Ask the Engineer is a new series here on the Masterdisk blog where our guys answer questions about music production. Send us your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. We won’t be able to answer all of them but we’ll post answers to as many as we can. If you have a specific engineer you want to pose the question to, let us know that too.
Chief Engineer Andy VanDette is the go-to mastering engineer for many of today’s greatest artists. From prog-rock greats like Rush to iconic artists like David Bowie, international sensations like David Fonseca to rising pop stars like Jon McLaughlin, Andy can, and does, do it all.
Q: What are the main differences you hear between mixes you receive from seasoned mix engineers and those you receive from less experienced mix engineers or self-mixing artists?
A: The difference between the big guys and less experienced engineers is usually the bottom. The way the kick and bass interact is everything: it’s the basic building block that I don’t really have a fix for if it’s not right. I have lots of tools that will add beautiful, airy top end; and I can spread the stereo image from NY to LA, but if that one basic building block isn’t right and the punch on the kick isn’t clear there’s not much I can do to fix it.
Q: Let’s say an artist is recording and mixing herself. What can she do to deal with the bottom end?
A: The first thing I would say is to consider hiring a mix engineer. But if you can’t or don’t want to do that, then here’s what I’d do. Listen to a lot of great recordings, and compare yours to the great ones. If you’re mixing on small speakers, maybe get a sub. (Though keep in mind that subs can be misleading so it has to be voiced correctly.) If you can’t get a sub, then try the car. The “car test” is basically the third set of monitors that I listen to everything on. Sometimes I get wonderful feedback, and other times I find a car stereo’s limitations! When listening in the car, alternate your mix with mixes you know and love and see how they compare.
Head over to Part 2.