Studio Project: Mixing Session Two

We anticipated our second mixing session to be a longer one for the reason that we had two songs to mix, three songs to adjust using our lecturers’ advice and six live songs to mix. We started the day with a look at the preliminary mixing Dan had done using Rose’s advice from a few days before.

11.00am – Dead Man’s Bones

Dan had done a good job with the EQing advice Rose had given us, focusing on a particular channel, taking out unwanted frequencies and boosting desired frequencies. We focused first on the problem that stood out to us most which was the lead vocal photo 1distorting at one particular point. The vocal style of the song is a bit loud and ‘yelly’ so if Pete was closer to the mic it would distort easily. After attempts at adjusting plugins we resorted to automation, decreasing the vocal level for the couple of words the distortion was occurring at. After fixing this we were really happy with where it was at so moved onto the next song.

That’s Alright Mama feat. Sahara Beck

The EQing applied to each track had left only a few things left to fix. We didn’t want to clean up or process the tracks so much that they didn’t sound live anymore. This was definitely the case with That’s Alright Mama. We did a little bit more EQing to get rid of the excess room noise in the vocal track and then compressed it using the CLA-76 twice, one in ‘pump’ (all ration settings pressed in) and one in a 4:1 ratio. We really liked what we were hearing but after listening to some live reference tracks we became concerned that maybe the tracks were starting to sound more and more like an actual studio recording. They’d kind of lost that live energy we were wanting to maintain in the live mixes. We decided to bounce down Dead Man’s Bones and send it to Rose via Facebook for review, just in case she happened to be online. Luckily she was available to give it a listen and gave us the following feedback:

I just listened to it on my speakers (not monitors) and now listening on headphones. I think it’s still got the energy. One thing that can drive the live feel a little more is to have a vocals just a touch lower so it feels like he’s actually trying to shout over the rest of the band. Not by much.. only 1 or 2db and not for the whole song either. Your overall mix is really clear and clean and sounds awesome. On the headphones the cymbals to the right from 2:20 onward are a little harsh… but not too bad. Also, it if were me, the lead guitar I would just add the tiniest bit more ‘bite’ to it. You don’t want it to pop too much, but at the moment, i just feel like its getting a little lost at times.”

We followed all of the her advice. We lowered the level of the vocals and cymbals and added a bit of distortion to the electric guitar through the Kramer Tape plugin as well as increasing it’s level a bit.

We did all of this in time to get another review from Rose. She liked it but said the guitar was a bit too loud now for her liking. After listening back through headphones we agreed that it was too loud. Especially because there’s nothing of interest panned right except for the acoustic guitar which we’d turned down due to its unusual tone. We decreased the electric guitar level slightly and were then happy with it as it didn’t pull the ear as it had before.

4.30pm – Shifts & Sways

We were excited to work with Shifts & Sways as it’s a Pete Cullen original and features a washboard. Unfortunately most of the washboard sound was coming through the acoustic guitar channel (strange setup at Lefty’s). We wanted to turn down its level in the mix but it wasn’t that simple because we didn’t want to turn down the acoustic guitar. We ended up isolating the frequencies it was creating and toning those down slightly. The effect was satisfactory but still a bit too loud for our liking. Considering that’s what we had to work with and the fact that it’s a live recording we decided we were happy with it.

5.15pm – That’s Alright Mama feat. Sahara Beck

We decided to take another look at this song just to make sure we were satisfied with it. There was something muffling the whole thing but we couldn’t quite pick what it was. We concluded that it must be the double bass and figured out that we had the electric bass settings applied to that track (the bassist switches between double bass and bass guitar photo 3throughout the set). Due to those plugin settings it was coming through very boomy and muffled. We needed more pluck sound so moved the original EQ cut at 120Hz to the 250Hz mark. This proved to be a successful method at bringing out that definition. We also removed an EQ cut around 250Hz on the electric guitar track. This affected Sahara’s vocals positively as we’d had that cut in place to complement Pete’s deeper vocals. Sahara’s vocals a obviously going to be higher as she’s a woman.

6.15pm – Wee Wee Hours

Wee Wee Hours is one of our favourites of all the live songs we had to work with so we were looking forward to working with it. Upon listening to it we found it was already sounding quite good and only needed a little more tweaking of EQ settings on a couple of tracks. We also automated the bass level to counteract the dynamic changes occurring throughout the song e.g. it’s played a bit too softly at the beginning of the song.

After a forty-five minute dinner break we were back to it at 7.30pm. We’d originally decided to mix six of the live tracks but found that we’d spent too much time on live mixing already so decided to audition the two tracks we’d selected days earlier and choose our favourite/the most workable one. Upon listening to them (I Got A Woman & She Caught The Katy) we came to the conclusion that neither was exciting enough for our project. We didn’t want to jeopardize the overall project by adding a song that we weren’t passionate about and didn’t/couldn’t mix to the quality that we desired. We went through each song of the three different sets of the live recording. Nothing was jumping out at us until we came across Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright. I’m not sure why we skipped over this song when originally picking the songs we were going through them days earlier. Nonetheless we agreed to use this one instead of either of the other two.

Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright

This is originally a Bob Dylan song so while performing Pete had adjusted his vocal style to suit it. This caused confusion as to whether we needed to raise or lower the vocal level in the mix but eventually determined that it was fine at its current level when other elements were tweaked. We raised the level of the bass again in this song and added a touch of compression using the Puigchild compresser (an imitation of the Fairchild compressor). There was a really bright top-end jingle occurring in the acoustic guitar which was most noticeable when listening in headphones. We applied a shelf over 10kHz to lessen this brightness. The last major point was the toms sounded a bit weird, like they’re not resonating as they should. We attempted to fix it but concluded that it was impossible as it was mostly due to the way Damon was playing the drums for that track.

8.30pm – Adjusting Studio Mixes Following Rose’s and Akshay’s Advice

Dead Man’s Bones

We made all the suggested adjustments plus a few extra changes. We moved the acoustic guitar track back in the mix by 5ms to make it more noticeable as it seemed to get lost. After gating the bass after we’d compressed it (as Rose suggested) we started to lose the kick. We solved this by boosting the supplement kick track that has a faster attack as well as modifying the compression to let a little more low end through. This gave the kick more definition and punch. The final note which was particularly noticeable when listening back to the whole mix in headphones was that the acoustic guitar was sitting way back in the left corner making a very niggly jangly sound. It was completely distracting from the rest of the song. This was amended by adjusting its frequency profile by bringing out a little bit more low end. We made sure we didn’t bring too much out so as not to muddy up the mix .

photo 2

Folsom Prison Blues

Though we didn’t get feedback for this song specifically we decided to apply to it some of the suggestions we had received on the others. For example, we lowered the level of the lead vocal and expanded the bass a bit. We also neatened up the acoustic guitar in the same way as Dead Man’s Bones. We noticed that the backing vocals seemed way too close to the lead vocals in the way that it sounded as though they’d been recorded standing right next to the lead vocalist (Rupert). After multiple efforts at adjusting processor settings and levels, we discovered that the problem was fixed just by turning one of the backing vocals’ level down. Pete was singing the octave higher which really stood out at the volume we had it. The final thing we noticed was that Rupert’s vocal as distorted. This was easily fixed by getting rid of a couple of unnecessary plugins.

10.40pm Kaw-Liga

We followed all of the advice given to us on this song. One of the major issues was the sudden effect of the minor key to major key transition particularly felt between the first verse and chorus but lacking between the second verse and chorus. We addressed this by boosting the bass level and adding a bit more of the NTK track into it to bring out the definition of the slap. We also gradually faded out the electric guitar and brought it back in suddenly when the chorus hits. The case was the same with this song as Folsom Prison Blues where we had to cut out a section that was left for a piano solo.

By the time we finished with Kaw-Liga it was midnight so we were all understandably fatigued. Though we had hoped to get all of the mixes done that day it obviously wasn’t going to happen. We had only two songs left to mix and concluded that we could get them done during the week but well before our deadline five days away.

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