The past couple of weeks have been a massive effort to complete all of the editing, final recordings and mixing. But I’m fairly happy with how the project has come together over that period. The mixing was a very gradual process as I tried to experiment and clean up and process tracks as I went, with the bulk of the creativity and colour being added toward the end of the mixing. In this blog I will talk about my mixes, specifically the processing and techniques I used and why. Aesthetics and production techniques has been a tricky topic, trying not to have to make too many compromises with booking the right studios and getting the right microphones, outboard gear, plugins, monitors etc. that I’ve needed, luckily I managed this fairly well.
With the drums I made a point of keeping the kick and snare at the front and fairly dry, part of achieving this sound was just pulling back on the rooms and over heads, which really emphasised the “dry” factor.
Little Loco: On the kick I used blended in the sample and original to taste, this ended up with the recorded kick being the strongest as it felt like the deeper sound that a rockier track like this one needed. I also teamed that with some parallel compression and a transient shaper to add some extra punch. The snare had a strong blend of the original recorded sm57 track, with a blend of the sample to make it feel maybe a little synthetic that I originally thought I would want, this track just feels a little too rocky for a synthetic drum sound.
Baby It’s You: The kick and snare blend involved a lot more sample in this song, it’s a little less organic and bit more dreamy, with the reverbed guitars and the driving pad sound. The kick in particular has a much more boppy sound.
The toms on the track were the original recorded only, I had a little bit of trouble getting them to stand out in the mix without making the cymbal bleed in the tracks sound weird, I experimented with transient shapers to boost the attack and fiddled with getting the fades on the tom hits to sound natural in context with the track. I tried to pan them around where they sat in the stereo spread of the over heads.
The Overheads and Ms Room mics were side chained to the kick drum, I used this effect to help open up the kick drum further without having to push it too loud on the faders. But only enough to make the kick a bit more present in the mix. The rooms were blended in fairly lightly, even less so in Baby It’s you to go with the dry synthetic approach. I spent a fair amount of time cleaning out resonant frequencies in the drums and a lot of other hissing and whistling that just made the rooms and overheads very abrasive.
The bass was a little bit of a struggle, I think just getting a decent tone out of a fairly cheap bass guitar is a tough thing to do. I tried to clear out the midrange a bit with an eq and then distort what ever was left of it with the Fabfilter plugin called “saturn”. Having been a straight DI sound I wanted to beef up the low end a bit. For this I used some multiband compression to clear out mids and boost lows and highs a bit, I aimed for the presence region to be almost but not quite as prominent as the lows. I also ran the ran through an Ampeg SVT UAD plugin to add some colour to the track as it just sounded to dry. In Baby It’s You, I rounded of the high end and let some of the mids back in just to smooth out the bass sound, I wanted it a little more aggressive for Little Loco.
I real didn’t do much to the keys other than EQ and add reverb as the sound already had a lot of character, one thing I noticed was the amount of noise coming through on the track. I used the Izotope RX de-noise to get rid of as much as possible. The keys in general with both tracks sounded fine, but in the context of the mix seemed dull or weak in comparison to the drums and guitars, it was smooth but kind of glassy. Turning them up didn’t really solve the problem, so I added in a fair amount of high end and compressed it to flatten out the frequencies and get it to cooperate with the mix a bit more. Here is one of the level automation and clip gaining I did in Little Loco.
Rhythm Electric Guitar:
Given that the lead guitarist is playing a lot of single note sort of stuff, and not very often playing chords. Its straight away lacking a thick presence in the mix, so I tried to compensate by making the rhythm a lot bigger and fatter. I did this by duplicating the rhythm auxiliary that the tracks were running through, and I used the Izotope plugin “Trash 2”, a distortion, EQ, dynamics and everything in one plug in really, to change the tone and therefore the waveform so it would sound more like three different guitar tracks. I cleared out the midrange in the guitar a bit to make room for the vocals and spent some time clearing out resonant frequencies.
Lead Electric Guitar:
I tried to thicken up the lead and make it a bit sweeter, the tone was fairly lively having been recorded on a valve amplifier but still very dry. Again a made a duplicate and blended some different overdrive sounds from the Trash 2 plugin. It worked really well in making the tone not only a more distorted but it was really effective at creating a boost or clean type of overdrive sound which I was very fond of. I had the verses, pre choruses, choruses, and bridge all in separate tracks to easily be able to process the parts differently. I each part to have its own level in the mix, effects send levels and so on, this would save me having to automate a single track very heavily. However there was still volume automation done on all of the guitar, bass and keys tracks across the sessions. The bridge lead octaves in Little Loco were double tracked and panned left and right to create a massive sound, however I had to edit the different takes to sound almost seamlessly different. The tiny differences between those two tracks are the main reason it sounds so big, just duplicating and panning a track hard left and right will leave you with a centered and louder track..
I went a bit crazy with the vocal processing, the main effect I used was New York compression, which is a form of parallel compression. However, it has an extra duplicate track that is compression and distorted to the max, it just sounds like trash. Lightly blending that track in with another heavily compressed track, and the original makes it super crisp and lively. Kevin’s voice is very smooth and not too bright, this processing helped me to bring out a bit more of the Bruno Mars sort of character in his voice.
The vocals in Little Loco are fairly dry, I made it that way as it feels like more of a rock song that’s fairly full on, none of the references I’ve had for vocals for this song in particular have a very strong reverb, or on very many songs in the same genre for that matter. For Baby It’s You, I wanted the sound to be a bit more roomy and weird. So I used some parallel compression and delayed the parallel track by about 12 milliseconds, this creates a cool room sound echo effect. On top of this, going with the weird effect, I dialed in a stairwell reverb sound and a UAD Space Echo. The combination of these three effects was fairly cool and definitely felt like it worked with the feel of the song. I also ran all of the vocals through the Avalon in our Audient 8024 studio, I boosted the preamp gain to get some more warmth out of the vocal and compressed everything to level the tracks out smoothly.
The BV’s were all recorded through the Avalon as well, the sound it gets for vocal is much warmer and sweeter than the plain dry Audient preamps. I didn’t want theses tracks to stand out very much so I kept it to the basic EQ, compression, reverb. I had to use Melodyne on of these the straighten these out, especially for the oohs and ahhs, which were sustained notes that the vocalist had to sing swapping between chest and head voice, which is fairly challenging.
The standard reverbs I was using were the ReVibe 2 small, medium and large studio reverbs, which don’t have a lot of character, the level i dialed in with them made them fairly transparent in a full mix, I myself really only noticed how much the reverbs were doing until I muted the reverb auxiliary. I also used Mod Delay 3 to create a quarter note delay on Little Loco for the Lead Electric in the Bridge solo.
The quality of the mix I feel is fairly good, although I realised yesterday, again, that I need to involve reference material in the mix and master process just as well as the recording process. I’ve found it hard in the past also, continuing to work with references, just as I don’t always want to stick to them exactly. I think the main thing that helped me in the recording phase was my vigilant use of references for each instrument. If I kept that up throughout the whole project I think my song would be far greater in terms of their industry level quality.
Little Loco – The mix turned out well, I wish maybe I would have looked into processing keys/synth tracks, I think in the back of my mind I thought that all the effect and processing was in the recorded signal, however in comparison to the other tracks which had a lot going on, it sounds a little bit weak and in the background maybe? The synth sound are a bit less thick than most of the synth references I was given. The drums and vocals are dry like I intend, however maybe a little too dry, I have been second guessing myself since one of the band members mention this upon giving his feedback. I’m fairly stoked with the sound from the electric guitar tone, particularly the lead tone. The Izotope Trash 2 plugin was a major part of helping me shape the tone. I’m very happy with the overall levels of the mix, every is coming through quite clearly, the only level change I would make is to the synth in the second part of the bridge, which I would boost a tiny bit.
Baby It’s You: I liked the FX I used on this track, the vocal sound felt like it felt the vibe of the song. I struggled a bit with the bass tone in this song, I’m unsure why but it sounded very boxy and weak despite my fiddling with the processing. It came to the point where I had to go back to the dry track and just throw on the Ampeg SVT plugin and ditch my extra processed track, which I think was treated poorly before committed it to audio. I like how I’ve made the drums a little more sample oriented on the kick and snare, however I wonder if given that, I could’ve supplemented some Tom samples also. I’m fairly happy with the level balance in this song.
Tomorrow I will be finishing the remaining mastering for the song Baby It’s You, so be expecting a blog then. I have also to cut radio edit of these songs, however I am unsure how I will cut one and a half minutes out of Baby It’s You, I could potentially leave out the radio edit for this song also.