This blog features the first in a series of free video tutorials by HowToLicenseYourMusic.com’s resident producer Gary Gray, based in Los Angeles. The series is called “7 Minutes To Better Sounding Tracks.” This premiere video features 3 excellent tips you can use immediately to get better sounding tracks and increase your chances for Music Licensing Success. You'll also get a sneak peek of one of my new songs Gary is currently mixing and mastering.
Gary is giving away a free hour long Skype session and also mastering one track for free, to everyone who signs up for my upcoming 180 Day Music Licensing Challenge by December 14th. Learn more here.
Over to you Gary. . .
Thanks Aaron! I recently moved closer to Hollywood (I’m now an hour south) and so built a new studio. Three months after I moved, I had no other choice but to build another studio and hire two people to keep up with the work. One area that has really taken off in a big way is teaching producer/engineers world-wide how to properly mix and master for Music Licensing.
In fact, I have a large case-study of music licensing successes being delivered to me in January from students who have signed up for HowToLicenseYourMusic.com and who have taken the music production courses we offer – laying out the number of licensing deals landed and money made.
One of the reasons teaching has taken off so much, is that I’ve had the fortune this year to work directly with Music Publishers and Music Supervisors in the studio. This was the direct result of face-to-face networking (including some very effective networking with Aaron Davison in Los Angeles & Hollywood while he and Michael James were here to record Aaron’s upcoming EP at my studio).
Aaron’s first single I produced was picked up for an exclusive licensing deal with a major publisher in L.A. – within 24 hours of release.
Almost every person I speak to who submits music for licensing has a common frustration – not only do they rarely find out exactly why a track gets rejected when it does (so they can correct what they are doing and improve), but they sometimes don’t even know why their tracks get accepted! (So they can strengthen their successful actions!). Working with Music Publishers and Music Supervisors in the studio has now given me a constant “finger on the pulse” of why tracks get accepted, and why they get rejected – in the music licensing world.
As a result, I’m able to give you an “insider’s look” at why tracks are accepted or rejected for licensing. With this new perspective in mind, I’m launching a new free blog/video series called “7 Minutes To Better Sounding Tracks.” This series concentrates on how to mix and master music in order to increase your chances for lucrative licensing deals.
This blog can be read on its own, or better yet, acts as a guide to the video. You can watch the video below:
Let’s get right to it:
1. Using The Tone Generator To Create Commercial Sounding Mixes
Most recording programs (D.A.W.’s) come with a Tone Generator. For those that don’t, legitimate free plug-ins are available, such as those on the KVR Audio website.
A Tone Generator is just that – it’s a plug-in that generates tones of specific frequencies and volumes, and sometimes this includes white noise and pink noise. A Tone Generator can be used musically. One way to use a Tone Generator musically is with lower frequencies -- to increase the quality of the low end of a recording.
I watch students (and this happened to me as well) progress in their career and move up to higher levels as they pass certain milestones in their mixing and mastering careers. One important milestone is:
Becoming proficient and confident in matching commercial recording quality standards - in the low end.
It’s all about that bass.
Beginning and intermediate mixers tend to conquer the mids and highs relatively quickly. It’s the low end that can be a real challenge.
Adding a Tone Generator “Bass” track to your mix can be a big step towards conquering that challenge.
2. Carefully Adjusting The Volume & Energy Level of Each Bass Note
The low end frequencies cause a speaker to move back and forth a lot more than higher frequencies. You’ve seen videos showing how bass speakers can move physical objects like sand and particles and create some amazing geometric patterns in doing so. Depending on the source of the sound, certain bass notes can “sound louder” and “feel more powerful” than other notes using the same synth patches or acoustic instrument sources. You can even “see” this phenomenon in those same videos. What you are seeing visually is the concept of “sound pressure” in action. It’s what causes you to literally feel bass notes on your body. The more distance the speaker moves back and forth, the more sound pressure.
Even though designers and manufacturers of instruments, synths and speakers have done all they can to even out the volume, energy and sound pressure of all notes, one cannot assume while mixing, that this will be the case. This is because the way low frequencies react with
⦁ Other higher frequencies in a track,
⦁ The listening environment, and most importantly,
⦁ The mind. (Psychoacoustics)
Certain phenomena occur in the physical universe and in the mind of the listener when it comes to low frequencies that can make your tracks sound inconsistent, and anything but competitive with commercial tracks – unless understood and controlled with precision by the person mixing.
There is no “one size fits all” or “magic button” approach to mixing – especially with the low end.
Basically, you want to be able to put a steering wheel on that “low rider.”
Each song or instrumental piece you compose, arrange, record, edit, mix and master – is like a snowflake. No two are alike. Nor is any single recorded instrumental track or vocal track fully predictable in terms of how it will react with other tracks and/or other effects within this unique relationship. And so mixing requires experimentation, patience and some knowledge of what to listen for. The more knowledge, the less time it takes.
But, again, there is no shortcut.
The higher the rewards (pay) for the licensing deal, the more meticulous the mixing needs to be executed (with rare exceptions).
Music for a reality television program requires less meticulous mixing than film score sound track music or music for a trailer.
When it comes to your work ethic, part of that meticulous work should be done with your eyes closed, sitting or standing away from your computer and mouse. Hit play, and then step back or sit back and close your eyes and listen – and feel (literally) the low frequencies in your track. Then do the same with similar genre commercial tracks, and compare the two. One great tool you can use to do this instantaneously is the plug-in Magic A/B, where you can load up to nine commercial tracks with which to A/B. My mixing reached a much higher level of quality by using that one tool.
Sometimes, I’ll A/B the low end with just my subwoofer turned on. (By the way, it’s best to have a subwoofer, or at least good studio monitors that can generate decent bass frequencies). It’s quite a challenge to conquer the low end with headphones, though it’s not impossible. Just ask Skrillex. (Hint: you’ll need to use really good headphones). It is pretty much impossible to conquer the low end through laptop speakers or smartphone. Those speakers just don’t move back and forth enough to allow you to hear all the lower frequencies. You should definitely check your mixes on ALL systems, but conquering the bass fully requires a system that efficiently demonstrates the sound pressure levels actually occurring in the lowest end of the sonic spectrum. (From 20 Hertz [cycles per second] and up)
The point is, if you relax and take the time to listen (preferably with your eyes closed) over and over while A/B’ing, the quality of your mixing will increase greatly. Being impatient or overly anxious about finishing your mix (I know it’s sometimes hard not to move on to the next thing) can keep you from reaching your licensing goals. The good news is, the more you do it, the faster the process gets – but – remember there is no substitute for attention to detail.
It’s amazing to think how simple it is -- that the one thing you need to do more of in order to reach the highest level standards of mixing in our industry requires no education, no training and no tutorials – yet most people don’t do enough of it:
Listening. Only listening. Hands on nothing. Eyes on nothing. Just listening. And comparing. By Listening.
In the video, you can watch as I use a tone generator in an actual mixing session to set up a sort of “shadow track” in the low end. The root tones of chord changes, and/or the exact notes played by the regular bass guitar or bass synth(s) can be automated in the tone generator by inputting the frequencies of the desired notes. You can search online for charts showing frequencies (in Hertz) and corresponding notes. Here is one such chart:
What you want to do is to fill out the lowest frequencies in a pleasing and consistent way. You do this by first adding the frequencies with the Tone Generator, then meticulously adjusting the volume and energy of each note, (this could require automating more than just volume – things like EQ, Soft Clippers, Maximizers, etc) and finally carefully mixing in the other bass elements of your song or composition. When you do this correctly, the result is a great feeling of confidence that doesn’t go away, and hearing people say “wow, I wish I could get my low end to sound like that – it sounds like a commercial release!”
3. “Performing” The Mix With Meticulous Passion And Musicality
I use the phrase “meticulous passion” – which may seem like a contradiction -- because every famous person I have ever observed, whether they were involved in sports, business, education, music, cooking, etc. – had these two things in common. They were meticulous. And they were passionate. At first I thought these two things were separate actions – first they planned and prepared meticulously. And then they executed passionately. But taking a closer look, I saw that they carried out these two traits simultaneously.
Before digital recording, whenever a band recorded in a studio equipped with a mixing console that was not automated, the mixing process often required the entire band to “perform the mix.” It was “all hands on deck” literally. And if you were in the room watching the motions those band members went through while hitting mute buttons, sliding faders up and down, and calling out cues, you would swear you were at a concert! There was that much passion going on. And, yes, it was all done with major attention to detail (meticulous execution).
I used to think my mixes were fully done before I learned about “performing the mix” – and then I realized there was a lot more I could get out of the entire mix – and not more “sonic perfection” -- No. We’re talking about emotional content, dynamics, soul, passion, heart, spirit, whatever you want to call it – it’s the raw stuff that artists are made of – the blood, sweat and tears of art itself. If you go back through your “finished” mix, and simply “perform” each instrumental track (at least the most important tracks in the mix) and the vocals, by automating aspects of each track such as volume, reverbs, delays, eq’s & other effects, the results can be night and day between the “before” mix and the “after” mix.
NOTE: This isn’t something that should be overdone, because small adjustments can make a huge difference!
I don’t think this needs more explaining. I think you got this one clearly. Try it out and let me know what kind of results you get!
Some of the greatest mixing engineers and producers in our industry have all shared the above “icing on the cake” procedural tip with me. In fact, when I spoke with Steve Lillywhite (Grammy Winning U2 Producer) in Hollywood two years ago, he told me that basically, this is pretty much ALL he does during a mixing session. He doesn’t dive deep into other aspects of the mix. He makes sure the recording is solid, and then he meticulously and passionately “performs” the mix.
And know this: it’s not because musicians don’t perform passionately or that recordings aren’t done well. It’s because the media of speakers and electronic sound reproduction require attention to detail and intense dynamic human interaction to create an emotionally moving and satisfying experience for the listener, one equal to an actual live performance. This holds true in all genres. And that is your goal.
It’s not how many notes you play or sing. It’s how much passion and heart you bring.
Write to me if you have any questions and with any successes you achieve from applying the tips above!
Los Angeles, Ca
5 Dec 2015
Gary teaches a select group of students via Skype and Teamviewer (a free app for you) that allows him to securely control your computer remotely from Los Angeles while you “watch over his shoulder” as he demonstrates mixing and mastering techniques on your mixes – on your computer in your home studio, while communicating on Skype. He then has you demonstrate the techniques yourself right then and there, until he can see (and hear) that you fully understand what you are doing and can consistently mix and master with confidence. To get a free hour long Skype session with Gary, register for the upcoming 180 Day Music Licensing Challenge by December 14th. More Details.