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Author Topic: Mixoff Contest with Mike Senior - Win Mike's New Book!  (Read 188978 times)

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April 12, 2011, 01:19:01 PM

Overall the drums don't really feel strong enough in this mix, for a number of different potential reasons. It's partly just that the levels of the overheads and room mic are quite low in the balance, and would probably benefit from additional compression to lengthen the cymbal hits, but it's also that the snare has had quite a lot of low end carved out of it and its sustain lacks energy in the 1-4kHz region -- taken together these conspire to leave it sounding rather slender when the guitars really start swooping in. The toms, on the other hand, seem if anything over-prominent level-wise (as well as being panned outside the kit's image in the overheads), and I'd rethink those within the context of a revised drum balance.

Although the bass feels reasonably controlled here, I do find myself wishing it had a bit more midrange so that I can hear its melodic line. It's a really good part, I think, with a lot of rhythmic impetus to it throughout most of this arrangement, so it would be nice to hear it better, especially on small speakers. The guitars in the chorus feel over-large, in that they seem to be pushing a lot of 300Hz-1kHz into the balance, with the result that the vocals and especially the drums lose too much ground against them. On the plus-side, though, I like that the secondary chorus guitar part is more prominent here than in some of the mixes. In the mid-sections (especially the second) the 4-5kHz zone of the guitars also begins to become too forceful for me, so I'd look at the EQ of the band's additional mid-section overdubs to see if you can tame this element of harshness.

Balance issues notwithstanding, the vocal sound seems nice enough in the verses, although a little too crispy for me at 12kHz or so, an aspect of the timbre that causes real sibilance problems once the chorus arrives. Time for a de-esser there, I think. I do find it a bit strange too that the chorus vocal doesn't appear to have much in the way of long reverb or delay on it, despite the use of this kind of sound for the guitars. Clearly you have to be careful using this kind of patch on a lead vocal, it should be do-able with some predelay and return EQ. That you've decided to ditch the vocal double-track is fine on an artistic level, but does make it trickier to blend the vocal into the fairly lush guitar backdrop.

Beyond these specific things, there are two main areas I'd look to concentrate your continued energies on, and both are in response to an impression of clutter and 'soupiness' that I'm getting -- most strongly in the final choruses, but also elsewhere to a lesser extent. My first suggestion would be to exercise your high-pass filters a little more in order to clear up the low end, leaving more headroom for your kick and bass. I'm getting some rogue subsonics coming though, which is always a warning sign, but in general the combined unwanted low-frequency information is just drawing a bit of veil over what's going on in the low midrange, even despite a definite 300Hz emphasis across the mix as a whole. Try cutting a few decibels out of this region from some of the less important tracks while the whole mix is running, and see if it makes any negative differences. It's sometimes surprising how much cut you can get away with in this context. After all, it doesn't matter what any instrument sounds like on its own as long as it sounds right within the final mix.

The second area that needs some additional thought is the use of delay/reverb effects. To some extent this is an extension of the previous issue, in that it's their low mid-range build-up that's part of the problem. However, I think that you may just be using too many effects. Try backing off all the returns by 3dB and then see if a bit of buss compression can achieve a better sense of size and cohesion instead. I suspect the long decay times of the effects may also be an issue, because I'm noticing a slight sluggishness to the harmony changes in the chorus, presumably as the previous chord's effects overlap the onset of the new chord.

Don't let these criticisms get you down, though, because you've already done a lot of things right, particularly in terms of expanding the dimensions of the production sonics. Once the drums take a step forward in the balance, and the effects a step back, I think a lot of the other things should fall into place quite logically. Thanks for letting us hear your work!

WOW!! Best criticism ever!

Thank you so much!

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April 12, 2011, 02:17:32 PM
Here is my revised mix. ;D I made quite a few changes based on what you said.

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April 12, 2011, 05:04:03 PM
Here is my mix:

Love the kick-drum sound in the verses -- velvety, but powerfully insistent. It probably needs some high-end boost during the louder sections of the mix to bring it out better on smaller speakers, though. The cymbals sound fine too, although they might perhaps be smoothed out a little with some cut at 5-6kHz. I love the sense of sustain you've achieved with the snare. It's not the longer tail that some people have gone for, but more of a brief burst of energy focused around the attack so that it doesn't become just a 'bip' even when the guitars are at their most aggressive. (I'd be interested to know what you used to achieve this, in fact.) Could it have a fraction more low midrange? I can't quite make up my mind on that. :) The toms feel a little indistinct, though. It's like I'm not quite sure where they're coming from, even though they seem balanced fairly sensibly.

The bass tone is well-judged, well-controlled, and translates pretty faithfully to small speakers, which is all good. At times, though, I wonder if the bass could balance with the kick a bit more equally in the sub-100Hz region. The guitars are in general rather low in the balance, even if I drive the mix hard into a loudness processor (thereby ducking the drum peaks), and I think they could afford to fill out the texture more across the board. While the tone of the chorus guitars seems fairly sensible, and there's decent separation of the two lines, the mid-section guitars feel like they're rather lacking in the low midrange, which leaves the bass alone to provide the power in this department. Even in Berk13's mix, which scoops out a good deal of midrange to assist with the long-term dynamics, there's still a suggestion of low-end weight in there that prevents the bass guitar feeling too disconnected. I'd also like to hear more stereo width in these parts if possible, because their image is rather narrow at the moment. (That said, the mono-compatibility of this mix is very good currently, so be careful not to compromise that if you can.)

The vocal also seems a little on the thin side, although that's partly on account of the tonal character of the mix as a whole, which feels a couple of decibels shy in the 2kHz area, as well as a touch too crispy at 9kHz. Still, even taking this into account, I think the breathy upper frequencies are perhaps overplayed. Sibilance is also a problem throughout -- whether you stick with this tone or not, some de-essing would be advisable. I like the verse spot effects, which provide some welcome ear-candy, but using that heavy chorus-like treatment carries with it a danger of dating the sound, so I'd probably choose delays myself out of preference. I like the way the LV and double-track are blended together in the choruses, and also the BV tone and effects, but the latter are mixed too low for me, especially in the outro section, and I remain to be convinced about their unbalanced stereo spread.

The main comment I have about this mix, though, is that I would want it to sound subjectively 'bigger' in a general sense. That's partly a question of just turning up and spreading out the guitars, but you could also perhaps use a bit more compression on the drums and the mix as a whole, as well as considering adding in things like additional overdubbed layers or faked double-tracks. However, don't be tempted to turn up the reverb, because I think that's already been taken as far as it can at the moment, and you'll risk washing things out if you go any further. Delays, on the other hand, are probably worth further investigation, because of the way they can add sustain without many of the less-desirable side-effects of reverb.

Thanks for submitting this mix. You've got the workings of a very good balance going there, especially in terms of the way the drums and bass fit together. (Thanks too for bearing with me while I caught up! :))

Thank you for this opportunity, it is always good to get more experience and the feedback you have left has been a good help.

To get this snare sound, I used the ‘snare up’ with a gate with a fast attack and a more slow release time.  I used a waves VEQ 4 with a boost at 180 by about 9dB, 470 by 6dB, 4.7 by 7.2dB and 6.8 by 8.5dB and had the analog button on.  I then add a waves L1 limiter.  I balanced this out with the 'snare down' which had a similar gate setting but nothing else on it.  Both are sent to a stereo bus, using the waves RVerb, started off with a pre set of Studio A and then changed it slightly to what I needed.

Again thank you for taking the time to listen, I will be working on this a bit more with the points you have made. 

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April 12, 2011, 06:05:15 PM
Hi guys

My name is Manuel and I just got here in this forum, saw this post and here is my mix. I hope you enjoy it and post some comments.   


Hi Manuel, I've not reviewed many mixes so I hope this helps you.

Bass sounds really nice, you managed to get a heavy sounding bass without it being too over powering and muddy. I thought the drums had a bit too much reverb for my taste at the start but sounded better when the main riff comes in.  The vocals come through nicely and the delay works really well.  Overall I think this is a good attempt. Keep it up.

Thanks for your comments and sorry for taking so long to answer it. 



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April 12, 2011, 06:32:33 PM

This is another mix which presents a good deal of clarity, especially in terms of allowing you to pick out guitar details -- the way the secondary guitar part in the chorus comes through is really nice, for instance. One reason for this appears to be that the main guitar parts are panned hard to opposite sides, along with their delay/reverb effects. The issue of width and panning in effect returns is often ignored by people starting out in mixing, but it can be incredibly important in terms of issues of blend and clarity. In this particular case, though, I'm not sure I'd have gone for the 'panned effects' approach myself, simply because it generates separation and space in an arrangement where I instinctively gravitate towards wanting additional blend and thickness. It's a judgement call, of course, but it just seems to me that you can't make sense of the critical long-term dynamics moment (the final chorus entry) without packing out the chorus texture in some way.

There's a lot to like with the basic drum sounds you've created. I think you could probably sneak a little more low end into the kick drum, though, and the toms feel underpowered during the fills (especially the one which leads into the first chorus). The snare sounds great in its own right, with enough low-end weight and sustain to carry through the guitars. However, I think its transient is too spiky, especially in the high-frequency region, and this has a number of ramifications for the mix as I see it. The first is that it overpowers the rest of the kit, making the cymbals feel rather small, and almost inevitably causes blend problems into the bargain. In addition, it's prominent enough in the balance that I think it's misled you into underplaying the high-frequency information of the cymbals and guitars, which therefore sound slightly veiled and lacking in energy. (Try punching the snare spike back into the mix with a fast limiter to hear more clearly what I mean.)

The bass takes on a more supporting role in this mix than in some I've heard, and while this tactic again isn't my immediate instinct for this song given the melodic/rhythmic interest in the part itself, you have nonetheless controlled it well and balanced it sensibly against the guitars, with no danger of coolness in the difficult 200-400Hz region. (If anything, I might actually rein in that region slightly overall to combat a hint of muddiness to the overall mix tonality.) The hiss on the opening bass guitar entry isn't really necessary, though, so I'd simply filter that out. There are plenty of more useful frequencies (1-2kHz, say) for bringing that line to the listener's attention in the midrange, if you so wish, without having to rely on any of the serious HF -- better to leave that range for the cymbals and vocals.

You manage to keep a lid on the guitar harshness in the mid-section, and I particularly like the slightly honky tone you use for the second middle-section, because it makes a great impact into the section change. (The downside, though, is that I then feel there's a small step down into the final chorus, which I'm less fond of.) I think the vocal tone works well on the whole too, although tuning/timing issues do compromise the blend for me during the choruses. I'm not sure I'd use such a bright vocal reverb either, as it tends to sound artificial, and also catches the sibilance in a distracting way. (If you feel that the bright reverb needs to stay, then try heavily de-essing the reverb send to reduce the essing.) The backing vocals are nice too, although these could do with some automation to keep them solidly in their chosen mix position.

Thanks for posting this mix, which I like a lot, not least because it ploughs a very different furrow than the one I'd instinctively pursue myself. There's no arguing with the fullness of the tones you've achieved here, and you've balanced them confidently. Good work!
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April 12, 2011, 07:39:54 PM

There's some fantastic creativity in this mix! Unlike some of the more way-out ideas we've had so far, the digital glitch/telecom theme you've overlayed here actually feels very supportive of the band's own music and lyrics, so even though I'd never have tried it myself, I have to say I think it's got a lot going for it. To be honest, if you're going to take it that direction, I'd possibly make the statement of intent even more clear, so that there's no risk that people will think their modem's malfunctioning! :D Seriously, though, the best way to pull off a bold character-enhancement like this (in my opinion) is to give it your full conviction, so that the force of your vision (and it's alignment with the music's inherent emotions) will be most likely to win the band over.

And there's more too. How do I love the bass drop in mid-section one? Let me count the ways! Firstly it's just a great attention-grabber, which is never a bad thing, focusing the listener on the new guitar parts for a moment at a point where the recorded bass line is actually fairly pedestrian to begin with. The drop also functions as a way of buying extra arrangement headroom, allowing more of a build into mid-section two. And finally, I actually prefer the bass note you've put in as a lead-in to mid-section two more than the original one. Result! All that said, I'm not quite convinced by some of the bass notes before that point, as they seem to meander without seeming to quite know where they're headed. They just seem to need more logic somehow. Maybe try giving the notes some kind of scalar pattern, as this is a simple way of generating a sense of pattern to the line.

The drop before the outro isn't a bad idea in principle, but the execution doesn't quite live up to the concept, in my view. It's enough, at that stage in the mix, to wrong-foot the listener to some extent, but you go a bit too far for me in this case, with the reentry feeling like it's happening mid-way through a beat (according to my 'internal metronome' free-running after the drums drop out). Maybe you'd get away with this kind of drop before a second verse, or at the start of a middle-section, but by the end choruses of a song like this it's just going to be a recipe for chaos in the mosh-pit! I'd personally try to keep the eight-bar phrase lengths intact from the start of the final chorus onwards for this reason, although you still have lots of room to get seriously creative within that framework.

Those are all good things, but the more technical part of the mix aren't quite on a par with the creative side at the moment (and I imagine that lack of time may have played a role in that). My biggest concern is that the lead guitars and vocals have pretty much swapped mix positions here, to the extent that during the final choruses the lead vocals almost sound like backing vocals, and the lead-guitar riff becomes more like a solo. I like your guitar sounds overall (which charting a very sensible course between aggression, solidity, and aggression), it's just that they're dominating a little much for me. The fact that the effect levels get a bit OTT towards the end only exacerbates the situation, and everything starts to swim undesirably. While I agree that reverb can be useful in creating a powerful illusion of space, if it's taken too far then it begins to sound too much like the band's on the wrong end of a cathedral.

I like the way the bass and drums fit together, and the long cymbal sustain (with a good dose of compressor movement) is certainly along the right lines for the style. The snare, however, feels a bit spitty, with not enough going on in the low midrange to imply real power. That said, the high-frequency seems to be enough to guarantee good audibility during the heavier guitar sections, even when the loudness processing's hitting the end stops. The cymbal stick noise is poking too far forward for me too, partly as a result of the heavy drum compression. Threshold-independent transient processing would be my fix for that.

Your overall mix tonality could probably bear a few tweaks, taming the 3kHz region a decibel or so and adding some more centre at 900Hz. Mono-compatibility is a concern too, because the cymbals are really dulling in mono and some of the reverbs are becoming woolly on account of phase-cancellation. (Mono-compatibility is something that can really separate the men from the boys where reverb algorithms are concerned, but not many people seem to look out for this.)

Thanks for letting us all hear what you've done -- and for making my day with that bass drop, of course! I'm still grinning thinking about it... ;D
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April 12, 2011, 11:41:19 PM

I know I Pm'd a revised mix to you , but I've been tweaking away in the background whilst you manfully plough through the backlog of mixes.

I'm somewhat happier with this version with a few eq & compression changes on the master buss. I think I'm sticking a fork in it and calling it done.

Great to hear all the other versions, Good Luck everyone :)

We never finish a mix - We simply abandon them.  Adam A7's , Focusrite Pro24 DSP, Focusrite LiquidMix, Presonus FaderPort, Sennheiser HD250 Linear II

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April 13, 2011, 10:40:14 AM

Whoa! That's an awful lot of bass you've got going on there! I'm not sure what you're monitoring on, but whatever it is, I'm afraid that I don't think it's telling you anything useful below about 100Hz. The difference between the low end of your mix and the low end of any of the reference mixes is as clear as day, but only if your monitoring is actually telling you what's going on. Given that it appears you're faced with a situation where you can't really rely on what you're hearing down there, then, what can you actually do to improve the situation? Well, in the first instance, you could have a look at the 'Low-end Damage Limitation' chapter of my book, where I go into this in detail -- it's one of the free-to-view sample chapters available here. That gives lots of workarounds catering for exactly this kind of situation.

Further to that, I'd suggest removing any EQ or bass-enhancement plug-ins from the kick, bass, and tom tracks straight away, and taking those back to basics. In rebuilding their balance, try not to do any EQ boosting at the low end, because this is I think one of the reasons for your LF problems -- the low frequencies appear to be ringing in an uncontrolled manner, and this just leaves you with a muddy swamp without providing any real subjective power or punch. If you have to EQ to keep the instruments sounding clear and defined when they're together, try to use EQ cuts (rather than boosts) wherever possible. Keep any effects returns which are fed from the drums or bass high-pass filtered to stop them adding undesirable rumble, and also high-pass filter any non-bass parts as high as you can without changing their useful tone (or the weight of their attack) in the mix.

The bass issue puts the whole mix tonality out of alignment, and makes it very difficult to make meaningful judgements about things like relative balance and tone of the instruments. On top of this, though, I'm suspicious that the whole mix is going through some kind of extremely aggressive multi-band dynamics setup, presumable to increase loudness and aid mix cohesion, but this is a sticking plaster that won't solve any underlying mix problems, irrespective of how much the processing tries to smoosh the frequency response of your mix into an static profile. It also doesn't help that it sounds like it's introducing a bunch of very strange pumping and distortion artefacts -- I wonder whether it's set rather too fast. This is the kind of mix processing that's too complicated, powerful, and delicate to start using during the cut and thrust of the mixing process, so if you're using it while mixing, then ditch it -- you'll be able to hear much better what you're doing and the fact that you'll have to work harder to get a consistent tone in your mix will mean that your mix will respond much better to this kind of processing if you choose to add it at the mastering stage. (On the other hand, slower-acting full-band buss-compression is fine at mixdown in rock styles like this, but the reason for doing it is not primarily to increase the loudness or homogenise the frequency contour; it's to 'glue' the mix together, create pumping effects, and/or colour the mix tone. It can be tricky, in fact, to get a rock mix to balance right without hearing the mix in the context of the buss compression, so I usually recommend mixing through it. Mastering processing it isn't, though.)

In the light of these two overriding issues, I'm not sure I can actually provide any more detailed advice about the inner workings of the mix itself with any confidence, because it's very much like trying to hit a moving target. Sorry! Can you maybe upload a version with any of the buss/mastering processing and maybe then I can give some pointers?

Man, that's a painful read, but spot-on of course and a lesson well learnt, not even gonna begin to make excuses.... should've sounded like this. Maybe.....Of course I'm keen to hear your pointers if you're still up to it. Totally understandable if not though.
« Last Edit: April 13, 2011, 10:43:51 AM by manuke »

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April 13, 2011, 10:42:04 AM

This mix provides a innovative approach to the chorus balance, building much more on the interplay between the bass guitar and secondary guitar line, and relegating what most of us have thought of as the 'main' chorus guitar riff to very much a background role. I think it's fantastic the way people keep coming up with fresh angles on these multitracks! However, while I like the idea of dramatic balance reversals like this (who doesn't like cheering for the underdog, after all?), I have to say I'm not quite convinced that this version of the balance is as strong as the more conventional perspective taken by most of the other mixers here. Perhaps it's just that the secondary guitar doesn't yet speak here with a character that's really clear and undeniable, but I can't help feeling that it operates best as support for the higher line rather than as a feature in its own right. (Still, the more conventional route is no walk in the park to put together either, simply because that gives you three melodic elements to weave fairly equally into the balance alongside the two vocal lines.)

I love the way the kick, bass, and snare come through on a small speaker, and the cymbals also survive fairly well into mono to support them. The kick and bass, however, achieve their small-speaker translation by means of some fairly aggressive high frequencies, and these become rather wearing on the ear after a while, especially when we hit mid-section two -- it sounds like there's heavy pick-noise coming through from the bass guitar there, and it makes the main guitars sound scratchy even though I don't think they actually are. It shouldn't really be necessary to reach so high up the spectrum to bring out the bass guitar, but if it is, then multi-band processing, dynamic EQ, or automated channel processing might be necessary to bring the pick-noise element back under control.

You're not shy with gain-pumping artefacts when compressing your drums, and while I approve of that kind of sound for this particular style, I wonder whether the compression you're using is adding an unwelcome crunchiness to the tone of the cymbals, snare, and toms. Perhaps it something else that's doing this, but whatever it is, it's making things sound slightly cheap and gritty -- especially in the snare/tom fills. I have no problem with lo-fi sonics per se, but they don't seem to be supporting the music that well for me in this specific case.

The chorus vocal sound does the job fine, but when you get to the chorus you need to do more to rival the fullness of the drums and guitars. Your muting of the double-track is one factor in this, but even if you prefer not to include the double you could still afford to fade up the main vocal track and give it a bit more width and/or sustain with effects. At the moment it just comes across as slightly apologetic, which feels counter-intuitive. If you bring the singer up in the balance, however, then you'll almost certainly want to de-ess, because the sibilance is already too forward at the current level.

Overall tonality seems a touch heavy on the low mids, so I'd be tempted to pull those back a couple of decibels, as well as maybe boosting a decibel or so around 1kHz to harden the timbre a little (and to pull out the vocal a little more). Mono-compatibility could be better too, with the guitars losing quite a lot of level when the left and right channels are summed -- a particular problem in your specific mix because that focuses even more attention on the bass guitar's aggressive high frequencies.

Despite the few criticisms I have, I think this mix succeeds on a lot of level by doing a lot to increase the scale of the sounds (without overdoing the mix effects) and by putting in a lot of excitement into the bargain, so thanks for letting us all hear it! (Love the sneaky little stutter-edit before the first mid-section too. I'm a sucker for that kind of thing! 8))
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April 13, 2011, 11:40:25 AM
Man, that's a painful read, but spot-on of course and a lesson well learnt, not even gonna begin to make excuses....

Sorry if I came across as a bit negative -- it certainly isn't my intention to be nasty! To be honest, I was just slightly embarrassed not to be able to be more constructive :-[ I'll have a listen to the update and hopefully I'll be able to post some more useful comments then.
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