What do you think? Is it OK to "just use the preset"?
I am absolutely mortified. I have a copy of Toontracks EZmix for a magazine review. I've been mixing a country flavoured piece today and I've been struggling with the vocal. In a coffee break I fired-up EZmix and surfed a few presets. The 4th one I tried is perfect - it absolutely nails what that track needs. I now have 2 small devils yelling at me - one says "leave it on and move ahead" and the other says "you HAVE to stop and figure out what it's doing"..
What do you think? Is it OK to "just use the preset"?
I well remember the excitement of the first time I opened a set of audio files that I hadn't recorded myself; that I'd never previously heard, and set-them-up for my first ever 3rd-party mix. I remember the tingle of nervousness as I listened through them and tried to figure where the heck to start and what I should try to do. I also remember stacking-up every book and article I'd read and being afraid to make a move without checking-in with the gurus. I made notes about everything I did, made many, many mixes, and looked-forward to the flash of inspiration, the eventual "got-it" moment. I evaluated and trialed and tried hundreds of plugins, waiting to find "The One". Well, no flash, no "The One".
Along the way I've found a very small number of gems, things that add significantly to the pot. Ermin Hamidovik's "Systematic Mixing Guide" appeared a bit late in my story but consolidated many pages of my own notes and added a few more besides, and Graham Cochrane's Recording Revolution is almost worth having the Intenet for on its own: Mixerman's "Zen And The Art of Mixing" is irreverent and insightful and funny and anyone who wants to mix should read it beforfe their first mix and following their 50th. But still no flash - perhaps I'm just a little slower than most people.
Now many years ago, when I had a real job, I found myself in a pub with a colleague, trying to figure (over a pint of warm, flat English beer) how we managed to learn to do what it was that we did (we were both Enterprise Sales-people). We couldn't find an answer and eventually forgot the question. Today I had a "revisit" to that moment. I finished a mix this afternoon and at-last, "the-sort-of-flash" happened. That's a lower case "t" and a lower case "f".
What's the sort-of-flash? It's that mixing is truly a game of a thousand mundane moves. It's actually quite unexciting and there is no boom. It's about learning some basics, then forgetting that you've learned them and applying them over and over and over again until your sensibilities start to take shape. It's about knowing that something's wrong or right before you know what it is, it's about learning techniques then forgetting that techniques even exist, it's about accepting that the music is more important than the sound, that excitement is more valuable than perfection, it's about developing your senses, about finding nuggets and not mistaking them for answers, and it's about realising that you ain't gonna find the answer in anybody's "Black Friday" sale.
I just read a statement online that said "wav unquestionably sounds better" than mp3 (sic) - I don't disagree with the sentiment but I figured perhaps I'll test how noticeable it really is.
Here are 2 x files. Both are 44.1/16 wavs. One was initially exported as a 16 bit dithered wav from the initial 32 bit floating file, the other was a 320kbps mp3 that was encoded from the same 32 bit source file. Both were imported into a 16 bit Cubase project and then re-exported as 44.1/16 bit files.
Check 'em and let me know how close you judge them to be?
For the record, I chose this track because it's simple and exposed (OK, and because I had it handy); I know it doesn't test dense or loud or swirly cymbals - you can't have everything :-)!
I flipped a coin to decide which track became "1" and which became "A" and then flipped again to decide which order to place them on the page, and then again to decide which way-round to ask the question below, then again to decide which way round to put the options, so it should all be pretty free from bias on my part.
I was working recently on a couple of tracks of solo vocal that I recorded with peaks at around -12dBFS. They were single takes, unacompanied, and I really didn't want to do much with them, just a 1/2 dB or so of compression and a bit of reverb, so there was no "mixing" to be done, skip straight to the master stage.
Now I'm a great believer in proper gain-staging in the DAW and I prefer to not bang into plugins with hot levels. I use Cubase which has trim at the beginning of each channel, so it's trivially reasy to set a healthy level into a plugin chain. Setting plugins for near-as-damn-it unity gain gives a relatively low output level, and smashing the guts out of it with a limiter then takes us to the expected listening levels - but in this case I wanted to have NO limiting. My peaks were rather lower than I needed for the final version, so I needed to apply clean gain - but which way?
Overall there are several ways to skin this particular cat. This particular performance really needed to be clean and so I ended-up re-testing a number of assumptions about how gain works in the DAW. The different aproaches are really about workflow rather than effect - they all work. I'd be really interested to know what works for other folks?
Quick tip - last week I bought a 3 Terabyte external hard drive for backups. The drive lasted long enough for me to get a couple of system images plus about 700GB of data onto it, then it started to play-up. Sometimes it would report itself to be read only, or change it's apparent size, lose all its files, and sit for hours blipping the drive in 2 second or so bursts even with the PC turrned-off. Obvioulsy it has to go back, no question there, but it's got a TB or so of personal data on it. Now I'm having problems even getting access to this drive, but when I do I'll need to do a secure erase before I return it. A secure erase is where you overwrite the data. Then do it again. Twice. Because my drive has lost its file structure I can't target my files, so I'll need to write the whole 3TB 3 times, that's 9 TB of overwriting on a USB3 drive. When I do get access to the drive I'll put it on a laptop in the garaqe and check it every few days!
Here's the tip. Drives do fail - it's a fact of life. I reckon (just a guess really) that if a drive lasts a month it's probably going to be OK. So - on my new-new drive I've created a partition that's just a bit bigger than I need. I'll use this for a month or so, or until I need more space at which time I'll make it biggger. The benefit is that if my new-new drive fails next week I've contained my data to 1 TB of drive, which means that so long as the partition still exists I only have to overwrite 1x3 TB. Only!
It's also worth considering encrypting your backup drive - it may not be quite as secure as overwriting but if you encrypt as you create you should be pretty safe to just unplug and return. Happy days.
Got a little add-on here. I managed to get my drive attached and found that it's a lot quicker to deep scan for file fragments than to tripple overwrite, so I've formatted the drive into a bunch of smaller partitions that I can check individually. If a 100GB partition doesn't show any file fragments then I'm figuring there's no need to secure erase it, if every partition does have fragments then I've lost even more time. It's still going to be a long process but at least this way if something goes wrong after 2 1/2 TB I don't have to start from the beginning again.
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