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What do you do to get tight rockin' dynamic mixes?

JoaoSpin

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Jan 16, 2011
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Florianópolis, SC Brazil
Hi guys and girls, I was wondering: what is your approach to getting the groove of the track to sound tight? To have that drum sound like a solid block of audio rather than have all those transients flying around. I'm relatively new to paying attention to this, so I'm wondering you guys who've been at it for years have been doing. I've been stacking two compressors on snare kick and drum bus (I track drums with four mics) one with a super sensitive threshold and low ratio and a second with the opposite. I've been adding a super squashed distortion bus to my drum mixes with just a little bit of it in there for firmness. I've been automating every single instrument in loud chorus sections (but mostly intuitively riding the fader not closing in on transients). What else can I do to get tight, firm rocking dynamics? Do you necessarily have to use drum samples? do you automate parameters on the compressors? Is it really important to have a gate or a compressor on the signal chain in the tracking phase?
Keep On Rockin'
João Verbo
 

pcrecord

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Hi Joao,
Everything you do starts with the recording. Having a drummer that has nice chops and knows how to mix himself is a must. Then you need all other musicians to lock time on the drummer. You can time align your life away, it won't be the same as having a band that rocks naturally.
I might not get where you want to go and your process but you speak of creating more dynamics with compressors and that is hitting the fan for me.
Compressors to control dynamics is more natural way to do things.
If you want more punch, use slower attack settings, if something jump out of the mix, use a faster attack time.
There is so many tricks with compressors and gates you could try. You could use the side chain of a compressor on the bass to duck when the bassdrum hits
or do the inverse with a gate to make the bass jump up a few db when the bass drum hits.

For me I don't gate or compress when tracking drums, I want them RAW with nothing that could not be undone. On one exception, I sometime use a slow attack compression on the toms it makes it easier if I want to automate volumes around them if the drummer bash too hard on the cymbals and I know I'm gonna have to open the tom mics only when they are hit. . .

One thing that makes me wonder is if you are not overdoing it. You know that most of the final volume and dynamics are made in the mastering right ?
Can you post a sample so we have a better idea ?
 

JoaoSpin

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Jan 16, 2011
Location
Florianópolis, SC Brazil
Hi pcrecord,
thanks for the answer. I guess you nailed it to the wall with saying that having everybody play together in the first place is a big one. I've been working with two drummers that are worlds apart as far as the sound they get, so I can appreciate having a good drummer playing it loud. Nothing beats a great performance that was well tracked. Do you think there could be an advantage to tracking with compression even though there's no undo button? Do you use any kind of automation anyway? At present I do my own mastering so I have a pretty good notion of what I can do there. Maybe I spent an afternoon trying to correct a lazy drum recording on a super heavy song and I had to get it out there.
Take it easy!
João
 

Boswell

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I've been working with two drummers that are worlds apart as far as the sound they get, so I can appreciate having a good drummer playing it loud.
In my experience, one of the big problems with drummers who are used to playing live is for them to give a controlled, accurate performance in the studio.

In a similar vein, I remember the battle I had with a relatively well-known rock guitarist who could not believe that I wanted him to play through a 15W amp that was stuck away in a cupboard. He sort-of apologised after he heard the finished track, as the guitar sounded HUGE.
 

pcrecord

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so I can appreciate having a good drummer playing it loud
This is what people think how drums should be played but in fact the harder you hit on it, specially the cymbals, the harder it is to mix because of the mic spills...
When I mix a track that I recorded myself, I rarely use any gates effects because I'm not banging too hard on my drums and I kind of pre mix myself with how hard I hit the drum parts.
I had a blues drummer once who didn't have any weight on the bass drum.. it was very hard to even gate because the hits and the spills were very at close levels to each other.. But the other side is true as well.. If you compress in the way in, it's even more damageable ..

One aspect that is way overlooked about drums is phasing issues cause by multiple mic technics.
I always test all my tracks with reverse polarity to determin if it sounds better and also I can manually move tracks in time a few samples or use SoundRadix phase alignment tool.. This makes a HUGHE difference ;)
https://www.soundradix.com/products/auto-align/
 

pcrecord

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Do you think there could be an advantage to tracking with compression even though there's no undo button?
Yes !! if you have compressors that a better quality or sound signature than the ones ITB.. I'd certainly use them.. but again, I can also reamp and blend the 2 tracks afterward..
Thing is you make me think of something to test in my next session with a drummer.. I can setup a cheap room mic and have it compress and distorted a bit with my LA-610 and blend that to the mix.. It'd be fun to see what good it can do in the mix..

Don't be shy, post a sample so we can help better ;)
 

audiokid

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In my experience, one of the big problems with drummers who are used to playing live is for them to give a controlled, accurate performance in the studio.

+1

You nailed this one, Bos. In fact, this was a big reason why I got into drum programming. I needed the drums to be tight, less busy.
I guess you nailed it to the wall with saying that having everybody play together in the first place is a big one.
I've also learned to appreciate acoustic emulation because of this. Meaning, I think we can emulate a live performance by controlling and creating a common room in a mix through excellent reverb processing. 2 bus Bricasti processing comes to mind.

Also, it never hurts to play some instrument all they way through a programmed song to help offset to focus that it has some programming in it.
There is so many tricks with compressors and gates you could try. You could use the side chain of a compressor on the bass to duck when the bassdrum hits
or do the inverse with a gate to make the bass jump up a few db when the bass drum hits.
+1

Depending on the type of music, side-chain processing is really helpful as well. I use it all the time.
  • Audio Ducking
  • M/S filters to help focus dynamics of certain instruments, vocals freq of tracks, groups , master bus
 

JoaoSpin

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Jan 16, 2011
Location
Florianópolis, SC Brazil
Ok pcrecord,
I am shy, but I'm gonna show you guys anyway 'cause it's what I'm doing with my life and I'm here to learn. Don't know if I should have posted in .wav but I converted it to mp3 for practicality. I like to finish off my editing after I'm done mixing so you might hear some double transients and out-of-tempo hits in there. Basically right off the bat it felt like the drummer played lazily, but maybe my mix took care of that. I slapped a limiter on it and took a bit of the gunk off.

 

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DonnyThompson

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Don't know if I should have posted in .wav but I converted it to mp3 for practicality.
The RO media player has a 12.7 meg upload limit anyway, so you wouldn't have been able to post a hi-res wav file. For that, you'd have to use something like Soundcloud or Dropbox - but the catch with that is that a lot of members here shy away from downloading anything from someone they don't know... it's a protection to prevent potential viruses or other little beasties from entering into our computers.
The rub with Soundcloud, is that it's been known to have problems with lossy artifacts - these are little wizzlies that are the result of file compression ( not audio compression) where the file is compressed/reduced in size and resolution, to enable larger files to be opened and played... the problem is that this codec will effect the fidelity of audio - it usually presents itself in a "phasey" top end, which can be heard as "swirling". Bottom line, you're best off to post MP3's here for mix critique.

Basically right off the bat it felt like the drummer played lazily, but maybe my mix took care of that. I slapped a limiter on it and took a bit of the gunk off.

The use of gain reduction ( compression/limiting) won't fix performance issues. It's purpose is to keep audio at a certain level, by taming peaks, and to reduce the dynamic range - very useful for transient instruments (like drums and vocals) - but it won't fix a "lazy" drum track.
Too much compression will destroy the dynamics of a track/song. If gain reduction is applied to the degree that everything is the same level, then there's no dynamic range left. Some music doesn't "care" about that - EDM, Metal.. these styles have the tendency to limit audio to the degree that there are no "softer" parts, that everything is at a constant level all the time.
Too much limiting and clipping will occur, resulting in distortion - and not the good kind like the harmonic distortion on a guitar amp - but a nasty break-up of the sonics.

My colleagues above mentioned - they beat me to it - that tight, dynamic performances all starts with the performers and performances. If the musicians are sloppy, making mistakes, or, as you referred to the drummer being "lazy" in his playing, then there's nothing that can fix that, with perhaps the exception of hours and hours of editing - at which point you're better off to go back and track the parts again, and get good, solid performances to start with, as opposed to attempting to "fix" these things in the mix.

Your track is almost devoid of low end below 200 or so. This is the frequency range ( 40hz - 100hz )that carries the "weight" of a mix; the bottom end that gives a mix "oomph" and "warmth".
Your upper mid range into your top end is very harsh... with the bulk of the frequencies sitting in what we call the "pain range"... this would be anywhere between 1k and 5k.

You've got distorted vocals, but I get that this is intentional and part of the style... still, it's painful to listen to for very long. My recommendation would be for you to listen to some Nine Inch Nails, Disturbed, or maybe Marylin Manson (?) as references to your own mixes; because while distortion is prevalent with these artist's mixes as an intentional thing, there's still a full-frequency range there to counter those heavily driven vocals, and to fill out the rest of the sonics.


That being said, much of this also depends on how you've recorded the tracks to begin with. Pro bands are recording in pro studios, with nice mics, preamps, in a good sounding room, and with an experienced engineer at the helm.
Remember, it's always best to go for the sound you want while recording than it is to try and "fix it in the mix" afterwards.
You might want to do some research on miking methods - look into the Glyn Johns drum miking technique for starters, this will help you. "More mics" isn't always better - and often, using more mics than what is necessary can actually make things worse if you are in a room that is skewed acoustically.
Also, research gain reduction - no offense intended, but it sounds like you don't know all that much about the gain reduction process... and the number one cause for poor mixes, in the world of the novice recording hobbyist, is the improper use of compression and/or limiting. Understand what it does, how it does what it does, when to use it - and just as importantly, when not to.

Just because you have 10 different compressor / limiter plugs at your disposal doesn't mean you have to use them. ;)
 

pcrecord

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I am shy, but I'm gonna show you guys anyway 'cause it's what I'm doing with my life and I'm here to learn
Being open is the only way to learn from others. It's sometime painfull but we mostly get off better on the long run... ;)

For the song. I believe there's a few things that are not helping you.
As Donny said, you miss some lowend, in the bass and the drums. But I think the volume balance should address first.
It's common to get a nice balance with the volume faders and after adding compression (specially on the main buss) we start to loose some instruments.
I think the drums and bass should be louder. (or everything else quiter)
Did you add that ledzepplin room sound or was it recorded like that? I like it but it takes a lot of space in the song.. maybe a bit less ? you need to make some tests.
Also a bit less of hi-mids on the guitar and vocal would be nice..

It's a powerfull song, I like it..
Keep posting versions as you go.. we'll get there together !! ;)
 

Chris Perra

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Jul 13, 2014
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Toronto
I'd start with focusing on getting the guitar and bass working well first.. They sound like they are fighting for the same space in the mix. Cut a bit of low end out of the guitars so you can hear the bass better. The guitar seems to be a blanket of sound.. you want to try and get each instrument to have it's own space.. right now the guitar is a blanket over everything.. Is that a double tracked guitar or a single track with stereo effects to widen it... If you want better clarity.. double tracking will be better.

Check your polarity and phaze on the drums. There's some weird stuff happening there.. No low end.. kick is sickly an weak bottom end wise..

Cool tune... It's currently got it's own charm and a cool low fi vibe...
 

CrazyLuke

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May 5, 2014
Maybe, for this forum, you could give us a non-vocal version of this song, so we can concentrate on, and help you with the rhythm section first. For starters, the kick, snare, and bass need some positive changes.
For the Kick, you could try an eq bump of 50 to 80 Hz.
Snare could use some 170 Hz thwack
To much distortion on the Bass, as dist should enhance the presences of the bass, without losing the low end. For example, if I plug my guitar into a Fender tube amp, I'm getting low end for days. As soon as I engage a distortion pedal, a lot of the low end is gone (which can be a good thing in a mix if you don't want to "butt heads" with the bass player.
You could buss three iteration of the bass into different tracks as separate sculptable tracks, then mix all 3 into one main bass track.
1) Low end only - use lo-pass filter
2 Main body of bass (or original track)
3 Distortion
Look up a guy named ermz on his tutorial for mixing bass
There will be master chefs who may give you different opinions, and that's ... ok
Keep us updated
 

JakeAC5253

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Feb 8, 2013
Location
NJ, USA
Hey bud. I like the song, but the mix def needs work. The guitars are kind of eating everything, but also sounding kind of hollow. What do you have going on with them? VSTs? Amp? I would start over with the guitars, remove all processing, listen to them bare in the mix, and then go from there. Also make sure the rhythm guitar parts are hard panned L and R if they aren't already, this should help the other parts of the mix come through on their own merits.

The bass you could do like this: Duplicate the bass track, Lo pass one at 200Hz, and Hi pass the other one at 200Hz, then process each of them differently. This gives you the ability to easily balance the levels of the bass bump, and the bass grind in the mix, without having to go back and mangle it with EQ etc. You could try the TSE BOD, it's a free VST emulation of the magnanimous SansAmp. I could tell from the song, the intended sound is gritty, and there is definitely some room to add some grit to the bass with this plug :)

The vocals are louder than everything else, which I attribute to the guitars fighting against the vocals for the same audio space. Also it seems like you've hi-passed the vocals a bit too much, but I like the grit they have going on, its nice. You've already gotten plenty of good advice about the drums from other members, so I'll leave those alone. Post updated mixes!
 

JoaoSpin

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Florianópolis, SC Brazil
The guitars are kind of eating everything, but also sounding kind of hollow. What do you have going on with them? VSTs? Amp?
Hey Jake thanks. The guitars were tracked on a cheap single-guitar-jack interface by the client in Switzerland. I tracked the bass myself just overdriving a cheap outboard equalizer. I use Guitar Rig 5.
If gain reduction is applied to the degree that everything is the same level, then there's no dynamic range left.
I expressed myself wrongly. What I meant was I slapped a limiter on the whole mix before rendering... on the drums I used the stacked compressors as I described in the first post.
Thanks for all the tips guys, really appreciate it. I redid the mix, removed most of the dirt from the drums, added some sub to the kick (though I can't quite hear it in my speakers) and put the bass through Guitar Rig. I tried to be more aware of the pain region because I was really cutting off too much 125-500 from everything. I certainly got more separation now once the drums distortion was out of the way. I believe this new version is much better, I hope you guys agree. If there's anything else to it, I'm all ears. Once again, thanks for the time!

 

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pcrecord

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Ok I just listened to your version2
We can hear the drum better, but man, it sounds like it's all room and no direct mics.. Could you explain your setup for the drum ?
In general you don't have any dynamics in your tracks, I suspect it could be an abuse of compression or some too fast attack.. or is it that you mixed the overhead and room mic too hot ??
If your willing, I'd be interested to hear a raw mix.. just volumes and pans.. no effects... I'm pretty sure it will sound better (punchier)..
As with this mix I can't discern any bass notes.. I meen I hear the notes but not when they are hit...
If you don't want to do it publicly.. I'm willing to check them in private if you want to put them on google drive or some online storage I can access..
 

JoaoSpin

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Florianópolis, SC Brazil
Hi thanks pcrecord, but I'd like to keep this going from where I'm at. The drum tracking setup is far from ideal. I was having grounding problems making the use of phantom power impossible in my house so I used a TASCAM DR40 in a four-mic setup. Unfortunately the ohs didn't pick up much more than the cymbals. I was gating the snare too aggressively to cut out the hihat bleed so I switched to an expander. The attack was indeed too fast on the compression of the guitar and I hadn't really carved out a cut-through for the bass. I'm sending a new version with less compression overall and almost no reverb using parallel compression on kick and snare and the drums bus. The snare is sort of all over the place now, but its closer to the raw version.

 

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pcrecord

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The snare is sort of all over the place now, but its closer to the raw version.
Well, Huston, we've got dynamics now !!! Thats way nicer and natural..

I now hear dynamics in the guitar and the drums. The drums are not hidden in reverb anymore, I like it.. You could add a very short room reverb on the snare just to make it snap.. You could also double the snare track and put a bit of distortion on it and then blend it softly Under the main track... If you don't like the volume changes in the snare, I suggest using volume automation before reaching for more compression.

The only thing missing now is the bass... was it compressed in the way in ? I need to listen to it back at the studio.. but either its too compress or the captured frequencies are narrowed to the low end only.. If you could bump up the 200-500hz area on it, we might get a bit of presence out of it...
I'm not saying this is what you've done, but many people only keep the lowend of the bass guitar and it sounds very nice on a good hifi system but not on earbuds and other lofi equipment.. ;)

Keep it up !! it's very fun to follow the evolution and very brave of you to expose every steps like that.
 
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