The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook 4th Edition
The best selling book in the audio business will show you:
• The six elements of a mix
• The rules for arrangement and how they impact your mix
• The signs of an amateur mix
• Where to build your mix from
• Mixing tips and tricks for every genre of music
• The secrets of EQ and the “Magic Frequencies”
• Tips and tricks for adding effects, effects layering
• Sound replacement technique
• Track timing techniques
• Pitch correction techniques
• Automation techniques
• And much more!
What It's About
A lot has changed in the recording industry since the first edition of The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook was published in 1999, so the 4th edition provides completely new and updated information about the things relevant to today’s mixing, including tips for getting a loud mix, mixing for Internet distribution, and mixing in the box. Guaranteed to help you get a great mix regardless of what kind of studio you’re mixing in or the kind of music you’re mixing, you’ll find your mixing chops getting better with each chapter.
The 4th edition of The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook features new sections on Immersive Audio and online mastering options, and also has a new Advanced chapter full of techniques not found anywhere else, like:
• Cleaning tracks
• Adjusting track timing
• Pitch correction
• Sound replacement
• Automation techniques
So much of today’s mixing occurs inside your computer (“In The Box”), and as a result much of the book concentrates on the finer points of working in a DAW environment. Plus there’s also a section on the relationship between the bass and drums and how to make this difficult part of mixing easy.
The book wraps up with 25 insightful interviews with the top engineers from all genres of music, including George Massenburg, Bruce Swedien, Eliot Scheiner, Dave Pensado, Ken Scott, Andrew Schep, Richard Chycki (new) and many more (see the table of contents for a complete list).
If you are an instructor that uses The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook in one of your courses, a free Instructor’s Resource Kit is available, complete with lesson plans, tests and Powerpoint/Keynote presentations. Please send an email request along with your school and department to be sent the download link.
Also check out the Audio Mixing Bootcamp video course by Bobby Owsinski on Lynda.com.
Kind Words From Readers
Just got the book yesterday..love it. Got a lot of relavent thoughts and views for the now times.. great job… best of luck with it. And once again, thanks for including me in such an important work
Award-winning, multi-platinum engineer and mixer
Bobby Owsinski”s “The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook is a veritable gold mine of practical knowledge and advice, that empowers its reader to create higher quality mixes.
Charlotte Wrinch, Canadian Singer-Songwriter
I gotta send you an email praising your mixing engineer book. I give interns your book and I say, “Here, read this and find out how records are REALLY mixed in the REAL world”, and then they start to blossom. It is a great book.
Just wanted you to know that I am using your Mix book as REQUIRED text in two of my college classes. It has been working out great!! The kids love it, and it makes my job VERY easy!
Possibly the greatest book on mixing ever written. While it doesn’t get in-depth about every topic, it probably mentions every single topic there is. Get this book if you’re just starting to mix or if you want to learn more.
The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook by Bobby Owsinski is superb, a must have. Every time I pick it up I learn something. In fact, I just spent a couple hours with it this morning and am now trying out a bunch of the techniques mentioned.
…And hundreds more must just like these!
Let's Look Inside
Table Of Contents
Meet The Mixers
Chapter 1: Some Background
The Evolution of Mixing
Different Mixing Styles
The New York Style
The LA Style
The London Style
The Nashville Style
12 Ways Studio Mixing Is Different From Live Mixing
Learning How To Mix
Chapter 2: Monitoring
The Listening Environment
Overcoming Acoustic Problems
Monitors – Which Ones?
Basic Monitor Setup
3 Steps To Adding A Subwoofer
Mixing On Headphones
How Loud (Or Soft) Should I Listen?
Listening On Multiple Monitors
Listening In Mono
Chapter 3: Mix Preparation
Prepping Your Session
Make A Session File Copy
Tweak The Track Timing
Check The Fades
Comp Your Tracks
Tune Your Tracks
Arrange Your Tracks
Make Your Decisions
Insert Section Markers
Create Groups And Subgroups
Create Effects Channels
Insert Compressors And Limiters
Calibrate Your Hearing
Get Your LIstening Reference Point
Prepare For Note Taking
Make Yourself Comfortable
Take Frequent Breaks
Stay Focused On The Mix
Chapter 4: The Mechanics of Mixing
Conceptualizing The Mix
The Overall Approach
Tall, Deep and Wide
The Signs Of An Amateur Mix
The 6 Elements of a Mix
The Intangibles of a Mix
The Point Of Interest
Chapter 5: The Balance Element: The Mixing Part of Mixing
The Arrangement – Where It All Begins
Tension And Release
Rules for Arrangements
Where to Build the Mix From
What’s The Genre?
Level Setting Methods
Chapter 6: The Panorama Element: Placing the Sound in the Soundfield
The Stereo Picture
The Phantom Center
The Big 3
Panning Outside The Speakers
Beyond Panning For Placement
Panning In Surround Sound
A Bit Of History
The LFE Channel
Surround Sound Formats
Differences Between Surround For Picture And For Music
Surround Mixing Schools Of Thought
What Do I Put In The Center Channel?
What Do I Send To The LFE Channel?
Mixing Immersive Audio For Virtual Reality
Chapter 7: The Frequency Element: Using The Equalizer
The Goals Of Equalization
The Frequency Bands And What They Do
Method One: Equalize For Definition
Method Two: Equalize For Size
Method Three: Juggling Frequencies
Finding An Offending Frequency
The Magic High-Pass Filter
The Magic Frequencies
The Relationship Between The Bass And Drums
Chapter 8: The Dimension Element – Adding Effects
The 6 Principles For Adding Effects
Types of Delays
Timing Delays to The Track
Typical Delay Setups
Types of Reverb
Timing Reverbs To The Track
Typical Reverb Setups
Types Of Modulation
Typical Modulation Setups
Chapter 9: The Dynamics Element: Compression and Gating
Types Of Dynamics Control
Compression As An Effect
Placement In The Signal Chain
Setting The Compressor
What’s The Right Amount Of Compression?
Compression on Individual Instruments
A Drum Compression Primer
Compression on the Mix Buss
Using A De-esser
Using A Gate
Chapter 10: The Interest Element – The Key To Great Mixes
The Direction of the Song
Develop The Groove
Finding The Groove
Building The Groove
Find The Most Important Element And Emphasize It
15 Steps To A Better Mix
Chapter 11: Advanced Techniques
Removing Clicks And Pops
Fixing Bad Fades
Eliminating Unwanted Distortion
Deleting Extra MIDI Notes
Adjust The Timing
Pitch Correction Techniques
Keeping The Sound Natural
Sound Replacement Techniques
Drawing The Automation
Using Automation To Add Dynamics
Chapter 12: The Master Mix
8 Indicators That Your Mix Is Finished
Using LUFS For Mixing
Tips For Hot Levels
Why Do I Have To Master Anyway?
Things To Remember Before Mastering
Mixing Internet Distribution
Mastered For iTunes
Different Types Of Alternative Mixes
PART 2 – The Interviews
Chapter 13: Bob Brockman
Chapter 14: Bob Bullock
Chapter 15: Joe Chiccarelli
Chapter 16: Lee DeCarlo
Chapter 17: Richard Chycki
Chapter 18: Jimmy Douglass
Chapter 19: Benny Faconne
Chapter 20: JerryFinn
Chapter 21: Jon Gass
Chapter 22: Don Hahn
Chapter 23: Andy Johns
Chapter 24: Bernie Kirsh
Chapter 25: Nathanial Kunkel
Chapter 26: George Massenburg
Chapter 27: Robert Orton
Chapter 28: Greg Penny
Chapter 29: David Pensado
Chapter 30: Elliot Scheiner
Chapter 31: Andrew Scheps
Chapter 32: Ken Scott
Chapter 33 Ed Seay
Chapter 34: Allen Sides
Chapter 35: Don Smith
Chapter 36: Ed Stasium
Chapter 37: Bruce Swedien
ADDENDUM 1 – DELAY TIME CHART
Chapter 2 Excerpt - The Mechanics Of Mixing
The Mechanics Of Mixing
Most great mixers think in three dimensions. They think “Tall, Deep and Wide”, which means to make sure that all the frequencies are represented, make sure the mix has depth, then make sure it has some stereo dimension as well.
The “Tall” dimension (which is called “Frequency Range”) is the result of knowing what sounds right as a result of having a reference point. This reference point can come from being an assistant engineer and listening to what other first engineers do, or simply by comparing your mix to some CD’s, records or files that you’re very familiar with and consider to be of high fidelity.
Essentially, what you’re trying to accomplish is to make sure that all the frequencies are properly represented. Usually that means that all of the sparkly, tinkly highs and fat, powerful lows are there. Sometimes some mids need to be cut or other frequencies need to be added, but regardless what you add or subtract, Clarity is what you aim for. Again, experience with elements that sound good really helps as a reference point.
The Effects or “Deep” dimension is achieved by introducing new ambience elements into the mix. This is usually done with reverbs and delays (and offshoots like flanging and chorusing) but room mics, overheads and even leakage play an equally big part as well.
The panning or “Wide” dimension achieved by placing a sound element in a sound field in such a way as to make a more interesting soundscape, and so that each element is heard more clearly.
But before we can talk about how to make a great mix, it’s good to be aware of the signs of one that isn’t that great. Does your mix have any of these characteristics ?
Signs Of An Amateur Mix
No Contrast – The same musical textures are used throughout the entire song.
A Frequent Lack Of A Focal Point – There are holes between lyrics where nothing is brought forward in the mix to hold the listener’s attention.
Mixes That Are Noisy – Clicks, hums, extraneous noises, count-offs, and sometimes lip-smacks and breaths are all things that the listener finds distracting.
Mixes That Lack Clarity And Punch – Instruments aren’t distinct, and low-end frequencies are either too weak or too big.
Mixes That Sound Distant And Are Devoid Of Any Feeling Of Intimacy – The mix sounds distant because too much reverb or overuse of other effects.
Inconsistent Levels – Instrument levels that vary from balanced to too soft or too loud. Certain lyrics that can’t be distinguished.
Dull And Uninteresting Sounds — Generic, dated or frequently-heard sounds are used. There’s a difference between using something because it’s hip and new and using it because everyone else is using it.
So you’ve seen what comprises a bad mix. What makes a good one? First of all, let’s look at the elements that a great mix must have.
The 6 Elements Of A Mix
Every piece of modern music, meaning Rock, Pop, R&B, Rap, Country, New Age, Swing, Drum and Bass, Trance and every other genre having a strong backbeat, has six main elements to a great mix. They are:
Balance – the volume level relationship between musical elements
Frequency Range – having all frequencies properly represented
Panorama – placing a musical element in the soundfield
Dimension – adding ambience to a musical element
Dynamics – controlling the volume envelope of a track or instrument
Interest – making the mix special
Many mixers have only four or five of these when doing a mix, but all of these elements MUST be present for a GREAT mix, as they are all equally important.
In music that requires simply recreating an unaltered acoustic event (Classical or Jazz or any live concert recording), it’s possible that only the first four elements are needed to have a mix be considered great, but Dynamics and Interest have evolved to become extremely important elements as modern music has evolved.
Chapter 11 Excerpt - Advanced Techniques
Using Automation To Add Dynamics
Today we’re in the age of the DAW, where dynamic automation of virtually every parameter is the norm. This allows mixes to be more intricate than ever, and take more time than ever as a result, but the pinpoint accuracy of every parameter movement during every millisecond of a mix is assured.
For the most part, a mix where the faders remain more or less static can be boring and unexciting. Even before automation, mixers were constantly riding instrument and vocal faders during a mix in order to make sure they stood out in certain places or added an extra intensity to the mix. The best part about automation is that those moves can be exactly replicated on every playback.
TIP: The key to understanding how to use automation to add dynamics is by observing a performance by a great band. This will help you to be able to hear all the nuances that the dynamics of the mix needs in order for it to be exciting.
Among the ways to add dynamics to a mix are:
• Slightly boost the rhythm section during fills, turnarounds and even choruses (usually only a couple of dB is all that’s necessary, but it depends upon the track).
• Boost the snare and toms during fills.
• Boost the kick, snare or cymbals on accents or the downbeat of a new section.
• Duck the rhythm instruments during an instrument solo to help clear out space in the mix.
• Boost the high-hat in parts where it’s being struck and decrease it where it’s not.
• Add additional reverb or delay to an instrument when it gets masked as other instruments are added to the mix.
• Pump a strumming rhythm guitar in time with the music, pushing it especially on 2 and 4, or push it on the upbeats (one AND two AND three AND…)
• Gently boost the fills or other instruments in between vocal phrases.
• Pull back the downbeat of a chorus if the drummer hits it too hard.
• Pump the “4 AND” on a percussion track.
Andy Johns Interview Excerpt
Andy Johns needs no introduction because we’ve been listening to the music that he’s been involved in for most of our lives. With credits like Led Zeppelin, Free, Traffic, Blind Faith, The Rolling Stones and most recently Van Halen (to name just a few), Andy has set a standard that most mixers are still trying to live up to.
WHEN YOU’RE BUILDING YOUR MIX, WHERE DO YOU START FROM?
I don’t build mixes, I just go “Here it is” (laughs heartily). Actually, I start with everything. Most of the people that listen to and tweak one instrument at a time get crap. You’ve just got to through it with the whole thing up because every sound effects every other sound. Suppose you’re modifying a 12 string acoustic guitar that’s in the rhythm section. If you put it up by itself you might be tempted to put more bottom on it, but the more bottom you put on it, the more bottom it covers up on something else. The same with echo. If you have the drums playing by themselves, you’ll hear the echo on them. You put the other instruments in and the echo’s gone because the holes are covered up.
DO YOU HAVE A METHOD FOR SETTING LEVELS?
That’s all crap. That’s rubbish. There was a famous engineer some years ago that said, “I can mix by just looking at the meters.” He was obviously an upstart wanker. If you stare at meters long enough, which is what I did for the first 15 years, you find they don’t mean anything. It’s what’s in your soul. You hope that your ears are working with your soul along with your objectivity, but truly you can never be sure.
The only way that you can get a proper mix is if you have a hand in the arrangement because if you don’t, people might play the wrong thing or play in the wrong place. How can you mix that? It’s impossible.
The way that I really learned about music is through mixing because if the bass part is wrong, how can you hold up the bottom end? So you learn how to make the bass player play the right parts so you can actually mix. It’s kinda backwards. I’ve been into other people’s control rooms where you see them working on a horn part on its own. And they’re playing with the DDL’s and echo’s and I’m thinking; “What are these people doing?” Because when you put the rest of the tracks up it’s totally different and they think that they can fix it by moving some faders up and down. When that happens, they’re screwed. About the only thing that should move is the melody and the occasional other part here and there in support of the melody.
DOES THE FACT THAT YOU STARTED ON 4 TRACK AFFECT THE WAY YOU WORK NOW?
Yes, because I learned how to balance things properly to begin with. Nowadays, because you have this luxury of the computer and virtually as many tracks as you want you don’t think that way any more, but it was a great learning experience having to do it that way.
You know why “Sargent Pepper” sounds so good? You know why “Are You Experienced” sounds so good; almost better than what we can do now? Because, when you were doing the 4 to 4 (bouncing down from one four track machine to another), you mixed as you went. There was a mix on 2 tracks of the second 4 track machine and you filled up the open tracks and did the same thing again. Listen to “We Love You”. Listen to “Sargent Pepper’s”. Listen to “Hole In My Shoe” by Traffic. You mixed as you went along, therefore, after you got the sounds that would fit with each other, all you had to do is adjust the melodies.
WHAT’S YOUR APPROACH TO USING EQ?
You don’t get your sound out of a console, you get your sound from the room. You choose the right instruments and the right amplifiers for the track. If you have a guitar sound that’s not working with the track properly, you don’t use EQ to make it work. You choose another guitar and/or amplifier so it fits better in the track. It might take a day and it might take four or five different set-ups, but in the end you don’t have to worry about EQ because you made the right acoustic choices while recording.
With drum sounds, even though where you put the mics is reasonably important, it’s the way you make the drums sound in the room. The way you tweak them, that’s where the sound comes from. The sounds come from the instrument and not from the mixer. On rare occasion if you run into real trouble, maybe you can get away with using a bunch of EQ, but you can fiddle for days making something that was wrong in the first place just different.
HOW ABOUT COMPRESSION?
I use compression because it’s the only way that you can truly modify a sound because whatever the most predominate frequency is, the more you compress it the more predominate that frequency will be. Suppose the predominate frequencies are 1 to 3K. Put a compressor on it and the bottom end goes away, the top end disappears and you’re left with “Ehhhhh” (makes a nasal sound). So for me, compressors can modify the sound more than anything else. If it’s a bass guitar you put the compressor before your EQ because if you do it the other way around, you’ll lose the top and mids when the compressor emphasizes the spot that you EQ’ed. If you compress it first, then add bottom, then you’re gonna hear it better.
WHAT LEVEL DO YOU LISTEN AT?
If I’m listening on small speakers, I’ve got to turn them up to where they’re at the threshold of breaking up but without any distortion, or, I listen very quietly. If you turn it way down low, you can hear everything much better. If you turn it as far as it will go before the speakers freak out, then it pumps. In the middle I can’t do it. It’s just not Rock & Roll to me.
GOT ANY LISTENING TRICKS?
Obviously the idea is to make it work on all systems. You listen on the big speakers, the NS10’s, out in the car, plus your own speakers, then you go home and listen again. This is a lot of work but it’s the only way to go.
I tend to bring JBL 4310’s, 12’s, 13’s and 12A’s and I put those out in the actual studio. But you know, I don’t care how close you think you’ve got it that night, you take it home and play it back in the morning and every time there are two or three things things that you must fix. It’s never happened to me where I’ve come home and said, “That’s it”. You hear it at home and you jump back down to the studio and sure enough, you hear what you hadn’t noticed before on all the systems there as well. So every system you listen on, the more information you get. You can even turn up the little speaker in the Studer to hear if your mix will work in mono.
DO YOU LISTEN IN MONO MUCH?
No, but I’ll tell you this. If you’ve got a fantastic stereo mix it will work in mono as well. For example, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is a stereo mix released in mono. People don’t listen in mono any more but that used to be the big test. It was harder to do and you had to be a bloody expert to make it work. In the old days we did mono mixes first then did a quick one for stereo. We’d spend 8 hours on the mono mix and half an hour on the stereo.
WHEN DO YOU ADD EFFECTS IN THE MIX?
I have some standard things that I do that more or less always work. I always need a great plate like an EMT 140 and a short 25 to 32 ms delay just in back of the vocal. If it’s kind of a mid tempo tune then I’ll use a longer delay which you don’t hear because it’s subliminal. It doesn’t always have to be timed to the track; sometimes it can go in the hole so you can hear it. I’ve been talked out of putting reverb on electric guitars, but “Start Me Up” has a gorgeous EMT 140 plate on it. Most studios you go into don’t even have one anymore.
SO YOU USUALLY PREDELAY THE PLATE?
Usually but not always. In the old days like on the Zeppelin stuff, you’ll hear very long predelays on vocals. You know what that was? That was a 3M tape machine which was originally designed to do video so it had about a 9 inch gap between the heads as opposed to the 2 1/4″ gap on a Studer or Ampex. Sometimes I’d even put it at 7 1/2 ips. Another thing we used was the old Binson Echorec. Listen to “When the Levee Breaks”. That was me putting two M160’s on the second floor with no other microphones at all because I wanted to get John Bonham the way he actually sounded, and it worked. Page would say that he made me do it but he was down at the pub, but he did bring me his Binson Echorec for the track.
WHICH AUTOMATION DO YOU USE, OR DO PREFER TO MIX MANUALLY?
They’re all shitty because you’re fighting a machine. I suppose the GML is the easiest but I still have to have somebody there with me to help. That’s the part of the job that pisses me off. You’ve now got to be a bloody scientist. Sometimes it makes you too clever for your own good. If you just learn the tune then you’re in tune with the tune. You let it flow through you. Now you might listen to it years later and say, “I think I missed that one.” Or, you might go, “Fucking hell, I wish I was that guy again. That could not be any better. Who was that man?”
Elliot Scheiner Interview Excerpt
Engineer Elliot Scheiner
With his work having achieved tremendous commercial success, Elliot Scheiner has also attained something far more elusive in the music business – the unanimous respect of his peers. Indeed, if you want a mix that’s not only a work of art, but a piece of soul that exactly translates the artist’s intentions, then Elliot’s your man. With a shelf full of industry awards (seven Grammys, an Emmy, four Surround Music Awards, the Surround Pioneer and Tech Awards Hall Of Fame and too many total award nominations to count) from The Eagles, Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, Sting, John Fogerty, Van Morrison, Toto, Queen, Faith Hill, Lenny Kravitz, Natalie Cole, the Doobie Brothers, Aerosmith, Phil Collins, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand and many, many others, Elliot has long been recognized for his pristine mixes.
How did you get started in the business?
Elliot Scheiner: I was a drummer and I hacked around in a bunch of different bands until I just didn’t want to do it any more. My uncle was a trombone player who was a studio musician in New York City and really good friends with Phil Ramone (legendary producer of Billy Joel, Ray Charles, Rod Stewart, Paul Simon, Elton John, and many more). He knew that I wanted to get into this business, so one day he brought me up to meet Phil. Phil hired me on the spot and I never looked back.
You started at a great place (A&R Studios in NYC, which Phil owned).
Elliot Scheiner: Oh, it was the best. It was maybe the best studio in the country back in 1967 and one of the better ones in the world.
You started as an assistant, right?
Elliot Scheiner: Yeah, they would generally start you as an assistant and I was basically like an assistant to an assistant until I learned what was going on. Obviously the technology was minimal then so you really had to know what mikes to use on what occasions and where to place them and the rest would come at a later date. But the main thing was just how to set up the room for each engineer.
Was this in the days of 8 track?
Elliot Scheiner: 8 track had just come in and I remember them talking about how wonderful it was, but most people were still primarily using 4 track at the time. The majority of dates done at A&R were 4 track dates. I remember Phil making records with Burt Bacharach and Dionnne Warwick and all of those were 4 track dates.
How were the tracks usually split out?
Elliot Scheiner: Track 1 would contain horns and strings, track 2 would be the lead vocal, 3 would be the rhythm section and 4 would be background vocals. If there were no background vocals, they would put the strings on 1 and the horns on 4.
When did you start to engineer on your own?
Elliot Scheiner: I don’t remember exactly how long but it was definitely within a year. I was assisting Phil and he was doing a Jimmy Smith date at night. I don’t remember how many nights we were working on this record but he called me and said “I’m going to be late. You’re going to have to start this date”.
That was my first shot at engineering, but I think it was pretty much that way for most guys. You ended up being thrown right into the fire because someone was going to be late or couldn’t make it or was sick. That’s how I started and that’s how pretty much all of the guys I know started.
So did they trust you to be a first engineer after that?
Elliot Scheiner: I went back and forth, but at that point the office knew that I could do some small dates so they started throwing me voice-overs for radio and TV commercials. Eventually I ended up doing advertising and then it moved on like that. Something would develop into another thing.
The way it worked back then was that everybody was a staff engineer so the only way that you really made money was when you left one position and moved to another. The theory behind it was that if you left one studio you’d carry the clientele over to another studio. I would say that in most cases it worked that way but most clients at A&R weren’t interested in following an engineer. They were in staying at that studio because it was such a great sounding place and it was so service oriented that they were willing to work with someone else that they hadn’t worked with before just to remain there.
It was a different philosophy back then.
Elliot Scheiner: Yeah it was. Here all of a sudden I would inherit somebody’s clients that had moved onto another studio just because he’d gone, so that’s how you ended up becoming an engineer. There were a lot of staff engineers that would just float around from studio to studio. It was a lot easier to do it back then obviously.
What was your first hit?
Elliot Scheiner: “Moondance” (Van Morrison’s seminal hit album). I don’t even know if there were any singles off the record because in those days it was just about getting FM radio play. Pop music got the singles airplay; the Frankie Valle and the Four Seasons, and all the Motown stuff. Artists like Van Morrison were more album oriented so what they did was more oriented towards album radio, so it would be hard for me to determine what was a huge hit singles-wise.
Let’s talk about mixing. Isn’t that mostly what you do these days?
Elliot Scheiner: Oddly enough, I’ve been tracking lately but I’d have to say that overall the majority of my work is mixing.
Do you have a philosophy about mixing?
Elliot Scheiner: I’ve always believed that if someone has recorded all this information, then they want it to be heard, so my philosophy is to be able to hear everything that was recorded. It’s not about burying everything in there and getting a wall of sound. I’ve never been into that whole concept. It was more about whatever part was played, if it was the subtleties of a drummer playing off beats on the snare drum next to the backbeat, obviously he wants that heard. So I always want to make sure that everything that’s in that record gets heard.
If you were able to accomplish hearing every single instrument in the mix, that was a huge achievement. Granted, maybe there wasn’t as much information when I started as there is now. I myself have come across files that have been a hundred and some odd tracks, so it’s not as easy to do that today.
I have to admit that the way some people record things today is a bit peculiar. All of a sudden you’ll be dealing with 7 or 8 different mics on the same instrument. Like, for example, an acoustic guitar will all of a sudden have 7 different viewpoints of where this guitar’s being recorded. It’s mind boggling that you have to go and make a determination and listen to every single channel to decide which one you want to use. And if you pick the wrong ones they come back at you and say, “Oh, we had a different combination” or “It doesn’t sound quite right to us”, but they don’t tell you what they did! So granted, it is a little more difficult to deal with those issues today, but I still take the same approach with every mix.
If you have a hundred tracks, will you try to have them all heard? Or do you go in and do some subtractive mixing?
Elliot Scheiner: Well, it depends if that’s necessary. I don’t usually get those kind of calls where they say “Here’s a hundred tracks. Delete what you want.” It’s usually not about that. And I have to say that I’ll usually get between 24 and 48 tracks in most cases and hardly ever am I given the liberty to take some of them out. I mean if something is glaringly bad I’ll do that, but to make a judgment call as to whether background vocals should be in here or there, I generally don’t do that. I just assume that whatever an artist and producer sends me is kind of written in stone. They’ve recorded it, and unless they tell me otherwise, I usually don’t do subtractive mixing.
Do you usually work on your own?
Elliot Scheiner: If I’m working at home I’m usually working on my own.
How often do you work at home?
Elliot Scheiner: It happens quite a bit because a lot of people don’t want to pay to mix in a commercial studio for financial reasons. I just finished a project last week that was very low budget. The artist and producer live in California and they sent me the files. I was able to do it at a low figure because I could do it when I wanted to and I wasn’t spending anybody’s money except my own.
How long does it take you to do a mix on average?
Elliot Scheiner: Depending on how complicated it is, it usually takes anywhere from 3 hours to a day.
3 hours is really fast!
Elliot Scheiner: Yeah, well a lot of time you just get a vibe and a feel for something and it just comes together. Then you look at it and say “How much am I actually going to improve this mix.” I mean if it feels great and sounds great I’m a little reluctant to beat it into the ground.
For me it’s still about a vibe and if I can get things to sound good and have a vibe, that’s all I really care about. I still put Al Schmitt on a pedestal. Look at how quickly he gets things done. He can do three songs in a day and they’ll be perfect and amazing sounding and have the right vibe. So it’s not like it can’t be done. Some people say that you can’t get a mix in a short time and that’s just not true and Al’s my proof.
Where do you usually start your mix from?
Elliot Scheiner: Out of force of habit, if there’s a rhythm section I’ll usually start with the drums and then move to the bass and just work it up. Once the rhythm section is set I’ll move on to everything else and end with vocals.
How much EQ do you use?
Elliot Scheiner: I can’t say that there are any rules for that. I can’t say that I’ve ever mixed anything that Al has recorded, but if I did I probably wouldn’t have any on it. With some of the stuff done by some of the younger kids, I get it and go, “What were they listening to when they recorded this.” So in some cases I use drastic amounts where I’ll be double compressing and double EQing; all kinds of stuff in order to get something to sound good. I never did that until maybe the last 5 years. Obviously those mixes are the ones that take a day or more.
When you’re setting up a mix, do you always have a certain set of outboard gear, like a couple of reverbs and delays, ready to use or do you patch it as you go?
Elliot Scheiner: Usually I don’t start out with any reverbs. I’m not one for processing. I’d like to believe that music can survive without reverbs and without delays and without effects. Obviously when it’s called for I’ll use it, but the stuff I do is pretty dry. The 70’s were a pretty dry time and then the 80’s effects became overused. There was just tons of reverb on everything.
Most of your Steely Dan stuff is pretty dry, isn’t it?
Elliot Scheiner: It’s pretty much dry. What we used were plates usually
Real short ones?
Elliot Scheiner: Not necessarily. In the days when I was working at A&R, we had no remotes on any of our plates there. Phil wanted to make changing them difficult because he tuned them himself and he really didn’t want anybody to screw with them. There would be at least 4 plates in every room. Some of them might be a little shorter than another but generally they were in the 2 to 2 1/2 second area. There was always an analog tape pre-delay, usually at 15 ips, going into the plates. The plates were tuned so brilliantly that it didn’t become a noticeable effect. It was just a part of the instrument or part of the music. You could actually have a fair amount on an instrument and you just wouldn’t notice it.
Would you have any advice for someone that’s just starting to mix?
Elliot Scheiner: I would say that you have to believe in yourself. You can’t second guess what you’re doing. I’ve always been of the mind that if I can make myself happy listening to a mix, then hopefully the people that are employing me will be just as happy.
I don’t try to guess what someone might want. If there’s someone there in the room with me when I start a mix I know that sooner or later I’m going to hear whether they hate it or they love it.
But generally I try to mix for myself. At this point in my career I know that if people are calling me they like what I do. Just remember that what we do is to convey the artist’s feelings and make it as musical as possible without harming it.
Jimmy Douglass Interview Excerpt
Engineer Jimmy Douglass
After learning at the knee of the legendary engineer/producer Tom Dowd during Atlantic Record’s glory days, four time Grammy winner Jimmy Douglass (affectionately known as “The Senator”) has gone on to become one of the most sought-after engineer/mixers in r&b, hip hop and rock. One of the few engineers who can cross genres with both total ease and credibility, Jimmy has done records for artists as varied as Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, Foreigner, Hall & Oates, Roxy Music and Rob Thomas to Snoop Dog, Jay-Z, The Roots, Ludicris, Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, and Missy Elliott. But having old school roots doesn’t get in the way of Jimmy working in the modern world, as you’ll see.
You were a protege of the legendary Tom Dowd, right?
Yes, he was the man that put me on.
That must’ve been such a terrific experience.
It was a great experience except that I was a kid that didn’t know the difference at the time because I’d never seen anyone else make a record. I didn’t even know what making a record was (laughs). When I first went into Atlantic studios, it was the first time that I was exposed to the whole concept of recording.
How did you get the gig?
I was living in a suburban town of Great Neck, NY and Jerry Wexler (legendry owner and staff producer for Atlantic) lived there. I was a friend and schoolmate of his daughter, so they gave me this little job of tape copying during high school to make some money for college. It started as a summer job but then I took it into the school year at night because I really liked it. What’s there not to like (laughs a bit harder)?
Was this in the 4 or 8 track days?
It was all 8 track. I actually did a mix from a 4 track recording that I was very proud of (and they were proud of me). They let me do “The Best Of Otis Redding”. They let me remix Tom’s mixes, believe it or not.
When did you begin to engineer by yourself?
The first thing I did for real was with Jimmy Page (of Led Zeppelin). I taught myself how to edit and all this other stuff, but in their heads I wasn’t ready to be an engineer because I was still just a kid in their eyes. One day Jimmy came in and none of the other engineers were around and everybody’s freaking out because it was Zeppelin’s second album and they were hot. So Jimmy wanted to work but there was nobody around so they asked me to just sit there with him until somebody showed up to take over.
Jimmy had 10 reels of 1/4 inch tape filled with solos, so we just chopped away at the 10 until we came up with a final solo. I loved Jimmy Hendrix at that point more than anything, so it didn’t exactly impress me that Jimmy Page was there to work. I was a kid of 16 or 17 where you do and think stuff totally differently, so I did the work with that attitude. They kept peaking in to see what was going on and me and Jimmy were having the ball of our lives! I was having a great time and I was doing a good job, so he was having a great time too.
This was the solo that goes in “Heartbreaker”. It was the era when a record could come out within a week or two of completion, so the next week that record came out.
How have things changed between then and now in terms of you approach to mixing?
The urgency factor has definitely disappeared. Back in the day when you were using session musicians, they weren’t coming back after you recorded something, so you’d have to get it down correctly and even mixed together (if on 8 track for instance) in the right balance. If you erase anything by mistake, you’re screwed and probably fired.
Now we don’t use a lot of musicians with the stuff that I do. Sometimes we don’t use musicians at all, we use machines. Everything is totally replaceable. As a matter of fact, you can erase a part that somebody played and they’ll just replace the part and nobody seems to care about what’s not there anymore. Back in the day it was a major deal to replace anything.
And the rough mix thing is becoming the nemesis of all of us now. Record companies want change and yet they don’t want change. They want it to sound like the rough, but they want it to sound different. Someone will hand in a ruff to a record company after taking a lot of time to make it sound good, then they’ll hand it to me to do what I do. When I do what I do they’ll say, “Oh, it doesn’t sound like the rough” and I’ll think, “How am I going to beat a ruff that somebody worked on for a month, in 6 or 7 hours?” So lately I’ve been starting to match the ruff. I never used to listen to them because I didn’t want to be influenced because then I can’t do what I do. Now it’s the opposite. If you don’t get close to the ruff, the mix will probably never be accepted.
How long do you usually take on a mix?
It’s beginning to change a little bit but I’m a basic 10 or 12 hour man. Back in the day I could mix 4 or 5 songs in a day but I just don’t know how to do that any more. But back then you recorded what you were supposed to hear in the end. Now people want to imagine things they don’t hear.
You were telling me that the actual mixing session has changed. Give us an example.
One of the big things is that we might only actually spend maybe 4 hours of the 12 mixing the record because there are so many visitors and interruptions. People think nothing of stopping your mix and taking the time to play a whole record for a friend. I was in the groove, now I’m not in the groove any more and it takes some time to get back into it. We used to listen to records to get ideas or emulate, but you were always working the whole time you were there. Now we might end up staying to 5 or 6AM when we could’ve been done at like 1 in the afternoon (laughs).
Also there are so many people hanging around or coming around to listen. Back in the day, the only people hanging around in the studio were part of the band or had a really good reason to be there. Now there are people who aren’t connected to the project that are giving their opinion who aren’t really qualified to give an opinion.
Is the actual mixing of Rap different from R&B or Rock?
I mixed the Rob Thomas album and it was totally old school except that we had 3 Protools rigs and a Sonoma (DSD workstation for SACD) in the room. 2 rigs were running at 96k (there wasn’t enough tracks on just one) and one was used to mix back to at 44.1k. It took a while but it was fun and came out great. We used a big board and a lot of tracks.
For Rap, I still use a board when I can, but in terms of mixing, the tracking is so generic and sequenced and simple that the tracks have no real harmonics or overtones. There’s nothing that’s different or blending or making things different, so it’s really kind of simple. A lot of times I’ll even use a stereo mix that the producer gave me because they can’t find the original session to break the individual parts out, so all you’re really doing is just putting the vocal on top. You have to try to make something sound really special out of something that’s not.
Since you do all sorts of music, from Rock to R&B to Rap, is your approach the same or do you prepare differently depending on the project?
I’ve developed an approach to making records today. I approach it like fashion. This week tweed might be in, so even if I’m giving you the best silk in the world, you’re not going to be interested. So the one thing that I do is something I call “tuning my ears”. I listen to a lot of stuff in that particular genre to get to know what the particular sound of the day is. You want to sound contemporary and current but you can’t know what that is unless you listen to the records that the audience is digging at the moment. I’m not saying to copy it, I just tune my ears to know what the parameters are. So I listen to the genre to go “Let’s see what’s considered cool today.”
With some old school guys, they’re still making the same kind of records, but I’m making young records and they’re being made totally different. All the things we’re talking about I identify with because I was there, but they don’t exist any more.
Speaking of which, do you mix in the box at all?
I mixing the box a lot lately because it’s not about the sonics anymore, it’s about the convenience. I can mix over the course of a month and every time I put it up it comes back right where I left it. That’s the benefit. The quality of sound will catch up with you in time though.
Andrew Scheps Interview Excerpt
Engineer Andrew Scheps
Andrew Scheps has worked mega-hit albums for a who’s-who of superstar artists like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, U2, Justin Timberlake, Jay Z, The Rolling Stones, Linkin Park, Jewel, Neil Diamond and Adele.
Even though he’s working out of his pretty outstanding home studio built around dual Neve 8068s, a massive wall of outboard gear, and dual Studer A800 24 track tape machines, amazingly Andrew is not one still living in the analog past, as the DAW is an integral part of his workflow.
Can you hear the final product in your head before you mix?
Andrew Scheps: If I know the song then I already have a pretty clear picture of what I’d like it to be. If not, I’ll usually get that the first time I listen through a track. It’s not so much for the sonics, but more in terms of size, like figuring out how big the chorus will be. Sometimes I’ll get really specific ideas about effects that I’ll try as well.
In terms of starting a mix, I think the main thing, especially if it’s a song I haven’t recorded, is that I go through instrument by instrument to see how it sounds, but what I’m really doing is learning every single part so that I when I come to build my balance, I know where everything is going to be.
Do you have a template for your effects before you start to mix?
Andrew Scheps: Kind of, although I don’t use a lot of effects. I use a lot of parallel compression so that’s more of what I have set up. In terms of what gets sent to those compressors, some of it is consistent and some of it changes with every mix, but they’re ready for me at the push of a button, which on an analog console is great because I just leave that part of the patchbay alone.
In terms of effects, sometimes I’ll have one kind of chorus-spreader kind of thing and one reverb and that’s it. I don’t tend to use many effects because a lot of the stuff I mix is straight up guitar rock and it’s more about the balance and making things explode.
Do have an approach to doing that?
Andrew Scheps: You’re never really as aware of your own process as you think you are. I’ll think that I really didn’t do much of anything and then I’ll look at a mix and find that I’m using 50 things on it.
Also, because I mix on a console there’s the whole process of laying out the outputs of Pro Tools to see where everything is going to come up on the console. There are things that always live in the same place, like channel 24 is always the vocal, so I’m usually figuring out how to lay out everything between the drums and the vocal. I do that while I’m finding out what everything is doing, so there’s a long discovery process where it doesn’t seem like I’m getting much done, but then everything happens really quickly after that.
Where do you build your mix from?
Andrew Scheps: It depends. I’d love to say that I always build it from the vocal, but usually what I’ll do is deal with the drums to get them to act like one fader’s worth of stuff instead of 20 or whatever it is. Once I’ve gone through that process that I just described, everything seems to come up at once. I’ll have listened to vocal and the background vocals and know exactly where they are, but I’ll get the band to work without the vocals first, which I know a lot of people don’t think is a good idea.
I think it’s the same thing when you’re working on a particular instrument in solo. After 20 years, my brain sometimes unconsciously knows what an instrument will sound like soloed, so I’ll tend to get the tone on things separately, and then it’s all about the balance. I almost never have to go back and change things once I get the vocals in. My brain seems to know what that balance is going be when the vocals are inserted.
How much do you do in the box?
Andrew Scheps: I always think that I do nothing in the box, but I really do a lot of the technical things. The EQs on the Neve are very broad and very musical, they’re not good for anything surgical. If there’s a nasty frequency in the overheads or the snare is ringing too much, I take care of all of that in Pro Tools. Usually I’ll have the background vocals coming out of one stereo output pair, so I’ll deal with them in the box. Sometimes I might split a couple of them out, but I don’t want 20 tracks of background vocals on the console; it’s just a waste. A lot of the crazier effects can come from plugins there as well.
There’s quite a bit that goes on in Pro Tools but it’s more about shaping things before they get out into the console. The console is much more of an organic balance thing while Pro Tools is more for making things sound the way I want them to sound. The console is more about putting it all back together and mixing it.
I actually mixed in the box for years in this same room. I had a [Digidesign] ProControl in here and that was great. In fact, there are some things that I mixed in the box that I listen to now and go, “Wow, that sounds really good.” I don’t have any philosophical differences with mixing one way or the other way. It’s more of once you have the console, as much of a drag as it is to document everything, it’s such a joy to mix on it. When I’m mixing, it doesn’t matter whether it’s coming off tape or Pro Tools, it’s just faders and speakers and that’s it. I love that because sometimes mixing in the box makes you so precise that you then fix things that don’t really need fixing. I like the sloppiness of doing it on the console.
Do you find that you’re using your outboard gear less?
Andrew Scheps: No, not at all. When I document every mix, I wish that was the case because it’s a lot more to write down, but because a lot of it is parallel processing and stays patched in, it’s so much faster for me to hit a button on the console than it is for me to set the same thing up in Pro Tools. I may send the bass, the guitars and the background vocals to a stereo compressor, and in doing that in the box, it could change the balance on the board, so that doesn’t really work for me at all. It’s less of a sonic thing than a convenience thing.