Your Mix Can Make All The Difference

My current “in-home setup” is technically my first full on “in the box” facility. getting here has been a process. Starting with a Yamaha MT-44 cassette recorder, moving to an AKAI MG 1212, on to a Soundcraft TS12, then dual AMEK BIG (28 input), and lastly Digidesign’s Control 24, there has always been some sort of recorder/console/patchbay/outboard setup in our process. Working with so many synthesizers and drum machines has made me think this is absolute necessity. and of douse the “mainstream” recording studio industry wants to keep everyone thinking that we need a 20 ft console to make music that sounds good. Times have certainly changed and we change with them. Ay this iteration of Slang Recording Services, we have no console at all. And when other Grammy winning mixers and long-time analog advocates move from working on a Neve console to a system that fits in a backpack you know the In-The-Box revolution is in full swing.

Slang resident mixer Abel Garibaldi (R Kelly, Polo the Don) only leaves ProTools so that he can use a different D/A, re-recording it’s output back in.

Hitmaker Serban Ghenea, swears it’s 100% inside for him as well. Grammy winner Craig Bauer who often mixes inside while patching to outboard and summing sometimes via SPLs MIXDREAM says “it depends”

Slang Music Group Alum Anthony Kilhoffer (Kanye West, Travis Scott, Iggy Azalea), Zayne Malik) mixed all of these HIT RECORDS 100% “in the box”

I was somewhat surprised by all of this, since I’ve known these people as console mixers for many years, but there are great reasons for switching if you haven’t.

Some people (not Abel) think that D/A Conversion Is The Worst Part Of Any Digital Chain The thing that bothers people most about using outboard gear (usually all those “favorite” compressors) and running the Pro Tools sessions through the console was the fact that you have to convert all of the audio from digital to analog, and then back to digital again. “Summing” simplifies the process sometimes (hopefully you can insert on those group channels) but adds to the issue, further “degrading” the signals being processed. The debate seems to be drawn along age lines with most of the older guys using consoles while younger mixers think it much better it is to keep the audio in the DAW.

Andrew Sheps also said:

“The D/A conversion is the worst part of any digital chain by far [so now] I don’t go through any. I feel like I’m sonically gaining something by never coming out [of the box]. All your audio must leave its perfectly quality digital state and be “processed” back into analog only to be “processed” again on its way back in. Just more and more signal degradation. Getting further away from the original sound you were given to mix, and Nobody could tell the difference in the mixes. – Andrew Scheps (U2, Justin Timberlake, Green Day)

Yuki Tasaka another mixer here takes the position of true futurist, stating that given the variety of “analog gear emulators” in the market (Slate Digital, Waves Audio, SPL, McDSP, etc) one really doesn’t have to experience the degradation to get the color. There are so many places for things to go wrong, tape machines need constant maintenance and most analog gear changes from day to day based on so many variables not at the engineers fingertips. the “in the box method” is the obvious evolution of our art form.

Good points to be made all around. While good conversion is necessary for quality outboard processing or summing, it’s not just the A/D part of the conversion that’s important (bringing the audio back in to the computer), but what happens to the audio when it leaves the digital domain in the first place. Abel Garibaldi recommends final mixes leaving via the Avid interface and returning via a higher end box like Burl Audios B2 Bomber. The biggest fear for a guy like Andrew when it comes to moving all in-the-box is whether or not the quality of his work will suffer. Will people notice a change ?

Our team wouldn’t be [mixing in the box] if it weren’t that for me at this moment my mixes sound better. When I started to send mixes [that were done in the box] to the clients and all I got back were normal mix notes, everyone here knew that this would be the future of all mix work. This points to the bottom line of the issue. When the artists, labels, and occasional friend hear these in-the-box mixes and don’t say “Hmmm, something is weird about this mix, it doesn’t sound as good as your normal stuff…” you can be sure that mixing that way isn’t a downgrade in quality. The plug-ins at this point sound really good, the ones that emulate classic gear sound/behave nearly identical. There are numerous cases here where the client asks do we need to even master final mixes at all. But thats for another conversation, soon to be had. Facts are that more and more top level mix engineers are leaving the hassle of analog and jumping head first into in-the-box mixing. Recalls and alt versions alone are enough of a reason but given the fact that the mixes in many cases sound better (and you can often print all the analog goodness on the way in) So how does this apply to us home studio (and almost all of us) in-the-box mixers?

It simply reinforces one thing: the gear you mix on is not the bottleneck holding you back from sonic greatness. Your ears are. And that, my friend, is fantastic news!

It means that you don’t NEED a Neve 88RS or an SSL9000J console to get a pro sounding mix. You don’t need racks of boutique outboard compressors. Well maybe just a few… So why do our mixes completed at Slang sound so great if we are using less gear than everyone has (no huge consoles) in their studios? Two reasons: great raw material, awesome monitoring and some ridiculous mixing chops. We also concentrate on getting great sounds in, often using awesome analog gear, carefully selected microphones, real synths along with the latest software, “colorful” outboard and most of all, great ears and a creative approach. If you were to focus all of your energy on recording better sounding tracks – tracks so good that when you pull up the faders they virtually mix themselves – and then improving your mixing abilities, you’d start delivering final mixes that you can be proud of. This takes time, but when a significant part of your life has been dedicated this pursuit of evidence, good things happen. Mix with us and you will see. Oh, and our gear list is here:

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