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Author Topic: Mixoff Contest with Mike Senior - Win Mike's New Book!  (Read 210616 times)

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March 30, 2011, 09:13:15 AM
http://www.romelpotter.com/Blood_to_Bone_Zabmix.mp3

First off, good work on the more creative aspects of this mix. You've showcased a lot of different ideas, and many of them are very effective in contributing to the forward momentum, or just to a sense of unease which is entirely in keeping with the track. My main comment as regards maximising their potential is to concentrate on getting the timing exactly right, because otherwise you risk causing the overall groove to stumble unduly.

I agree that the vocal sound doesn't really in the zone yet, and the thinness of the tone feels quite a long way off the mark, especially in the verses. While this sound is a little more suitable for the chorus onslaught (where mix space is more limited), the dryness of the vocal doesn't really feel appropriate to the wide-screen soundscape there either. There seems only a little delay and some kind of chorusy widener applied, whereas more expansive delays and reverbs feel more appropriate to me there. Don't get me wrong: much as I'm going on a fair bit about blend and reverb issues on this thread, I'm perfectly happy to leave things bone-dry where appropriate, it's just that this doesn't feel to me to be the right scenario for that kind of sound. A side-effect of the thin vocal timbre is that the sibilance has been very much exaggerated. If you're going to EQ the sound that way, then you need to get some serious de-essing involved. However, my recommendation would be to strip the vocal processing right back and try to think more in terms of clearing space for the singer vocal using EQ on other parts, rather than applying such heavy processing on the vocal channel itself. You'll need a good deal of compression, but the EQ shouldn't need to be this drastic.

The kit sound seems to be fairly well balanced, and you've made a good stab at keeping the snare upfront, even though it's not particularly dense in the high-frequency region. The snare tone does feel a little muffled, though, so I might roll back a few of the low mids there. The kick is maybe a little too edgy for the verse, but feels good for the chorus. Blend isn't too bad, although the reverb effects that seem primarily responsible for this are rather too audible in their own right for a modern production. The kick-drum in the opening section is probably the clearest example of this -- the reverb is both noticeable and rather unnatural-sounding. Try to refine the sound of your reverb(s) so that they still do their blending/size-enhancement job, but without being as obviously audible as artificial effects. EQ'ing the effects returns will be a key weapon in this battle, so do give this activity the time it needs -- it's one of the things most commonly neglected in amateur mixes, in my experience. A bit more compression of the full drums buss (or using a parallel channel) would also be advisable, especially in this genre. Not only will that glue the kit sound together better, but it will also give you a little more sustain, so the drum peaks won't have to be as high to compete with the guitars in the mix.

While the kick is providing a measure of low-end weight, the bass is letting the side down on this score, I think, because it feels much too low in the mix. As a result the overall mix tone lacks a certain amount of warmth and tunefulness in the 100-200Hz region particularly. If you're struggling to balance the bass part, then I'd guess that you might be suffering from low-frequency resonance problems in your listening room (most small studio have them to some extent), so do what you can to improve the acoustics if possible, and then try to make the maximum use of the various low-end workarounds I mention in Chapter 3 of the book (it's one of the sample chapters available here).

In addition, though, the mix has rather too much boxy-sounding 300-600Hz octave in there, and would also benefit from a good two-octave boost around 2kHz to bring the primarily instruments into focus and supply a slightly harder edge to the tone (in line with the references). These frequency mismatches between your mix and the references suggests to me that you might not be performing enough comparisons between your work and commercial material, and if that's the case then try to get into this habit at the earliest opportunity -- it's one of the most powerful mixing tools you have at your disposal. Although the width of the overall stereo image is for the most part fairly reasonable, the wider guitars which enter during the second middle-section suffer from mono-incompatibility. That means that although the second mid-section seems to step up an energy level in stereo, this effect is lost in mono -- in fact, if anything the second mid-section actually appears to lose power somewhat compared to the first.

Thanks for this submission, especially for demonstrating the impact that reverse-envelope transition effects can have in a mix like this.
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March 30, 2011, 11:28:16 AM
http://soundcloud.com/user6197371/bloodtobone3

I like the guitar sounds in this mix -- they've got a nice sense of space to them. However, I'd say that the modulation effects are probably a bit too heavy for this style, especially when we reach the chorus, even though they do widen the stereo image nicely without introducing any serious mono-compatibility trade-offs. You're just taking things in a bit too much of a soft-rock direction for me. The bass guitar seems fairly sensibly mixed, and comes across well on a small speaker, so no real concerns there.

The verse vocal is nice and clear, without sounding too abrasive, and the effects are tastefully applied, making it seem a bit larger than life and yet still leaving it right at the front of the mix. However, when you reach the chorus the vocals don't really work as well in the new context, where there's less room for manoeuvre. I'm not sure it's actually much of a tonal issue as such (although a 2kHz prominence in the overall mix tonality certainly exacerbates things somewhat), it's just that they're really high in the balance, so they undermine the relative power of the rest of the mix. (I suspect that you're trying to compress them with too long an attack time, too, because the onset of the first syllable of each line is jumping out of the mix.) Try bussing both the lead and the double-track to a single group channel, and then fade it all the way down. Then, with the track playing, slowly inch the fader up until the vocals seem to fill the right niche in the mix -- where they're audible and intelligible, but not making the drums and guitars sound small. If you can't do that fairly easily, then the EQ probably needs a rethink. (You'll probably need to attend to the tuning issues too.) Again, as in The Elf's mix, single-point mono monitoring makes these balance decisions a whole lot easier, so I'd consider investing in something to do that if vocal balancing often proves challenging in your particular studio situation.

The main thing that needs work on this mix, though, is the drums. Have you done a lot of gating here? Whatever it is you've done, it feels like you've probably thrown the baby out with the bathwater, because the result is lacking in body, sustain, and blend. Although I can hear that you've added some reverb effects to these tracks, these don't really succeed in pulling all the separated bits back together. To be fair, it's almost impossible to artificially reinstate that sense of coherence you get naturally from the spill on a multi-mic drum recording, so it's not necessarily a criticism of your effects use. It just sounds like you've tried to build the kit out of the close mics first, only lightly sprinkling in the overheads and room at the end of the process -- whereas the opposite approach is often a lot more successful in generating a convincing rock drum sound. It also means that your drums balance is heavily weighted in favour of the kick and snare, and that the kit's stereo image and sense of 'air' are compromised. My advice? Take a deep breath(!), pull the whole drum mix down, and rebuild it starting with the overheads. (Bear in mind that you may need to consider issues of phase more carefully when taking this approach, though. If you're unclear what I'm talking about there, check out this SOS article I wrote on the subject.)

Overall, though, there's much to be proud of here, not least the guitar and bass balancing. Don't beat yourself up about the drums, either -- live multitrack drums can be extremely tricky to handle at mixdown, no matter how much practice you've had at dealing with them.
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March 30, 2011, 02:32:30 PM
This is my mix.

The low end feels a bit funny in this mix. For a start, the low frequencies of the bass guitar are rather inconsistent, and this won't be helped by the phase mismatches between the left and right channels (a side-effect of bass widening again, I imagine). However, I also think that it's got something to do with the bass tone in this mix relying a lot on its fundamental, something that puts it into direct conflict with the kick drum. As a result, the pulse ends up feeling slightly blurred, and seems to lose a definite punch somewhere along the line. (Fret squeaks are overprominent too.)

I like the snare sound, and there's no danger of it getting lost in the texture, which is great. Although some of this is undoubtedly down to the guitar EQ, the snare pops through fine even in the much more present middle sections. This is just the kind of thing I'd had in mind for the snare, although I do still wonder if it's a touch lightweight -- as indeed is the mix tonality as a whole -- in the octave around 400Hz or so. The blend also isn't as good as I'd hope, and I wonder whether you need to lean a bit more heavily on the overheads, the room mic, and the tom-mic spill. Speaking of the toms, they suffer from a problem we've had once before already -- they're hyper-wide, and that feels very odd within the context of a not-particularly-wide overheads image.

Vocals seem pretty well balanced, but I wonder again whether the low midrange power of the choruses would be better coming from the guitars than the vocals, nice though it makes the vocals sound in their own right. The thickening effects on the chorus are well-designed, I think, and thicken things in a really good way.

Despite the niggles, I find myself warming to this mix a lot, which means that long-term dynamics issues become more of an issue relatively speaking. I find myself wishing that the choruses filled out a bit more, that the second mid-section was rebalanced to smooth out the tone a little, and that the final chorus had some trick up its sleeve to avoid the otherwise almost inevitable arrangement letdown. I think compression/reverb and overhead/room rides are the order of the day here. (Here's a leftfield thought for anyone feeling adventuresome, though: what about doubling the final chorus, and making the first one a drop-chorus? That would negate the need for the final chorus entry to sound bigger than mid-section 2, and would allow the second final chorus to arrive with a bigger subjective bang, even if it included no extra parts... ;))

Anyway, thanks for putting this one together Minorhead -- it's a really strong submission, not least because it's upped the ante on that snare sound.


Hey Mike, thank's for that.
Listening back on my focals, you're spot on.
It was a late night headphone mix and oh what can u do!
Cheers

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March 30, 2011, 04:04:29 PM

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March 30, 2011, 04:39:25 PM
New Version (more of a rock mix, the old one sounded too much like metal):

http://www.scherer.de/download/BloodToBoneLS_1_0.mp3

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March 30, 2011, 06:37:26 PM
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/24660599/blood_to_bone%2024%2048%20MIX_290311.mp3

Right -- attention everyone! This contest has just moved up a gear!

(Step forward and take a bow mrtuesday. :))

Seriously, this is now the 20th version of this mix I've listened to, but it's the first one that's had me bopping around my living room. The drums sound full and cohesive; the vocal tuning is much tighter; the guitar textures have been subtly filled out with additional overdubs without overshadowing the band's own musical lines; the low end is both powerful and controlled, without muddiness; the clarity of all the individual parts is excellent; the small-speaker translation is splendid; the overall tonality and stereo spread are on the whole very well-judged; it sounds like there has already been a good deal of automation work to keep a close handle on the balance as the texture changes; and there are a dozen little production touches besides which keep tickling your ear to stop you zoning out. There's so much I like here that I'll be more concise if I concentrate my critique on the few remaining niggles, but make no mistake: for my money, this is currently the mix to beat.

So what could still be improved? Well, the first thing I'd suggest would be to have a closer look at the timing. I wonder whether you've already done some timing tweaks, because it feels like it skips along better than most of the other mixes, but it's possible that this is an illusion created by the balance itself. Whatever the case, there are still numerous points in this mix where the timing stumbles subtly, reducing the forward momentum of the track -- probably most starkly the two verses, but there are moments in the mid-sections and outro as well which I'd think of attending to if I were in your position. It's particularly the timing relationship between the drums and the massed bass/guitars rhythm that's my concern. There's also the odd section of tuning in the choruses that I might revisit if the vocal's going to be that high in the balance.

While I like the drums a lot, the tom fills feel thin-sounding and are rather low in the balance for my liking. I'd also be tempted to push the snare up another decibel at least. That might seem initially to imbalance the snare against the kick, but the moment you try to increase the loudness of this mix the snare transient that's currently slicing cleanly through the texture will lose some of that edge it's relying on. The snare might also benefit from some more high end just during the choruses, but I'm not sure. We're getting into 'suck it and see' territory here. And maybe you could have a slightly larger 'virtual drum room'? It's not wrong as it is, exactly, but it just feels a little like I'm sitting and watching a great live drummer in my living room, rather than in a live venue. Who knows, you might be able to achieve the effect simply by delaying the room mic a bit.

There's little to fault the guitar sounds, as far as I'm concerned, with the exception of one balance issue: the main high riff in the choruses feels a bit understated, where it's actually something of a hook. This is particularly apparent in mono, because that part is panned well to the left and therefore loses roughly 3dB in the balance against the vocals. I'd also like to hear a bit more riding of the melodic details of the chorus guitar parts, particularly where they plug the gaps in the vocal phrases.

The lead vocals sound great to me in the verses: tall and wide, with nice throaty things going on. However, in the choruses they're not quite as successful. For a start, I think they're a bit high in the balance, and you could make more of the effects and doubletrack in terms of matching the vocals to the more expansive chorus backing. At the moment, the vocal feels a little stranded out the front, and is undermining the otherwise excellent illusion of size generated by the rest of the arrangement. While I like the general direction that's been taken with the backing vocals, they're competing with the vocal in the midrange in a way that I'm not sure is ideal. I'd be tempted to give them less 2-3kHz and a bit more 'air'. Their reverb effect is a bit stodgy too, from a tonal perspective. You don't have much space in the mix for these backing vocals, so they have to be carefully carved to fit. You could bring them up higher in the outro too, I think, or even make a new SFX feature of some kind out of them.

I'd like to hear even more automation riding, pulling up melodic corners and fills in the backing parts, and really taking the initiative in directing the listener's attention towards the most interesting elements of the music from moment to moment. The lead vocals still aren't quite as stable as I'd like, either, and automation could help there too -- although you'll probably only be able to improve significantly on what's already there if you spend quality time with a single-point mono monitoring system. Automation might also provide some help with the first verse, which doesn't seem quite to sustain the intensity between the vocal phrases, now that the guitar has been ditched in aid of the long-term dynamics. (If rides don't go far enough, then other sampled effects might be introduced, or else some kind of interesting 'spot modulation' of the existing ones.)

And speaking of long-term dynamics, there's still more that could be done to provide that crucial final-chorus-entry pay-off. Given that this mix has already pushed the supplied multitrack material about as far as it can go, it seems pretty clear to me that people are really going to have to think outside the box to make significant further headway on this issue. It's probably the biggest single challenge of this job.

Although the stereo picture isn't too wide, by any means, there are still some mono-compatibility issues, in that I'm losing quite a bit of top end off the guitars and cymbals in mono. I wonder if a Vitalizer-style buss process might have been applied to the high end, in fact, which would help account for it. If it's not that, then maybe a little additional phase-alignment between the two sides of any stereo signals in the mix might improve matters. As a smaller point, the super-wide guitar chops in mid-section 2 feel a bit too far off-centre, so that they seem to stick out unduly. You could say that this is a nice bit of variety (as they're not essential to the texture), but I'm not sure I quite buy it in practice.

The overall mix tonality is within a gnat's whisker of the Thrice track, and generally very suitable for the style. Personally I might cut a decibel or so around 250Hz to combat a hint of tubbiness, and also maybe boost a decibel at 1.5kHz to slightly harden the overall tone. That said, mid-section 1 is already sounding just a hint harsh/hollow at the moment, so a bit of EQ tweaking or rearrangement may be required for that section independently of this.

There's a new line in the sand... :)
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March 30, 2011, 08:45:46 PM
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/22087900/Griffomix1.mp3

Another very accomplished mix this, hot on the heels of mrtuesday, although quite different in outlook. (I see we have more than one dark horse to contend with!) Lots of nice production touches here again, including one of the more effective solutions to the reintro 'interest lull' -- I like that idea a lot, although it still needs a little development to really tide me over the whole section. (What can I say? I get bored easily... ::)) Can you perhaps subtly change the sound as it repeats? Just an idea, although it might not be enough to clinch it.

The real strength of this mix for me is that it captures much more of the expansiveness that I've been talking about in previous critiques. This is partly a function of the effects usage, which teeters at times on the brink of over-wetness, but just about gets away with it all things considered. My main concerns with the effects are that I think they might be clouding the guitars a bit, losing some of the nice internal details of the sound, and that the drums feel slightly too distant. The main chorus riff also feels as if it might be just a touch washed out, whereas I think it still needs to have an element of distinctness to it. The way the vocal double-track and effects blend in with the guitars is great, although I think they could be controlled more closely level-wise and then lowered into the balance to allow the guitars and drums to provide more subjective power.

Nice to see another conscientious tuning job, although it does sound as if you've only tuned the lead in the choruses, and not its double-track, so it's still sounding a bit sour on account of that. I'm not suggesting we make this into R&B :), but they've nonetheless got to be tight enough to achieve sufficient blend with the backing. That new little vocal motif in the reintro could also be tweaked a bit, I think. It sounds to me as if some timing adjustments have gone on here too, and if so that's also great to see, because there are definite bonus points  to be had there. That said, there are still a number of areas where the timing still feels like it's fighting itself, so there's more you could do if you had the time to spare. In my experience, the impact of timing edits is one of the things that small-studio operators most commonly underestimate. (Another thing: I'd probably tweak some of the consonant flamming between the lead and double-track vocals, to improve the intelligibility a bit.)

The stereo image feels maybe a bit centre-heavy during the choruses, although I suppose it does open out further with the extra overdubs in the mid-section, and there's definitely a sense that you've painted out to the edges with your effects, so it's perhaps not a huge issue. One of the biggest problems with this mix for me is the overall tonality, which is rather woolly: too much energy at 200Hz, and not enough at 1kHz or 5kHz. Adjusting this overall curve isn't too tricky with a buss EQ, however, so it's just a question of comparing the mix with the references and experimenting -- try to avoid anything too narrow-band, though, or it could cause undue upset in the balance department.

Applying this kind of EQ myself for comparison purposes revealed that the vocals are probably a little too perky in the 4kHz region, and get rather grating on the ear as you crank the playback volume, especially because this is otherwise quite a smooth-sounding mix in terms of the backing timbres. Other than that I have to say I like the balance you've created a lot. Even the snare, which initially struck me as maybe a bit too lightweight, actually fits quite well with the smoother-sounding guitars than it would with the more aggressive-sounding chords that have frequented many of the other mixes so far. I wonder whether you might shift a little of the low midrange emphasis away from the bass and to allow the guitars a greater contribution in that area of the spectrum. It's just that the guitars feel a touch thin by comparison with the bass, even on small speakers.

As far as the individual section balances go, things are pretty solid throughout, although I might be tempted to push up the drums a decibel or two overall and then get busier with a buss compressor to give the whole mix a bit of additional dynamic movement. However, the long-term dynamics seem just slightly shaky at the moment, and I'd try to focus your attention on ensuring that you don't push things too hard too early, so you leave yourself as much leeway as possible to create a splash when it's warranted. The long-term dynamics crunch-point at the start of the final choruses definitely suffers by comparison with the all-guns-blazing excitement of mid-section 2, for example. While it's great that the mid-sections are a blast, it's actually the chorus where I think you want the crowd to really go crazy.

Still, there's no question that the competition is really hotting up. Good work Loon!
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March 30, 2011, 09:15:20 PM
New Version (more of a rock mix, the old one sounded too much like metal):
http://www.scherer.de/download/BloodToBoneLS_1_0.mp3

Given that I've not started critiquing the previous one, shall I do this one instead?
Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio
A complete mixing method based around the techniques of the world's most famous producers.
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March 30, 2011, 09:50:04 PM
New Version (more of a rock mix, the old one sounded too much like metal):
http://www.scherer.de/download/BloodToBoneLS_1_0.mp3

Given that I've not started critiquing the previous one, shall I do this one instead?

Actually I've found a sufficient number of flaws in this one to justify having another go at the mix before the critique, so let me kindly ask you to just skip both.  ::) Thanks!