Tips for Customizing a Mix for Live Performance
Today’s lesson is going to be about customizing a mix to be used for performance playback, as opposed to casual listening playback, and this is a record where the original mix, which was done by the producer, is fantastic for listening purposes. It’s unpredictable, it’s got a cool texture, it’s got a lot of vibe to it.
But, because of technical limitation in the performance playback arena, I needed to go in and do a variation on that mix to correct for a few technical things. The technical and the creative side are something that we always have to balance when we’re mixing, and sometimes they simply don’t come to pass, and you need to approach a record for performance purposes in a different way, and I’m going to show you how I did that.
So, let’s listen to this record a little bit.
So, the goals for the performance mix are to make sure that the audience is continually excited by not just the rapper’s performance, in this case, my friend and colleague and client, Random aka Mega Ran, not just excited by his performance, but engaged by the musicality of the production as well.
So, let’s talk about the first side of things. Dynamic.
If everything is at the same level, you don’t give the record any place to go. You don’t take the audience on a journey. So, it’s important to have variation in the dynamics of the song. Here is an example of that.
The opening intro sample, which plays throughout the record, is significantly lower in my mix here by about 4.5 dB, than it is when the actual drop hits.
What I want is for the audience to get used to hearing the sample playing back at a certain level, which is going to be fairly lower than where the actual beat is going to be once it kicks in.
Once that drop hits, then everything comes up, and it sounds like this big climactic moment. That’s where the chorus kicks off. It excites the audience. It’s going to give the audience somewhere to go. It’s going to wake them up and give them a little kick in the ass.
The way I’m doing that is two-fold. First off, the sample is just coming up in general by about 4.5 dB, but that specific downbeat is coming up by a lot. It’s coming up by 6 dB, and that’s being mirrored by the reinforcement from the orchestra percussion coming up, this 808 kick drum coming into play for the first time, and also the drop that goes on right in front of it. There’s also volume rides that I’m doing on the actual intro where certain parts of the musical phrases come up, and then they start to come back down, it finally drops out and then, boom, it kicks in, and it’s exciting to the listener’s ear.
Likewise, not only do we need that big dynamic, but we also need that inside dynamic. So, all of these 808s that are hitting, they’re all hitting at slightly different levels, and I’m doing manual rides on them, so that first hit is maybe 2-3 dB louder than some of these inside hits, and then little accent ones will come up a dB or two because the 808 is a very compressed signal, little differences in volume are pretty significant, and just as a side-note, with the 808, it was just – it’s really hard to get the exact pitch of an 808 right on, and this 808 was ever so slightly, slightly, sharp. I’m talking about, like, an eighth tone sharp, which is super subtle. So, I also pitch shifted the 808 to blend with the tonality of the record as well a little bit.
That’s an aside. So, on the subject of dynamic, one of the things that’s really exciting in a playback environment is speaker excursion.
Speaker excursion is the actual physical force of the speaker moving out. It’s not total amplitude, it’s total change in amplitude over a short duration of time. Now, in a casual listening environment, it’s fairly easy to fake a strong amount of dynamic in that regard. But, in a club playback system, you’re oftentimes being limited by a limiter in front of the amp. It’s put there because people don’t want DJs blowing out the speakers, which is totally understandable, but it means that when you’re creating a performance mix, you actually have to create a more dynamic mix than what you might necessarily do for casual playback.
So, my goal isn’t to have the loudest playback in the world. Rather, I want to have strong, defined transients, and the snare for example, I’m using a transient designer and doing a 7 dB dynamic push on the lower range of the snare.
Here’s without it.
[snare drum with transient designer]
One more time…
[snare plays, with transient designer]
So, what that is, is it’s actual physical force of speaker coming out. It doesn’t even really change the actual tone of the snare much, because I think that K*** basically nailed that. What it does do is actually provide more physical energy pushing the speaker.
There’s one other thing that I do want to talk about here, and that’s balance in the stereo image. When you’re in a casual listening environment, you don’t need to have a balanced stereo image. You can break that rule, and K*** is really good at doing these kinds of weird, quirky, vibey things in a really unique way, and yet somehow, still making it work.
I’m not really as good at that, actually, but when it comes to a live performance environment, you have to be careful about unbalanced stereo images, and let me show you what I mean by that.
Here’s the sample that plays throughout the verse of this record.
Now, you’ll notice that for the most part, there’s a lot more energy coming out of the right speaker than coming out the left, and it’s low frequency energy at that.
That can be really cool when you’re listening to it on headphones, or when you’re hearing it out of speakers at home, but when you’re in a live playback environment, the problem with that is that on one side, if the audience is standing off to the left, they’re going to hear not enough of the melodic component of the sample being used. They’re just going to get percussion for the most part.
On the right side, they’re going to hear too much of it, and it’s going to mask that percussive quality a little bit. So you’ve got one side that isn’t really getting the melody, and one side that isn’t really getting the rhythm.
So, we want to even that out. Here’s a before and after.
[sample plays, before and after]
We’ll do it one more time, and what I want you to do is focus on the low-end, and you’ll hear it move to the center, and then focus on the overall stereo image at the same time, and you’ll hear it widen out.
So, one more time.
[sample plays, before and after]
By manipulating the mid-side configuration, what I’m doing is I’m balancing the energy of the sample, while at the same time, opening it up in the stereo image, so I’m getting a wider image, but I’m also getting a more balanced image.
Make sense? I’ll pull open the plug-in. What I’m doing here is I’m using the mono maker to make everything that’s below 260Hz mono. Then, I’m doing stereo expansion to take what’s still stereo – those lower mid to upper mid frequencies – and stretch them out a little bit further, and then using a little bit of EQ to balance things out after the fact.
This allows me to preserve the overall tonality, adjust the image, adjust the energy, and ultimately, the end listener, which is going to be the audience, no matter where they’re standing in the room, is going to get the same impact that I’m designing in this mix, and that’s pretty important.
Alright, folks. I hope you learned something, and check out the MegaRan and Sammus Rappers with Arm Cannon tour, starting March 5th in New York, and going all the way down to South by Southwest. It’s going to be really cool. Tour dates are listed right here.