Recently I had the pleasure of being interviewed by my friend and colleague James Lucente of Lucente Entertainment. James sends out a weekly newsletter that you should definitely subscribe to. It’s a great resource for artists who are looking to get songs placed in Film and TV shows. Besides helping songwriters get placements, James also represents quite a few talented artists that you should check out. In our conversation, we talk about what Matchless Mix is and how it can benefit artists as well as common recording mistakes we encounter and situations in which you might need to hire someone for a professional mix. It was delivered to his readers yesterday and you can read the interview here:
Lindsey Puente Mixing Session
From left to right: Preston Leatherman, Lindsey Puente, Brent Hendrich and James Lucente
James: Brent, you’ve won a Dove award and contributed to several Emmy award winning projects. Congrats on those amazing achievements. Those awards alone tell me that you know what you’re doing with regards to music for Film/TV and Radio. I know I contacted you almost three years ago because I heard your reel and I was blown away by not only the sound of your productions but also the variety. You’re not a one trick pony! With so many people using DAW at home and self producing, it seems to me that a service like Matchless Mix can really take projects to the pro level. What is Matchless Mix and what services do you provide?
Brent: Matchless Mix is an online mixing service that my good friend Eric Westmaas and I created back in 2008. We began to realize that many artists were starting to produce and record tracks on their own but lacked the experience to achieve a professional and competitive sounding mix.
As anyone who has tried their hand at mixing knows, “the devil is in the details” and it takes a special person to sit there manipulating sounds until all the elements of a composition are working as an exciting & cohesive unit. I don’t want to indicate that what we do is purely equalization and sound balance work either. We’re also interested in catching the very specific feel/vibe that the artist has envisioned. This is why we place such an importance on our consultation phase before ever beginning a mix. When it comes to our consultations, we ask the artist what they are trying to achieve along with what creative directives they have. For example, a singer-songwriter might really love the tone and reverb on a vocal from a specific album and we’d want to know about that so we could incorporate those elements into our mixes.
In addition to mixing, we also offer add-ons like vocal tuning, drum editing, stem mixes and rush turnarounds (48hrs or less). A lot of these additions are ideal for artists that want to focus more on music creation and less on the mundane tasks. It’s also nice to have a rush option when a deadline is impending and you need to book someone to do the work quickly!
James: Do you think the average person, engineering and tracking their own material at home, is qualified to mix a project for Film/TV and/or radio and distribution?
Brent: Yes and no. Not an ideal answer, but it depends on what the requirements are for the project. For example, a television show might call for something to sound less-polished and raw. Perhaps someone recording and playing through a fender twin along to a garage band drum beat and an ipad synthesizer while mixing crudely through laptop speakers would be passable for this kind of usage. There is no doubt a composition with these elements could turn out just fine for such an application and the mix might not need to sound polished.
But in a scenario that calls for a mix to be precise and exciting (like a competitive top-40 sounding pop mix) a seasoned mixer will know what kind of processing and techniques to incorporate to get the material there quickly and effectively. That’s where you can’t substitute experience. We’re talking 10,000+ hours of experience. We both were banging our heads against the wall for years learning how to serve a variety of genres best. Along the way, we’ve developed a knack for knowing what tool is needed for the job and when to change or fix a track and why.
James: What skills are missing from most DIY home recordists?
- A basic understanding of signal flow is a big one (particularly when it comes to gain-staging). Many times people will overload the input of their plugins or their master output and wonder why their mix sounds bad.
- Awareness of phase relationships is something that a DIY mixer may not be thinking about. We spend time going through all instruments that have multiple tracks and making sure that their phase relationships are the best they can possibly be.
- Compression. This is a confusing process for many people. Many think of it with a “more is always better” sort of mentality. They associate it with loudness and aggression (which is only partially accurate). The truth is, with compressors you are actually reducing the volume of the source and all the variables (attack, release, threshold etc) are changing the way in which you are going about doing this. Compressors aren’t just loudness machines. They can be used to change the timbre of sounds, how a performance is perceived and how a group of instruments/performances in a mix interact with each other. There are many cases where signal limiting and compression are just straight-up overused and abused by people who lack the needed amount of practice and trial & error experience using them. That’s where sadly, someone will get to the end of their mix session and be sitting in the car with a pumping, distorted and small-sounding result.
James: What are some of the most common mistakes you hear on tracks that are sent to you?
Brent: Obviously, it varies from case to case but here are a few common ones:
- Lack of tightness. Sometimes performances aren’t as locked-in with each other as they could be.
- Audible artifacts heard from sloppy or inexperienced editing.
- Over-compression (particularly on vocals).
- Less-than-optimal mic placement. Many times the source is either too close or too far away from the microphone. Often instruments are also recorded in poor acoustic environments.
James: In my experience you either have an “ear” for this or you do not. Using and learning software can be done by anyone but the innate ability to really “hear” what is going on, I believe, is something you’re born with. What are your thoughts on this?
Brent: I think there are a lot of things that factor into someone’s success as a mixing engineer. I feel like a passion for music creation, a patient personality type and the discipline to develop a fine tuned ear would be some of the important ingredients required. I believe that it takes an almost manic kind of obsession with the way things sound for someone to labor intensely over a 3 minute piece or music for hours on end. In that sense you either have it (the obsession) or you don’t. I think after some exposure as an intern or assistant to someone that does this kind of work, a person can figure out fairly quickly if it’s the right fit for them.
James: I’ve worked with you on more songs than I can count and everyone of them sounds amazing. The thing I have noticed about you is you never settle, ever! Whether it’s a sound not quite right, a vocal, a guitar part, and really one of the things you nail all the time, timing.
Is this an accurate description and why are these facets of a song so important?
Brent: Yeah you’re right. I take too much pride in my work to just settle. The music industry is an extremely competitive field and you really have to stand out. I feel that every element within a mix matters and needs to sound and interact in a certain way. If you spend countless hours fine tuning your tracks in production, why wouldn’t you want to continue to improve your material throughout the mixing and mastering phase? Once we realized there were many other artists around the world with this same desire for high quality productions, it was a natural transition for Eric and I to lend our experience as engineers and provide a high-end mixing service like Matchless Mix.
If you’d like to learn more about the services James provides and subscribe to his weekly newsletter, click here.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can have your music professionally mixed, visit our site here.