Steps from dry recording to finished mix?

Hey everyone,

Been lurking around the forum for long enough that I figure I’d have my first post. I’m working on my first recording project currently - it will be for my wedding coming up in June. The song will basically be a few layers of acoustic guitars and one vocal track, no harmonies.

I have recorded all the dry tracks and they sound as good as I’ll get them. I would like to put some compression and reverb on the vocal track - not sure what effects for the acoustic guitars yet.

My question is what are the steps I need to take from now until the finished product. Effects, then mix, or the other way around, or amplifying all tracks first…?? I’m completely lost on what to do next and what to do first.

Any guidance would be appreciated - thanks!

The first thing is that you need something decent to listen to your recordings through - either some good headphones, or some decent speakers (or both) - Generally PC speakers are not suitable as they are hopelessly inaccurate and will give a completely false sense of the tonal balance. If you do not have studio monitor speakers, but have a hi-fi system, you may be able to play the computer through it.

I would also recommend using Audacity 1.3.7 as it has many improvements over the old 1.2.6 version.

Always work on copies of the original recorded tracks and not the original recordings - if you mess up you do not want to have to re-record.

Make regular new backup projects as you proceed. (project_001.aup, project_002.aup, project_003.aup and so on).

Beyond that, the exact working method is a matter of personal preference, but this may give you an idea:

Your recorded tracks should have a reasonable level already - peak level around, or over 0.5, but below 1.0 on each track.
It may be worth applying the “Normalize” effect on all of the tracks, but only select “Remove DC Offset” and not “Normalize to”.

Do any cleaning up that is necessary - Remove any clicks, coughs, buzzes, bumps that occur in places that should be silent. This is the time to use noise reduction if necessary, but use it sparingly - it is better to have a little background hiss and undistorted sound than to have hiss free distortion.

Adjust the levels approximately using the track level sliders.

Use the Envelope tool to make any long-scale adjustments to the volume - for example, if one of the tracks gradually gets louder or quieter and it should have remained about level, use the Envelope tool to correct.

Now duplicate each track, and "Mix and Render each of the duplicates. If you have not done so, now is a good time to make a new back-up project.

Mute the original tracks and “collapse” them out of the way.

Using the remaining (duplicate) tracks, listen to them carefully and decide if you need to apply any Equalization - test on short sections and when you think you have the right settings, apply to the entire track. Repeat for each track.

Now have a break for at least a couple of hours. Come back and compare the Eq’d tracks with the non-Eq’d originals - are you sure the Eq’d versions sound better? Make a new back-up project.

Compression: depending on the style of the music, you will probably want to use some dynamic compression. “Heavily produced” music tends to use more compression, especially dance music styles. Acoustic/folk type sounds usually use much less compression. The “SC4 Compressor” plug-in is a good one to use (available in the optional LADSPA effects pack).

Reverb - if using “G-Verb”, use it on duplicates of the tracks and apply it “Wet” (all effect and no original signal), then use the tyrack level sliders to mix the effect with he original. The default G-Verb setting is a very long reverb - you will probably want to reduce the “reverb time” to about 1 or 2 seconds. Also, increase the damping to near maximum or it will be very “zingy”.

Clean-up of noise comes before any other effects.
Dynamic compression comes before channel reverb.
There are no rules.

Now make another back-up project and have another break. Breaks are essential so that you can listen with fresh ears.

At this stage it is probably best to just tweak the track levels, back-up and leave it 'till the next day.

Assuming that all seems pretty satisfactory, you just need to make minor tweaks, play it all the way through, check the levels, and make a first trial mixdown. Burn to CD and play on another sound system - how does it sound?

After making necessary adjustments, you may want to boost the level of the whole recording a little by applying a bit of compression / limiting to the entire mix - perhaps also a little reverb to the whole mix.

It is very easy to apply too much effects - keep the compression and reverb to a minimum - you can always add more later, but once it’s been written into the track, you can’t take it off. It is one of the most common mistakes to use too much effects.

For acoustic guitars you will probably need very little effects. Some people like to use a little bit of “Chorus” - but note that this effect is extremely easy to over-do. The most important thing with acoustic guitars is to mic’ them up well for the recording.

If the recording is good, then you may not need much processing at all for a good sounding mix. If the original recordings are bad, then no amount of processing will make it good. The most important part of production is listening.

This has been fairly helpful so far. I have some additional questions if you can help. My band recorded a 16 track demo at a small studio. I’m thinking of asking them to give me all the raw wav tracks so I can mix them myself. I have WindowsXP Home, 2.6 P4 with 1.5 gig ram. Will I be able to mix all tracks in these 4 minute songs with no latency issues? If there are latency issues, what’s the ‘simple’ correction method? Thanks! :slight_smile:

There will be no latency issues as they are only of concern while recording - since all of the tracks are already recorded, latency is not a concern.

Important things that will affect your success:
Speed of hard drive access - You need LOTS of free disks space. At 32 bit, 48kHz 16 tracks you will need around 500MB for a 3 minute track (~50MB just for the initial audio, then room for the undo files while you edit).
The hard drive must be defragmented before you start.
The quality of your sound card will not only affect the sound quality, but will also affect how many tracks you can run. If the sound card is capable of hardware mixing, this will greatly increase the efficiency, whereas some low budget, and on-board sound cards can suffer from very poor performance.
Your computer needs to be running well (stable) and 100% virus free - If your computer suffers any stability problems, fix them first.

Having said all that, there’s no harm trying. I’ve successfully mixed down 8 track studio recordings on very modest hardware.