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Author Topic: Mixoff Contest with Mike Senior - Win Mike's New Book!  (Read 213129 times)

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April 13, 2011, 10:40:14 AM
http://soundcloud.com/stu-brown/sos-mix-comp

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.
http://soundcloud.com/stu-brown/btb-new-mix
« Last Edit: April 13, 2011, 10:43:51 AM by manuke »

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April 13, 2011, 10:42:04 AM
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/543762/Blood%20to%20Bone%20MixA.wav

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))
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 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.
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!

  • **
April 13, 2011, 12:10:41 PM
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.

No, wasn't taken that way at all, I deserved it and it was really constructive. Thanks for having a listen.

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April 13, 2011, 01:16:40 PM
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/17888249/Blood_To_Bone__Master.wma

This is a mix very much after my own heart, in the sense that you're clearly looking to expand the scale of the climactic moments, not least by enhancing the musical contrasts. This is certainly the most rich-sounding first chorus we've had so far, and I think its moodiness actually reflects the band's intentions well, despite your own reservations. I'm also very impressed with the thoughtful (and thought-provoking) arrangement adjustments you've employed, including the first proper implementation of a full drop-chorus for Chorus 3. There are loads of great little ear-tickling special-effects features in there as well, which are great for sustaining the interest -- and they seem less out-of-place than in some of the mixes we've heard so far because the stage has been set for them from the outset and they're fairly evenly distributed. The verse vocal tone is also well-managed, even if the 'telephone vocal' idea always carries a whiff of cliche with it these days. Overall, excellent work on all of those things -- you've clearly got more good ideas than most of us would know what to do with!

I'm also impressed with the way you've managed to achieve such a good sense of blend, in terms of the way you've managed to get the kit sounding like a single instrument, and in terms of the way you've glued the drums together with the guitars and vocals. You might want to ease back a little on the lead vocal blend, in fact, simply because I think it could afford to be a bit more upfront than it currently is.

All those good things notwithstanding, there are a number of areas of the balance which could be improved upon, most of which are to do with reducing a sense of muddiness in the mix as a whole. This is partly an issue of mix tonality: it feels like there's rather too much energy around the 200Hz region, and not quite enough at 1kHz or in the top two octaves. However, if you try to compensate for this using master-buss EQ, you quickly find that it's only a comparatively small factor. A big part of the problem I think is that you're relying too heavily on the low midrange frequencies of the bass guitar. Clearly, these are frequencies that are important to bass guitar in general :), but you also need to have enough energy further up the spectrum to maintain audibility against the guitars and vocals. As it is, though, you've (sensibly, I think) chosen to have the bass melody audible in the balance, and the inevitable outcome is therefore that the mix as a whole gets murky. My advice would be to clear some of that region out of the bass guitar, and then give it more character above 500Hz instead -- it'll carry through on smaller speakers that way too.

The guitars also contribute a certain amount to the problem too, I think. Just as the bass could clear some room for the guitars around 200-400Hz, the guitars could also make more space for the bass guitar below about 200Hz. At the moment they're contributing a lot of rather undefined low end which just makes the bass and kick feel less punchy, robbing you of mix headroom for little benefit. The additional overdrive you appear to have applied to thicken the choruses will also be making it more difficult to keep the overall mix tone clear, because it's increasing the high midrange density of the guitars and therefore masking the vocals quite heavily, so that they'll tend to feel somehow dull-sounding unless you pile on masses of EQ. This is a common problem in rock mixes, and there are various different solutions. One thing you can try is actually adding distortion to the vocals in the 3kHz range to give them more competitive density, but the danger there is that you end up making the whole mix sound harsh and fatiguing. The other solution is to punch some holes into the guitar spectrum so that the more important spectral regions of the vocals can pop through those gaps.

The third major issue affecting clarity here is your mix delay/reverb effects usage, which feels like it's overloading the mix at the moment. You could pull back those returns by a good 3dB, I'd have thought, and maybe take 30-40% off the reverb/decay times too. Further clarity gains could be achieved with careful EQ on the effect-return channels, especially high-pass filtering. A good rule of thumb with mix effects is that you should only really notice them when they're muted, and while that might not be quite true of a mix on this kind of epic scale, it's still something to bear in mind. The master limiting you've used to boost the loudness probably isn't helping you either, because it feels like it's set very fast, such that it's ironing out the drum peaks more than should really be necessary, even within the context of this kind of peak-to-average figure.

Finally, there are some serious mono-compatibility issues here, and it sounds like it's on account of your using stereo-widening techniques involving hard-panning delayed copies of your guitar tracks. Just looking at the waveforms in some more exposed sections, it looks like you've applied something in the order of a 1ms delay time. Although this does indeed produce a strong stereo widening effect, the phase-cancellation side-effects in mono are pretty disastrous, and have dramatic implications for the balance in the choruses and mid-sections. The biggest casualty is your main guitar line during the chorus, which drops a large amount in the mono balance. (Just to clarify, the main guitar line in Paulo's mix is what I normally refer to as the secondary guitar line in other critiques, but he's chosen to make it more the bedrock of the chorus sections in his version of the arrangement.)

Thanks for uploading this mix for everyone to listen to. It's another great new angle on this production, and adds a lot of intriguing new ideas to the pot. If you can do more to clarify the sonics, then these ideas will only shine out brighter!
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 13, 2011, 01:50:03 PM
Thanks for the critique Mike, your suggestions were really helpful. Can't wait to see how this works I've been really enjoying listening to all the different takes on the mix.  

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April 13, 2011, 02:43:49 PM
Thanks Mike, I agree with all your critics... One only thing, I did not use any stereo spreader, I don't like them  ;D
I could have done it a little better but I knew about the contest very late and did not have time to polish some issues...

... Much thanks for your input.

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April 13, 2011, 03:10:44 PM
Thanks Mike for the detailed feedback, it's all really useful for me.  I was intending using the double during the chorus but I ran out of time so I didn't throw it in for the first mix as I wanted to tune it and line the timing up first.  I will do that and attempt to address the other issues before submitting my final mix.  Oh and I had some parallel compression with some overdrive on the drums, I will try killing the overdrive :)
« Last Edit: April 13, 2011, 03:14:25 PM by hatliff »

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April 13, 2011, 07:24:23 PM
One only thing, I did not use any stereo spreader, I don't like them.

I've realised what it is. I think you might have hard-panned the multi-mics for that guitar, and they're slightly out of phase. I've just noticed that livingsounds (who I'm just critiquing) has done the same thing.
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 13, 2011, 07:40:51 PM
The next mix that's come up on my system is from lettenmusic, but it looks like his post to this thread has since disappeared. Are you still out there, lettenmusic? If so would you still like me to critique the mix?

(I won't bite, honest! ;D)

alright... smashed this pretty good, only because I was in a hurry.

http://www.polydreammusic.com/Young%20Griffo_16.441.01.mp3