The vocal performance and awesomely funky bass/drums groove on their own earn this track
some close auditioning, but it’s also worth checking out as a textbook example of how to
create mix clarity. Although many of the sounds are by no means glorious on their own,
they fit together effortlessly, and simply leap out of even the crummiest playback system.
Take the snare, for example. I was immediately struck by how dull-sounding it is for a
modern record, but it doesn’t make the mix sound dull because it only appears on its own
a couple of times and other elements in the mix are providing enough high-frequency
information to make the mix tonality as a whole seem well balanced.
snare does have, though, is a gutsy 175Hz pitched component, which is a big part of what
gives the beat its power. On top of that are a couple of significant spectral peaks at
2kHz and 6kHz, which are just ‘pokey’ enough to give a little snap at the start of
each hit, but narrow enough in terms of bandwidth to avoid brightening the overall tone.
To get an idea of how efficient and targeted this sound really is, try training a series
of narrow EQ notches on these three frequencies — you may be surprised by how they can
kill the snare in the balance.
The piano sound is another case in point.
Bracketing the sound into something like a 200Hz‑5kHz bandwidth, as has been done here,
doesn’t exactly make it sound hi-fi, but it does avoid clouding the bass’s critical
sub-200Hz zone and the vocal’s strong sense of presence and sparkle in the top two
audible octaves. The bass’s low extreme of around 70Hz stays well clear of the kick’s
dominant 50Hz frequency, while a 1kHz peak in the bass timbre helps it hold its place
nicely on small speakers.
You could argue that the brass trespasses slightly on
the vocal presence frequencies, especially at around 4kHz, but that’s mitigated by the
vocal’s rich 9kHz region. I suspect that the mix engineer was well aware of this
potential issue, hence the decision to separate the vocals and brass in the stereo picture
throughout the track, most notably in the “I don’t know if I’m walking on solid
ground” sections at 1:01 and 1:59, which feature something of a rarity: a markedly
off-centre lead vocal.
In a mix that has so many sounds separated so
beautifully, it’s also worth pointing out that the engineer has shown himself perfectly
capable of sinking the organ sound almost invisibly into the mix as an extra sweetener,
without letting it draw attention away from the foreground instruments. It only surfaces
enough to be audible in its own right for few seconds around the “take away my sorrow”
lyric (2:26-2:31), but you only have to solo the stereo Sides signal to hear that it’s
playing pretty much all the way through the song.
Of course, no mix is ever
perfect, if only because everyone has a different idea of what ‘perfect’ is! I’d
personally have given the kick drum a little more cut-through in the mid-range (a small
peak at 700Hz?), as it loses out a bit on smaller playback systems. If you switch back and
forth to mono, it reveals that the vocal reverb is cancelling a great deal too,
effectively drying up the mix. This is a surprisingly common issue with cheap and/or lo-fi
reverbs in particular, but can usually be avoided fairly easily using modern
phase‑shifting tools, without compromising any retro credentials.
--------------------Recording Secrets for the Small Studio
Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio