Main Forums >> Production - Mixing, Mastering, Gear & Techniques
        Print Thread

Pages: 1
Mike Senior
SOS Mix Specialist

Joined: 08/08/03
Posts: 1437
Loc: Cambridge, UK
Lady Antebellum: 'We Owned The Night'
      #970588 - 17/02/12 10:40 AM
Although this band’s country pop sound has scarcely tickled the UK singles listings, their last two records have both topped album charts in the US and Canada, with their latest offering making the UK top five. For me, the star attraction of this second single, from a production perspective, is the vocal editing, which is an exercise in firm but musical control. The pitching and timing are clearly superhuman, especially when you consider the vice-like hold that Charles Kelley’s voice exerts over his bandmates’ backing harmonies, but whatever behind-the-scenes work this may have involved is worn so lightly that suspension of disbelief is almost effortless, and you can pretty much just get on with enjoying the song. In particular, there’s a fine line between fixing subjective sourness in the tuning department, and removing the very pitch variations that make a performance live and breathe. This record treads that line with assurance. Take the second verse, for instance, where the addition of backing harmonies would tend to highlight even slight tuning discrepancies, but the ends of all the lead vocal lines (“beauty”, “kind”, “about her”, and “stand still”) nonetheless benefit tremendously from the kind of expressive pitch-domain vagueness that lesser productions frequently iron out through over-zealous application of Auto-Tune.

Scarcely less impressive, from a mixing perspective, is the effectiveness of the long, slow build-up from the very beginning of the song until the end of the middle section just after the two-minute mark — an unusual feat for any chart single, especially given the way that loudness wars have undermined the effectiveness of sheer volume as a mix tool. One of the standard tricks, of course, is to start the arrangement as small as you can get away with, in this case using just kick and multitracked acoustic guitars, joined at 0:20 by the solo verse vocal. But from then on, the challenge is maintaining a drip-feed of new textural additions without running out of ammunition too early. So the second verse (0:39) gives you snare, toms, supporting electric guitars, and first one, then two backing harmonies, as well as just the lightest dusting of bass and Hammond. With the third verse, the main bass sound arrives, along with some ride wash, backing ‘ooh’s (as well as generally more prominence in the balance for the backing harmonies) and various steel-guitar swoops, following which the Hammond and guitar solo kick the song up another gear towards the middle section at 1:45. This might not seem like rocket science, listening to the final product, but it takes a great deal of nerve to maintain this degree of restraint during work in progress. Ask yourself, for example, whether you could have resisted the urge, as producer, to add more electric-guitar power-chords or flashy Hammond swirls under “and for a moment” at 0:49 or for the first chorus at 0:59?

The layered acoustic guitars also appear to be supporting the build-up on a sonic level, in that the texture thickens and homogenises progressively, as you can hear by comparing the stereo Sides components of the second and third verses, say. In the light of our SOS September 2010 interview with Lady Antebellum’s producer, Paul Worley, it wouldn’t surprise me if this were a combination of the ‘herd of guitars’ he mentioned and a generous helping of fader automation — certainly, there appears to be something of this kind going on at 0:38, filling out the final two beats before verse two.

Comparing the right and left channels of this mix highlights another interesting aspect of the acoustic guitar textures, namely that the opposition-panned spread isn’t tonally balanced in the way you hear on some records — the left side sounds distinctly different from the right. Although this is something that some recording musicians reject out of hand for fear of unbalancing the stereo picture, the advantages of a slight tonal disparity between panned double-tracks are that the image will tend to feel wider for a given pan-position offset, and that the picture will combine a little more solidly into mono, giving slightly less of a chorus-like timbre. So if you always do stereo double-tracks on your own productions with the same instrument/mic setup for both sides of the panorama, listening to this track might provide an impetus to move outside your comfort zone.

Recording Secrets for the Small Studio
Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio.

Post Extras: Print Post   Remind Me!   Notify Moderator     Back to top
Mike Senior
SOS Mix Specialist

Joined: 08/08/03
Posts: 1437
Loc: Cambridge, UK
Re: Lady Antebellum: 'We Owned The Night' new [Re: Mike Senior]
      #970589 - 17/02/12 10:46 AM
I auditioned this track from their 'Own The Night' album, which gives the following credits:

Produced by Paul Worley with Lady Antebellum
Recorded by Carl Schleicher
Additional Engineering by Erik Hellerman, Brett 'Scoop' Blanden, Curt Jenkins, and Peter Bowman.
Mixed by Peter Coleman
Mastered by Richard Dodd

The mastering credit isn't entirely clear in the sleeve notes, though, and might possibly be Andrew Mendelson (who appears to have been the primary mastering engineer for the record as a whole). Whoever it was, though, the track presents another mastering conundrum: why is this track peaking at -1.3dBFS? I can't imagine why any mastering engineer in this kind of chart-oriented style would deliberately leave that much digital headroom -- OK, maybe 0.5dB if you were really worried about intersample clipping of consumer playback devices, but 1.3dB? And it's not a global headroom setting either, because the other big single 'Just A Kiss' peaks at a much more typical -0.1dBFS.

The only plausible reason I can arrive at for this is that Richard Dodd did indeed do the mastering on this track in isolation, but that Andrew Mendelson then adjusted its gain to fit more comfortably alongside the other tracks on the album. While in principle there's no problem with this, wouldn't it have made more sense to source a master without the final limiting from Richard Dodd so that Andrew Mendelson could make the fullest use of the available digital headroom? High-profile mastering engineers often seem to be up in arms about people squashing mix dynamics in pursuit of overall loudness, so it seems pretty indefensible to reduce a master's dynamic range further than the available digital headroom demands. Of course, none of us know the politics behind the whole situation, and maybe that holds a missing clue to the explanation.

And that's not the only mastering issue that raised my eyebrow. If you check out the phrase "push too far" during the first chorus of 'Just A Kiss', there's a strong subsonic pulse on the plosive of the word "push". At around 15Hz or so, I don't really think anyone is going to hear this information, and again I'd kind of have expected any mastering engineer to be on the alert for this kind of thing -- there seems to be no sense in wasting headroom for the sake of inaudible subsonics.

Perhaps a lack of high-pass filtering on this track was at the instigation of Worley. After all, to quote him from that article I linked to in the main critique: "To this day, every mastering engineer that I know, if left to his own devices, will automatically chop off everything below 20-40, sometimes even 50 cycles. They say you can’t hear those frequencies and that they just affect the limiters, and they want to make things as loud as possible. And I go: ‘That’s wrong!’ If you truncate at 40 cycles, all the multiples of that, 80, 160, 320 Hz, are also impacted by removing the fundamental of a chain of frequencies. So you’re going to affect the kick, and the snare, and the vocal, all the centre information will have its guts ripped out. I don’t care how loud things are — people have volume knobs after all. I just want my low end!”

I have to say that I sympathise entirely with Worley here, and have had similar concerns with some mastering jobs I've heard on my mixes in the past, but in this specific case I can't see how a 12dB/octave high-pass filter at 20Hz would have been the end of the world -- it certainly doesn't seem to 'rip any guts out' to my ears. But even if it did, surely we've come far enough with digital technology that a high-pass filter could have been automated just to take care of that corner (and a couple of less pronounced ones later on) and leave everything else alone?

All that said, I don't actually think it should have been the mastering engineer catching that low-frequency pulse, because my guess is that it's probably coming through one or more of the vocal mics, on account of the plosive. If my surmise is correct, then it's even more questionable to my mind that the mix engineer spared a 20Hz high-pass filter at that stage, when it would have sorted out the technical issue with no side-effects at all on the low end of any other parts in the arrangement.

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

Recording Secrets for the Small Studio
Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio.

Post Extras: Print Post   Remind Me!   Notify Moderator     Back to top
Pages: 1

Rate this thread

Jump to

Extra Information
4 registered and 22 anonymous users are browsing this forum.

Moderator:  David Etheridge, James Perrett, zenguitar, Martin Walker, Hugh Robjohns, Zukan, Frank Eleveld, SOS News Editor 
Forum Permissions
      You cannot start new topics
      You cannot reply to topics
      HTML is enabled
      UBBCode is enabled
Rating: *
Thread views: 19516

August 2015
On sale now at main newsagents and bookstores (or buy direct from the SOS Web Shop)
SOS current Print Magazine: click here for FULL Contents list
Click image for August 2015
DAW Techniques


Home | Search | News | Current Issue | Tablet Mag | Articles | Forum | Blog | Subscribe | Shop | Readers Ads

Advertise | Information | Privacy Policy | Support | Login Help


Email: Contact SOS

Telephone: +44 (0)1954 789888

Fax: +44 (0)1954 789895

Registered Office: Media House, Trafalgar Way, Bar Hill, Cambridge, CB23 8SQ, United Kingdom.

Sound On Sound Ltd is registered in England and Wales.

Company number: 3015516 VAT number: GB 638 5307 26


We accept the following payment methods in our web Shop:

Pay by PayPal - fast and secure  VISA  MasterCard  Solo  Electron  Maestro (used to be Switch)  

All contents copyright © SOS Publications Group and/or its licensors, 1985-2015. All rights reserved.
The contents of this article are subject to worldwide copyright protection and reproduction in whole or part, whether mechanical or electronic, is expressly forbidden without the prior written consent of the Publishers. Great care has been taken to ensure accuracy in the preparation of this article but neither Sound On Sound Limited nor the publishers can be held responsible for its contents.
The views expressed are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the publishers.

Web site designed & maintained by PB Associates | SOS | Relative Media