Ok, yet another “no excuses, just go for it!”, rah-rah, feel good post. I apologize ahead of time, but I really believe in this stuff. I spent the first several years of my mixing journey making excuses for the outcome of my mixes (“this would kick ass if only it were recorded in a great studio!”, etc, etc.).
When my friends in the band Thrones contacted me to mix their first album, I thought this would be the perfect mix to dissect, showing how to turn a less than desirable recording situation into a pretty cool final product (if I do say so myself!).
Here’s the guys describing their recording setup:
Basically while in our practice space we used an array of foam, cardboard, and blankets to try and segregate the guitars and bass from each other. We realized there would probably be some slight bleeding but were ok with that as it provides a little extra live feel.
We used (2) Zoom H4N handheld recording devices.
Each have built in condenser mics and 2 XLR inputs. However, with a special cable there is a way to bypass the condenser mics and allow 2 more mic inputs.
So essentially we have access to 8 mic inputs if we want but we only used 6 physical mics and the condenser mic on 1 of the Zoom mics.
We mic’d bass (sm57), 2 guitars (sm57), and kick drum (Shure PG52) on 1 zoom mic.
On the 2nd Zoom mic we used the 2 XLR inputs and the built in condenser mic. We put a vintage Peavey 510i mic between the snare and high hat to pick them both up simultaneously and a middle grade tom mic to pick up the floor tom.
Then we used a tall boom mic stand and positioned the Zoom device directly above the drums and used the condenser mics as the overhead for drums.
Since there are 2 different devices we attempted to use an air horn as the trigger for alignment during mixing (not sure if that actually helped or not). We did try to press record at the same exact time to help with alignment as well.
Because there was no monitoring process to check our sound or ANYTHING we could only make sure each mic wasn’t fully peaking by looking at the individual mic levels on the Zoom device allowing each mic to be max right around 85% the peaking level.
We had to play everything live and thankfully our dummer always plays to a click, so that helps us all stay in time for the most part.
So we just had to wing it and hope for the best, plus it helps with our music and style of playing there is a little more flexibility for mishaps to be hidden or unnoticed.
Let that sink in a bit. They used two different recording devices and tried to press record on both at the same time so they could line up. They weren’t able to monitor sounds so they just visually checked levels, recorded, and prayed for the best.
Is this ideal? Hell no.
Did they let this stop them from making a damn solid album? Hell no.
Before we dive in, take a listen to my favorite track (jump to 2:25 if you want to hear it when it kicks in):
Spacey, massive, super fun to mix, and recorded in the band’s practice space on basic recording equipment.
So how did the mix shake down? Let’s start at the bottom.
First, with a track recorded all in one room like this, checking phase is extreeeemely important.
Second, don’t be afraid to “cheat” a bit. I augmented the recorded sounds with samples (gasp!). Then I ran the snare through a few explosive sounding reverbs…one of which was a gated snare (oh my, how I love those!). Check out the before/after (notice the bleed as well):
That gated snare explosion sounds a bit over-the-top when solo’d, but I loved how it worked in the mix once I added back in those spacey guitars.
And with this few mics on the drums, automation is clutch. Those fills need to really pop out so automating every drum fill (yes, every drum fill) is an absolute necessity. If you need a refresher, check out my earlier post on this.
One thing I love about massive, spaced out songs like this is you can get away with so much in the mix. The bass was already distorted when I received the track…so I thought…well, why not distort it even more?
It adds tone of mid-range “cut” and fills out the mix. I definitely had to automate the distortion down during less epic parts of the song, but it worked great when the band was kicking.
With the guitars, I was extremely heavy handed with the EQ. I don’t typically make big EQ moves unless it’s necessary…but in a track where the recording setup is less than ideal, ya gotta do everything you can to make the pieces fit together.
Some pretty big moves, but check out the before and after:
I carved out a ton of space for that bombastic distorted bass and let the guitars fill the mid/high-mid area. Especially as there are no vocals for the guitars to fight with they needed to occupy most of that space.
Moral of the story…do whatever is necessary to take your tracks, no matter the quality, and make it into something interesting.
Stop the excuses, use what you have and make it kick ass. Want some more ideas for mixing your home-recorded tracks? Check out an earlier post.