The audio files available on this page accompany the Mix Rescue column for SOS April 2013 (/sos/apr13/articles/mix-rescue-0413.htm), featuring the song 'Directions' by reader Tom McKenzie. The filenames are fairly self-explanatory, but the descriptions below should help you understand a little more about what you're hearing. In addition to these demonstrations, you can also download both the raw multitrack files and my full Cockos Reaper remix project from the 'Mixing Secrets' Free Multitrack Download Library at http://www.cambridge-mt.com/ms-mtk.htm#TomMcKenzie.
For this particular remix I did quite a lot of audio editing to tighten up timing discrepancies between different instruments. This didn't just affect the sense of groove, however, because it also made the balance more stable. For example, in this section of the final mix, listen to the consistency of the rimshot hits, and compare this with the Timing02_Unedited audio file.
This audio file is the same section of the song you heard in Timing01_Edited, but I've deliberately returned all the audio regions in the tracks to their supplied timing positions and removed any of the copy/paste editing patch-ups I did for selected drum hits. Whatever you think about the differences in 'groove' between the edited and unedited example files, the balance of the rimshot hits is clearly less dependable in the unedited version — most clearly at 0:22 where the rimshot is rendered much more audible by virtue of flamming noticeably with kick drum.
This is the first of a series of 15 audio examples which provide a step-by-step demonstration of how I built up my initial static balance of the band's most important parts: vocal, acoustic guitar, bass, and drums. I started off by fading up the raw lead vocal track, which you can hear in this audio example.
Although the unprocessed lead vocal you heard in the Balance01_LV_Unproc file is a very respectable recording, I felt it was fractionally soft-sounding in the midrange for a lead vocal, so I used the freeware Cockos ReaEQ to add 2dB of boost at 700Hz across a two-octave bandwidth. A 3dB cut in the octave around 1kHz tempered this somewhat, however, removing a hint of nasality and rendering the overall change from the EQ quite subtle.
I chose the compressor section of Variety Of Sound's freeware Nasty VCS channel-strip provided dynamics control for the lead vocal (I bypassed all its other processing blocks), because it has a talent for delivering firm control with comparatively few artefacts. This compressor design only offers two rotary controls and two switches, the former for compression amount and make-up gain, and the latter for attack and release presets. As such, the main work was to select the best time settings, especially because I wanted a fairly natural sound despite pushing the gain-reduction quite hard for level-management reasons. My selections in the end were the 'Press' attack-time and the 'Relax' release-time modes.
Despite a tonal balance and dynamics contour I was happy with, I still felt that the vocal timbre might benefit from a little more harmonic density to it, so I added in an instance of Variety Of Sound's freeware Tessla Pro transformer emulator. This is an extremely subtle effect, so even though I deliberately drove it well into the red, the results were still nicely understated.
The only thing that still bugged me with the vocal was the sibilance, which seemed a little bit overplayed — not least because of the emphasising effects of the heavy compression I'd used. So the final processing step before adding in the next instrument was to apply ToneBoosters' TB_DeEsser plug-in to that channel. Although this plug-in provides split-band processing, I didn't bother with that as I only used about 3-5dB of sibilance reduction in this instance, so the side-effects were minimal. Attack and release times were set to 10ms and 19ms respectively — a bit slower than I sometimes use, because I was concerned not to flatten the life out of all the singer's consonants at the same time.
Having taken the lead vocal part to the stage you heard in the Balance05_LV_DeEsser audio file, I now added in the main acoustic guitar part, as you can hear in this example.
My biggest concern with the raw guitar sound, as heard in the Balance08_Gtr_Unproc audio file, was that its timbre seemed out of character with the vocal, and indeed with its role as a primary rhythm instrument in arrangement. I went for a very characterful EQ plug-in to sharpen it up: Stillwell Audio's affordable Vibe EQ. My settings involved a 2dB peak at 1.2kHz; a 6dB peak at 2.5kHz; and a -3.5dB low shelf at 220Hz. As you can hear in this example, that changed the personality of the sound tremendously, putting it on more of an even footing with the vocal to my ears.
I didn't feel the need for any further acoustic guitar processing, so I proceeded to add the bass into the mix next, as you can hear in this example. Notice how the low end and low midrange immediately begin to feel overpowered, so that the whole mix sounds rather woolly.
My first tactic for dealing with the low-end build-up was to high-pass filter the guitar and vocal mics at 90Hz and 100Hz respectively, and if you compare this example with the Balance08_Bass_Unproc audio file you can hear that the timbral cost to these channels was minimal, yet provided a distinctly clearer low midrange timbre to the mix as a whole. Nevertheless, from my perspective, it was still only the start of a solution.
Further processing of the guitar and vocal parts with ReaEQ delivered an additional sense of clarity in the low midrange. The vocal part had a -3dB low shelf at 400Hz, while the guitar channel had a half-octave-wide -5dB peak at 130Hz to reduce the impact of the instrument's soundhole resonance. On top of this, there were a couple of note fundamentals that were booming out on the guitar recording, so these were rebalanced using narrow notches of -3dB and -4.5dB at 165Hz and 176Hz respectively.
By the time I'd reached the mix you can hear in the Balance10_Bass_LVGtrEQs audio file, I figured I'd gone about as far as I dared before the guitar and vocal tones became unacceptably thin, even in context, but there was still a certain cloudiness to the mix tone that I didn't like, so I decided to refocus the bass energy more into the lower octaves to give it less influence on the low midrange. ReaEQ did the honours here, once again, with two-octave-wide low shelving boost at 40Hz and an octave-wide -5dB peak at 150Hz. To prevent any emphasis of subsonic rumble, I also dialled in a 20Hz high-pass filter.
Although I was pretty satisfied with the result in the Balance11_Bass_EQMkI audio file myself, when I finally sent a first draft of the full mix to the Tom, he felt that I'd still not pushed things far enough. In response, I dug deeper into the bass's midrange with an octave-wide peak of -4dB at 145Hz, and supplemented the low end further using a sinewave subsynth patch from Cockos Reaper's built-in ReaSynth. The necessary MIDI notes were generated in short order using the standalone version of Celemony's Melodyne software, and the bass channel itself was high-pass filtered at 80Hz to avoid phase-mismatches between the original and synthesized LF elements.
The drum tracks balanced fine on their own, with just a bit of fader juggling and a polarity flip of the kick-drum close mic, although I did add a broad 9dB peaking boost on the kick channel because I didn't think that instrument was meaty enough. Adding the drums in with the other instruments, and the low midrange muddiness returned...
A few targeted EQ cuts with ReaEQ and ToneBooster's TB_Equalizer plug-in helped to clear out the low midrange clutter you can hear in the Balance13_Drums_InitialProc audio file: a one-octave peak of -5dB at 150Hz on the kick-drum channel; a one-octave peak of -4dB at 280Hz on the snare-drum channel; and a one-octave peak of -4dB at 380Hz on the overheads stereo pair. A further narrow 2.5dB peaking cut at 11kHz ducked an annoying harmonic on the hi-hat.
Although there was no compression on the acoustic guitar or bass, a couple of instance of Focusrite's Scarlett Compressor made their way onto the drum tracks. The first was a gentle 1.5:1 setting with a fast 2ms attack and a slow one-second release. This was designed simply to control the performance dynamics for a more consistent low end foundation. The second compressor was set at a higher 2:1 ratio with the fastest possible attack and release time, and was applied to the under-snare mic track to push its transients down into the balance — allowing more of the characterful snare rattle to reach the mix.
I mentioned in the Mix Rescue article text how I use different panning and effects to create subtle contrasts between the electric guitar parts, thereby highlighting the section boundaries of the musical structure. So that you can hear these effects sounds better, I've isolated three of the main ones during a section of the song, complete with all their effects returns as they appear in the remix.
Because some of the effects in the ElecGtrs01_EffectsMix audio file are quite low in the mix, I've created this audio example to make them more audible by removing the dry guitar signals from the mix. Notice in particular the automation-powered ducking of the delay send at 0:06-0:10, which you can't really pick out when the dry guitar signals are in there too.
Here's the mix that SOS reader Tom McKenzie sent in to Mix Rescue. It's his own song 'Directions', which he recorded with the help of his brother and father in their home studio.
Here's my remix of Tom McKenzie's 'Directions' using my Cockos Reaper DAW system and various third-party freeware and payware plug-ins. In addition to the original multitrack recordings, I also added some room ambience from an old Primesounds Foley collection and a Shekere loop from Nine Volt Audio's Shimmer & Shake REX loop library.