Mixing Resolutions – Part One

mixing

In the first part of his new “Mixing Resolutions” series, Logic Pro Expert team member and Groove3 music software trainer Eli Krantzberg reflects on the catch-22 situation he often finds himself in: How can I improve my mixing techniques by trying new ideas, without having the time to try these new ideas?

Different Mindsets, Different Workflows

There is a singer I work with regularly in my studio. She is a talented experienced pro, and knows her craft. When we are recording, it often takes her several takes to warm up and get into the zone. After several more takes, creating comps from the take folder, and listening back, she’ll often want to punch in and replace certain words or phrases. Three or four hours later, an open take folder on a finished track looks like a full screen multi coloured checkerboard right in Logic Pro! She is a perfectionist, as many musicians are, and there’s nothing particularly unusual about this sort of workflow.

Another singer I work with from time to time, also an experienced talented professional – but coming from somewhat more of a jazz background – has a completely different mindset. She was here doing a lead vocal the other day. After warming up on her own before she arrived, we recorded three or four takes into a take folder and listened back. It sounded pretty good and I asked her if she wanted to continue with more takes, or if there was anything in particular she wanted to replace or repair. She said no, that usually her first three or four takes are her freshest and best. She gives it her all and after that her voice starts getting tired. We chose the best take, and that was it. So she happily left after an hour or so, completely satisfied and content with her performance.

New Ideas, Better Mixes

Two different performers, two different personalities. It got me thinking about my own approach to mixing and where I fall in the spectrum between these two extremes. When I am mixing for a client, my time is metered (I charge by the hour). The clients are usually here with me, and they are not, generally speaking, wealthy. So naturally, I fall into a pattern of using what is efficient and familiar to me, some tried and true habits, settings, and plug-ins and processing effects I use regularly. There is usually not an abundance of time and opportunity to try and experiment with new ideas.

Am I really doing the best mix I can? The answer inherently has to be no. I say inherently, because there is a built in limitation on me as to the time I can spend on any given mix. But the more time I spend on a mix, the more layers of detail I can delve into, the more nuanced the choices and parameter tweaks I can make are, and the more there are different directions I can take things in. Unfortunately though, trying all the ideas we hear or read about costs time. Now I’m not saying my mixes are lousy, they’re not. In fact I pride myself in being efficient and being able to crank out a good solid mix based on the amount of time the client is willing to invest in it. I give good value, and clients are happy about that. But I want to give better mixes too.

Mixing Resolutions

So, I find myself in somewhat of a catch-22 situation. How can I advance my mixing techniques by trying new ideas, without having the opportunity to spend the time to try these new ideas? Of course I am always experimenting and trying things on my own. But that’s not the same as working on a real world mix. So my mix resolution is to push myself more when I am mixing, rather than relying on falling into familiar habits. But in ways that won’t cost the client a lot of time. I figure if I can introduce a few new ideas to try slowly, over time they will develop into solid reliable and efficient workflows. In my next post I’ll outline some of the habits I want to reform, and ideas I want to take the time to try going forward.

Eli Krantzberg.

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Eli Krantzberg

Apple Certified Pro Eli Krantzberg is an internationally known author and music software trainer for Groove3. His instructional videos have helped demystify music software such as Logic Pro, Pro Tools, Sonar, BFD, Melodyne, and Kontakt for thousands of users all over the world. Based in Montreal, Canada, Eli is involved in all aspects of audio production. In his studio he works with various artists, as well as on commercial jingles, corporate videos, and original music composition.
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  • Michael Costa

    I almost never charge by the hour for mixing – it’s always by the project or single mix. This way when time allows it, I get to experiment on my own watch with wacky ideas or any new plugins.

    So if things have to move fast, then like you, I reach for toys and techniques I know and trust, but otherwise it’s time to play the field!

    • Eli Krantzberg

      Hi Michael,

      Great to see you here on logic-pro-expert. Your comments raise the interesting question as to whether to charge by the hour or not. Is the client there with you when you are mixing? What do you do if _they_ want to go off in whacky directions or tangents, or try things that you know ultimately won’t work? And what about when they inevitable want to come back to make mix changes or corrections?

      Our time is the only real commodity we have to sell to our clients (our experience and expertise determine the value of it). IMHO if we _don’t_ charge by the hour, inevitably either the client ends up paying too much or too little for the work done, and we end up getting paid either too much or too little for the time spent.

      I hear what you are saying though, and in a perfect world, it would be great to just charge a flat rate and spend as much time as we want. But in reality, if the client is there with you, the amount of time you spend mixing will never be entirely determined by you alone.

      I’ve had clients go off on crazy tangents, automating syllables of words half a db, then changing their mind, then wanting to come back a week later to make more microscopic changes, etc. I would never want to be in a situation where I am hostage to this sort of unproductive time wasting without getting paid for it.

      If you have clients that don’t want to be there for the mix, all the more power to you! Oh, and BTW, please send them my way when you are overbooked! 🙂

      • Michael Costa

        Thanks for the reply Eli. I hear you you on the crazy experimenting clients, and I have been there too. Thanks fully, many of my sessions are only partly attended, and usually the client is more than happy when they hear that I’m going to spend my own time to try some ideas out. They feel like they’re getting additional value and I get to play around a little – time permitting. As we all know, sometimes those mixes just fall together beautifully in no time at all but others are a real chore to get to that point where you exhale and smile. That’s all we’re striving for.

        I too am involved in the education side (aside from Groove3 tutorials) and when I’ve got a class full of budding DJ/producers, I want to make sure that I’m as savvy with the modern production stuff as some of them are. The kids are getting smarter!

        Part of the pleasure of this for many of us is that our career is also our hobby. It definitely doesn’t always feel this way, but it’s a blessed position to be in.

  • Neil Martin

    I agree, from the perspective of someone who used to freelance but now works full time in education. The job security is fantastic and much needed for my wife and kids, but my job if managing and supporting the gear means I don’t get a chance to actually USE it much! It’s really hard to keep my skills polished, let alone expand and grow them. You really have to make time for it. I try and do some sessions out of semester with enthusiastic students or friends in bands, which helps, and they know I’m experimenting with them sometimes and they accommodate for it.

    The one thing I want to avoid at all costs is regurgitating the same old techniques back to the students. They need to learn to think innovatively as well as understanding traditional methods.

    • Eli Krantzberg

      I think traditional methods were all born from someone thinking in an innovative way at some point. For example, we take side chain compression for granted now, but whoever thought of it that first time was using whatever gear he had in an unconventional way! Or multi band compression – early engineers had to set up the frequency splitting on their own – which when you think of it, was extremely innovative at the time!

      I think a good teacher is able to impart the traditional techniques as well as the ability to think creatively. I had a great teacher many years ago who described the role of the teacher as that of a gardener; watering the flowers and nurturing them so they can grow on their own.

      Make sure they understand the traditional methods, so they can confidently and creatively think and build on top of a solid foundation. I have a buddy in a similar situation as you Neil. He teaches Logic at a local college. Basic audio production 101 kind of stuff, and is somewhat handcuffed both by the limitations of the curriculum, and available class time. It is a challenge. But that is the challenge all of us “teachers” need to rise up to! 🙂

      • Neil Martin

        Thank you for your insightful reply, Eli. I think it’s sometimes hard to remember, that for a student, they’re hearing what you’re saying for the first time, despite you having said it 100s of times! Always try to tell them that they must know the rules before they can break them!

        Time is the enemy, I’m always left thinking I could have shown them this or that extra thing. But you’re right, just giving them a foundation from which to grow is such a great way of putting it.

        On the flip side, watching how they work can teach us old dogs new tricks!

        Fortunately I tend to mainly support academic staff and work behind the scenes to keep everything maintained and working, but am called on to give hands on support a lot, often in the form of training sessions and demos. And the occasional Logic 101 (still need to find the time to recertify for X!)

  • Stmixalot

    I fail to see why this is a catch 22, sorry… You either charge by the hour as a job or you hone skills and have so much pride in your own work that it has to be a good as it possibly can be, there is no grey area in my book…

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