Just found this great blog on recording, mixing and mastering: Ian Shepherd’s Production Advice. Shepherd covers all aspects of achieving great-sounding mixes, from getting the best sounds at source, mixing them effectively, and making the end result loud and punchy so it competes with commercial mixes. I stumbled onto the site a mere 24 hours ago and I already feel like I’ve spent a month in engineering school (in a good way).
Being a professional mastering engineer, Shepherd tends to focus on that end of the chain. But I also feel like that’s more misunderstood than recording and mixing anyway, so it’s a welcome addition to my trove of resources. Witness his discussion of dithering, an esoteric and confusing subject if ever there was one. Shepherd maintains that one should dither whenever you bounce, whether it be to 16 or 24 bit. This goes against conventional wisdom, at least the conventional wisdom I’ve read, but it does make sense when he explains it. I’ll let him argue all the fine points, but essentially he says that whenever you exit the world of 32-bit floating point, you need to dither or you’ll get quantization distortion in the quietest parts of your audio. He also has a lot to say about the loudness wars, including what tools to use to make sure your mixes keep their dynamic range and how to master a tune ear-splittingly loud if you absolutely have to (it’s all about EQ and multiband compression, in case you were wondering).
If you’re not a total audio nerd you may be driven away by the tech talk, but I’m definitely finding many chunky nuggets of knowledge in almost every post. If you’re dissatisfied with how your mixes compare with the pros or if you want to make your work sound even better than it already does, go read Production Advice now.
EDIT: Regarding mastering and creating subjectively loud mixes, it should be said that for the purposes of film scoring it’s often better to deliver unmastered, uncompressed tracks to your mixer. I used to send in self-mastered tracks using my typical (somewhat mild) mastering chain. I had the opportunity a couple of years ago to remix on of my scores for an edited-down version of the film, and in this case the mixer asked me to deliver uncompressed stems. During the mix he showed me how much better the uncompressed files worked and how they sat in the film more easily. I learned a great deal that day and now deliver mixes with only a little bit of limiting to keep them from clipping.