Recording Your Music: 'Editing and Mixing'
By Eric Tunison, Owner of Groove Tunes Studios
This is the fourth of five articles in the series “Recording Your Music!”. In this installment we will discuss what happens after your recording session. –ET
We’ve Only Just Begun...
So now you’ve had your band in the studio for a day of recording and you’re packing up your gear. You’ve laid down tracks for guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, percussion, vocals, and backups on a couple of songs. You ask the engineer to play back a rough mix of what you’ve done. You’re proud of your work and you go home exhausted but exhilarated. Congratulations, you have completed the recording portion of the process. But it’s not over yet; the engineer’s work is far from finished. He’ll be spending many more hours working on refining your tracks and making them special.
The next step in the process is editing. Remember all those “takes” you recorded? Your engineer needs to listen carefully to all those takes again and find and assemble all the best parts. He will cut, copy, and paste where needed, make timing alignments, edit out unwanted noises, and perform pitch corrections if necessary. This process can be likened to the editing process of movie production, where much of the filmed (recorded) action is left “on the cutting room floor”. In the final song edits, a high percentage of what was recorded is not used, and much of what is used is edited and cleaned up prior to final mixing. The editing process often takes as long as all the time spent on recording, and then some.
Mixing is the next step, and in many cases, the final step in the process. Once the engineer has finished editing all the tracks, getting everything cleaned up and on the beat (thanks to that click track), it’s time to decide how the final two-track mix will sound. The mix is where art-meets-science. Starting with perhaps dozens of tracks of recorded material, the engineer’s challenge now is to decide how to blend all these sounds into a pleasant stereo image that flows properly throughout the entire song. The engineer (or producer) decides the relative volume of each track through the entire song, where each instrument will sit across the stereo left-right panorama, how to equalize (EQ) the treble and bass of each track, whether compression or limiting are applied and if so how much, and when to add sonic sweeteners such as delays, reverb, and other special effects. Mixing can take anywhere from two to six hours or more per song, depending on the complexity of the music and the overall project budget. There are obvious diminishing returns from time spent on mixing but it’s always good to allow for some “extra” time if you can afford it. A good engineer will typically work on a mix for a few hours to get a decent mix, then leave the project alone for a day, then come back later with fresh ears and take the mix to the next level of perfection. (With the ProTools HD digital recording system all mix settings can be saved and called back up automatically at a later date.) This procedure can be repeated for several more days until the engineer feels good about his mixes and is ready to play back his creations for you.
In the next article we will discuss what happens after the engineer finishes his mixes. – ET