How many times have you heard that? Or, have you even said it yourself?
You might or might not know that I got my break in audio by working in post production. One of the most dreaded phrases you could possibly hear as a mixer was, “We’ll fix it in post”. That meant that whatever problem had popped up had instantly become my problem to fix. Joy!
Sadly, a very similar phrase is used when it comes to music.
“We’ll fix it in the mix”
With modern recording technology, you have the option to record as many takes or individual tracks as you want until your computer runs out of CPU power, storage space, or you run out of brain power/collapse.
During the mixing process, you can de-pop, de-hiss, de-noise, de-verb, re-amp, sample replace and so on… it really is a brave new world with so many options at our disposal. But, as with everything else in life, just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do it.
Don’t get me wrong… I think it’s truly fantastic that we have all these wonderful, modern tools to work with and they have saved me on many an occasion. The idea of using these tools, however, is to fix genuine problems that have come about accidentally during the recording stage.
There’s a huge difference between a genuine mistake and knowing something is just plain wrong
Let’s take plosives as an example. If you’re recording a vocal and you hear lots of ‘puh’ and ‘buh’ sounds as you’re monitoring, it would be a good idea to stick a pop shield in front of the microphone.
What happens if you let that slide and say “We’ll fix it in the mix”?
Easy solution I hear you say… an EQ move will sort that. If I put a high pass filter on the vocal track and roll off everything under around 120Hz, my vocal performance is fixed. Yes, you’d be right in saying that, but what if you really need some 100Hz in that vocal performance to add some thickness and body to it? You’d have to go in and individually “de-pop” all of the P’s and B’s in the entire vocal performance. That, my friend, is a massive waste of time that a pop filter could have fixed.
Another scenario is recording a silly number of takes. It’s rare that ‘take 152‘ is going to be the golden take. If you need that many to get the performance right, you most likely need to:
- Go back to the arrangement and pre-production process before recording.
- Get a life.
Endless takes means endless editing, comping and tweaking before you can even get your tracks to the mixing stage. Then, you can fix all the earlier problems “in the mix”. That means the mixing process becomes overcomplicated, messy and generally just not a lot of fun.
So, what’s the solution?
Only print (record) what you need
Instead of having 50 tracks with the same guitar part, get your tone right and record one track. Yes, absolutely record a double of that with a different guitar, pickup selection or different amp but do you really need those third, fourth and fifth tracks of the same part as well? Being decisive during the recording stage really helps the mixing stage. To add weight to that point, let me share with you a story of my own naivety in this regard…
When I was first starting out as a producer, I ran a session in a great studio in Ireland with a talented up-and-coming band and an experienced engineer. We ran everything through a really nice Neve desk and used some of the desk’s EQ channels in moderation. Instead of using some of the fantastic outboard at our disposal, I printed everything with only a little bit of EQ and compression on the way in. In fact, I only used an 1176 on the vocals – no drum compression or anything. I wanted to get the ‘color’ of the sound using the top quality microphones at our disposal by using multi mic setups and room mics.
While there’s some benefit to using that approach, it would have made a lot more sense for me to minimise the number of microphones I was using and print the sound I wanted for each individual part so that it was as close as possible to the finished product I had in mind. At the time, I really liked how everything was sounding but it wasn’t until I took the session to another studio to mix it that I had realised the error of my ways.
The mix took much longer than expected to complete because I had not been decisive during the recording stage.
That’s why we’re often shocked when we hear stems or listen to the multitracks of some of our favourite artists. More often than not, they’re pristine and you feel like all you’d need to do is pull up the faders and the mix is done. Experience, decisiveness and commitment will help you achieve those results during the recording stage.
I’ve given you an example of my haphazard approach in the early days, so here’s an example of how it should be done…
An extremely talented producer friend of mine sent me his mix to critique last week. That’s something we regularly do for each other because another set of ears you trust are invaluable. Any time he sends me a mix, I know it’s going to be top quality as it stands and he’s looking to squeeze that extra 5-10% out of it based on any tips I might have. But this time, things were different…
I was really taken aback by the quality of the mix. It’s like he had just taken everything to the next level. So I congratulated him on a job extremely well done and gave him a few small notes that might help him. The next day, we spoke about the mix. It turns out, he had recorded the track under quite a lot of time pressure, so he was printing the sounds he wanted to use within the mix and then “mixing as he went“. This approach meant that when it came to the actual mixing process, he had very little work to do. The track essentially mixed itself due to his systematic approach and his decisiveness.
In my opinion, this is the approach that we all need to have. A well written song makes arranging easier. Great arrangement makes recording and production easier. Top quality recordings make for an easy, creative mixing process. And a unique, professional, balanced mix makes for an easy master.
No, I am not saying that everything you write, play, record, mix and master needs to absolutely perfect and pristine but having a systematic approach and your own method will help you do the best possible job based on your skill level and the tools you have at your disposal. There will always be a couple of small issues with any recording – sometimes there are big issues. If you’ve done your best and avoided using the “We’ll fix it in the mix” mindset, then there’s nothing to worry about. We are not robots and imperfection in music can be a beautiful thing.
The most important point is that by being decisive and having your method, you create less work for yourself and others. That makes you easier to work with and people will want to work with you more. I see nothing wrong with any of that!
Now, I’d love to know…
Have you ever said “We’ll fix it in the mix“? Be honest! This is a safe place…
Leave a comment below!
professional sounding mix every time…