Friday, December 21, 2012

Project Movie: Part Eight - Building A Mix In The Studio

Here we are promising you daily posts and then not delivering. It's only because the Holiday madness persists. My task this week was to mix down all the tracks we took from the live events last week. This is yet another post in the Project Movie series so if anything I say here doesn't make sense just take a look back at some of the other posts.

We had thirty-two tracks from each of three performances as well as a couple of the full company rehearsals that we made to test out our methods and to have around for insurance. At a couple points one or the other of the recording computers would glitch. With everything played to a click track though that meant that we could swap tracks in from other performances to build the best tracks we could. 

The first step was to get rough mixes up for the three performances. I merged the two sets of tracks in to new identical sessions for each night. I tamed a couple things down that could have caused trouble but otherwise I just made three sets of "all faders up" mixes and posted them in the office Dropbox for the rest of the team to evaluate. 
After a couple days we had our pics for what the best performances were and I set to work on building yet another session. This one had the same layout as the rough mix sessions so I could just open things up in new tabs in Reaper to cut and paste. There was one other session for a single number. We had a choir of a dozen women around a mid-side mic setup. We were planning on comping together one good pass from the three nights but once I lined everything up I hit play and fell in love with the thirty-six voice choir. With a little careful lining up of the starts of phrases and some automation fading out final consonants when they didn't line up we got a really cool mix out of it.

Now that I had my final mix session I tackled the hardest stuff first. The opening number and one other one were very sparse. I took about two hours to get a violin, piano and string pads to all sit nicely and fill up the space. The rest of the night was full rock band so it had to be big. After that I got down to business on the remaining songs.

My advice would typically be to start with everything up about half way, then get the vocals dialed in, move to the kick, then relate it to the snare and bass, and slowly fill in tracks until you have the whole mix built.  Also, it's a good idea to start at the biggest point in a song and get that right, then build backwards from there so you don't run out of room. 

I had an advantage on this project though because I had already mixed two band rehearsals, three dress rehearsals and three shows. I knew the material pretty well and I just went at it like I did the live mix. I started with a little tweaking on stuff that really needed it but then I just set out mixing with all the faders up. If I EQ'd the kick or the bass, I did it in place. Soloing is good for fixing a little trouble here and there but everything you do affects the whole mix so you should work on things while you can hear how they interact. 

Another thing I'd like to stress is that it's good to be careful about when you start in with your automation. I like to mix until the faders can pretty much stay where they are and everything is sitting pretty well in the mix. Then I'll engage the automation to start to make things live and breathe. I like to switch each track over to read mode as I start to put automation in. If you're in trim/read and you grab a fader that you've already automated you can really get yourself into trouble. You can still do it but you'll have to make the conscious choice to switch modes.
Time management is pretty important. I'm they type that will just mix and mix and mix and never be done with it. If I got to a point where I was getting into details that were really tiny I stopped myself, gave the track a final listen and just printed it. That's what listen backs are for. You need to get your head clear of all the repetitions and come back with fresh ears before you mix any more.

After a full day in the chair I had every song mixed down but one and only stopped then because I had to go mix a rehearsal. The following morning I finished it up and later that day I sat down with my boss to hear everything with fresh ears and get some notes.  With a few things to touch for each song and a couple overdubs to take care of I'm finally down to the home stretch on this project. 
Just a final word here. "Overdubs?" some of you are saying.  Yes. It's done on live projects. In some cases it gets pretty ridiculous, like a Thin Lizzie live album where they just kept the kick and the crowd mics. In our case we were able to fix problems that came up, little mistakes and such by flying in part or a whole track from another performance. In a couple cases though there just wasn't any fixing it so we'll do a quick punch in here and there.
In a few weeks we'll have all the DVD content together and the duplication finished. After the initial run we'll post the project on Vimeo and I'll get a link up so anyone who's interested can take a look at what we did.

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