Mix Breakdown: On The Prow by Zitchi
I’m going to be discussing the mix approach to Zitchi Tha Producer’s record, On the Prow off of his instrumental album “Drive.” So, this is going to be a little different than my regular tutorials, because I’m not going to be discussing so much specific techniques in a hyper focus kind of way, but just my general approach to the mix and what I was trying to do.
The first thing I’m going to do is play you the record as I’ve mixed it.
What I’m going to do, is I’m going to take off all of my effects. Here’s what the record sounded like dry.
[song without effects or processing]
What’s worth noting here, is that the record itself, without any of my processing on it, still sounds pretty good. It’s just my processing takes what it sounds like, and makes it all sort of sound bigger and more impactful without actually taking anything away. The way that I do that is by making strong decisions. It’s not about doing a lot of processing. In fact, actually what you’re going to see is that in this record, there are a lot of tracks that aren’t processed at all, but it’s about doing the right kind of processing and thinking in correct terms.
Let’s look at the low end. One of the things you’ll note here, in this section…
…is that this kick right here, and this 808 right here are actually not processed at all. There’s no inserts on either of them. The reason being is that when I pushed up the faders, it sounded the way that I think it should’ve sounded. It already sounded good to me. So, I didn’t feel that I needed to change anything, and this is about respecting the work that Zitchi did in choosing the right sounds. He chose an 808 that worked, he chose a kick that worked.
Now, in this section, there’s a little bit more processing going on. This isn’t because the sounds didn’t work, it’s simply because the sounds had something happening that I felt could be stronger. So, one of the things that was important, and this was a little bit of a fix, was getting the layered kick that happens with the 808 in phase. Perfectly in phase, and that I used the In Phase plug-in. Basically, it’s both a time adjustment plug-in, as well as a selective all-pass filter that allows you to micro-adjust phase relationships between different things.
Basically just locks the kick and 808 together a little bit better.
Here’s without it.
[beat plays without In Phase]
And with it.
[beat plays with In Phase]
It punches forward a little more, comes to life a little bit more, but overall not a huge difference.
The other things that I’m doing are some very basic EQ. This 808 has some really cool tones. If I take off the EQ…
[808 without EQ]
You hear that buzzy quality. I really like that buzzy quality. To me, it was almost like another synthesizer in the bass, which I thought was super cool. So these two plug-ins here are just an EQ and this Manny Marroquin tone shaper, which is basically just a multi-band compressor, and I’m pulling up that buzz quality.
[808 with EQ and Manny Marroquin multi-band]
I felt like it gave it a lot of personality and impact, so that was a creative decision on my part, but I know that it complemented Zitchi’s vision of the record, so it was an easy choice to make.
Then, this kick I added a little extra sub and a little extra high end, nothing crazy going on there. The kick was basically right as well, it just needed a little extra push.
That’s the same thing with most of the stuff that’s happening on this record. The clap, I’m using a little bit of distortion from Decapitator, which I have a video on as well, how I approach using distortion on drums. It’s just giving it a little bit of character, and same thing with Altiverb, it’s just a little bit of reverb on the clap to give it a little more character and depth.
Then the high-hat, which is getting all of the low-end basically taken out. There were a lot of excess lows, so I basically just got rid of all the low end.
This here, the synth layers are kind of interesting. If I play them, it sounds like this.
What I’m going to do, is I’m going to bypass all the EQ real quick.
[synth layers without EQ]
As soon as I bring the EQ back on, it suddenly sounds a lot larger, and you’re probably thinking “okay, I’m adding some additive EQ.” Well, check this out. Taking out low-end… taking out a little mid-range, adding a little mid-range. About the same amount… Taking out mid-range… and there’s my additive EQ there.
I’m actually taking out a lot more than I’m putting in, and the reason being that this pluck synth is sort of the main synth of the section.
I really like the 1k tone for that. However, because there’s a lot of synths being layered up, and all those synths have reverbs and delays sort of built into them, it was really difficult for me to let my ear gravitate toward that plucked tone, so I ended up taking out a lot of mid-range in the other synths – well, not a lot of mid-range, but you know, carving out a little bit of mid-range in those other synths to allow the pluck to live where it needed to live.
Once I did that, it opened up space for everything else. I was able to turn one synth up a little bit, I was able to add a little bit of upper mid-range to another one, and overall, it resulted in a bigger sound, and it’s because I made sonic space for one synth by carving out a little bit of the EQ in the others.
The most important aspect of that process isn’t the fact that I was using subtractive EQ to allow something else to stand forward. The most important thing is that I decided which of those synths needed to stand forward, because I could have easily done the reverse for any of those synths in there, and deciding what needs to step forward is really more important than the technique, because if you have the best technique in the world but you’re making the wrong decisions, it’s not going to help you out too much.
So I heard the pluck as being the thing that was grabbing my ear and moving things along, and I decided, “Okay, that’s going to get it’s 1k push forward, everything else is going to bow out of the way.”
So lastly, there were a couple of things going on with this string sound.
That’s sort of the ear candy moment in the record, and it naturally has this sort of imbalance on the left and right side, so I’m using the S1 imager to stretch that out and exaggerate it, and a little bit of EQ just to sort of sit it in the track a little bit more presently.
That creates a nice side-to-side sort of sensibility, and this record actually doesn’t have a ton of side-to-side, but because I have that one element that really opens up on the left and right channel, it actually does create the illusion of having a very wide mix, even though for the most part, it’s really not the widest mix in the world.
Alright, the very tail end of this record is the Virtual Buss Compressor, where I also have a tutorial on this as well, this is one of those things where when I first got to the master, and I took a break, I walked away, and then I came back 15 minutes later, and I thought, “Okay, what does it really sound like?”
It sounds like this!
So, in my mind I’m thinking, “Okay, that sounds pretty good, but it sounds a little bit thin overall, and not thin in the way where it’s missing tone, but thin in the way where the drums are forward, the synths are back, and sort of forever there they stay.” So, I knew that I wanted a little bit of compression to just kind of thicken things up. What I decided to do was some aggressive compression, where if you watch these meters, you’ll see it’s really going.
[music with VBC]
I’m using a compressor that has a lot of color, and I’m even using a little bit of this drive knob to kind of get it there. The reasoning being that I can then use this parallel mix knob, and that allows me to set the very heavy compressed signal at maybe only about 10% of the output, and the other 90% is just the dry original signal. So, by doing this, I can get a little bit more color and swing and thickness into the sound, and just really precisely control where it needs to be, before it starts becoming a little too wooly, or a little too softened because of the compression. So, that’s one of the things that’s nice about this VBC, because it’s got this mix knob right there.
And then, a little bit of EQ. This EQ is my master EQ, and you’re probably looking at this and thinking, like, “Wow, this is not doing anything. This is not even one dB, it’s .75dB being attenuated out at about 200Hz, and this side band here is doing a little more than half a dB at about 3k, and here’s a whole decibel treble boost.”
So everything is less than a dB change, but listen to how it sounds.
[music, before and after EQ]
It’s just like, suddenly, the mix kind of comes to life and steps forward a little bit. Now, master buss EQ, my feeling is generally speaking, if you’re doing a lot of EQ on the master buss, then you probably need to revisit something in the mix. That’s not to say that sometimes you don’t have to do stuff, sometimes you do, but most of the time, if you’re doing any significant EQ’ing, or compression really, on the master buss, but mostly EQ, then there’s something out of whack inside the mix.
But, there’s nothing wrong with hitting the overall mix with a little bit of EQ. If that gives you the sound that you want, then there’s certainly nothing wrong with that at all.
So that’s my overview. Check out the link to drive, once again, here it is, and yeah! Stay tuned.