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Author Topic: Mixoff Contest with Mike Senior - Win Mike's New Book!  (Read 188989 times)

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April 22, 2011, 04:37:57 PM
I was curious about the direction of some of the recent posts, so I finally took some time to listen carefully to the five final mixes.  I'm left with some observations.  Honestly, not meant as sour grapes, but more as a general query to Michael

1) if a band brought me these tracks and asked me to mix them, I could hardly expect to be taken seriously without tuning the horribly out of tune vocals, yet it appears that four of the five finalists didn't bother.  Maybe in todays music the out of tune vocal adds to the angst of a guy who has tried so hard, yet still feels like a failure, but personally, I don't get it.  So many really well done mixes submitted with tuned vocals that would be in my top five... just sayin'.  So apparently skipping the vocal tuning and moving straight to the special effects and decisions about arrangement carries more weight in this "mixing contest".  I think I understand some of the frustration now.

2) Michael seemed to pound home the importance of phase in many of his critiques, for which I'm thankful, because it made me try harder to get it right.  Yet when I listen to a couple of these mixes and switch back and forth from stereo to mono, I hear entire parts drop out.  Hmmmmmm.  Better keep them off of AM radio stations.  So is phase important or not?  This is a serious question.  Does everyone pay close attention to it when mixing or not?  Are there mix gurus who do not care about phase issues when mixing? 



Guitar Zero, Mike, and the rest,

After listening to the top five, I had the exact same observations as Guitar Zero, which left me utterly confused. No disrespect to those who made the top five, but as a listener I was shocked to hear the vocals not tuned correctly in most of them. There are a lot of great aspects to every one of those mixes that are great, so hear me on that.

I am....confused, I don't know how else to say it, not because I am not in the top, but because of the things that were stressed as important to make this song radio ready. In the process of learning, my expectation is that the bar gets raised...vocals tuned, great use of effects, tall/deep/wide/, mono compatible, timing issues worked out etc...

From my perspective, the one thing that all these mixes have is BALANCE, in stereo especially. So if balance is number one on the importance scale, then this makes a lot more sense to me. If not, then I remain confused.

It makes it very easy for me to choose the winner out of the top five for the reasons listed above. I was hoping that it wouldn't be that easy.


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April 22, 2011, 05:35:20 PM
Just wanted to chime in on the subject of production versus strictly mixing...

I do a fair bit of recording, which I mix, and I get a lot of projects that have been recorded by musicians in their home studios. In both situations, I take on the role of 'producer' to some degree, suggesting ideas, giving my perspective on things, etc. I think that getting outside input on a project is one thing that home-recordists are missing, and it's one reason so many self-produced projects are kind of flat sounding, kind of one-dimensional. Sometimes a band vetoes my more experimental ideas, but I think it always opens their eyes a little to what is possible. So far, I haven't worked with too many bands that are aiming for commercial radio (mostly punk, indie, etc, though I'm sure they would love to have some mainstream success!) but I always try to get a result that their fans will connect with, that makes a bridge between the band and the fan with as little interference as possible.

I think Mike took on a Herculean task here, and deserves major thanks from all of us. Selecting the finalists from a field of entrants is always going to be controversial, of course. I think if the band chooses a favorite, we all have to accept that, since it's their music! But Mike's selections are important, as he has the perspective of a pro, and his choices reflect that.

We all have things to learn, and this contest has been a great opportunity to see that, not only on our own critiques, but on the aggregate critiques. The tracks themselves had some shortcomings, but nothing out of the ordinary, if my experience is typical. And trying to satisfy several judges is nothing unusual, even when working with just the band (no label, etc.) It's not uncommon to have one or two members loving the crazy edit, while the others nix it.

I hope to have some more contests in the near future, though I don't know that we'll get another judge with the dedication of Mike!


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April 22, 2011, 10:57:15 PM
Congrats to all that are still in it, I think this is a great idea right from the start and hope to see more of it.

I think Mike has been right on with alot of his comments, and has done a great job in offering constructive critism as well as solutions to the issues with some of the problems with the submissions. I think He should also be commended for taking his time and dedicating it to something like this, and the way that He was able to deal with us in a very professional manner, even though alot of us are just hobbiest or relitively unknown in the field. I'm usually not one for taking instruction or learning things from a book as I like to learn things by doing them myself, but Mike was so dead on with issues that He described in mixes and was able to describe them in such detail, that I just can't resist buying his book.

I also think that John Suitcase should be recongnized for his efforts with this site, and this contest. I think He is doing an incredible job.

One issue that has been bouncing around in the last few posts involves fixing the pitch of the vocals. Unless I was asked specifically to do so, I don't think that this is something that should be messed with. I think the track sounds good as it was recorded, if it breaks some rule of Music theory, then so be it - if it sounds good it's good. A very large percentage of the listening audience will never even notice if the pitch is off a bit. I think fixing issues like this is somewhat dishonest and makes things sound homoganized and sterile. I think a little dissonance can make things more interesting.

April 22, 2011, 11:37:18 PM

The way this contest is ending could be a learning lesson...perhaps it would of been better if the band just picked the winner and then maybe mention one or two mixes that came close...top 3 or something.



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April 22, 2011, 11:55:26 PM
Congrats to all that are still in it, I think this is a great idea right from the start and hope to see more of it.

I think Mike has been right on with alot of his comments, and has done a great job in offering constructive critism as well as solutions to the issues with some of the problems with the submissions. I think He should also be commended for taking his time and dedicating it to something like this, and the way that He was able to deal with us in a very professional manner, even though alot of us are just hobbiest or relitively unknown in the field. I'm usually not one for taking instruction or learning things from a book as I like to learn things by doing them myself, but Mike was so dead on with issues that He described in mixes and was able to describe them in such detail, that I just can't resist buying his book.

I also think that John Suitcase should be recongnized for his efforts with this site, and this contest. I think He is doing an incredible job.

One issue that has been bouncing around in the last few posts involves fixing the pitch of the vocals. Unless I was asked specifically to do so, I don't think that this is something that should be messed with. I think the track sounds good as it was recorded, if it breaks some rule of Music theory, then so be it - if it sounds good it's good. A very large percentage of the listening audience will never even notice if the pitch is off a bit. I think fixing issues like this is somewhat dishonest and makes things sound homoganized and sterile. I think a little dissonance can make things more interesting.
Good post, but I think your last paragraph is open to discussion.  I would say a fair number of people felt like the vocals didn't sound good as is, since a fair number of mixers did tune them, myself included.  Since the vocals are the centerpiece of pretty much any song, it needs to sound good.  Nothing dishonest about tuning vocals any more than re-amping a guitar take, adding reverb, or EQing the overheads.  Mixing is about making the tracks presented sound as good as possible, vocal or instrumental.

I was actually a little un-inhibited when I made my last post, and I was about to remove it today, but noticed that my +karma went from 2 to 5 within a few hours, so I figured maybe it resonated with some people.  Good topic for further discussion.

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April 23, 2011, 01:48:55 AM
The use of pitchcorrection on vocals is debatable of course. However, using pitchcorrecting software to tune vocals to the wrong note is simply an error. That was what I was talking about personally, I was surprised to see that such an error was not seen as critical :)

The shortlist is perfectly fine with me. It shows me that I'm (still) undervaluing certain parts of my mixing techniques that others weigh heavier in their opinion, so it's a great lesson as far as I'm concerned!
I'm cleaning up my server, but you can find some of the mixes I did on this forum here: http://soundcloud.com/stefhartog

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April 23, 2011, 11:13:56 AM
The way I heard these guys they were halfway to punk anyway. To me it seemed disrespectful to take their performance and tune it/time align it. I did however feel that the arrangement was hugely lacking. No multi tracked guitars, nothing to build the sense of epicness that I sensed the guys wanting. And that lead part in the chorus robbed the song of the opportunity for a really strong hook. Plus some of the ideas clashed. The clean rhythm part in the chorus distracted from the bass, it would've been better just to layer some chords in and leave the bass it's own rhythmic space.

I guess in my experience people either come to me to produce or they come to me for a mix, but I don't really have much experience trying to do heavy production/arrangement work AFTER the song has been recorded. Chopping out a few bars is one thing, rewriting a song in the mix is another. In fact the last time that came up, I said to the artist "I think you should retrack some stuff" and took them into the studio.

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April 23, 2011, 02:58:04 PM
I'll try to respond to everyone in one go if I can!

my view is, fixing *recording*-problems is one thing (and i think that is what dave meant with his "quote"), but changing the production another. young griffos track is fine as it is, but just needs some fixing here & there, but no additional production gimmicks. maybe its not a perfect radio single, but it could have a good place on an album. i think it doesn't need additional production stuff, since it is authentic independent rock & doesn't need to be forced to converted to be fully compatible for the radio-play (it won't be authentic anymore IMO). young griffo had the idea to have the track like that & as an mixing engineer i don't turn a track into something else if everything (regarding the production) is fine from my view.

It's funny, because I actually agree with all of this. It's a question of degree, though, especially in the context of the band (rather than a manager/A&R) being the client, and everyone will drawn their own line in the sand there -- but that's a really good thing, because otherwise everyone's mixes would be the same and the art of mixing as a whole would be stifled. This is why I'd hoped that we'd all disagree on this. (Even if that means me taking on the role of whipping boy! :))

From my perspective, the one thing that all these mixes have is BALANCE, in stereo especially. So if balance is number one on the importance scale, then this makes a lot more sense to me. If not, then I remain confused.

You've certainly put a finger on one of my own personal hobby horses, as far as mixing is concerned, but to look at this from a more general standpoint for a moment... As I see it, any mix you do without the band's direct feedback is a first draft. Yes, there are clear problems with all these mixes (as Guitar Zero correctly highlights), but the bits that they do get 'right' for me contribute to a general 'spirit' in each case which is what I wanted to hear. To put it another way, if I were a member of the band, I'd personally choose one of these five mixes, even though I'd know I'd want to follow it up with a list of revisions (as I would expect any band to do with a mix in which they'd so far had no direct input). It's a question of me liking the ballpark, rather than counting the bases. (Wow. I think that's the first baseball analogy I've ever used. ;D) Or, to put it yet another way: it's probably easier to get ask someone who's submitted a first-draft mix to sort out some duff tuning than it is to ask them to add 'vibe', 'richness', or anything else more subjective.

I did however feel that the arrangement was hugely lacking. No multi tracked guitars, nothing to build the sense of epicness that I sensed the guys wanting. And that lead part in the chorus robbed the song of the opportunity for a really strong hook. Plus some of the ideas clashed. The clean rhythm part in the chorus distracted from the bass, it would've been better just to layer some chords in and leave the bass it's own rhythmic space.

[...]

I think fixing issues like this is somewhat dishonest and makes things sound homoganized and sterile. I think a little dissonance can make things more interesting.

Comparing these posts to those of karumba, Guitar Zero, and others just underlines the point that things like this are a judgement call, and they reflect the personality of the engineer. Which, again, is exactly as it should be.

(That's not to take away from Lastrite's relevant point, though, that pitch-correcting to the wrong note (as quite a few people did -- presumably by relying on some kind of automatic pitch-correction) is pretty easy to categorise as a clear mistake. Still, it is again a mistake that's a whole lot easier to remedy than a lot of less tangible things.)

So how do we compare mixes that have obviously been mastered with ones that have not?

Usually by deciding first whether I think the louder track has taken the processing too far, and (assuming it hasn't) by applying my own loudness processing to the unloudness-processed mix to achieve a reasonable match. Again, though, people have very different views on this issue, and while I'm not about to dismiss the importance of loudness issues in mixing, I'm not sure it's necessarily in everyone's best interests to pursue that particular well-worn topic on this particular thread when I reckon it'd be better to use people's energy critiquing each others mixes instead. So far we've heard a lot of my opinions, and I think some other viewpoints on specific mixes would help round things out, especially when it comes to top-five lists. In fact, it'd be rather interesting to see different posters' top-five lists, if only to give context to their comments. (As my own list clearly points to my own personal mixing agenda! ;D)

The way this contest is ending could be a learning lesson...perhaps it would of been better if the band just picked the winner and then maybe mention one or two mixes that came close...top 3 or something.

I rather hope that they will do exactly that, and will encourage them to do so. And, as mentioned earlier, I've encouraged them not to restrict themselves to my shortlisted tracks. As I see it, the premise of this competition has always been that you're mixing this track with the band as the client, so it would be the most appropriate ending if the band were indeed to act as the client in making the contest decision. I can't speak for them, though, but will keep everyone posted.

Phew. ;D Time to go hide some Easter eggs! Look forward to reading the continuing comments early next week.
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April 23, 2011, 03:32:44 PM
mike, thx for your reply.

As I see it, any mix you do without the band's direct feedback is a first draft. Yes, there are clear problems with all these mixes (as Guitar Zero correctly highlights), but the bits that they do get 'right' for me contribute to a general 'spirit' in each case which is what I wanted to hear. To put it another way, if I were a member of the band, I'd personally choose one of these five mixes, even though I'd know I'd want to follow it up with a list of revisions (as I would expect any band to do with a mix in which they'd so far had no direct input).
ok, it seems i fully missunderstood the whole contest. my understanding was to not prepare a "first draft", but to provide a finished mix. so from a different viewing angle: i expected your decision to be not from "a bands perspective", but from a mixing engineer perspective. the band itself has their own perspective which you can't pretend. your decision is now based on your taste, not on the "objective" professionalism of the mixes. (yes i know, what is "objective"?).
so the question should have been (IMO): "which mix could be released *as it is*?"
but i think you already understood my view. and even if don't agree, i understood yours too :)
« Last Edit: April 23, 2011, 03:37:23 PM by karumba »

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April 23, 2011, 08:15:48 PM

The way this contest is ending could be a learning lesson...perhaps it would of been better if the band just picked the winner and then maybe mention one or two mixes that came close...top 3 or something.

I rather hope that they will do exactly that, and will encourage them to do so. And, as mentioned earlier, I've encouraged them not to restrict themselves to my shortlisted tracks. As I see it, the premise of this competition has always been that you're mixing this track with the band as the client, so it would be the most appropriate ending if the band were indeed to act as the client in making the contest decision. I can't speak for them, though, but will keep everyone posted.


Ah-ha!

So them of us what thought we were out might still be able to getta hit! (My first baseball analogy{s}, +  ...   ;D )
« Last Edit: April 23, 2011, 08:17:23 PM by vvv »