Recording Before Vocals?

Can you truly play to a track that doesn’t have vocals?

I do a lot of instrumental recording since I am not a singer. I do however play Drums, Bass, Guitar and the smallest amount of keys.

Since I usually just have guitars as the focal point in my songs, that’s what I’m working off of for the main driving force and energy to my tracks. That being said in a typical band situation you are taking your ques off of the vocals to know how to support the song. Since the vocal tracks conveys the emotion of a song, the dynamics generally follow the vocals. Can you really know how to support the song if you do not have those vocals to work from?

If the band or arrangement have a working dynamic it can be done through music. I debate if you can actually get to the same point without the vocal line there. What if the singer wants to break down a section? You’d have to know where to take the dynamics of the song based on the vocals. Having the additional input is also crucial. I myself can usualy map something out and work something out over top of it. Not being a singer I don’t have basic music and vocal melody to build from. Perhaps I should try that strategy in the future. The singer can obviously take ques from the band, but without the vocal line present, the energy of the song wouln’t be the same. A TON of songs are built around breaks for the vocal, solo moments, and prosody etc. From my expericene it’s best to have the entire song being constructed together rather than music only. Although many, many bands and artists work this way. If you’ve been working in one fashion try the other approach and see what you come up with, it may inspire excellent results.

 

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The learning Curve

Recording and Mixing is a tedious process. That’s why there are mixers and recordists. You don’t have to specialize in just one. But there is a learning curve to each stage.

The fastest way to getting more advanced in each?

Experience.

Nothing teaches you like experience. That’s the only way to build your “skill set” You then draw on the experience to know if something sounds good or right. And in mixing to be able to “know” how to shape the sounds to what you’ve come to decide as good.

Both are subjective. What you think sounds good the artist may not like. Chances are if they’ve hired you they like what you have to offer.

Steady practice of recording and mixing is the only way to get better. If you’re not constantly learning then, you’re not evaluating your state at either skill. Once you’ve put in some time. You look back at previous recordings and mixes and should be seeing marked improvement in each. Your hearing and tastes are refined from where you began.

Everyone is on the learning curve. Top level mixers are always pushing their skills to the next level. You should be doing the same.

When you are learning you will be in doubt and question your ability. But there will be a point where you’ll be able to listen to your mixes and recordings and realize they hold up better than they did when you first started.  This is the point where your confidence builds and you feel the value of your skills. The learning curve is endless. Anytime you revisit something you’ve done in the past, chances are you’ll say: “I would never do that now”. Happens to everyone. What you once thought was good, no longer meets your standards. Keep pushing and getting better, even if you don’t realize you’re getting better.

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Mixing Mindset

When mixing you will at some point question what your doing.                                           Is this right? Does this sound good? Is this working?

Every mixer has these thoughts, if they didn’t they wouldn’t get any better. The fact that you’re second guessing means you’re not satisfied with where your at or you feel you could be better. If you were complacent with your mixes then you wouldn’t question yourself.

When do you know when your mix is good?

Knowing when your mix is good is almost knowing when to stop. Once you’ve reached a point where you may be doing harm to the sound from over analyzing and over saturation of the project. It’s a good time to walk away and come back with a fresh perspective.

Let’s say you’ve already gotten your basic mix going. You’ve set volume and pans, added EQ and compression, some effects It’s nearly done. I usually find at this stage by adding some automation to enhance the parts is where the mix starts to have life. It’s at this stage I stop thinking about the technical side and begin to hear the song as a song. Up to this point I’m fixing or enhancing things.

Once I’ve started the automation, that’s when I find myself moving to the music and feeling the energy of the sections more. This may not be the same for others it’s more a of a feeling or reaction to the music at that point. That’s when I know I’m either done or very close.  It’s hard to separate the tech from the listener part of being a mixer. I normally have a tendency to try and correct things off the bat. A smarter way would be to react to the music itself. Go with the gut reactions and let that be the guide. The faster the decisions are made for me at least, the better mix I turn out.

This mixing mindset has helped me get to where I want the sound to go a lot faster.  Once I feel the music, I think that’s when others will feel it too. Once I’ve completed the clean up work. I then am free to focus on the feeling of the song. Then I can see where the vision I have for the song is, then work the details until the sound is how I have it in my head. Letting the music guide me. I can stop and fix something that takes me out of the music. Sort out the issue, then get back to the feeling the song is trying to convey. If minimal corrections are needed you’ll be focused on the energy and movement of the song rather than the technical issues that are distracting you.

Once you’re distraction free and the sections grab you and draw you in, then you know you’re getting to the finish line.

Make the emotion of the song work, the other details will fall into place. If your free to just hear the music, then you know you’ve done your job as a mixer.

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