It’s official – we are (still) living through one of the greatest times to be a music maker in the history of the world.
Today I want to introduce you to longtime TRR reader/student Ben Andre who just took a song he recorded in his dorm room and got to #1 on Spotify’s global and US viral charts.
Oh – and it was all recorded on a $500 interface and mixed in the box – on $150 headphones.
The Studio Setup
Ben (and his band Tipling Rock) have a classic home studio studio based around an old firewire mixer/audio interface, a handful of affordable microphones, and Cubase.
Everything was recorded through an old version of the Mackie Onyx 1640 with firewire card (makes it a 16×2 interface). Got it used on Craigslist back in high school for about $500 and it proved to be a great move. In terms of cost per preamp/converter it’s about as low as it gets! – Ben Andre (Tipling Rock)
I would say so Ben! That works out to $31 per preamp AND channel of conversion! Nothing high end here. Just the solid, clean preamps that come stock in all budget interfaces these days.
As far as microphones went, Ben used Shure SM57s on the guitar amps and an AKG 414B which he bought used on eBay for $500. Bass was recorded direct into the Mackie.
For recording vocals we used the AKG 414B with the 80hz high-pass filter engaged, Fun fact, that’s the extent of the EQ on the vocals! – Ben Andre (Tipling Rock)
Wow. Just a high pass filter on the microphone. No other EQ on tracking or mixing the vocals. Yet another friendly reminder that less is more when it comes to audio production.
Drums were recorded with a pair of those used AKG 414Bs for the overheads, some mismatched MXL ribbons as room mics, and in Ben’s words “your typical dynamics as close mics on kick, snare, and toms”.
We had an extra SM57 and a 50ft cable laying around so for fun we put that mic in a shower off of the room. Actually ended up making int into the mix! – Ben Andre (Tipling Rock)
Tracking the drums for “Low Tide Love”
Mixing On Headphones
More and more home studio musicians are discovering (and removing the guilt associated with the fact) that you can totally mix your music on headphones.
Guys like Andrew Scheps have even “fessed up” to mixing major records on $99 headphones on his laptop that the mastering engineers thought was perfect and needed no processing.
So it was no surprise for me to hear that Ben did his entire mix on headphones – in the box.
I mixed it all on my KRK KNS 8400 headphones. I do own a pair of studio monitors, but frankly the room I’m in is so boomy in the lower end of the spectrum that I can’t stand to mix on them. I’ve had the KRK headphones for a few years and I’ve found that as I’ve gotten used to the way they sound, that I’m now very confident mixing on them. – Ben Andre (Tipling Rock)
Confidence in mixing comes not from having expensive gear – but rather having an intimate working knowledge with whatever gear you DO have. Love it.
Ben also said that he stuck to a very basic set of plugins in his Cubase rig.
One big way I wanted to challenge myself on this mix (and something I’ve been doing almost exclusively recently) is doing EQ only on plugins that don’t have frequency visualizers. So for this mix the only EQ I actually used was a PSP NobleQ EX. It’s just a basic classic EQ emulation plugin that just has knobs, and a convenient high-pass filter. I think that has really helped me improve on mixing with my ears without any clouding from visual feedback, and it was a great challenge that I think paid off in the mix. – Ben Andre (Tipling Rock)
Ben is absolutely on to something. Mixing without any visual cues is a smart move because it forces you to trust what you hear, rather than the what you see.
I once heard legendary mixer Frank Filipetti say at a conference that when you listen to music with your eyes closed (i.e. not distracted by visual cues) you have increased brain activity. How’s that for a mixing hack!?
I did most of the compression with the Waves CLA compressors. I love their sound and workflow. Also in the end I did decide to use some samples for the kick drum because the sound from the mic really wasn’t cutting it. It pains me to use samples but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do! – Ben Andre (Tipling Rock)
One EQ plugin, a couple of standard compressors, and a few kick drum samples. Sounds like an average day in the home studio to me. Nothing you and I don’t have access to.
Ben’s simple, but effective home studio setup.
Sticking To The “Bread And Butter” Techniques
When I asked Ben what his approach to mixing was, his answer put a smile on my face.
I first came across The Recording Revolution not long after starting to get serious about recording as a in 2011. I remember watching the second edition of “5 minutes to a better mix” as they came out every day when I got home from school as a junior in high school. That really got me excited about all I could learn and practice in order to become better at mixing. I picked up your JumpStart to EQ and Compression videos and they were a really great starting point.
A lot of the techniques I used in the mix were ones I initially discovered years before on the Recording Revolution; parallel compression and complementary EQ come to mind as two great examples. Another big influence from TRR on the mix is just the whole mindset of taking control over you mix, sticking to the bread and butter (compression, EQ, and reverb) to make most of the mix moves, and just that general idea of accountability for the sounds in the mix. I also referenced in mono. – Ben Andre (Tipling Rock)
Hmmm – let’s see: Ben focused on learning EQ and compression fundamentals, the power of parallel processing and complementary EQ carving, and mixing in mono. I would definitely call those the bread and butter of every great mix.
And what does this teach us? That a great mix doesn’t come in the mix phase, it comes in the songwriting, arrangement, recording, and performance. The rest is simply putting together the pieces in a balanced way.
Hitting #1 On Spotify
Ben’s studio and technique are textbook proof that we are living in a recording “revolution”. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that this song sounds so good and was made on such a budget (and in a bedroom).
But what I was certainly curious about was how he and the band got their song “Low Tide Love” trending so high on Spotify.
Interesting story here. Despite being very serious about music/production, we never really expected for the song to get so much attention. We did our best to promote the song to blogs, and Soundcloud re-posters. We emailed a ton of people and blogs, starting with the modest connections we made from our previous release. We got a decent amount of blog attention and plays on Soundcloud from that.
My best guess is that from there some people started listening to the song on Spotify and sharing it. From there, Spotify’s algorithms detected it being a highly shared song within their predetermined segment of tastemakers, so the song was placed on their “Fresh Finds” playlist. I think that lead to more shares, which cause the song to reach #1 on the Spotify US and Global Charts. Totally blew my mind when I saw it there! It was an extremely validating feeling. This was actually explained to me by Spotify employees, as they invited us to play a show at their office following the success of the song. It seems that Spotify is stepping up its game as a music discovery platform. Very Cool. – Ben Andre (Tipling Rock)
Very cool indeed my man. Ben figured out the “formula” as it were – write amazing songs, record and mix them well at home with whatever gear you have, then share your stuff with as many people as you can including other influencers who have big audiences. If it’s actually good it will catch on. Rinse and repeat.
No voodoo magic there. No label or corporate suits picking what will do well. Just good music rising to the top because music lovers deem it so.
This is the democratic music world we live in today – where anybody with talent and drive can get their music heard and loved by fans all over the world.
If that is your dream, there are now no more excuses. It’s time. Time to write better songs, record better performances, and share those tracks with people like it’s your job. Don’t give up. Don’t whine. Don’t wish you could have more expensive gear.
Just get to work – and have fun the entire time. I can’t wait to hear YOUR next success story!