Kildare / Dublin

Jan 05, 2016Analogue Process / Digital Tools

While at Steve Albini’s Mix with the Masters Seminar, I did my first ever “out of the box” mix. I’m not unused to mixing on a desk, from doing live sound, but I don’t have the luxury of a nice analogue console in my studio, so all my mixing is done “in the box” (ITB) using Logic on a Mac. Mixing a song I’d been working on using La Fabrique’s Neve console was a real perspective changer…I really enjoyed mixing in the analogue domain, with the audio routed out to the desk, and mixing without even looking at the computer. It was a really satisfying experience, and the quick rough mix I did sounded great. But back home in Kildare, I still don’t have a Neve console, so what aspects of the analogue console mixing process could I transfer to my ITB setup?

The first step is to simplify as much as possible.
When I was preparing to mix on the console, I had to figure out what way to route the 90 or so tracks in the ProTools session to the 48 channels on the desk.
This involved sub-mixing groups of tracks in ProTools, so for example - 8 channels of audio that made up a multi-mic’d double track of a guitar part that was then doubled again with a different guitar/amp combination would be sub-mixed quickly in ProTools before being sent to one stereo channel on the desk. The sub-mixing didn’t involve any processing, simply adjusting the levels and panning of the tracks. Getting a quick balance of all that audio in the computer and reducing control of that overall balance down to one fader was necessary on the desk due to the limited number of physical channels, but I didn’t need to revisit the individual tracks in the ProTools sub-mix to apply any processing - once that group was out onto a single channel on the console, processing that channel got me what I wanted for the mix. I’ve found it’s worth going through an ITB session and applying the same discipline. Organising it so that I reduce the number of channels I’m going to actually be adjusting and processing to the minimum means that instead of doing detailed work on the many individual audio tracks, the focused work happens on the sub-mixed groups.
For Logic Users, the Track Stacks feature in Logic Pro X is brilliant for doing this.
You can check out how to use them here:
Note: The only exception is with drums. While I do sub-mix them to a single fader, that fader is only used for overall drum level, each individual drum channel gets detailed processing.

The second thing that I found so great about mixing on the console was the immediacy of having a tactile surface to work with.
Instead of single fader adjustments using a mouse pointer, you can control multiple faders on the desk at once with your fingers.
I did investigate buying some fader controllers for the computer, but if you want 16 good quality hardware faders, it starts getting very expensive.
So I revisited the fader view in the Logic Remote app for iPad (shown above)

When Logic Remote first came out, I tried using the fader view to write automation and found it clunky for that purpose, and had only been using it’s (really useful) transport and shortcuts view. When I tried using it to get a first fader balance on a mix that I had simplified down to about 12 faders, I found the Logic Remote gave me that same immediacy I got from the desk, without having to bank through too many screens. I found it very quick to get the mix sounding roughly balanced, and I could easily pick out what aspects of the mix then needed attention. The whole mix came together much quicker than usual, like the mix on the console had. If you’re not using Logic, there’s a growing number of DAW controller apps out there, such as V-Control, which will help do the same thing. With touchscreen technology like Slate’s MTI 2 becoming more affordable, and the new iPad Pro offering more screen size for controller apps to use, there should be some really great tools available in the next couple of years that could make things even quicker and easier.

For me, combining the simplification of the mix down to the minimum number of faders you can focus on, and using a tactile controller allows you to work fast on your ITB mixes, like you would on a console, it’s less fatiguing, and ultimately leads to better mix decisions.