mixing desk for fedoras

Last week I invited you all behind the scenes of the recording process of my latest album.  If you didn’t read that, you might want to go back now and scan through it before you continue or you’ll be lost on what I’m talking about.  For those who have already, let’s continue…

The overdubs.

The next phase of our project was to replace the guide guitar and the guide vocal with the actual guitar and the actual vocal.  Why?  Well, I could have done them better on the first days of recording quite frankly.  They were okay but it’s an album we’re talking about here and you obviously want them to be pristine.  There was no guarantee that each of the three musicians were going to put their best performance on every take we did of every song.  (Otherwise we’d have only needed to do one take and we’d be ready for mixing!  You might be that good.  Sadly, I am not.)

Even my very talented fellow musicians didn’t quite hit the nail on the head in every take they did.  In fact, on listening back, I found that some of the takes had better first verses than second verses or a better bridge than others or a better chorus.  Before you bag them out, this is pretty much always the case even with the best players money can buy. (and Alex and Paul are the best players that no money can buy!  Ha ha…  I joke but they are great musicians who would normally get paid for this kind of thing.  They donated their time to this for free out of love and have my undying appreciation for doing it as I expect to make no money out of this recording).

So before the overdubs could take place, those better bits of the songs needed to be spliced together from the different takes in order to make the perfect take.  You don’t always need to do this obviously and, in the case of some songs we didn’t need to at all, but here and there it was the right decision to make to ensure that we got the best possible version of the song for the recording.  This isn’t the easiest of processes to do.  Well, actually, it’s not so much difficult as it is often time consuming.  I’m not going to go into what splices took place but I can tell you that I spent a good five hours in this process.  The results were seamless and you would never know they didn’t play the songs from beginning to end.

Once this process was finished the laying of new guitar parts could commence.  I spent a full day replacing the guitar tracks on the songs and then another full day replacing those after I realised that the replacements of the replacements weren’t good enough.  (That’s me though.  I’m not very good on guitar for starters and the guitar parts I write are usually over complex… at least for my level of ability.  I don’t really write three-chord-screamers.  Perhaps I should!)  Let’s say twenty hours all up on the guitar.  (remember, this is a three piece band so only one guitar track per song!…. well, I tell a lie there.  On one song I did five takes of the same guitar line through three different amps and two different guitars.  On mix down we kept all of them.  Likewise on one track I did two different guitar takes on different guitars that both ended up in the mix.  A cheat, I know but they sounded nice together.  They are essentially the same part though, just doubled up.)  Anyway, twenty hours on editing drums and bass takes together plus laying guitars down = Another $1600.

Then we were on to the vocals.  I did these in three separate late night sessions of about three hours each.  Each song got three takes except one where I actually came back for another hour to do an additional three takes because I didn’t like what I did on the first time around.  I usually like to get a singer to only do three takes for any one song.  The first one will sound a bit like a warm up but will probably have some great moments.  The second take will most likely have nailed it give or take a few words here or there and the third one will for the most part sound a bit like they’re over it but if there’s something that didn’t quite come off in the first two takes it’s a handy back up.   Anything more than those three takes will often just mean the singer’s voice is fatigued.  Not always the case but in nine cases out of ten, that’s how it goes down.  I wouldn’t put a singer through doing three takes of an entire album in one session either.  I prefer to break things up into several shorter sessions so that their voice is always as fresh as it can be.  I cut myself the same slack for this.

We did a further two, two hour sessions for the backing vocals.  So the total time for tracking the vocals was 14 hours.  $1120.

Editing

Now comes the editing.  To be honest, I lost track of the hours I spent honing in on the tiniest little things in the editing process.  Little timing issues with the guitar takes, cutting out breaths between vocal lines, picking the best takes for a single word or syllable.  Hours, days, weeks of this kind of thing.  But then, I’m a fussy man and, if I’d perhaps been a little more talented or, at least, a little better prepared, that might not have been the case.  Suffice it to say, to get every miniscule note into place probably ran up a bill in the order of thousands.  I’ll cut it short though on this bit because I’m sure you guys will be able to play your bits better than I did.  If you can’t, practice, practice, practice!  I cannot emphasise how important it is to be able to play your parts backwards before you come into the studio or you will find you may as well set fire to your money.  Anyway, to be generous, let’s say we spent two grand on this process.

So finally, things are ready to be mixed down!  (We need to fast forward here because getting from this stage to the point where I called Owen up and said “it’s ready to mix” was some two years!)

Total spent to the point of being ready to mix?  About $11,200.00 (I reckon that was probably a bargain.  As I said it doesn’t take into account what an engineer of Owen’s calibre could have asked to do the job.)

The Mixdown

So about five weeks ago we finished setting up our new control room at Continuumusic.  I like the room.  It’s a bit smaller than our old one but it’s cosy and it’s a nice spot to work in.  After we did an initial test recording and mix in the room, I decided it was time to lock in the dates to do the mix of my album.  I contacted Owen and he told me that Wednesdays worked for him.  So we set aside the next four Wednesdays for him to come in and do the work.

Prior to him coming in, I channelled all the edited tracks out to the desk.  We decided that a hybrid of analogue and digital mixing was the way to go which meant all the digital tracks had their own channel on the desk.  This way we could use the faders, equalisers and auxiliary sends of each channel on the console in addition to the digital signal processing available in Pyramix.  These channels were then routed to the desk’s main outputs and those were sent back into Pyramix as a stereo mix track where the final mix would be recorded.  One of the beautiful things about our Pyramix system is that it has 48 inputs and outputs.  All of these can be used at the same time if necessary so you can essentially output 48 tracks onto the desk and record 48 inputs back into the system if you want to.  That was a bit of overkill obviously.  What we did do was to record a bunch of different reverbs and delays, etc into Pyramix as well as the final stereo mix just so they were there if we needed to run things off again.  I spent the best part of a day setting all this stuff up.  I could have done it in less than that but I was enjoying the process, taking my time and being meticulous.  So let’s say, realistically, about four hours.  Another $320 onto the pile.

In case you’re wondering, this was the layout of the mixing desk as I set it up…

Ch 01 – Kick (outside)

Ch 02 – Kick (inside)

Ch 03 – Snare (top)

Ch 04 – Snare (bottom)

Ch 05 – Rack Tom

Ch 06 – Floor Tom 1

Ch 07 – Floor Tom 2

Ch 08 – Hi-hats

Ch 09 – Overhead Left

Ch 10 – Overhead Right

Ch 11 – Additional cymbals Left (in one song, our drummer wanted to overdub a couple of crashes)

Ch 12 – Additional cymbals Right

Ch 13 – Bass (this was the DI, bass quad and 15” grouped together)

Ch 14 – Guitar 1 mic 1

Ch 15 – Guitar 1 mic 2

Ch 16 – Egg Shaker

Ch 17 – Tambourine 1

Ch 18 – Tambourine 2

Ch 19 – Meditation Balls (lol, there are those bells and whistles I mentioned!)

Ch 20 – Lead Vocal

Ch 21 – Backing Vocal 1

Ch 22 – Backing Vocal 2

Ch 23 – Backing Vocal 3

Ch 24 – Not used (for no particular reason)

Ch 25 – Lead Vocal Reverb Left

Ch 26 – Lead Vocal Reverb Right

Ch 27 – Backing Vocal Reverb Left

Ch 28 – Backing Vocal Reverb Right

Ch 29 – Guitar Reverb Left

Ch 30 – Guitar Reverb Right

Ch 31 – Drum Reverb Left

Ch 32 – Drum Reverb Right

Ch 33 – Guitar 2 mic 1

Ch 34 – Guitar 2 mic 2

Ch 35 – Guitar 3 mic 1

Ch 36 – Guitar 3 mic 2

Ch 37 – Guitar 4 mic 1

Ch 38 – Guitar 4 mic 2

Ch 39 – Guitar 5 mic 1

Ch 40 – Guitar 5 mic 2

Ch 41 – Additional FX Left (mostly vocal delays or guitar delays depending on song)

Ch 42 – Additional FX Right

Ch 43 – not used

Ch 44 – not used

Ch 45 – Send to Rack Reverb Left

Ch 46 – Send to Rack Reverb Right

Ch 47 – not used

Ch 48 – not used

Subgroup 1 & 2 – Guitars

Subgroup 3 – Bass (summed mono)

Subgroup 4 – Lead Vocal

Subgroup 5 & 6 – Percussion

Subgroup 7 & 8 – Drums

As you can see, even for a three piece band with a little percussion we still managed to have almost every channel of our 48 channel desk being used in the mix.  (We tried to fill every one but ran out of ideas!  Lol.)

 The first day with Owen was spent pulling the drums and bass sounds.  We had the guitars and vocals in and out of there as well but the day was spent just getting it to basically where we thought would be a good starting point for the mix.  I wanted to go for a “band sound” for the whole album rather than a different sound for each song so we were trying to go for a drum and bass tone that would work for the entire album overall.  Owen turned up at 2pm and he left at about 9pm.  So seven hours was spent and not one song had been put to bed yet.  Chalk up another $560. For that period.

I continued to work on my own with it until midnight.  Basically just listening to the drums and bass through all the songs and recording the reverb for the drums that he had chosen to work with.  So another three hours, another $240.

Jump ahead a week to the following Wednesday.  Owen arrived at midday and once again worked through until about 9pm.  That day we actually mixed five of the eleven songs and bounced them down.  However, once he left I listened back to them, tweaked further and ended up re-bouncing them with some further embellishments.  I conked out at about 3am, so that was a fifteen hour day. $1200.

On the third Wednesday that Owen came, we listened back to the re-mixes I had done.  We both decided that some of them were great and some of them could afford a further bit of tweaking.  So we redid the ones we thought needed it and then managed to mix the rest of them as well.  He logged up about seven hours on that day and walked away with a USB stick with the whole album of mixes on it.  I spent another hour or so dumping things to a disk to listen to at home.  Let’s say 9 hours all up on that day.  So, $720.

That was a week ago tomorrow (as at the date I’m writing this).  I’ve listened to it through headphones on my laptop, I’ve listened to it on my TV through my PS3, I’ve listened to it in my wife’s car.  I’ll no doubt listen to it in my own car going to work tomorrow.

Do I love it???  No.  I do not.  Am I happy with it??  No.  I am not.  Was I ever going to be??  Yeah, the chances of that were pretty slim.  That’s just how I am.  Is it finished??  Ummm…Yet to be decided. (But then, I’m a very hard customer to please!!!)  That of course has nothing to do with the actual recording.  It’s all about hearing myself back in a recording and grinding my teeth about how I could have performed better.

Total spend thus far (If I was a customer instead of the guy who owned the studio) would be:  $14,240.00 … and we haven’t gotten to mastering yet.  And, frankly, there’ll probably be another long day or two of further mixing or I’ll decide that the guitar playing or vocals suck and I’m going to do them over.  Something like that could take place before I get to the point where I’m actually ready to walk away from it and call it complete (if I know me… and I do.)  So let’s round that up to about sixteen to seventeen grand before mastering (which would lump a potential few grand onto it as well depending on where you go for that.)

So… about $20,000 is a fair estimate and it really ain’t Dark Side of the Moon!  It’s just a three piece band playing eleven fairly basic songs in a pretty reasonably priced studio.  You can easily spend more and people often do.

If you’re preparing your budget for a big project, remember to slap a few extra zeros on the end if you want something really special.  That’s not to say that you can’t get something really special for a couple of hundred bucks either.  I’ve heard it done.  Hell, I’ve done it for people (strangely though, never myself!!)  Whatever your budget is, you can always work within it and turn out something nice but the sky can also be the limit and your dollars can get soaked up in the details.  I hope having read through this though it will take a bit of the sting out of the quote you get on your next recording.

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