Mixing

Finally, we have reached the fun part. Mixing.

To discuss the technicalities of a specific mix on a platform such as this seems like a ridiculous idea to me. You can’t hear what I’m hearing, so even if I list off a bunch of settings you will never know why I did what I did. For this reason, I am going to avoid the specifics of mixing these two songs (sorry). Instead, I am going to discuss my thoughts and aims when approaching each mix, and I’ll say if I achieved th sound in my head or if I had to compromise for some reason.

Stranger:

When I sat down to mix Stranger I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted the track to sound like. It is clearly the more pop sounding of the two, so that played a role in my thinking, but most importantly it has an awesome groove which I was determined to emphasise.

I started with the drums. Building the sound of the drumkit with the pop sound in mind, but trying to be interesting and true to the bands more prevalent sound of Blue/Rock. Next, I moved onto Bass. The bass was very important because it was one of the main components of the groove that I mentioned before. I tried to make sure that it sounded full and consistent but still cut through the mix enough to be heard as its own element. Next, I started to work on the Guitars. I wanted the guitars to be super consistent in the track, so even though they were already distorted and therefore pretty compressed, I compressed them a bunch more, and it worked. Once I had all the instruments nice and solid and sounding good I went to work on the vocal. I made sure that it was clear and present as any good pop vocal should be, but that it still had the signs of the Rock side of the band.

When I had finished the mix, I still felt as though some of the transitions from verse to chorus were slightly lacking. To solve this I automated the fader on my Master Buss to turn up by 1dB during the choruses, giving the little extra energy lift that was needed to bring the mix together.

The Victor:

The Victor is a hard hitting full and aggressive Rock song. I knew as I started the mix that this had to be the goal. I started with the drums, going the extra mile to make sure that they hit super hard and consistently. I knew if I got these right then I’d have a good base to build the rest of the track off. If you ask me, I nailed it. The turning point for the drums was putting a tape emulation on the drum buss, which saturated the transients and made them sound full and fat. Then I moved onto the bass, which I knew also needed to sound huge, to keep up with the drums. I achieved this by using parallel distortion to make the bass sit up in the mix, without overpowering the guitars. Next, I came to guitars. In this track, the guitars didn’t actually need much work, so I spent a lot of time deciding on the level that they should be at so they sounded full but didn’t overpower the drums. Again, once the instruments were done I moved onto the vocal. The vocal sounded great, just overly dynamic. I worked pretty hard to get it to sit well in a mix that was already so full and loud. In the end, I got it to sit really nicely.

Overall the mixing of these two songs was a huge amount of fun. I think this is mostly due to the fact that I put a lot of effort into the tracks at the recording, editing and production phases so that by the time I mixed, I had already done the hard yards and could focus on being creative.

The songs should be coming out in late June 2017, so keep a look out for them.

If you have followed along with this series then thank you so much for doing so, it’s been a lot of fun. If you’re just joining now then I encourage you to go back and check out some of the other content.

As always, if you have any comments, questions, opinions or just want to say hi, then please leave a comment below.

Have a great day!

Rob

Production

The Production phase, as I understand it, is the time between editing and mixing, although it will often blend into both the former and the latter. This is the time to take a step back from the song and ask yourself “is the song really ready to mix? Is it the best version of itself?” Often, in the context of modern contemporary music, the answer will be no, and this is the time to change that. Sometimes it will be as simple as adding a shaker or a tambourine to a chorus to give it a lift. However, sometimes you will need to do more overdubs of vocals and guitars perhaps, possibly layered with a load of synth tracks. How far you go during the production stage is really up to the producer.

On the two tracks that we did I didn’t do a huge amount of additional production once tracking was done, but I made sure that what I did counted and drastically improved the tracks.

When I came to the end of editing stranger I found that the choruses were lacking something, something important. I had always planned to put a tambourine loop in the choruses so I did that, but it wasn’t the whole solution. A friend and I started playing around with additional instrumentation to fill the gap. Eventually, we settled on adding a small brass section in the choruses, between vocal lines. This worked wonders for the song and took it from feeling a bit “meh” to vibey and interesting.

The Victor felt a bit more complete when it came to the end of editing. Again I put in the tambourine, this time playing around with changing from mono to stereo at different sections to create a bit more dynamics.

In addition to this, I did two more things which can be described more like the seasoning on the meal rather than a key element, but I thought that they lifted the track to a new level. The first thing I did was to create a cliche reversed vocal reverb. This is done by first reversing a duplicate vocal, then putting a reverb on it and printing that track. You then take this and reverse it back again. This creates the effect of a reverse reverb sweeping up to the next word. I then chose certain words and phrases that I wanted this effect on and deleted the rest.

The last thing I did was I went back to the tracking session and found the place where we had recorded drum one-shots (single hits of each drum and cymbal) and imported them into the production session. I then cut up a bunch of the one-shot cymbal hits and placed them at places where I thought the drums needed more impact. I mixed these cymbals louder than the rest of the cymbals in the track so that they would act as moments of excitement. I also took some of the cymbals and reversed them to create building sweeps which help transition from section to section.

Overall, the production I did on the two songs was not overly drastic, but it made an impact where it counted.

Thanks for taking the time to follow this series.

If you have any comments, questions, opinions or just want to say hi, then please leave a comment below.

Have a great day!

Rob

Tracking #4: Vocals

Last of the primary tracking items on this record was Vocals.

From an engineers perspective, tracking Vocals is both simple and challenging. It’s one mic positioned in front of the singers face, easy right? Well, not exactly. Vocals are by far the most scrutinised element of a song by the average public listener, and so careful attention should be taken to choose the correct mic for the singer’s voice, and then to make sure that the performance is enthralling and emotional.

This being said I had a limited mic selection and my experience coaching singers through sessions is not the most extensive. Lucky for me, The mic that I tried first, the NT2000, was perfect for Talia’s voice. Bright enough to compete in the tracks without much EQ at all, and not overly S-ey (A common problem when you put a bright mic in front of a singer with a bright voice).

When it came to coaching Talia through the session and making the most of her powerful voice I got outside help. I asked my friend Arno Terblanche to take the lead on the “Vocal Production” of the session while I focused on the recording, tone and the general running of ProTools.

Contrary to what I said in the previous post, I actually used a slightly different setup for tracking vocals. I replaced my interface with Arno’s Focusrite Scarlet 2i2 because it has a USB 3 connection and so it can run with lower latency.

We set up a makeshift vocal booth in the room we were using by standing two mattresses in a corner and placing the mic between them. This helped control the sound of the room (which is very live) and meant that we got a nice dry vocal sound which I was very happy with.

With Arno’s help, Talia’s performance was top notch, totally doing justice to her well-written songs.

We decided not to do any harmonies or doubles, so as to allow her voice to stand tall and strong in the tracks.

Overall I was very happy with how the vocal tracking went and (perhaps for better or for worse) there was no significant mistake that I had to learn from on this session.

Thanks for taking the time to follow this series.

If you have any comments, questions, opinions or just want to say hi, then please leave a comment below.

Have a great day!

Rob