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Mix Rescue: The Vietnam Flashbacks

Our Expert Transforms Your Track
By Sam Inglis

This month's Mix Rescuees, the Vietnam Flashbacks.This month's Mix Rescuees, the Vietnam Flashbacks.

We load up the magic buses to take a psychedelic rock mix on a fresh trip.

We're often told that technical quality is less important than musical quality. As long as you have a good song and a good performance, it's said, everything else is secondary. That may be true, but it's also true that a good performance of a good song can be spoiled by technical problems, and so it was with this month's Mix Rescue candidate. The Vietnam Flashbacks describe themselves as a "psychedelic jam band", and unlike some acts of that ilk, they have genuinely strong material to underpin their sonic experimentation. What they didn't have was mixes that did justice to this material.

Rescued This Month

The Vietnam Flashbacks are a psychedelic band from Leicester who record live in their rehearsal room-cum-studio. They are influenced by artists like Love, Hendrix and the 13th Floor Elevators as well as '70s music like Hawkwind, mixed in with indie and modernish bands like the Black Angels. The full line up is: Ben Moore (keyboards), Dave Kidd (bass and vocals), Lance Bennett (drums and vocals), Pete Illson (guitar and vocals) and Riki Maru (vocals). "Psychedelia is our trip," they say, "and if you like psychedelic rock then we are what you're looking for!"

Striking A Balance

The process that we now call mixing used to be known as 'balancing', and I still think this is a better description of the job that needs to be done. There are two main senses in which a good mix needs to be 'balanced'. First, the relative levels of each sound source need to make sense, with nothing being either too loud or too quiet; and, second, the overall tonality of the mix has to be effective. There must be enough action at the bottom end for the track to sound full, yet not so much that it comes across as boomy or muddy. Likewise, the mid-range needs to be present without being boxy or tinny, and similar considerations apply to the high-frequency region.

The two kinds of balance are interconnected. If you find yourself in a situation where nothing seems to sit at the right level, it's often because the overall tonal character of the mix has gone awry; and a bass-heavy or top-heavy frequency balance tends to make particular instruments poke out unpredictably on different playback systems. The Vietnam Flashbacks' own mix of 'Cherry Cola' was a case in point. The overall frequency balance was heavily 'scooped', with too much bass and a strong emphasis in the upper treble region. Consequently, the instrumental balance was also wonky, with the bass guitar dominating the mix, the hi-hat more prominent than the snare drum, and so on.

Two things are key to avoiding this sort of problem. The first is having a reliable monitoring system, and checking your mixes on headphones and other speakers where possible. The second is referencing. To keep your mix on the straight and narrow, identify a couple of commercial tracks in a similar style to yours, and return to them every so often during the mix process — but be sure to match the levels, because our perception of tonality is heavily dependent on loudness. In this case the band hadn't mentioned specific references; as the track seemed to me to recall the finer moments of the Rain Parade, I used one of their songs as my main comparison.

Hearing Things

Frequency balance issues quite often originate in tracking. If you're listening on an unreliable system, or you're working in a single room and don't have an isolated playback system, it's all too easy to position mics and adjust amps in such a way that your sources are captured with too much low end, or an overly aggressive mid-range, excessive sibilance and so on. I find this is...

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Published April 2019