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Be a Better Engineer in 2011

With everybody doing their new year's resolutions I think it could be a good idea for us engineers to do our own. Whether we are recording engineers, producers, mixers or mastering engineers we all have some things that we could focus more on and be better at. What skill are you lacking that you should know in your field? Do you take any particular short-cuts because you can't be bothered to learn some technique? What can you do in 2011 to make your skill set as an engineer more desirable to your clients? Through the following premium tutorial we'll be looking at some of the things you could do to be a better engineers in 2011.


How to Record Better Audio in 2011

Get it great at the source.

The best advice to give when thinking about how you can make your recordings better is this: Get it right at the source. I know it's tempting to just put up a microphone, point it at an instruments and hit record without thinking about how it sounds. Because, you can always fix it in the mix right? Well, not always, so it's good rule of thumb to keep in mind in the following year: get it right at the source and don't try to fix everything in the mix. A few extra minutes here and there can result in cleaner and better sounds that are easier to handle when it comes time to mix them.

Only a few weeks ago we were trying different microphone positions on drums. We wanted a clean and tight tom sound so we experimented with moving the mics closer to and further from the toms and recording each position. When recording hard hitting instruments such as drums then one might think that a few inches here and there wouldn't matter much, since it's just a tom hit right? Not at all. Due to the proximity effect the sound of the drums changed dramatically at each position. We ended up electing the cleaner, but a little roomier further-away sound of the toms. That was the sound the producer and drummer wanted but if they had wanted a bassier and tighter sound then some of the other positions would have suited the song much better. Moral of the story? Subtle shifts can change the sound dramatically, but none them necessarily have to sound bad. It's just a matter of taste.

Get a great stereo sound, but beware of mono.

There's something great about a wide stereo image. Nice sounding acoustic instruments, piano and brass just sound bigger with a wider stereo sound. Whether you are using a stereo recording technique close up or simply using a stereo pair to pick up the ambience of the room, there's something to be said about the feeling of a stereo sound. However, just because you have nice sounding stereo monitors and everything sounds great in stereo in your studio don't overestimate the quality of other people's gear. Look at the new year as an opportunity to develop new habits, and if you haven't already started checking your sounds in mono then it's time to start.

You're only as good as the performance

Best selling records have been recorded with subpar equipment and cheap microphones through M-boxes. You can save money on equipment if you focus on getting the best performance out of your artist. If your artist is amazing then suddenly all your gear starts sounding like boutique equipment. All your converters, microphones and pre-amps are only as good as the performance you are recording. Being a good engineer is also being aware of how the performance can be better and how the equipment can accommodate the artist better. Make sure your musicians are performing to their utmost ability in the new year. If nothing else, it will save you money on gear you don't need.


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How to Be a Better Mixer in 2011

Being a better mixing engineer in 2011 requires you to think about what you are good at, what you can get better at and what you know you should stop doing. A good way to document your progress is to listen to your past mixes of the last year. Do you have a mix from January of last year that you can compare with the mix that you are doing now? Would you have approached it differently now than you did before? If you were given the chance to mix the song again(not that you couldn't do it anyway) what would you change?

Understand compression

Compression is a difficult thing to get to grips with. I still have a problem with it and I've actually started to stay clear of too much compression on everything. The sound of the compressor lightly helping the dynamics of the mix is a much better sound than the lifeless squash of every instrument. Understanding the various components of the compressor and how they work together can create a different compression experience for you in the new year. You can hit the threshold pretty low without compressing a lot if you have a low ratio for instance. Also, depending on how you use the attack and release you can make the sound of the compressor more or less audible.

Lay off the reverb

Going through some of the coolest mixes and productions of the last 30 or so years my friends and I noticed something peculiar. The lack of very audible reverb, excluding the eighties of course. I'm all for spacious and full reverb sounds, don't get me wrong. But it's incredible to listen to some of your favorite mixes and hearing how the reverb is used as an addition to the vocal track but not as an effect. Some beginners tend to pile on the reverb and they make sure it's very noticeable when all it's really doing is adding clutter and an amateurish sound to the mix. If you've been catching yourself using too much reverb on your mixes in the past maybe it's time to lay off the reverb. I know you will probably get withdrawal syndrome but do yourself a favor and try less of it. Your mixes will shine on their own.


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Be a Better Mastering Engineer in 2010

It's easy to mold and sculpt and sprinkle everything with effects during mixing, but mastering requires a totally different mindset. Make 2011 the year you finally grasp the fine subtleties of mastering versus mixing.

Mastering Compression

Compression in mastering is subtle. A ratio of no more than 2:1 is generally a good starting point and I wouldn't compress more than 4 dBs tops if you still want the mix to breathe and act dynamically. Don't go squashing your mix when you've made it sound so good in the mixing phase. Make 2011 be the year dynamic range was given the chance to come up for air again.

Different EQ Techniques

When you are mastering a mix that includes every instrument and every part of the EQ spectrum is important then you can't go and slice off big chunks. EQ in mastering needs to be used subtly, finely enhancing the audio without taking away too much if the frequency spectrum. If you've been too heavy handed in the EQ department lately then it's time to fine tune those ears and make sure you can hear those subtle boosts and cuts and what they do to a complete song. It's amazing what just a few dBs here and there with a great equalizer can do to a stereo 2-track. Make your tiny boosts and cuts be noticeable and better in the new year.


Grab More Clients in 2011

Getting more work in your field is obviously a must for improving and trying out new things. The internet is a huge marketplace when it comes to finding new work and grabbing more clients. But you have to have a presence on the internet and people need to be able to find you. It's not as simple as throwing up a web page and hoping a likely customer will accidentally stumble upon it. There are certainly a few things you can do to help your website's visibility and even more things to entice your visitors once your intended target market has finally reached your site.

Use Correct SEO Techniques


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Keyword Research

Make sure you are using the best keywords for your site. If you are a mastering engineer then make sure the keywords “mastering engineer” are on the home page of your site and in the keywords you are using in the meta tags. Using generic terms like audio production, audio or mixing is going to drown you in millions of sites competing for the same keyword. Narrower is better. “Mastering engineer using tape” is much more specific than just “mastering engineer.”

Advertise your location as well. If you are located in, say, Portland Oregon then make sure your keywords indicate that you are an engineer out of Portland, Oregon. Thus, your keywords would say “mastering engineer, portland oregon” so that when somebody looks for mastering engineers in that area your site is more likely to pop up.

There are a plethora of keyword research tools that can tell you what keywords are more profitable than others. Take Google's keyword tool for example. The best keywords are those that have high search volume per month but low competition. That way you know that the supply is low but the demand is high. And anybody that has taken an introductory class in economics knows that when demand is high you can sell more units. Meaning that if you stumble upon a keyword that you can use for your business and write an effective page that uses all the same keywords you can draw many more visitors to your site than if you were to use the more generic terms talked about earlier.

On-site keyword use

Using your specific keywords in your meta tags don't help that much if you don't use them on your site. Google's spiders index your pages according to a wide variety of elements and those keywords are just one part. You need to use those exact same keywords in a few different ways on your page in order to tell your non-human visitors what they are looking at. And if they can get you high up in the search engines then you are more likely to score some real human visitors aren't you?

Headline

The headline is very important. Using H1 tags and including your specific keyword is a high indicator of what the page is about. If you can make it sound snazzy to your clients then try to get the best of both worlds.

Introductory paragraph

In the first 500 characters of your page make sure you include your keyword. The closer your keyword is to the beginning of the paragraph the better. Don't add it too often, search bots will think you are scamming them and let's face it, it just makes for really bad copy.

Title Tag

If your headline works well as a title tag then use the same one. But if your keyword is not in the first five words of the title then reword it so that your specific keyword comes up closer to the beginning of the title. For “mastering services in Portland” keyword a headline that might say: “If you care about your music then using my mastering services in Portland” could be rewritten as the title tag: “Mastering Services in Portland – Make sure you care about your music.” Remember, headlines are more for your actual visitors and your title tag is for your search engine spiders.


Studio Showcase


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When potential clients have finally found you site it's time to really showcase what you are about. Make them know that you have what it takes and know what you are doing. You can achieve this in a few different ways.

Gear List

A few friends of mine refer to their equipment list pages as the “gear porn” of their site. It's where you put all your fancy products you use: your microphones, mixers, processors and plug-ins. Every fancy name you use in your work you can put up here. Somebody that's familiar with the equipment likes looking at the list and those who have no idea will look at it with awe. Your website is kind of like your office, you have to make sure your potential client knows that you know what you are all about.

Past Clients

Obviously, the bigger clients the better but a large list of names you've worked with makes you look more dependable. If all these people have worked with him there must be a reason behind it. Especially if you have returning clients, that's a clear signal of satisfied customers coming in for more.

Before/After

The best way to show your potential customers how good your mixes or recording are is to actually let them hear your work. An audio playlist of your top work on a separate page or as a standalone player can be a great way to simply show them your bad-ass skills. Mixing engineers and mastering engineers can even go one step further and have before and after sample clips of their stuff. With clear before and after clips the visitor can listen to how awesome you've made a recording with your mixing skills or how tight and punchy you can master a mixed track.


Conclusion

Whether you're recording, mixing, mastering or just plain looking for more clients I hope the new year will be good to you. Every year is an opportunity for improvement and I hope my suggestions will find their way to help you in 2011. Have a happy new year and an even better audio year.

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