Mix Analysis: Gods and Monsters by Lana Del Rey (Audio)
This is going to be an in-the-dark tutorial, meaning there’s going to be no visual component, we’re going to be using ears and ears only. It’s going to be a mix analysis of one of my favorite mixes and fantastic song, Gods and Monsters by Lana Del Rey. It was mixed by Rob Orton. Really great mix engineer. There’s a lot of incredible stuff going on in this song. I really recommend buying the song and using it as your own reference. I could talk about this mix for hours.
Of course, I don’t want to do that, because I want to be short and sweet and to the point, so it’s going to be about fifteen minutes, I’m going to talk about three things.
But before I do that, first let’s play a little snippet of the record itself.
So the first thing that I want to talk about is the snare drum. This is going to be some basic technique stuff, and also just a cool little thing that I’m hearing. In the intro, we hear this spaghetti western gun shot type sound that’s in there. Listen to the snare after the intro, and really focus on the texture and the release and ambience of the snare itself.
I’m going to play just this one little snippet right here. Listen real careful.
You can kind of hear that “shooo, shooo” sound of the gun actually in there in the far background, and I believe that it was either put in there by the producer, or copy and pasted in by Rob himself, and it’s adding a bit of texture and depth to the snare. It happens to blend really nicely with the reverb coming off the snare, which is enhancing the snare bands, so there’s probably some kind of a bright sounding plate on the snare as well, which is partially masking the gunshot sound and making it all kind of blend together.
It also could have been EQ’d on the way to the reverb to enhance the snare band sound and make the plate reverb sound a little bit brighter.
The other thing that I want to mention about the snare is that it has a very specific type of attack to it. It’s very reminiscent of that classic rock kind of approach that’s been modernized, where the leading edge of the snare is really aggressive, really cracks, it’s really in your face, and I want to give you some different ways that you can go about creating that sound.
I’m going to play it one more time really quick.
So a ton of attack sound coming forward, which you can do either by using a Distressor and setting the attack fairly slow, the release fairly slow, and using it — sometimes even in optical mode, depending on how you want it to sound, and you set it low enough so that it’s really catching a good amount of the snare, but because the attack is on the medium to slow side, and the attack of the snare itself is very fast, the compressor doesn’t really kick in fast enough to attenuate the attack. It just sort of rounds it out.
So in a sort of counter-intuitive way, it actually ends up enhancing the attack by lowering the sustain. That, along with the natural tone of the Distressor, produces this kind of cool, splaty, aggressive crack in the upper-mid range that enhances that sort of 2-3kHz range, and I think that’s what’s going on on this snare.
It’s a pretty common rock technique, but there could be a couple other ways to do it as well. One would be to go even more aggressively with it, and to set the threshold very low, and the release to be pretty slow, and you get this sort of pumping, but very sharp, clicky attack thing that you can then blend in in parallel, which is a really good approach to doing this, and you can also kind of EQ that signal to sort of bring out certain tones. It can give you a little bit more flexibility to do it as a separate return.
The other way to do it is to create a parallel return using something like an MX-40 Punch Gate, which is a frequency dependent gate, and it’s pretty unique in the sense that whatever frequency you select as the side-chain detection frequency, that tone gets enhanced a little bit in the process of doing it, and it actually — it has this transient spike button, this punch button that pulls that frequency up dynamically, and so using that in parallel can also produce this very mid-range forward crack kind of sound on a snare.
So a few different techniques to doing that, I’m pretty sure though this was the first, more traditional way. I think it sounds unique because the snare is a sample, something like a Steven Slate drum kind of thing, as opposed to a raw, organic snare drum, which is where we’re used to hearing that, but I think it’s cool because it gives the snare this sort of familiar personality that feels organic, and feels reminiscent of more classic rock kind of approaches, or 90’s rock kind of approaches.
Alright, next thing I want to talk about is Lana’s vocal.
So there’s a lot of really cool things being done with this vocal. Just on the technical level, it’s engineered really, really well. It’s smooth, it’s bright, it’s forward, it’s never harsh, it feels like it’s dynamic, yet at the same time, it’s very heavily controlled, so I want to give you a few ideas for how to achieve that particular sort of approach.
The first is that dynamically speaking, we’ve got to rely a lot on rides. Just doing natural fader rides and region gains and things like that to get the levels evened out without any sort of processing in hand.
This then goes into feed a compressor that specifically acts on vocals or dynamic material in a way that feels transparent. So something with an optical kind of circuit, like an LA-2A, or in this particular case, I’m fairly certain a Fairchild. I don’t know if it was an actual piece of hardware or a really high end plug-in emulation, like maybe a UAD type of thing, but those softer knee, flexible kind of compressors retain the dynamic in a really natural way, and I’m fairly certain that’s the compression that’s going on in this vocal. There’s also this sort of second harmonic brightness that is very much in the same vein as an LA-2A or a Fairchild, and I’m pretty sure — almost 100% sure — this is a Fairchild.
EQ wise and tone wise, I would say that this is a 47 to record her voice. Either a Telefunken itself, or just like, a really good 47 clone. There’s a number of them out there.
You can tell by sort of the pinched high end and the way there’s this smooth, broad upper-mid and a good representation of the low end. Those all kind of say U47, and I would say that there’s a little bit of some kind of dynamic EQ in a very, very subtle proportion on the low end of her voice, because it doesn’t feel like there’s any low end of her voice missing, but those 47s can get a little bit woofy at times if the singer is leaning in close and then pulling away, there can be a lot of dynamic discrepancy in that frequency range.
On top of that, it sounds like it’s been brightened in some way, shape, or form. U47s are not naturally that bright, so some kind of a wide shelf going on, probably just your basic channel strip EQ kind of a thing.
Lastly, the reverb on her voice is really cool. She has a good amount of space and ambience on her voice, but at no point does it feel like her voice is being sunk back, and I think there are two things that are doing that.
The first is that I believe that her voice is feeding the reverb return, but a parallel compression chain on her voice that’s moving her voice forward is not.
So her dry voice feeds the reverb, but the parallel compression doesn’t. So I think that’s one thing that’s doing it, the other thing is the combination of early reflection to late reflection, where it’s — the reverb itself is favoring the early reflections, and also a pre-delay that allows the reverb to kind of get out of the way of the vocals, so something like 24 milliseconds or longer would be my guess.
As for the reverb itself, I would say that it’s most likely the large hall on the Bricasti, or it’s some kind of a hall emulation that’s been treated a little bit to sound really good, maybe something off of like, Altiverb. Hard to tell for sure.
There’s also some delays that come in later, some textural delays that are very subtle, as well as some very clear delays, and I’m going to jump over to a spot in the chorus to point that out.
So, this section of the song is called a tag. It’s the end of a chorus where the main part, like, a hook within a hook almost is being driven home. This record could have easily been titled, “Innocence Lost,” if you listen to how it’s setup.
So there’s two things I’m going to point out about it. The first is going to be that you’re going to hear a really clear automation ride on her vocal when it gets to the phrase, “It’s innocence lost.”
Right? The phrase comes way forward. As a casual listener, you wouldn’t necessarily notice it consciously, but as engineers, we hear, like, “Woah, that is a very clear volume ride that’s happening there.”
Yeah, sometimes being really deliberate with your volume rides and going over the top is good, and for a tag like that, it’s probably really important. I think it’s really tasteful.
The other thing, which is what brought me here to begin with is listen to the two different delays. The first one is going to be a quarter note coming off of the word, “Lost,” and the second one is actually going to be a quarter note and a dotted eighth note creating a syncopated delay, and having those two different delays happen on the tag keeps it feeling fresh, which I think is really brilliant engineering.
Pretty cool, right? I’m pretty sure that the delays are EchoBoy. I think that the saturation preset is called “Digital Chorus,” that’s what my ears are telling me, and the other one might be one of the more mid-range forward ones. It might not be the Digital Chorus on both of them. One might be — there’s one called Tube Tape, and there’s another one called Memory Man that both have slightly more forward mid-ranges. So I think it’s actually two different settings on the EchoBoy.
Hopefully I can get Rob to actually comment on some of this stuff, that would be great.
Okay, last thing I want to talk about, and like I said, I could talk about this mix forever, but you know, I’m just trying to keep it onto certain focused things, the progression of all of the strings throughout the record is amazing. This is going to be a little bit longer of a playback segment, but you really need to hear the progression throughout.
The strings section in general is super interesting, and you can listen to it and pick apart really cool things. Like, there’s a bass pad in there, there’s a Juno — what sounds like a Juno 106D in there, there’s also a string ensemble, and so all of these things make this very big, modern, symphonic sound that’s also reminiscent of something that’s vintage-y and old. It’s doing both at the same time, which is like, super nerdy exciting for me.
The other thing is the introduction throughout the verse to the chorus, it starts with just the bass pad, it moves to the Juno, which is in sort of that middle octave range, and then the brighter strings start coming in, and coming in more, so it almost creates the effect of a moving filter, except for it’s just done in the string arrangement, and that sort of progression, where the rides kind of flow up at the transition of sections, like, listen to this real quick…
You hear that “wooom” as it’s transitioning to the next bit of bars. That constantly keeps the progression feeling like it’s moving forward and moving forward, until we get to the part with the chorus, where the brightest of strings come in, and also the big bass comes in, so we just get this very full section, and it feels like it’s always moving forward.
Philosophically speaking, I feel like this is extremely important in mixing. We need our ear to constantly be fed, because a lot of music is based on repetition, but we need change within that repetition in order to feel like the song is not stagnating, so finding ways to bring things in and constantly move the record along is really a big part of that, and not only is Rob doing that with the strings with rides on the strings and almost acting like a conductor, but he’s also doing that with Lana’s adlibs.
So I’m going to play it one more time, listen to how the adlibs stack up throughout.
It goes from one solo voice to one solo voice and an adlib, to like, maybe three adlibs in there. By the time we get to the chorus, it sounds like there’s eight vocals tucked in that are playing around the lead vocal, and the other thing that’s really cool about them is that while the lead vocal is very forward, and the reverb is sunk back, creating this front to back thing, all of the adlibs have a lot of washiness to them, like there’s some kind of a chorusy thing, or there’s some slight micro-panning and more reverb on them, so it’s creating a bigger space around the lead vocals using the adlibs.
It’s really pretty brilliant stuff. So listen to this record, you can pick out so many things too. Interesting stuff going on with the bass, interesting stuff going on with the adlibs, everything like that, and you can learn a lot from it, but I hope that these things that I’ve pointed out have given you some ideas for stuff that you can incorporate into your mixing to make things feel more lively and progressive as you go.
Alright guys, hope that you learned something, until next time.