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Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Solitude and the art of mixing...

A long time Ruforia supporter emailed me today with a couple of really good questions about how I make the Ruforia mixes, and how to go about making a mix CD in general, so I thought I'd share them with the world...

I bought recently a digitalizing device to record my
mixes. But I have a few challenges I seem not to get

The first challenge is that the program and device are
very sensitive to the out going sound, so even though
I try for the longest time to secure the same sound
level it messes up, a little step and it over powers!
Do you know a way how to secure or fix this

A lot of recording a mix is trial and error - learning what works and what doesn't. The best way to record I have found is to plug the recording out (most mixers have them - it just outputs a slightly less powerful output than the main output that you'd plug into your amp, and therefore much better for recording) into the line in on either a laptop or a digitizing device (never plug it into a "Mic in" socket - they receive a little extra power boost, and therefore will always distort when you plug a mixer into them).

The next step is to set your levels. You should have a "Recording Level" setting on your digitizing device - set this down a little from 0db. This gives you a little leeway when you come to record. Once you have that set up, the only thing you need to do is make sure you don't go into the red on the master output on your mixer. Basically when your levels go into the red on the mixer, you go over 0db, and the voltage becomes too much for the wire to the amp/recording device to handle, and therefor it clips/distorts. This is when you get an unclear sound in your mix. You need to pre-listen to each track before you bring it in, and use the gain knob to turn the level of the track up or down accordingly so that the tracks level is touching 0db on the level meter, but not going over (or going over only occasionally - it's not the end of the world if it slightly goes into the red, this is why you turned down the levels on your recording device). You'll find that when you are mixing the next track in, the levels are much more likely to creep into the red, which is why it's useful to turn the gains of both tracks down a fraction whilst you're mixing each track in, then when you've brought one track out, turn the gain up on the other track. This can be very fiddly though, so sometimes it's easier to just have your gains set at a lower level in the first place so that they don't go into the red when you're mixing.

Once you've done all this, you'll probably get the mix onto your computer, and find that the levels are too small. This is why I find it useful to run the whole mix through ableton live, where I can put a compressor/limiter effect on the whole mix - it brings the volume up to a uniform level that's more useful to put on the podcast.

If you've not already read it, you should get a very useful book called "How to DJ (Properly)" by Bill Brewster. It covers how to record a mix in much more detail, and I still read it now to get ideas for my mixes, even though I must have read it 100 times. It's awesome.

How often are you mixing your pod-casts before there
are flawless? I don't have as much time as I would
love to spend on the mixes – but knowing how much time
you spend might help me to downgrade my own
expectations in my mixes!
Do you get inspired while you mix and you fire or do
you make yourself a set that you stick to?

Well, at first when I started doing the podcasts, it used to take me days to get a mix down. Believe me though - recording your mixes is the best thing that you can do to improve your mixing skills. When you're listening back to your every mistake, you'll be able to pick them out in the future that much easier, so that you don't make them again. This is how I do things now that I've produced a few mixes:

  • choose a theme, or story to base the mix around - imagine you're making a mix tape for your best mate - what tracks might they like to hear on it?
  • choose about 25 tracks that I might like to put on a mix - I might have a few tracks that I've been thinking of for a while, or some of them might jump out at me as I'm looking through my collection.
  • Do a "rough mix" without the recording equipment rolling - go mad, and don't worry about mistakes - this is a time for you to get a feel of what works and what doesn't. If you find a track that you've not included in your initial 25 would work really well after the one your playing, go for it. Make a mental list of any mistakes you made, however small, just so you can be aware of them when you're making the mix proper.
    As you use each track put the record/cd into a separate pile in the order that you used them. Don't be afraid of dropping a track you really wanted to use from your initial list of 25 if it doesn't fit in with the theme/other tracks that you've chosen. There's nothing worse than hearing a mix with a track cludged in just because the DJ really wanted to use it. You can always make another mix with that track in it.
  • Once you have a strong tracklist, and everything gels just nicely, practice each transition a couple of times to make sure it's gonna work, and the keys of the tracks don't clash horribly. This helps you work out where the ideal place to "mix out" of a track is, and also lets you play around, and be a little creative with the transitions. Don't concentrate on just making them as smooth as possible. Put a little creative flair in there as well. The tape is still not rolling so just piss around. This is where the best ideas come from.
  • Once you're happy with the order of your tracks, and you've practiced the transitions, now is the time to start the recorder. Because you've practiced the transitions, it'll be that much easier to do them now you're recording. Be prepared to start from the beginning a good few times.

The reason I would love to hear your advice is that
that I fucked up soooo badly that I was really pissed
at myself, you have no idea!!!

Dude, everyone gets frustrated, don't worry. A lot of times just the very fact that you're recording makes you fuck up, when normally you can do that mix with your eyes closed. Sometimes it's helpful to leave the mix for a couple of days, chill out, play a load of tracks completely different to the ones you've chosen for your mix, and then come back to your mix with a fresh set of ideas.

I hope this helps someone out there struggling with this same set of problems lol

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