Curating and creating are not so different, how I compress vocals in a mix, and when is a piece done?

Heya folks,

Thanks for purchasing and streaming my latest single, Silver and Gold. Now we're back to our regularly scheduled email programming: Sharing Notes!

Curating and creating are not so different

Austin Kleon introduced me to the term "swipe file," which is a practice among cartoonists of collecting images to later copy. I find keeping a collection of creative fodder to be hugely beneficial. As a songwriter, I essentially collect words and sounds and put them together. An obvious way I did this was in my newest song, which features a sound collage of spoken word sourced from public domain movies and early wax recordings. But you don't have to just collect recorded samples: collect your favorite chords, your favorite instruments, turns of phrase someone said in conversation, and mix.

How I compress vocals in a mix

These days, I don't compress very heavily on my main vocal channel. What I use instead is a few channels of parallel compression, in the style of mix engineers Michael Brauer and F. Reid Shippen. The two of them send a lead vocal to as many as five independent parallel channels (though I usually only use 2-3). I find this approach generally yields a smooth vocal that retains has its dynamics. Plus, I can use different compressors for the different tones they may impart. You can read more of my vocal compression notes here.

When is a piece done?

David Bowie in an interview, when asked about what satisfaction he feels when making art, deflects and says he's focused on "finishing it so I can get on to something else." Maya Angelou says, "It's more important to get the work done." So when is it done? I like mix engineer Steve Genewick's answer: "When I start to second guess myself, it's time to stop." At that point, it's good to take a break and consider asking for a second opinion. Reminds me: don't try to create and analyze at the same time.

Meme moment


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