I’m mixing and mastering my own music now and have even begun to accept outside clients, so going to MixCon in NYC this year was a no-brainer. Also, local and free! Can’t beat that.
I saw four people speak. Tony Maserati (!!), Paul “WIllie Green” Womack, Mike Major, and Jeff Ellis.
I took a ton of notes and picked up some great tricks that I’ve already started to use, but the big takeaway I got out of the event was that I’m actually closer than further when it comes to getting my craft to where I want to be in this department!
It was great to see how these mixers take an already respectable sounding rough mix from a producer, then take that to the next level. It was all so many little things that added up to a much more grand effect. Stuff that kept coming up from all of them:
Listen to what the song is doing and let that inform where you take it. What are the hooks or main events in the track? What is sounding like it could be more featured? Where is a supporting element in the way?
what quirks does the song have that we can accentuate?
Try mixing in parallel more. e.g. If I want to brighten a snare drum, clone it, make a bright version, and mix that in with the original. Same with compression. Smash a clone, then mix it in parallel
Process drum overheads independently of the rest of the kit. The compression that makes the kick and snare really knock is usually not what you want on the cymbals, which can get too harsh if you squash them too aggressively.
Everybody was mixing pretty in the box for the most part. Tony Maserati was the most “out”, at least from what everyone said and demonstrated.
Everybody was using most of the same plugins we all know and love. Tons of FabFilter, Slate Digital, Waves, Soundtoys, & UAD. No big surprises in the plugin department.
My ego got a nice little massage a few times too. There were a few techniques that I had come up with independently or lifted from records by ear that were mentioned. Let’s me know I’m on the right track,
Here are two techniques:
The Inverse Auto Pan
The Problem: You have four elements that occupy similar parts of the frequency spectrum, but only two channels in the stereo field.
Solution: You get as much separation as you can with EQ and stereo panning. Then take two elements you want to get more separation between. I typically do this with synths. Take one and automate the panning with a plugin like Ableton Autopan or SoundToys Panman (this is what Jeff Ellis used to demonstrate). You can use a random panning algorithm, a sine wave, whatever. Then copy the same autopan effect to another element except invert the phase. Super easy to do with Ableton Auto Pan. Now the DAW will be moving the two elements in opposite ways in the stereo field.
Willie Green demoed this. Great way to get an out of the box vibe without going there. Super simple too. Make a stereo bus (if you’re applying this to a whole mix) or make a clone of the thing you want to widen. Depending on your DAW you might need to make two clones and pan one hard left and the other hard right because this is a Dual Mono Effect, not stereo. How you accomplish it doesn’t matter. The main thing is you’re going to put a simple, subtle distortion effect on one side, and a different subtle distortion effect on the other side and blend this in parallel with the original sound. Willie Green used the same plugin set differently, but I’m sure you could try this with different plugins on each side.
Either way, the idea here is it tricks your ear into hearing a wider stereo image because slightly different things are happening on each side. I don’t know this for sure, but I would bet that this is part of the sauce that makes certain coveted pieces of analog gear so juicy sounding.