A producer's blog about music, recording, mixing, songwriting and gear! (I don't know everything, but what I know I'll gladly share!)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Charlie Peacock and the Civil Wars

I mentioned Charlie Peacock in my last post. Tonight I was reading blogs in my blog reader and I became more inspired to create something authentic than I have in a very long time. I truly believe that this post will inspire you in much the same way. I'd love to hear your comments but more than that, please thank Charlie for this wonderful post!


Sunday, January 17, 2010

My favorite resources

I find myself frequenting many blogs and websites throughout the week as I work. Sometimes I'm looking for a specific solution for a problem I've run into, sometimes I'm looking to be creatively inspired and sometimes I'm just looking for some light reading (where I accidentally pick up on new tips and tricks). I'm sure there are lots of sites I'm forgetting and I'll surely come across new sites as I continue to scan the web!

Here's just a few....

Gearslutz.com - I mentioned Gearslutz in a post earlier this week. Gearslutz is a public forum for anyone into music production and in particular, GEAR. The people who post on GS tend to be gear fanatics and spout their opinions freely. You can learn a lot on GS. In particular, read through the Expert threads from producer/engineers like Bruce Swedien, Dave Pensado, Al Schmitt and Tony Maserati! (note: Watch out for all the crack heads who speak with no actual knowledge on a subject. It's actually kinda comical)

Youtube.com - This may be kind of obvious at this point but you'll be surprised what you can come up with in terms of a quality education on audio by searching for topics on youtube. Some of my favorite
SoundonSound.com - This magazine is fantastic. I particularly love their "Secrets of the Mix Engineer" column. They interview all kinds of mixers and analyze current hits all the way down to EQ and compression settings, types of FX and how the mixer overcame certain challenges along the way. GREAT stuff. If you subscribe to the magazine you get access to the all past issues digitally for free!

Protoolsmixing.com (BLOG) - I just found this blog and am about to dig in and read through all the posts. I enjoy blogs like this because it gives you some insight into the mind of a mixer.

deathbyprotools.com (BLOG) - Another great blog about all things recording. I enjoy the title of the blog too (I genuinely love pro tools! I still think it's funny)

Tunecore.com (BLOG) - TuneCore is a fantastic resource for digitally distributing your music. They have a passion for educating as well. Their blog features tips and tutorials as well as discussions on issues presented to the record industry. Fantastic!

http://recordproducer.typepad.com/record-producer/ (BLOG) - A blog by music genius Charlie Peacock. This one is pretty new but promises to be very educational! Charlie is definitely someone I'm excited to learn from!

There are certainly more. As I find them I'll blog them. Please, please... if you have a resource that you think others would enjoy go ahead and post it in a comment! Don't hold back. Share what you know!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

In The Studio With Michael Jackson

I just finished reading In The Studio With Michael Jackson by Bruce Swedien. What a great book! If you're into recording and/or love the music of Michael Jackson you'll really get into this book. Bruce is a BRILLIANT recordist and mixer. He has been at the forefront of music recording for decades. In this book you really get a sense for Bruce's love for music and his love of Michael Jackson. What I enjoyed most was how much insight Bruce gives into technical recording techniques. Not so detailed that it's overwhelming, but he recalls techniques and tricks he and Quincy Jones used while recording Michael's great music.

I highly recommend you buy this book. (or download it on you Kindle!!)

For even more stories, tips and tricks from Bruce Swedien, check out Bruce's many posts on Gearslutz.com. Bruce moderated a forum a few years back. You can still read it here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Where's your focus

Where's the focus?

Mixing for bands can be interesting. Sometimes the guys don't even need to tell me what instruments they play. I can often tell by listening to their critiques of the mix what they play. The drummer is most concerned with finding the best drum sounds. The guitarist cares most for his solos and on and on.

As a producer I find myself doing the same thing. I am an instrumentalist and sing very little. I can find myself getting really excited about the interesting band arrangement I've created and forget about what matters most... the vocal! I think this is a danger for any instrumentalist. I suppose if you're a vocalist you might care more for the vocal than the band. (I know this is true of at least a few of my vocalist/producer friends so I guess it's likely to be true across the board.)

The vocal is the most important part of your song. Try to notice when your focus has drifted to some other element, and discern whether or not the focus of the mix has improperly shifted. Maybe the guitars have found themselves too out front in the mix and the energy of the vocal is lost. If so, redirect!

From a production standpoint, remember that everything else in your song has a secondary focus to the vocal. This can actually ease the pain of arranging. Keep your mind's eye on the vocal and get a feel for what is needed to surround the vocal and lift it into focus.

It can be easy to create arrangements that are distracting and actually take away the vocal's impact. It might help to play your mix, focus and the vocal and notice when the arrangement has awkwardly stolen the attention. Things like lead guitars, background vocals and programmed FX are typical culprits.

When the vocal is not the focus

Here's an idea... Rather than placing a busy instrumental part right over the vocal, maybe consider placing these ideas between vocal lines or in vocal-less sections. You should always have something interesting to focus on in your song. When there is no vocal (intro, turnaround, instrumental section, outro) you have a great opportunity to create unique hooks and instrumental melodies that can really support the song without getting in the way.

The mixer and the focus

If you're a mixer, don't be afraid to mute, duck and rearrange for the betterment of the song. Be sure you have the blessing of the producer before trying out your arrangement ideas. Some producers are open to re-arranging and some are not. I've found that most producers are open to hearing what you can come up with, but don't get too attached. If he doesn't like your idea it's ok. You work for him! At the end of the day the producer should get what he wants from the mix. Hold everything with an open fist (good life advice if you ask me).

  • Focus on the vocal
  • eliminate distractions and clutter that distracts from the vocal
  • Find focus in every section of your song

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Here's a list of my favorite drum mics.

  • INSIDE: (one of the following) EV RE-20, AKG D12, Shure Beta52
  • OUTSIDE: Telefunken Fet 47
  • SUB: NS10M with attenuator (I like this much better than the Yamaha SubKick for some reason)
  • TOP: Shure SM57 and a Josephson E-e22s
  • BOTTOM: AKG 414 (in hyper cardioid mode) or a Shure SM57
  • Neumann KM84, AKG 451, or AKG 414 (in figure 8 mode)
(Note: using the figure 8 mode on hi hats can sometimes decrease snare bleed but placement is key)

  • Sennheiser 421's, Sennheiser e604's (potentially an EV-RE20 or AKG D112 on Floor Tom)
  • Soundelux U95S, Neumann U87's , Royer SF12 Stereo Ribbon, or AEA R88 Stereo Ribbon
  • Telefunken U47, Royer 121 or Shure SM57
  • Beyerdynamic M160 Ribbons, or Neumann KM184's
  • Neumann U67's, Neumann U87's
A few notes on why...

I try not to overdo it with too many ribbon microphones all over the place. If I'm using ribbons on overheads I try to use large diaphragm condenser microphones more on room mics and visa versa. Ribbon mics can really warm up the sound of the kit.

In my mixes I'm not necessarily using all of these mics. Sometimes I do. It is a great thing to blend mics together to achieve a certain sound rather than to EQ. I love the sound of a 57 on a snare drum but the e22 has a nice top end. The two working together can sound great.

I love having room mic options because it can give you a lot of different colors and depths while mixing. For instance, your verses could be more dry, featuring the overhead mics and direct mic sounds, your chorus might be roomier. You might turn your mono room mic into an effect for a section of the song, adding massive amounts of compression and distortion to your sound (try running this microphone through an amp or amp simulator). This leaves you with lots of options for creativity later on.


If you get your phasing right, you'll be able to fix all other problems. Check your phasing by checking your microphones in mono. It can help to run your room microphones in the same line of sight. This way, some phasing could be corrected with time adjustments later. I have a few friends who are particularly good with phasing. Maybe I'll ask them to write a blog post for you!)

TRY ANYTHING - I try to have my close room mics be a picture of the kit as it sounds in the room. My far room mics are the sound of the ROOM. For this reason, you can experiment with placement. Try NOT aiming the mics at the kit and see if you enjoy the results. If you're recording in a bedroom, try putting a room mic in the hallway or close bathroom.

Friday, January 8, 2010

If I knew then what I know now: What I'd buy with $22,500 if I was starting all over again.

My friend John Carl (who is a creative genius in any format) suggested that I write this blog.

In 2005 I put up my first investment for my studio (I purchased the assets of Unseen Sound Studios in Lynchburg, VA). I spent about $22,500 for all the gear. With that I got an Pro Tools HD System, some preamps (Avalon 737sp, Drawmer 1960 and a few other nice pieces), some Mackie 824 Monitors, and a few microphones.

Now that I've been at this a while (and sold of most of that original gear) I can safely say that you can buy a LOT with $22,500 and have a COMPLETELY pro setup. I mean, what I got was really great, but in this new age of recording I'd probably go at it a little differently.

So here it is....


GRAND TOTAL: $22,560

OK, so I'm a little over (and I didn't include tax) but it's close. :)

a little explaination....

You might notice that these prices are not exact. They are my estimates and allow for a little bargain shopping on ebay. I 100% recommend buying gear from sellers with high sale counts and near flawless feedback ratings. Especially when you're buying "vintage status" gear (gear that will likely hold its value), you can end up saving a ton and losing very little if you later decide to sell. I really think you could get everything here under the $22,500 mark if you tried. (I'm not very good at this because I am an impulse shopper :)

This studio is definitely a studio for a pro. It is NOT however a studio to record drums with. I tend to think that there are PLENTY of really affordable professional studios these days that will sound infinitely better than an average bedroom. So, at least at first I would recommend cutting drums at another facility. You could record up to 12 channels of audio if you had a six more preamps. You could record drums if you borrowed a hand full of mics. (I should do a post on my favorite drum microphones.)

You may have noticed that I did not recommend an HD system. LE systems these days are REALLY powerful and handle high track counts and lots of plugins. There's even a plugin out these days that will handle delay compensation withing LE systems! (that was always a big issue for me.)

With this setup you've got...
  • Great microphones (the Manley and SM-7 will handle vocals and you've got the best guitar mics around in the Josephsons (acoustic guitars), SM-57 and Royer mics)
  • Class A preamps (the Avedis preamps are very Neve like and sound amazing)
  • Fantastic EQ for correction
  • Incredibly versatile compressors in the EL Distressors.
  • Clean power coming from the Monster Power unit (very important)
  • Great monitoring with the Mackie 824's
  • A patch bay for easily routing your gear
  • More than enough plugins to handle pro sounding mixing without compromise.
This is all top-of-the-line gear that you will find in professional studios. There is nothing lacking in this system regarding quality. Sure, there are other options and each engineer is going to have a different opinion on gear choices, but these pieces are highly regarded as some of the best stuff money can buy. It will deliver amazing results!

So there you have it, my studio if I had to do it over again :)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

QUICK TIP-"Removing Automation"

When I'm preparing files to be mixed it is standard practice to remove all the plugins, sends and automation from the session so that the mixer has a blank session to work from. Here are a few shortcuts that will help you perform these tasks quickly.


By holding down [option] and removing a plugin it will remove all of the plugins in that row of inserts across the session. It works the same for removing send assignments too. If you perform this once on every row of you'll have removed all of the plugins and sends from your session.

(Note: This function will only work on channels of the same type. In other words in you "[option] remove" a plugin from a mono channel it will delete all the plugins from other MONO channels in that row. You'll have to perform the function again for stereo channels and master channels. It's still faster than the alternative!)


Here's an neat little trick for removing ALL of the automation from a session.

1) From the "groups" menu select "ALL" so that every channel in your session is grouped together.

2) From the "edit" menu select "Select All." (you'll notice that the entire session becomes highlighted.)

3) For our last step, within the "edit" menu you'll see "Clear Special." Within this drop down menu select "All Automation".

BAM!!! Just like that, all of the automation in your session is now gone and you can continue getting your session prepped for the mixer.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Onion Mixing

Mixing (and producing) is like peeling an onion... you mix slowly, one layer at a time. The difference is that in mixing you might put a few layers back on if you've gone too far :) Oh, and you peel away the layers with your ears not your hands (hahaha! stupid joke).

It's true, you've gotta mix with your ears and not get too bogged down with one particular task. This is where I overdo it at times. This is where my mixes fall apart, become small and uninteresting.

I find that my best mixes happen when I build a strong foundation, try to make EVERYTHING as big as possible, and move on (or take a break) when I start getting frustrated. I'm just peeling away the layers, making small adjustments until the mix falls into place.

My friend Justin watched me mix for a few days last week and he mentioned how amazed he was at watching this very thing happen. He said, "Wow, you just fight it and fight it and the mix is never good enough until, BAM, it just starts happening!"

So peel away that mix. Fight it to the ground until it's beautiful and finished!


As I continue to learn record production and mixing I'm always learning in extremes. I've tried producing tracks with extremely light "production" (few lays, fewer instruments, etc.) and I've tried massively over-producing tracks (stacks and stacks of guitars and vocals, many parts, heavy tuning). I've tried mixing songs the same way. One day I'll mix with very little EQ, Compression and FX and the next day I might try really pushing things to their limits.

As with anything there are no rules. One engineer is going to find greatness in complexity and pushing limits and another engineer will reach the same heights of success with simplicity. I'm tending to fall somewhere in the middle with my mixes. I don't particularly like extremely slammed mixes and I don't get excited over the simple alternative either.


I most often think of the "too much" or "too little" debate regarding compression. Modern mixing is the sound of compression. (and lots of other things but compression is a big one)

In my mixes, I feel safest right in the middle. I'm compressing most things in the mix, however, I'm not doing a lot of compression on any one channel. I spread the tast of compression out over several busses.

SHARE THE LOAD (over many compressors in the chain)

>>>A kick drum might be compressed 2-4db (4:1-6:1 ratio)
>>>which is fed to an SSL buss compressor or a Fairchild 660 compressor on the drum buss (compressing 1-3db with a slow release and med-fast release)
>>>which ultimately goes through the master buss which is being compressed as well (SSL buss compressor into a Massey L2000M Limiter).

So you can see, by the end of the chain there's a decent amount of compression happening, but no one compressor is doing the job on its own.

WHICH COMPRESSOR SHOULD I USE? (and does it make a difference?)

It's also VERY VERY important to mention how different compressors sound. The circuitry (or digitally emulated circuitry) carries a certain vibe which colors the sound of the source. Each compressor is going to sound soooo different from another even without compressing at all.

When I'm struggling over getting getting an instrument to compress right, I'll do the following....

  • Decide what I'm trying to accomplish and think of the potential solution (IN MY HEAD... thinking about all the gear that I have available to solve the riddle)
  • Then I try my solution and work at it for a while. In the case of a compressor, I'll choose a compressor and tweak settings for a bit. I want to be completely satisfied that what I thought up in my head is being achieved or topped!
  • If it's not happening, I don't tweak harder or to farther extremes... NOPE, I PICK ANOTHER COMPRESSOR.
  • Most of the time I find that the solution happens pretty fast when I stumble upon the right tool. That's when I know I've got it right.
If you think about this concept from that of a keyboard player selecting his or her sounds then this might makes even more sense...

For the keyboardist, one song might call for a Piano, another might call for a rhodes or Wurli patch, another song might call for a B3 or String patch. If a song is dictating a string patch, the keyboardist is not going to look for another piano patch. He needs to find a great STRING patch.

This concept can be applied to our compressor application or to anything else in music production.
  • Is the drum groove just slightly off or is it the wrong groove altogether?
  • Does the guitarist need to try another pedal or try another amp?
  • Does the horn player need to practice his part for a minute or does he need to be replaced? (kindly and as graciously as possible)
  • Does the EQ needed used heavily or do you need to choose a new EQ?
  • Do you need a new Echo patch or should you be using a reverb?
  • Does the song need a new lyric or does the entire song need to be thrown out?
See what I mean?

Try these tips the next time you're mixing. I promise you fewer headaches!! (but I'm not you so I take it back... I can't promise you anything!)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Screen Captures - "You Saved Me" by Justin Kintzel

Every now and then I'll post some screen shots from sessions I'm working on just for fun. The session below is a song called "You Saved Me" from worship artist, Justin Kintzel. His album is due out this spring. He's a very talented guy (musician, photographer, videographer, designer, underwear model... wait? what??!)

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010... my new era

I remember the year 2000. I was really young (still in high school actually) and wide-eyed about my future. There was so much I wanted to do and accomplish with my life and I was eager to get started. 10 years later I'm proud of where I've been and I'm still very excited about the future.

This year I've resolved to make several changes in my life and strengthen the things that have worked for me in the last ten years.

This year I'm going to spend some extra time on my blog writing helpful articles, posting reviews of gear, pointing you to other helpful resources to help you grow as a musician/recordist/writer!! It'll be fun and I hope you'll find it very informative.


I get emails from time to time from young recordists asking questions, soliciting advice, etc. These questions could often be answered in the blog.

If you have a topic you'd like me to address on this blog, please let me know by posting a comment or emailing me at producerkeith1@gmail.com.

Here we go!!

About Me

My photo
I'm a producer, mixer, songwriter. I recently moved from Orange County, CA to Nashville,TN I love making music. It is my means for creative expression. I've been married to my wonderful wife Erin for 7 1/2 years and I have a dog named Dexter.