Study Hall

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Sonic Decisions

Mixing tips, workflows and gear talk for the independent audio practitioner, a.k.a., the "Lone Audio Ranger"

If working in the analog realm, here’s a trick that I learned from noted recording/ broadcast engineer Bob Clearmountain. Insert an outboard compressor on the vocal channel – this compressor needs to have a side-chain input and preferably separate controls for attack and release.

Next, split the vocal channel (using a y-cable or splitter), then un-assign the split channel from the L/R bus and monitor sends. If available, feed the direct out of your split channel to the side chain input of your compressor. If there’s not a direct out, steal an unused post fader/post EQ aux send. Alternatively, an external EQ can also be inserted into the compressor sidechain, yet it doesn’t provide the same flexibility with regard to threshold control.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the compressor’s built-in sidechain has been interrupted by your own, which gives you the ability to guide the compressor to be more sensitive to the offending frequencies and therefore compress the nasty stuff only. This is essentially how a basic de-esser circuit works. PFL (pre-fade listen) the split channel, and using the strips parametric EQ, crank the offending harsh frequencies and/or lower boomy frequencies. (Fast attack and release on the compressor, please.)

Use the fader on the split channel to “ride” the threshold of the reduction. While not truly compressing just the specific frequency only, as with a dynamic EQ/compressor, the use of fast attack and release on the broad band signal does its thing quickly and gets out of the way. The other benefit of this technique is that the FX send from the vocal channel has the harshness taken out before hitting the FX input.

Low End

Managing lower frequencies is a challenge many of us struggle with, at least occasionally. A book chapter could be written about tackling this aspect, and ProSoundWeb offers a bounty of articles about LF and subwoofers.

With that in mind, here are some quick tips that can be useful:

—Don’t be afraid to attenuate the low end at the crossover.

—When applicable, put subs on an aux or matrix send (but use caution).

—When possible, locate sub cabinets in one place rather that separated, as is common with stacked left and right systems.

—When faced with not enough low end, think about sticking the subs in a corner to benefit from the “boundary effect.”

Volume!

I love dynamics and impact, but that doesn’t always mean loud. Some styles of music demand it, others not as much.

Keep in mind that loudness is perceived many ways. The impact of a kick drum could be considered “loud and great” or “boomy and overpowering.” The top end of a vocal could mean intelligibility or an all-out assault on everyone’s hearing.

Size in a mix comes from contrast – something can’t be big without referencing something small. Choose wisely in sizing things up, and don’t be afraid to use those faders.

Just The Beginning

Mixing is a huge subject and so personal, which makes it tons of fun. Although the role of a Lone Audio Ranger can be trying at times, you have the unique freedom to create solutions, workflows and techniques that work best for you, which can be quite rewarding.

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Next time I’ll delve into some ideas on being organized, on and off stage. Good luck out there!

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