I’m gonna embarrass myself with a question that shows how little I know! But here goes…
Could you talk more about what you mean by production? I’m taking you to be contrasting that with the mix, per se. Just curious cuz I’m thinking I probably have took production to mean “everything” from start to finish (arranging, tracking, instumentation, editing, mixing, mastering).
Is production different than mixing?
So, you pointed out a lot of issues with the mix; when you talk about production, I’m taking that to refer to the raw material I have to work with? The instrumentation, the tracking, etc?
Nothing embarrassing at all, and someone else’s answer might be different from mine here so don’t take this as gospel truth! Actually my comment was prone to confusion indeed, because production can have different meanings in different contexts. And you’re totally right, in general production encompasses everything from songwriting to mastering.
The thing is, for a lot of artists, some of the intermediate steps tend to be overlooked quite often, sometimes skipped altogether. If we’re considering this simple, chronological way to break it down:
Songwriting (melody/chord progression/lyrics)
Arrangement (song structure, orchestration)
Pre production (deciding who will perform what, where and how the final song will be recorded and other things like that)
In my experience, a lot of non-signed artists are skipping steps or mixing them together, most of the times they are going through 2 steps which are:
Recording, arranging, mixing (simultaneously)
This results in a less than perfect production, with things that could have been easily improved with not much more than a little time or perspective. A producer can help improve the final product tremendously, but it’s hard for people to let go of some of the control they have on their own music (not even considering financial matters).
In the present situation, I was referring to the fact that a good production job would have included selecting drum kit samples that fit the song genre perfectly, a proper drummer and a proper keyboardist to perform these parts and other things that would have brought this song to its full potential (which I believe is far greater than what has been achieved in terms of recording).
Some producers specialise in some of the process only, but in general the producer is the driving force that makes it happen and delivers a pro final product. There is a great thread here on this topic.
I’m sure you knew all of that already, it’s just a matter of clarifying something I had poorly phrased in the first place.
Production is the whole process. From what you said earlier, this is someone else’s mix and production and you added some new creative elements? That is normally referred to as an extension of the production.
Hey Tes, back for another listen again. Good idea to get the excellent ears here on your version! Lots of great input.
I had a thought with your arrangement. Maybe you could pause your guitar part when the singing starts so we can focus on the vocal more. Then you could bring it back for the build or the chorus? Just an idea…
The one thing that is really poking out to me is the kick. It feels too aggressive for this song. Maybe turning it down or softening the attack might help it blend better?
You’ve also got a lot of time on the ending there. You may want to fade out quicker.
I’ve gotten so much excellent crit on this thread (thanks all!) but have been SWAMPED with work and haven’t had a chance to do much with it. Working on it, and already have incorporated much of this feedback, to good effect.
Feel like a poop cuz it’s been almost a week since you guys commented and I haven’t been able to get to it! UGH! I want the world to slow down.
Yeah, I agree. I really love this song. And the guy’s voice – John Scuderi – is a knock-it-out-of-the-park clone of Cat Steven’s. Gorgeous, and works on this song in a big way.
However, that said, I guess I really did not care at all for the production, as you guys have pointed out. The drums sounded not very nice to me. There was no “real” guitar, but only two MIDI guitars that sounded so “MIDI”. Not played in a way that you’d really play guitar. The bass was “nice” but was cut off at the end of phrases. The strings were harsh.
So I did a ton of editing. Resampled the drums (so any mismatch there is on me!) and replaced the drums altogether on the choruses and bridge. Recorded two totally new guitar parts.
In this re-mix I tried to incorporate as much of the feedback I got here as I could. Michelle, your comments on the strings were awesome. I’m hoping I moved in the right direction?
Totally remixed the drums and edited the bass heavily. @redworks, thanks for the crit on the drums. Yup on the metal sound of the kick. How’s this?
Also, made changes to the piano/guitar competition: I did a lot or remixing of the piano per Michelle; also I actually got a comment from the guy that took 2nd place in the iZotope mix contest at AMC, who suggested he’d like to hear a version with only guitar and no piano. I just didn’t have the courage to do it – plus really liked the keys, esp in the intro – so I used them prominently in the intro – just thought it was so pretty – and then scaled them back a LOT. Still there, but definitely this production became predominantly guitars.
I’m really eager for feedback, cuz this is a bit of stepping out there for me. And it’s new for me doing production/changes/additions to a mix.
My biggest question is about my low end. When I err I almost always err by not having enough. I referenced heavily. I’m thinking I can probably scale it back.
I would love input on the bass: I really tried to get a tighter “thump” with the bass; I feel like I’m close, but just DK how to quite get it there.
Anyway, here’s my first mix for bashing. Hope I’m moving in a better direction.
I actually thought so as well. Also resembles Phil Collins which is also one of my all time favorite voices. Anyway getting to the 2nd mix. I definitely hear a lot of improvements. The the ambience on the piano seems great. The guitar is also a lot less “tinny” sounding. Drums are tamed and accent the mix.
among some nitpicks, some high sibilance is still interfering with the mix. Could be the reverb tails fighting. Might want to eq the reverb envelope. High strings could also use a bit more low pass.
When the bass guitar comes in at 2:03, its beautiful but its not having the impact it likely should. I would automate the string tail and reverb tail right to die out slightly before the bass impacts so its clearer. Among other things, the noise level might be a bit higher for the tempo of the song. I like a good analog crackle but at times it can get in the way if its too loud.
This is good stuff, Michelle. Thank you for this. Could you clarify a few things for me? I’m realizing there’s so much for me to learn here…
New concept for me? What does that mean to say the tails are fighting? I “think” it means that I need to LPF the verb cuz it’s accentuating the sibilance on the voc? Am I close? So, assuming sibilance is in the 5K to 3K range – maybe even 3-4K? – a LPF down to 1-2K?
And when you LPF the high strings, any thoughts on how low that might go. For sure I’ll do it by ear, but it’d be helpful to have a frame of reference, cuz I am not well-grounded in what strings should sound like (man, that sounds awful! Such a neophyte!).
Nice. Love this. Consider it done. Good call.
So, I’m thinking something like Izotope’s Vinyl? Is that what you mean? Or are you talking more like tape noise?
But also, could you explain your comment about the connection between noise level and song tempo? This is foreign to me.
Also (if I may) I got a few comments over on AMC that they didn’t like the “groove” of the drums on the choruses. I actually really like it and strongly prefer it over the original, which was very simple. Would love yours – and anyone’s – thoughts on that.
I may not be using the right term.
if you have different type of reverb on different tracks, its possible that the high frequencies also have reverb applied to it that adds up in the final mix and gets amplified if the decay time is too long on each track. I think your noise (distortion) is also getting some reverb applied to it because it is in the recorded tracks of the piano and guitar individually.
You could try reducing the decay time on the reverb or… like you mentioned cut some highs in the reverb signal (if the reverb is a separate FX track), not necessarily an LPF.
Usually the range of the instrument itself. If it is high violins I assume 10k would be a good place as usually the high harmonics of the violins are present in that range. You could also go as low as 5k if you just want a distant string sound. Play it by the ear in 5k to 10k range.
Your recordings have a crackle and a hiss, which is usually a good thing but if the noise level is too high it will make the mix sound unclean. Most analog crackles are fast, depending on the frequency of the signal. They accent a fast paced rock song very well but if its a ballad like song or a medium paced song, the crackle and hiss will dominate the empty parts and be apparent in a not a very good way. I would consider using a noise reducer on the most noisy track to bring the noise floor down a bit. You can also use a noise reducer on your fx track.
That is feeling way more tighter. I struggle with my low end as well so I am not a good one to respond on that area. There are really nice elements in this mix. I like the way that the elements are coming in and out with strings and synths. I especially like that bubbly synth. Nicely done. On first listen nothing is jumping out at me. I will try and have another listen when i have more time.
This song interested me because I use midi guitars, and rarely do I have real guitars to add. Version 2, the one midway in the thread, is the new version, right? I don’t notice any unnaturalness to them, perhaps the real guitars just overshadow the midi now. At any rate, it sounds great now!
I really found this production steps description to be really honest and worth remembering, especially as most of us here, even though it is a “recording” site, probably adhere to the two-step method. In fact, what I think we are doing here is striving for a better step two process because we don’t have the resources to do it the pro studio way. Indeed, we might have a three-step process, with BTR being the extra step. This may be more like a 1- Songwriting, 2- Simultaneously recording/mixing/producing, 3- Feedback, 4- More recording/mixing/producing, 5- More feedback, and then repeat. More the Prell lather/rinse/repeat method.
So what is the final product? It is when you have tried your best to get it to sound as best as it can and have run out of resources to do more, or when you have decided to accept it in some flawed form as good enough for government work, so to speak, and the world will just have to do the same.
For this song, it starts out very good as a song and a performance. Its inherent concept is to be this easy listening, folksy love song, and it is with the millions of other similar songs it must compete. So as good and improved as your version is, how memorable it will be is not assured no matter how perfect the production (excluding songwriting). Having said that, in the two-step Prell world we live in, you’re getting the hang of the technical side.
Yeah, in this version I did away with the MIDI guitar in both of these versions (actually, I might have left a few little lines in, but I don’t think you can really hear them). To clarify, this is nothing like the really cool MIDI guitar you get from UJAM. This is played in on a keyboard, so it sounds not like a guitar, but a keyboard playing guitar samples. Your MIDI guitar has very realistic samples of guitar strums. That sounds awesome. So what you’re hearing here is real guitar: two guitar parts, each recorded in stereo (with a large diaphragm Studio Projects C1 and a Shure SM81).
Interesting. Very fair. That actually is probably a good description for much of what goes on here. But a lot of what happens here is mixing practice, bashing, fixing, but it’s not original stuff. It’s other people’s stuff. I think that was @Lophophora’s point here, is that there were some not very nice things in the raw material that I didn’t have control over. So, I guess you could say I took on some production tasks by redoing the drums, recording two new guitar parts, etc.
Thanks, Steve. I really appreciate that! And I love the Prell metaphor! Hmm. Maybe a byline for our website! "Indie Recording Depot: Lather, Rinse, Repeat.
Thanks for sharing this song and the work you did on this.
Lot of great information here about production and toughts you have on this.
Your first mix sounded odd to me: as @Lophophora mentionned, there are parts that disappear suddendly. In the mix process, I would say it could be somp compressors pumping for some reasons but it didn’t sound that way.
I also found the song (at that stage) felt a bit lost with no obvious goal to fill: parts come and go away, instruments aren’t connected as playing the same song (does this mean something???) and somehow a producer would have a vision for turning all those needles in the same direction.
The second mix works better to me, it sounds more as a song, not bunch of tracks played together.
But it seems (as I read the threat) you spent too much time on this song and you’re beginning to dismantle what you did earlier…
Again, thanks for sharing steps you did for that work!
You are so right, @ncls . I spent WAY too much on this song. I think it’s going in the right direction, but I’d feel a lot better if I were able to get it sounding this way in two hours, like it seems most of you are able to do.
hopefully I’m “getting there,” but it’s a learning process and a labor of love at this point. I’m trusting I’m learning things and that I’ll become more efficient over time.
I am most certainly not lol… I have myself sat on mixes for days even weeks. What I realized I was doing wrong was my listening environment and choice of reference tracks. You mix is only as good as your listening environment. Investing in superior quality headphones is step 1. Investing in some treatment is step 2. A treated room is always superior to an untreated room. I understand that most mixers stop at Step 1 (I used to be one of them until I decided to take the next plunge and found that it was worth it). Stopping at headphones is still fine if you can project the mix from headphones to live environment using your knowledge and experience.
Step 3: You need good quality reverb, compression and EQ units. Analog or Digital plugins is only a matter of preference and taste. Learn those equipments and plugins really good. Learn how to do eq sweeps effectively.
Step 4: Use 2 good reference points. You wont know what is good unless you have heard it and compared it. In the music industry good and bad changes constantly, but what is consistent is your ear. Whether you use your favorite tracks from the classic days, pit them against some newer tracks and you suddenly feel like your favorite was largely inferior to the newer track, you are not alone. However, choose two starting points. Even if it is as simple as a choice of static white, pink or brown noise. Start there and work your way up by pitting your track against a musical sonic reference.
Step5: Choose a stopping point. Definitely utilize friends and contacts with good ears. Bounce it off a good mastering engineer for some more input. Eventually it dawns on you. Whole process that is definitely not 2 hour long but you can choose to stop at anytime when you feel.
I work mainly out of headphones (Sennheiser HD600’s). I actually don’t usually listen to them for recreational listening – I use my Grados, which are brighter. But maybe a corollary to what your saying, it dawns on me, is that I need to listen through my Sennheisers more. I do when I reference, but I need to use them when I don’t reference more. I need to train my ears. Need to listen to music with the same cans I’ll be using for referencing.
My room isn’t treated yet. I have a bunch of insulation panels sitting in the garage, and it’s “on the list.” Hoping sometime this summer to get it done.
I feel like I have great tools, and am learning to stop switching to a different EQ every time I mix!
Knowing when to stop. Crap, you are so right about that. I can spend hours tweaking and fiddling, then take a few days off and go back and find it was better before I started fiddling. Mixing brings out the OCD in me.
The other piece I’d add to the list is the bashing. I learn so much from people who are willing to tell me I’ve got broccoli in my teeth! The raw candor that is the culture on this site is healthy and refreshing and invaluable.
Thanks for this.
I’m feeling pretty comfortable with my vocals and guitars, pianos, “most of the stuff” that goes into a mix. No question, my next steps are learning how to do drums and getting better at my low end. Man, that’s hard.
I feel like I’m “getting there,” but those are the two pieces that seem to set apart good mixes from great mixes. I’m workin’ on it, but not there yet. But I know where I’m goin’!