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Mix Rescue: Sound Clarity | Media

Mixing & Recording Advice
By Mike Senior

Download the audio and project files that accompany this month's Mix Rescue (/sos/nov10/articles/mixrescue-1110.htm).

Every month, we make available some 'before and after' audio examples to accompany the Mix Rescue feature, but this month we've gone a step further: the artist kindly agreed to allow SOS to make the whole project file available for you to download and play with yourself!

Mix Rescue | November 2010 issue by Sound On Sound

Project File & Raw Multitracks

The demo version of Cockos Reaper is cross-platform and free to use for 30 days. The Reaper project of my remix, along with a readme file which tells you where to obtain the various freeware plug-ins used in the project, can be downloaded here:

Download all Hi-Res WAVs | 408 MB

The project loaded with the raw, unprocessed multitrack recordings can be downloaded here:

Download all Hi-Res WAVs | 614 MB

Before & After Examples

The following files are audio files, in WAV and MP3 format, which illustrate the changes Mike made to the original files. They can be played in our Soundcloud player or downloaded from here:

Download all Hi-Res MP3s | 21 MB
Download all Hi-Res WAVs | 142 MB


Axel's original kick-drum sample. You can hear how the low-end energy of each hit lags significantly behind the exaggerated high-end transient, which made the attack feel gutless and also made the overall groove drag. The length of the low-frequency pulses was also a problem, because they left very little room at the low end for the busy main bass-synth line.


My first processing tack was to apply EQ using Cockos ReaEQ: a high-pass filter at 57Hz to subjectively shorten and tighten the low end, plus 8dB of high shelving cut (nominally at 890Hz but with a very shallow slope covering more than four octaves) to tame the over-aggressive high-frequency attack.


In order to fill in the low-frequency energy missing from beneath the high-frequency attack transient, I decided to layer in an additional kick-drum sample from Equipped Music's Breakbeat Jazz sample library. Here it is in its raw form. Although it's too long, and has lots of high-frequency vinyl noise on it (as befits the trip-hop/chill-out style of the sample library), what I chose it for was the opening 'thud' at the low end, and I subsequently processed it to isolate this.


This is how my added kick-drum sample actually sounded within the context of the final mix. I edited the sample's audio region to reduce the duration of its low frequencies, so that it just plugged the gap before the original kick-drum sample's low-end took over. The unwanted vinyl noise was removed easily enough using a 2.5kHz low-pass filter from Cockos ReaEQ.


The combined kick-drum sound as heard in the final remix, created by processing Axel's original drum (as in the KickProc file) and then adding a further kick-drum sample (as heard in the KickSampleProc file). Compare this with Axel's original raw track in the KickOrig file to hear how the better-aligned low-frequencies help increase the punch of the overall drum hit.


Here's the first of Axel's original loops. The problems with it were that the low end of the kick and 'hat' samples was generally too full for the track, and just muddied the low end and mid-range of the main kick and bass parts; and that the hat also exhibited some mono compatibility problems which altered its balance on single-speaker playback.


By slicing the loop up into individual hits, I was able to high-pass filter the kick and hat slices at 130Hz and 260Hz respectively, while leaving the remainder of the hits without EQ. The mono compatibility problem was solved by playing back just one side of the stereo recording for all the hat hits.


The second loop felt very soft and uninspiring to me in raw form, with lots of superfluous low end. However, the kick-drum transients were also over-emphasised, so balancing the loop satisfactorily proved impossible. Not only that, but the snare hits were rushing, which undermined the power of the main kick-drum beat.


Slicing up the loop into hits enabled me to sort out the snare timing issues, and I high-pass filtered almost everything at around 90Hz to clear out the low-end clutter. Transient reduction was dealt with using Cockos Reaper's Jesusonic Transient Controller, set to maximum Attack and minimum Release in order to draw out all the available sustain detail from each hit. I then used Mda's freeware Bandisto to dirty up the sound and give it some character, but this brought up the hi-hat sounds excessively in the mix, so I brought those back into line with high-frequency limiting above 2kHz from Reaper's ReaXcomp multi-band dynamics plug-in. Finally, an instance of ReaEQ funnelled the distorted sound into the most relevant niche in the frequency range, between about 500Hz and 3kHz.


This was Axel's third loop layer. The low end here was much better controlled, but I was still concerned that the timing didn't seem to fit with the rest of the groove, and that the hi-hat sound felt rather weak.


Once I'd sliced the loop into its individual hits, it wasn't too tricky to sort out the timing issues, and I could also apply separate processing to the hi-hat slices to give them a more suitable sound for the mix: the first thing I used was GVST's GClip soft-clipper to round off some of each hat transient, and this also had the effect of reducing the prominence of the 16th-note percussion in the loop, making it flow a bit more smoothly; then I shifted the hat's down a semitone helped give a more full-bodied tone; and finally added an instance of Kjaerhus Audio's Classic Chorus to widen the stereo spread.


By tuning some wayward guitar and synth parts, I was able to improve the clarity of the final balance. To demonstrate the extent of this effect I've deliberately reset all the off-line pitch-shifts I applied to these parts, so that you can hear how a section of the mix sounds without them. Although the pitching discrepancies aren't so severe that they make the tuning completely unacceptable, they do leave the mix texture feeling more clouded. Compare this file with the TuningIn example.


For comparison purposes, here's the same section of the mix as in the TuningOut example, but with the tuning corrections reinstated, as in the final remix.


This audio example illustrates the vocal sound used in the final remix, but without any of its send effects. To give the vocal attitude and detail, I applied a truck-load of compression from Digital Fishphones' freeware Blockfish compressor, using the VCA mode and fast time constants. (The Complex, Low Cut, and Air options were also enabled.) This inevitably brought up sibilants unacceptably, so I countered those using the same manufacturer's Spitfish de-esser. The vocal's tone felt a bit too abrasive, so I pulled out some high end with a 2.5dB peak at 3.2kHz and a 4.5dB high shelf at 4.8kHz, while 5dB of peaking dip at 330Hz tackled some undesirable muddiness.


This is the same dry sound you heard in the LVVsDry example, but with all its send effects added, as in the final remix. The most interesting treatment was a stereo ring-modulator, courtesy of two instances of Mda's RingMod plug-in. The plug-ins' Frequency controls were tuned to match the track, and then the output was fed through the rotary-speaker simulator in GSI's Organized Trio instrument to increase the stereo interest. The other vocal send effects for the song's verses were an 80ms slapback delay from Cockos ReaDelay, bracketed with filtering into a 400Hz-7.6kHz frequency region; a classic Harmonizer-style stereo widening patch using short pitch-shifted delays; and a simple stereo tempo delay with moderate feedback.


The original piano part proved extremely difficult to fit into the mix using plug-in processing, simply because the sound was very dull and the part had been programmed rather unmusically. Notice, for example, how the comparatively unimportant third note of the melody is played much louder (and therefore with a much brighter tone) than the fourth note.


Because the original piano recording was so problematic from a mix processing perspective, but the musical part itself was very simple, I decided just to replace it using a virtual instrument, in this case 4Front's Truepianos. This allowed me to choose a raw sound with more cut-through (the Truepianos Diamond model) as well as programming a part which had a more sensible musical contour.


Here's the piano sound as it appears in the final remix. First the channel was processed with a high-pass filter at 790Hz from Cockos ReaEQ and a few decibels of soft-knee 2.4:1 compression from Cockos ReaComp, the latter just de-emphasising the note attacks a little. I then applied two different send effects in an attempt to unmask the instrument within the generally busy arrangement: the first a simple 3/16th-note delay patch from Cockos ReaDelay to add sustain and spread the stereo image; and the second an unnatural-sounding long bright reverb from GSI's TimeVerb plug-in, altering the instrument's sustain character and give it a more ear-catching sonic identity.


In order to avoid the multiple layers of guitars and synths getting in the way of the main kick-drum sound during the choruses, I used side-chain-triggered compression to duck them out of the way. This was achieved using two instances of Cockos ReaComp, both controlled from one of the kick-drum sample tracks and applying around 4dB of gain reduction for each drum hit. This audio example is a section of the arrangement where both compressors are function at once, so you can hear the effect most clearly. Compare this with DuckingIn file.


This is how the same section of the mix heard in the DuckingIn audio example would have sounded had the ducking not been operational.


This month's Mix Rescue submission is a song called 'We Feel Alright' from the band Girls Under Glass, and was sent in by SOS reader Axel Ermes. This audio file is Axel's original mix of the production.


Here is my remix of 'We Feel Alright' based on Axel's original multitrack files, and with some added sounds from Equipped Music's Breakbeat Jazz sample library, Nine Volt Audio's Big Bad Guitars REX collection, and two Kontakt Player-based virtual instruments: VIR2's Elite Orchestral Percussion and Heavyocity's Evolve.    

Published November 2010