Peak Limiting, Loudness Wars and Remote Mixing

Using the fine adjustment tool to crush the mix.

You probably heard of loudness wars by now. Back in the ’90s, somebody thought it would be a good idea to make a mastered mix as loud as possible so that it would sound explosive on the radio. The irony is that, on radio, quieter classic records from the 70s often sound bigger than today’s aggressively limited joints.

Wait a minute—that makes no sense! But it’s true. If during your next radio listen you happen to hear a finger-picked James Taylor tune like “Mexico” bookended by virtually any two heavy modern rock songs, you’ll be amazed at how rich, punchy and detailed it sounds relative to the others. Same thing goes for Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good” or later Led Zeppelin records. If you really want to be blown away, hope that you get to hear Bob Clearmountain’s mixes of “Weather With You” or “It’s Only Natural” from the 1991 Crowded House album, Woodface, or his Beatle-esque tour de force, “Sowing The Seeds Of Love” by Tears for Fears. Those FM radio staples virtually jumped right out of the speakers when they were freshly minted, and they still shine today.

So, why would a quieter record sound better than a loud one, on the radio? Answer: dynamic range.

Radio compressors and limiters are designed to be a one size fits all answer to the problem of over modulation, or “overs” that you’ve seen when digital peak meters go into the red, indicating clipping. If you were a radio station, you would not want overs because they would cause the FCC to fine you. If you were a record company or a vinyl pressing plant, you would not want them because they might literally cause the needle to jump right out of the groove, especially on a bass-heavy song!

Anyway, radio compressors and limiters sound more musical when they can react to a decent amount of dynamic range, of which modern rock records tend to have very little. Super loud, overly crushed records drive the compressor into gain reduction, where it frequently remains until the quiet breakdown or the end of the song. One of the symptoms this is a strident, distorted sound that fatigues the listener.

Okay, but what does this have to do with remote mixing?

The exact same mix, played twice with a 1 dB (or less) volume difference, will always cause the listener to believe that the louder one is better. What this implies is that my colleagues and I need to make our final mixes at least as loud as the reference mixes we receive from the artist. If we don’t do this, we lose. Nobody wants to pay thousands of dollars for a professional mix that does not sound as “good” as the band’s rough mix.

Of course, the pro mix will always sound better if the listening environment is accurate and the two mixes are level matched. These factors are easily controlled when the artist attends the mix session. Plus we discuss artistic goals, decisions are made together, and the process is transparent. The artist becomes an invested partner in the mix. When we compare the rough or reference mix to the new one, we are always doing so with matched volume levels. It’s super easy to demonstrate the difference in audible distortion, so the artist buys into the idea of clarity and punchiness instead of sheer loudness.

When mixing remotely, however, it’s difficult to guide the artist towards an optimal listening environment. The first thing the artist tends to do is to load the new mix into the original Pro Tools session to toggle an A/B comparison of the new versus the old. This can lead to two potentially huge problems. First, artists and bands typically do not know how to tastefully peak limit a mix, so, on a quest for maximum loudness, they squash the life out of their rough mixes to the point that static instrument levels begin to change over the course of the song, depending on how much gain reduction is being applied. If I don’t want to lose the battle of first impressions, I must compete with this loudness. Second, the artist may in fact be listening to my mix through their overcooked compression and limiting chain because they may forget to deactivate it from the mix buss.

Fortunately, experienced artists and repeat customers have already been down this road, so they tend to leave the peak limiter off their rough mixes. They trust me, because we’ve been successful together in the past, or they want to attain the sound of my records that they already know and love. New artists, however, are looking for any excuse to go the DIY, do it yourself, route. They do not want to spend money on crafting their records because they do not believe that they will ever make any money from sales of those records. They expect to hear maximum loudness on the first listen so they can compete on loudness instead of artistry. For those guys, I add a peak limiter to the first MP3 that I email them. I make the file the same loudness as their rough mix to dazzle them and earn their trust, then I ask them if I can take it off and do my thing. After I assure them that the final master will be at least as loud as the reference MP3, they’re cool with turning up the volume knob to listen loud.

It’s funny to me that as a guy with audiophile tastes, I sometimes prefer the energy and sound of limited masters to the (relatively) pristine clarity of the mixes. In order to tell with certainty, however, the two audio files must be level matched. Creative use of peak limiting can add a sonic crunch to rock songs that creates a sense of urgency. Limiting is almost required if you want to ensure that your record will be audible over the engine and road noise on your car’s stereo system. The unmastered mix will sound terrific in a neutral acoustic space, but mastering will ensure transportable translatability and competitive loudness. Peak limiting is a necessary evil that isn’t necessarily evil if done with prudence and good taste.

With that said, I wish all my artists and clients could be present for their mix sessions so that they could hear the dynamic beauty of their song in its pristine unlimited glory at least once. The experience might give them the confidence and courage to avoid getting sucked into the loudness wars. It’s ironic that they go to such great lengths to ensure that every detail is audible in the mix, but then they allow and encourage everything to be steamrolled during the mastering process— especially ironic considering that a reasonably dynamic mix will sound bigger on the radio than a squashed one!

Kathleen Wirt (right) and I are happy because Marek Stycos fed us Thai food after evangelizing about audio quality. Kathleen and her crew at 4th Street Recording in Santa Monica do things right. Great vibe there!
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Mix Tip: Lead Vocal Compression/Limiting  

 

Happy singers = happy mix engineers!
 
Do you ever wish you could make a lead vocal sound “urgent” and heavily compressed in the mix, without all the nasty pumping artifacts? We’ve all hyper-spanked a vocal to create a glorious larger-than-life character because it sounds uber cool to do so, only to find that the sparkle disappears and the breaths become almost louder than the words. 

Despair not, for I have a technique for you to try!

Instead of driving a single compressor/limiter into super heavy gain reduction, try using two separate compressors in series. Keep the gain reduction small, and the ratios low. 

A classic sound is Teletronix LA-2 or Urei LA-3A into a Urei 1176. Opto into FET. I guess the theory is that the opto compressor smoothes the dynamics and shapes the tone, then the FET further limits the dynamic range and adds groovy harmonic distortion. 

Generally (but not always) I prefer going the opposite direction. I use the 1176LN to precondition the signal before it gets to the the opto. This is a cool sound. Preconditioning the signal ensures that rogue peaks do not cause the opto to go so deeply into GR (gain reduction) that the recovery (release) becomes too slow for the rhythmic cadence of the melody. We don’t want the recovery so slow that it steps on the beginning of the next vocal phrase. 

By putting the fast FET limiter first, and setting it to get in and out quickly, we can keep the opto in its sweet spot. If you’re not sure where to begin with your 1176LN settings, start here: input 10 o’clock; output 2 o’clock; attack 10 o’clock; release 2 o’clock; ratio 4:1. These input and output settings, of course, are based on the assumption that the source signal was recorded at a proper level for a “+4” analog world, where pro audio equipment is designed to work in its sweet spot. 

If your taste is anything like mine, you will quickly find that the 10 o’clock attack setting is too fast and the 2 o’clock release is too slow for modern rock and pop vocals. More often than not, I crank the attack all the way counterclockwise (the slowest setting)  to allow sparkly transients to pass through, and I slam the release fully clockwise (fastest) before carefully twisting the knob back the other way to make it incrementally slower until the pumping disappears. 

Faster release times make the signal seem to be louder, more urgent, and more aggressive, but not as smooth and polished. Experiment with this by closing your eyes and listening to what happens as you turn the release knob. Superfast release times will sound almost brittle if they are too fast.  It’s an artistic choice, not a matter of right or wrong.

Circling back to the input and output settings, in this series configuration I like the sound of the 1176 when the VU meter is bouncing around from zero dB to minus 3-4 dB GR. The occasional -7 on a rogue peak might sound OK, but you better use your ears to confirm this. Adjust the input knob to get in this zone. Then set the output control so that the output meter reads approximately zero dB. You will definitely hear a strong “1176 character” if you set it up this way. It may be too much for your taste, or not enough, depending on what sonic texture you’re going for.

The next item in the signal path, the LA-3A opto compressor, is easier to set up.  With only two knobs, you’d think that everybody would get it right, but this is not always the case. As stated earlier, you have to be careful about driving it too far into gain reduction because the recovery becomes slower—too slow for this series application if the VU meter shows more than one and a half dB of GR. 

On a tangential note, an LA-3A can sound mind-blowingly cool if you slam it with 10 to 20 dB of GR! Of course you will need to crank up the output to make up for lost volume. You’ve heard this sound on hundreds of beloved classic records. It sounds like the guitars on Bryan Adams’ song “Cuts Like a Knife” may have been recorded or mixed with this technique. I may be totally wrong about this being the case, but at least the example gives you an idea of how an LA-3A  can sound larger than life when pushed. 

That, however, is not the way that we are using it in this particular application, in series with an 1176 on a lead vocal. By keeping the LA-3A’s gain reduction at about 1 to 2 dB, we ensure a more organic—yet highly energetic—vocal tone that is the undisputed ruler of the mix. The vocal will still have the illusion of being dynamic, and it won’t require much EQ to make up for the darkness that compression can add.

After experimenting with this technique and tweaking it to your taste, try a variation of it: route LA-3A in parallel instead of series. You can get away with more than twice the amount of gain reduction because you will be blending it to taste (on a separate fader) with the 1176 sound. That means that you can create an aggressive and urgent sound with the 1176, and supplement it with the added sustain and warmth of the LA-3A. Because it’s not in series, you don’t need to worry about it swallowing transients or recovering too slowly.  Just blend it in until you dig the sound, and you’re good to go! 

Another variation on this multi compressor theme is to put an opto compressor first, then an 1176 in series and a second opto in parallel. I’ve had a lot of success with this technique when feeding a Manley ELOP into an 1176 to get a compelling punchy sound, and then blending in a “pushed” LA-3A in parallel to harmonically fatten up the tone. 

Try these techniques and become inspired to create some new ones of your own. Make sure that you experiment with different routings and settings. Remember that my suggested starting settings are just that: suggested, not required. They will be dependent on the program that you intend to process and the mood you want to create, so adjust accordingly and appropriately.

If I were to add just one philosophical thought about compression and limiting in general, it would be that my personal taste is to see the gain reduction meters always “dancing” near zero on the VU meter rather than constantly being driven into deep compression. If you haven’t already done so, experiment with this concept and let me know what you think. 

Whatever you do, in life or in the studio, make sure that you follow your own muse, not somebody else’s. 

These cookie fortunes seem to be strangely related to vocal compression aesthetics.
 

The Summer of #1

It’s not every day that I get to wake up and find out that one of my mixes has gone to number one on the pop charts. Even more rare is when it stays there for seven consecutive weeks to become the biggest pop radio hit of the summer of 2015 in Mexico.

I would like to have number ones more frequently. Who wouldn’t? A hit is good not only for the artist, but also for me and everyone else involved. Instead of clients asking me for a discount, they are simply asking for me.

I began contemplating some questions that might unlock the secret. Why did this stroke of good fortune happen to me? What did I do differently? How does this affect my daily life? What tips or advice can I give to my friends and fans so that they can get their own number ones?

I wish that this blog post could turn out to be a magic wand, life changing, master class in hit making, but ultimately it’s going to be one of my briefest, and perhaps most profound, posts so far.

The inside story is that I did absolutely nothing differently than I do for every other one of my mixes and artists. I simply asked the artist (Kalimba) and the producer (Stefano Vieni) what they wanted, then I wrapped my head and my heart around the song (“Estrellas Rotas“), and did my best to give the listener obvious focal points that would lead to an emotional connection to the song. If you’re really craving some technical details and mixing tips, SonicScoop featured me as their cover story this week: Making The Mix Room – Michael James  It’s worth the read.

I think that the reason that I got hired to do this job—and therefore had the opportunity to be in the right place at the right time—is because I treat every song as if it were truly important to the artist. Further, I try to mix every song in such a way that will make me actually feel something from it, even if it means that I will not necessarily impress my engineer friends. Nothing about the mix of “Estrellas Rotas” is over-the-top. It’s more about removing distractions that interfere with emotional resonance. (It doesn’t hurt that the artist is brilliant and the production is excellent!)

So, has this recent number one changed my life? In the short run, yes. There was a windfall of good press, and as mentioned earlier, new clients were more interested in working with me than negotiating with me. My equipment sponsors were happy that they got another “victory story” to exploit, that was genuine, honest and organic. My friends any family were happy that my work was being recognized internationally. My independent artist clients were happy that their mix engineer’s “buzz” could give them more credibility and some news for their social media feeds. Everybody was benefiting from the rising tide— all boats were floating higher.

In the long run, however, I am confident that things will settle down into the usual routine. It happens every time I’m involved with a hit: there’s a rush of excitement, then life returns to business as usual. That’s fine—I enjoy the high times, especially when they can be shared with my friends and family, but there is always plenty of work to be done and precious little time to rest on one’s laurels.

If you’re looking for some good advice, mine is is simple: Make the record that you want to make, not the one that you think somebody else wants to buy. Your fans will love you because you are you, not an emulator of somebody else.

Gratuitous picture of Rosie, with whom I mix many records.

Life Lessons: New Perspectives 

 

Robben Ford’s excellent Concord debut, Blue Moon

 

My previous blog post was initially going to be about a life lesson that I learned when I first worked with Robben Ford. Instead I took a tangent and wrote about the serendipitous chain of events that led to meeting him. Cool story, but I never got around to the life lesson. Without further ado, here’s the intended story.

On second thought, let’s roll with a little bit more ado to set up the story.

Around Y2K, or the Millennium that was going to crash the world’s financial institutions, I had a room at Goodnight LA, formerly Keith Olsen’s studio featured in Dave Grohl’s Sound City documentary film. By then, both facilities were well beyond their heyday, but there was still vibrant music being recorded in the compound.

I chose the word “compound” because the two buildings shared a parking lot and were situated such that they reminded me of a fortress. The compound was an outpost of vital rock music in a sunbleached industrial area known for a scuttled brewery garden and a Ford dealership large enough to justify having its own cafeteria.

Sheltered from the outside world, but cloistered in “studio dusk”, I had a daily ritual of taking a “daylight break” in the late afternoon. I’d occasionally run into producer Ross Robinson, who was recording Slipknot’s Iowa.  We’d shoot the shit for a while before returning to our respective sessions.  One day Ross looked dazed, so I asked if he was doing well. He said, “I don’t know…today I threw a potted plant at my band.” When I asked why, he said it was the only way he could get the guys to play with feeling.

I’ve deployed some unusual techniques to inspire a sublime performance, but I have yet to hurl flora, fauna or insults at a drummer. I did, however, allow a singer (Dusty from Siezure Salad, who introduced me to L7) to duct tape headphones to his noggin. I could have talked some sense into him, but he was so far off his game that a major “pattern interruption” was indicated. The guy transformed from the “I’m flailing” dude to the “Look at me and my long hair and my duct tape!”, life of the party, superhero. His band and I cheered him on, with complete disregard for the fact that Dusty would eventually have to remove the industrial strength sticky stuff FROM HIS HAIR! He became a cartoon character and proceeded to sing his ass off.

Five epic songs later he pulled a bunch of hair out of his scalp, and he may have also lost an eyebrow if I recall correctly.

Although I personally wouldn’t respond well to flying plants or adhesive headphones, I do appreciate the fact that a change of perspective can be a powerful tool. We all tend to engage autopilot mode when we remain in comfortable familiar environments too long. A new stimulus at the right time can be a catalyst for growth.

My comfort zone was for a short period Goodnight LA. Ironically, I couldn’t stand the way the control room sounded. The mixing console was an extremely rare Trident Di-An, a digitally controlled analog mixing desk. Because it had very few control knobs to diffuse the early reflections off its large surface, it contributed to sonic havoc. It worked for Keith Olsen, but not for me.

Rather than being a martyr, I decided to change my environment to gain some fresh perspective and, hopefully, inspiration. I liked the sound of the live room, so I moved all of my producer racks from the control room to the live room. (In case you don’t know, a producer rack is typically a portable road case containing specialized pro audio recording equipment that supplements a studio’s in-house gear.) I added a groovy writing desk, a bank of faders, a comfy sofa and some speakers on stands, and all of a sudden had a terrific control room! I recall thinking how funny it was to set up guitar amps, drum kits and expensive German tube microphones in the relatively cramped space in front of the Trident desk, while I enjoyed an expansive posh environment designed exactly for the opposite of what I was doing.

An example of producer racks to the right of the console

I quickly adjusted to my new surroundings, and began thriving. My ears were good and my confidence was high. I was the king of my castle.

One day Robben Ford came by to listen to the first mix I ever did for him. Little did I know that four sentences, with a total of seventeen words, would become game changers for me.

I greet Robben in the reception area and walk him past the control room, into the studio’s live room. He wasn’t expecting that, but he embraced the unorthodox setup. Upon seeing six 20-space racks filled with coveted and storied boutique analog outboard gear, Robben turns to me with a smile, and says sentence number one: “Nice axe!”

Axe is a common euphemism among musicians for instrument. My immediate reaction was to think, “Wait…what? My guitars and amps are on the other side of the room.” Fortunately that thought remained holstered, courtesy of my inside voice, and the only word that made it past my lips was, “Thanks.”

I quickly understood that Robben’s perception of me was as a mix engineer, not as a guitarist. He didn’t need a guitarist — he is, after all, Robben Ford, one of the most revered guitarists of all time. But he did need a mixer, so that’s who I was in his mind.

Lesson #1: no matter who we believe we are, we are to others the person they perceive us to be.

Like it or not, that’s just the way it is, so be aware of it and make it work for you.

After geeking out on gear, we listened to my mix of an early version of Riley B King, a song that later surfaced as a duet with Keb Mo. I love that song. It was a tribute and love letter to BB King. There were many layers upon layers of guitars and keyboards. Somehow I managed to fit everything into the mix. I knew that I knocked it out of the park.

I’m standing behind Robben as he listens, and I see him sway in time with the music. The mix is moving him, quite literally. This is a very good sign! He turns around with a big Cheshire cat smile, and asks, “May I hear it again? Can we turn it up?” Of course we can!

We listen to the playback at a nice loud volume, and Robben is clearly into the mix. He’s rocking, nodding his head, turning around and flashing a grin of pleasure every few moments. I’m very excited about this, especially given that he is one of my favorite recording artists of all time. I feel great about making him feel great!

The song ends and he turns around, with his huge charismatic and warm smile, and says, “Wow, it’s so clear. I can hear everything.”

My brain momentarily paused there, basking in the afterglow of hitting a walk off home run. And then…I realized he was still talking. The full statement was. “Wow, it’s so clear. I can hear everything. I don’t know what to listen to.”

Uh oh. Brain.Must.Process. What just happened?!

Fortunately, as a pro I’ve learned that you can’t please everyone, all the time. Rather than panic, I simply and matter-of-factly asked if he could tell me a little bit more about his thoughts so that I could decode them and give him a mix that he would love. He said, “I forgot I played all those parts, so my ears are attracted to them instead of the important stars of the show: my singing and my guitar soloing.”

I responded, “Let’s start by simply making those two elements a little bit louder, and take a listen.” I turned them both up just one decibel, and Robben enthusiastically approved the mix. His words: “There it is! We’re good to go. Thank you.”

Lesson #2: no matter what we know to be true, our definition of true is not always the same as someone else’s.

In this case, I had previously thought that the definition of a good mix was one in which you could hear everything clearly. The instant that I heard Robben say that he didn’t know what to listen to, was the moment of a major paradigm shift. My approach to mixing immediately shifted from technical aesthetic considerations (“it’s punchy and I can hear everything!) to visceral emotional resonance (“This song makes me feel something!”)

The rules of the game had officially changed, and the goalpost had been irreversibly moved. Never again would I mix to impress my engineer friends; I would only mix to make my artists feel whatever they wanted their listeners to feel. That was the catalyst that made my career as a mix engineer take off.

So there you have it. Seventeen little words changed the way that I approached my interactions with other people. See things from their perspective, not just mine. One can learn a lot by crawling into someone else’s head.

As a related parting thought, I’ll share some of the best advice that my attorney gave me before entering an important meeting with a major label president: “There’s a reason that God gave you two ears, but only one mouth.” Think about it…a lot!

Multi-Buss Mixing Philosophy 

The question, “What’s on your mix buss?” has been all the rage for several years now. Mix engineers have been pre-mastering their work for a long time, to ensure that the mastering engineer has a clear artistic vision before manipulating the audio.

Digital audio sound quality and mixing “inside the box” (summing in the digital domain) may have caused the latest renewed interest in mix buss processors. Digital sound has often been characterized as harsh and clinical. Character pieces like a vacuum tube compressors and limiters can do a great job of warming up the sound, making it more euphonic. Insert a Manley Labs Variable Mu stereo compressor across the mix buss, and a good mix magically transforms into a juicy record.

That said, stereo mix buss processing has inherent limitations. As an example, let’s pretend that you have set the compressor’s attack and release parameters to make the song have an exciting pumping effect, in time with the music. Think EDM (electronic dance music) as an obvious point of reference. Everything sounds good… until the producer asks you to beef up the low and and add more brightness to the overall mix. All of a sudden your once warm lead vocal starts to sizzle, and the entire mix starts gasping for air every time the kick drum happens. When you are that deeply into a dense mix, adding one more straw can break the camel’s back.

The solution to this problem is actually quite simple. Instead of processing one stereo mix buss, break the mix down into several submixes consisting of components that symbiotically work together. In the video link above, I discuss the workflow of breaking the mix into three stereo buses instead of one. Buss A is for all the vocals. Buss B contains the bass and drums. Buss C includes all the harmonic instruments that are typically panned out to the sides, leaving the center of the soundstage open for maximum vocal, bass, kick and snare punch and clarity.

Each of those three busses is independently processed. They can benefit from using different attack and release settings and thresholds, as well as different EQ curves. 

Perhaps the simplest example of how to deploy this technique would be a scenario in which you want the bass & drums to have an obvious rhythmic “pump” without having the compression affecting the vocals. Further, imagine you want to brighten all the harmonic instruments a lot, without adding sibilance to the vocals. No problem with submix processing!

(Video courtesy of Dangerous Music, Inc.)

How To Prepare Pro Tools Sessions For Upload To Mix Engineers (Video Tutorial)

I frequently get asked how to prepare and clean up audio files and Pro Tools HD sessions for efficient uploading to online remote mixing service providers like IndieProMix.  This home-brewed video shows how to create alternate playlists, delete unused playlists and audio clips, consolidate/merge files, save a lean & mean session/project instead of an unruly beast, and more.

If you have not done this process before, or simply need a refresher, watch this thing twice. Watch it all the way through the first time, then be ready to pause it every few seconds the second time while you follow along in your DAW.

Alternatively, you can click on http://www.indiepromix.com/guidelines.html and navigate to a printer friendly description of the process.

Following these guidelines will ensure that your FTP upload will be as fast and efficient as possible, and that your mix engineer won’t waste precious creative time in housekeeping mode.  Better preparation = better mix…faster!

Feel free to share the video and this post with anybody who can benefit from it.  Let me know if you have any questions or related tips and tricks of your own.

So You Want To Be A Rekkid Producah!

Part 1: Yesterday 

I’m living the dream. My screen shot looks like a jet-setter’s dessert menu, a collection of exotic treats to be consumed with enthusiasm and moderation.

Ever wonder what the dream looks like? Let’s pull back the curtain to see what the Wiz is up to.

Today’s workload was relatively light and pressure free. Got up 6 AM to exercise on my bike…and still hadn’t ridden nearly 19 hours later. New York is three hours ahead, so I decided to have a quick chat with my web designer before she’d get buried beneath the pile of other duties on her desk.

My next task was pitching another New Yorker an article for Pro Sound News. There are multiple plates spinning, so I memorialized the chat in a detailed email to remind us where we left off. Before I knew it, a couple hours passed. I thought, “I better get outside before it’s too late.”

I step into the garage to prep my bicycle and right away I receive an email from my client, Rotimikeys, telling me that he’s having trouble uploading audio files. I went back inside to check my server, and learned that the problem was on his end. He’s eight hours ahead, in Lagos, Nigeria. We sort out the problem just as the phone rings.

I take the call from David Demeter of Drum Lab. We have a detailed discussion about an upcoming workshop related to drum mic’ing and mixing. Lunchtime rolls around and I still haven’t ridden or mixed a single note.

Fast forward to a dinner meeting. Delicious vegetarian Indian curry with an interesting, talented and charming recording engineer… Had fun, returned to studio, figured out why Rotimikeys’ files weren’t downloading from wetransfer. It’s after midnight for me, and a brand new day in Lagos.

The files get here a few minutes later. I load them into Pro Tools to make sure that they are in good shape. I email Rotimikeys to confirm that I’ll be able to hit the ground running in 12-ish hours.

I’m living the dream. It’s going to be a long day.

Part 2: Today


It feels like it’s still yesterday. Woke early again to do east coast biz. Rode bike for 90 minutes. Did a conference call with a boutique pro audio manufacturer regarding a three-part press feature connected to the upcoming release of my album.

1:30 PM rolls around and I’m finally mixing a record. It’s a Gospel tune with great musicians…and nearly 100 audio tracks. Plus it’s over five minutes long. Eight hours later, I upload an MP3 of the mix for comments.

If the producer, artist and label approve it, I’m done. I already printed instrumental and a capella stems (submixes), just in case it’s a wrap. If not, I will receive an email with comments, and I’ll print a revision.

Waiting for comments is the toughest part of international jobs. I’m not thrilled about making minuscule subjective changes at midnight, and I’ll bet that the Nigerians are not jumping for joy at the prospect of critical listening and note-taking before sucking down their morning cup o’ java.

Even though the workdays are long and I need to be “on” the entire time, this is the best job on the planet for my personality type.  I’m grateful that there are folks in this world who are willing to go the extra mile to work together. As long as they are not complaining about the late nights and early mornings, neither will I.

I’m reminded of the cliche: “Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.”

So you want to be a record producer? I do.