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Mike Senior
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Adele: 'Someone Like You'
      #909451 - 20/04/11 09:29 AM
More impressive to me than Adele reaching the top of the US album charts is her feat of taking this sparsely‑arranged vocals‑and‑piano number to the top of the UK singles chart. While its success clearly hinges on her outstanding vocals, what caught my ear was how well the production team had managed to contrast the vocal with the piano, thereby setting the former in high relief. The understated, repetitive piano part itself is partly responsible, quickly receding from the listener’s attention to form a passive background against which Adele’s more emotional performance unfolds. Note also the carefully judged dynamics, supporting Adele with commendable restraint as she really opens up, and supplying subtle extra momentum where appropriate — the wonderfully measured build through the second pre‑chorus from 2:20, for example, or the little lead‑in to verse two at 1:49 (the latter nudged forward by the mixer automation, I suspect). The rebuilding of the figuration from 3:24 into the final chorus is also nicely paced, and the additional bass‑note repeats in the final chorus give a little more lift, without the need to trespass on the vocal by pushing the volume or pitch of the treble notes.

The engineering can also claim credit too, by wrapping the piano’s sonics neatly around the vocal. For a start, the stereo image is remarkably wide (given that the part uses less than a half of the instrument’s available pitch range), and while this does compromise the mono compatibility (check out the third chord, at 0:07, in particular), it also keeps the piano out of the way of the vocal. The piano’s frequency balance also features recesses at 150‑300Hz and 4‑8kHz, which avoids its competing with the voice’s warmth and presence frequencies, both of which powerfully communicate Adele’s nearness and intimacy, placing her well out in front of the piano.

And speaking of distance cues, reverb has also been very intelligently used. Compare the natural‑sounding bloom around the piano sound with the lead vocal’s more artificial treatment (sounds like some kind of plate device to me, judging by the section at 3:34‑3:50, where it’s most audible). The spatial realism of the piano reverb distances it from the listener, as well as emphasising its sense of width, while the vocal reverb’s narrower and less realistic tail remains more distinct from the singer’s voice, providing sustain, tonal enhancement and a vintage character, but all without unduly pulling the dry sound back into the mix. The dynamics processing applied to the two main protagonists also feels quite different. Lots of nice, furry compression character has been lent to the vocal, as well as enough gain‑reduction to give it a bit of that ‘nose pressed up against the glass’ feeling, which is all entirely in keeping with its status in the track. The piano, on the other hand, has been treated much more neutrally, and I’m guessing that parallel compression may well have played a role here, given the degree of sustain and gain‑control achieved without obvious pumping artifacts.

All that great stuff notwithstanding, there are a couple of small things that niggle me. The first is that the ‘air’ of the live vocal mic has been audibly removed in the intro, before the second verse, before the third chorus, and in the outro. For me this rather undermines the impression that her performance is truly raw and immediate. The breath at the start of each verse has also been removed, which also feels a bit odd given how much Adele’s breath noises contribute to the expression elsewhere. Perhaps the slightly startling unheralded effect of the vocal entry was considered beneficial to get the listener’s attention at those points in the song? I don’t really buy that explanation myself, though, and I can’t help thinking that a bit of background noise or an extra breath could easily have been patched in to make the tampering less obvious.

The other thing that grates on me a little is a resonance that appears during the loud choruses. The best example can be heard in the second chorus on the word ‘you’ at 2:41. The specific combination of the note pitch, the ‘oo’ vowel, and the forceful delivery causes a harmonic at around 4080Hz to suddenly leap out of the balance, making the vowel a bit too harsh‑sounding for my taste, especially at higher playback volumes. This is by no means an uncommon occurrence whenever any vocalist gives their sound a bit of extra welly, but I was a bit surprised that it survived to the final record in this particular case, given that the mix engineer was Tom Elmhirst. When he was interviewed for SOS’s ‘Inside Track’ column, he mentioned dealing with exactly this kind of thing using notch filtering when working on Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black’. Maybe it’s just me...

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Mike Senior
SOS Mix Specialist


Joined: 08/08/03
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Loc: Cambridge, UK
Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #909456 - 20/04/11 09:36 AM
Written by Adele Adkins and Dan Wilson.
Produced by Dan Wilson and Adele. (Dan Wilson also played the piano part.)
Mixed by Tom Elmhirst.
Engineered by Philip Allen.
Mastered By Tom Coyne.

I used the version of Adele's album '21' for this review, and I think it's fantastic news for music in general that this record is currently laying waste to the worldwide charts so comprehensively. It's interesting, though, that while much publicity seems to have focused on the production input of Rick Rubin on the record, the first two singles aren't actually his productions -- they're Paul Epworth ('Rolling In The Deep') and Dan Wilson respectively. That said, I have to say that (for me at least) the Rubin productions really jump off the record compared with the others. 'He Won't Go' completely knocked my socks off (what a funky drum/bass sound!), and the others are great too: 'Don't You Remember', 'One And Only' (respect for the super-bold piano tone decision there!), and 'Lovesong'.

I'm also thinking that Tom Elmhirst must be laughing all the way to the bank. First Amy Winehouse's 'Back To Black' and now this. Ker-ching! His mix of Fiona Apple's 'Sleep To Dream' still kills me too -- I vividly remember first hearing that song on my way out of a record shop and immediately turning on my heel and marching straight back up to the counter to buy a copy! Having said all that, though, he's not credited on the Rubin-produced numbers -- those feature Andrew Scheps mixing and Greg Fidelman recording.

For more critiques of commercial productions, browse The Mix Review Index

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Edited by Jennifer Jones (25/07/11 10:25 AM)


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Tomás Mulcahy
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Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #909666 - 21/04/11 08:11 AM
Excellent review. This is one of those mixes that works equally well on any speakers in any environment. Really well done. However, does anyone else find that there's just a bit too much distortion in the vocal? It's a matter of taste I suppose.

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madtheory creations
Synths and pianos for Kontakt


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Thomas Elise



Joined: 12/10/09
Posts: 45
Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #910514 - 26/04/11 03:31 AM
I am glad you pointed out the loud resonances in the choruses. The 'oohs' in the 'you' chorus lines really grate on me, almost to the extent of putting me off the entire song. Everyone else I pointed this clash out too can't understand what I am hearing, so I am glad this has been brought up and explained as I thought this was just me.


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Mike Senior
SOS Mix Specialist


Joined: 08/08/03
Posts: 1401
Loc: Cambridge, UK
Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #912149 - 03/05/11 02:05 PM
Quote Mike Senior:

His mix of Fiona Apple's 'Sleep To Dream' still kills me too




D'oh! Just realised I've got my memory in a twist there -- 'Sleep To Dream' was mixed Mark Endert, not Tom Elmhirst.

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sc1460
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Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #917055 - 30/05/11 11:10 PM
Mike, I am not an Adele fan particularly, but I too am astonished by "He wont go" - I keep on trying to understand how it comes across as so full sounding, with seemingly such sparse instrumentation. It sounds great on ref monitors and on ipod docks - it sounds so natural, the perfect balance, like there was no other way it could have been mixed!


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Tristan Jove



Joined: 25/03/06
Posts: 158
Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #921000 - 17/06/11 11:24 AM
I agree with above, too much distortion on the vocal for my taste too.
Also the vocal is too forward and hard for my taste, I'd prefer it softened and blended a bit more.
Still, it's a technically excellent mix, and a fantastic vocal performance.


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boomboom



Joined: 03/02/11
Posts: 13
Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: sc1460]
      #921645 - 21/06/11 12:42 PM
Quote sc1460:

Mike, I am not an Adele fan particularly, but I too am astonished by "He wont go" - I keep on trying to understand how it comes across as so full sounding, with seemingly such sparse instrumentation. It sounds great on ref monitors and on ipod docks - it sounds so natural, the perfect balance, like there was no other way it could have been mixed!




I totally agree with this post, I too am not the biggest adele fan but her 'he wont go ' does sound great.

No irrelevant/promotional links please

Edited by Jennifer Jones (21/06/11 01:32 PM)


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Arksun



Joined: 15/06/11
Posts: 30
Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #921889 - 22/06/11 03:41 PM
Musically, LOVE the Adele 21 album.

Technically?, ugh, way way WAY too squashed, both in terms of limiting and at the mix level. Tracks sounding way more strained than it should. Maybe thats an artistic decision but to me this album could have sounded soo much better than it actually does. 19 sounded a bit better.


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Mike Senior
SOS Mix Specialist


Joined: 08/08/03
Posts: 1401
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Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #936477 - 25/08/11 06:22 AM
Intrigued to read Tom Elmhirst talking about this mix, albeit briefly, in Inside Track this month. As I'd speculated, there was no notch at 4080Hz, even though he did notch at 537Hz, 2973Hz, and 10899Hz. Presumably he felt he'd already got to the point of diminishing returns on that front!

I'd also definitely recommend people checking out the downloadable recall sheets for that mix. It's not often you get access to this level of detail about the internal workings of a hit mix, and it's particularly interesting to see the settings for the complete vocal chain in this case.

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Sam Inglis
SOS Features Editor


Joined: 15/12/00
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Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #936507 - 25/08/11 08:53 AM
While I love the boldness of making the track just piano and vocals, am I the only one who wishes the actual piano arrangement was a bit more interesting?


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grab



Joined: 08/07/07
Posts: 2945
Loc: Cambridge, UK
Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #936521 - 25/08/11 09:38 AM
I thought it was about right. It's not as samey as, say, the piano in that "Mad world" cover, or Ellie Goulding's cover of "Your song". The first verse, the piano is indeed pretty static, but from the second verse onwards it starts moving around more, particularly in the left hand. But by that point I guess it's gone into the background attention-wise, so we're not as conscious of what it's getting up to, but it still puts movement into the song.


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Chaconne



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Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #936668 - 25/08/11 06:00 PM
Yeah I like everything but the piano. There is a trend for, I dont know what to call it 'naive', or 'grade 2', type of piano arrangements at the minute. You hear it a lot on adverts, just three chords in basic triads. It sounds a bit more sophisticated with Chilli Gonzales and its faux minimalism, but I find a lot of singer/ song writer songs to be to simplistic for my tastes - often, they just sound like 'My fIrSt soNg'. Lilly Allen and that other 'cockney' - I forget her name - started it.

They are often very well produced and sung, but musically bland. This track though is saved by the vocal which is exceptional. But I find Ellie Goulding, for example, trying to fill in spaces with the vocal due to the poor sequences that make up the song.

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alexis



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Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #1025854 - 25/12/12 02:44 PM
A bit late to the dance ... but thank you for the excellent reviews and comments! I am working on a sparse voice/piano arrangement, and came looking for this review - as helpful as I thought I'd remembered it would be!

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Alexis -Cubase7.5.20 64bit;i5-4570 3.2GHz,16GB RAM;W7SP1 64bit on Samsung SSD840 Pro256GB;Seagte 1TB SATA600 Audio;UR28M;Motif8;UAD2Solo;Jamstix 3.3;BCF2K;TC Helicon VoiceOne;RevoicePro3


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narcoman
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Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: Chaconne]
      #1025885 - 26/12/12 11:42 AM
Quote Chaconne:


They are often very well produced and sung, but musically bland.





.... i grumpily call it an unexpected hit. hahah


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SafeandSound Masteri...



Joined: 23/03/08
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Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #1025930 - 26/12/12 09:23 PM
I like this track a lot but as far as the technicals my ears are switched off when I hear it, sometimes I like to just feel the music too, gotta break some time it is only healthy to do so. The more I like music for recreational listening the less I tend to break it down into technical detail, I just enjoy the effect of the notes, melody and harmonies.

SafenadSound
Audio Mastering


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sc1460
member


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Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: SafeandSound Mastering]
      #1026518 - 31/12/12 10:10 PM
Agree wholeheartedly. And though we can critique the mix in many different ways I am still impressed at how larger than life the piano and drums came out - a thousand other producers might have created a very thin sound with the piano and drums which would require strings, organ, percussion, you name it, over-dubbed. But it works as sparse because it sounds so full and stereo across the speakers.

Still my favourite mix of 2012, which is very surprising for me!

Quote SafeandSound Mastering:

I like this track a lot but as far as the technicals my ears are switched off when I hear it, sometimes I like to just feel the music too, gotta break some time it is only healthy to do so. The more I like music for recreational listening the less I tend to break it down into technical detail, I just enjoy the effect of the notes, melody and harmonies.

SafenadSound
Audio Mastering




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alexis



Joined: 10/01/03
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Loc: San Antonio, TX USA
Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #1059071 - 24/07/13 04:39 PM
Quote Mike Senior:

...

I'd also definitely recommend people checking out the downloadable recall sheets for that mix. It's not often you get access to this level of detail about the internal workings of a hit mix, and it's particularly interesting to see the settings for the complete vocal chain in this case.




Hello - Working on a similarly arranged track (solo voice and piano), and comparing to this song from iTunes, there is a world of difference in the lead vocals. Adele's track is, "Hello, I am the lead vocal and I am incredibly up front without sounding loud!!". I was feeling better about mine after working on it for a while, until I A/B'd with Adele's track. And unfortunately, my knowledge base doesn't let me really understand what I'm looking at when I review the recall sheets.

So, could some kind soul perhaps describe how the vocal "fullness" is achieved? I know it starts with a good voice, good mic, good room, expensive equipment, and very skilled engineers and producers but beyond that * how does it come together? (* "Except for that part, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"). The tools I have at my disposal are Cubase 6.5 stock, some UAD-1 basics (including the Fairchild, and the Plate 140), and some freeware I've downloaded at the suggestion of Mike Senior via his columns. I do realize it's not realistic for this weekend/bedroom studio warrior to expect to match that production, but even moving towards it to some degree would make me very happy.

Just as a point of reference: I've got my mono vocal track lightly parallel compressed using the Fairchild, then the combination of dry+compressed vocal is routed to a track with a little Plate 140 inserted on it (overall reverb levels probably a little less than Adele's). The reverb is spread across the stereo field. This processed voice is routed with the piano to another Fairchild instance, used as a bus compressor, that is barely active (1.5 dB maximum gain reduction). I don't have a limiter or anything, and my peak on the master out is -2dBFS (because I'm rendering to .mp3 for now).

Thanks for any help/thoughts/suggestions!

To start with ... even though I know I can't get the "lushness" of Adele's vocals on my track, her voice seems to come from all over the stereo field ... how does she get it so "wide"?

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Alexis -Cubase7.5.20 64bit;i5-4570 3.2GHz,16GB RAM;W7SP1 64bit on Samsung SSD840 Pro256GB;Seagte 1TB SATA600 Audio;UR28M;Motif8;UAD2Solo;Jamstix 3.3;BCF2K;TC Helicon VoiceOne;RevoicePro3


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alexis



Joined: 10/01/03
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Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #1059275 - 26/07/13 12:28 AM
Hi all - I'm in the home stretch of my little project, does anyone know this Adele song well enough to hazard a guess as to how the vocal sounds so ... full and omnipresent, with regard to it seems to be coming from everywhere, not just the center of the stereo field (like my song )?

I know about a few things like panning the vox hard L/R with a 20msec delay, and a few other things I've tried (including a touch of verb panned hard L/R), but nothing even comes close - I feel so ignorant!

Thanks for any suggestions!

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Alexis -Cubase7.5.20 64bit;i5-4570 3.2GHz,16GB RAM;W7SP1 64bit on Samsung SSD840 Pro256GB;Seagte 1TB SATA600 Audio;UR28M;Motif8;UAD2Solo;Jamstix 3.3;BCF2K;TC Helicon VoiceOne;RevoicePro3


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The_BPP
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Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: Chaconne]
      #1059285 - 26/07/13 07:51 AM
Quote Chaconne:

Yeah I like everything but the piano. There is a trend for, I dont know what to call it 'naive', or 'grade 2', type of piano arrangements at the minute. You hear it a lot on adverts, just three chords in basic triads. It sounds a bit more sophisticated with Chilli Gonzales and its faux minimalism, but I find a lot of singer/ song writer songs to be to simplistic for my tastes - often, they just sound like 'My fIrSt soNg'. Lilly Allen and that other 'cockney' - I forget her name - started it.





+1
There's a world of difference between an overly simplistic piano performance, and an understated, or "minimal" performance.

However, I can't help but think today's piano arrangements of three note arpeggios and no dynamics is down to a lack of ability, rather than subtlety.

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Tim Gillett



Joined: 30/01/13
Posts: 654
Loc: Perth, Western Australia
Re: Adele: 'Someone Like You' new [Re: alexis]
      #1059443 - 27/07/13 02:29 AM
Quote alexis:

Hi all - I'm in the home stretch of my little project, does anyone know this Adele song well enough to hazard a guess as to how the vocal sounds so ... full and omnipresent, with regard to it seems to be coming from everywhere, not just the center of the stereo field (like my song )?

I know about a few things like panning the vox hard L/R with a 20msec delay, and a few other things I've tried (including a touch of verb panned hard L/R), but nothing even comes close - I feel so ignorant!

Thanks for any suggestions!




When I hear it, Adele's vocal is mostly coming from the centre rather than "from everywhere". It's the piano that's wide, not the voice.

"Someone Like You" is a simple production with mostly just one voice and one piano. But there is processing in the mix, like EQ, comp/limiting, de essing, and some reverb. Read the articles about it. That's what they're there for.

Why not upload one of your songs you're not happy with and people can offer constructive comments.

Cheers Tim


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