When I am working at my commercial studio Clearstory Sound I work alone and never delegate. When people hire me to work for them they know that they will get my ears on every sonic decision that is made.
Mixing is a bit like being a fine art sculptor. I have some raw materials to work with, and I need to cut away, accent, shape, add texture, and generally massage the raw materials into something that has depth, drama, dimension, excitement, and beauty.
A person is the sum of their experiences, and there are innumerable ways to get great learning experiences outside of a university setting. In over three decades of professional work I have not once been asked if I have a university degree, although I do have one. I did, however, learn an enormous amount while I attended university and I always try to learn new things daily.
When setting up your studio the room dimensions are critical, and there are three things that are equally a top priority. Fire the speakers the long way down the room, put as many good non-foam bass traps as possible in the corners, and avoid listening from the middle of the room. The mixing position should be 1/3 of the way in and the client should be 2/3 of the way in.
Bass traps in the listening environment are of key importance. Many rooms that have been put to use as a listening environment will have significant issues, especially in the bottom end, and bass traps in the corners of the room will generally help the acoustics.
A composer who is producing their score needs to constantly make creative decisions that will shape the music. They have to find a way to deliver a good sounding end result regardless of their budget and schedule. The more a composer knows about music mixing, the better they can produce a superior end product. That's true if they are doing the mixing or if they are hiring a professional music mixing engineer, because the composer has to give revisions and overall sonic guidance to the engineer for the end result.
When a composer does not have the resources to hire an expert to prepare their Pro Tools sessions, a huge responsibility falls on their shoulders. The most common mistakes I see are surrounding frame rates, Quicktime movie frame rates, bars and beats, temp music, sample rates, bit rates, tempo changes, and sync. Most composers could benefit from studying these technical things a bit better, because being well prepared for recording sessions is critical for efficiency and quality.
Your room is a critical mixing tool, and bass traps in the listening environment are of key importance. Many rooms that have been put to use as a listening environment will have significant issues - especially in the bottom end - and stuffing as many bass traps in the corners of the room as possible will generally help the acoustics. The better one can hear how they are shaping the sound of a mix, the better mix decisions they will make, and the better that mix will translate to all other playback systems. A good listening environment that has been well treated with bass traps will help with this, as will good quality speakers. The acoustic properties of the listening environment are of key importance.
Ideas are always the most important thing. In my experience as an engineer, great sounding pre-records (be they synth, virtual, samples, or something that the composer has actually recorded themselves) tend to be born from a creative approach rather than a conventional one. If the composer takes the time to create and program unique, ear catching and suitable prerecords, the final music mix of that cue will turn out better. I always recommend that composers not ‘bake in’ reverb into their prerecorded audio tracks, as this can create sonic problems later.
I think one of the best ways to learn recording, mixing and mastering, which all composers need to know, is to find an opportunity to assist highly skilled engineers (or composers who happen to be great engineers), and to learn from them. Unfortunately those mentorship opportunities are few and far between. Critical listening skills take years to develop, but you also need an enormous amount of technical knowledge to do great work. I recommend this to all composers in addition to educational facilities.
Everyone will define "high-end" cost differently, but the price to performance ratio is currently at an all-time low. The very definition of professional audio gear has changed dramatically over the last decade. My usual advice to composers is to find a balance between cost and quality. Armed with a good recording interface, a few good mics, a decent acoustic space, and some knowledge of mic placement, skilled composers can make great recordings without massive investment these days.
Based in Los Angeles, John Rodd is a freelance music recording engineer for film, TV, and video games. He has worked on film and TV projects with composers including Cliff Martinez (The Lincoln Lawyer), Frederik Wiedmann (Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox), Dave Porter (Breaking Bad) and Ryan Amon (the $100 million summer blockbuster Elysium), and on many top video games including Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Mass Effect 3, Assassin’s Creed Revelations, Assassin’s Creed II, and works extensively with Blizzard Entertainment on the World of Warcraft series.
As a music recording engineer, Rodd describes his role as, “capturing the music just as a photographer captures an image.” Through his choices (including microphone selection, placement, and mixing) Rodd conveys the intentions of the composer. “Just as underscore can articulate narrative that the dialogue does not, my recordings and mixes must help create the right mood and tell the story for the project.”
Rodd’s love of the alchemy between music, art, and technology initially led him to film school in his native Canada, where he continued experimenting with music mixing, sampling and synthesis. After university Rodd went to work for 5 years at a recording studio in Canada, where he worked with top rock, folk, and jazz artists and film composers including Howard Shore, John Debney, and Angelo Badalamenti.
After some world travels and freelance engineering work in England, Rodd relocated to Los Angeles in 1996. Ocean Way Studios in Hollywood brought him to Los Angeles where he worked with artists including Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Ry Cooder, Madonna and members of The Rolling Stones, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Porno For Pyros, and on many orchestral sessions.
The following year Rodd left to become the orchestral scoring recordist at 20th Century Fox’s legendary Newman Scoring Stage on such films as I, Robot, The Last Samurai, Spider-Man 2, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Matrix (trilogy), Cast Away, X-2, Jurassic Park III, The Bourne Identity, Road to Perdition and The Sixth Sense before going freelance in 2004.
“It is my decades of experience that prepared me to face the challenges of working in this business today,” said Rodd. “As a recording, mixing and mastering engineer, one strength is that I have been a part of a massive number of recording sessions, in all genres of music, including tons of large orchestral dates, so I really know what the real thing sounds like.”
As a freelance engineer, Rodd records, mixes and masters music, working on everything from major studio feature films (Elysium) to indie films (In the Beginning), television (Breaking Bad), video game projects (Call of Duty: Black Ops II), and for numerous CDs and soundtrack recordings. While his specialty has always been orchestral projects, Rodd has extensive experience recording, mixing and mastering all genres of music. He is an expert regarding critical technical details such as frame rates, pre-records, and 5.1 surround mixing.
From the solo singer to the gospel choir, from the string quartet to the 100-piece orchestra, from score to rock, electronica and jazz, Rodd is equally comfortable working with acoustic performances, virtual-instrument projects, or hybrids of the two.
Rodd works at a wide variety of recording and mixing studios, and recently opened his own studio on the Westside of Los Angeles. The spacious new studio (built from the ground up, and designed by a world class acoustician) features superb acoustics, plenty of natural light, and it is well equipped with a massive collection of boutique outboard hardware, and ProTools HDX-2 for recording, stereo and surround mixing, and mastering work.
Rodd is very active in the film scoring community in Los Angeles, volunteering his time to provide educational workshops and lectures for The Society of Composers and Lyricists and The ASCAP Scoring Workshop.
Rodd is able to legally work in the U.S.A., the EU, and Canada without a work visa.
In 2007, Rodd was nominated “Best Score Mixer” by the Film and TV Music Awards.