Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to mix on a fair number of boards that were not “mine;” that is not one where I was responsible for the setup and configuration. I’ve also help more than one sound tech or podcaster online who have had problems with getting an effective mix. From these experiences I have found that there are typically a few repeating problems that are causing people problems. Because of this, I’ve decided to produce a short series of articles that I hope will help both sound techs and podcasters get the best possible sound.
Now, to be honest up front, I have to admit I’m an analog guy. It’s not that I don’t “get” digital, it is simply that I like to work in the analog world. There is an easy flow to managing sound in the analog world that I like and even when I record direct to the hard drive, it’s often through an analog mixer into my digital interface (an mBox and either Pro Tools or Audacity). Then I will do the post-processing in the digital domain. This is the approach I will take in this series of articles. It is easier to explain the fundamentals this way and on many higher end DAW rigs, the on-screen mixer during recording does take the aspects – and benefits – of an analog mixer. For example, I can do on-the-fly compression on the recording mix If I wish.
Yes, I know all the arguments for simply recording a track to digital then doing everything post. There are even times that I do so. However, this is a personal preference that I have which allows me to get a good prints. Also keep in mind that in taking this approach I am not suggesting one take bad habits or necessary corner cutting due to… say… a limited numbers of tracks on an analog recording.
That said, what I am going to do is that even though I may explain things from the more traditional analog perspective, I will follow up with some observations for the strictly digital people. Many of the same principles will apply. If I do go into a specific digital example, I will use Audacity whenever possible since a) it is free and b) it’s one of the most popular tools used by podcasters.
Oh, and a special word to you podcasters who may be reading these articles. I know some of you just record straight to digital. However, there are many that also record using an analog mixer and using either its USB interface (if it has one) or another digital interface to bring the sound into you DAW such as Audacity. The latter group will see the obvious immediate application of these articles. If you are all digital, I would still urge you to test what I present here. You may find you get a tighter, less noisy mix as a result.
That leads to my closing comments for this introductory article. The tips I’m presenting here work. Usually. Even for me, there are always exceptions. How hardware interacts. The quality of your gear. The weather. Acoustic conditions of the room. All will have an impact on your results. My advice is to note all your initial settings on your gear so you can restore it, then test it out for yourself.
So, happy mixing…