Are You Making Bold Mix Decisions?
Today we are going to be checking out a really cool record. It’s called Drive Until the Morning Comes. It’s an original by Downtown Shimmy. Here is a link to it. I want you guys to listen to this record in its entirety. It’s an amazingly well written song. It’s such a cool record.
What I’m going to be talking about and using this tutorial for is the thought process that went behind the mix. I feel that mixing is about musicality and when we’re making records we don’t want average decisions.
We want bold, in your face decisions. We have subtlety, we use subtlety, but sometimes subtlety gets lost on the average listener. So let’s check out this record. Let’s listen to some of it and talk about some of the things that are going on.
So one of the things that you probably would notice right off the bat is that the record is super dry, like super dry. There a little bit of room tone, that’s tucked into the drums just to give it a little bit of depth, but the vocal is completely dry, the drums are predominantly dry, the bass is completely dry, and the guitar is completely dry. The only thing that is not dry is the harmonica. The harmonica, on the other hand, is soaked in reverb. There’s almost as much reverb on the reverb return as the actual dry signal.
The reason for that is that I really liked that dirty, like basement lounge kind of sound that was going on. Then, bringing in the contrast from the harmonica just totally sealed the deal, gave the record tons of depth and texture and mood by creating this great contrast and I really like that. Other things that you might notice is that overall the mix doesn’t particularly sound super sculpted. This is what I would call a faders up mix. I basically threw up the faders and loved what came out.
When I started crafting the mix I didn’t want to stray to far from that. I felt that this dirty, raw sound really applied well to what was going on. This was all tracked with very, very high end equipment. So, the vocal mic, for example, is U-47 going in through, I think, a Neve preamp. Yeah, I think it’s like a 1084, I don’t remember. But, that’s pretty high end stuff. I could’ve easily made an extremely polished sounding vocal because all the content is there, but I just liked how it sounded to begin with.
There’s no EQ on the vocal at all. There’s just a touch of compression, it’s soft knee compression. It’s very subtle, you barely notice it. Most of the vocal dynamic is as is. It just worked. Anyway, let’s move on to this little spot toward the end here where there’s a solo, the guitar player and the harmonica player share a solo.
When I was listening to this solo I kind of felt like there were sort of two parts to it. In the beginning of that solo the harmonica player and the guitar player are sort of trying to figure out what they’re doing. I almost wonder if whether or not they false started and started taking solos at the same time and they just tried to work it out. So there’s this sort of area where it’s kind of ambiguous as to whose solo it really is and then they connect and they figure it out and the guitar player sort of does this riff and as soon as he ends the riff the section turns to the B and the drummer starts hitting that tambourine.
I felt like the energy became much different there. The solo locked together as this conversational solo and the guys really started gelling and the energy picked up. So, even though the guitar is dry everywhere else in the song, I automated a spring reverb to come onto the guitar in that section just because I felt it helped really lock that energy together, give it that extra something, make it a special part in the song.
Then the other thing that I am doing, which is really important, is because I’m observing a musical conversation, the level rides are becoming very, very important. So when the guitar needs to be the focus in this solo, I’m giving the guitar a little extra volume and when the harmonica needs to be the focus in the solo, I’m actually ducking the guitar down a little bit. What this is doing is it’s bringing out this conversational idea. The conversational idea is already there, I’m just telling the listener where to go. So you don’t necessarily consciously notice it, but your ear hears the call and the response, the call followed by the other response, and that trading of energy.
Anyway, I say all of these things because here we have a mix that is likely to not impress audio engineers and my fellow engineering community. That’s okay. I’m more interested in effecting the end listener and giving them something that’s bold and decisive and strong to latch onto. Whether it’s bold in the sense that’s it’s all very clean polished, has a great ambiance to it and really scopic or the opposite, that it’s very dry, tight, raw, gritty, and in some way contrasting to norms. Whatever it is, I’m making a bold decision and I’m following through with it regardless of whether or not I think that it will reflect well on my mixing ability or anything else.
Ultimately, the main idea when you’re mixing anything is to convey the emotion of the song. And that’s what this is all about.