Alright, let’s keep on going with this mix breakdown. If you need a refresher of where we’re at, check out part 1 and check out the song again:
Alright, now the fun begins! As I mentioned in the last post, I find that the first “fresh ears” listen of a mix is the absolute most important. So when I load up a session on Day 2, I do NOT hit play on the mix I’m working on. Instead, I take a listen to my reference tracks. I’ll flip through those for a bit and get used to that sound. And then BAM!….I’ll flip right to the chorus of the mix I’m working on.
Be warned, this is not for the faint of heart or those predisposed to giving up on your career as a mixing engineer easily. On Day 2, it will be disappointing.
“Oh, my mix isn’t very good. I suck at this and should probably give up and maybe buy 14 cats instead.”
Typical Day 2 thoughts. Fear not, it gets better from here.
On this tune, I did my usual quick decision mixing right after flipping over from my references. I don’t allow myself to think too much or to listen to my mix too much at this stage. Whatever my first impression on what my mix is lacking is right where I’m going. I’ve found that my Day 2 kick/bass are almost always too loud. I seem to always get low-end crazy on Day 1.
Anyways, this mix was no different. I rebalanced some levels and did some broad general tweaks for a few minutes. Then, I dove in.
I quite often will get a very rough vocal sound and then forget about vocals for a while. But after hearing the band’s rough mix of “Bloodstream”, I had a pretty good idea of the spacey, delay-y sound they wanted and I didn’t want to save that until last. I spent a good chunk of time getting a long, trailing delay going that would give the vocals their own space.
I also wanted to make the chorus vocals a bit more aggressive, so those got their own track and a saucy little distortion plugin for grit.
Have a listen at where the vocals are at on Day 2:
The snare on Day 1 was a bit boring. I really wanted a snare that took up a lot of space and was a little mini explosion. I was aiming for epic here. The first thing I did was copy the snare track and add a distortion on the duplicate. Nothing too crazy, but enough to give a bit of length and dirt on the snare. I also stole the old Alice in Chains snare room trick: get a clean sample of a snare mic’d in a big room and trigger that along with the original snare. Instant size, no cymbal wash. Thanks, Alice in Chains.
Have a listen to the Day 1 drums compared with Day 2:
SansAmp distortion, add mid-range bite. Done. I don’t remember the last mix I did where the bass didn’t get at least a little Sansamp. Love, love, love it.
The band sent me very well recorded guitars that needed very little love on my end. Like I said last post, these guys are pros. But I couldn’t resist adding a little bite to them via extra distortion. Check out this earlier post that covers this process. Nothing crazy here, these guitars came in sounding great. I’m not in to fixing what isn’t broken.
And that’s it. Even though I was getting increasingly excited about the direction of the mix, I knew that if I continued to work on it, I would only get accustomed to the sound and lose my objectivity. I forced myself to go work on something else and stay away from the mix for another 24 hours in order to have an effective “first listen” the next day.
It should be noted that I know this is a rather atypical way to work and it probably won’t be good for everyone. If you are working out of someone else’s studio or using tons of outboard gear, my method probably isn’t very feasible for you. If you’re able to knock out a gold medal mix in one day, I say go for it. I just figured out a long time ago that my one-day mixes always lead to a day-after-listen full of “damnit, the bass is too loud and the bridge sounds awkward”.
Find what works for you and stick with it. And screw all the guys who say it has to be done only one “correct” way.
Have a listen to a clip of the mix after Day 2 (complete with an opening scream that didn’t make the final cut):