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Mixing Music the Old Way, with New Tools

Only published comments... Sep 16 2010, 05:00 PM by Fab Dupont
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I tend to be weary of .x updates, with any kind of software, and even more so with software that I use 12 hours a day, everyday, to get stuff done with looming deadlines. That said, when I saw PT HD 8.1 I jumped on it just for the new i/o setup features, DUC unseen.

 

 

We swap sessions between tracking and mixing rooms so often at FLUX Studios that it was impossible to resist the idea spending less time in the i/o setup window everyday. Early adopters we became, and I'm happy to report that the new i/o setup features are saving us a lot of time and grief when sharing sessions. It works great once you can wrap you head around it (Read the manual, won't hurt a bit), but that's not what I'm writing about.

 

Once we were done copiously celebrating the new dawn-of-easy-session-swapping we realized that Avid introduced in a new feature 'Heat', just like that, in a .1 update, mhhhh. As is expected from any self respecting French guy, I'm skeptical of anything new, modern or forward thinking. It's in my blood, hon hon hon, so it took me days to even make myself try it. I already have 'analogizing' tools see, I use Avid's Reel Tape for transient control, Massey's TapeHead for dirt and bite, Crane Song Phoenix for thickening and Soundtoys Decapitator for anything from softening to angering. Don't need no more, no sir. Well, I'm very ashamed to report that I was wrong, even though us French men are never ever wrong. (Please don't get used to it, it won't happen again.)

 

I was always of the camp that said that Pro Tools sounds great, never had a problem with it, I have gotten phenomenal results for years with the help of great monitoring, summing and very limited number of choice hardware pieces (I use 90% plugins). My only caveat has always been that, in essence, I get no 'help' from Pro Tools. Think of it this way: recording with Pro Tools a little bit like looking at yourself in the mirror in the morning. Do you really want a mirror THAT good right now? A little David Hamilton style filter (Look it up) would greatly enhance the morning routine, no? Can you blame the mirror for being good at reflecting reality? Nope, because it's good to have that perfect mirror when you look really, really good, no? (No really, you look great, you have not changed a bit since high school, what's your secret?)

 

Records used to be made on tape recorders that were less than perfect, a lot less perfect than Pro Tools, but it turned out to be a good thing in retrospect. The funny part is that I'm told repeatedly that engineers used to strive to make tape recorders more and more transparent, quieter, with better dynamic range, faster, in short closer to the experience Pro Tools gives us today. They did not think tape artifacts were a good thing, they were trying to make it better, but YES, there was something that tape did to the music that was underestimated, and taken for granted: it made stuff sound gentler, thicker, more saturated and generally more pleasing that the original source was and I find that Heat brings that spirit back right within Pro Tools.

 

It was pretty amazing to activate it on an existing mix, as everything became 'too much' right away. Bass was too thick. bass drum was too loud, vocal was too saturated, etc… I knew right there that I was going to like it, as Heat was hitting all the spots I had spent time working on and 'double duty-ing' them in a way. After 15 minutes of tweaking with Heat set to 2 clicks to the left, pre on everything, I had a mix that was genuinely more pleasing, fatter and less angular than the source mix that had just been approved by my client and sounded great to start with. Over the next couple of days I moved on to the other songs on the same record and used Heat from the onset. I found that I was able to get where I wanted to be faster and with less tweaking than I did on the pre-Heat mixes. Things came together more easily especially on percussive tracks and transient heavy material. I was also able to use less compression and get a better dynamic range without loosing intensity.

 

 

Turning Heat off at the end of the mix, 'just to see' , yielded flat sounding and dull feeling music. It was pretty shocking.

 

 

So what does it do for ya? The most obvious is the thickening of the low-mids. I can't get the same thing with EQ or my previous tools. I have made a before-and-after of the drums and bass tracks of that mix for you to get the vibe. It should be pretty obvious when you listen to it. (Obvious in a good/great sense, not in a sucks/rocks sense). I actually could use less compression because of what Heat did to the tracks. There is no compression at all on the direct snare mike and just a tad of parallel compression on kick/snare/overheads tucked under the raw tracks. The bass is just one track from an SB12 amp a touch of UA LA2 and some Oxford EQ cut at 90Hz (And a really, really good player).

 

The other effect of Heat is transient control. It's always been the hardest thing to achieve in digital for me, keeping the stuff punchy but not aggressive. (You know that 3k sharpness that makes you squint when you listen loud). Heat helps a lot with that, especially on badly recorded guitars (Most guitars?). The further left you push Heat the more of that softening you get. Be careful though, don't abuse the substance, you might hate yourself in the morning. The ability to bypass Heat on selected tracks is great when the source material does not take well to the process, or when you want to use the sharper tone on certain tracks you need to stick out of the mix.

 

I'm sure Heat does a lot more, which I'll discover over the next few days, but these two things are worth the price of admission for me. It'll be on all our machines at FLUX within days. I will still get a lot of use out of Reel Tape and Phoenix if only to be able to alter how much effect is applied on a track per track basis and get a wider sound palette but having an overall adjustable mix color really makes me happy. I have tried the 'right side' of the master control (The 'tube' side), and I see how it would work for material that needs 'shine' but I rarely get stuff like that, so in good French tradition, I'll stick to the 'left side' for now. Your personal mileage will vary.

 

If you are going to test Heat to see if it works for you, do make sure you level match before and after signals. Heat makes things appear a little louder which our brain interprets as 'better', don't fool yourself and listen carefully. It's to the Heat feature's credit that even perfectly level matched I always like what it does to my sound (See above for ingrained snobiness disclaimer).

 

Will I use it on every track from now on? I can see how it could be too much for classical recordings, or mastering jobs where the stuff is already where it needs to be tonally. As far as using it systematically, time will tell really, but right now I'm in love (as in I will NEVER EVER leave you. You and me baby, it's forever. You're the one I was waiting for all my life, I will never cheat on you either, not even with the pretty blonde from the drive-in).

 

Fab

 

 

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About Fab Dupont

Hi there, my name is Fab. I make records for a living and I use Pro Tools for everything from writing to producing, mixing and mastering. Recently at my FLUX studios in the Village of New York City, I have produced and/or mixed tracks for/with/featuring Queen Latifah, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, Freshlyground, Les Nubians, Ladysmith Black Manbazo, Isaac Hayes, Santigold, Mark Ronson, Toots And The Maytals, Babyface, Nat King Cole, Bebel Gilberto and a slew of other artists. You can find me at www.fabulousfab.com or www.fluxstudios.net.

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