The Rules

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After recording the CTW podcast this week, I was thinking about what I said in regards to only using what I absolutely need when mixing. That’s always the goal, but sometimes it’s easy to fall into routines. This week I thought I’d issue myself a little challenge during rehearsal to make sure I really am only using what I need. So I established some rules before soundcheck:

The Rules

1.) No Input Compression for 30 Minutes.
2.) No Looking at EQ Curves While EQ’ing.
3.) No Solo-In-Place for More Than 3 Seconds.

No Input Compression for 30 Minutes
The first rule was designed to stop me from arbitrarily compressing some inputs I almost always compress: bass, snare, and vocals. I used 30 minutes because I knew our soundcheck would take around 20 minutes, and then the next 10 would get through a song. So by 30 minutes I figured the stuff that I really wanted a compressor on would be driving me nuts.

I only wanted to limit myself to input compression because I knew there was some buss compression I wanted from the start: my master L/R compression and parallel compression on the drums. Both of these contribute more to a sound for me than control, and I knew I wanted the sound in there from the start; my buss compressor is usually just tickling 1 dB of compression so I rarely hit this hard. I could have lost the L/R compression, but I knew I’d want to parallel compress the drums. In fact, I worked on the drums for a while with some satisfaction without the parallel compression, but pushing up the parallel compressed bus gave me more of what I really wanted.

No Looking at EQ Curves While EQ’ing
I established this rule because I’ve been mixing so much on digital consoles lately that I’ve been starting to get worried I’m relying on a screen too much especially with vocals. I’ve learned there are two potential danger zones for me when EQ’ing with a screen. On one hand, I think it’s difficult for me to EQ heavily because seeing enormous cuts or boosts tends to freak me out like I’m doing something wrong; this might actually be a good thing most of the time because it pushes me to explore other options than EQ. On the other hand, I feel like the visual of the EQ might be influencing where I put the filters, and I want to make sure I’m relying on my ears for this.

No Solo-In-Place for More Than 3 Seconds
Solo-In-Place is a blessing and a curse. I used to have this rule, but I know I’ve been slipping lately so I deliberately brought it back. This is simply an attempt to force me to mix mostly in context. I have an event on the console that will automatically clear a solo-in-place after 3 seconds so this one is hard to break.

So how’d I do?

Well, I broke the first rule and compressed a lead vocal right off the bat without thinking, but it was pretty evident it needed it so I didn’t feel too bad. Outside of that, I adhered to the rule. By the end of the 30 minutes I was still wanting to compress some things I normally hit, and adding them in gave me what I felt like I was missing.

In regards to the second rule, I had to stop myself from looking at EQ curves a couple of times which proved to me that it really has become a habit to look at the screen. However, without looking at the curves I was still able to EQ what I needed. This was actually a really good rule to implement because it tweaked my ears up a notch in some ways.

The third rule was sort of unbreakable because I set the console to automatically enforce this. This was something I had the least issue with because I was using this for a while last year.

Overall, it was a good exercise to break up some routines. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend everyone try these particular rules since I picked them to try and keep me from falling into some of my own traps. But if you feel like you’re falling into too much of a routine maybe some rules of your own are in order.

What are some rules that might help out your mixes?

David Stagl

One Response to “The Rules

  • The one place I bend the rules on Solo In Place is when I solo VCA’s or Groups. I want to hear the overall balance of my drums or vocals.

    My one rule (partially because we mix monitors from FOH) is that i only make fader, pan and FX changes the first time I listen through the entire set. This prevents me from over-tweaking and changing too much of what the musicians will hear between rehearsal and Sunday morning.