You want to crank the guitars a little bit to hear what's going on. Um, but you still have rebalance in between takes or, or sessions I think, and constantly check it against everything else at a proper volume. Um, so yeah, there's both, um, I'd say. I want to tell you about a podcast episode that you should listen to.

And that is, and I told you Malcolm, I think, but I want to tell the audience, and that is an interview with Vance Powell. Uh, he did it on the recording studio, rockstars podcast with Lucha. And that is actually what reminded me of that whole faders is at zero and proper levels at recording and stuff and rough mix and all those things that I just explained that reminded me of that because vans explains it so well in this episode.

I said the thing about fader resolution and, uh, I, I think I need to explain what I mean by that, that the thing. When the fader in your doll or on a [00:27:00] mixer, on a hardware like analog mixer is around zero, a tiny move of that fader. It will give you a 0.1 or 0.2 to be change. If the mixer is at minus 20, that same tiny move will give you two, three.

I don't know how many DBS change because the resolution is not the same. So if you want to ride faders and write automation or just make tiny adjustments, it's very hard to do. If the fader is way down there. And if you keep it around zero, you can make very, um, detailed, uh, tweaks to the whole mix. So even like in, even when people use these, these preempts that you need to crank, and even if they need to record with higher levels or back in the day when they recorded to tape and they had to like record loud, um, for, to get a proper signal to noise ratio, when it comes back to the mixing desk, From the tape, for example, they would use the trim knob at the B at the beginning of like at the start of every channel and bring it down so that the fader could stay around zero.

[00:28:00] So it's the same. Like even then they try to do that exact same thing, because if you on, on an SSL and you want to make a rough mix and you want to impress the clients in the room and you want to have a good starting point for your mix, you don't want the faders all the way down because you. Make these, these tiny tweaks.

And also it's just a better way of working and it looks better. And if you look at it and everything's around zero, that's just, that just feels better than having to pull down everything so much that you don't clip the master or the mixer. So they, people have always done it that way. And it's a good practice to do it in the diet as well.

You don't have to like religiously stick to 0.0, but around zero. And I really think that this is a good habit and Vance explains it so well on this podcast as well. Like he, and he says the exact same thing that you set at Malcolm that if you sent that to a mixer, They're going to be very impressed, this the first thing, but also they can start working on your song.

And to honestly right away, they don't have to spend the time, um, coming up, like figuring out the song and making that rough mix, which [00:29:00] takes away from their objectivity. They just, they can hit play. And the song is there, which is super awesome. And it's also a good, as I said, like, Reference point to come back to you just have to, like, if you mess up, just put the face to zero, there's your ethics.

And, um, if you archive sessions that way, if you send it to people that way, that's just a good habit. And I, I think there's a lot, it's a good practice also. And if, like you said there was 10 minutes of like just quick rebalancing also, I think. Helps you learn to make these intuitive, quick decisions and trust your gut because you will find that these are often the best decisions.

Oftentimes these quake rough mixes are the best decisions you make. And after hours of tweaking, if you compare it to the initial rough, or to that quick balance that you made, you may not have improved the balance. Maybe the initial thing, the initial reaction was actually the best thing 

Malcom: [00:29:54] told the building I've actually seen.

Uh, some mixing competitions where some of the [00:30:00] higher placing mixes were done entirely with volume and pan, no IQ or compression or anything, just us do things. So consider that like they're competing against people that are. X Y and Z. And then these people just, she used X and Y yeah. And had fantastic results.

Um, of course that is very dependent, dependent on an accidentally engineered album, I think. Um, but you know, that actually brings up like a great train of thought of that. Like all of these plugins are to kind of make up for engineering flaws where volume and pan, and there's all that album's already engineered perfectly.

It's all you need. 

Benedikt: [00:30:39] Yeah, absolutely. Totally. And by the way, if you using plugins that require a harder like level, like say you recorded something very quietly, like I said, um, like I suggested, and then you want to insert a plugin that requires a higher level just to, to work properly. You can always insert gain plugin [00:31:00] before that plugin, turn it up and then turn it down again.

After the plugin, like there's ways to go to do work around that. And even if that requires an extra step, it's usually most of the time, if you do that, you are going to be around a level that already works better with most plugins, because like all the analog simulations and stuff like the emulation.

Tend to have limited headroom. They distort more if you hit them harder. So most of the time you will be closer to the sweet spot. If you stick to that rule and keep the input a little lower. And if you're really too quiet, you can always just bring it up. But yeah, you're totally right. Malcolm. And then the ideal situation, it was so, so well engineered.

And that you don't have to do a lot to it. And if you're given a balance that already works, you're less tempted to do a lot. I think if I get a session, that's all where the levels are all over the place and I have to learn and figure out the song and it's like, nothing really fits together. Well, there's the temptation to, to just dive into [00:32:00] individual things right away and just start fixing things.

And when I open a session and I can just hit play and hear the song, I might be more careful in the beginning. Like. It's just, I don't know. Um, I just perceive it differently. And, and I think if I believe, if you do it from the beginning, with that in mind and you constantly making a rough mix and you're constantly balancing things out, well, I believe that your production will be better because you are constantly hearing things in context and you are not getting lost in the details so much.

So, but yeah, we've, I think we've, we've covered that. 

Malcom: [00:32:35] I, I will just, the last thing to add to that is that when I hear something that is like, just really bad, it is when this hasn't been done at all. And everything's just like hitting the whole mix is just smashing red on your master fader. Um, because it's all too loud and, and that's when crazy decisions are happening.

And I'm like, this is like the loosest performance I've ever heard of this person. And it's because they can't hear anything. Right. I mean, actually that's actually [00:33:00] somehow a point we haven't mentioned. How are people meant to play to the song and perform their parts? Well, if they can't hear what's going on, that is probably the biggest reason to have a good reference mix while you're tracking is that people have to actually play music to it.

Benedikt: [00:33:13] Yeah, totally. Yeah, totally. Yeah, absolutely. Totally. And, um, yeah, and maybe that also leads to like, think about it. If you record with very hot levels and you do overdubs and you build, you add things on top of what's already there, you constantly have to turn down everything. Every time you add something you, because you already like maybe, or already distorting on the mix bus, it's already hard to hear things because it's like, yeah.

In the rat distorting, as you said, and then you add something on top and you want to hear that. So you have to turn it up even louder. And then. Either it like distorts even more, or you have to bring down all the rest of the tracks and you have to do that every single time you add something. So if you start quiet enough in the beginning, you can just add things and you don't have to touch anything.

So, [00:34:00] and I think that's sometimes when that happens is when people don't want to, they just want to capture an idea that they had real quick and they don't want to change the whole mix. So don't want to bring down all the faders so that, just throw it on top, turn it up into distorts and. But they want to move on and then they don't hear it properly.

And I think that's where those things happen. Definitely. 

Malcom: [00:34:17] Yeah. I 

Benedikt: [00:34:18] agree. So I have two actionable things written down here that I want to talk about if you don't mind. And that is, and I want to hear your opinion on that as well. Malcolm, the first thing is one tool. Helped me, um, learn to balance things out properly, especially in the mix was, and I don't use it these days anymore, but I'm thinking of getting one again.

And that was a controller, like a hardware controlled surface. I am sort of in between, like I had some and then I sold them and like, I work with a mouse very well, I think, but there is one thing that I can't do as well with a mouse. And that is when I have to balance [00:35:00] out two things against each other.

Like, like for example, the best example would be to mix on a guitar amp on a guitar camp. Right. So there is, if you do it with him, And you you've done the whole faders at zero clip gain and whatnot, but you still need to find tune the balance. And you're starting to mix for example, or you you're dialing the final guitar tone.

So if you do it with a mouse, you have to grab one fader, set a level, and then you have to grab the other fader and set a level in relation to the first one. If you have a controller with more than one fader, you can touch both of those faders and put them in. In relation, you know, to, you can, you can, yeah, you can just dial in the balance and you can even close your eyes and do it until it feels right.

But you can do it simultaneously. And there's something to doing that that's, that works better for me than grabbing one fader at a time. That is literally the only reason why I would ever use control controllers, control surfaces, because I don't need them for automation. I don't need them for everything else.

I just need them for that thing alone. That is the only [00:36:00] advantage to me that actual faders have is that I can grab two of them and put them in context. And I only need two. I don't need more than two, but yeah. Yeah. 

Malcom: [00:36:08] I, I don't have a control surface at my studio. Um, and I guess I do get on fine, but I agree.

That faders are awesome for that reason. Um, there is a studio I work at pretty often that happens. Uh, like 12 channels, I think of digital faders, um, that sync to pro tools. Great and works. Awesome. And I do love tracking through that. It's really quick just to like, find that initial balance is pre-K new instrument coming in on the first pass.

I've got it dialed in. No problem kind of thing. Um, it's, it's a very intuitive way. I don't know if it's like imperative though. You can definitely get by without it. Now that that is said by two guys that you're listening to on this podcast who are really good at their job. Like really quick at getting into the screen we need and finding our track that we need to adjust.

So like, arguably do it as quick as somebody with faders. [00:37:00] Um, if you're not proficient with your doll yet, faders might be a good option. Yeah, 

Benedikt: [00:37:05] I agree. I agree. And the wheel thing is, I don't know why. Like one fader controllers. And then there are like eight or 12 fader controllers because I don't eat any exactly.

I don't, I don't want to ride 10 faders at a time. Like I can, I can do that. My brain can't do that. I can focus on, I tried it. I had an SSL with 16 channels and I thought, wow, that's so cool. I can use all my fingers and like do the automator. And what really happened is I only ever used one to write an automation.

Like I would write the drums or the snare or the bass or whatever. And then I would write the next thing because I just can't focus on more than that. But I used to sometimes to create a balance between different microphones, for example. But so I don't know why there is one or eight and that's just to, to balance things out.

I don't know, but that might just be me, but I really think that that is one thing where the controller is helpful. And as you said, and I'll come, if you are not already fast with your door, it might also make you a little more efficient or intuitive [00:38:00] or whatever. Yeah. So there's that. Okay. Cool. And then the other thing I wanted to tell you, it was a trick.

That I heard from Shakira king, who is a great, um, engineer, mixer producer. Um, you probably know his work and I heard him talk about something that I found interesting and helpful, and it's not always perfect, but it's a great starting point. And he was talking about a technique he uses to balance out the low end.

Um, the relation between bass and kick drum specifically, and what he did was what he explained. And I tried it and it really worked for me as a starting point. Uh, what he explained was he pulls up a VU meter on his master and then he solos the kick drum and he makes sure that the VU meter is like the kick drum is hitting around minus three or something like around that.

Or he just looks at whatever it's hitting it. And it takes that as a reference, but he says to make it easy, he said around minus three, and then he would add the [00:39:00] base channel to the control. And would find a level for that. And then he would make sure that, or he would, he would aim for the two together to be around zero then.

So if the bass and the kick drum, if the bass adds an additional three DB to the overall mix, when you add it to the kick drum, he's he finds that the balance in the low end or between those two things is usually close. And I thought it's interesting. And I tried it and it's, it's it's right at. Like, it's not perfect, but it's a great starting point because.

That means, that just means that the two, the way of human reworks and reacts and all that, and how levels add up and stuff. What that just means is that you have a pretty similar volume or amount of energy between those two things. So none will be like the kick drum or the nor the, yeah. Not the kick drum and nor the bass will be much louder than the other thing.

They will just be balanced. Well, yeah. It might be that in your song, you need a louder kick drum or a louder bass that's up, of course, but as a starting point to make [00:40:00] sure they haven't, um, a similar amount of energy that is really cool trick to try. And I've, I've tried it a couple of times and it works really, really well.

And you don't have to start at minus three. Like if you solo, if you already have your rough mix and your solo, the cake and you are at minus six or whatever, then at the base and see if it's a rent minus. And if it's a lot louder than that, that might mean that the base is louder or has more energy than the kick drum or vice versa.

So I just found it interesting. Have you ever tried something like that? I have 

Malcom: [00:40:29] actually am based on jokier king as well. I love him to cure. If you're listening, come on the podcast, please. Uh, it would be so cool. He's one of my favorite ever. Um, and, uh, but I, I might've heard a different episode or podcast or whatever.

I picked it up on. Where he talked about it and for that reason, but also for the reason of him always working in different rooms, it was like, if I do this and this, I know what it normally sounds like. And low-end is notoriously kind of the hardest thing to figure out in a new [00:41:00] space. Um, so he would do this in a new studio and be like, oh, that's.

This equal kick relationship sounds like here. Okay. I have to kind of adjust for that and get used to that and like, no, that's my new baseline. Um, and I thought that was really brilliant and yeah. You know, so I started kind of doing stuff like that where it's like, I've got some songs I know when I pull them up in a new studio and I'm like, okay, there's some differences here.

I have to remember this. Um, so yeah, he's a genius. He's so 

Benedikt: [00:41:28] good. Yeah, totally. And that's interesting what you just said because. That means you can actually use that to just, um, make sure you do the same thing again, or you are in the ballpark. So that means maybe in your genre or, um, on a record you working like from song to song, you don't want that equal kick, um, base balance, but you have a reference that works really well and that you like, and you want to just recreate a similar balance, then you have to open up that session.

Look at what [00:42:00] happened. Lecture, if you combine the kick on the snare and the kick and the bass, and you do that, or any two elements, and then in the new session, you can find a similar balance easily by just hitting for the same numbers. So that is not only a thing, a general thing you can do to get an even balance between two things, but it's just a way to, um, recreate something you did before in a new room or a new session or whatever.

So that's actually a really good idea. Yeah, and 

Malcom: [00:42:27] just such a good hack for, for anybody that's listening that doesn't have a great room or good monitoring. You know, that's really hard to hear sub sometimes. And like, I often get stuff from people where it's just so loud and they have no idea cause they just can't hear it.

This is not audible for them. And this is like, if you actually do that, it's probably going to be under control. It's pretty 

Benedikt: [00:42:48] cool. And the reason, by the way, why you want to use a VU meter is because these are slower than the peak meters on your channels. The, they show you sort of an average, um, [00:43:00] and it's easier to, to see like visually the, the energy, but you don't see the peaks really.

And it's super hard to do with a very fast peak meter. It's easier to do with a VU meter because you want that average, but you still want it to be quick enough to like, see it, react to the kick drum. And if you, it does that and it's yeah. Like I don't, I don't know. I think it would, it would probably work with a peak meter, but it's way, way easier with VU.

And the view is like the thing with, um, Yeah, the thing you see on, on old gear and like, I don't know how to describe it. I put, I put a picture in the, in the show notes and also link because there is a great one. If you don't have one, there's a great one by clung. Helm is the company called, um, they make great stuff in general and they have one that's called the VU MTM.

I use that all the time. It's it has a deluxe version as well with the little EKU and filters and Ms. Stuff built into it. But it's super cheap. I think the basic thing is it's free the, the standard view meter, and I use that all the time and you can [00:44:00] calibrate it. You can set how fast it reacts and all cool things.

So I put a link in the show notes to that because I think of YouMatter is a great balancing tool. A great thing to have. Um, for, for many reasons, it's also good to like, if you calibrate it to minus 18, for example, you know, that around zero on the VU meter is the right level where to hit like analog stuff or emulations of analog stuff.

So that's a whole different conversation, but like having a YouMatter and learning how that works. Helps you get levels, right? Let's say like that. Cool. 

Malcom: [00:44:33] Yeah. That's a great tip. All right. 

Benedikt: [00:44:35] I think that was, yeah, that's pretty much it. Um, 

Malcom: [00:44:38] yeah. Yeah. I mean, honestly, we keep going on to different parts of the songs, our workflow for how we go through it and stuff like that.

But I think this is a good. They have to get, get all our listeners heads thinking about this, um, and, and figuring out ways they can try and implement it. That's that's probably a great 

Benedikt: [00:44:53] start. Yeah. Okay. But that brings me to like one thing I need to answer, I need to ask you that because you've [00:45:00] just touched on it and I think it's important, different parts of the song.

And I think we need to talk about that real quick. All right. 

Malcom: [00:45:06] I'm in. Yeah. 

Benedikt: [00:45:08] Uh, What we've been talking about this whole episode was a static mix, a static first rough mix, or at least that's what it sounded like when we were talking about it. But this first pass, this first, um, rough mix that we create quickly can also doesn't have to be completely static.

And there is ways to do that. Like I said, like with the clip gain, if I think that the verse is perfect, but in the chorus, the balance doesn't work anymore. I just split the event, like the clip and then bring up or down the stuff that I don't like in the chorus. So that's the first fastest way for me to do that, to react to how the song develops, but you can also of course, write a passive automation while you do the rough mix before you start actually start mixing or using plugins.

So it's sometimes it's a good idea to automate a game plugin or a [00:46:00] trim knob. If you have that in your day. Um, and right. Volume automation and create the balance that way. Um, so that it works throughout the whole song and then whatever plugins and stuff you're using, it will just like, yeah, you, you can, you can do that afterwards, but it's, it's like, it's sort of backwards to what many people do, because I know that many people will start tweaking things with plugins, do it on a static mix.

And then in the end they will ride fader. And maybe, and I believe that this is the case. Maybe you should make sure that the rough mix really works and not only for one part, but for the whole song. And that probably requires you to write some automation or use clip gain before you even start using plugins and do the rest of the mix.

No, I don't. I don't do it in like this extreme detail every single time, but to make sure that I can listen through the whole song without things falling apart. In one part. Yep. 

Malcom: [00:46:55] Yep. I agree. Um, the another little hack to that is if something's so different, [00:47:00] I'll just like duplicate the track and then mute the part that works for on or doesn't work on and then leave it open on the other track and just like totally change it there or whatever.

There's this kind of, lots of little clever ways to get around it. Um, one tip I'll give in, in relation to this is start at the loudest point of the song. Um, so for your first static mix, find the loudest section. Maybe that's like the last chorus outro solo, probably up to the vocals actually. But find that it's usually pretty easy to spot because the wave forms bigger on everything and, and then get your volume or your rough static mix balanced there first, and then start going backwards to the quiet stuff.

Cause if you get it set for the quiet stuff and then hit the loud stuff, it might just blow out and everything. There's not enough headroom leftover. So you want to kind of work backwards and that's really going to save you a lot 

Benedikt: [00:47:50] of time. Great. Great tip here. Yeah, totally cool. A lot of actionable stuff in here as well.

Like great tips all around. Um, I wanna tell you [00:48:00] about something before we wrap it up. On this same topic that we've been talking about, I've written two blog posts. One is called keep the faders at zero and the other is called, um, the most important mixing skill, I think is the title. You'll find both of those.

If you go to the self recording band.com/blog, and the thing is you might not be aware. Since the end of April, um, I developed this writing habit or practice for myself mainly, and I've been writing blog posts every single day, Monday to Friday. And I've written over 50 blog posts at this point, since that.

And, um, like more than the 60, maybe, I don't know, like every single day since like with the exception of one week vacation every single day, since then, And it's pretty cool. Like, I'm pretty proud of that little laboratory that I created there and I would love for you to check it out. So if you go to the surf recording, bent.com/blog, you'll see those posts.

They are very easy to consume, pretty short to the point, um, on specific topics that I, that just come to mind everyday, I [00:49:00] reflect on my previous work day or whatever. And then I cover a topic that just that's just top of mind or a question that I get or whatever, like. A library of thoughts and things I want to, um, I want to talk about.

Um, there's that? And I think it's really valuable. And I want to know if it's really valuable for you. So if you checked it out, let me know what you think. Let me know if that is called stuff in there. If that's helpful. Um, if I should continue doing that, I mean, it's good practice for me. And, uh, I, I think I will continue, but if nobody's reading it, who knows how long I'm going to do it.

So I really want, I want, I want you to check it out. So the self recording band.com/blog, let me know what you think, right? All right. Well, we'll see you next week then think so. Bye. Thanks for listening. 

Malcom: [00:49:46] I think so

we stopped now. 

Benedikt: [00:49:53] We're so bad at ending episodes. I'm like, bye. Thank you. [00:50:00] Bye .

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