Pensado’s Place – “Into the Lair” – Essential Lessons

I am a big fan of Dave Pensado and his Pensado’s Place show. I just love this guy. If you don’t know him already, he’s a Grammy Award winning mixing engineer who’s mixed Beyonce, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Mariah Carey, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Pink, Mary J. Blige… Well, you get the picture.

I especially like the “Into the Lair” section of his shows where he explains various aspects of his work in detail. All of his videos are great so I really recommend you to watch all of it. But it’s a lot to go through, so I wanted to put together a collection of “Into the Lair” clips from Pensados Place that have been especially interesting and helpful to me. Below each video, I’ve also included some bonus notes from myself.

Pensado's Place

There is a ton of technical stuff to learn about mixing from him, but perhaps even more importantly, it’s amazing to be able learn about his broad approach to things.

I love having the chance of being influenced by someone with as immense level of experience as him. Imagine that. Times have truly changed haven’t they?

The stuff Dave shares always makes me want to jump in and work on something. He’s not into keeping secrets and he’s also obviously one of the most humble guys around.

Start with these videos, and then check out more when you have time! Also make sure to watch some of the full episodes of Pensado’s Place. They get a ton of very prominent guests to come on and speak about various angles of music production. Pure gold.

Here we go.


Retaining Transients When Using Limiters

Pensado’s Place – Into the Lair #62


  • Dave uses the Bittersweet transient enhancer plugin by Flux. He says it’s inexpensive, but in fact it’s completely free. It’s a powerful plugin, and if you don’t have it already you should go download it right now.
  • A combination of a transient enhancer and a compressor can take things even further. Experiment with different compressors and settings – especially the attack time.
  • If you’re using compression after transient enhancement, make sure to adjust your attack time carefully so you don’t kill the transients you’ve created.

How to Make Your Mixes Loud

Pensado’s Place – Into the Lair #46


  • To achieve a loud mix, you have to massage and “pre-bake” the different elements in your tracks before it all goes to the stereo bus.
  • Parallel compression is awesome, for drums especially.
  • Dave mentions the Fletcher-Munson curves. Here is an article that goes into it in more detail.


How to Maximize Your Bass Tracks

Pensado’s Place – Into the Lair #86


  • See how Dave is “abusing” these plugins and clipping them like it’s nothing to get this nasty, fat bass sound? Of course that doesn’t mean you should always do it, but if it fits the context, go for it. What sounds good is good. Don’t be afraid to experiment with distortion.
  • Even when he is boosting the hell out of some frequencies, he is being very conscious of the levels and what is too much. “-Boost the crap out of it and take out what I don’t need”.
  • Note how he automates an EQ plugin for a bass boost in certain parts of the track. Simple and powerful.


How to Use Aux Sends When Mixing

Pensado’s Place – Into the Lair #41


  • Utilizing auxes properly gives you a lot more control over your mix.
  • Automating the volume levels of the different auxes is a very powerful technique and easily overlooked


Working With Low Frequencies

Pensado’s Place – Into the Lair #59


  • See how Dave uses MaxxBass and RBass to generate sub or high bass depending on the situation.
  • “-I don’t carve frequencies, I just mess with it until it sounds good”. Hear that? Good.


Advanced Parallel Compression Techniques

Pensado’s Place – Into the Lair #53


  • Don’t be afraid to use presets as starting points. They’re usually designed by professionals. If it works, it works.
  • Instead of using a compressor, try using tape emulation or other types of saturation.
  • Experiment with different kinds of processing in your parallel chain and see what you get.


All About Audio Compression Ratios

Pensado’s Place – Into the Lair #81


  • When adjusting the settings in your compressor, focus on changes in the energy and emotion in your material, instead of the technical aspects. Try to feel it.
  • EQ in front of the compressor to fix problems, in order to give the compressor a good clean signal to work with. EQ after the compressor for color.
  • Compression can add to the experience of the track or it can really take away from it. Be careful.
  • Don’t be freaked out if you are having difficulties with understanding or hearing compression. It takes a lot of time and practice to understand. It’s perfectly normal to struggle with it. Don’t get discouraged. Keep experimenting.


Master Low End on Stereo Bass Tracks

Pensado’s Place – Into the Lair #77


  • On stereo bass tracks you want to put the lowest frequencies in the middle, but you can spread out the highs of the bass instrument.
  • Experiment with different stuff, such as duplicating tracks and M/S techniques.


Humanizing Digital Tracks

Pensado’s Place – Into the Lair #72


  • Try different ways to manipulate the feel of your sounds: timing, pitch, volume, etc. Combine various ways.
  • The high hat is often instrumental in creating the feel! Of course it depends on the kind of stuff you’re working on, but do pay attention to the hihats.


How to Use Reference Mixes

Pensado’s Place – Into the Lair #71


  • Different strokes for different folks, but I’m with Dave in that I like to listen to other music for reference when I am mixing.
  • Place reference tracks within your project so you can quickly switch in and out of them for good A/B comparison.
  • Don’t ruin your mix by trying to copy your reference track. Rather use referencing for things like checking the levels of various elements in your song, the EQ, compression, how the vocal sits in the track and so on.
  • Referencing is a short cut way to taking a break. It refreshes your brain because we tend to get used to what we hear, and lose objectivity in the process.

There you go! Study these videos carefully. Then watch the rest. I find myself coming back to this stuff a lot. Let me know in the comments how you are liking them! Any a-ha moments?

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  • maikel Paverd

    great summary! (I really like watching those pensado vids; he is a great guy to watch; he talks with passion and isn’t afraid to admit not knowing a certain term or technique.
    Great post (this summary) only I have one question, remark about the parallel compression,saturation using tape-sims..
    (I use the Toneboosters Reelbus).. If you put these sims up in a parallel chain I noticed that you get horrible phasing issues (even though your daw has delay latency compensation) this is somehow inherent when using a tape-saturation sim i read somewhere… with other saturation types (tubes etc) i haven’t noticed this phasing…… (now i’m started to think it’s just the Toneboosters tapesim, or does something like Kramer mastertape etc, have this too?)

    • Glad you like the post!

      I haven’t run into that kind of problems with tape plugins. I have been using Waves Kramer and also the tape simulations in FabFilter Saturn and PSP Mixsaturator.

      I am inclined to believe it could be a problem with the Toneboosters plugin and/or its communication with your host DAW.

      I don’t know if that is the issue here, but some plugins don’t always report their latency correctly to the host in all situations. So delay compensation doesn’t work correctly.

      I suggest you try a demo of a different tape plugin and see if the problem persists. And shoot an email to Toneboosters, maybe they have an answer.

      • Maikel Paverd

        Will do! I don’t want the Reelbus from ToneBoosters to get a bad reputation.. It’s a great plug!

        I tried the parallel chain a few versions ago (on a snaredrum) (Studio One and Reaper at the time).. After logging in I see that i’m missing out on quite a few updates already.. trying it out soon, will report back:)

        • Cola verde

          Some plugins have a few sample delay (for calculation) that’s what create the phasing when you use thme in parralel….3 or 4 samples are enough to create phasing….simply use them as insert or compensate (for advanced user)

      • Maikel Paverd

        just tested the updated version; still phasing/comb filtering..

        inherent to the plugin maybe; I am asking through an email.. (Fabfilter Saturn: No issues..)

        Really a sweet vst as an insert on groups though!

        • Cool, yeah checked out their plugins. They all look great and very affordable too.