Archive for August, 2013
28 Aug

Spite- A Mixing Contest

listen: Spite

A blog I follow, Mixnotes, is having a mixing contest. (Mixnotes/Softube Mixing Contest) They supplied the tracks, I supplied the mix. First prize is a high-end reverb plug-in.

This song is heavier than I usually work with. The distortion levels are in the track, not adjustable. So this was a challenge.

They sent me lots of drum tracks. 3 kick drum tracks, 4 snare tracks (top, bottom and 2 midi tracks, bounced to audio), hi hat, ride cymbal, 2 tom tracks, overheads in stereo and room mics in stereo.

My first approach was to eq the multiple snare tracks, keeping the levels equal, to create a composite sound. This didn’t work. I had some success, but I realized I was changing he level with the eq plug-in. So sliced and boosted the tracks, then set levels to get a composite snare sound. I did similar with the kick drum.

I set up a couple of busses for all the drum tracks. I wanted to get some pump out of my compressor on the drums, but I couldn’t get it to behave the way I wanted. So I created a separate bus for the kick drum and sent the ambience tracks (overheads and room mics) directly to the Sub Master. I set the threshold on the compressor so the snare got a good squish, but the hi hat barely registered. This gave me a little thickness on the snare which fit better in the aggressive arrangement.

Guitars needed to be eq’d and compressed, each track individually. I set up a bus for the guitars and put some compression on the bus as well. The guitar part at the end was a separate track. I added a distortion plug-in with some automation to brighten it up at the end and added some panning to give it some movement.

There were 2 bass tracks. The first was the main track. It was thick and distorted and needed some serious eq. The second track was an ultra low sub bass track. This was hard for me to mix. I don’t have a sub woofer and it is tricky hearing those low frequencies on my monitors. I thought this track was a little one dimensional, so I added automation to bring it in and out. These tracks were sent directly to the Sub Master bus.

There were three keyboard tracks. One was the sparkly pad running through the song. One was an explosion sound effect at the beginning of each chorus, and the third was a “ch ch ch” rhythm sound during the last chorus. I set up a synth bus, but it doesn’t really work to unify the parts. It does add a little compression to help keep them sitting properly in the mix.

I did a lot of volume automation with the sparkly pad, bringing it up and down to give some dimension to the track. I also added an expander, keyed to the snare track. This gives a nice pulse to the rhythm.

The vocals tracks were pretty straightforward. The main vocal, a doubling vocal on the chorus and an effect track. I eq’d and compressed these tracks and sent them to a vocal bus.

I didn’t add any reverb or delay. All this was provided in the tracks I downloaded. With one exception. I wanted some more depth on the snare, so I added a gated reverb- this is where you send the snare track through a reverb channel and add a gate to close off the reverb effect, lengthening the snare hits.

I tried to push things to get a more aggressive sound. I am not that familiar with this style, so it is hard for me to judge how successful this mix will be. I don’t think I will win any prizes. But it was a lot of fun.

Overall, I like the sound of the drums. I enjoyed the process and I’m glad I found something challenging to mix. Thanks to Mixnotes and Softube for setting up the contest.

Wish me luck.

Categories: Mixing
17 Aug

The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald

listen: The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald

original: Original Wreck

This week I found a song I had recorded in 2009. It was a pretty good performance, but it didn’t sound good. I decided to try to rescue the track by exporting from GarageBand and using Pro Tools to get a professional sound.

I made my first mistake exporting. I forgot to turn off the reverb and delay effects on each individual channel. I took this as a challenge. After all, I often hear guitar tracks with chorus/reverb/delay, sometimes effects not appropriate to the song. As an engineer, my job is to make it work.

So I started with the processed tracks. I imported to Pro Tools and added some eq and compression. I set up sub groups to get the instruments working together.

I was having trouble getting the slide part to sit right in the mix. The problem: settings that helped the melody stand out were too much for the backing parts on the verses. I split the slide track into two, so I could use separate settings on the bold lead and the more subtle background.

The vocal needed a lot of help. The vocal didn’t stand out enough, it just blended into the mix. I tried boost some eq settings, but the result was either boxy or hissy. I had read an article about using distortion to add some presence to a vocal line and decided to try that technique.

I pulled out my SansAmp plugin and patched it into the vocal channel. It worked. Listening back, it may be too much. I may go in and lighten up the distortion someday.

Next I needed to fix some tuning issue. I am not a fan of Autotune. Here I had a handful of bad notes in a good performance, so my tuning plugin was the right tool.

The track was in pretty good tune, but I had 5-6 notes that were more than a half step off. These I mended.

I wanted to look at the high notes, the B. Not too high for me, but in a bad spot for my voice. They sounded harsh, especially with added distortion (a compromise, I know). And they were mostly within 10 cents of pitch. Thinking I didn’t need little pitch issues compounding the harshness, I put them in perfect tune. I think it helps.

Lastly for pitch, I was surprised to find that noises like breath and consonants registered as pitched events. Sometimes on weird pitches, unrelated to the key of the song. I pulled these up/down to pitches appropriate to the key signature and zeroed them out. This helped to clean up the overall presentation.

I finished by adding some automation. Bringing out little lines and lightening backing tracks where it was needed. I especially needed to tame my Darth Vader breathing. Muting my breathing sounded creepy, so I went in and isolated each breath and pulled it down 10 db’s. It sounds more natural this way.

I think I ended up with a pretty good track. Of course, i could have gone in and re-played parts or re-sung the entire song. That wasn’t the point. The point was to fix this one. And it sounds much better.

Categories: Arrangements