Mixing Your Song is About Simplicity not Complexity
October 31, 2014
I think it’s safe to say that we have all been in this particular situation at some point or another, you know, something just isn’t working in the studio. It could be a technical problem or perhaps the mix just isn’t coming together. Things just aren’t feeling right and you aren’t able to put your finger on it. But whenever we are faced with these challenges, we always assume that the answer to our problems has to be a complicated one. But usually it’s a lot simpler than you think.
Simplicity is The Key
If you are up on your reading you may have heard about Oscam’s razor and how it relates to logic, problem solving and theories in the sciences. His principles says “that among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected. In other words, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.” So does this at all sound familiar? Even though it doesn’t have to relate to scientific fact all the time, it is pretty helpful in getting us to find simple solutions rather than getting lost in complicated ones.
In the world of audio, us home engineers tend to over complicated everything. For whatever reason, we just assume that in order to get a great recording, we need the fanciest gear, the best daw and a ton of technical know how. But I think that people like you and I know better. One microphone, an audio interface and macbook or laptop will get you to where you want to go, just fine. But people just can’t come to grips with the fact that it’s that simple. But it’s okay, it’s really just human nature and the exact same thing happens when trying to solve problems.
My Buddies Mic Placement Confusion
My good friend Bill just happens to be a home studio owner. Though he is a really talented musician, his studio is mainly used to do voiceover work for tv and radio advertisements. I was the one who helped him put together his vocal booth, in his walk in closet (a few years back) and it has worked out really well for him. Fast forward a couple years and now Bill moves into a new place and he sets up his mic in his new closet thinking he’d get the same results.
Naturally his first time recording in the new booth, didn’t go over very well. He reached to his wits end, at which point he sent me his recordings and asked me for my help. I first made sure I listened to how his older recordings sounded and they were really good. The new recordings however, had some low-end resonance, comb filtering and just sounded plain awful. It really was unusable.
At first, I Though It Was The Closet
Bill hadn’t changed his software or his gear so I had to rule that out as being the problem. The only big change was the room he was recording in. My gut was telling me that something bad was going on inside his closet and his mic was picking it up. Smaller recording spaces will often have problems especially in the low mid frequency range. I asked Bill if he could take some pictures (as he lives a couple states over) so that I could see his new set up.
The new set up actually didn’t look that bad, though it was a bit smaller but nothing out of the ordinary stood out to me. I asked him to experiment with his positioning in the closet to see if that might be the problem. He took my suggestion and the recordings sounded different but definitely not better.
I Had to Bring Out The Big Guns
Seeing as mic placement and the position in the booth didn’t help, I had to bring out the big guns: extreme EQ. I brought up the new recordings in my DAW and started hunting for the problems with my EQ plugin. In order for me to get rid of all those disgusting tones, I had to cut almost everything out below 250 Hz. It sounded so much better but now it was super thin sounding. This is not something I would usually do, especially for any type of voiceover work.
This is not a very practical solution but this seemed to be the only thing that helped to make his vocals sound better. What the heck was happening? Something was very bad and not just by a little bit, but to the extreme.
To Put it in Laymen’s Terms
I kept taking a look at the pictures that Bill had sent me to see if there was maybe something I looked over in all of this process. I wanted to find out just what was making his vocals sound so terrible. But after looking at the pictures 50 times or so there was something about the mic I didn’t notice before. I could literally hear in my head a little guy yelling: Eureka!
I gave Bill a call and said “Hey Bill, this is actually kind of funny. I’ve been pulling my hair out over this for the longest time and as it happens, I think you have been speaking into the back of the mic this whole time.” Of course Bill was super surprised and couldn’t believe it but after going back and checking it out for himself, he had been recording into the back of the mic the whole time. No wonder the recordings sounded like poop
What Can We Learn From All This?
This is a classic example of over complicating a situation and I’m sure you will run into many of these yourself. It might be a plugin inserted on the wrong track, a faulty cable, a bypassed plugin or something else that’s really simple that you never noticed before. So if something comes up that might seem complicated try to ask yourself: What’s is the simplest way to quickly fix this problem. Because it just might be that simple!