Here is a selection of audio files to accompany this month's Mix Rescue of Al James' song 'Schoolboy Fascination'. You can listen to these as MP3s in the media player in the main article (/sos/aug09/articles/mixrescue_0809.htm) or can download from this page as CD-quality WAVs for more critical auditioning in your DAW.
Here's a section of the raw lead vocal recording Al James recorded for his song 'Schoolboy Fascination'. As you can hear, it's a pretty respectable recording, although with a bit of muddiness at the low end -- doubtless due to proximity effect from close placement of a large-diaphragm cardioid condenser mic during recording.
Despite the quality of the original recording, Al ended up applying a pretty extreme EQ setting with his built-in channel EQ to add 'air' and to keep the vocal audible against the busy backing-track mix: -11dB low shelving at 122Hz, 1dB and 3.5dB peaking boosts at 130Hz and 3.4kHz respectively, and an enormous 14dB high shelving boost at 6.5kHz. However, the side-effects of his processing were unpleasantly emphasised sibilance and a frequency suckout at around 4-5kHz which prevented the vocal cutting through the mix.
Instead of trying to improve audibility with EQ, I left that job to the compression, taking a more restrained EQ'ing approach, combining a simple 12dB/octave high-pass filter at 128Hz from Cubase's Studio EQ plug-in with and an instance of Universal Audio's Harrison 32C plug-in boosting 0.5dB at 2kHz and 2dB at 17kHz. The Harrison EQ was chosen for its ability to add presence and air to the vocal without having to dial in masses of EQ.
In order to even up the vocal levels in the mix, I then applied quite heavy compression, but with a fairly low 1.7:1 ratio -- the vocal performance was comparatively even, but the overall dynamic range needed squeezing to help it compete with the backing. Fast attack and release times were used to pull up the details in the performance (roughly 2ms and 60ms respectively), and while this didn't make the vocal itself too unnatural, the sibilance was inevitably overemphasised.
To sort out the excessive sibilance, I applied a second compressor to the vocal part, feeding it via its side-chain from a version of the lead vocal heavily EQ'd (with a high-pass filter at 4.5kHz and a 24dB peak at 8kHz) specifically to isolate the sibilant sections of the vocal. That meant that this second compressor kicked in only during sibilant sections, acting as a de-esser. The attack and release times of the compressor were kept short (1ms and 10ms respectively) to quickly and surgically target the sibilance without pumping artefacts.
These are the drum parts from a section of Al's original mix, complete with his Cubase channel processing. I felt that the snare and ride sounds felt a bit mechanical, the kick drum was too aggressive for the style, and the lack of send effects made things feel rather narrow.
Here are the mixed drums from my remix. I replaced the kick, snare, and ride sounds using Al's original MIDI files and Sonic Reality's Ocean Way Drums, and also added some extra cymbals from Spectrasonics Back Beat drum sample library. Other than this the processing was mostly very light, with the exception of some transient enhancement of the tom tracks using Cubase's Envelope Shaper plug-in. The send effects used were a general hall ambience from Christian Knufinke's SIR2 and a more dense and obvious chamber reverb from Lexicon's Pantheon II reverb plug-in.
This is the original mix of Al James's pop song 'Schoolboy Fascination', as submitted to Mix Rescue. As you can hear it's well-arranged and the mix is also already quite well developed. It's also very loud, and Al and I both agreed that this aspect of his mastering processing had been pushed a bit too far.
Here's my final remix of Al's Song, which I started from Al's own Cubase Project mix settings. As you can hear, I've taken a slightly more restrained approach to the loudness processing than in Al's original mix in order to maintain a smoother sound.
In addition to overhauling the EQ settings and using more mixer automation, the other main change I made to Al's mix settings was adding in four global send effects: a general long ambience impulse response running in Christian Knufinke's SIR2; a shorter, brighter, and denser chamber reverb, primarily for the drums, courtesy of Lexicon's Pantheon II reverb plug-in; a smooth and comparatively dimensionless plate reverb from Universal Audio's UAD2 Plate 140 plug-in, primarily to warm up the piano; and a simple mono delay from one of Cubase's built-in plug-ins, which was also fed to the drum chamber effect to push the echoes into the background. To demonstrate the impact of these effects on the sound, here's a version of the mix where I've muted all of them -- for the best comparison, import the WAVs into your own sequencer so that you can A/B them against each other as they play.