Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mixing and Messy Cars

Reasons why messy cars are good:

  • There's always scrap paper handy
  • Who likes to clean their car?
  • There's always, always enough change to pay the meter if you look long enough
  • Rediscovering lost CDs
  • It's a good excuse for someone else to drive to lunch
  • Easier to keep track of which fast food places you've visited so that you can diversify
  • Nobody breaks in to a junky car
  • When your kid spills their Big Gulp? No cleanup.
  • You're always reminded of the fallen-ness of man
  • When you finally clean it, it's like you have a new car

Someone asked about mixing.

There's a pretty big difference between the kind of mixing we're doing during the recording process and the kind of mixing Todd Robbins is doing. We're actually not mixing anything, really. We're pushing the faders up and down so that we can hear what we need to hear in order to record the next track, but there's very little messing with the EQ and very little reverb or other effects added. Sure, we're mixing in the most basic sense.

But here's what makes guys like Todd so amazing to me. (And there's a fair bit of assumption going on here, because I'm not around for the nuts and bolts of the mixing.) We deliver the songs to the engineer in an edited but completely unmixed form. He then has to listen to every single instrument all the way through. He compresses, equalizes, gives it reverb and makes it sound just right. He does it with the drum tracks (and maybe each of the ten or so mics on the drums), then he does it with the bass, the four or five different guitar tracks, and so on. Once he has everything sounding as good as possible, he starts the actual programming of the volume. The faders "remember" where they were at different parts of the song, so that when he pushes STOP, the faders all slap down to zero volume. When he pushes PLAY at whatever part of the song he wants, the faders snap into position like soldiers. As the song goes by, he can push the volume up or down on, say, my lead vocal, so that if I sang something too quietly he can adjust it. The next time the song plays, the program remembers the volume adjustment. (I'm writing this with the assumption that you're unfamiliar with all manner of sound stuff.)

He'll listen to it about a zillion times and make minute adjustments to the volume levels, reverb levels, etc., until he's ready for us to listen. We come in and listen, take notes as the song goes by, and make suggestions. The fact that he's coming into it without having heard anything of the recording process (and in this case without having heard any of my music) has advantages and disadvantages. The good thing is, his ears are fresh. He's going to hear things we can't anymore. The bad thing is, he might not immediately sense the direction we were going for with the song. See, he can make the song sound warm or modern or crisp or low-fi or vocal heavy or electric guitar heavy or a thousand other things.

That's why I get excited about the mixing process; it's as close as I'll come to hearing these songs as if for the first time.

So he's mixed "Invisible God" and most of "Rocket". I haven't heard any of it yet, but Ben says it sounds great.



Curtis said...

Now I'm perplexed. I'm sitting here trying to decide if I enjoyed the reasons for a dirty car or the mixing tutorial more. Great stuff, Andy.

sevenmiles said...

Thanks for the mix engineer explanation, Andrew. I love that basic description, which is what I've loved about this whole blog. What an amazing job to be a mix engineer. I've done quite a bit of video work, and have done what your described on some of the audio tracks on my videos, but to do it for a whole songs worth of instruments and vocals? Wow.

I loved your messy car list. As for my'm a neat freak. It's not necessarily clean, but it's usually not cluttered. I even keep those Armor All wipes in the glove box to clean when I'm stuck in traffic. I know...I need professional help.

Nathaniel said...

I love this blog. I always enjoy watching behind-the-scenes stuff on how movies are made and simply being mesmerized by how much goes into them. Until now, I had never really seen anything in this regard concerning making an album other than a few video clips. Thanks for sharing the making of an amazing work. I know it will be great when this much care and concern for good music that honors God is shown.

PS - I look forward to the Behold the Lamb tour in December. My tickets arrived for the concert in Charlotte, NC today.

Rebekah said...

As a perpetual messy car person let me add the following to the list (these are true for my particular old klunker of a Volvo, not necessarily true in general):

*there are ALWAYS extra sunglasses lying around in case you didn't grab a pair on the way out the door when it was cloudy in the morning, but now want a pair 'cause it has cleared up.

*there are always re-usable cloth grocery bags so that the evil, planet-killing plastic bags are no longer necessary

*there are always extra sweaters/mitts/hats/random articles of clothing, in case of a sudden cold snap

*it makes people feel better about how organized their lives are compared to you

*there is always a little extra reading material around in case (as has happened to me 2 times in the last 6 months) the alternator goes and you're stuck on the side of the road FOREVER waiting for CAA.

That's all I got without repeating Mr. Peterson's list. ;)

I liked the mixing tutorial, too.


eiszoe said...

Man, did you get my number on the messy car list. You should send that to Letterman. Seriously.

canaan bound said...

If they are but vague inclinations... I'm afraid one more promise will kill these hopes stone dead.

I am aching to see a video. Deliver on these promises, Andy!

Mattie said...

I'm of the messy car variety, but I must disagree with one of your points. I am proof that people do in fact break into messy cars. I'm in sales and basically live in my car: newspapers, empty bottles (of water), sunflower seeds everywhere, napkins, work-stuff, and an interior/exterior that hasn't been washed since Moses was a baby. Yet this didn't stop one of my friendly neighbors from relieving me of some of my posessions.

Other than that, I wholeheartedly agree!

Peter said...

mattie, the catch is that you can't have a good stereo either.

My old car is still chugging along under layers of debris, but I fear the day is coming when I will have to start fresh. In preparation for the emptiness, I have begun keeping a giant trash bag to catch all the latest goodies (see, you can take it with you).

The mix description was fascinating. I hope we get some live samples on the tour!

Amy said...

My favorite on the messy car list was an excuse for someone else to drive to lunch!! For sure! I just got a new(ish) car and I'm trying to keep it clean but my old one....oh yeah, cluttered like my brain!