Friday, October 11, 2013

Do These Plugins Sound Cheap?

    This is the question i get asked all the time and frankly its got so many different answers that I've decided to give you the best advice I can.

Stock plugins and free plugins will help you mix a record just fine. Period.

There are enough free plugins in the world covering the spectrum of high end plugins that are out that paying the money for a "specialty" plugin is just that. The records you hear are processed to the upper echelons of mixing to achieve a certain sound. Now this isn't always true but in the plugin world its pretty much the same with a lot more pieces. For example, to emulate a desk you would need the input/preamp, channel strip, all nuances of the board itself, output from the board and this still depends on the make model and when the board was built as well as up keep.

   Which brings me to this statement, use as many plugins as you need to achieve the sound you want when mixing (read this statement as many times as you need to). Your stock plugins in your DAW are made to be clean and usable right out of the box for all your mixing needs. All DAW's come with a usable eq, a usable compressor and probably a usable gate. Now what you here on your favorite records are the culmination of different things to achieve a certain sound so automatically you shouldn't be looking to what your favorite engineer uses but what sound they are trying to achieve using said tool.

    You need that kick to jump out at you? Use saturation, harmonic distortion, eq, compression, parallel processing and the good ole just turn up the fader technique. So now ask yourself, what kind of plugins do you need again? The obvious answer is the plugin(s) that help you achieve the results your looking for which by choice are whatever plugins you decide to use. Now I have some AMAZING free plugins from one of the greatest plugin creators of all time right here. I don't use them all the time but when I do its that magic ingredient that makes a meal "pop" aka the mix.

    This plugin suite is completely free and best of all have some of the most amazing sounding plugins your downloading finger can click. Again this is to let you know that you don't need top of the line plugins to make top of the line music.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

When Do You know Your A Good Engineer?

    So I was reading a thread on one evening on break and low and behold this question came to mind. I started pondering when was my great moment I realized I was finally (sound the horns) a good, competent engineer (recording, mixing and mastering)? To be honest I really don't know the exact moment but I do know there were more then one. How so you ask? Mainly because as I grasped the many concepts that make a good engineer good and applied them correctly my engineering achievement score rose higher (all my xbox people understand me lol).

    When I first started I didn't know anything really relevant until I started reading threads and absorbing knowledge at the rate the sun could rise and fall (literally). I asked every engineer I knew everything in the beginning about everything (but that really didn't work). It wasn't until recent years (the last 3) that my mixes really started to shine the way I wanted them to. Why you may ask (I'm getting there)?. Mainly because in those years worth of time I started using the techniques I was watching, reading and learning about and stopped trying to add my own twist on things (until I felt I had a firm gasp anyway).

    I once again (and am forever like most ME's) became a student of the game (mixing game) and applied my knowledge every chance I got. Recording and understanding the difference between Dbs and Dbfs on my Pro Tools setup (record low like -18 dbfs and compensate volume by turning the headphones or monitors up, not the preamp volume!). Mixing and learning about the importance of gain staging throughout the whole recording and mixing process (keeping that -18 dbfs and building around it). Setting my mix buss compression to work for the way I mix while hearing the effects it has on my mix (getting to -2 db while I mix is better then setting the threshold to that before I start mixing). Scrapping my Aux effects I had and starting from scratch with tried and true methods and then adding my own to create a proper effects arsenal (harmonizer with the center plugin by waves center channel all the way down).

    These were (and still are) techniques I study and listen out for as I listen, record, mix and master music everyday. I realized that I started hearing the difference between console saturation and tape saturation (Neve consoles and reel to reel lol). I tried new techniques and added them thus making my mixing more proficient and robust with every mix I did (URS and AC 2). My mix buss jumped with life even though its got about 5 plugins on it (but you could never hear and tell there were). I was achieving the deep bass I always felt was out of reach for me while maintaining my mixes integrity and clarity giving me an edge overall in sound sculpting as well as production.

So when did I realize I was becoming a good engineer?

1. When people told me I was one of the best (ego boost)
2. When I listened to mixes in the car and they sounded "good" to "me".
3. When after learning and applying something new it worked for my mixes benefit!
4. When I started reading threads and was able to chime in with my own 2 cents and everyone was agreeing (always a good feeling)
5. When other engineers started asking me about my techniques (ego boost x2)
6. The techniques I learned and applied could be heard without question along with every element I was bringing out in a mix.
7. I knew how to use the tools at my disposal.

    That's when I knew I was good. the difference between a rookie ME (mixing engineer) and an experienced ME is in the sessions they are delivered. A bad session can go to both and the rookie will try but ultimately fail in making the mix what it could be (even given the circumstances). The experienced engineer will listen and grab the right tools to fix the problem session and then go to work making the session its best (especially given the circumstances).

    Here's a little book which I always reference back to at least twice a year. Simply filled with invaluable lessons and tried and true techniques that will last you a life time. It really is priceless

Monday, August 15, 2011

Music: The Dream Vs. Reality

Fame and fortune. The saying goes hand and hand. Some want the fame, there names in lights and all the adoration that comes with it. Others want the fortune, money to do whatever, whenever however they want. And a select few want both, not for greed, but for the sheer opportunity and ability to say they did it, and did it the best.

So let's talk about something that every musician whose ever decided to do this thing we call music professionally has gone through. The question of the dream versus the reality of life and the music business. The dream. That with enough skill, talent and determination you will eventually be rewarded. What that reward is in our business is usually a pretty big gain both financially and physically. Usually along the lines of a house, car, money, jewels, women, status, clout, free everything (almost) and being known everywhere you go.

Most people who listen to these talented individuals would believe that they are right and that these people should be signed right away. If this were the 50's-90's they would be right and all the talented people would have record deals so we could all enjoy the fruits of their labor. The reality. Its hard getting a record label to invest there time, energy and marketing department on a new artist. Especially on someone who hasn't proven themselves through any of the now prevalent avenues. This includes billboard, itunes sales, cd sales, song plays, fan base and a slew of radio plays that the average independent artist can't get without paying for it (one way or another).

This is the reality of the average musician/artist/label owner/engineer/a&r. There are plenty of people who are talented and deserve all the fame and fortune that comes with being in the spotlight. Unfortunately the spotlight isn't big enough for us all and thus the competition for it has begun and only major record labels win, why? Well its really simple, because major record labels no longer help develop talented individuals into mega stars that we want to spend money on. They take the best of the ok and run with them, add on the Internet and everyone thinks they're a star fish in a pool of mediocrity.

I know I sound like a party pooper but these are the facts of our musical life (those with talent anyway). For everyone that thinks success happened over night for all the successful people in our industry are blatantly ignoring the years prior to that success. The nights on the road, the long studio sessions, the process of having a style in the first place and the wondering if people will accept you as an artist. These are all pre-stardom things that the public (and other musicians) sometime forget about,to sum it all up, hard work. This is the step the public a.k.a. dreamers don't see or want to be part of, just the end result.

While the dreamers were sleeping the workers were burning cd's for the public to buy (or give away depending on the workers work). While the dreamers were online writing raps that may make it into songs of there own (one day) the workers were writing the whole song and putting it out for all to listen, critique and download. While the dreamer dreams about the stage in Madison Square Garden the worker is outside Madison Square Garden selling those cd's hoping to have enough on hand to flip it for more merchandise, studio time, equipment, and whatever else that nights money can help with to solidify there careers future.

I want people to look at this article as not killing the dream but taking a realistic approach to achieving it. When was the last time you started and kept up a website dedicated to you and your fan base? When was the last time you took a singing lesson to make yourself an asset as a singer to anyone besides yourself (like to a writer or producer)? When was the last time you even practiced what you will be performing when you get on a stage? What makes you better than the next musician/a&r/label owner/engineer if your just dreaming your real time away? Dream when you sleep and do for your career today what will help you tomorrow.

Here's a read for you