In the past few weeks, I have decided to learn about mixing in a serious manner. A professional mixer on IRC recommend the puremix website, which has a lot of mixing walkthroughs by seasoned professionals. The first thing I realized was how subtle their adjustments and approach to mixing were, in contrast to electronic music oriented tutorials (or my own approach, for that matter) on youtube.
I always thought that watching professional do their job is one of the best ways to learn about the overall approach, and to guide you towards a solid understanding / feel of the topic you want to learn. The details can be learnt from tutorials and books and manuals, but seeing someone adjust a vocal for 3 minutes knowing exactly what they are going for shows you a lot more. It shows you how fast people work, how precise their understanding of the matter is, what they actually don’t care about or fret about.
I have been for now following along the mix (you can download the raw stems for most of them), trying to hear what the tutor is doing, and emulating it with my own set of plugins. That has taught me how to listen for certain things (in terms of position in the mix, in terms of openness, steadiness, things I never really noticed before).
After going through the mix once, I usually go through it a second time, again following what the tutor is doing, now able to focus not so much on learning plugins / spending time to educate my hearing, but this time going more for the feel and trying to understand the bigger picture. At this point I may try different plugins, and maybe try to deviate from the tutor’s approch.
Finally, and this is a point I haven’t gotten to, is start entirely from scratch, without referencing the video itself, but only the final result, try to recreate the result. I understand that this is all for the sake of learning, and I should of course try to establish my own mixing approaches and taste. However, first it is not really the style of music I listen to nor care about (pop / rock / rap / country), but I also feel that I don’t have the ear training nor the necessary skills yet.
I must say that puremix has been fantastic, and I learnt a tremendous amount, probably the most knowledge I ever got about music production / mixing since I started. I can heartily recommend it.
Another resource that I have been using to get better ear training is the Technical Ear Trainer. There are bunch of different tasks (reverb, distortion, compression, expansion, EQ), and you have to guess / match the different effects on source material of your choice. It is all implemented in webaudio and a very nice and fluid website. On the other hand, I am thinking of building a simple website where you can upload material to blind test, since it is very easy to be fooled by level changes / UIs / knowledge about what is currently happening. I plan on adding the possibility to upload screenshots showing the preset of the different plugins, and also have the website try to cheat yourself by for example switching up the screenshot for a specific audio track (of course it would tell you at the end). Another idea would be to propose possible answers, along with “None of the above”.
In the course of learning about mixing, I discovered the difference between analog modelling plugins and their cleaner “digital” counterparts. I have really learnt to love the NI premium tube and Solid/Enhanced series, and they are now my go to compressors (on the EQ side, I started using a mix of clinical EQs and the more flavourful pultec and manley emulations).
On the recommendation of a few people on IRC, I got a couple of compressor and distortion plugins to learn more and have a wider arsenal. These plugins are SDDR, a saturation plugin with 4 different saturation models, and overall fairly subtle, DC8C, which is a very customizable compressor, exposing simple controls in an EASY mode, and a crazy amount of knobs in its advanced mode, MJUC, a tube compressor plugin that is absolutely fantastic, and that is now one of my go-to bus and buss compressor plugins. Finally, I got Disto by sknote, but I haven’t used it much yet, and the channel strips and CTC-1 console shapers by presonus, which I haven’t used much either.
I will try to do a more comprehensive review and overview of all these plugins once I feel more confident and creative with my mixing skills.
Production and kontakt course
On the more musical side, I haven’t done much, since mixing has taken up most of my time and energy. I have however decided to try a more experimental style as a break from techno, going into a more “slow footwork” kind of style. It’s been very fun, but I have yet to figure out a general flow and track structure.
There is also a Kontakt course on Kadenze which I am taking, since I don’t know much about Kontakt and sampling at all, besides loading the odd one shot / sliced beat into the maschine samplers. The course is led by Loudon Stearns. I already took the synthesis course he is teaching last year, and it’s been a lot of fun. Every session you have to create a 40 bar track, with 5 different 8 bar sections. This is very different from what I usually do, where the sections have to be fairly long for the spirit of the track. It’s a welcome change and definitely something I struggle with. Here is my track for the first week, done with only instruments from the Kontakt factory library. I decided to go with a heavily distorted trip hop off balance beat.