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Before and After: A Guerilla Recording/Mixing Session Walkthrough May 28, 2008

Posted by ConnorSmith in : Mixing, Pro Tools, Project Studio , trackback

Ever had one of those projects where you have to record, edit, mix, and master a 3-4 song demo EP in a day? It’s definitely a lot of work, but it’s usually fun and exciting. The goal is to get the absolute best quality and quantity of recording that you can in the absolute shortest amount of time. Fun huh?

So today, I am going to show you a before and after clip of a band called “Edith Marie” from Dayton, OH. I recorded them at the University of Dayton recording studio (Street Sounds) a few weeks back. The recordings were done on a Digidesign 003 Rack with a PreSonus DigiMax running in ADAT. The room was that of an average project studio: not sound proof, some acoustic treatment, air handling and bass problems… BUT, a really great and fun place to record and to learn new things. My motto has always been that you can often learn more (and can experiment more) when you aren’t in that “perfect room” with the vintage Neve console (although obviously there is a time and place for everything)

(Excuse the mp3’s… WAV’s are just too big for the internet ) First, the unmixed clip. This is pretty much a faders up mix with a few things sending to reverb and a little compression here and there (that I just inserted while tracking). Don’t worry, the obnoxious sheep noises at the end were only in there pre-mix 😛

Edith Marie – UNMIXED

While it doesn’t sound bad, it has a long way to go. A lot of the basic elements are grooving, but everything needs some work. Now, quickly, here is the mix from the end of the day:

Edith Marie – MIXED

Fairly big difference. Let’s walkthrough how I got there. (Click on pictures to bring up full size)

First lets talk drums. The kick didn’t have a hole in the front, so my mic was outside the drum. This (coupled with the small room) led to a lot of cymbal bleed on the kick track. Solution: Gate it. I also added some EQ and some compression. The compressor is really functioning more like a limiter here, I’m just knocking down the biggest peaks and bringing the level up a bit

.Kick Drum Inserts

Next let’s go to the snare. I ended up using two SM57’s on the snare. One on top, one shoved up into the strainer on the bottom. Again, I had a decent amount of leakage, but I chose NOT to gate, as I think it was taking away from the “naturalness” of the snare (made it sound fake). The snare had a good amount of high end already, but was heavy around 1k (which I cut). You’ll notice I boost around 110 on the snare. Don’t forget about the low frequencies of your snare drum, that’s where the “fat” in a snare lies. I hit the snare pretty hard with a slow attack Massey CT-4 compressor (which I think ALL pro tools users should own). Finally, just a small touch of a short plate reverb (D-Verb) was added via an aux send (not pictured below).

Snare Drum Inserts

I’m going to breeze over the toms and overheads here. I just used a little EQ on the toms and that and some compression on the overheads. Don’t roll off (hi-pass) your overheads too much!! That’s another place where the fat of the snare drum originates. The drum bus did get a little compression and EQ. For drums (generally, not always) I like slower compression. If you get the attack time too fast, you lose the initial WHAM of the hits, whereas a slower attack will help to increase the decay time/bring up the smaller details in the drums.

Next up: bass. This particular bass was recorded just off of a DI (split off the instrument, before the amp). This gave us a nice full bass that had lots of attack. You may call me crazy for the filters I put on this (see pic below), but here’s the explanation. I needed the aggressive lo-pass because of some bad noise coming from the bass (perhaps some old/dirty pickups?). The hi-pass is on there to separate the bass from the kick. I mixed so that the bass sits more in the 70-90 range, and the kick hits below that. Finally, just a little mud out at 300 and some presence up below 2k. Also, I hit it fairly hard with a compressor (rather fast attack too) to tame a little bit of bright attack.

Bass Guitar Inserts

The big electric guitars took a little creative EQ to get sounding right. They were recorded with 57’s on the cabs (a small Crate and a small Fender amp with a Strat and a Les Paul). When I started, they were a little muddy and needed some definition up high. You’ll notice in the EQ below, I use a hi pass filter below 150 and also a small cut at 215 or so. I also took some out at 1k (to get a slightly more “metal” sound). The boosts happened at around 2.6K (medium Q and about 4 dB) and then a fairly flat shelf above 5K. The compressor in the picture below is actually on the guitar bus, not on the individual track (I only used bus compression). Again, its just a touch with the CT4. Finally, I added a bit of reverb and delay to certain tracks via aux sends (which you can see later on)

Guitar Inserts


Let’s talk vocals (no pun intended). Here they are doubled, but I’ll just show you the main track (basically the same on both). I used a TLM103 to record the lead singer (Jordan Hart’s) voice. Usually that is a fairly warm mic, but I felt that it needed a bit more, so I boosted around 200 (right above a hi pass). Then, just for some presence, I added a shelf above 4k. That was followed by some typical vocal compression (notice the CT4 again, I love that plug-in). Oh yeah… forgot. Before all that, I did have a DeEsser going to cut down on the sibilance. See the pic below for those. The vocals also got some verb and delay via aux sends (pictured a little later on).

Vocal Inserts

Ok, aux sends. I actually just have three going here, since it was such a quick mix. I have a short plate, a fast delay (almost like a doubler), and a longer verb. Here all three are opened up:

Aux Effects

Last but not least… I like to mix through a 2bus and then into an audio track. That way, I can record different mixes into playlists, compare, etc. This way, I can also print my master bus effects without having to do a “bounce” per se. Here I am just running some shaping EQ with wide Q’s, some fairly light compression, and a limiter (just stopping it from going over). Plus I have an RNDigital Inspector (which is free to download!) to analyze my output. Usually I would recommend mixing a little “quieter” and not slamming things so hard in the mix. But, since I knew I would be “mastering” it that same day, I wanted to have less work bringing it up then (a speed tactic more than anything else).

Master Bus Inserts

And, finally, here is an image of the whole mix. You’ll notice that there aren’t a ton of plug-ins and effects running. I’d love to have more time to really delve into this, but when mixing fast, you need to get things done pronto. Glenn Brown (Lansing, MI) often talked about mixing quickly and “from the heart”. You need to feel the music quickly and make critical mix decisions on the spot. Some really great things can happen. While its often not ideal to mix really fast, its good to have the skill set and to understand some of the aspects (and even benefits) of it.

The Whole Mix

I welcome any comments/suggestions. Obviously I wouldn’t claim this to be the “end all” mix and/or recording, but it was a really fun and fast project. If anyone has any more specific questions about the techniques or process, please let me know.




The Studio Files



1. Jesse - May 29, 2008

holly crap-ola. You did a great job for one day, that would take me a month to do with my machine and with the level that i am at with pro tools haha.

2. ConnorSmith - May 29, 2008

Thanks, yeah it was a packed day (we actually did three songs), but super fun. I love projects like that where it’s pedal to the metal the whole time. (Plus it saves the bands a lot of $$)

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