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A Philosophical Mixing Conundrum

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A Philosophical Mixing Conundrum

Postby Benj_in_LBC » Sat Jun 02, 2018 1:26 am

SO, I'm finishing up an album project, and working with two different mixing engineers. There are things I like about each of them, and things I don't like.

Our music is very multi-layered, songs have 50 or 70 or more tracks (not all playing at the same time, mind you, but still, they are complex mixes).

Here's My Conundrum:

ROSE is a technically brilliant mixer. He knows how to place everything in a mix so that no frequencies are colliding, things sound very present, full and balanced. He mixes in his studio which utilizes a great deal of outboard gear in addition to Protools w/ plugs. Everyone who hears his mixes agrees that they are quite seamless and perfect. His downside is that sometimes, where my rough mix sounded exciting, his mix tames that excitement.

VERDI is also very talented, he has a knack for pulling the excitement out of a track. He adds clever delays, cranks the strings for dramatic effect, and can generally create a nice momentum in the mix that augments the performances. His downside is that he's working entirely in the box, and his mixes don't have the spatial dynamics or audio perfection that ROSE is able to achieve. I even notice some tiny moments of digital distortion which is not great. Still, there's a musicality that he has. My singer likes his mix, and her approval is absolutely key.

Would that I could put these two fellows in a blender! Have you ran into this type of situation?

I think I'd be better off with a third mixing engineer who was adept at both of these elements. I'd love to hear any suggestions from this forum, and also am open to consider anyone here for mixing these last couple of songs for our new record which is surely a masterpiece, please leave me links with your mixes for consideration!
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Re: A Philosophical Mixing Conundrum

Postby CS70 » Sat Jun 02, 2018 8:47 am

Benj_in_LBC wrote:His downside is that he's working entirely in the box

Something is amiss here. That he's working in the box or not has no particular impact on the result.

My $.10 is that you're worrying too much. People will do different mixes, you can pick 10 engineers and still have reservations. Pick the mix you like the best and go with it, and if you still things something can be better, tell him (don't tell him why or how to do it - just *what*).

If you don't like any mix you have, and the engineers can't correct that, then yes, it's worth looking at another person. But also look at the music: given a competent mix, if your song lacks excitement, it's usually much more to do with the arrangement and the composition than the mix.
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Re: A Philosophical Mixing Conundrum

Postby blinddrew » Sat Jun 02, 2018 10:25 am

CS70's comments trump mine but I will just add one thing, if you have to choose between one of these two, how many people outside of the studio are going to notice the extra spatial polish from Rose? Versus how many are going to feel the extra excitement from Verdi?
Which translates to a set of cheap ear-buds?
Besides which, if someone gave me feedback on a mix that said 'there's a bit of distortion at 1:22' vs 'can you make it more exciting', well, i know which i'd rather tackle... :)
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Re: A Philosophical Mixing Conundrum

Postby BJG145 » Sat Jun 02, 2018 10:34 am

CS70 wrote:Pick the mix you like the best and go with it, and if you still things something can be better, tell him

^^^ this.
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Re: A Philosophical Mixing Conundrum

Postby Martin Walker » Sat Jun 02, 2018 5:03 pm

Hi Benj_in_LBC, and welcome to the SOS Forums! 8-)

I agree with everything that's been said above (excitement trumps perfection), but having read all this, I (and I'm sure others) would be really intrigued to hear snippets from these two mixes, even f you post them 'blind' on Soudcloud/Youtube so the general public can't see them, but you can provide a link for us to have a listen.


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Re: A Philosophical Mixing Conundrum

Postby Benj_in_LBC » Sat Jun 02, 2018 9:19 pm

Okay yes, let me get some Soundcloud going on these mixes.
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Re: A Philosophical Mixing Conundrum

Postby Benj_in_LBC » Sun Jun 03, 2018 1:13 am

Okay, here are the two mixes - privately listed on Soundcloud.

They are not exactly the same song form; we were using an outside producer on this song, and he came up with a new intro in the time between the mixes. So please look beyond that.

Also, it was the producer's opinion first, that the first mix lacked excitement. He said, "I'm bored before it's halfway through." And that set us towards getting a second mix.

https://soundcloud.com/benj-clarke/st-a ... x5/s-vqUZD

https://soundcloud.com/benj-clarke/aham ... 44/s-CYDyB

Thanks, you all, for your reflections and opinions. I'll be super interested to hear what you think.
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Re: A Philosophical Mixing Conundrum

Postby tag_in_denver » Sun Jun 03, 2018 2:55 am

I prefer Mix 2. IO think it's significantly more exciting. I'm not convinced that the song form with the long intro is the way to go, but I do think that whoever remixed it achieved a greater degree of excitement - mainly due to better use of reverb/delay to help place and highlight the vocals, but also to a better balance of the drums, bass, and rhythm tracks. The track sounds fatter and more powerful. Good luck with your decision!
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Re: A Philosophical Mixing Conundrum

Postby Martin Walker » Sun Jun 03, 2018 2:59 pm

Hi again Benj_in_LBC,

Thanks for posting links to those two mixes :thumbup:

There is a HUGE difference between them :shock:

I also prefer mix 2 by a large margin - on mix one I was bored with the long and largely unchanging string intro and the overall turgid quality of the mix that makes it sound as if everyone is just bored.

However, on mix two I was hooked as soon as the vocals came in, by their immediacy and 'life', and the musicians sounded as if they were all smiling while they were playing. It's a remarkable difference - no contest!


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Re: A Philosophical Mixing Conundrum

Postby DC-Choppah » Sun Jun 03, 2018 4:57 pm

#2 :thumbup:
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Re: A Philosophical Mixing Conundrum

Postby AlasdairEaston » Sun Jun 03, 2018 5:44 pm

Another vote for the second one. I found it much more engaging, more immediate and more detailed. More "nimble" somehow. It's got more life and energy. And to my ears more seperation between the instruments which I found really pleasing, especially in a direct comparison with the first.

The first one sounded thicker and duller somehow - maybe more polite but less interesting (which has made my mind wander into some analogy about party guests and conversations at an imaginery dinner table...)

Anyway, aside from all that, I want to say that I really like the track. So much going on: sounds, dynamics, texture and, to my ears, a slightly exotic flavour that I wouldn't normally hear. Thanks for letting us hear it and compare.

Cheers,
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Re: A Philosophical Mixing Conundrum

Postby Benj_in_LBC » Sun Jun 03, 2018 6:20 pm

Hey everyone, thanks for weighing in! You all have eased my mind greatly...

I'd like to throw in a point, though, in defense of Mix 1, ROSE always leaves his mix with the necessary headroom to go to a mastering house, as par for the course. And his mix is presented to you un-mastered.

VERDI uses mastering plugs in his mix, and sends them to his clients (often labels!) with no headroom available for mastering! So the Mix 2 you're hearing has had that treatment. It's a point of contention, I have had to go back and have him take off the limiters from the master buss so that the song can be mastered in the context of the full album. (We tried that with this song, but the version I ended up with has problems with the kick and the vocal being too quiet, without the limiters. So I have to go back in with him and get it sorted.)


Whaddaya think about that?
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Re: A Philosophical Mixing Conundrum

Postby CS70 » Sun Jun 03, 2018 7:28 pm

Benj_in_LBC wrote:Hey everyone, thanks for weighing in! You all have eased my mind greatly...

I'd like to throw in a point, though, in defense of Mix 1, ROSE always leaves his mix with the necessary headroom to go to a mastering house, as par for the course. And his mix is presented to you un-mastered.

VERDI uses mastering plugs in his mix, and sends them to his clients (often labels!) with no headroom available for mastering! So the Mix 2 you're hearing has had that treatment. It's a point of contention, I have had to go back and have him take off the limiters from the master buss so that the song can be mastered in the context of the full album. (We tried that with this song, but the version I ended up with has problems with the kick and the vocal being too quiet, without the limiters. So I have to go back in with him and get it sorted.)


Whaddaya think about that?

It depends, really. If a track is well mixed and has no issues, mastering consists only in removing the working headroom. So for a single, in principle, it may work. If on the other side, the track doesn't play well on some playback systems (it needs to work from headphones to dance room PAs) or needs to be coherent with the sonic signature of an album, it's much harder to change.

The split between mixing and mastering comes mainly from old days, where the mix would be good on tape (and work fine for, say, a cassette) but need further work to play well on vinyl - especially the bass. In the digital world, while it still makes sense, it can be sometimes be skipped. The world is choke full of self-mastered tracks these days, where the "mastering" stage (i.e. effects on the master bus) alter radically the sound picture, as in your case.

If you have to get it into an album, tough, it's probably a no-no, unless you use the same sonic signature for all the album tracks..
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Re: A Philosophical Mixing Conundrum

Postby James Perrett » Sun Jun 03, 2018 7:55 pm

I must admit that I'd love to have a chance to try mastering the first version so that it matches the second more closely - there's quite a bit more compression happening on the second version.

I had an experience with one of my rough mixes recently. I sent it to the artist and it came back with some changes. They must have run it through some mastering effects as it came back quite a bit louder than the mix I sent - in fact it sounded so different I was wondering if they'd remixed it somehow but the reverb sounded the same so it must have been my mix.

It is pretty common for me to receive mixes which appear to be already mastered - artists seem to expect their mixes to be fully finished before being sent for mastering.
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