join

Pop Music Mixing 301

Brandon Drury —  July 5, 2011 — Leave a comment

Some of you will be saying “I don’t give a damn about this pop crap.” 1) It is crap, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. 2) There are enormous lessons hear in producing, arrangement, and mixing that will make you better at recording death metal, prog rock, country, and everything in between.

So today I’m listening to the Katy Perry cd. Yes, I find it brilliant for the most part, but that could be because 90% of the songs are squirted full of ejaculatory insinuations and that’s something I’ve gotten into here lately. While I’ve seen reviews for the cd/collection of songs/whatever that have given it 0 out of 5 stars, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking it’s a great cd/collection of songs/whatever.

I haven’t quite put my finger on it, but my naturally-occurring tastes in the control room seem to like non-vocal music tracks more than the typical dude mixing modern pop records. It seems I’ve gotten this idea in my head that every song I mix should be like I’m mixing the music to the giant squid part in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie. In my head I always seem to be going for the following three things:

EPIC

EPIC

EPIC

As fun as that is, I’m thinking it may be a major freakin’ mistake.

–It’s kinda like being overly impressed by the silicon chest and forgetting that studies have shown than 1 out of 20 girls actually possess a neural network.

–A similar phenomenon I’ve noticed is getting all wound up about the giant supersaw sound when buying my synths and undermining how useful an organ-type sound can be in a trance/dance type tune. (I’m actually finding more examples of non-supersaw dance productions than supersaw usage here lately. I dramatically overestimated the usage of the supersaw).

–Another example that I see in the rock kids is they always seem to be going for the Rammstein guitar sound even if they are doing music more like AC/DC. It’s easy to discount the value of a Tele through a Fender amp. Taking it further, it’s easy to discount the value of just plugging a guitar straight into the console (no emulator). If you were to ask me two hours ago when that would be useful, I’d probably say zero. The truth is I just bought a cd with the first instrument being a DI guitar….

There’s something about these certain specific flashy and “epic” sounds that draw our attention from the bigger picture. Again, let me repeat that. Too much emphasis on the flash seems to take away from the damn song.

Analysis Of Katy Perry – Teenage Dream

Yeah, we all know that vocals are important in pop songs. That’s a no brainer, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us anything when our hands are on the faders/mouse. When we mix, we need to establish better parameters in our brain to keep us from making mistakes (which we’ll get into in a minute).

The thing I’ve noticed with my mixes is I tend to mix so that if a vocal was muted, the production still “makes sense”. Muting one of my vocals wouldn’t result in a gaping hole the size of the Grand Canyon. I think, at least for pop music, I’m a little bit too impressed by the flashiness of the non-vocal tracks and keep them up pretty damn hot. The KAPOW factor in the chorus only needs a few of the tiniest little triggers to get my brain to fill in the rest.

After listening to Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream, it’s clear that this record was mixed specifically to create Grand Canyon 2x holes if the vocals were muted. In the past I would said, “Oh yeah, it’s radio chick pop. The vocals are going to be way out front”. This “out front” business is a mistake. I don’t think the vocals are necessarily “out front”. That makes it sound as if they pulled up guitars, bass, synths, etc and got those really working and then pushed up the vocal fader to “normal vocal” position. Then they pushed I up again for the “out front” effect. In a not-so-rigid context, this is kinda sorta how I’ve been working and it explains why I’ve never really been happy with this “out front” vocal sound in my own work and why girls sometimes complain that “I can’t hear the words”. (You can learn A LOT about your productions from the egg-carrying gender, btw.)

One problem with this method is the 2bus compression or brickwall limiting is already doing a little something with the vocals in the “normal vocal” position, pushing them up 2-3dB is probably going to cause them to push the 2bus dynamic processing too hard. I hate the sound of vocal-induced pumping. In this unideal situation, the only way to really reduce the vocal-induced pumping is to thin them out and if that were a good tonal solution, we would have already have done it for tonal reasons….not for utilitarian reasons.

Note: This is just another piece of evidence to support my very positive views of mixing into a 2bus compressor. The compressor in this case has told us there is a problem….it just didn’t tell us WHERE the problem was. Following the order of operations in mixing, Rule #2 says “Don’t screw up the vocal sound for any reason in a pop production” we would have immediately rethought our level strategy.

You can tell just by listening to ANY song on Teenage Dream that there was never this inclination to crank up the synth tracks to “epic” status. I’m willing to bet that they pulled up the drum and vocals, got ‘em both feeling about right in terms of level and tone. Then, they pulled up the main rhythm track just loud enough to be called “main rhythm track”. In fact, I suspect that when this main rhythm track went home from work he may be complaining to the spouse about how he got this big promotion but isn’t getting any of the responsibilities he was counting on.

From there all the epic “candy” is pushed upward, but it’s done in The Price Is Right style where you are out of the running if your bid goes over. In other words, these tracks were handled with extreme care not to put the vocal in any kind of danger PERIOD. The instruments were mixed not to be as loud as they could get away, but instead were mixed to be as soft as they could get away with.

REPEAT: The instruments were clearly mixed to be as SOFT as they could get away with.

A red flag that I’ve been struggling with on my own mixes here lately is my main rhythm track (let’s just say I’m using my DSI Prophet 08) has badass tone at first, but by the end of the track its wicked tone is masked to the point of not even being that interesting. It’s my belief that pulling up the epic candy too hot is covering up all the things that make up that cool tone.

It’s easy for us to underestimate the brain’s ability to fill in holes. As of this writing, if you were to turn on the pop radio station right now, there’s a 33% chance you’d hear Katy Perry’s E.T. If you were to ask me to describe the chorus based on memory of hearing it in the car radio I’d say it had this huge, explosive type of thing going on. I’d have no problem using the “epic” word. The downbeat of the chorus does go KAPOW.

When we listen chorus by the time she says “Infect me with your love…” (the third bass note) it doesn’t sound THAT crazy. They’ve left PLENTY of room for the vocal and it’s not like there are 50 things going on. The only people who would notice this fact that this production isn’t as crazy as I feel it is are doing an academic-type of analysis like I’m doing now.

Here’s what’s going on:
–The vocals go stereo. (Most likely individual layers hard panned included with a center-panned main vocal.)
–The hihat, which was totally muted in the verse is going nuts and is prominent.
–The snare reverb seems more dense. It’s not longer, it’s just has more “oomph” to it. It’s more “bold”, but only by a few notches. Nothing crazy.
–The bass, which appears to be giga-gigantic in terms of width and space (there could be other tracks at work here) kicks in.
–There’s some kind of track that sounds kinda like a person going “wooooosh” on the offbeats. Who knows what that really is.
–The analog “telephone button sound” (I forget the damn name of this sound) that was there in the verse and prechorus is still having it’s buttons pushed, but it gets buried from time to time.
–When they switch the “Alien” part, some high pitched synth noise thingy pops in to signify the transition.

Other than that, I’m not hearing anything else. Just drums, bass, beeps, and an occasional woooosh. That is NOT how they got the epic Back To The Future score!

I’m well aware that these big budget recordings jam pack well over 100 tracks anytime they can as you can see on Pink’s “Raise Your Glass” track sheet [url]http://forum.recordingreview.com/f8/production-pop-song-38171/[/url] so there could be 1,000 things that are so low you’d never notice them….which makes a person debate how important subliminal tracks really are. That’s another story.

Summing Up This Pop Music Mixing Thing

The best example of what I’m talking about is at 0:32. When we get to the prechorus, the pad-thingy is introduced. That pad thing is there, but it is down. I mean WAY down. For my epic needs, I would have turned that thing up a crap ton. Maybe 10dB. (Maybe not…hard to say.) All I know is before today’s epiphany there’s no way in hell I would have mixed that pad that low. I would have been trying to squeeze all kinds of excitement out of that prechorus. I would have went for “big”, “bold”, and “epic”. The only exception would have been if I made the prechorus too big and needed to back off for the KAPOW effect in the chorus. Either way, I can’t imagine putting it this way. There’s a lot to learn from this tactic.

I could just imagine the people that tracked this part saying, “Well, that pad used to sound freakin’ bad ass. Now it sounds wimpy and is barely there.” They wouldn’t be wrong, but the mix in its current state works rather well. The right choice was to demote this rather epic pad to “bare minimum to trigger” status.

Bare Minimum To Trigger

If you go back to #7 in the analysis of the ET chorus, there’s some bright, high-pitched synth noise that triggers the “transition time” in a way not too different from what a drum fill does. The list of things that cause the KAPOW in the ET chorus aren’t that long. Turning on a busy hihat and a bass don’t strike me as Earth shattering revelations. (Turning them off elsewhere may be…HINT HINT.)

I’ve decided that the aesthetic quality (the epic KAPOW) nature of this chorus mix is a fraud. They tricked everyone not paying attention to think this chorus mix is epic. All they’ve really done is the bare minimum to trigger that feeling. I’m impressed! There’s a reason these big mixers make so much money.

It’s clear that I need to figure out ways to get the listener’s brain to do the work for me. I want them to arrive at the “kapow” conclusion without trying to fit 600 thingies into a chorus with all of them cutting through and audible.

New Rules I’m Applying To My Pop Mixing

The Vocal Danger Zone
They’ve treated the vocal tracks on the Teenage Dream record like the secret service treats the president. I’m imagining a red, 15-foot circle around the big guy in which there are 20 ex-Navy Seal dudes in nice suits, ear peaces, and sun glasses. This is the offensive line to make sure no attackers that may have gotten passed the other levels get to Mr. President. On a bad day these guys are supposed to take a bullet.

Surrounding the 15-foot red circle is a 300-foot yellow circle. Bad guys with guns and knives will be shot in the face on the spot if found here. Surrounding the yellow circle is a 1000-foot white circle. The secret service has made sure that no mail boxes or trash cans contain bombs and such, but if you drove passed Giant Stadium with a deer rifle in your back glass it may not be an issue. (Try this at your own risk.)

Back to audio. Let’s toss our vocal track on the big guy’s podium. That vocal track is the most cherished thing imaginable. If any other track finds its way on the red circle, we consider this track to be a threat to our lead vocal (making it sound small, cluttering up the words, etc). On the Katy Perry cd zero tracks ever came close. It wasn’t even an issue. Not even once.

For some reason I always seem to like to place most of my other tracks on the edge of the red/yellow zone almost taunting Mr. President and just asking for a Secret Service dude to shoot those tracks. This can make the vocal a little “nervous” which can be awesome for music that doesn’t put quite the extreme important onto vocals/lyrics/etc. For pop music this was the wrong approach.

In the verse, there was generally one track/instrument that was allowed in the yellow (other than the drums….which don’t really count in this setting for whatever reason). Sometimes it was a synth bass. Sometimes it was a little bleep-type sound. Whatever. In the verse one rhythm track gets to come close and all the rest have to sit it out in areas that aren’t every going to be a risk to the lead vocal.

In the chorus, the same rules apply in the red. The lead vocal is the only track allowed in the red. It’s okay to allow more tracks up in the yellow, but none of them need to be that close to the red. Most of the candy tracks should be pretty close to the white circle to the point that they shouldn’t be screwing with the tone of your prominent chorus tracks.

If you’ve mixed more than one song, you know that relative levels can change a bit from stereo to stereo. The reason for this is rather simple. Specific frequency bands that you relied on to make X louder than Y were reduced on another stereo and therefore that cutting quality you were looking for no longer exists. The interesting thing about keeping you tracks well out of the red danger zone is your mixes will translate better as long as you get the vocal sound right (easier said than done).

The Lowest Possible Level

In the past, almost all my individual track levels were set so that they were as loud as I could get away with. In 10 years of mixing, I never even pondered the idea of mixing anything (except maybe ambiance) to be as soft as I could get away with. These are entirely different mindsets that I believe would deliver radically different results. My money is that candy should be mixed to be as soft as you can get away with unless a higher ranking authority requests otherwise.

Another Example

Listen to acoustic guitar level in the verse. Also listen to Eminem’s vocal level. Have you ever mixed a vocal that loud? I definitely have not. Point taken. Also notice the bass level. Point taken.

Conclusion

It’s easy to overestimate the impact and usage of the “flashy” instruments/tones and underestimate how useful not-so-sexy sounds like organs and DI electric guitars can be.

The KAPOW factor in the chorus only needs a few of the tiniest little triggers to get my brain to fill in the rest.

Be ultra skeptical when you start needing to make sacrificial tonal changes to utilitarian reasons. It usually means that you need to back up 3 steps and change something else.

Saved Comments


drgamble – 07-19-2011, 04:11 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

drgamble, you do not have permission to access this page. This could be due to one of several reasons:

1. Your user account may not have sufficient privileges to access this page. Are you trying to edit someone else’s post, access administrative features or some other privileged system?
2.If you are trying to post, the administrator may have disabled your account, or it may be awaiting activation.

This is all I get when I click on the link.

Mackanov’s Avatar
Mackanov – 07-26-2011, 11:21 AM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Damn, where was this article when I was remixing that JetFace song? Great stuff as always, O Great One.

bobbybovine’s Avatar
bobbybovine – 07-26-2011, 12:05 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Great post man, I love finding out different way to approach a song. Using the least you can get away with is definitely not something I even thought about. I am so excited to try this approach on my next mixing project.Bob

bozmillar’s Avatar
bozmillar – 07-26-2011, 02:49 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Quote Originally Posted by Mackanov View Post
Damn, where was this article when I was remixing that JetFace song? Great stuff as always, O Great One.
that’s exactly what I was thinking. The only time I ever take the minimalist approach is when I’m feeling too lazy to add anything extra. I’ve never thought of taking an active minimalist approach.

FEAST’s Avatar
FEAST – 07-26-2011, 03:59 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

How can you possibly call her music crap? You bought her CD. You admire the instrumentation, and must obviously recognize the popularity…yet her music is crap? Hop off the bandwagon kiddies. Music is an acquired taste. That’s right. What I am saying is that you either:

1. Lack the developed mental ability to full understand the rhythm and magic in her music. (It’s you who lacks the ability to draw the feeling that so many others draw)

or

2. Lack the balls to admit it.

Pop is not some sub-genre of crap like you make it out to be. Some of the best engineers, writers, and talent create pop music that is insanely popular (such as KATY PERRY) – yet STILL they are denied the respect they deserve by self-absorbed ass-holes who think that they themselves posses the ability to determine what music is good or not. This is the mindset that I expect from a 16 year old punk who listens to screamo. Not veteran recording engineers.

HINT: Popularity says it all. If music is popular you simply cannot call it bad. End of story. If your music isn’t popular – it’s probably bad.

For instance, here is my own music: FEAST – In a trance

I love my own music. But it is BAD simply because people aren’t listening.

Fuck.

Everyone comes in with their own mental key regarding what music they like. Certain instruments, melodies, genres, moods etc. No one can say that music is better from an individual perspective because it is 100% subjective. What makes a great writer is someone who can appeal to a large audience. Music that is amazing to 1 person and terrible to everyone else is worthless. It’s all about mass appeal. The genius of recording and writing is creating something that is great to a massive number of people. That is why hit songs are so difficult to make. That is the genius behind it all. Understanding all of the different thinks that people like in their music and all of the different way we hear things (not just our own) and creating something that appeals to all of this.

You cant be successful with your own perspective. You have to step back and see the whole picture.

And not make stupid fucking comments that clearly show that you don’t understand anything I just wrote.

Huub’s Avatar
Huub – 07-26-2011, 04:28 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

This hits the nail on the head.Thanks Brandon.

vodski’s Avatar
vodski – 07-26-2011, 04:34 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Some of the best sounding songs seem to have huge amounts of space around the vocals and instruments . Yet at the same time have a lot going on! Musical arrangement is important. I just cant think of an example at the moment.

jaystar’s Avatar
jaystar – 07-26-2011, 04:36 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

I would like to add that the PAD Brandon is referring to that comes in at 0:32 sounds to my ears that not only is the volume way down, but they also chose to place it further back with some kind of reverb. I have learned over the years that the best pop mixing engineers mix in 3 dimensions. The will create layers using several reverbs and delays and place instruments front to back depending on the reverb assigned to that instrument. So the mix itself gains a lot more depth. And it seems that in this example, not only is the volume down, but there is a subtle reverb being used on that pad that helps place it behind the vocal as well. I realize many of you already know this.It’s funny that Brandon mentions teenage dream because I happened to map out the song in its entirety using ableton live. If anyone is interested in the map, I will email it to them. Using the map helps you create a template for the construction of a pop song. After doing about 100 or so of these maps, anyone will be able to produce a hit song. I just started getting into song mapping and I have learned so from doing it. I highly recommend this technique. Basically I use color coded midi in Ableton to mark both instruments AND sections so each time the same instrument plays a different part, it changes color…..And each instrument has its own track so you can quickly analyze the entire structure of any song and apply this or a similar map to one of your own productions.

Huub’s Avatar
Huub – 07-26-2011, 05:26 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Yes reverb/delay is one.But how about creating space around the vocals by dipping certain frequencies ?

cporro’s Avatar
cporro – 07-26-2011, 06:25 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

i bet if i were listening on my monitors the only thing moving the top 6bd on the master buss would be vox, kick, and snare for these songs. that’s a sound i dig. a lot of hip-hop, and pop seem to be done this way. i also used to strive for getting everything heard and balanced. but now i see mixing more like choices and compromises. the thing that i’m most interested in on pop songs is how the vocals are treated. i’d like to be able to listen to them and say “doubled vox, both auto tuned, second one up a 3rd”. either that or read some pop-producer tricks book.

TheMandalaVirus’s Avatar
TheMandalaVirus – 07-26-2011, 07:04 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Dr. Luke and CO. by far have the best sounding pop music out right now… Red ONE and Lady Gaga’s production can suck it. There’s a lot to be learned from pop music production. Great article Brandon.

jay jay’s Avatar
jay jay – 07-26-2011, 08:27 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Great article. You used some good examples. The choruses aren’t all that big when you listen to just them. It’s all relative to the small verses. Interesting.

fixinforamixin’s Avatar
fixinforamixin – 07-26-2011, 08:31 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Quote Originally Posted by jaystar View Post
I would like to add that the PAD Brandon is referring to that comes in at 0:32 sounds to my ears that not only is the volume way down, but they also chose to place it further back with some kind of reverb. I have learned over the years that the best pop mixing engineers mix in 3 dimensions. The will create layers using several reverbs and delays and place instruments front to back depending on the reverb assigned to that instrument. So the mix itself gains a lot more depth. And it seems that in this example, not only is the volume down, but there is a subtle reverb being used on that pad that helps place it behind the vocal as well. I realize many of you already know this.It’s funny that Brandon mentions teenage dream because I happened to map out the song in its entirety using ableton live. If anyone is interested in the map, I will email it to them. Using the map helps you create a template for the construction of a pop song. After doing about 100 or so of these maps, anyone will be able to produce a hit song. I just started getting into song mapping and I have learned so from doing it. I highly recommend this technique. Basically I use color coded midi in Ableton to mark both instruments AND sections so each time the same instrument plays a different part, it changes color…..And each instrument has its own track so you can quickly analyze the entire structure of any song and apply this or a similar map to one of your own productions.
I’m really interested in what exactly these maps are and how they work. I would appreciate it if you could e-mail me one! Thanks.

disarmwithasmile’s Avatar
disarmwithasmile – 07-26-2011, 08:48 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

So True!!!! its like a light bulb just went off reading this article. Im going to completely change my approach towards the mix now. Thanks so much for writing this!!!

rook2c4′s Avatar
rook2c4 – 07-27-2011, 12:31 AM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

I think one thing that is overlooked here is the predominant percussive element to these kind of pop songs – specifically the kick. Compared to, say, a typical rock mix, a dance pop mix has a very different balance of instrumentation. Yes, the vocals are louder, and the mid-range instrumentation (synths, guitars) are pulled back to allow room for the vocal. But furthermore, the kick track is pushed forward nearly to equal level as the vocal; something rarely heard on rock mixes, and is especially designed for maximum effectiveness on the dance floor at clubs. The mid-range instrumentation’s purpose, unlike within most rock mixes, is to merely add atmosphere and outline chord changes and is therefore mostly subordinate to the vocal track. I much agree that lessons can be learned from analyzing dance pop mixes when working with other genres, but one needs to keep in mind that the balance of instruments/vocals may have a somewhat different musical purpose or intent.

rational’s Avatar
rational – 07-27-2011, 12:56 AM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Quote Originally Posted by jaystar View Post
I would like to add that the PAD Brandon is referring to that comes in at 0:32 sounds to my ears that not only is the volume way down, but they also chose to place it further back with some kind of reverb. I have learned over the years that the best pop mixing engineers mix in 3 dimensions. The will create layers using several reverbs and delays and place instruments front to back depending on the reverb assigned to that instrument. So the mix itself gains a lot more depth. And it seems that in this example, not only is the volume down, but there is a subtle reverb being used on that pad that helps place it behind the vocal as well. I realize many of you already know this.It’s funny that Brandon mentions teenage dream because I happened to map out the song in its entirety using ableton live. If anyone is interested in the map, I will email it to them. Using the map helps you create a template for the construction of a pop song. After doing about 100 or so of these maps, anyone will be able to produce a hit song. I just started getting into song mapping and I have learned so from doing it. I highly recommend this technique. Basically I use color coded midi in Ableton to mark both instruments AND sections so each time the same instrument plays a different part, it changes color…..And each instrument has its own track so you can quickly analyze the entire structure of any song and apply this or a similar map to one of your own productions.
Great article! It’s funny as I was thinking this very same thing about two weeks ago when trying to remake “New Low” by Middle Class Rut. The first thing I noticed is how from memory it sounded like such an “EPIC” based song on the distortion, drums, etc. (BTW, I used Steven Slate’s bread and butter kit if I remember right, and found an exact match to that song’s kick/snare. Got lucky. Anyway…) Memory made me believe it was a very HEAVY song in the rhythm guitar section. ….Well, it turned out when I analyzed it that the guitar is actually played very, very subtly, with lots of short staccato type medium muting going on. My first attempts were still TOO overdone and heavy. Which made my song LESS epic actually…

So it’s good to see your song analysis breakdown today coming to the exact same conclusion. In fact, since that day I’ve been noticing that many old songs that I used to think were heavy are not really as heavy as I rememberd them. Quite Riot’s Mental Health was one. I always remembered that guitar rhythm tone (which was a DImarzio Super Distortion in a strat body) as being pretty chunky. Listening to it today it was rather meek and muffled compared to some of the heavy tones on newer albums out these days which utilize heavy reamping, layering, panning, multi-amps, effects and all kinds of level mixing to arrive at a tone unavailable any other way. Which is good for those songs going for the heavy Metallica Black album/ Testament type heavy grind. But surprisingly, like he said, the mind can fill in so much more and think things are heavier and more epic than we realize. In fact, going TOO heavy with distortion plugins can actually make it sound less heavy and cheap, taking up too much of the mix and trying to fill in all the gaps. Sounds home made, cheap, and amateur when everything is competing with everything else. Definitely NOT polished when I do that. It’s kinda like someone ‘over singing’ the end up sounding weaker and cheezier and too ‘try-hard’. Less is more…

Hearing some classics on the radio recently from the ’70′s where the guitars are rather ‘enemic’ actually when you listen for them individually,(e.g. distortion is actully quite low, and so is the level, and placed actually pretty far back in the mix) but in the context of the whole song it doesn’t steal from the vox and overall groove and impact of the song. So the song actually comes out sounding bigger in the mind actually. Glad to have his article reinforce this as it was something I’d noticed just recently and thought I was the only one on this track. It’s true.

I’m also a big believer in ‘arrangement’ as priority. Mapping songs is a skill that more time should be put into as it is more important I think than even having a quality tone on each and every track. Many tracks actually have to be slimmed down with EQ to be thinner in order not to compete, so they balance in the mix. So always spending money on lush equipment and hours of time recording big, thick, rich tones on every track probably isn’t necessary. It’d be better spent on the vox and main instrument parts and overall mix balance, and the majority of the remaining time on arrangement and levels, and 3D space placement. I’ve heard some amazing mixes with thin organs from SampleTank that added up to great songs when everything eventually lands in the final product. We don’t always need a huge synth like Sylenth taking up frequencies on every track and instrument. So let’s not buy every ‘HUGE’ synth just because it sounds good solo. We’d be better off with a great reverb like Aether/Breeze and cheap instruments that we can fatten up in the mix as necessary and balance with everything else. And of course all that not competing with the lush vox we’ve hopefully captured and given primacy.

Great article.

Peace,
Rational

brandondrury’s Avatar
brandondrury – 07-27-2011, 01:39 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

I’m interested to see how much of what I learned writing this article is applied to the death metal gig I have this weekend.

Impulse921′s Avatar
Impulse921 – 07-27-2011, 11:57 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Quote Originally Posted by brandondrury View Post
I’m interested to see how much of what I learned writing this article is applied to the death metal gig I have this weekend.
I’d like to hear how that goes as I’m currently tracking a death metal band.

Btw, great article.

masochistmonkey’s Avatar
masochistmonkey – 07-28-2011, 03:44 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

sincerely, this is the best article on mixing i have ever read in my life. things just suddenly made sense.THANK YOU!

jaystar’s Avatar
jaystar – 07-28-2011, 04:20 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Ok Guys, I emailed a mapped out Ableton file for “Teenage Dream” to Brandon so hopefully he will post it on this blog for you guys to take a look at. You must have Ableton to open the file unfortunately. You can import your own copy of teenage dream into the session to follow along.I created a separate track for each instrument and color coded the parts. The first time an instrument is introduced into the song, it is the color orange. If the same instrument starts playing something different or new, I change the color to blue, then yellow and so on. So the labeling goes in this order: Orange, Blue, Yellow and Red etc…. to indicate a change in the part being played. If the instrument or vocal goes back to the same part from before, I use the color that corresponds to the previous part played. It’s that simple. I picked this tip up from a music magazine a while ago and it has done wonders for my creativity.Btw, is it just me or does Katy Perry’s “E.T.” sound shockingly similar to T.A.T.U’s “All the Thing She Said”?Anyways, let me know if you guys have any questions. Peace. -Jason

To clarify, This Ableton session file is NOT meant to be an audio thing. It is purely a visual thing. I never assigned any instruments. These are NOT midi notes. They are color coded representations of song sections for instrument parts. The color of the midi note changes when the same instrument you hear (in the original track) starts playing a different part. The fact that I used midi tracks to accomplish this is purely coincidental. MIDI is the only way I could color code the parts. The only audio meant for this was the original song itself. So what you need to do is import the original “Teenage Dream” and then follow the song with your ears and look at the color coded midi channels. I named the files according to what I was hearing.

Take the first 2 tracks, for example. On the right side of the arrangement window, I have labeled them El gtr 1 and 2 8th notes. If you listen to the beginning of the song you hear those two guitars only. So I color coded them Orange. It stays orange until the break where the gtrs are morphing through filters so I labeled those with the color blue because they are playing something different there. If the guitars start playing something completely different again, the next color I used was yellow, then green etc etc etc. But in this particular instance, guitars 1 and 2 only play 2 different parts in that song.

So if you look at the other tracks, if at any time a specific vocal or instrument is doing something significantly different than the previous section, I changed the color of the track to indicate that.

This was a technique I learned from reading an article called “Production in the Mix” on page 40 of MusicTech Focus Mixing magazine 2011. The process is explained in full detail there.

I am sorry if I caused any confusion on that but it makes me realize how a lot of the guys misunderstood the session file so as a courtesy, I am gonna repost this in the original forum for future guys that want to take a look at the session file. Hopefully this clears up any misconceptions.

Enjoy.

-Jason

moleunion – 07-29-2011, 03:47 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Great article. Some enlightening ideas here!

paul999′s Avatar
paul999 – 07-29-2011, 03:54 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

This is a truly awesome article. This is the kind of thing you don’t just learn once. You learn it again and again.

dudermn’s Avatar
dudermn – 07-30-2011, 06:12 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Bands in the 60s where doing that “take a little away from the song thing than go to higher levels” thing way before it became pop . What squid thing in Pirates??

m24p’s Avatar
m24p – 08-01-2011, 02:16 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Quote Originally Posted by jaystar View Post
Btw, is it just me or does Katy Perry’s “E.T.” sound shockingly similar to T.A.T.U’s “All the Thing She Said”?
I definitely heard stuff that sounded like it was ripped off т.а.т.у, although I don’t recall which song reminded me of what.

TonyB’s Avatar
TonyB – 08-01-2011, 02:30 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Great article and spot on! I’ve found that I’ve been mixing more like this the past year…..even modern country has taken the same approach; except maybe for Taylor Swift. Her vocals aren’t out as front as most are.

Vic Demise’s Avatar
Vic Demise – 08-02-2011, 02:51 AM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Not my cup of tea. this gal- but you have to just do things differently, your own way (sometimes even “the wrong way”) if you’re going to create something UNIQUE.Too many artists/producers are so caught up in trying to “cop a sound” that they heard on someone else’s track, that they only end up copping other people’s sounds, and never creating something that is truly thiers. People who like Korn write and record Korn-like songs, and so on. There is nothing inherantly wrong with that- and I love when I set out to create a specific type of song, or moment in a song, and somehow I pull it off. “Whoo!! I did it!! Reminds me of_____!!!” That’s nice, but I got into this (songwriting/recording) to do something that was new, different, and most importantly, mine.We are all defined by our limitations, and these can include, equipment, technical skill, and even talent,but you work with what you have. You sing, play, record, mix, to the extent of your limitations, and with any luck you captured some magic, maybe even the next timeless classic of tomorrow. If not, you try again.There is no formula for a hit song, and while it’s useful (and fun) to pick apart a mix and figure out “how they did that”, THAT song has already been done, and re-creating it’s unique sound, or atmosphere, is to me a waste, of time.Now go blow some speakers you crazy kids.

SolidCrown’s Avatar
SolidCrown – 08-03-2011, 05:34 PM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Great article..

Petzi’s Avatar
Petzi – 08-10-2011, 08:12 AM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Very cool article !I’m quite new into sound engineering, so maybe (or surely) my ears need some training. But, isn’t there also a change in the delay (definitely) and reverb of her voice in the pre-chorus that creates a sonic void, helping the chorus to go kaboom ?Could be wrong though, so better ears can educate me

punkemogeekrock’s Avatar
punkemogeekrock – 08-20-2011, 10:45 AM
Report Post
Edit
Reply

Awesome Awesome post! As always Brandon you help to visualize concepts in a brand new way that STICKS. Thank you for taking your precious time to create such an awesome site and deliver information to your audience that gets the juices flowing. I’m with you, there is something that occurs when mixing a song that starts to want to make everything else south more “epic” or more “pristine” or “professional”, etc. In the process, NOTHING sounds that way. It’s all boring and lame and nothing sticks out. Maybe the key is getting away with just as few elements as possible on these style of songs. Going for the “vibe” with all the instruments barely audible as opposed to something sticking out. Great example with that acoustic gtr in eminem tune! Thanks times a million!

 

Brandon Drury

Posts Twitter Facebook Google+

Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.
join

No Comments

Be the first to start the conversation.

Leave a Reply