The understanding of recording, mixing, and mastering hip hop, rap, and other kinds of music is no doubt a talent and an art form. Development of this skill takes time, and requires many mistakes, experiments and life lessons. To truly benefit and prosper in audio engineering, one has to have a hunger to go through and take in the vast amount knowledge out there on recording, mixing, and mastering.
Once you begin sifting through the knowledge and applying it in a real world setting, you will come to find there is a big difference between knowing something and actually getting it. The beautiful thing is, once you finally get something, the ability to master those techniques and others becomes exponentially easier. You will find that recording, mixing, and mastering isn’t really a job anymore, it is just a part of life.
Over the last 16 years, I have had to learn many hard lessons in the world of audio engineering. A lot of times I thought I understood what certain techniques were and how to apply them, but I often was wrong or just partially correct on those techniques. Some of my most memorable times in the studio were when I finally ‘got’ a certain recording or mixing technique. You can say these were my ‘a-ha’ moments.
1. Learning everything there is to possibly know about the hardware and tools I have at my convenience.
2. Compression: Much can be discussed about this subject, but one thing that is so crucially important is getting the attack and release times correct. Compression can really lift up a performance or it can shamefully destroy it.
3. The day I realized that pretty much anything in the studio could be automated in some form or another.
4. Low and High Pass filtering is truly my friend.
5. The first time I turned off my computer screen to listen back to a mix. Blew me away how much easier it was to listen, identify, and make changes to the mix.
6. The first time I recorded and mixed in a professional acoustically treated studio. The amount of detail and separation I could hear in the frequency spectrum almost startled me.
7. How simply cutting out a little 275-375 Hz on most close mic’d tracks can remove boxiness and really bring out detail to things.
8. Getting rid of frequencies, or subtractive equalization, is so much better than additive equalization. Its just easier and more natural to take out what isn’t needed than to artificially add it in.
9. Hearing live drums mic’d through a stereo pair of C12’s and PZM’s. I finally understood where the life and dimension of a recorded drum performance came from.
10. Discovering that the more plugins I use in a mix, the more digital and artificial sounding the mix will become.
11. Distortion is a form of compression and a good way to add harmonics.
12. The first time I threw up a quick mix of raw audio tracks instead of attempting to dial in the perfect sound on every track. It increased the overall quality of the mix while cutting down average mix time.
13. It’s always good to get feedback, even if its from somebody without any musical or audio engineering experience.
14. Getting stuck in a mix, zeroing the faders, trashing all inserts and sends and then pushing the faders back up again. Valuable learning experience and test to the ego.
15. Dynamic Equalization via side chain compression. The bees knees!
16. Realizing that knowing how you want things to sound in your mix is so much more important than just knowing cool mix techniques and tricks. The tricks can sometimes help you get there a little faster though.
17. Musical arrangement is vitally important to the outcome of a mix on a song. It’s where the song can really be made or destroyed.
18. “Fix it in the mix” is a term that doesn’t always apply to every situation. Sometimes it is faster and easier to just re-record something if it is not right.
19. Parallel compression allows for smoother, natural dynamics overall and less aggressive compression individually.
20. When, after what seemed like centuries of recording amateur artists and bands, somebody of superstar status steps up in front of the microphone and shows how it’s really done. Wow!