Studio Project: Mixing Session One

We’ve completed all the recording requirements of our studio project. All we have left to do now is mix both the studio recordings and a select few songs of the live recording. We organized a group mixing session at Dan’s home studio on Sunday 26/4/15 (he uses Ableton Live Suite). Thankfully he’d done a bit of progressive mixing for each track which meant our job that day wasn’t quite as big as it could have been (though we still had a lot to get done). We were anticipating a late night and figured we’d get at least two songs satisfactorily mixed by around midnight.

Folsom Prison Bluesphoto 1

We officially started mixing at 2pm and decided to start with one of the simpler songs that would require maybe a bit less effort than a couple of the others. The song we chose was Folsom Prison Blues. We identified a few major problems with the mix and got to work on them, one of them being an issue with the double bass recording. We’d captured too much of the click/slap sound so typical of Matt’s performances. We solved this issue through the use of the C6 Multiband Compressor Plugin. With this tool we were able to compress the high end where the slap was coming through. This let through the initial slap and squashed the rest, which was what we were after. We then accentuated the low end as it wasn’t prominent enough for our liking. This definitely solved the problem. In hindsight, the bass recording session was a very rushed one and we should have asked Matt to come in again at a later date so we could get the sound we wanted. The original session was so rushed that we barely had time for a sound check. I think this is where the major problem lay.

The next major problem was that a space had been left in the studio recordings to be filled in with a piano solo. Unfortunately, we were unable to fill that space as we never received the recordings from Ant (he was going to record them at home as he was short on time). This was easily fixed though. We just cut the space out. The result is a shorter and slightly less interesting song but it’s still a good performance and a fun, catchy song.

Another issue with Folsom Prison Blues was that it was sounding a bit muddy. We couldn’t work out whether it was the thinness of the acoustic guitar or the snare sounding too ‘big’. We worked first on the acoustic guitar. There was too much top end coming through (not enough low end). Our first attempt was to EQ to bring out more low end. This was partially successful so we complemented it with a doubling of the acoustic track itself which didn’t seem to work. We then resorted to lowering the level of the C414 we’d closely positioned to the middle of the guitar whilst recording (using more of the other mics/DI). This resulted in a better, fuller sound. The C414 was obviously picking up too much high end. We solved the snare issue by reducing the input gain to the tape emulator plugin discussed in the next paragraph.

photo 3Naturally, there were quite a few other things we tweaked in the mix for this song. We also added a few plugins, more notably the Kramer Tape plugin. This emulates that retro tape sound which was really effective for the genre we’re mixing (rockabilly, country/blues). It warms up the general sound by rounding off the harsher high frequencies and adding density to the lower frequencies. Kramer Tape has proved to be an all around awesome plugin. In the end we added it to most, if not all of the tracks for each song. Another typical sound in rockabilly songs is the slap back echo (typical to 1950s rock-n-roll). We used this on the main vocal and electric guitar plus a few other tracks of each song.

After four hours of mixing Folsom Prison Blues we were pretty happy with the result and decided it would be wise to give our ears a break then move onto another song.

Dead Man’s Bones

We commenced mixing Dead Man’s Bones at 6.45pm. The most notable issues with this song were the overall levels in the mix, especially in relation to each other during certain parts of the song. For example, the acoustic guitar was too loud in the first verse. We also decided to duck the electric guitar during the vocals as well as accentuate the end of some sentences Pete would sing e.g. ‘even the devil stayed home’. It was a bit too quiet due to the last couple of words being lower in pitch than at the beginning of the sentence. Overall we found Pete’s vocal to be a bit too far back in the mix. It might have been the reverb setting used. We were happy with the reverb itself but just tweaked the saturation slightly. We’d recorded the vocal using a C414 and SM7B, roughly the same distance from Pete’s mouth. We found that pulling the C414 track from the mix and increasing the SM7B solved the problem completely. Perhaps the SM7B is just a better microphone for Pete’s voice and the vocal style of this song being a bit “yelly/shouty” (the SM7B is a dynamic microphone whereas the C414 is a condenser – more sensitive). We altered a few other levels and were quite satisfied with the product so took a good break from mixing at 9.10pm.

Kaw-Ligaphoto 2

 Though we were quite fatigued by the time we commenced work on Kaw-Liga, we decided to push on. Dan’s preliminary mixing of the verses was sounding amazing. One of the only issues we found was that the kick drum was a bit weak. This was remedied by a bit of drum replacement using the Massey DRT plugin. The song’s verses are in a minor key and change to a major key for the chorus’. The chorus is busier overall and needed ‘tidying’ up. We were very tired by this stage and everyone had listener’s fatigue. At midnight, after a few attempts at level adjusting and effects tweaking we decided to call it quits.

Overall it was a very productive and enlightening mixing session. I hadn’t used Ableton before and was interested to find out how it works. I was impressed by Dan’s vast array of plugins and how effective they were. Mixing is certainly not my forte when it comes to audio production so I valued learning different approaches and techniques from my group mates.

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