7 Ways to a Better Recording: Anatomy of a Mix Part 7.2! by James Coffey

This is the final installment of our series, 7 Steps to a Better Recording by member James Coffey, B.M.Ed., M.Ed. of Blue Vision Music. Read part one here, or start at the first here!

james_coffey

Once again we’re going to take a real project and look at many of the previously discussed techniques in action. In the last installment we looked at a ballad. This time let’s examine something with a little more of an upbeat feel.

“Jacob’s Song”

by Lianna Berlinger

On this song I recorded the majority of the instrumental sans drums and vocals.

DRUMS

Procedure: As with the other song I used the same technique of parallel compression utilizing the overhead mic tracks. I EQed out everything in the low range below 80 Hz and used a gradual shelf on the high frequencies starting at 4.5 kHz and up. After some compression I mixed this back into the main drum group.

(For more information about compression, see Part 3 of this series.)

jacob_drums_EQ

Drums raw
Drums with overheads mixed in

Notes: Some of these changes are very subtle. Listen back and forth and you’ll hear the second one has a rounder sound with a little more brightness in the cymbals. As the mix progresses it’s these small changes that will have a big impact on the finished song.

VOCALS

Diagnosis: Levels are erratic. Needs more warmth and also a bit more life in the upper range.

Vocals raw

Procedure: Compression and EQ added. 4 db boost at 220 Hz for warmth. 4 db boost at 4.5 kHz to cut through.

Vocals with EQ and compression
Vocals and harmonies with effects

 

GUITARS, BASS & MANDOLIN

Diagnosis: Needs more impact as well as separation in the mix.

Guitars, bass & mandolin raw

Procedure: Add compression to make the sound a bit fatter. Panning and stereo delay to add width as well as EQ and effects to place it better in the overall mix.

jacob_guitar_EQ

Guitars, bass & mandolin with compression, EQ and effects

Notes: You’ll notice the guitars are a little less warm and much brighter. This is sometimes necessary to find a specific place in the frequency spectrum. May not be ideal in a solo situation but when added to the mix makes all the instruments more clear and distinct.

Post-Op: I was at this point ready to get the first mix together.

Mix without strings

Analysis: Though pleased with the mix, I felt, like “Lullaby”, it could have more impact in the chorus. So again I put on my arranger hat and go to work, adding several layers of sampled strings, a base layer mostly in the mid to low range, a separate high part and a sampled “glissando” to really bring home the chorus.

Mix with strings

Diagnosis: Strings are a very dense and complex sound. They can mask the vocals as well as all the other instruments.

Procedure: To make room for the vocals I dipped the EQ at 3 kHz as well as cut the lows from 64 Hz down to clear room for bass and kick. To give them more stereo width I applied a stereo delay with one side set to a 14ms delay and panned them hard left and right.

As you can see from working with both songs, mixing usually involves more than a few adjustments. Experience, training, musicianship, a good ear and some arranging chops are all part of the job.

For this song, I like both versions for different reasons. The added strings increase the impact and give it more of a dramatic sound. But I also really like the acoustic rock feel without the strings. So I will leave the final decision up to the artist.

Conclusion: That completes this series. I hope it’s given you some techniques to explore in your own mixes as well as a greater appreciation for the people behind the scenes working to make your songs sound their very best!

Happy music making!

James