I met up with John yesterday (1/27/2015) at the studio for this week's lesson.
We finally had time to continue the track of mine that we had started working on before the holidays. The big difference here is that John decided it was time to change things up. Yes, we did continue with the track, but he put me in the driver's seat. He told me to patch everything appropriately based on how we patched for clients previously and to just think through what I needed to patch it correctly between the hardware and Pro Tools. I remembered most of it, as well as the concepts, but, admittedly, I was still pretty green in terms of knowing what to do. But that's what this was for. It quickly became apparent that I need to use Pro Tools more often to increase my efficiency with it. His mouse is even alien to me. Not one I'm used to, but that's another issue. I'm used to Logic Pro, and I'm proficient at it, so old habits die hard.
He quickly reminded me of a few keyboard shortcuts to get things done faster. No time for slowness when you're with a client, so John was stressing speed as well as getting me to see how and why he's making certain decisions in terms of plug-ins for the final mastered track.
I patched the rough mix from before the holidays through the MixDream, send the output to their SSL Compressor, and then patched that output back into the MixDream, which was then routed back into Pro Tools with the corresponding input/output assignments within the project file.
John then "quizzed" me on what parameters to adjust on the compressor when recording the compressed version of the track for mastering afterwards. He had me play with the attack and release times, the threshold, gain, and said that we were looking for a mean of 3-4 dB reduction from the compressor as the song is played. Then, he basically said it was up to me what settings I wanted to go with now that I knew the effects that would occur. Do I like it better with the slowest attack, or perhaps a little faster for bite? Or perhaps change the release time, or the threshold. All of it was in my hands, with John only intervening if a critical mistake was being made. It forced me to really focus my ears so that I could hear the differences in the song after altering the compressor settings and adjust to taste.
After this, John left me instructions on what to do next (he had to go to a quick meeting in the next room) by way of mastering. With the now compressed track, I was told to load up a plugin that would give the song a bit of stereo width (K-Stereo), followed by a Slate Digital limiter plugin. He mentioned EQ'ing too but ultimately he decided the balance was great and so it didn't need it. I adjusted the K-Stereo plugin to what I thought sounded good while John was gone. Then I messed around with the limiter plugin to see what I would get. I ran into a few issues that I wanted to tackle, but I didn't want to ruin the project settings so I did other things until John returned.
Turns out, there was definitely too much of the K-Stereo going on and John pointed out why by lowering the volume. The effect became more apparent then somehow. Then we realized that we were hearing the sum of the tracks in the master track instead of only hearing the newly recorded compressed track. We adjusted the monitors back to pro-level, muted all of the individual tracks, and routed the compressed track to the master and the master to the relevant outputs for stereo.
John then helped me fine tune the K-Stereo plugin as well as the limiter. John was looking for a precise sweet spot with the limiter settings and he would tell me to adjust the gain by notches of 0.1 dB... so definitely precise. We then found the sweet spot. I honestly couldn't hear what that sweet spot was, but I trust John so I went with it. This process made the song significantly louder without completely wiping out the dynamics. The booms and nuances in my track largely remained intact, with only the loudest transients being tamed.
At first, I wasn't sure what I thought about the final result. But I heard the song about 30 times already since I was working on it at the studio. I decided to give it a rest and hear it the next day at my studio when my ears have had time to refresh themselves. Now, I re-heard it at my studio. It definitely sounds fantastic. The compression gives the song that taming effect, but it adds a certain effect I cannot describe that is actually quite pleasing. I'm sure I'll learn to identify all of these things with practice in the future.
A hectic, but exciting, first attempt at the driver's seat.