Mix Analysis: Losers (Audio)
This is going to be an in-the-dark tutorial, I’m analyzing a record by The Weekend, it’s called Losers, and it was mixed by Carlo Montagnese, otherwise known as Illangelo. He is a producer, as well as a mixer, and a pretty darn talented one at that.
So I was originally going to do a record called The Hills, which is a very effect heavy record by The Weekend, but there’s all sorts of articles breaking down production and mixing techniques on that particular record anyways, so I decided I was just going to go for what is my personal favorite song off of that album, which is Losers, and I’m going to give you a quick little play of it, and then we are going to talk about a couple of really cool concepts that I think this record really illustrates.
I’ll jump over to the chorus here…
Alright, so a lot of cool stuff going on here. First of all, just as a general note, one thing about this record, and as I always say in these, you know, if you dig this record, go out and buy that record, because it is really exceptional, and you know, buying music, it’s good.
So one thing I love about this is it’s fearlessly dynamic. The verses are very quiet, and then the chorus is just super explosive, so I’m going to play that transition real quick, and you’ll hear what I mean.
That’s seriously like a 6dB jump between the verse and the chorus, but it’s awesome. I love that exists in music. The other thing that I want to point out is that the rhythm is really interesting. It is common time, like, it is a 4/4, but it’s a very wide four, and it becomes very easy to get addicted to the clap sequence, and when you hear the clap sequence, you get tempted to count it in some kind of composite eight type of time, like a 9/8, followed by an 8/8 or something like that.
I’ll play it again.
Like, it’s very easy to count it, “1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3.” Like, it has this sort of way of getting inside of the measure and giving you that rhythm, and so what I’d like to point out is that the piano is what’s tying each set of four together, but the piano on the verse, if you hear it, is basically mono. It’s been folded in, and it comes out during the chorus, one of the reasons why the chorus is so explosively large is that the collapsed piano goes back to stereo when it switches over.
But the other thing that happens is because the piano is lower and because it’s collapsed to mono and it’s taking up less space in the record, what really comes out is the clap.
Right, so several hand claps that are coming together. One is on the left, one is on the right, and it sounds like a third one that’s jumping around in the middle somewhere, and because these are way up in the mix, and because they’ve been sort of treated to have that extra, attacky, transient thing going on where it’s like, there’s some hard compression at the top that is basically square waving it, and it’s so forward, we catch that rhythm, and it’s really important to recognize whatever is driving the groove of the record, because that’s what’s going to give the record its feel.
Melody and harmony is the stuff that we sort of cognitively attach to. I wouldn’t say consciously, it still affects us in sort of a semi-subconscious way, but top lines are something that we sort of cognitively attach to.
Rhythm is something that we viscerally attach to. It’s something that we don’t think about in any way, shape, or form. If we like the rhythm, we like the rhythm, and there’s not too much we can do about it. It’s why you might not like a Britney Spears or a Katy Perry, or maybe Death Metal isn’t your thing, but if the rhythm is there, part of you is going to like it, and there’s not much we can do about it.
So when we’re mixing, I think it’s important to pay special attention to whatever is driving the groove, and I think that here would be easy and tempting to turn the piano much louder.
And if you listen to the arc of the line, you’ll hear that there’s automation on the piano that pulls it up in between the lyric lines.
And what it’s doing is on the second count of four, it’s taking the end of the second bar, the end of the second measure, and it’s pulling up, creating a crescendo, and then landing on the downbeat of the third bar. So it’s what’s driving and pulling the ear into the next measure. It helps move the record forward.
So in that way, you do get a lot of the groove from the piano, but it’s a different type of groove. It’s a bigger arc to the groove. We call that arc when you’re talking about how things relate over large stretches of time in a song.
So — and listen again, you can actually hear a fader ride. It’s not even necessarily the way it’s dynamically played, it’s actually being helped along with a fader.
Right, the “bum bum, bum bum bum.” It’s very distinctly coming up with a fader.
So another thing that I really like about this record is I like the point of the vocal. It’s got a really nice, bright, three-dimensional thing, where it feels like it’s stepping out of the speakers. Part of that is because it’s so sparse, that with only the vocal there, it makes it easy to come out of the mix, but there are some techniques that I think are going into this, and I can only speculate, obviously, I did not mix this record.
So here’s my thought on it.
It’s sort of a tried and true technique, it’s one that I’ve mentioned before a few times, but I believe that there’s a couple of parallel returns on this vocal, and I think that either the parallel compression or a second parallel channel is being generated in a way to bring out the brighter frequencies in the upper-mid range. Also, I think this sounds to me like it was recorded on a C-800G, but I’m just speculating. It could have been recorded on all sorts of stuff.
The basic idea is with your parallel compression, you create a duplicate of the channel, and you crush the duplicate, and then blend it back underneath the main vocal subtly, so you get this more consistent, more forward vocal sound.
In lots of cases, you can EQ the parallel channel, and it will — if you EQ in front of the parallel compression, like, throw an EQ before it, and you turn up the highs, for example, you end up running the highs into the compression, and you end up getting a very consistent leaning on that frequency, so that’s one thing that could be happening here.
The other thing that could be happening is that there’s just a channel where it’s a duplicate of the voice, and there’s a high pass that’s cutting up everything that’s below maybe like, 2kHz, maybe 1.5kHz, something like that, and it’s rolling it off on a gentle slope like at 6dB, but it’s basically taking out all of the low end, and then there’s some kind of compression on that, or some kind of very, very subtle distortion, or something — or maybe both, and that’s being blended in, and so we end up getting this excited top end that seems to be three-dimensional, and steps really well.
I do think that’s what’s going on here, and I’ll give you two reasons why.
I think that’s happening, and I think it’s being done with a minimal phase high-pass, and the reason being is that when you do it with the minimal phase high-pass, you end up attenuating — creating sort of a bit of phase cancellation going on — beneath your cut-off, and so what I think is happening, the low end of his voice seems to be getting kind of suppressed a little in the process of making the brighter part of his voice come forward.
So I think that’s what’s happening, and I think the reason it works with the minimal phase as opposed to a linear phase, which would not have that cancellation, is that when you do it with the minimal phase, it sounds more dimensional. You lose some tone, but you have a more realistic, 3D image, and that’s what I’m getting from this vocal.
Alright, so now let’s talk about the chorus real quick.
So, here the piano has unfolded. There’s a lot more elements, there’s a bass, and there is a programmed hi-hat, and what’s interesting is that everything is following an automation curve. It’s — now, it sounds like parallel compression, it sounds like EDM ducking, because the kick hits, and then everything swells up. Right?
Except for it’s not that. Because it’s all swelling up in a super linear way. Like, you feel like you could draw a triangle across the gain that’s going on.
And remember, the kick is not in at every moment. So a lot of times the way EDM guys will do it is they’ll have a silent kick that counts every beat, but here, I don’t even think that was necessary. I think what’s going on is he’s using automation to do it, and I do this as well. I use a program called LFO Tool to do it now. I used to use a program called Volume Shaper, but they didn’t develop it to AAX yet, so I use LFO Tool.
But basically, I just would draw in the automation that I wanted, and it would sequence that automation, and I hear it on the hat, I hear it on the piano, I hear it on the bass, and it’s all over this chorus, and it’s creating that [imitating swells] kind of feel.
And I want to talk about one other thing about the vocal, which I think is really interesting, and that is the ambience around the vocal.
I hear a lot of the similar ambient treatment going on. This one is actually pretty minimal for a Weekend song, but there’s always this sense of space around the vocal, and it usually exists in two ways. One is a very wet space, and then one is very contained space, and here I hear mostly the contained space.
I would say that the ambience on his voice is something like a short plate, or maybe even a specific kind of reverb that’s often times referred to as ambience, which is just very short, open algorithms.
So it could be one of those, I think it’s a short plate though, and the other thing I’m hearing is some kind of a chorusing thing going on.
Now, it’s not super distinct. If it was distinct, we would hear a phasey quality to it. I hear more of a hazy bit to his voice, and I hear that on a lot of his tracks. And so what I believe it is is the SoundToys emulation of the Dimension D, which I have, and for whatever reason, I’m blanking on the name of it.
But that’s okay. There’s definitely other ways to get it. Pro Tools has a stock doubler. You can do it with — Waves has a program called Doubler specifically, which I think is what was used on The Hills for The Weekend, but the SoundToys one emulates specifically a Dimension D, and the cool thing about Dimension D is you tend to get a lot less of that phasey quality, and it just ends up sort of sounding washy, and what I’m going to do is I’m going to get rid of the mid-channel so you can just hear what’s happening on the sides, and that will really help illustrate what’s going on with the ambience.
[mix, then mix without center channel]
Alright, so you can hear that sort of wiggly, shadowy, ghostly version of his voice. That’s the Dimension D return that is just giving his voice a little bit of breadth across the stereo field. It’s very subtle, so we still hear his voice in the middle, we don’t hear it as this weird, fake, stretched, bizarre sounding vocal, we just hear it as a vocal that has a certain spaciousness to it that’s hard to describe, in addition to a very open, but tight, ambience.
Alright guys, anyway, I hope that you learned something. Check out these records, they’re really — the production and the mix integrate really well on The Weekend’s stuff in particular, so it’s definitely, if for no other reason, worth studying for just the audio side of things, but they’re also just really brilliantly written songs.
So yeah, until next time guys.