Audio effects can be a powerful tool in an audio engineer’s toolbelt. However, when used poorly, it can spell disaster for the quality of your sound. Our guest Chris Selim runs Mixdown Online and has a rich background in production and audio engineering. The Montreal-based producer has worked on more than 60 albums!
After working with so many artists, Chris has honed his ear for the right amount of audio effects to apply to a track. Every special effect that he applies has a specific reason behind it that must be additive to the overall sound.
The audio tip of the week is about taking breaks in your sound production workflow. It may seem counterintuitive, but regular breaks will actually make you more productive. You will be able to work longer and spend less time reviewing mistakes you made when your ears were worn down.
Later in the interview, Chris and Scott also discuss how to find the appropriate depth for reverb and the different types of reverb that mixers need to understand. Also, they explore how parallel processing is crucial for properly applying distortion to a mix.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode:
- Audio tip of the week: It’s important to stay mindful of listening fatigue. Hours of focused listening will wear your ears out just like any muscle. Take breaks regularly to keep your focus sharp and minimize your mistakes.
- The career arc that Chris has followed.
- A philosophy for when and how to use audio effects.
- When to use sends and inserts.
- How to avoid overusing audio effects on your music.
- Tips for applying distortion properly.
Featured on the Show:
- Connect with Chris Selim: Website | YouTube | Facebook | Twitter
- Connect with the Show: Website | YouTube
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Full Transcript of This Episode
Scott: Hey, what’s up, everybody? Scott here with you for this week’s episode of the AudioSkills Podcast. We have got another great show for you today where we’re going to be talking about audio effects.
Effects are such wonderful, powerful tools for producing and mixing, but to quote Spider man, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Effects when used poorly can spell disaster for your project. Now, helping me discuss all of this will be Chris Selim, who is an awesome engineer and producer based out of Montreal. He also runs the site mixdown.online but before I bring Chris on, it’s time for another audio tip of the week.
I know people out there trying to improve their skills in recording, mixing, mastering, and so on, want solid tips. So like I do in AudioSkills FAQ articles, in tutorial videos for AudioSkills members and elsewhere, I want to make sure that podcast listeners get some solid takeaways. So, my audio tip this week is about taking breaks and being mindful of hearing fatigue.
So, when you’re mixing, you should be listening critically at all times. You’re listening to music in a way that the average person simply doesn’t. The average person doesn’t sit there and really focus their ears on the low-end of the mix or something. But that’s the kind of thing you do when you’re a mixer. The thing is, this takes effort and your ears are muscles. Every time they process sound, they are getting a workout and this can lead to fatigue. You couldn’t just workout all day unless you are some kind of superman or something. So, my tip is this; make sure you take breaks while you’re mixing and in between phases of the production process at least. If you let your ears get fatigued, you run the risk of overcooked mixes, missing important issues in the mix that should be addressed and other things. In short, you are gonna have a bad time if you don’t take breaks.
Now, as for how often you should take breaks, that is something that’s up to debate. That’s something that is really based on your work flow and what works best for you. I have seen some engineers who take breaks every 30 minutes without fail. I’ve seen others who space their breaks out further or focus them around parts of the process like, “I take a break after I get the vocals right.” Or “Then I take a break when I get the drums right.” Whatever your work flow is, in general, I’d recommend add a minimum, give yourself a good 10 to 15 minute per hour break. Stand up, stretch out, go get a drink of water, and let your ears rest for a moment. When you come back, I guarantee you’ll be hearing things more clearly, to the point where you might pick something out that you’ve been overlooking before. You’ll also be able to mix longer overall and avoid burnout, which is something that can happen. Your ears can lie to you sometimes, especially if they’re being overworked. So do yourself a favor and take breaks – and that is your audio tip of the week.
All right, so, shifting gears, we’re going to dive into our main interview and topic for this week. I am so happy to introduce our guest who’s going to help us learn a bit more about audio effects and mixing and using them. Chris Selim is a producer, recording and mixing engineer and owner of the excellent site, mixdown.online. Chris is based out of Montreal, Canada and has worked on more than 60 albums in the past 12 years – so when it comes to audio, I’d say he knows his stuff. So Chris, welcome man and thank you so much for joining me.
Chris: Thanks, Scott. I’m happy to be with you today.
Scott: Right on. How are things in Montreal these days?
Chris: Pretty good, actually. You know, it’s August, you know folks are getting back from vacation so you know, September’s coming, fall is coming and that means the snow is coming so… I don’t want a lot of all that though. You know what I mean. Richard, come again so-
Scott: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re talking … You’re preacher with the choir here. We all dread the snow. I like the fall ’cause I’m an American football fan so that’s nice.
Chris: Same here, same here. So-
Scott: Yeah, but I dread the snow.
So, to start us off, can you just tell us a little bit more about your experience with, you know, mixing and producing and just tell a little bit more about what you have going on at mixdown.online.
Chris: Well, yeah, basically I started up my career as a music producer 15 years ago. I started in 2003 on a full time basis. Working with a lot of indie artists, especially on Christian Francophone market. So, I started up with that one artist that was pretty known at this market, which helped me out to bring my business to a full time basis. So you can tell, I’m French-Canadian so that’s why I have that tiny accent. So, but yeah, it works for me well so I deal a lot with artists overseas, from that point on back in 2003 when I started. By doing that, for that first artist that you know bring me a lot of gigs afterwards, word-to-mouth, you know. So I never know did a lot of advertisement for my services. That was a good thing in the sense so-
Chris: I saved a lot of money in that regard but yeah. So I started working with that one artist that led me to another and then I got my first overseas artist, maybe two years after that point where I produced an artist from Paris that flew down here in Montreal and they were twins actually so we worked on their album. Yeah, from that point on, did a lot of recording and producing and mixing for artists in France even like French islands, like Martinique, Guadeloupe, Ile de Re, Oleron, all these places.
Scott: Very cool.
Chris: Pretty exotic and pretty cool.
Scott: Yeah, right on. And then you started mixdown.online?
Chris: I started mixdown.online, I started that almost two years ago so I … Maybe one year and a half, late 2015 just to share my knowledge, you know. I’ve been around for quite a while and doing a lot of home recording productions and I just, you know, going online and sharing my stuff, I just thought I could help people with their music. But there’s a lot of musicians out there today that are self-producing themselves.
Scott: Yes, absolutely.
Chris: And I think that is a big market right now and you know, I just want to help them out to produce the best music possible. You know, so that was-
Scott: Absolutely. Yeah.
Chris: That was exactly why I started that YouTube channel and you know, I do a lot of stuff on Cubase ’cause this my main DAW so that helps a lot of people as well ’cause there’s not a lot of stuff going on Cubase on YouTube and people appreciate that.
Scott: Absolutely and yeah, I mean it’s so great, the amount of people that are you know, self-producing and working in their home studios, I mean and that’s why AudioSkills is here, and you’ve got a great site and just sharing the knowledge. One of the things I just love about, you know, this show and really the community at large, is just how many different perspectives and so many different knowledgeable, I guess, ideas and advice you can get out there if you hunt for it, so I always … That’s always awesome just meeting someone like yourself who’s doing that and sharing their knowledge.
Scott: So, in today’s show though, kind of piggy-backing and going into the sharing of knowledge, right? In today’s show, I wanted to talk all about audio effects. You know, audio effects are very important and they can be great or they can be not so great depending on how they’re being used. So, I’m curious to really start this off, to kick this off, what’s your personal, I guess overarching philosophy when it comes to using effects in mixing? How do you sort of approach them?
Chris: For me, I must say it’s all about feeling. You know, I’m not like a very technical type of geeky, you know, mixing technician, you know.
Chris: I’m more from a musician perspective, an artist perspective. So for me, like music is very emotional. And adding, you know, special effects can actually bring that emotion to life, you know, and give a very good experience to the listener. So it brings life for me adding special effects is gonna bring the listener to specific time and space, you know. For me, this is what it’s all about and I have to have a reason for bringing in special effect and that reason needs to be an emotional reason that helps us all.
Scott: I like that. Yeah, so not thinking about it so much in terms of like, “Oh, I’m technically trying to do this.” It’s “Hey, you know I’m listening to this and I don’t know, my gut is feeling something and I want to create this emotion and this feeling and I believe that this effect can get me there.” Is that-
Chris: Yeah, exactly.
Scott: … exactly accurate?
Chris: Exactly. Yeah, ’cause you know we have, you know, two different set of ears, you know. Especially us as producers and mixers, we have that technical side of us that is gonna listen to a mix and will just analyze everything, which is good, you know. But sometimes, I have like my just artist, you know, set of ears that is just gonna enjoy the music and try to see what that music, you know … If the music gets to me or not on an emotional basis. And the music I enjoy the most is not necessarily the best sounding music but you know, the music that gets to me.
Scott: Sure. Yeah, and this guy just came to me when I was thinking about it. I mean, when you are creating a song or mixing a song, you know, the end listener, it’s gonna be … You’re not making your songs for engineers who are gonna have all this technical expertise.
Scott: You’re making it for people and when people listen to songs, they’re listening to it and they want to, I guess, feel an emotion, they are, you know, all that kinda thing so mixing towards that, it just makes a lot of sense to me and it seems like a really good philosophy. So okay, my next question then, you know, we’ve got your overarching philosophy here. Now this is more of a technical question, inserts versus sends. Now I know some people like putting effects right on their channel that will be and insert. Others prefer using auxiliary tracks, you know using sends, buses. Still others, myself included, might use a blend of both especially if they want to, maybe, share effects for one thing or maybe just put one effect on one track. How do you approach using effects, you know, as inserts versus setting auxiliary tracks or things like that. Do you have, you know, do you just one way preferable to the other to you or-?
Chris: I think they both work. It depends on which one achieve. Like on my side, I feel like 75% of the time, I’m gonna use an effect as a send effects.
Chris: But yeah, I will use them as inserts as well, you know, depending on what I want to achieve. Like for example, you know, like the advantages of using an effect as a send effect is that you can use the same effect for several tracks so you can send-
Chris: … several signals to the same reverb for example, if you’re using reverb. So, you know, this way, you have a like more natural type of vibe going on. So that’s very good advantage of using that as a send effect. And same, you know, if you want to say some CPU you’re mixing of your laptop, the old machine you know, you can you know mix a song with two reverbs as sends and use these reverbs for a bunch of tracks.
So most of the time, I will use effects like that as send effects. But you know on the other side, if I use them as an insert, now it’s more gonna be to commit to a specific to a sound I want to craft out. For example, say I have like an acoustic guitar, okay, it’s something I’m gonna do once in a while though, is use like a plug in from an Ocean Way Studio from UAD, which is a room emulation out of that Ocean Way Studio, they have like a mic option and a reverb option within the plug in.
So if you, you know, for example this one you select the mic option, you insert that on your track. Now you have like, kind of a natural type of vibe as if you recorded that guitar in that room you know. So in this rule, I’m gonna use that plug-in as an insert. And then you know, send that entire track to maybe another reverb of some sort as a send effect. You know, so to craft the specific sound, I’m gonna use it as an insert, same for vocal, for example. If I want to use or craft a specific sound of a vocal like in, just duplicate the track, you know, sort whatever I want to insert could be like delays and stuff like that and use that as if it was recorded this way. So, and you know, parallel processing works very good using insert effects as well. You know, again, if you have like plug ins that act like a mix knob, for example-
Chris: And use that directly as an insert and play with the mix knob to get that parallel processing stuff happening so, yeah. That could be a good option. Again, another one for that you can use and insert effect on a channel would be a guitar, a guitar signal. If you’re one of the guys who uses a lot of virtual instruments like, you know like virtual amp, guitars-
Scott: Right. Yeah.
Chris: You just add as an insert. Add in to your direct on the track, and you play with it and you commit to it and that’s it, you know. So, don’t use that as a send effect. You use that as an insert. I would say use plug ins as an insert if it’s part of crafting a specific sound but if you want to share that same ambience or same plug in with several tracks, use that as a send.
Scott: I love that. I think that’s a really, really great way to think about it. Now, okay, we’re talking about all this different effects and you know, trying to create feeling and all these great things, but one thing that effects can do … They can be great when they’re used well but they can really, really harm a mix if they are overused.
Scott: And this is something that I know a lot of folks starting out with mixing or maybe, you know, who are trying to improve their skills, they maybe struggle with, they’ve drowned their tracks on reverb for example. I’ve had subscribers who are, you know, are working hard but you know, they send me something like, “Hey, what do you think about this?” And it’s like “Woah, that is drowning in reverb, you know.” So, what advice do you have to help folks avoid overusing effects and hurting their mix?
Chris: I’m gonna say, you know what, mix at low volume ’cause that especially happens with reverb. We know a lot of newbies are gonna tend to put a lot of reverb on and you listen to their mixes like, “Wow, good song, good mix but man, there’s so much reverb.” So, I’m gonna say to that person just, you know, “Listen to your mix at a low volume and if you can’t listen using like crappy speakers, start with this. This is gonna help you to balance all of your tracks including effects.” And if you want to know what an effect … Let me rephrase that. The goal of the special effect like that sometimes, these special effects needs to be upfront.
Chris: But most of the time it’s just, you need to feel it more than hear it. Especially with reverb. So I think the best way to achieve that would be, on top of modulating at low volume, bring your like for example, a vocal in a reverb. Bring your reverb down. Well tell you, almost don’t hear it. Afterwards, mute it, in the context of the mix.
Chris: If you mute it and then you don’t feel it anymore, okay, now you can tell what type of effect that effect is doing on your mix. And then you bring it back, if it’s not enough you know bring it back up again, until you get the perfect balance. But at some point, if you hear it too much, it can definitely screw up your mix. So I would say no, bring that down a bit and mute it and you’ll hear the effect it does.
Scott: Yeah and I really, really like that, feel it more than just hear it because I think especially for someone who might be newer to this, you know, there’s such a focus on people talk about use your ears, listen, critical listening, all these important things but you know, kind of going back to you overarching philosophy, it should be a feeling. And it should be adding to the mix. Not just, “Oh, I can definitely hear that mix sounds like it’s underwater.”
Chris: Exactly. Using reverb and stuff it’s all about space, more than the effect itself.
Scott: Yes. Oh, absolutely.
Chris: Yeah, so you need to feel that you’re in this specific space so more than hearing the space itself. Unless it’s a specific effect you want to work on.
Scott: Right, unless you are really trying to achieve a specific thing and maybe even that kinda goes back to a little to what we were talking about with inserts versus sends whereas you’re going for the sound but with something like reverb, most typically, you’re trying to create space, you’re trying to really create an ambience and lay the mix out, so yeah, that makes perfect sense.
So, I guess my next question then is aside from overusing effects, what’s one of the biggest mistakes either you’ve made or you’ve seen made when it comes to effects and mixing? Using them?
Chris: When I first started mixing, I remember I had a hard time with the depth, especially while using a reverb, and it was mainly due to the lack of using the pre-delay function on the reverb, which is a very powerful tool. And you know like, people don’t realize, especially newbies, they don’t realize that adding a reverb will actually bring your signal further away in the mix.
Chris: Okay? And making the signal drier will bring your signal way more up front. So by using the pre delay function on the reverb, you can actually play with that function. You can actually play with that depth effect. So you can still keep a lot of reverb but by adding a bit of pre delay, you gonna keep the attack of the signal dry, dry enough so it stays a bit more upfront than the reverb. I think that is something that is ignored by a lot of newbies, is the pre delay function of the reverb.
Scott: Yeah, so instead of immediately just pushing everything back there or what have you, you kind of had the pre-delay and that helps kind of, I guess almost maybe blend things a little bit more and let it be more subtle.
Chris: Exactly. You can take that to your advantage.
Scott: Right on. So, we were just talking about reverb and delay and you’ve kind of already answered one of these questions maybe but maybe you have some other things you’d add. You know these are two of, I’d say biggest and most common effects in mixing, you know, reverb and delay. They’re used in tandem you know, and often. So could you briefly explain what each effect is and how you might approach them?
Chris: Yeah. Again, I’m not gonna go very technical on the definition of the delay and the reverb. You know that can be very complicated. Basically, what a delay is, it’s an echo. It’s a signal that repeats itself once or several times. When you have that, you get a delay. A reverb is more of the creation of a space and shape like a room, a hall and stuff. Like for me, this is the difference between the two is I want to strip that down to very simple definition.
Now the way I use them that depends, you know what, I’m gonna craft like a space and the shape of the sound with a bit of reverb. I can actually do the same to a point on a delay. When if there’s delay and stuff I can shape a space as well. I’m merely gonna do that with a reverb. You know I’m a bit delay fan. I love delays. I love using them on bad vocals, on vocals, guitars, piano. When you go deep in the delay world, it’s endless. There’s so much stuff you can do with delay. You can … I’ll maybe tell you a few tricks here we can do with adding effects on the delay and stuff later on. But yeah, there’s a lot of stuff we can do with delays that are amazing.
Scott: For sure. Well, kind of I guess going into that ’cause we were just talking about delay, what is your best or maybe favorite tip or technique for using delay and just getting some great results with it?
Chris: I would start by filtering out the delay. Now with a nice filter, you can strip down the low end, the top end, bring that delay a bit darker than the original source. That would be a start point. So a lot stuff I’m saying here are start points. Again, I don’t believe there’s any rules but I believe there are start points and from that point, you can just go towards the route you want. But I would say, bring that delay a bit darker. That is a very good tip to start with and I would experiment between a stereo delay, a mono delay, especially when you work on the vocal for example. Like when I work on a vocal, I’m gonna use more than one delay depending on the type of song I’m mixing. I can end up using a model delay, maybe like a ping pong delay sometimes for a specific purpose on, stuff like that you can experiment with. Between stereo and mono, there’s lot of stuff you can achieve there. Again, it can be only on one part of the song. So-
Scott: Right on.
Chris: Yeah, so that you know for delays that’s about what I like to do and again, a lot of very cool stuff I love to do with delays is on the writing process. Now we’re gonna just go back instead of staying in the mixing process, we’re just gonna go back into the recording process and the arrangement process where adding a delay while you’re writing a song can add a lot of inspiration to song writing and arrangements. You got a good arrangement and a good recording, you have a freaking good mix.
Scott: I mean that’s, yeah. That is one of those things that is just tried and true. It’s like if you get it good at the source at the recording process and maybe you do something like you were just saying, use a little bit of delay or whatever and get a great effect or a great sound. I mean, hey, you’re rocking and rolling man. That’s gonna make your job as a mixer that much easier.
Chris: Yeah exactly and using special effects like that in the arrangement stage and the writing stage helps a lot with creating new ideas and stuff and playing with effects on a songwriting standpoint.
Scott: Cool, so now, okay we’ve got some delay tips there but how about using reverb and getting great results. Do you have like maybe your best, your favorite tip or technique for reverb?
Chris: First of all, for reverb, I would say to understand different types of reverbs maybe like plates, what a room does, what a hall does, chambers, spring reverb, the characteristic of each reverb types. I think the more you know that stuff, the easier it’s gonna be to select the correct, the right reverb for the signal you want to add reverb to.
Scott: Yeah. Absolutely.
Chris: Gaining knowledge of different reverb types is a very good plus I think. It’s something everyone should look into. Now, if I’m gonna go to a technical point of using a reverb, I would say timing the reverb decay with the tempo of your song is a good start point as well. You know so you have like a fast tempo song going on, try to start up with a shorter decay time of your reverb. Say for Dante, you’re mixing a ballad for example, longer decay time would probably fit more than a shorter one on a ballad.
Scott: Yeah. That makes sense.
Chris: And again, you know, I would filter out. This is what I do a lot. I filter some frequencies out of the reverb. I could use a plug in to do so or I can do it within the reverb itself. A lot of reverbs have some EQ section where you can play with and I would say no by getting rid of the low end of the reverb and the top end, it helps the reverb to be a bit more transparent.
Scott: Absolutely. Yeah and I kinda going back to what you first said when we were talking about reverbs, I really like your suggestion for getting to know the different types of reverbs.
Scott: And this is not very hard to do. I mean seriously, to have your track, pull up a reverb, plug in and then go okay play hall, room, whatever and listen to how each of those reverbs is changing the sound and listen to how they function differently because that’s how you’ll get to know what they’re doing and what you want to reach for, right?
Chris: Exactly. Exactly. There’s so much stuff you can do with different types of reverbs. It’s endless. It could be to shape a tone, to shape a sound or just an effect. There’s like only with rooms, short rooms. There’s lot that you can do.
Chris: And spring reverbs are very cool too. They have that a very special type of sonority. I love spring reverbs.
Scott: So, okay. We’ve talked about the big ones, reverb and delay. There are effects that we can used really creatively and different kinds of effects. We’re talking phasers, vibrato, flangers, chorus, all these guys that are available to you and I think people can maybe even get overwhelmed ’cause they’re like, “Wow, there’s so much here.” What tips or advice might you have for someone wanting to use any of those are being like, “Oh, I don’t know what this is.” Or maybe a good way to use one of those?
Chris: Try them out. You know, most of these effects are available as stock plug ins.
Chris: Most the Most DAWs are gonna find a tremulo, you’re gonna find a phaser, a vibrato. You’re gonna find a flanger, a chorus, it’s pretty easy access. So you know, just try it out. Experiment with them. Try to know them. A bit like I said with the reverb, with the type of reverbs. Same thing here, you need to know what these effects does to a signal and get used to them. So you gonna be able to use them properly afterwards. And you know, just used them from out of your DEW. It’s easy access. When I use this type of effects, I tend to use them in parallel as a starting point, to blend them with your signal. So as just you know, duplicate that track I work on and add the phaser or the vibrato I want to add and just blend that up with my original signal or just use the mix knob of these plug ins if they have a mix up.
Scott: Absolutely and you know, that’s something I mentioned for compression and using compression well as I’m a big fan of parallel compression and it makes sense that that would apply to effects as well and that can be a really, really great way to make sure that you have blend and that I don’t know. I feel like it gives you more control almost.
Chris: Yes, it does. But you know you have to take mixing a bit like cooking. Especially with special effects like that. You can destroy a mix big time. Like if you add too much salt on the spaghetti sauce, you know.
Scott: Yeah. Exactly.
Chris: So it’s the same thing. You know you need to be careful with that and have a start point and then dose it in.
Scott: Exactly, yeah, no I love that mixing is like cooking. Like you wouldn’t sit there and just like I got salt and just dump the whole thing on you know.
Chris: Exactly, you know.
Scott: It’s better to take a few pinches and sprinkle it in and take a taste and say, “Okay, is this going where I want it to go?” And just like that with mixing, listen, if you’re gonna use your face or okay great. Maybe use it in parallel and then you know, kinda play with how much you’re putting into the mix and all that.
Chris: Yeah, exactly and you know, you’ll get to know the tools you work with afterwards and you’re gonna level up your own techniques and your own sound out of them.
Scott: For sure and then one kind of disclaimer I would say or word of caution rather is there are all these effects but just because they exist doesn’t mean that you have to use them. And it doesn’t mean that if you are unfamiliar with them and you’re not using them, that your mix is bad or you’re not doing a good job.
Chris: No, exactly.
Scott: You know, I think people get into trouble when they’re like, “Why I need to be pro and I need to have all these reverb because that’s what pros do.” And it’s like you’re not thinking about the right way if it’s more … Do you have a specific goal in mind? Does it sound good to you? That’s when you reach for it and you know, have fun. Pull the plug in and see, okay, how does this sound. Is there a way I can use this and if not, great. At least you have it there and you know maybe next time, maybe next project.
Chris: No, exactly. You know, again, I’m gonna go back to the spaghetti sauce. It’s not because your counter is full of spice that you need to use them all on your sauce. You just choose what is best for what you’re doing.
Scott: For sure. Jeez, this podcast is making me hungry.
Chris: Same here. It’s almost noon time.
Scott: So, another effect that I know a lot of people like and especially depending on the type of music – maybe like harder types of music and things like that might use this – is distortion. What tips or advice might you have for using distortion well?
Chris: Distortion is a very cool effect when used properly.
Chris: I would say again, you know, parallel processing. You want to use distortion, be careful not to add too much but again sometimes, you need that as a special effect. You want that distortion type of vibe going on the vocal, for example. I would say put that up in the original signal. You’re gonna get the best out of it. But you know and most of the distortion plug ins, they come with a mix knob.
Like Decapitator for example, which is a very nice distortion slash saturation plug in, they have on that plug in, you have like a mix knob. You can like kill the distortion with it and just mix it up with your original signal and you get a very cook effect out of it. And I love using automation with distortion a lot ’cause sometimes, like, I’m gonna go back to the vocal. Sometimes, a distortion can be effective only on one part of the song. You bring your automation tube on the distortion plug in. You can add a lot of distortion on the choruses and they bring back with all the distortion on reverse. Kind of add movement to your mixes.
Scott: Sure, I like that so using distortion on choruses.
Chris: Yeah, you can do that you know on vocals can do that, on bass, bass with distortion. They work well together you know. Especially in parallel, they work well together. So there’s the obvious guitar sound with distortion, know that you track your guitar with but apart from that, bass can benefit from a bit of distortion on the single. Again, it doesn’t need to be for the entire song. It could be only for one part of the song. Maybe one phrase of your vocal track can be, can have distortion so automation is the key here I think.
Scott: Yeah, I love that and distortion on bass is great. It can work in a lot of genres like it’s not like, you know, there’s only this type of thing. I mean, I had like a pop song I was messing around with and I just pulled the distortion on the bass and you know just add a little extra crunch to it I guess and they I was really liking what that was doing.
Chris: Yeah, exactly. And same for keyboard, you know like it lead sing going on. You can add distortion on that, you know, parallel, add warp and bring up the sound to another level.
Scott: For sure. Now this is actually probably one of my favorite questions here because I know it’s one that a lot of people have questions about and I think you gotta be careful because I think especially people who are newer or frustrated, they want you to say, “Okay, tell me exactly what to do.” And in mixing, there’s just so few things where it’s like nope. This is the only way. But, I’m curious just how you approach it. You know people have questions about where effects should fall in their signal chain. Should they use effects before the EQ, after the EQ? Should they compress and then add effects? Should they EQ and compress after using the effect? Do you have any philosophies or advice on how to I guess approach this and get rid of good results?
Chris: It depends. It depends on what I want to do here like for example, if I’m shaping a sound with an effect, with a special effect as an insert on the track, I think I’m gonna work on that sound before I do anything else, as if I was recording with that sound in place. You know like a pedal board in a guitar app. Someone who wants to record is guitar sound with the effects he has on his pedal board, he’s got a mighty amp, whatever comes out of the amp is gonna be recorded with the effects of the pedal board included. So I’m gonna keep the same philosophy in regards of before or after. If it’s forced toned shaping or if it’s forced sound creation, I’m gonna compress and EQ after effect. And I’m gonna work on my sound, even print it out, even once I’m done with the sound I created with the special effect, I’m just gonna bounce it and start from there, commit to it and there you go. Like what you do with guitar and the pedal board.
Scott: I really, really like that if you think about it because if you’re going for I want this effect to be fundamentally be a part of this track in a real concrete way of like I am altering this sound, not doing it for blend or whatever and then it’s like okay, do that and then work with that new sound you have created, that new effected track, which is what you want and then work that into the rest of your mass.
Chris: There is poor production decision than mixing decision ’cause you do that kind of stuff as on the recording stage and the wrinkling stage.
Chris: I would do that. I would add effect. I would EQ and compression afterward. Now, if we’re talking about send effects, that’s different.
Chris: Like for send effects, again, do you like I left you EQ, my reverbs and delays. Do I EQ before the delay or after the delay and same for compression and there’s a lot of people including myself, that loves to add a compressor on a reverb and there’s nothing wrong with that. Again, when I use a compressor, I don’t do it all the time but when I do so, I tend to add the compressor before it hits the reverb especially if I use that reverb with several tracks. So just to get a bit more control dynamics before it hits the reverb and then I’ll take care of the reverb if I need to. I can EQ before it gets in. If I want to keep that reverb more natural but nothing stops me from EQ-ing afterwards as well. So I do both.
Scott: Right on. Right on. So, my last question here, I like ending with this just ’cause I think people are always looking for you know, what plug ins the pros are using and what people like, so what are your go-to effect plug ins or maybe just a few of your favorites that you find yourself reaching for often?
Chris: Like for reverb, I’m a big fan of the EMT 140 from UAD. That’s plate reverb. I love plate reverbs. This is one of my go to reverb. I’m gonna use like this type plugin out of Cubase as well. Reverence is called it’s a very good reverb as well. I love the pro filter, the FabFilter Pro-R, which is a very good, very good reverb and very versatile. Lot of stuff you can do with that plug in. Now as far as delay goes, I’m a big EchoBoy fan from SouthToys.
Scott: Right on.
Chris: I have been working with EchoBoy since day one, I think, since it came.
Chris: Yeah, and what they did with the rack they have. Now they have like that effect rack where you can load like several EchoBoys and all these SouthToys plug in within the same plug in. This is sound effect creation and stuff, sound stuff is like pretty endless with what you can do with that type of plug in.
Scott: Right on. Well, thank you so, so much for coming on the show today, Chris.
Chris: Thank you, Scott. I was very happy when I got the invitation. I’m a big fan of your podcast. I think it has something good going on here.
Scott: Right on, well thank you so much. We’re working every day to make it as good as it can be and you know, part of that is having really knowledgeable mixers and producers like yourself on, so thanks so much.
Chris: Yeah, thanks again.
Scott: You know, audio effects kind of, they can be so great and I think people get excited to work with them. They can be intimidating because there are so many … I think the overarching tip here might be go for feeling what the mix might call for in terms of what will create that emotion, that feeling and then try some things out and really know what the tools are doing, how they’re altering the sound before you dive in and then be I guess, subtle with your moves and try to blend things in and don’t just go and like, crush everything with reverb because you really want to hear that. Or you really feel that’s gonna be the way you want to go.
Chris: Exactly. Don’t overdo it, you know.
Scott: Yeah, exactly. Don’t overdo it. That’s-
Chris: Don’t overdo it. Do it for a reason and make sure it brings the listener to an emotional state that is very positive.
Scott: Absolutely, so if anyone would like to learn more about Chris or get some more awesome mixing tips and advice, you can check out his site and navigate over to mixdown.online or you can find him on YouTube at youtube.com/mixdownonline. Thank you all so much for listening today and as a reminder for links and information about today’s show and our guest, please check out our show notes at AudioSkills.com/podcast. No matter what you’re working on, what your skill level is or what kind of recording or mixing setup you have, just go out there and make some great music.
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