On a weekly basis I push myself to try out as many tricks & tips as I can. These might pop their head up while recording, I may read them online or another engineer may spills the beans on them. They rarely work out straight away, and take a little experimentation to realise and some seem to be no good at all, but they are always worth trying. You are never done learning!!
1. Automating the master between 2 different stereo chains.
I read this technique in an article with Manny Marroquin (who is one of my favourite mixers) & also saw him talking about it on Pensado’s Place (If you haven’t delved into the archives of Dave Pensado’s “Into the Lair” & weekly Pensado’s Place interviews then where have you been?).
The basic premise is to duplicate your stereo bus (or 2 bus) and have a different tone on each, and then change between them as your arrangement dictates. Warning! This can have some drastic and unpleasant results, so careful with the fades and also the tonal difference between the two different channels.
My 1st master chain started off with a SSL Bus Compressor (Waves) with a medium attack & fast-ish release, followed by a Pultec EQP-1A adding & attenuating some 100Hz & a subtle boost at 16kHz. This is what I would describe as my “open sounding” channel. The second channel used a Fairchild 670 (Waves) in M/S mode, subtlety attenuating the sides & a little more aggressive on the middle followed by a similar Pultec EQP – 1A.
I proffered the sound of the “open channel” on the verses & middle 8 of the track I was mixing, and I found that the second channel added some punch and energy to the chorus. The arrangement of the track leant quite well to this technique as there was always a short section of near silence before dropping into the next section, giving some space to automate up the second bus for chorus’s & vice versa. Quick fades were essential – as well as getting a meter up to make sure I wasn’t just happier with the sound of the sections because one channel was slightly louder (first try it was!! But when I sorted this, I remained happy with the new energy of the choruses)
Again I want to offer a warning, this can seriously affect things, and should be done relatively subtlety, even using the same modules on each channel with a subtle change in parameters it can be noticeable
2. Adding more offline FX to incidental parts that require something a little extra once or twice in a track.
Offline editing is great, no question about that… Committing to ideas and working with them from then on can be a great way to keep on track to a desired sound of any track, as leaving all your options until the end can seem daunting – and sometime you can forget to even add the original ideas!
In protools, offline editing couldn’t be easier, select the audio you with to effect, click audio suite, select the plug in, set it up & hit Process – and the effect is printed to the audio.
I have always used this technique for things like incidental vocal delays as opposed to automating a send just once in an entire track. What I have started doing recently is before applying offline FX, I duplicate the playlist of the track I am working on. This means I can quickly A/B between wet & dry and just bin it off if I don’t like it, without digging through automation lanes etc…
3. Bring back the 80’s!!
I don’t mean the bombastic solos & extended instrumental sections of the 80’s, I mean certain stylistic elements. I am a big fan of the production values of the 80’s where engineers and producers started being able to crazy things quickly as opposed to years previously. This opened up a new world of exploration, for both better and worse.
Some ideas are the classic gated snare sound, especially only on certain sections to add some length and snap to a snare. Don’t go overboard or Phil Collins will be knocking at your door wanting some form of credit. Another obvious one is to use modulation FX more obviously to add some tonal texture to pad parts. One last suggestion is silly guitar delays – by this I mean long feedback 1/4 or 1/2 note delays to any melodic lead guitar parts, it can get out of hand quickly, so careful!
It is worth noting that some of the techniques from this era have a certain sound due to the technical restrictions from the time too… such as some digital FX only outputting below 12kHz, so give this as thought, and look at how classic hardware behaved and attempt to emulate it.
4. Letting someone else drive – bonus points for an awkward photo of them helping out!
A friend of mine recently shared this one with me, and it is great to get some fresh feedback on a mix from someone who knows little about what they are doing. The logic behind this is that people who know their music, know what they want to hear – so if a mix is starting to sound a little stale get your girlfriend or bandmate to sit down and twiddle a couple of faders and ask what they think is missing etc… its amazing how insightful it can be! Some feedback from someone recently was that the singer sound like he had a slight lisp on the pre-chorus’s only – so I dialled back the de-essing automation, and they preferred it.