Looking for pro mixing with specific sound in mind - any suggestions?

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I have a few songs sitting around that I'd really like to put an album together with.
Once I get them as polished as I can, I would like to have them professionally mixed...and well, mastered too.
But I have no clue how to link up with someone that is trustworthy, does a good job, and knows how to mix my stuff to sound like other artists' mixes.

Prob should explain that last one.

I was reading some time ago about how to properly submit stems or whatever to mix engineers. Two things that stood out were to include a reference track of your mix so they can know what you had in mind as far as effects and stuff you've put on tracks yourself, and then to optionally indicate an example of music already out there in the world that you want your mix to be like.
So one of my songs, I want it to sound like a Flaming Lips song mix-wise. And I just kinda don't know how to go about finding someone that can do that kind of sound specifically.

Is it that I just give whatever mix engineer I decide on a specific song by that artist, and the engineer should be able to take my stuff and get it in that boat??? Like, even if they don't listen to or are familiar with that artist, if they simply HEAR the reference song of that artist I give them, they'll be able to do it because they are...good at what they do? I don't want to ask a person that mainly mixes hip hop to mix a psych rock-but-not-rock hippie type sound for me, if that is inappropriate.

With all the music exp in this community, I figured this would be a great place to ask.

I put out an EP in January of this year (https://song.link/album/s/5hXbJoh06SXysxv25wLZyO). I recorded everything myself, but I did get help from a local studio before finishing up.

Your profile doesn't give any info about where you live, but I found it helpful to use a local studio. I had met the engineer a couple times, and friends had worked with that studio, and I chatted with him about whether my music was a good fit. And it was. The last track, "Take the Plunge" probably has the most of his influence.

If you're dealing with people online there's a fair chance of stumbling on a charlatan who has no idea what they are doing.

I hope more 50/90 folks have thoughts on this, or recommendations.

I recorded everything at my house. Two of the songs have fake drums from EZ Drummer, and those were easy to mix. My wife played drums on one track, and I mixed that myself. But the other three songs I wanted help with, since a different drummer had played on them, and I found a local guy (Asparagus Media) to mix. The engineer worked on his own and sent me rough mixes, I commented and he sent another rough, then I went to the studio to do the final mixes with me listening as we worked.

I wouldn't count on sending stems. The engineer would probably rather have every track as an individual WAV so they can assess what's there. For me, at the time I was using Pro Tools and that's the DAW the studio uses too. So I sent the whole Pro Tools project for each song. Of course, my plugins are different. Don't count on plugins too much. So he had to re-create things to do his mix.

When choosing a studio, listen to their work. Ask them for samples that are in the ballpark of what you're trying to do. If it's some dude who only does metal or only does rap, your Flaming Lips type song won't be in their skill set.

I had enough info to find a local person pretty easily. He's a full-time engineer, has a commercial space, he's not some kid working in his mom's basement or anything like that. He does work for the Discovery Channel, etc.

I wouldn't do obsessive mixing on your end if you're going to use a mixing engineer. They might kinda throw everything you've done out the window and start building it from the ground up (if you give a song as a reference, they should build something along the lines you're asking for). Make sure the recorded parts are the best you can do, but don't spend a lot of time doing your mix.

Hope my rambling answer is helpful. And I hope more 50/90'ers have a few thoughts.

Oh, and I used http://www.oldcolonymastering.com/ for the mastering. Not too expensive, and Scott Craggs was somebody I "knew" through reading his posts on the "Tape Op" message board, and I figured he knew what he was doing.

Glad to see this thread developing, -- interesting!

Indeed you were helpful; no rambling detected.
Having a listen at your album as I'm typing. Sweet Devotion is playing and I am enjoying it...solo just came in and I love that sound. I don't know the tech/proper term but its that 'watery' guitar sound lol I'm terrible at knowing...words.
I thought about just releasing the tracks with my own mixing being the end of it and saving the money for mastering only. That still may be the direction I take after reading what @ustaknow has to say below.
Sounds like you were fortunate to know some people. I didn't even think about it - I could ask my cousin who IS a mix engineer (went to school for it) if he knows someone who does the style I'm looking for. My cousin himself does mostly hip hop.
So you do you believe that is necessary for the engineer to have worked on music similar to the final sound I'm looking for.
(These songs are sounding great btw...mixing and performance)
As far as stems go, what I meant was the wav files - of each track. That's what I've done in the past for some mastering I had done. And if I'm understanding correctly what I've learned from research, I'm to take off all plug-ins prior to bouncing each track to a WAV. Like remove all reverb, flange, compression, etc.
And also to mind the levels of each track/wav.
For most of my music, I am satisfied with the mix I achieve myself. But I'm thinking for an album, I'd probably get my cousin or even some of you on here to give me a thumbs up on the mix to make sure I'm not totally off my rocker for thinking I did a "good job"...

You gave what I was after - insight on if I need to seek an engineer who is familiar with the sound that I'm looking for. Thank you for taking the time out to give me your experiences and insight, man!

BTW - I'm on One Mississippi now. This has been a great album in my opinion. This isn't a style of music that I regularly listen to, or seek out. But it sounds good and I don't feel like I want to skip a song or move on to something else. There is a pleasing mood/vibe/atmosphere to each track I've heard so far. I'm relaxed while its on. I'm enjoying the vocals and definitely the guitar parts. I wish you the best with this!
Sorry, you didn't ask for an album review, heh heh...

Ah ok, I will save this link. I have a studio who I worked with ages ago for a one-off song...just to see how it would sound. I...honestly didn't hear THAT much of a difference. But they were easy to work with, friendly, timely and didn't cost that much.
Thanks again, man! (and I can tell Take the Plunge is going to be my favorite song of the album!)

IA's picture

Man, it would be nice to get some more mixing practice.

How to get that same sound that other band has? Gotta start with the exact same instruments, that are setup the same way, have the same strings, use the same picks, same patches, same cymbals, same drum heads, same amplifiers, same cables, same preamps, same playing touch, and recorded in the exact same room. Wait! It gets better. Use same console, same compressors, same reverbs...

Somebody told that to me when I wanted to sound like Iron Maiden. Of course, there's a different between copying the sound and being inspired by it and making it somewhat similar. That is always really interesting. And educational!

@ustaknow - a lot of what the technique things you mention here, I at least recognize. I've had to learn everything on my own through youtube tutorials; I have a terrible memory so things that people have mentioned in person have been lost among the rubble in my head, unfortunately.
I won't go into what I do/don't know. More on the side of "don't" than "do".
But I am learning.
That looseness, space, and...I guess "junkiness" is a word I'll use, for Flaming Lips' stuff is what I'm looking for. Some songs specifically are She Don't Use Jelly, Do You Realize, and Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Part 1.
I honestly feel like I could get CLOSE to some of the sonic characteristics, but I might fail miserably.
As you and standup indicate - the parts that I record, my performances, I want to get that as good as I possibly can. I have heard so many times - if you polish a turd, its still a turd.
I have had one other song mixed and mastered by an experienced musician/producer. Mixing/mastering isn't his trade but he has done it professionally for others in the past. The end result was not what I wanted, but it was a situation where communication didn't go well. In the end, I just wanted the experience to be over. I would like to avoid this. And I realize that if it were someone charging me, it would get expensive as you say.
I'd like to hand my "paintings" on the wall, but I feel like my "frames" would be the mastering part of the painting. I can't make frames, only the painting. So...maybe I SHOULD try my hand at every aspect of the painting, except the nice frame that the finished product will be in. Eh....my analogy may be wayyy off lol
In any event, it sounds like you kinda confirm though what I was thinking - since you were able to listen to a lot of Bill and Nadia, you had a feel for them and was able to produce successful results. So...I should seek someone with similar exp with music like The Lips...
I want that producer trust!

As always, I really appreciate you taking the time to give involved insight and detailed experiences. Seriously

My view is mastering just adds gloss or polish to a mix you've already finished. The final push into a better sound.

If you send all your tracks to a mix engineer, they might rebuild it into something unexpected. Maybe great. Or, if ithey don't "get" what you're doing, maybe not so great. But if you choose the right engineer, they might help you create something you would NOT have come up with by yourself.

Just throwing this out, @splittybooms, but I think you might have joined the SongWrite Inn group on FB lately, and I think there may still be a standing offer (if you scroll down far enough) for 1 free mixing/mastering by Dan Cooper, who is also a pro mixer/sound engineer. He knows a wide range of styles so might know what you're looking for.

Yes, -- all very interesting.

IA's picture

1 - Mixing engineer
Should make a mix.
I.e. a track that can be listened to without too much effort. You should be able to hear everything that needs to be heard. If it's a blues duo, maybe bass, guitar, and vocals. In other cases it might be a symphonic orchestra, a 50-people choir, and a heavy metal band with 30 guitar tracks. The mixing engineer needs to make sure that whatever mess he/she receives, leaves the studio in a concise format. Sometimes that means cutting 50% of the tracks you get. Sometimes you gotta add more tracks to give it more character.

2 - Mastering engineer
Prepares tracks for distribution
If mixing engineer did everything perfectly, mastering engineer's job is to write down the start time and end time of each track, light a joint, and call it a day. You hear stories about all those fancy multiband compressors and weird sonic reconstruction tools these people use? They are used for restoration. Just like an antique restorator fixes up the stuff they receive. If there are problems with the mix that won't play well with different systems, that will sound odd on some monitors, something that's perhaps too loud, too wobbly, too whatever! then it has to be fixed before the tracks can be distributed. Maybe there's something more fundamentally wrong if the mixing engineer didn't know what he or she was doing. Point is, every track needs to sound like they came from the same record.

3 - That's all. Mastering engineer doesn't "add more polish" necessarily. It's another engineer with another pair of ears with different expertise, because the goal of master engineer is different. If the mixing engineer gives you a perfect set of tracks that sound great (or at least passable) on all systems, then you can pay someone to give you second diagnosis, or you can just ship it. Up to you.

I'd suggest, for less than the cost of a mixing engineer and mastering engineer, buying a nice set of tools from izotope (neutron, nectar & ozone) along with a pair of decent monitors and learn to mix and master! Those tools are incredible and include enough presets to get you 95% of the way there without learning much. Wait for their black friday sales and you can get a great deal too!

And I'm not sure I buy the conventional wisdom that you need a different person to master. Why? I think that is just something left over from the golden days of expensive production companies. I do get why you might want a second perspective but why arbitrarily between mixing and mastering? Why not between instrumental section and vocals? Or some other arbitrary step. I think a good engineer (or you with the right software) can do it all quite well if you take a little time and practice.

IA's picture

@johnstaples Mastering is a different mindset. If you've got a mixing engineer who can handle both, then it might work out. But I think it's like comparing truck drivers to race car drivers. Yeah, they both drive, but the other one has a very different goal from the other.

Mixing engineer makes a mix.

Mastering engineer prepares tracks for distribution.

They are both massive fields of study. And presets will do you no good. None.

Gotta start with the exact same instruments, that are setup the same way, have the same strings, use the same picks, same patches, same cymbals, same drum heads, same amplifiers, same cables, same preamps, same playing touch, and recorded in the exact same room. Wait! It gets better. Use same console, same compressors, same reverbs.

If you have even one different part anywhere in the chain, then the preset doesn't do what it's supposed to.

1 - Let's say the preset was made by the most prolific, mixing master in the world.

2 - He used this specific bass guitar with specific strings, specific converter, specific preamp, specific amp, cabinet, elements, compressors and so on and so on.

3 - This specific setup comes out a bit hot around 55Hz.

4 - So, he made a preset that makes that particular sound feel more controlled and full.

5 - You've got absolutely same everything that this guy used down to the $3,000 compressor and even the same custom elements in your cab. But you used different strings, because they don't make those other strings anymore.

6 - Your bass doesn't come in hot around 55Hz. It comes hot around 61Hz instead.

7 - So, you use this "professional" preset that makes everything sound dreamy. Guess what, instead of flattening your problem frequency 61 Hz which is B, it still flattens 55 Hz, which is A. So, if it happens that your song's got a lot of A and B notes, the B notes come off as super boomy and A notes completely disappear.

What did we learn? Yes, you can use presets as a starting point. Then actually listen to your track and what needs to be done to it.

Mastering engineer is more concerned that the track works on multiple setups and doesn't have any clear issues. Depending on what the medium is going to be, he or she knows what to do to the track.

Mixing engineer is like the photo editor guy who makes sure composition is good, right things stand out, there are no mistakes, and everything is balanced well.

Mastering engineer is the person who makes sure that when the picture is printed in magazine or whatever, it doesn't look completely horrible. He or she makes sure that everything in the magazine works well together.

And yeah, it's also a second pair of ears. Mixing engineer is a producer in a sense. Mastering engineer is also a producer in a sense. They make it sound like something they think will sound good. It's a matter of do you trust their experience and judgment. I've got about 10 years of experience in mixing, but if I were to make something super serious, I wouldn't trust my experience and judgment one minute. I'd get a professional... that I know makes stuff that I already like!

@splittybooms I'd encourage you to have a go at teaching yourself to mix and master your own material. I knew next to nothing about the process before I signed up for FAWM and my mixes *sucked*. These days, I occasionally feel like I'm beginning to understand how the process works. The learning experience has been a rewarding one, but it can lead you down very deep rabbit holes, as I guess you've already realised from the comments made so far...

I'd second @johnstaples suggestion that buying the basic suite from iZotope and learning how it works will stand you in much better stead in the long term than dropping a couple of hundred bucks getting your tracks professionally mixed and mastered. And this community is here to help those folks who want to do it themselves, and learn! Neutron and Ozone are extraordinary bits of software, BTW. What they can do to a mix borders on magic. But getting the most out of them, as @IA says, means learning to use your ears, not just clicking on the "make hit record" preset. I'll come back to that point in a sec.

But first - if you're aiming for a particular sound, calling in a mix engineer so they can change what you've already recorded into what you want it to sound like isn't going to work. That's not really what mixing is. Get the material you're working with as good as you can get it before you start throwing plug-ins at it. Learning how to get the best results out of the gear you already have is step 1.

If you have a particular sound in mind, learn how that sound is made. You need to be able to listen to a piece of music and understand what's going on. That means (1) listening to an immense amount of music and (2) seeking out interviews or articles in magazines like https://www.soundonsound.com/ where they talk at great length about gear. In time you'll hear a piece of music and be able to set out what effects were being used on each instrument. Reverb units in particular can have incredibly distinctive sounds. If you've ever listened to music from the 80s, you already know what an AMS RMX16 sounds like; you just don't know that you know it yet. So step 2 is to learn what tools or techniques will help you get the sound you want (and that may be something as simple as recording your guitars in the bathroom instead of the living room, because you'll get more reflections of the sound bouncing around - or even just moving the mic you're using, or pointing it in a slightly different direction.)

Step 3: feed your ears. When you listen to music, listen to the highest-quality versions you can get hold of. I went to a talk many years ago given by Stefan Betke (a.k.a. Pole) and someone asked him what one thing he would recommend doing to improve results when mixing. His answer upset a lot of people in the room: "Throw away all your mp3 files." What Pole meant was that the compression in mp3s is lossy. Lossy, as in "lost." You lose a lot of the information in the track if you're listening to an mp3 of it. You can't make a critical assessment of a mix you like and want to emulate if big chunks of it are missing.

Final point: be wary of online courses claiming that they can train your ears. I gave up on a critical listening MOOC a couple of years ago because they'd posted the content as YouTube videos which use AAC compression - nearly as lossy as mp3 - and it shelved at 16kHz so all the high end stuff just wasn't there. These days the problem's even worse, becuase everyone streams music and the bitrate you end up with will go up and down like a yo-yo.

I hope that's raised more questions than it's answered - if it has, ask away! That's why we're all doing this, right?

@IA a good suite of tools like I described can get you a great mix/master quickly and then you can tweak to your heart's desire to fine tune it.

I definitely agree that professional mixing and mastering are services that might be critical if you are competing with Swift or Bieber or West. But for 99.9% of the rest of us you can get a great mix/master that will be plenty good enough using tools and a little learning.

The reality is my CD is gonna sell 10 copies and the downloads will all be lossy mp3s or played in a car with road noise of 65dBA so all that investment in a full blown multi studio effort will go unnoticed by pretty much everyone!

It is kinda like the story you get from the few remaining photography studios. I agree there is value in a professionally done portrait but mostly you can do perfectly fine photos with your camera.

IA's picture

Oh, I think I just misunderstood the purpose of the thread.

Personally, if I'm releasing something, I try to push it as far as possible to the direction of other music playing on these services. And yeah, there are some completely awful mixes there, but mostly, it's a very specific sound, one you can't achieve without a lot of tweaking.

But if you're just looking for something that you can play for a couple of your friends, then using these izotope presets will be fine.

Tons of input here... Processing and will be following up!

@IA said "But if you're just looking for something that you can play for a couple of your friends, then using these izotope presets will be fine."

The izotope software and presets are professional tools used by many in the industry. I have personally used them on many tracks that have been licensed hundreds of times. These tracks were produced using izotope tools & presets and a little practice. My tracks have been professionally curated and then licensed. Purchased for actual money and used in commercial productions.

Maybe you have no experience with these tools but to suggest they are not used for professional productions or somehow not adequate for that is simply incorrect.

IA's picture

Never suggested anything like that.

@IA said "But if you're just looking for something that you can play for a couple of your friends, then using these izotope presets will be fine."

@splittybooms You're looking at an expensive project here. Mixing takes a long time and those dollars will add up fast. When you introduce an album of work to be remixed you'll be up in the thousands of dollars. Perhaps you have the money and the material and that's cool. Still, I wanted to bring up the money because it is part of finding an audio engineer for mixing and or mastering. I think you have an idea of what kind of engineer you want for mixing your songs. I personally think that most professional audio engineers can do great work with any kind of music.

Mixing? Hmmm....I've done a lot of my own mixing and for guys in collaborating groups. Sometimes I had to mix MP3 and anybody who knows about audio can tell you that MP3 audio screws up your mix. Also, if a track is not played well the engineer has to figure out what to do about it. These guys are not going to take the time out to fix timing issues. In other words, tracks that need to be re-played. If they don't have that option they will use the material provided. It's not going to help if there are issues with the performance. If you are positive the tracks are ready for mixing then it might be a go.

I mix and master my own stuff, and have bee doing that since I started in 19__. I Also have been in a pro recording studio and sat through many hours of mixing. The money was ridiculous but I wasn't paying for it.

My final thoughts echo what others have said about doing the work yourself. I can't teach mixing lessons because I'm not set up to record video tutorials. I'll say this though that the word "mix" is more than just setting the volume. When you start getting into the details of automation, EQ, and compression it really does transform into a mix of more than just 5 tracks all playing at the same time. That's all, and any further comments by me on this will go beyond the scope of the original topic.

IA's picture

@johnstaples Yeah. So, if you read that carefully... I said "Izotope presets" not "Izotope." So, can we drop this?

@IA, sure we can drop it. But someone had asked for options to produce their songs and your dismissal of "izotope presets" bothers me because I have successfully used izotope presets to accomplish tremendous results! And the bottom line is always If It Sounds Good It Is Good regardless of whether you used a preset or a multi-million dollar studio to produce it!

This being 50/90, some folks do indeed record their song into a phone, and they are done. I assume the people on this thread do their own mixing, and are learning on the job. I listened to a lot of @splittybooms songs, and they are indeed mixed.

I've been teaching myself audio, recording, and mixing techniques for years. For my last project, I wanted more expertise for the songs that had more tracks and were going to be more challenging, which is, I think, what splittybooms is thinking about doing.

Nothing wrong with that. I have songs on iTunes and SoundCloud etc that I mixed myself. I do it all the time. We all do, at least the folks on this thread.

Individual preferences are many. Mix yourself? Or get help? Master it yourself? Get help? All valid choices.

@metalfoot hmm thanks for the heads up about Dan...
I'm still reading through everything. But honestly it seems like I may tackle the mixing part myself. If I can't get what I'm looking for, I might seek him out.

@headfirstonly I used to visit soundonsound a while back but just kinda forgot about it. My mixing knowledge all comes from youtube tutorials from various folks with various styles. I've learned gain staging, getting frequencies out of the way of each other (somewhat, I still struggle here), some BASIC "guidelines" for compression (another I am struggling with), among other stuff. I do good enough to make my stuff sound...well, good enough. But I'm struggling with live vocals because that's something I've never worked with before 50/90. The vocal SAMPLES I use are usually already wet. But I do also grab the dry version so I can do my own thing to them. I feel I do pretty good with fx on my own. I have been learning how to seat EVERYTHING better over years. I feel I do ok here as well.
But the song that made me ask this question is loose and airy and sweepy and has the synthvox that I use often. I have it almost where I want it, but I want the....I guess...the 'jankiness', 'junkiness', or 'trashiness' of some of those Flaming Lips tracks applied to my track.
I truly believe in what you and everyone else says about getting the tracks played as I can possibly play it. I know better than to think any amount of mixing or mastering can enhance poorly performed tracks.
I admit, I do not pay enough attention when I'm just listening to music. I don't think along the lines of "how did they make that sound/atmosphere/effect?" I need to. I have been able, though, to determine little things like 'what kind of drums do they use in 80s R&b?', or characteristics of genres blahblah.
My ear....oy. I don't trust them. I honestly feel like I don't know WHAT I'm supposed to be LISTENING FOR!! When I'm making a song, I might do some basic tweaks - leveling, panning, very basic eq'ing...and it sounds great to me. But then I start thinking "Ok, what am I REALLY supposed to be doing to the mix??" Meaning, what would someone "in the know" say about what I've done? On the other hand, I've always been told that my mixes are enjoyable...not just the song but the actual mix. And I just sit quietly because I really didn't do anything much to the track at all lol
So I guess....I'm seeking an outside source to do the mix on this track because I don't trust myself to. Yes...I know I know....that's foolish. But I really care about this one song for some reason and getting it similar in trashiness to those Flaming Lips tracks.
But...I will continue to try. Myself!

Thank you, yes the financial factor is something I have thought about. Honestly, it is just one song that I really want to send off.
After reading through everything, and also remembering things others have said outside of 50/90 about my music's mixing, AND due to a lack of those thousands of dollars you mention Smile ...I will be handling things myself.
I have never released anything "officially", like onto spotify or an cd or album. I just put stuff on soundcloud and let it be. I'm one of those people who is never satisfied with their stuff, always thinks its terrible, thinks nobody could ever like it, but posts songs here and there anyway because....well...I don't even know anymore.
This project that I finally want to actually release will only be probably 7 songs max. After reading all of the insight in this thread, I have no reason to not try the mixing part myself. And I'll get feedback to see what people think about mastering. If folks feel that it would benefit greatly from mastering, I will have to consider saving the money to attempt to send it off. If its generally felt that its good enough to release as-is with MY mixing, then I'll let it be.
The things you mention - lossy mp3s, the little details of mixing, etc...I've been actively learning for a while now, I agree with all you've said here...just do it myself!

@standup - "I listened to a lot of splittybooms songs, and they are indeed mixed" - you know what, I'm just gonna take this as a compliment and let it be the deciding factor in me doing it myself! lol
Most of my 50/90 stuff is done in a couple hours and the mixing I've done is quick and basic. There are tracks that I put time in on the mixing, too.
Non-50/90 tracks usually do get my best effort on mixing. I posted somewhere else here that I have no confidence in my ear. I know...I need to gain that or I'll always be asking you folks these kinds of questions! I have a cousin who graduated as an audio engineer and another cousin who has recorded and played and all that stuff in all kinds of bands/studios/etc...and both always say I do a great job mixing. Maybe its time I believe them....

I honestly feel for SOME songs, I can produce a mix that will allow the mastering engineer to light said joint lol
But for some, I feel I need help...that someone with more experience needs to step in. Maybe they just need to explain WHY I'm having trouble, you know...just by listening they can tell me if a frequency is too whatever, or if a specific instrument I'm using is a bad choice in relation to others because of X reason or Y reason. I'm learning slowly but surely, and some things give me more trouble than others.
But yes, I would like to get my tracks to that point, where perhaps I can skip the mix engineer and just make that be ME...and then supply a good mix to a mastering engineer.
However, what you say about the mast eng doesn't add more polish...and that they are just another pair of ears - that is interesting. I didn't think of it that way.
So if something sounds good enough to me....to others that I let hear it....in different speakers/settings....would you say that I could say "I'm done, release it."? The 'polish' I think I'm referring to is..in my mind...the "radio readiness" of a track. I hope you know what I'm referring to because its difficult for me to explain, but its that leveling that makes things sound...well polished on the radio...streaming...played on tv during commercials..etc. That can all be accomplished by ME with enough knowledge, within a DAW?
I think this might lead into the software you and john are talking about, no?

I have heard of these programs, no experience with them. I am indeed open to going this route - especially since I'm really feeling like I'll be doing most of the mixing....and still on the fence....mastering myself.
If this software can aid me, I'm all for it.
I'm aware of how costs can get crazy for a complete album if I sent everything off to a professional.
And I'm kinda like you - whatever I release...I'll be happy if it gets those 10 downloads you mention lol And I think I can achieve results on my own that would satisfy those 10 people!
I use Reason and only Reason...I don't have any other software. I have a few plug-ins for mastering that I've tried. I've found that they really enhance some songs, while they do nothing or detract from others.
I honestly feel like I need to research WHY this happens. What is it in one song that makes things better or worse than another song....and what is the mastering plug-in DOING to each of these songs to make it sound the way it sounds.
I have MUCH learning to do...but it will be 'along the way'. I will mess up sometimes, I will hit home runs sometimes, it won't even be noticed/commented on by listeners MOST times lol
But thanks for suggesting these...I have always been interested in izotope.

So wow - to everyone, thanks for ALLLLL the input/insight/discussion/debate/etc.
I love it.
Open discussion and conversation...getting all these points of view and varied advice. That's what a music community is all about in my opinion.
In the end for this topic, I am definitely going to attempt the mixing of this specific track myself. I will study the Flaming Lips' tracks that I want to mimic (in atmosphere mostly, because I have much different instruments/sounds being used in MY track than the Lips are using....my track is closer to their Yoshimi track...just trying to capture the loose airy trashness of their stuff....which as I think about it, may not even be in the MIXING part of it at all!!!).
I will make sure my performance of each track in the song is as good as I can possibly get it.
I will consider afterwards, what route I want to take with mastering (after a few more questions to you folks probably heh heh) - try out some software, let it be as-is, or send it off to someone.

IA's picture

Use any DAW.
Use any free plugins you can get your hands on.

You don't need million dollar consoles and effects.
You don't need to get another mortgage to buy a set of pro grade microphones.

You just need to be able to trust what you hear.
And when you hear something is wrong, you need a tool that'll make it better.

Expensive tools make things simpler. Just like anyone can take a paint brush and jot down lines on their parking lot by hand. The professionals who need to paint a million miles of straight lines every year need tools that make that job simpler.

So, a specific microphone might output a signal of a specific voice that's easier to work with than say something outputed by a cheapo mic. Some specific expensive EQ might more easily tame some nasty frequency and make the alteration more transparent than your buy-one-get-one-free ReaEQ.

It doesn't mean that the free or cheap tools are useless. They're perfectly fine. If you have some time on your hands and can afford to spend a month working on few tracks, it doesn't matter. The pros need to crank out a hit record every week.

That being said, if you can't trust what you hear, then it doesn't matter how long you work on something. If the room you listen in or the monitors you use or the combination of both hides some frequencies or exaggerates some frequencies, then there's nothing you can do. At that point, you can't trust what you hear, so you are making wrong decisions. So, doing an acoustic treatment for your studio room is probably a really good idea. Buying SOLID studio monitors is a really good idea.

The advantage these pro studios have over... uh... your bedroom is that they are build to give great sounding performances. If you play a guitar track that's well played but has a nasty room reverb, there's nothing on the DAW that will save it. There's no plugin on earth that will make it sound good. You can pay analogue effects manufacturers an arm and a leg and they still won't be able to do anything about it. There are a lot of things that make takes sound bad and there are ways to minimize those effects. Just a matter of how far you wanna go.

And what do the pro mastering engineers have? Experience. They know exactly how their room works, how their monitors work, and how anything leaving their studio is going to sound on 99.99% of systems around the world. I wouldn't know anything like that.

And if you are interested, there are a lot of tutorials on how to prep your tracks for release. What bit depths you should choose. How to normalize stuff and to what level. There's a bunch of related stuff, but understand, that's not the hard part. That's just knowing how to operate a tool. Hard part is getting the experience. And you get that only by doing. And once you've done something badly for about 100 times, you start doing a bit better occasionally. You start knowing what to do and what NOT to do.

@splittybooms, the whole mixing/mastering thing can seem overwhelming and it can be for sure! But if you have the right tools and a little education you can do this for your tracks. And it is fun too! Instead of paying thousands to a studio and then finding you want some changes that will cost you more every time, you can learn to do it yourself. Now, if I was rich I'd definitely hire someone to mix and master for me. But if I was rich I'd also hire a cook, a personal assistant, a driver and so on! Smile Only you can decide how much this is worth it to you and if you can afford to hire a pro.

So, a couple more thoughts to help you on your way.

1) you can look around on the net and find tons of tutorials on how to mix. and lots of them are excellent. but a good place to start would be here, https://www.recordingrevolution.com/5minutes/ . he has a bunch of free short tutes that are really good. and you don't need to watch them all or study them but peruse these and see if they are helpful.

2) I am not familiar with Reason but if you are and you like it then stick with it and learn how to do the basics with it. or, if you are seeking a DAW I'd recommend Reaper. it is free to try as long as you want. it is a powerful DAW that is well supported.

3) As @IA said you can find tons of free VSTs all over the web and a lot of them are excellent! I went this route initially but decided to invest in izotope's suite of products for consistency, quality, and presets! folks in this thread have pointed out (correctly) that there is no magic make-a-hit preset button. BUT, I have found izotope has such as rich set of professionally designed presets that I can almost always find one to start my mix and I rarely have to do a lot more to get a sound I love. This has resulted in an incredible time savings but the one drawback is I have not learned as much about mixing/mastering as I would have setting everything manually (but then, at my age I don't wanna rebuild my car's engine anymore either!)

4) As @IA also said, you need to be able to hear what you have mixed/mastered. So, a good set of studio monitors would be a good addition to your setup. I like the KRK Rokit 5 but I have not yet purchased them. If you invest in monitors you also need to assess and improve your room configuration. This is a whole science unto itself but often simple things like recording vocals in a closet or hanging heavy quilts on the walls will get you 90% of the way there and that is likely good enough. My issue is, I have a family and no good space to do my mixing/mastering where it is a) isolated enough that I don't bother everyone else and b) treated enough to get good results. So...

5) I mix almost exclusively with headphones. You'll want a decent set but they don't have to cost hundreds; I use Sony MDR7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphone that sells for under $100. http://equipboard.com/posts/best-studio-headphones-for-music-production But there are two things I feel are important to make this work effectively, a) learn your headphones and know what to expect from them and b) test your mix/master on several different systems. Test on your home stereo. Test on your computer speakers. Test in your car. Send the mix to a trusted friend and get their inputs. I have even burned a CD and walked into my local audio store and they let me test on a variety of systems in their showroom!

6) As for recording I originally thought I'd buy a small field recorder and later on expand to a bunch of mics and more complex setup. But, I found, at least for my music, that little handheld digital multitrack field recorder with stereo condenser mics has served me exceptionally well. I have some Shure SM58 mics for performing but I use that recorder almost exclusively. I don't even record to my computer unless it is from my MIDI controller. I use the Zoom H4n but when I upgrade I'll get their next generation H6.

7) for anything you decide to purchase I'd recommend waiting for Black Friday sales. I got the izotope suite for less than half price by waiting for a sale. compare prices at the vendor's site and also at the major music sites like Sweetwater, Musician's Friend and Zzounds. and consider the light or elements versions of software as they often give you lots of power for low cost.

And finally, practice...a lot! You'll get better the more you do this. Good luck and if you have any questions feel free to keep asking. I have learned a ton from FAWM and 50/90 folks like @headfirstonly, @standup, @jcollins and @IA!

Hey @splittybooms -- It's interesting to me, I advocate knowing what it is a plugin does, as if you had to do it manually, and you comment, -- what is it that this thing is doing... within your comments.

Folks should realize there are only so many ways to filter a signal, or signal chain. Guitar makers promote their guitars, Amplifier Makers promote their Amps, Pedal Gear folks promote their pedals, and Software Folks promote their Software.

The best "tone" I got out of one of my guitars, (context) -- was when I physically removed my Tone Pot from the circuit on the Guitar... fed it into my hand built 5F1 5W tube amp and into a very high ohm speaker (very inefficient, got the result). So, ... one can "do that" digitally via Software, -- maybe. However, your very good question of "what's it doing" should not be so easily overlooked.

Yes, one can use a "Feature" (not a plugin) and add reverb, echo and get a "sound" or they can dup a dry, dry nasty sounding (so to speak Smile ) vocal track (again, so to speak "nasty", ~dry...) dup it 4 x's or so, and figure out how to time shift it, L/R it and etc. and get a warm, full, headspace vocal track that does not try to make you sound like "sinatra/elvis/taylor" etc. Smile -- just you, as you may sound "live" in a well amp'd venue with hi-dB "presenence" and etc. (a live sound, not "flat/dead", etc.)

So what I did today since had the time was search:
[ mixing audio without plugins ]

Wow, not much there, -- but some. I used another variation on that and got some "these are the n-number of "plug-in" and *Features (not plugins)..." advice, -- which I didn't entirely agree with but were good, and short to the point.

Everyone has their "way", -- which is part of the "thing" here. I record as close to zero as possible, then reduce and adjust. My tracks, sans compression (which can kill and distort a track pending application/context) -- I use very minimally; meaning of you see you little green/red light (well green Smile ) pinned within a narrow band (look as well as listen, --there's a resaons for all the lights)... you may have compressed way to much, -- zero dynamics, lots of "distortion" that sounds like a dirty track and can't figure out why... or, recorded to cool and amp'd up your noise floor, "ambience" -- not a bad thing, -- just depends.

I "like" the airlyness of my tracks, BIAB noiseless tracks sound "plastic" to me, makes me nervous, then dissinterested... -- room ambience matters be it hard mirrors, cement, sound proofing, persian rugs Smile on the wall. (Mine hard plastered walls near glass that opens... so reflected back, or crickets from the yard Smile -- preference.)

I have one last analogy some may relate to Crazy long ago, I used to hire folks for tech solutions of tech that had not yet existed. --like a newly recorded sound track! I'd get a flood of "certified" pros, Novell Netware (remember that anyone Smile ), Microsoft, Cisco, etc... but, could not solve a problem. I'd ask them, "can you track down and resolve a memory conflict, manually type out an autoexec, config sys, memory mange the first 640K -- O M G... sooooo long ago aye?! Can you debug, or reverse engineer a exe in any way of any kind? No. I worked with many High School Graduates (no advanced degree), or (true story) "Construction Worker" turned programmer due to back injury... hands on learned folks in fear of paying their rent on Friday and buying a plate of beans so as not to go hungry. And extreme analogy ? to make a middle ground point? Eh, maybe... but fun and true and hopefully illustrative of any qualified input. Many I am sure think I'm full of krappe, --but hey, I like my tracks and done with GNU type gear. Smile I've known a few "full sail" graduated folks working as landscapers in the family business Crazy

So, today, what we have are many certified software folks, but none who created the plugins... saying what they do. Actually Helicon when they first came out, -- you could get a programmer on the phone... wow, that goes way back. There were certain anomaly's they may have been tracking down and if you asked, they called you, well, me ... can only speak to specifics (some were not resolved). What does a Helicon pedal do? Actually, not much, but is a wonderful thing! -- if want that! I can make a bad venu PA sound better if used minimally. I used to; not any more. I just kinda don't care... hahhh... and neither does anyone else listening.

So, kinda rabbit trailed that, -- and my only point was, you'll learn allot quickly if you ask the right, simple question, -- "how to w/o... zyx" and if use that, can anyone anywhere tell me what/how it does that. Call the vendor direct and see if they get back to you if even 3mo's down the line, -- no rush.

I remember calling Gibson direct, getting folks on the floor, "what the spec" on this, and getting laughed at (kindly) ... not gonna tell you that! I used to complain during their "bad QA" period, and I'd get a comment, "that's all that was wrong with it, lucky guy!" Smile (this was a while back... but, just saying... go to the source and see what they say).

But, I could take this all way to seriously Crazy Crazy Crazy

And my final point, -- you'll have to figure it out, but, you can sooo perform your stuff live; they've beeing doing for many years now. And a good artist with their stuff ready to go, to "perform" their show, can. Blueman does it every night, and hate to use the term "DJ"... but they do as well... -- you're is beyond cue up segways and scratching, but it can be done. Not saying you should, but knowing how if needed is not a bad goal. Why not? What else you got to do Smile ... hahhh... (to everyone here!!!, -- it's been fun! Aye?!)