The reasons why it is not a good idea to repeat after the famous audio engineers, why you shouldn’t learn how to mix in specific DAW and what you should do instead.
Famous mixing engineers may say that they prefer doing this or that, for example, boosting frequency or using a certain tool. But that doesn’t mean that if you repeat exactly the same settings or go after some preset, you’ll get the same result. The reason why it works for them maybe because it fits their particular instrument.
They may boost the frequency and it’s not that noisy while when you do the same, it, on the contrary, creates noise. They may boost 60 hertz on the kick but your original track may not need it.
What you can do is to analyze the sound and make decisions on what your sound really needs. Only after that it is preferable to check the couple of tools to decide which one is the best for solving the task. That will help you to get the best possible sound for this particular situation.
Let’s imagine that some legendary guy boosts some particular frequency, but the tone of the processed vocal is not the tone of the recorded voice in your own project, and it sounds totally different. In that guy’s project there’re plenty of different instruments and all of them have their own relations to the vocal. Maybe they work great together, but as for your mix, you have totally different instruments and they work with your vocal in a different way. So, although these settings can be very good for that guy’s track, they will be harmful for your own mix. It can be just totally different song: with faster tempo or of different tonality. As a result, settings used by other people won’t necessarily work in your project.
If a famous art engineer says that he likes a certain kind of compressor, and you’ll apply it to your mix, there is no guarantees that you’ll get the same result. There is even no guarantee that the plugin is properly emulated.
Moreover, in the analog world, two pieces of gear never sound exactly the same. Your compressor may be just based on different modifications.
Another reason why this compressor might be totally inappropriate for your sources because famous mix songs could be recorded in recording studio, while your project can be recorded at home.
Famous tracks can sound that good not because of the mixer being good. Maybe the stems were recorded better than your sounds. And don’t forget about mastering. Maybe it was improved by the mastering engineer. Maybe you like that track that much because of mastering not because of mixing.
All these people encourage you to spend money, they try to convince you that this application is something that you urgently need and without it you won’t be able to work, but when you buy it, you see that nothing actually functions and then they just try to convince you that you need something else.
For example, monitors, which is completely an outdated technology. But when you’re a beginner, you just believe everything they say. If the say that the only thing that you’ll really need is proper headphones or monitors, it’s already wrong, because in reality the ability to analyze what you’re hearing is not given skill and you should develop it.
It is the like playing basketball. Of course, you have hands and you will achieve ability to measure the distance with your eyes. The problem is it will take a lot of games until you will be doing it correctly. Briefly speaking, you should train the ability to play basketball.
The same with listening – you should train your ability to analyze and catch little nuances.
What you need for understanding how one instrument fights with other instruments is not just some perfect monitor. Let’s say you start with $200 monitors and you expect something cool from that. You start working but your mixer sock trying to convince you that you need professional monitors. These monitors cost about $6,000.
When you start, you don’t realize that acoustics in the room really matters. At some point they’ll say that your studio setup is wrong and you need some panels, so you buy these panels spending more money instead of developing skills.
You strongly believe that the more you spend the better results you’ll get. Instead of investing your time in developing skills, you spend your time on making purchases.
They tell you to buy fiberglass but just because you buy expensive fiberglass panel and put it on the wall nothing will change. You’ll still have noises in the room and you’ll just trick yourself by not hearing reflections of higher frequency, and then they tell you it’s all about bass traps.
Another amount of money so you go and buy super chunks you put them in corners, and you start feeling yourself almost like a rat in the maze. They will always try to convince you that it’s all about buying something.
Even if you fix all problems, and that’s impossible, and finally get perfect studio setup, having spent $100,000, the ugly truth is it doesn’t guarantee that you will have ability to make decisions, ability to understand what you hear and what exactly you hear, the ability to define overtones. What is really important is to understand how one instrument marks the other instrument and understand how to listen to them. Audio engineer is the guy who able to analyze those things as well as make decisions.
Another ugly truth is that mixer is not really defining the tone quality. Sometimes it’s all about stems: how great your tracks are recorded or produced. The stems may sound so good and be so easy to mix just because somebody chose very impressively sound, synthesizers and samples.
It’s a common misconception of many mixers that by default everything sounds bad. They believe that they should improve everything, but actually they should recognize good parts of the mix. These parts may already sound nice and that’s they should be preserved as it is.
Majority of beginners will go there and apply plugins believing that they should boost frequencies, cut the sound or use compressor because their favorite engineer always does it. But you shouldn’t do it like this. Listen to the sound, make appropriate decisions don’t lose what already sounds right. Don’t think that you can fix everything. Sometimes it’s much better to go back and re-record the stems.
What you need to learn is the mixing technology: how to manipulate amplitude, phase and frequency. Good audio engineer just analyzes particular nuances: how instrument is put in the mix and how it’s working on the song.
Mixing is balancing. It is not just processing or improving instruments. You should constantly think about how your actions will affect other instruments. How one or another instrument will combine with another one.