Gibbs elaborates on how the transfer from tracking to mixing was done. "Usually we record to a two–track of the production, and once we are going to mix, we will hit up the producer to get the stems. In the case of 'Say So', Kalani created a Pro Tools stem session for me, cleaned it up and organised it in the way he knows I prefer, and he then zipped it up and sent it to me. I unzip it and import the session into my system, and the first thing I do is upsample from their 24-bits to 32-bit float. I will bring in my mix template, with all my buses and aux tracks, and then it is off to the races.
"I listen to the rough while I import the stems into my template, and then I start listening to the tracks in the session. I listen to the drums, and decide whether they all should go to my drum bus, or maybe there should be a separate hi-hat or cymbal bus, as I have in the 'Say So' session. Then I organise all tracks and apply colour–coding, and create the drums, bass and keys groups, and so on. In this session everything goes to the All bus, which has the Aphex parallel, and then to the Sum bus. Once I have everything organised the way I want it, I do a Save As, which I call 'Ready', and then another Save As, and I start to mix. It means I can always go back to the 'Ready' mix if I want to start over.
"I usually start the mix working on the drums and vocals. I get the drums to where I want them, and then I'll add the vocals. For me, the kick, snare and vocals, and the movement that they bring, are the core of the song. If you have them in the right place, your mix is in pretty good standing. I then add the bass, and after that I'll add the other elements, like guitars, keys and so on, which are filling up the other space. I normally take four hours to do a mix, and then I'll save it, do something else, and check it again later."
"The only plug‑in directly on an audio drum track is the NI Transient Master on the hi-hat. The two cymbal tracks go to an aux bus, on which I have a three-band UAD Massenburg EQ. The rest of the drum tracks all go to aux buses called Drums and D-Crush, which have identical plug‑ins — as I mentioned, to make absolutely sure there's no problem with plug‑in delay. The first is the Avid Pro Compressor, which is bypassed on the Drums bus. I wanted the drums to go through uncompressed. Then there's an iZotope Ozone 8 EQ pushing at 60Hz. Because there's no 808 in this version, I needed to add some meat to the kick. The Plugin Alliance Black Box adds saturation. I turned the Pentode knob up and had the Mix down at 17 percent. It then goes to the Ozone 8 limiter, which is in analogue mode, and does a lot of shaping of the low end.
"The D-Crush parallel track below has the Pro Compressor activated, doing 12 to 15 dB compression, so it's really crushing! It has the same EQ around 60Hz, but I have taken out some of the top end, because I felt it was getting a little too clicky. The Black Box has the Pentode and Mix settings turned up a little bit more for more dirt, and the Ozone 8 limiter is the same. I blended the Drum Crush bus in with the Drums bus, and I find that you get really huge-sounding drums doing that. This song also sounded very clean, and needed some more grit.
"The outputs of both these drum buses go to the All bus, and they both also have a send to the Aphex bus, though this send is deactivated in the D-Crush bus. Normally all instrument buses go directly to my Sum bus, but in this case I got a last-minute note, asking for the entire track to be hyped up a bit. At this point it was a matter of doing this quickly, and I also wanted to just add a very broad stroke to everything. So I created the All and Aphex buses, and sent tracks to the latter as required. I didn't send the vocals to it, because they were fine, top-end wise. But pretty much everything else, except for the D-Crush bus, was sent to this Aphex bus.
"I tried the UAD Ampex ATR-102 plug‑in on the All and Aphex buses, but turned both of them off, and forgot to remove them from the session. The FabFilter Pro‑Q 3 has a high-pass and notches around 2.2 and 2.7 kHz, just some frequencies that were really piercing. After that the Waves Aphex Aural Exciter is bypassed on the All bus, but really cranked up on the Aphex bus. I automated it, so it's bypassed in the intro and the outro, and adds excitement to the rest of the track. It's the first time I've done something like the Aphex bus."
"One bass audio track has the Ozone 8 EQ, adding some 60Hz, and the other has the Klevgrand Knorr Bass Vitalizer. It's the only time I've used the latter. The company makes some pretty cool stuff, like a great cassette emulator and an LP emulator, and this Knorr plug‑in adds a little bit more attack. The tracks go to the Bass bus and its parallel, the Bass Saturation bus, and they have the FabFilter Saturn and the Ozone 8 Vintage Limiter, but I bypassed the Saturn on the Bass bus.
"The guitar audio track goes to the Guitars and Guitars Dim buses. This is a rare occasion where I didn't double the plug‑ins. The Guitars track has the API Vision channel strip, adding 240Hz for more body and 5kHz for some bite, and the compressor is off. The Plugin Alliance bx_shredspread adds some more mid-range and widens a bit. The Guitar Dim bus has the UAD Roland Dimension D, adding a chorus effect. This was a creative addition. I felt the track needed a little bit more of a disco feel and that Nile Rodgers chorus guitar sound. Both guitar buses also have a send to the Aphex bus.
"There are no plug‑ins on the keyboards, and the Keys bus has the UAD 1176, but it's bypassed. There's also a Waves F6, and the Waves Spectre, which adds harmonics around 4.3kHz for more excitement. The intro and outro tracks are stems, and whenever I have several instruments printed on the same track, I calle it Music. I have Oeksound Soothe on the outro. It's an amazing plug‑in. It's my go–to for unruly 808s. In this case Soothe got rid of some harshness around 3kHz in the outro. The Music bus has the 1176, but bypassed, and the Pro‑Q 3, and a send to the Aphex bus."
"All vocal audio tracks have the same signal path: Metric Halo Channel Strip 3, Avid Bomb Factory BF-76, Avid Dyn-3 De-Esser and in the case of the lead vocals, the FabFilter Pro‑Q 3, all on the inserts, plus sends to the quarter- and eighth–note delays and reverb. These are all part of the recording template, and came from Kalani. I am familiar with the settings, because I worked on them, so I didn't change them. The Metric Halo is doing a high-pass, the BF-76 has all buttons in to give it that pop vocal sound. I added the Q 3, cutting 1dB at 279Hz and at 740Hz. I like to do tons of minimal EQ cuts with many plug‑ins.
"The lead vocal audio tracks also have a send called Voc SC, which goes to the side-chain input of the Waves F6 on the Keys bus. It helps make a little extra pocket for the vocal. It creates dynamic dips in the 900Hz and 2kHz range when she is singing. I also have this F6 on the 808 bus of the remix, doing the same thing. All lead vocal audio tracks go to the LD Vocal aux, which has another instance of the Q 3, taking out quite a bit of low end to make space for the bass, and the McDSP AE600 dynamic EQ, taking out problem areas only when they occur. I do a lot of vocal riding on the lead vocal bus, pushing up specific syllables.
"There's also a track called Echo FX Clean. When I have to mute a word, I will take the word before it and will delay it with some reverb to fill the empty space. The additional plug‑in by Vengeance, the VPS philta XL filter, is doing a high and a low cut to give it more of that radio sound. The other vocal tracks are treated in similar ways as the lead vocals, though the BG2 bus has the Valhalla Vintage Verb, with a 2.4s reverb, Mix at 18 percent. I think that came from Kalani, but I added the FabFilter Pro‑DS, because I wanted to take the 's' frequency out of the reverb. All vocals go to the Vocals bus, which has the UAD 1176, switched off, and the JSTClip for some level boosting. The Vocal Rear track is the parallel, with -20dB compression on the 1176. This is where I get my vocal loudness from.
"The All and Aphex buses go to the Sum bus, on which I have the Cytomic The Glue compressor, the UAD Chandler Curve Bender, and the Ozone 8 Limiter. I actually added The Glue later, because I wanted that pumping sound that Daft Punk gets, where you feed the kick hard into the compressor, and it really makes the compressor pump. I am not a big fan of compression on the stereo bus, I prefer to do my compression in parallel with my sub mixes, but this one needed that little bit of extra squeeze that adds some character to the mix.
"The Curve Bender EQ has a bit of that smiley–face curve, just pushing the lows and the highs. I normally use the FabFilter Pro‑L 2 on the Sum track, but it wasn't doing it for me, because it was rounding off some of the low–end kick transients too much. Instead I went with the Ozone Maximizer, with mode set to Transient, and this enabled me to get it loud without losing transients on the kick. I took the limiter 1dB down for the 24-bit mix I sent to mastering engineer Mike Bozzi, to give him some room to work with."
Download this Zip file of Pro Tools screenshots to view the details of the session.
The remix of 'Say So' adds Nicki Minaj on vocals, and there's a section with different instruments, where she raps over 808s and claps. For the rest the instruments and drums are the same as in the original. Gibbs recounts how the remix came into being...
"The Nicki Minaj remix happened very last minute. I got a text from her engineer, Aubry 'Big Juice' Delaine, saying, 'Here's a link for Nicki's vocals.' I opened it up and realised they were for 'Say So'. So I hit up the label and they confirmed that we were doing a remix. As I was mixing, I was getting updated versions of the vocals, verses, and so on. We did the mix, got it mastered, it was all approved, and the day before the remix was supposed to come out, someone wanted to change the beat underneath her vocals. All of a sudden there was an emergency!
"I got an email from Tyson Trax, saying: 'Here are the new beat stems for Nicki.' Among other things they contained some heavy 808s. I had an hour to mix in these new beat stems, because the remix was supposed to be released in Australia a few hours later. I pasted these new beats in just above the vocal VCA of the original session, and in Nicki Minaj's first verse I deactivated the clips from the original beat files for this section. But because the original did not have 808s, they killed my mix bus. I had to automate a new limiter during this part of the remix.
"I put Nicki's vocal at the bottom of the session, and just needed to pair them with the track. I added all plug‑ins on her vocals that you see in the session, but I did not need to do much, because the processed stems Big Juice sent me sounded great! The SoundToys Little Radiator adds a little warmth, and the Metric Halo Channel Strip boosts some top end while also cutting some low end. There are two Waves C6 plug‑ins dynamically suppressing 177Hz and 700Hz, with a -6dB range. There was some build-up in those frequencies that didn't work with the mix. On the inserts of the individual vocal tracks there also is a Waves Q8 doing two sharp 4-6 dB cuts at 10kHz and 11kHz, which was to tame some 's' harshness.
"One of the 808 audio tracks has the FabFilter Pro‑Q 2, with a high pass at 20Hz and a cut around 40Hz, and the Oeksound Soothe on a 'melodic bass control' setting. On the 808s aux bus and 808 parallel bus I have the FabFilter Saturn, Timeless, and the Waves F6. These 808 buses obviously were added for the remix. My approach with them was similar to that of the bass aux. The Saturn is only active on the parallel track, and is a bit dirtier on the 808 than on the bass. The F6 is side-chained to the vocal to suppress the mids of the 808 while Nicki is rapping. The Timeless also is only active on the parallel track, and adds a light chorus that spreads the 808 out slightly."
Gibb's original mix session of 'Say So' is a perfect example of his approach, as it features relatively few plug–ins, and a whole host of routing to parallel tracks, which in each case have the exactly same plug–ins on them. The session contains just under 100 tracks, and is well-organised, with extensive colour–coding.
Download this Zip file of Pro Tools screenshots to view the details of the session.
At the top is a Meter track, with the Slate Digital FG‑X mastering processor and the Brainworx bx_meter. Underneath that are three mix print tracks, one with the rough mix, one with a mix sent out for feedback, and one 24-bit print that's sent to mastering, 1dB less loud.
Below these tracks the parallel structure of the session becomes immediately apparent. Two parallel aux bus tracks (All and Aphex) with the same plug–ins go to a SUM track above them. There's also a SUMmaster VCA track, and two more VCA tracks (yellow). The VCA tracks are marked by asterisks in their names throughout. Below this master section the instrument group aux tracks begin, with a Drums and a D-Crush parallel, a Cymbal aux, a Bass and a Bass Saturation parallel, a Guitars and a Guitar Dim parallel, and then Keys, Music, EFX Vocal, and two parallel vocal tracks: Vocals and Vocal Rear.
Underneath the aux bus tracks are the audio tracks. Apart from on the vocals, they have hardly any plug–ins. Almost all treatments are done on the buses. Each section of audio tracks has a VCA above. The first section consists of 12 drum audio tracks, with a *drums* VCA above them (all blue). Next are two cymbal tracks (turquoise) and a *cymbal* VCA above, two bass tracks (purple) and a *bass* VCA, two guitar tracks (green) and a *guitar* VCA, seven keys tracks (beige) and a *keys* VCA, two music tracks and a *music* VCA.
The vocal section starts with two audio effect vocal tracks, and an *efxvocal* VCA above, and then a *vocal* VCA and followed by a LD Vocal aux bus, fed by six audio tracks of lead vocals plus one Echo FX Clean vocal track. Next are three backing vocal tracks sent to an Outro Vocals aux, and then 12 harmony vocals sent to a Harmony Vocal aux, and finally a BG2 aux and a Mhm Mm aux, each fed by two audio tracks. At the bottom of the session is an FX Return aux, fed by five aux effect tracks: an eighth-note Waves H‑Delay, a quarter-note and a half-note delay (each with the Line6 EchoFarm), a Reverb aux with the Blue Cat's PatchWork containing a Lexhall plug‑in, and a Backspread track with SoundToys' MicroShift.