Equipment: Cakewalk SONAR 6, iZotope Ozone 3, Jamstix2, Epiphone SG, ’56 reissue Fender Precision bass, Fender Strat, Behringer V-Amp Pro, DigiTech GNX3.
Production Notes & Credits:
“Red Sky in the Morning” is an instrumental slow blues. Alan was the “one man band” here. He played all the guitars and bass, and did the entire mix. He mixed it using headphones, which he knows is a no-no, but his monitors are not the best ones to use. The monitors he has are M-Audio Studiophile DX4s.
Reviewed By: Marty Peters
Recording: First of all we would like to thank Alan for his honesty. In keeping with the new age of “transparency”, Alan was forthright enough to admit that he mixed his track using headphones rather than monitor speakers.
So why is this important, you ask? Well, as those of you who have followed this column for any length of time can attest, headphone mixing is one of the big no-no’s around these parts. In our humble opinion, headphone mixes do not translate well in the real world, period, end of story. Other than checking for balance issues and the occasional hunting down of little details, they are tools best left for the tracking process. Okay then, end of rant—time to take a look at Alan’s mix and see what’s up.
Tonally, things are a bit yin/yang. The lead guitar has a dark sustained sound, while the snare is sharp and strident. We also have some concerns about the rhythm section. Alan’s bass tone is big and pillowy, at times on the verge of distortion. Contrast this with a pretty nonexistent kick drum and some rather weak tom fills and one is left with a mix that is basically out of whack. As we have said many times before, “one man band” recordings can often present themselves as a platform to showcase the skills of the artist on his/her primary instrument, and this, in our opinion, is the case with “Red Sky in the Morning”. Alan is a fairly skilled guitarist... now let’s see what we can do to bridge the gap between that and his recording skills.
Suggestions: Not having been present at mix time, we will nevertheless do our best to troubleshoot Alan’s mix. The first order of business is for Alan to temporarily forget that he is a guitarist. If he is committed to working in the “one man band” format, he must now also see himself as a bassist, drummer, engineer, and producer as well.
Starting from the bottom up then, we suggest that Alan focus his attention on making his drum tracks as strong as possible. To best achieve this we suggest that he look no further than his personal music collection. How do the drums sound on his favorite CDs? Are they balanced? What about tone and panning? Oh, and throw room ambience in there as well. You see, the key here is to study and focus, focus, focus. You wanna be a drummer? Start thinking like a drummer, hearing like a drummer and feeling like a drummer. Ditto for the bass—become that bassist.
As for the mixing, alas... at some point Alan is going to have to forgo the headphones and start using monitors. Until then, the same suggestions apply. A/B-ing one’s mixes against successful commercial mixes may be the single most available and affordable option that we have as home recordists. Trust us when we tell you that the most successful recording engineers out there all share one common trait—and that is that they have what are referred to as “big ears”. In layman terms this means that they are active listeners, and this is our ultimate advice to Alan and to all of our other loyal readers.
Summary: Get those ears on!
Contact: Alan Stewart, firstname.lastname@example.org.