Day 3 and Day 4
So by this point, the major components of the mix had come together and it was starting to sound like a mix. It’s on Day 3 that all the fine tuning began. From here on out, I’ll speak more generally as this part of the process applies to every mix I do. For my mixing style, Day 3 and 4 are almost identical; the only difference being that on Day 4, the mix gets bounced down and sent off for band approval.
Again, I start with my “quick flash” mixing…load the session up and listen to the reference mixes first. I’ll get those firmly in my head and then quickly switch back to the working mix. The brutal A/B nature of this instantly tells me which tweaks need to be made on the general sound. When doing this, work quickly and fully take advantage of those fresh ears!
I’ve found that a well organized mix helps me work quicker and more efficiently. So on Day 3, I go through the mix and label the structure of the song; Intro, Verse 1, Chorus 1, etc. I used to spend (i.e. waste) hours on a mix jumping around from place to place without any sort of regiment. These days, once the general sound is dialed in (or nearly dialed in), I’ll very methodically work through the song front to back. Play the intro on repeat…tweak until good. Play the first verse on repeat…tweak until good. Wash, rinse, repeat for the entire song.
Having these markers in place is also nice if you want a similar sound on, say, the first and second verse. Select your automation, copy/paste, then tweak from there.
Here you can see how I have this mix set up for easy access. “WZ1” and “WZ2” are my two work zones…one in the middle of a verse, one in the middle of a chorus. I have 4 references tracks that I can quickly flip to as well as the entire song mapped out (as you can see, the full version of the song had a lot more going on in the bridge compared with the video edit!) Using this, I can efficiently jump immediately to where I need to go and focus on mixing, not on finding the start of that 3rd chorus!
Day 3 is when the massive task of automation starts and Day 4 is when it’s completed. A static mix is a boring mix! Things need to move, come up and down, interesting effects up front then back away, massive drum fills in your face and then buried underneath a cool guitar lick…you get the picture. A few of my favorite automation tricks are automating cymbals hits and bringing some instruments down in order to let more important ones shine through. In “Bloodstream”, there was plenty of fun little ear candy to play with. Something I always appreciate!
Check out just how much guitar movement there is going the first verse. Listen for the drop in volume:
And then from the last chorus going into the outro, the guitars jump up to take center stage:
Small changes like these make a big difference in how the mix is taken in by the listener. Remember, you as the mixer decide what is most important at any given time and what the listener should be paying attention to!
Towards the end of Day 4, I start going heavier into the tiny things that aren’t essential to a mix, but are really fun (at least for me!). You know, things like the extra vocal delay on certain syllables that isn’t noticeable unless you’re really paying attention…or wearing headphones. I firmly believe that even though the listener may not be conscious of these little nuggets of joy, they do impact them on an emotional level.
Here’s a subtle delay on the word “bloodstream” in the chorus. Not overly obvious in the context of the mix, but still there to add a little sauciness. You can hear this one at 1:18 in the video above.
Dun, dun, duuuuunnnn…..now the fun begins. After dropping many hours into something that has been my baby over the last 4 days, now it’s time to open it up to the people who have the only opinions that matter: the artist. It’s always a little nerve-wracking waiting for them to listen and gather their feedback. It’s during these hours (or days or sometimes even weeks for the particularly cruel bands!) that the second guessing takes place.
“Is that vocal too loud?” “Does the kick hit had enough?” “Does this mix just f*cking suck?!”
Ah, the daily life of a mixing engineer. The best thing to do is to use the waiting time as a way to get the hell away from the mix for a while! Listening more will only further damage any objectivity you have left.
As most of the mixing I do is me locked away by myself in the studio for hours at a time, the band provides a much needed fresh perspective. Things that I might be missing will instantly be apparent to them. And they also get the luxury of not sitting through endless EQ tweaks but rather hearing the final (or near final) mix on the first listen.
With Days of Confusion, we’ve had a good working relationship going back a while, so I already had a pretty good idea of which direction to shoot towards from the start. They liked the mix and we knocked out their requested tweaks in a few days. Easy peasy.
So that’s it! That’s the process I follow front to back with every mix I do. Working this way over the course of 4 days allows me to have multiple mixes going at once but to still keep a fresh perspective on all of them…especially coupled with a heavy use of reference mixes to snap me back to reality and remind me what a kick-ass mix should sound like. Fight hard to keep perspective in your mixes and it’ll pay dividends!
Now back to mixing!