As I am recording with natural instruments for the most part, the majority of instruments will just require a small amount of mixing such as EQ, light compression and reverb. I must note that these are incredibly important factors of each edit and should not be underestimated, however I feel it is a given that a third year audio production student already understands these concepts. Therefore I intend to go through more elaborate processes in this post. As the hard work has been the comping and editing of each take has finally been completed, I would like to go into further detail on some of the more complex aspects of my mixing strategy.
Vocal Editing and Horns
Mixing and editing the vocals was a long process but entirely worth it. As I had recorded so many takes in the studio and comped together my perfect vocal line I still had many left over. Lots of these were very useable so I saved them and made two new vocal tracks that I panned way left and right. I only used these stacked vocals on specific words and phrases to enhance their importance in the track, almost like audio italics.
This technique of vocal doubling (or tripling in my case!) was inspired by it’s use in many of Bon Iver’s tracks, specifically Flume.
The plug-in melodyne featured prominently in vocal editing and mixing but was only used on words that were very noticeably out of key. I felt like with many of the other edits, yes it made the vocals more in tune but as a producer i felt it took something away from the character and timbre of my voice so I made an executive decision to use it sparingly.
I also used melodyne to great effect when editing and mixing the horns for Fireworks, and I soon found that the saxophone was much easier to tune than the vocals. As my sax player Jake only had a limited amount of time when we were recording I managed to get him to play the horns over the chorus and then stack up the takes so I could use them for a thicker sound. I also had tuning in mind and I employed this by maintaining one take in the same key and re adjusting the notes completely on another two to form interesting harmonies and make it appear like we had recorded three separate takes.
However this was made more problematic by the fact that the song was not played to any tempo so I spent a long time cutting and dragging each individual horn note to match with a a drum transient as seen below. This process took a while but it was definitely worth it when I listen to the results.
Traditionally used in dance music to make the kick ‘pump’ in the mix, side chaining can also be used to dampen certain aspects and make others stand out.
Senior discusses side chaining misconceptions in relation to it’s use with electric guitar and vocals,
‘Side chains are about much more than this… they enable tracks to interact with each other to improve the overall mix balance… to take some of the pressure off EQ processing, you can set up compression on the electric guitar parts that responds to a side-chain input from the vocal track. Whenever the vocalist sings, that triggers gain reduction on the guitars and therefore reduces the unwanted masking; but when the vocal is silent, the guitars return to their original level in the balance’ (Senior, 2011)
I decided to use this as inspiration for the chorus vocals and saxophone in Quicksand. I wanted the horns to be upfront in the mix but by doing so they drowned out the vocals in the chorus. I realised a great solution for this would be side chaining. Drawing upon Seniors example, I placed a compressor on all of the horn channels and side chained it to the lead vocal.
After doing so I looped a section of the song with vocals and horns and adjusted the threshold until the gain was being reduced by a few db.
This was just enough to drop it behind the lead vocal without any noticeable pumping which was perfect. As Senior states,
‘Just a decibel or two of gain reduction can work wonders’. (Senior, 2011)
I’ve learnt that side-chaining is a really novel way to keep your vocal at a consistent level whilst moulding the other tracks around it, rather than having to automate the lead vocal.
I really enjoyed creatively mixing on this project, I just wish I had more time to write about it further. I have chosen to focus more on the mastering in my blog at this stage as I have mixed before but never mastered so this will help my learning development far greater.
Bon Iver. (2009). Bon Iver – Flume. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuQrLsTUcN0. Last accessed 2/5/2015.
Senior, M. (2011). Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio. Oxon: Focal Press.