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Author Topic: Mixoff Contest with Mike Senior - Win Mike's New Book!  (Read 351569 times)

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April 01, 2011, 12:55:46 PM

We've reached another milestone: deejsirois has come up with first really inventive solution to the long-term dynamics problem facing the final choruses entry. And it's an absolute pearl in my opinion, not least because I'd probably have never thought of it myself in a million years! The fade-out pulls the rug from under the middle-section's rock-out, the delayed chorus downbeat wrong-foots you, then the transition drops you like a rollercoaster into the real entry, at which point the master fader pushes everything up a notch. In a word, brilliant.

Still, being the picky so-and-so that I am, I'd nonetheless say it could still be made quite a lot stronger. Arresting as the fade-out is, I'm thinking that it's a bit too great a hiatus at this point in the track, and will be reduced in effectiveness anyway by any subsequent loudness processing. I think you could probably get away without it, hitting those three snare hits full-throttle and then relying more on the pause to drop the level in anticipation of the chorus entry. Whatever you decide, though, I think that you might be able to make things even more effective by leaving the entry just a split-second later (irrespective of how that lines up with your software's metric grid). It just sounds slightly hurried to me. The listener's perception of time will inevitably go a bit haywire whenever you drop out the rhythm completely like this. Your other edits are well-thought-out, but I'm not quite convinced with the six-bar reintro. Sometimes changing the phrase length works, but it confuses me a bit here.

In general I like most of the balance decisions here, and everything seems to come through well on small speakers, so there's not much to say on that side of things. The snare and cymbals both feel a bit too strident at 3-4kHz, which robs the snare of some power and nudges the mix towards harshness during the more heavily overdriven later sections. The tom fills have gotten a bit lost somewhere, and could do with a bit more level. The vocals feel well controlled in terms of dynamics, but I wonder if you might be able to get away with a tiny bit more body in the low midrange to make them feel a little more solid, and maybe have a touch less 3-4kHz too.

I like what you've done so far with your effects, which have already broadened the basic tracks a great deal. However, it sounds to me like you're relying too much on reverb (and comparatively bright reverb) to do this job, where a more even mix of dynamics, modulation effects, delays, and/or overdubs would almost certainly achieve greater fullness while compromising the clarity and immediacy of the whole mix less. Try to carve away every bit of reverb that isn't essential using EQ, and then fill the shortfall with other techniques.

The overall tonality of this mix feels a touch cool for me, so maybe dial in a little more sub-150Hz to just widen the spectrum a little and balance out against the well-extended highs. The stereo picture is fairly engaging, and while the cymbals seem to survive quite well into mono, the guitars do take rather a level hit on account of some of the hard panning, and the opening bass widening has the usual low-end phase issues. The vocals also seem to get less clear during the choruses, presumably because of phase-cancellation in some of their stereo widening effects -- always something to be on the lookout for.

Again, congratulations on an inspired long-term dynamics stunt. I almost hugged my speakers when I heard it!
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April 01, 2011, 01:50:03 PM

The first thing that strikes me about this mix is that the kick's pretty much missing in action. Not sure what the thinking is here, but I'd expect it to at least rival the snare for mastery of the rhythm track and it's almost non-existent in the balance at the moment. The good news, though, is that the rest of the kit blends really nicely and otherwise seems to balance sensibly. The snare has a nice mid-range tone, but could do with some more power and length in the upper frequencies as well, because it's coming across as a bit dull/boxy tonally. It's maybe a little too wet too -- I'd prefer it  a bit closer up I think. A bit more compression on the drum buss might not go amiss to try to thicken the cymbals and sustains more. Just be careful not to emphasise the cymbal sticks any more, as they already seem on the verge of overbearing on occasion.

I like a lot of the guitar sounds, which are full and detailed without harshness, although a hint of something slightly metallic seems to be happening during the middle-section which I'm not quite as fond of. Are you reamping at all in there? If so, then it might be a phase mismatch somewhere causing comb-filtering. The bass feels low in the balance, and could do with both additional low-end warmth and some extra presence higher up in the midrange to bring the riffs through the guitars better.

You're clearly not afraid to push important parts out front, and there's a lot to be said for that in terms of commandeering the listener's attention. However, some of the lead instruments do feel a bit too high in the balance, which weakens the momentum and power of the rhythm section to an extent. The moments that most stick out to me are the second and third choruses, where the vocals undermine the long-term dynamics by towering over the backing. For the vocals in particular a 450Hz peak in the overall mix tonality isn't helping this issue, because the vocal is probably too strong in this region even without that, so will tend to feel bigger in the mix than it should.

I like the effects in this mix, which fill things out without getting too heavy-handed most of the time -- the main exception being perhaps the lead vocals, where I get the impression that the reverb has been edged up to try to blend a vocal that is essentially just too loud. Even if blend were all it needed, the longer reverb you're using here isn't really the best tool for that particular job. A shorter, more modest-sounding ambience would work better.

Given the bass/kick issues I've already mentioned, it's a little tricky to judge the overall tonality of the mix, but I suspect that a little more air in the top octave would be a sensible tweak, and a small dip at 2kHz might also smooth out a little nasality there. The stereo field is fairly well managed, although the guitar/cymbal mono-compatibility issues do cause some tone and balance problems on a single speaker. In particular, I'd try to centre and narrow that guitar solo at the end, because at the moment it's bombing quite badly in mono.

A bold mix, that one, with some tasteful effects enhancements. Thanks for letting us all have a listen!
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April 01, 2011, 01:52:35 PM
Are you sure we're listening to the same file here?  ???

It's not inconceivable that I've done something stupid like switch some files over. ::) I'll tell you what. I'll remove that post for the moment, redownload and double-check the file, and then repost. Should be able to do that in a few hours' time.
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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April 01, 2011, 02:15:53 PM

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April 01, 2011, 03:56:10 PM
Mike, thank you for taking the time to give a detailed critique.  This is a fantastic opportunity to get feedback from experienced ears.  I'm not sure about others experience level in the contest, but as an amateur I have never had the chance to receive such an informative opinion. 

Thanks again!!!

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April 01, 2011, 05:43:20 PM
As if you didn't have enough mixes to sort through  :P , here's my revised FINAL (promise) mix.

I tried to take the notes you gave me and improve it, work with the eq to try and make everything blend more, added low end to the kick, tried to make the outro more interesting.

And the download is enabled to start off this time  :D
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15" MBP, Apogee Duet, M-Audio BX5a's

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April 01, 2011, 08:41:19 PM
Hi Mike,

Thank you for your very kind words. Before this, I had only mixed some of my own tracks, which were instrumentals made just for fun as drafts for songs, and I think this mix reflects that. And the fact that it was entirely done on headphones...
This whole contest is being quite a learning experience (my first in the field, I might add) and the constructiveness and detail of your critiques is great (as is your patience...). I'll try to implement your suggestions, only if to learn what "a dip at 2kHz" might produce - not joking or being a wise guy... can't "hear" the frequencies in my head, yet, but I'll get there ;)

Oh, and "Love the way you've flown the vocals around" just made my day (although I agree with you on overcooking... it's like an addiction you can't stop - just one more)! Still convincing myself it's not an April Fool's joke ;)

Thank you very much.

And one very special thanks to Young Griffo (and to Mat, who took some time to drop by) for providing with the raw material, and a great one. I don't know if I would have the courage to let one of my songs out there into the hands of someone like me :) Thanks guys, and best of luck

pedro nuno
« Last Edit: April 01, 2011, 09:17:10 PM by stickfigure »

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April 01, 2011, 09:08:40 PM

Here's an updated critique for the huntermusic mix, which I previously felt was very bass-light. Because huntermusic was surprised at this, and was worried that I might have listened to the wrong mix by mistake, I removed the previous critique, and have now freshly re-downloaded the track and double-checked everything. The mix is indeed the same one I reviewed, but I think I may have been rather unclear what I meant, so it's as well to have revisited it. (I'm going a bit cross-eyed here listening to so many different versions of the same mix!) So let me start afresh and see if I can make it any clearer what I mean.

Comparing the mix tonality against the references there's a considerable mismatch, which makes it a little tricky to evaluate other balance/tone issues. How you look at this mismatch is a question of perspective. The way I see it is that the low end of the mix energy appears to tilt away below 1kHz, and I needed to apply about 8dB low boost at 50Hz to bring it more into line with what I would expect. What I didn't make clear in my previous critique, though, is that the kick drum is actually supplying a reasonable portion of low end in the 50-60Hz region, so the track is not without some low frequencies -- it's just that the subjective tone of everything else (which I rather too loosely referred to as 'the mix') feels like it's lacking lows.

As I said, though -- it's a question of perspective. If you turn up this mix so that the low end from the kick feels right, then it might not seem bass-light, but instead overly forward in the higher frequecies (especially around 2kHz or so). Since my original critique, huntermusic PM'ed me to say that he'd applied some mastering-style processing to the mix, specifically to boost the highs (which he felt were lacking), and he also sent me the unmastered version for comparison, which did indeed have 3dB or so less high end. (In reassessing the critique, I therefore decided to go with the unmastered version to make it a little easier to judge other aspects of the mix.) In addition, he mentioned that he'd referenced against some mainstream 'radio rock' acts, so he may well have been chasing a different goal tonally speaking. Taking all this into account, then, let me move on to the other issues in the mix.

The first thing I noticed is that there appears to be some kind of periodic audio glitching going on. Maybe the audio interface latency is set too low -- you usually want a good old buffer size for mix work, given all the processing going on. The vocal feels rather too prominent in the 5-9kHz region without enough hardness in the 1kHz zone, such that the 'f's, 'd's and 't's came across as rather 'spitty' (even though the sibilance appears well under control) and the timbre somehow spongey. When the singer's delivery changes for the choruses, however, the vocal seems to get more centre to it and becomes more appropriate to my ears, albeit with a touch too much sibilance.

It's good to hear tuning being addressed again, although I wonder whether I'm hearing some wobbly side-effects of the correction processing in the verses. It could just be the vocal's modulation effect, but it does feel like it's reducing the sincerity of the singer's delivery. The timing seems a bit tighter in this mix than some others. While I suspect he may have done some work on that, it may also simply be the nature of the balance that's making things groove better -- after all, the thinner-sounding guitars don't impact the rhythm as much, and the kick's very prominent in the balance.

In general the bass guitar feels significantly too low in the balance for me, and given the generally middly choice of guitar tones, this leads to a lack of warmth in the low mids when we hit the chorus. Come the middle sections, I really missed its input in terms of the great slides and melodic riffs it uses to drive this section along. Just lifting the bass fader would make a big difference to this mix, I reckon.

The advantage of the clear, bright guitar tones favoured in general in this mix is that they work well for pulling out all the interesting melodic fragments in the verses/choruses, but without overburdening the mix as a whole. The main disadvantage, though, is that it seems like it's heading too much in the direction of punk for this particular song, and when the overdrive really kicks in during the mid-sections a 3-4kHz peak builds up which I found quite fatiguing to listen to -- I caught myself reaching for the volume knob, which is rarely a good sign! My suggestion would be to rely more on lower frequencies to give the guitars power, rather than majoring too much on the 'bite'.

The snare tone has little difficulty in slicing through the mix, and is commendably resistant to being ducked by loudness processing too. In fact, I reckon it could actually be turned down a little (and probably dipped a touch at 6kHz too) to blend it more with the rest of the kit, and could be treated with a little extra short, narrow reverb just to glue it better with the overheads. The toms feel fairly well balanced, although the low tom's fundamental could be poked down a bit with an EQ notch at its fundamental frequency. While the overheads seem to have sensibly avoided exacerbating any harshness in the guitars unduly, the cymbal stick transients do make their presence felt in a way that somehow makes the cymbal tone appear less full-sounding. I'd usually turn to threshold-independent transient processing to tame this kind of thing, and if you don't have such a plug-in on your own system yet, then there are some affordable suggestions here.

The final main area where I think this mix could be improved is in terms of its feeling of subjective 'size'. The simplest thing to do in stereo would be to widen the image a bit, as it's narrower than it need be. Clearly there are a number of inherent mono-compatibility issues lurking within the raw tracks themselves, but nonetheless I figure there's probably more scope for widening things than has currently capitalised on here. While panning is part of the recipe, there are many other stereo enhancement techniques that might be drawn on, such as those I've demonstrated here. A decent global large-room reverb low in the mix would also help paint out to the edges of the image a bit.

Hopefully I've been a bit clearer in my comments this time. What's interesting is that this mix balance comes across much more strongly on an Auratone (where of course the low-end tonality and stereo width are less of a concern) than it does on my nearfields, so Huntermusic's aim of targeting this mix at radio has in a sense been fulfilled. It also demonstrates that there are already many sensible balance decisions at the heart of this mix, which should only increase in value as the overall mix timbre and 'size' are improved. Thanks for bearing with me!
Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio
A complete mixing method based around the techniques of the world's most famous producers.
Free Mixing Resources On-line!

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April 01, 2011, 10:18:59 PM
Now I'm here!)
did't read all posts yet... I'll do!)

« Last Edit: April 02, 2011, 09:50:18 AM by mlabman »

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April 02, 2011, 12:16:15 AM

If you haven't already reviewed my mix, here's a revision.  I went back and tweaked some things.  I'd rather you review this one, but if you've already done the other one, no big.