Tommy’s Tips

Here are some recording and mixing tips to make your recordings better!

Viva La Reference!

When mixing, don't be afraid to compare what you're doing to other successful records or productions you like or are similar to what you are working on. You'll know in an instant whether you are on the right track or fooling yourself. Listen for frequency balance, effect levels (reverb, echo and such), and overall excitement. Try to figure out if you have a production problem, a mix problem, or maybe both. Sometimes taking some parts out will actually help make your song (or commercial, promotional piece or whatever you’re working on) more exiting and give the arrangement a chance to breath at the beginning and grow towards the end. Keep in mind that if you are listening to CD's, your mix probably won't be (and shouldn't be) as loud or as bright as the CD since it's been mastered. Remember that recording your mix at a "loud" volume, which will probably add distortion, will be detrimental to the process, and have a negative effect on what the mastering engineer might be able to do. Always leave a db or two of headroom to be sure your mastering engineer has something to work with. When doing post work, be sure your levels match the spec you’ve been provided.

Watch the buss compression!

When using a buss compressor, (a compressor on the whole mix), be careful! Use it to enhance the sound, not to make it louder. The mastering engineer can do the loudness thing way better than can be done at the mix stage. That being said, a buss compressor can add a lot to your recording. Don't be afraid to turn the knobs to hear the effect. For example, the settings that work for Hip-Hop are wildly different than what normally works for Heavy Metal. If you can't come up with a setting that sounds better when it's on, TURN IT OFF!

Recording the Piano!

Recording the piano can be one of the most challenging things an engineer can do. When I first started engineering, since I wanted to get that “upfront” and “percussive” piano sound, it seemed natural that I should put the mics as close as possible to capture the hammers hitting the strings. Wrong! This never works for a variety of reasons:
  • The noise of the hammers and pedals will be very prominent, enough to make the recoding unusable if it’s a ballad that starts with just piano or piano and vocal.
  • It will be very difficult to balance the volume of all the notes from one end of the keyboard to the other, as the places closest to the mics will be louder.
  • When you hear a piano, the sound comes from the entire instrument, so you’re giving up much of the “body” and “substance” of the sound

So what’s the fix?

Move the mics far enough away that the pedal noise and imbalance are not a problem. Remember you are trying to capture the sound of a large instrument (We are assuming a stereo recording of a grand piano). Specifically here are a few things you can try:
  • With the lid open, try placing a mic over one of the holes in the metal frame above the soundboard on the treble end, and a mic over one of the holes at the bass end. Not too close, at least 12-18” above the hole. Pan the two mics as desired. This is a very popular way to mic a piano for pop music, and gives a great big stereo effect. One caveat – this does not provide optimum mono compatibility, so check to see if it’s ok for your application.
  • If mono compatibility is more important to you, or a more natural sound is what you desire, use a pair of mics right next to each other, side by side or x-y, (or a stereo mic like am AKG C24) facing the center of the sound board, but least 4 feet above the strings. You can also tilt the mics to face the bottom of the lid and pull them back a bit to get a more “classical” sound. Try moving your pair further into the room and face the center of the lid to get the most natural sound. The further away you get, the more room sound you will get, which is always a good or bad thing, depending your finished product.
Remember – there is no substitute for listening while someone else moves the mics around. Even with a lot of experience, it’s an educated guess until you hear it, however, this may give you a good place to start.
Tommy Uzzo mixing
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