The Dangers of ‘Fixing It In the Mix’

The Dangers of ‘Fixing It In the Mix’ By Glenn Sawyer

If you’ve recorded before then you may have heard the phrase ‘fix it in the mix’. If you hear this phrase while you’re working then you should be concerned….very concerned. Modern producers and engineers have a wealth of tools at their disposal that offer the ability to change tones and effects well after the actual recording is completed but that doesn’t actually mean it’s a good thing to wait until later.

So what exactly am I talking about? We’ve all been in the studio working on a project only to find that for whatever reason, finding the right tone is eluding us. This is a crossroads of sorts and there are two main options for moving past the problem. The first option is to settle and often times involves the engineer or producer saying something along the lines of ‘that’s good enough for now and we’ll fix it in the mix’ or ‘it’s not a feature part so it won’t be a problem. They’ll tell you they have a wealth of options for changing things down the road and that they’ll fix it later*.

If this option sounds like a terrible one, that’s because it is. Rarely, if ever, does ‘fixing it in the mix’ actually work. The problem being that you’ve settled at that point and although the engineer/producer may be able to improve the sound in the mix, it will never be what it could have been, and more often than not it ends up a bastardized version of what you really want. As the old saying goes, ‘You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig’, and that’s particularly true here.

The second option, and the better one to boot, is to simply keep trying to improve the tone until you actually have. This is generally as easy as turning some knobs or trying a different amp, guitar or keyboard until you find the right combinations of settings and gear. Other times it takes more than that but the important thing is not settling. I always say that you don’t have to know exactly where you’re going as long as you know if you’re not there yet. In my experience, it may take another 10 or 20 minutes to find the sweet spot but rarely longer than that.

The benefit of taking the extra time to get a tone right is that it’s always right after that (before, during, and after the mix) and you don’t end up settling for something you don’t want. The other equally important benefit is that you have a better idea about what kind of space is left in your production for other things, which will then dictate the decisions you make in regard to other tones. Not to mention the fact that the extra time you spent getting it right to start, pales in comparison to the time your engineer/producer will spend putting lipstick on that pig in the mix.

*to this I would always say, if you’ve got the abilities, let’s see them…as in now, not later


Bigger is Better

Dynamics is a word that you hear musicians using a lot and with good reason: it’s important. Dynamics breathe life into music and when used correctly creates a lot of excitement. When most musicians talk about dynamics they are referring specifically to volume and how it fluctuates, but there are other ways to create dynamics in music outside of just playing louder and softer. A big part of music production is helping to accentuate the existing dynamics of the song.

One of the most obvious places to accentuate a song’s dynamics is in the chorus. To illustrate how we do this, we’re going to dissect what we did on “She’s Got It ” by Sean Waldron. “She’s Got It” is a high energy track that has a killer chorus that we really wanted to feel momentous and big. The first thing you have to do when making something big is to actually make something small. We start the song with the guitar performances focused in the center of the stereo spectrum. This keeps Sean’s guitar work (a hallmark of his sound) front and center while leaving lots of space on the edges to use later to make things “big”.

There are several different ways we could have gone about making the chorus big, but we chose a technique known as doubling. Instead of having one performance of Sean’s electric guitar in the chorus (like the verses and the bridge) we had him play through it two extra times. Each extra performance is panned to different sides of the stereo spectrum (hard left and hard right) and the end result is a “wall” of guitar that gives Sean’s chorus the lift it deserves.

After doubling the electric guitars the chorus had a much bigger feel, but still needed something to push it over the top. The magic bullet proved to be a couple performances of acoustic guitar, panned hard left and hard right, and voila….The Sweet Spot. A chorus that pops and dynamics that don’t require you to bash the crap out of your instrument!*

Now that you know how we iced the cake I’m sure you’d like to take a bite of it and you can do just that on March 18th when Sean releases “She’s Got It.” Check him out at www.seanwaldronmusic.com and check back next month for more stories about finding the production Sweet Spot!

*Please be advised that drummers should always bash the crap out of their instruments.


Natural Verb

When it comes to music, what people often think of as the “magic” of a song is more often than not the intersection of great music and great production.

My name is Glenn Sawyer, and as a producer at The Spot Studios, figuring out what makes a great song even better is a big part of what I do. As such, I’ve managed to accumulate a large bag of tricks and my production partner Rich Veltrop brings even more to the table. Through this column, I hope to share what I have learned over the years and give you the inspiration and the insight to take your music to the next level. Reverb is one of the most useful tools available to a musician. It serves a variety of functions from helping an instrument sit better in a mix to giving your dubstep snare that over the top epic quality. These days the variety of uses that reverb can serve is equally matched by the options for obtaining it.

From spring reverbs on guitar amps to “in the box” digital verbs there are no shortage of choices, but one source that is often overlooked is natural ambiance or just the sound of the room. Fortunately for Rich and I, we’ve got a variety options when it comes to natural ambiences at The Spot and the most striking natural verb can be found in our primary live room, The Cathedral. With stone floors, brick walls, and 25-ft vaulted ceilings it has an open sound that lends itself to a variety of uses. The most obvious being drum recording. And yes…..it most certainly delivers epic Bonham “esque” drums.

Although, our “big rock drums” are worthy of their own column what I want to talk about today is creating the sound of an audience singing along with the band. A great example of this can be found in the Steele and Colfax track “ City on a Hill.” In the bridge section of this song there is a vocal call and response between lead singer Tim Yunker and the rest of the band that’s accompanied by boot stomping and foot clapping. Given the nature of the section, we felt it was appropriate to incorporate the sound of an audience singing along with the band’s response to Tim’s call. So how did we do this? First, we set up one of our tube powered Mojave MA200s in the center of the Cathedral. We placed the band in our control room, which is located on an open loft that overlooks the cathedral. Having the band 15 feet above the microphone and approximately 25 feet away means that when we recorded them singing the response to Tim’s call we got a very roomy sound that was also delayed enough to be unusable by itself. This “unusable” recording became our audience and the next step was to add the rest of the band. To do this we had the band sing group vocals close to the mic. Once these vocals were mixed in with the
vocals we recorded from the loft…..magic…..band and audience singing together in beautiful harmony with all natural verb. Now that you know how we did it, you can take a listen to the track at bit.ly/1bt2dXP. Check us out online for more information, and who knows, maybe the next Sweet Spot will focus on your song and the magic we create together.


Catapulting The Driftin’ Suns

After devoting way too much of my young life to watching VH1’s Behind The Music, there was a period of time that it seemed like being a musician was all about partying and having fun. After trying this technique out myself for several years it soon became clear that being successful at music requires more advanced skills than beer bonging. Since then, I’ve come to the realization that this was probably the case when they were shooting footage for Behind The Music, but the partying definitely made for better TV.

Although the music industry has changed dramatically since most of the footage featured on Behind The Music, one constant that still remains is the fact that good music isn’t worth a dime without good business sense as well. Unfortunately, most modern musicians don’t know enough about the business side of things and are suffering because of it.

Upon realizing that there aren’t a lot of resources available to artists to help them learn about the business side of the industry, we partnered up with BLDGBLKS Music Co. to create a recording package that gives artists the basic tools they need to get their career going. We call this package the Career Catapult.

The purpose of the Career Catapult is three fold. First, we work with the artist to record a quality product that they can use to further their career. In this case, we are recording a single that will be featured in the bands Kickstarter campaign. Following that we plan and successfully execute the Kickstarter campaign while teaching the artist how to crowd fund and market him or herself. Finally, we use the funds raised in the Kickstarter campaign to finish a larger recording project and create and execute a marketing campaign for the release of the product.

We have been fortunate enough to be able to put the Career Catapult to the test with local Denver band, The Driftin’ Suns. The Driftin’ Suns are a very driven and very talented up-and-coming band with big ideas. When we first met The Suns they were looking for a place to record an ambitious collection of tunes with plans to release them on four EPs named after the four seasons. Recording and releasing four EPs in succession is a daunting goal and the biggest hurdle for the band was finding the finances to get the recordings done. This made them the perfect fit for the Career Catapult.

As I write this article we are in the pre-production stage of the Career Catapult. The Driftin’ Suns spent a weekend with us earlier this month, and we recorded their single “Her Touch.” The track showcases the vocal talents of Kristian Kerr, as well as the Suns unique ability to combine styles and genres into something new and refreshing. It was a pleasure to work with the guys and I think you’ll enjoy their track.

The Suns have also been working with Joel Rekiel from BLDGBLKS Music Co. to prepare the Kickstarter campaign and to spread the word about it. By the time that you’re reading this the band will be launching the campaign on April 9th, and if all goes well they will hopefully meet and exceed their goals shortly thereafter.

After that the real fun begins, as The Driftin’ Suns will return to The Spot to record the rest of the first EP, Spring. They will also be working with Joel to create and execute a marketing campaign for the EP release. Once The Driftin Suns have completed the CareerCatapult they will have successfully released Spring and will be gearing up to start working on Summer. Now that’s what I call the Sweet Spot.

If you would like to support The Driftin’ Suns Kickstarter campaign you can find links on their website, www.thedfriftinsuns.com or at www.facebook.com/DriftinSuns. For more information about the Career Catapult visit our website at www.thespotstudios.com or give us a call at 303-988-2170. For more information about BLDGBLKS Music Co visit www.bldgblksmusic.com.

**VH1 was not injured in the writing of this article.