How Far I’ve Come… Part Two

Hello again! Time for another trip down memory lane!

On the last blog, I tore apart my first ever recording. Being my first ever mixing experience, there was a lot of negatives and I spent a lot of time pointing out those negatives. In this blog I will focus more on correcting mistakes. Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate the final Pro Tools session used for one, but I’ll be using the other to show what I did, and what I would do differently now.

STOCKHOLM SYNDROME

Oh boy…

For the next recording task, I was in a group with Sam Bidgood and Tom McPhee. After working with Graham Coe in my first recording venture (and since Tom, Sam, and I weren’t that good at singing or guitar), I asked him to help with this project. Our main mutual interest was Muse, and we soon began churning out some covers. The two tracks in this blog were made for the two technology modules in first year, one in each semester. The first one was chosen after we both said it at the exact same time, it was fate…

Rather than critiquing each individual instrument in detail and basically repeating everything I said in the last blog, I’m going to dive right in and sum up the overall mix:

  • Drums still not sitting quite right in the mix. The snare sounds too distant and gets lost too often in loud sections. The cymbals sound too ‘roomy’. The kick and toms are also pretty ‘boomy’ but lack proper low end. A side-chained 60Hz on the kick would have done wonders! EQ could have been used to cut undesirable frequencies and give the kit more punch, while time-based effects could have made them sound larger without just mixing in more of the room. Parallel compression also could have been utilised to give the kit a ‘breathing’ sound and make it bigger sounding also.
  • Vocals are okay in terms of compression – just okay – but they are far too loud, especially with the harmony parts. EQ’ing could have also been used to make them sit on top of the music without just boosting the overall volume. More ‘brilliance’ (16kHz) to give them some sparkle and less ‘mud’ (250Hz) would half cleaned them up. Time-based effects and harmonic distortion could have added some size and
  • Guitars sound messy, especially along with the keys and bass due to them all being distorted. Again, EQ’ing could have carved out spaces for each instrument to achieve greater clarity and avoid them fighting for space in the EQ spectrum. They also sound very ‘roomy’, a room mic was used and should not have been as loud in the mix.
  • The bass seems to get in the way of the kick and the guitars, this could have been avoided by using side-chain compression with the kick and EQ cuts.
  • The keys in the chorus could have been EQ’ed to make them come through more without the level having to be raised as much.
  • The guitar feedback at the end was a pretty cool addition, but slight phase issues with mics used meant it wasn’t as epic as it could have been. Aligning the phase of the mics using delay would have made them sound even better!
  • There is much more dynamic movement that in ‘Mountains’, although some of the changes are too severe and quite messy.
  • Overall, an improvement on ‘Mountains’. Less things get lost in the mix in louder sections (although some things still do!) and clarity is a bit better. Still a way to go though!

BUTTERFLIES AND HURRICANES

Safe to say I had definitely discovered compression…

This project featured Graham Coe, Tom McPhee, and Martin Stewart. Before beginning this mix, Graham and myself agreed it would be a great idea to try and contact some of the people who worked on the track. The production of the track was pretty staggering so some pointers from people who actually worked on it would be ideal! Engineers Paul Reeve and John Cornfield emailed back with some very detailed accounts of what was done in the recording process. The questions asked were very focused on the recording, us being n00bs didn’t realise the mixing process is probably (arguably) more important than the actual recording (although a good recording can help the mixing process massively). Paul Reeve warned us that recording string parts one at a time would massively effect the quality of the finished product. Did we listen? Of course not, we were n00bs!

Right, same drill:

  • Drums still aren’t right! Snare is over-compressed and sounds squashed. Overheads have a nasty boost at high frequencies and sound harsh when the crashes are hit. Toms still ‘boomy’. The kick is lost in a lot of it, EQ scoops and side-chain gated 60Hz could have brought it through more. Still quite ‘roomy’ sounding, reverbs and delays could have added space instead of just sounding more like the drum booth! Again parallel compression would have worked wonders in boosting the power of the kit.
  • Vocals are pretty compressed. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but coupled with the MASSIVE boost in sibilance (for some reason I liked it, what was I thinking?!) they sound very tinny. EQ has been used creatively here, but not very tastefully. The boosts are too severe and make the vocals sound cheap and nasty. Harmonies sit nicely at points, but are generally too loud. Stab vocals (64 layered harmony tracks) are too sudden, reverb and EQ’ing could have smoothed their attack and allowed them to sit more comfortably in the track.
  • Keys could sound cleaner, attack and cut-off times etc could have been adjusted so it was less abrupt. Sounds messy when other things come in; again, EQ’ing could have been used to carve out a space and allow it to sit comfortably in the mix.
  • A total of 40 string tracks (violin, viola, and cello) were recorded one at a time which caused major phase issues. Instead of sounding like a symphony orchestra as intended, they sound fake and indistinguishable as multiple takes. They are also all dry, with no reverb or delay, which adds to the phasing problem.
  • Piano is barely noticeable during verses. It is supposed to drive the track but instead is lost in the background. The solo piano sound okay, but could have been a lot better with better use of EQs and some parallel compression. It also seemed to clip at a couple of points which really ruins the atmosphere.
  • Bass guitar is pretty muddy and again gets in the way rather than supporting the lower frequencies. Again (blah de blah)  carving on EQs and compression could have helped if used effectively!
  • Overall a very ambitious project that could have been so much better if effects were used with more taste and less haste! (Sorry…) Dynamic movement was disappointing; some sections are supposed to explode in, but lack of automation etc meant the sforzandos lacked power.

So! Getting a little better by the end of first year, but as you can tell by my generally negative comments I was still a bit of a n00b. I had still to learn of enhancing a kit sound using samples as well as the acoustic take and parallel compression. In general, my lack of knowledge with EQ meant I was boosting harshly to get things to cut through rather than carving spaces for instruments to sit together.

I had some way to go, although at least I was showing ambition!

David

2 thoughts on “How Far I’ve Come… Part Two

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