Mix Analysis: Karmin – Didn’t Know You
This is going to be an in-the-dark tutorial, but of course, right now, you are seeing my face. You’re going to lose it in a second, but the reason why you’re seeing me is because this is going to be analyzed in the same studio that it was mixed. Mix engineer is Andrew Dawson, the record is called, I Didn’t Know You, and it’s by Karmin.
It’s a really cool record, it’s something I use as a reference a lot, and there’s a really good takeaway from this particular mix analysis.
Here we go.
So one of the things I really love about Andrew’s mixes, is that consistently, for years, there has always been fantastic front-to-back imaging, and this one is no exception. When we listen to this record, we hear the vocals in the verse very forward, we hear the kick drum very forward, but we hear a lot of the drums actually pretty far away, and I mean, to my ear, if I were to guess how far they were with my eyes closed, I would say probably a good fifteen feet or further. So I mean, it’s a pretty deep image.
And I think when we listen to this record throughout the entire thing, we hear a lot of really great manipulation of the front-to-back. Like, when the record picks up in the pre-chorus…
The positioning of the vocal changes a little bit. The harmonized, sustained “oh” comes to the front, but the lead vocal actually falls just slightly back from the front of the image, because that slap delay comes in and changes the perception, and then once we get to the chorus…
We get this really cool contrast between the, “I guess I didn’t know you,” which is really forward, and the “hey” vocal, which is like, all reverb and it’s all in the back, but it’s also really wide.
So it’s this really big, scopic image that opens up, and from where we come from in the verse, that contrast is really cool too, and of course, this is something that I keep going back to, but contrast in a record is really very crucial to keeping the ear excited and to keep the listener pulled along and following.
So the sound of the drums, what’s giving it that depth is a room reverb, but it doesn’t sound like an artificial reverb, so it could’ve been tracked in that way. Andrew might have done some tracking for this record, in which case, it very easily could have been tracked in this way, but my suspicion is that it was actually done in the mix phase, and he used something like the UAD Ocean Way plug-in, which is a room reverb, or I believe they have another room reverb that kind of does the same thing, where you don’t hear it so much as reverb, you hear it so much — you hear it more as space. Front-to-back space. And the Ocean Way does that very well.
So that would be my guess as to what’s going on there, but it’s also just that choice to make that happen, and I think it’s a bold choice to do it with the drums.
Now, there’s a second really bold choice that I want to talk about real quick, and that is the vocal.
So Karmin is a Pop singer, and if you listen to her other records, like Broken Hearted or Hello, she has a done up, Pop style treatment on those records, and that’s true for a lot of her records.
In this record, Drew chose to make it a little bit more natural sounding. It actually — it’s very natural sounding, which is a very deliberate choice for sure.
The only ambience around her voice is like a very narrow room, so maybe there’s like, a little bit of maybe that same Ocean Way plug-in that’s in there, or maybe just a little bit of what’s called Ambience, where it’s just early reflections or something like that.
It’s a very dry vocal overall, but there’s a sense of three-dimensionality to it, but it’s very natural and living in a natural sounding room. It’s almost more of what you would expect from a Lumineers kind of thing than what you would expect from a big Pop thing, and the reason why I want to point this out isn’t so much that there’s a crazy technique involved in doing that, it’s because it takes serious guts to do that.
When you have a record coming in from an artist who generally has this big, done up, Pop sound, and you choose to take it in a natural direction, because you feel that’s what’s going to compliment the record, that is a bold choice, and I really, really stress to people as much as possible, make bold choices. Bold choices don’t need to be crazy, in your face, bombastic approaches to things. Sometimes the boldest choice is just to treat something in a very natural way.
And it really works, because Karmin’s vocal performance — she’s a very, very good performer. More than just being a really good singer, she’s a really good performer, and so her vocal line alone can carry the song, and it provides that chance for this contrast to show up.
And then suddenly, we have a much more big, done up Pop kind of sound going on in the chorus, but having that contrast really creates that explosiveness that occurs between the verse and the chorus.
Now, I want to just point out one other thing, which I think is really cool in this record. It’s a subtle thing, but I think it’s one of those things where it’s not the most technically challenging thing in the world, but without making that decision, the record probably would actually fall apart, and it’s because this one element is driving the entire record along.
This bass, this gated, sequenced bass that is very transient heavy.
So my guess is that this was part of Drew’s work as well. The emphasis on the transient of the bass, it was probably done with a transient designer or something like that — we don’t normally think of a bass as a percussive instrument, but because it’s such a staccato and fast, repeating sequenced bass, it’s basically playing the part of what a hi-hat would do.
So the emphasis on the transient is really helping to give that rhythmic groove, and I think if he did not do that, the record would lose a lot of its life and energy, and just would not be nearly as impactful.
My suggestion is you could do that with either the iZotope Alloy plug-in, which has a really nice multi-band transient designer. It has full-band or multi-band. It could have been the SPL, or it could have been the Joey Sturgis. All of those are good choices, so it’s just — but most importantly, it’s being aware that when you’re given something that’s a rhythmic driver, you want to make sure that you are doing something to make sure the emphasis is on the rhythm itself.
So I mean, tonally speaking, the bass does sound very good, but that’s not what I feel is the heart of how the bass is working in the record.
Cool, I hope you guys learned some stuff. This is a really great record. As always, buy music, that’s an awesome thing. So the record is Didn’t Know You by Karmin. Check it out. Purchase it. Use it as a reference.
Awesome. Until next time, guys.