Anatomy of a Mix: “Bloodstream” Part 1

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I’ve often been asked about the process I go through for any given mix.  Not necessarily the EQ settings, automation tricks, etc., but how the mix is built up from scratch to a finished product.  As I started mixing the latest song from one of my favorite bands, Romanian heroes Days of Confusion, I figured this tune would make a great case study.  So in the next few blog posts, I’m going to bring you through this mix in a day by day process.

First, have a look-see at the song. It’s an easy watch as the band managed to convince several gorgeous women to star in it, including the Romanian Playboy playmate of the year!

Pretty rad video, eh?

Let’s dive right in.

Now when I start a completely new mix, I really like to take my time with it.  I’m a huge fan of the idea of “thin slicing” where one makes quick decisions based on first impressions.  Check out Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” for an incredible look into this concept.

I find that I can get more productive work done on the overall sound of a mix in the first two minutes while listening on fresh ears than I can in a couple of hours after hearing the same mix over and over.  With this is mind, I typically like to create as many of those opportunities as possible and will mix the first song of an album over the span of four days or so.  With “Bloodstream”, that’s exactly what I did.

Day 1

When the guys uploaded the files to me, I was a bit like a kid on Christmas morning.  I had mixed Days of Confusion’s first EP about a year and a half ago and I was really excited to see what new stuff they had come up with.  And I was not disappointed.  As you’d expect with a good band with good arrangements, a lot of things already felt like they had their own “place”, even with the faders only pulled up at unity.  The guitar tone was killer and every thing was tight.  Nice start.

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Me opening the files for “Bloodstream”

Step one for me is organizing the files.  I have a mix template already set-up in ProTools that has all my common routings: drum busses, guitar busses, effect returns, etc.  When I was but a mere intern at my first studio eons ago, the owner taught me to keep the routing and organization on your mixes consistent.  I’ve stuck to this philosophy and find that it helps me make quicker mix decisions instead of fumbling around looking for where my reverb return is sitting.  My typical setup is, left to right: drums, percussion, bass, keys, acoustic guitars, any other random tracks, rhythm guitars, lead guitars, vocals, background vocals, master bus, effects returns.

There isn’t anything magical about that organization…simply what I am accustomed to.  Pick one that works for you and stick with it.

Once I popped “Bloodstream”‘s tracks into my template, I set up all my groups for easy soloing, muting, and editing later on.  Often, I’ll get tracks where the labeling is…ahem…lacking.  “JackL1.dup01” is not a good way to label your files, kids.  “Guitar 1”, “Lead Vocal”, “Lead Vocal Double”, etc….that’s how to do it.  As the guys in Days of Confusion are pros, everything was labeled properly and needed no head scratching to figure out what was what.  images

After the basic organization and routing was done, it’s time for the absolute most important step: checking phase.  Have a look at a previous article I wrote that describes this process.  Want to magically have more low end in your mixes?  Check your phase.  Every.  Single.  Time.  The phase in at least one of the drum mics tends to be out of phase in any given drum setup, and this mix was no different; the overheads and tom mics needed to be flipped.  Bam!  A bit more low end without tweaking a single EQ knob.

Next, I set up my reference tracks.  I picked a handful of tracks that were sorta kinda close to the style of this tune.  With a band I’ve mixed before, like Days of Confusion, I’ll also pull in one of the older mixes.  This really helps keep me focused on where the band wants this mix to go and to make sure I don’t go all “Bon Jovi” if they want “Metallica”.  For this mix, I pulled in my typical go-to references: “One Armed Scissor” by At the Drive-In, “Divinations” by Mastadon, “Better Than Life” by People in Planes, “Digital Bath” by the Deftones, and “Seeds” from Days of Confusion’s last EP.

Some of the drum files needed some editing and re-doing of the fades, so I took care of that quickly as well.  Nothing crazy, just taking care of some things that got lost in the shuffle of prepping the song for mix.

Then, it was time to mix.  Day 1 is all quick stuff.  I don’t go in-depth on anything.  I augmented the kick/snare with a few samples of my own and touched on general EQ and balances.  The goal, at this point, is to just get it sounding like a decent rough mix.  I want to set myself up for a fresh ears listen on Day 2.  That’s it.  It takes quite a lot of discipline to stay away from a mix that you’re excited about; especially for a full 24 hours. But trust me, the pay off of hearing it on completely fresh ears is more than worth it.

And that’s it.  Day 1 is done with.  It doesn’t sound spectacular, but it’s got the beginnings of a mix.  Have a listen:

More coming in the next post!  Want to keep in the loop?  Click that little “follow” button in the lower right corner and be notified when the next post is up!

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