These days I get a lot of questions from readers that go something like this: “Hey Graham, I’ve been using XYZ on my vocals and it seems to sound good but I’ve heard you’re not suppose to use XYZ on vocals, so what should I do?” My answer to them is always the same: If it sounds good to you and seems to work, then keep doing it!
Even The Pros Know This
I’m not sure why we tend to believe that there is a right or wrong way to do certain things in audio. Sure there are some technical things we need to understand, but sometimes you just need to discover what YOU like. In a recent Sound On Sound article, mix engineer Alan Moulder said something very interesting when describing mixing the latest Led Zeppelin live DVD:
I didn’t really add compression to the guitars, though I did engage the SSL channel compressor, just because I like to run things through it. It seems to give things a bit more body. – Alan Moulder, Mixer (Nine Inch Nails, Arctic Monkeys)
Did you catch that last part? “It seems to give things a bit more body,” he said. Here’s a guy who makes a living mixing top label talent, who likely has many tried and true methods and techniques that have served him well over the years. And yet even he does some things in the mix purely because it seems to sound good. No other technical reason to support it. It just feels right.
You Need More Confidence
What I think these questions of doubt spring from is simply a lack of confidence. If you’re a young, inexperienced engineer, you likely don’t trust yourself and you want definitive answers to your mixing questions. Here’s the hard truth: sometimes there is no black and white answer or technique. You have to try things out until you find something you like and gives you the results you’re seeking!
You just need to be more confident in your mixing ability. Sure you might be starting out and your mixes are lame. We’ve all been there. But still, be confident that you know what good music should sound like and if you make a decision in the mix, stand behind 100% until it proves damaging and then change it. If engineers simply were more confident they would mix better because they would make a decision and not look back.
Don’t Look To Others To Validate Your Method
Going along with having confidence, you need to almost shut out the outside world when working in your studio. You shouldn’t need anyone else’s approval to validate what you are doing. If you like to use compression on your mix buss, do it! If you think it’s a horrible idea, then don’t do it! Just don’t go looking for a blog post, web forum, or magazine article to support your choice. Make the choice and be good with it.
In the end what matters is that you are creating great sounding art. No one cares how you got there, simply that you got there. Sure there are a lot of helpful resources out there that can speed you on your way (that’s what I’m trying to do on this site), but in the end you must take that information, use it to your advantage and then go create your own sound. Fire up the studio, clear your mind, have a vision, and get to work. If along the way you do something that seems to sound good, then keep doing it!