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Author Topic: Mixoff Contest with Mike Senior - Win Mike's New Book!  (Read 184797 times)

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April 04, 2011, 07:22:52 PM

Crumbs. It's certainly a potent new vision for the drums you've got here! So much so, in fact, that I confess to feeling a bit baffled. While I agree that there are broader production issues that need attending to in this mix, rather than just straight mixing tasks, I'm not really convinced that this outlook holds together and I can't really follow your reasoning for proceeding in this direction. The big problem for me is that you've taken the whole production almost into a different style (drum-and-bass? :)), which is an exceptionally bold move for anyone to take with someone else's music, but without really nailing that new presentation in the process. In my experience the only way a dramatic production change like this is likely to carry the client with it is if the emotional logic of final product is unassailable, whereas I'd be surprised if you were able to carry the band with you on this particular journey. Full marks for courage (bravery is a lot of what mixing is about, after all), but I'm afraid I think you've made a misjudgement on this occasion.

So assuming that I wanted to try to improve the effectiveness of this new vision, and thereby improve my chances of convincing the band of its merits, what would I do? First of all, I'd not let any tuning or timing issues through the net, the latter especially important with regard to the new triggered snare part. The kind of direction that these snares appear to point is one with more of a programmed feel, in which case you really can't afford to have flams between the triggers and other drum parts, because it undermines the essential rhyhmic drive. I'd also do my best to keep the low end of the mix clear, in order to maximise the power and focus of the kick-drum and bass, but in this case the lower octaves are actually rather over-warm and murky -- fine perhaps for something more gothic, but inadvisable for fast, detailed rock or electronica parts.

Taking the mix on its own terms, though (and leaving my own general confusion to one side), the overall balance is fairly sensible in most respects, the main exception being that I think there could be more careful EQ applied in order to combat frequency masking, and the vocals in particular feel like they need to be clearer in the choruses. Issues of blend and general-purpose delay/reverb use become less relevant in the light of this particular drum sound, simply because the context is more one of artifice than authenticity. There are some interesting creative vocal/guitar effects here and there, which feel in keeping with the radical change of direction overall, and help sustain interest in the less full-on sections.

Overall tonality isn't far off the references, but I'd suggest a couple of decibels more in the 1-2kHz region, which serves to bring out the vocals in the balance in particular. Mono-compatibility of the drums and vocals is rather good, but the main chorus riff guitars do take a dive in mono on account of the wide panning -- although I think they're still perhaps a little loud in the balance even then, and I'd probably pull them down a decibel or so.

I'm conscious that this particular critique may not feel particularly useful to you, but I'm afraid I'm not sure I can be of any more help in this instance simply because I'm not sure where exactly you're wanting to head towards aesthetically. Many thanks, though, for giving us all an entirely fresh take on this material -- even if it does blow my tiny mind!
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April 04, 2011, 07:32:45 PM
What are these 'Crumbs' you are referring to? ::)

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April 04, 2011, 07:50:08 PM
My name is Paulo Gomes, I'm from Portugal and I'm new here.
I knew this site from Vincent, last friday as he invited me to register and try to mix this song.
Had some trouble in registering because of spam stuff but all is sorted out now.
Just downloaded the tracks and mixed them, didn't have time to listen do the band at that time but I did listen now and, to be honest, I don't think my mix has anything to do with the spirit of this band, my bad.
Nice song and nice band, I didn't know them but I like.

Here's my mix anyways.


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April 04, 2011, 07:53:28 PM
Thanks Mike for putting so much work into all the critiques, that's really generous!

I didn't have enough time to do an all-in production gimmick mix, but got rid of the worst problems of my previous mix and am very interested.

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April 04, 2011, 07:56:48 PM
Thanks for the critique Mike!

As usual, you seem to be spot on. I mixed this on the road using my laptop and some computer speakers, and it sounds like I was both overcompensating for the low end and under compensating for the top end. I've picked up a cheap set of monitors, so I'll give it another go when I have a few hours to burn.


Your mix tonality needs addressing first of all, because there's a general tilt to the frequency spectrum towards the lows: a kind of ramp which feels roughly 5dB too strong at 40Hz and roughly 4dB too weak at 10kHz. The good news, however is that this kind of broad tonal bias can be very successfully addressed by master-buss EQ, and I was pleased to find that a couple of very gentle shelves revealed what is actually a pretty reasonable balance -- so I kept that EQ in for my further listening.

In general terms the drums are fairly sensibly put together in terms of relative levels and overall tone. The kick is the main exception to this, though, because it doesn't really provide anything much for the small-speaker listener -- it's almost all low end, so sinks from view almost completely in the chorus. (The bass is better in this regard, exhibiting enough mid-frequency information to carry the line through on an Auratone.) While the snare feels like it's tonally in the right kind of zone, it feels a little anaemic in its sustain phase, and could probably be blended slightly better. I like the sound of the toms, but their drier sound and hard-left/right panning makes them stick out unduly -- panning them to 50-60% and adding a dash of snare reverb would probably get them to gel better. The tone of the overheads is good too, but I feel that these (and probably the kit as a whole) would benefit from a bit more compression, both in terms of level consistency and sustain.

I like the bass sound in the verses (where you've managed the fret squeaks well), and it makes a good transition to the chorus as well. It's only in the mid-section that it strays from the straight and narrow for me, providing too little support in mid-section 1, and then eating Manhattan in mid-section 2! :) Guitar sounds are for the most part very nicely judged, my main gripe being that I wish I could hear the secondary guitar in the choruses a bit more clearly. The spread of the parts across the stereo picture also feels a little narrow, especially given the wide spread of the drums. (Although the narrow guitar spread ensures a certain degree of mono-compatibility, that doesn't stop the overheads losing quite a lot of high end. See if some subtle inter-channel timing or phase shifts might help there.) Having said that, though, the little bit of automated panning in the reintro is surprisingly good at grabbing the attention -- simple, but effective!

When it comes to vocals, the basic tone feels to me over-bright, compared to the rest of the tracks in the arrangement, and that's not helping the sibilance (which needs the attentions of a de-esser) or the lip noise in the reintro and verse 2. The bright timbre of the vocal effects is no help to the essing either, because they therefore spray the sibilance energy all round the stereo spread. De-essing of the effects sends would be advisable if you're wedded to this particular effect sound, but to be honest I think it's probably not the most suitable treatment under the circumstances anyway. It's not that you couldn't make it work in the right context, but the comparatively conventional sounds of the rest of the instruments don't seem to justify such an extrovert vocal presentation. If the overall vibe were a bit trippier and effect-saturated, then it would work better. That said, the effects in the choruses work a lot better for me, thickening and blending, even though they do also feel like they need a healthy HF cut to tuck them better into the mix. In general I think you could also probably just turn down the vocals a notch or two, because they're making everything else sound a bit Matchbox by comparison.

In general, though, this is mix with a lot of good basic balance decisions and some nice tones into the bargain. Thanks for letting us all hear it!

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April 04, 2011, 09:17:45 PM
Now I'm here!)

This is another good confident balance in the main, albeit with a fraction too much spectral energy in the 250Hz region and in need of a little more solidity in the guitars and vocals around 1kHz. There are some isolated niggles such as the bass fret squeaks; vocal lip noises; rather low backing-vocal levels; a touch too much stick noise on the cymbals; and mono-compatibility issues (the levels of the hard-panned guitars and a loss of cymbal/snare 'air'), but these are all not too hard to remedy and I've discussed them frequently in previous critiques. General tuning and timing issues could be adjusted too, as in many of the mixes here. A more specific niggle with this mix, though is a slight 5-6kHz emphasis in the vocals and cymbals which gets a bit wearing to listen to, and doesn't do the sibilance any favours.

For me there are three areas of this mix which offer the greatest potential for improvement. The first is the snare sound, which is really quite different from anything else I've heard so far, I think. While it seems to do its job rather well from a technical balance perspective, it just doesn't feel like it actually belongs with the kit as a whole. It's possible that this is simply because I'm now way too accustomed to the sound of the raw snare itself, and am therefore having trouble computing a different timbre, but I have a hunch it's more than that. However you've brought it about, though, both the tone itself and the acoustic signature which surrounds that tone don't seem to tally properly with the overheads and the rest of the drum sound in general. If it's a sample, then it just doesn't feel like the right sample. If it's not, then I'd personally save a copy of the project, take the duplicate project's snare sound back to the drawing board, and then see if you can improve on what you've already achieved. We've already heard a few very successful snare sounds which seem to work within the balance without this problem, so it might be helpful to take some inspiration from those.

The second main thing I'd look at is the exact reverb and delay patches you're using, because I get a sense that things aren't as clear, close, and detailed as they might be. Given the skills you display in so many other respects, I'm going to guess that it's not one specific thing that's at fault, but rather that a number of small tweaks are what's required here. Decay times (or delay feedback levels) could probably be shortened by 20% or so, and more assertive filtering of unwanted contributions from effect-return channels would probably be beneficial. Some additional pre-delay might allow also you to pull the reverb returns down a touch, while retaining the same apparent level of wetness. The basic guideline for me most of the time is that the less effects you need to pull the mix together, the more the listener will be able to appreciate the intricacies of the actual sounds themselves, and they'll therefore get closer to the heart of the music.

My final concern is the hoary old issue of long-term dynamics as regards the choruses. The high vocal level in the verses isn't a bad thing in its own right, but I do feel that it's making it tricky for the first two choruses to really lift off by comparison. See if you can pull it down by 2dB without losing too much closeness and intelligibility. You may not need that much reduction, but the activity of trying it out should help clarify your own thoughts on this issue at the very least. How little vocal can you get away with? The less you use, the bigger the choruses will sound. Of course the hard-panned chorus guitars inevitably contribute further to this dynamics problem in mono. As for the third chorus, I think it has been well demonstrated already in previous mixes that it takes more than just mixing chops to create a decent sense of arrival there, and this is something that you've yet to contend with so far.

Still, this is nonetheless an impressive piece of mixing, and I appreciate your sending it in for us all to learn from.
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April 04, 2011, 10:32:05 PM
Now I hope it is not too late, here's mine:

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April 04, 2011, 11:13:33 PM
I hope too, because i worked hard and it is late  ;D

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April 05, 2011, 12:27:55 AM
Hi everyone,
Wow these mixes are sounding great! Appreciate all the hard work everyone is putting in and has really opened our eyes(ears) up to the potential a track can have in the hands of a mixer. Appreciate all the novels you are writing as well Mike, it's helping us understand the reasons why something sounds 'right' and 'wrong' which is such a valuable skill for an indie band. Won't stop me from always telling a mixer to turn up the guitars and lower everything else but its a great start ;)

Keep up the great work, we can't wait to hear everyone's final submissions.

Young Griffo

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April 05, 2011, 01:09:25 AM

Heres Mine If you guys are still taking them :)