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> How Do I Make My Recording As Good As A Commercial One, Part 2 - build to a climax
Saoirse O'Shea
post Jan 11 2012, 11:45 AM
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Professional engineers often initially focus on the parts of a song that are considered to be the most important. This may be the lead vocals or a particular instrument in some or the arrangement. WHat we're interested in here is when they focus on the arrangement. Most songs have a structure where the song climaxes with the last or the penultimate chorus. Professsional engineers often jump around and focus on different parts of a song but rarely follow the song from start to finish in order. So what's going on?

When we're sent home and project songs this climax is very often lost in the mix: either the song climaxes too soon or it never reaches one. Very often even when there is a climax it's a big let down as too often the mix at this point is muddy and the instruments and vocals lack definition and dissappear under mud.

When we've discussed this issue with the mixing engineers one of the major problems seems to be the order in which they choose to mix the arrangement. Most inexperienced mix engineers tend to think that song is mixed in a linear manner: you start at the beginning of the song and just work through to the end, mixing and adding one piece after another in order. What often happens here is that the engineer starts with the levels too high and so runs out of room long before the end of the song; or they use a lot of processing initially and add more and more through the song so it ends up sounding artificial and over processed; or they add too many parts and so by the end all the instruments fight for space.

As we've already said many songs build dynamically to the last, or penultimate, chorus. A climax needs to stand out from the song and because it is important many professional mix engineers and producers will see it as a focal point of a mix. That means that a mix will often be built starting with the climax. If you build a mix this way you know what your peak and rms levels are at the climax, how many instruments and vocal lines there are at this point in the mix and what effects and dynamic processing are used in order to get it balanced properly. All the other parts of the songs build to this point and can not/should not overshadow it - all the other parts should have lower levels and probably also have fewer parts and less processing. Once you know what you have in the climax you can then choose what to leave out in the other parts of the song as you build the mix.

Once the climax is mixed a pro engineer or producer will often then focus on the next important part of the mix, then the next and so on. They build the mix by focusing in the most important part, then the 2nd most importnat, then the 3rd and so on. They don't follow the song in a linear manner from start to finish and whilst they might appear to jump aboout randomly there is a method and a rationale! Mixing this way is often about what you leave out in the subsequent parts rather than adding more and more to reach a climax and the only way to do this is to know what you have at the climax.




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PosterBoy
post Jan 11 2012, 05:52 PM
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Would this be where automation is key. Making certain instruments build in different areas of the song rather than just bringing up all the levels to a climax?


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Saoirse O'Shea
post Jan 12 2012, 10:19 AM
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QUOTE (PosterBoy @ Jan 11 2012, 04:52 PM) *
Would this be where automation is key. Making certain instruments build in different areas of the song rather than just bringing up all the levels to a climax?


You can use automation this way but I tend to use automated fading more for specific level moves - for instance to accent a word in a phrase or to adjust a single or short group of drum hit/s. Nonetheless you can use automation in the way you're thinking to turn on/off automatable effects and to set more genral levels in different regions/parts.

BTW you don't have to bring levels up to a climax - introducing more tracks will do this.


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Ivan Milenkovic
post Jan 12 2012, 11:27 AM
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This is excellent reading Tony, this can be a game changer story for people trying to make their mixes better.

I had reverse problem, mixing on loud parts, and then coming to more softer ones, they didn't sound that soft. I removed dynamics a lot.


Tony, on the offtopic, you mentioned the use of two different compressors during mastering. In that particular case you talked about one being "weaker", only compressing the peaks a bit, and second one having different function. Could you tell me what was the relationship of functions between these two compressors?

This post has been edited by Ivan Milenkovic: Jan 12 2012, 11:27 AM


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Ben Higgins
post Jan 12 2012, 12:57 PM
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Very interesting post Tony. I know that a lot of songs will have things like extra guitars/instruments and voices in the chorus or a certain section of the song which weren't there before.

What about bands that are meat n potatoes.. 2 guitars, bass, drums, vox all the way through ? If it were this case, I guess a guitar solo could be classed as a climatic moment, where you have all guitars, bass, drums and a lead going over the top ? smile.gif


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Saoirse O'Shea
post Jan 12 2012, 02:17 PM
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QUOTE (Ivan Milenkovic @ Jan 12 2012, 10:27 AM) *
This is excellent reading Tony, this can be a game changer story for people trying to make their mixes better.

I had reverse problem, mixing on loud parts, and then coming to more softer ones, they didn't sound that soft. I removed dynamics a lot.


Tony, on the offtopic, you mentioned the use of two different compressors during mastering. In that particular case you talked about one being "weaker", only compressing the peaks a bit, and second one having different function. Could you tell me what was the relationship of functions between these two compressors?



Ivan what was the context as I can kind of think of severtal different possibilities here smile.gif?

QUOTE (Ben Higgins @ Jan 12 2012, 11:57 AM) *
Very interesting post Tony. I know that a lot of songs will have things like extra guitars/instruments and voices in the chorus or a certain section of the song which weren't there before.

What about bands that are meat n potatoes.. 2 guitars, bass, drums, vox all the way through ? If it were this case, I guess a guitar solo could be classed as a climatic moment, where you have all guitars, bass, drums and a lead going over the top ? smile.gif


The main tracks tend to be multied particularly in the climatic chorus/part (like Alex says in his post to fill sonic space) and for the other regions you can remove some of those parts. This is true even for a five piece like you suggest Ben. If I remember rightly Smashing Pumpkins would multi the guitar anywhere up to 20+ times in the climatic chorus and the other regions had fewer takes.

It also depends on the type of music Ben but TBH as much as guitar players like to think that a guitar solo is the focus it rarely is. Most modern music tends to be focused much more on either the drum and bass or on the lead vocal. You need to think what most people - not just musicians - will remember as the driving point of the song - it's rarely the (guitar/drum or whatever) solo. Kind of like do you remember and hum the lead vox melody or what...

Just going back to automated fader rides. If you ever see them the auto maps of professionally mixed songs are always interesting. . We just did a brief 30 second piece that is a bridge in a longer recording. Lead vocalist plus piano covering an Adele song and in 30 secs there are over 70 auto fader rides, most to change how the singer was accenting words (she's Spanish and although her pronounciation is good she doesn't accent how a 'native' English singer might).

A recent top 10 hit in both Europe and the US had just over 1000 edits in 3 mins, a lot of which were automated moves on the lead vox - a lot though were pitch and time corrections...


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Ivan Milenkovic
post Jan 12 2012, 04:01 PM
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QUOTE (tonymiro @ Jan 12 2012, 02:17 PM) *
Ivan what was the context as I can kind of think of severtal different possibilities here smile.gif?


In the context of mastering the song, and using two compressors for that, I remember you talked about using two of them, but not quite sure why (two). Sorry for the offtopic..


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Saoirse O'Shea
post Jan 12 2012, 05:14 PM
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Ah ok and np.

If you use two or more compressors in series it allows you to use lower and thus less extreme gain reduction settings. You're much less likely to end up with artefacts and so on plus you can use them to colour the mix in different ways if you need to .


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Ivan Milenkovic
post Jan 12 2012, 06:41 PM
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Alrighty, thanks! smile.gif

I have another question, perhaps you could help me out Tony: when I mix and master my tracks, the level of the instruments can change if I decrease/increase volume on the speakers (i.e. most common problem is lead guitar becomes more prominent when I lower the volume, and low end is low) Is there a solution to this problem? What's the reason for this?

This post has been edited by Ivan Milenkovic: Jan 12 2012, 06:41 PM


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Saoirse O'Shea
post Jan 13 2012, 12:32 PM
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QUOTE (Ivan Milenkovic @ Jan 12 2012, 05:41 PM) *
Alrighty, thanks! smile.gif

I have another question, perhaps you could help me out Tony: when I mix and master my tracks, the level of the instruments can change if I decrease/increase volume on the speakers (i.e. most common problem is lead guitar becomes more prominent when I lower the volume, and low end is low) Is there a solution to this problem? What's the reason for this?


The reason is mainly summarised by the Fletcher Munson/equal loudness curve. Basically how we perceive frequencies varies according to their apparent loudness: at any given volume if all the frequencies are actually at the same volume we will hear the mid much more than the bass and the highs i.e. even though all the frequencies are the same actual volume we will hear the mid as louder than the extremes. This effect is less obvious around about 83dB and becomes more exagerrated at very low voumes and volumes over 88/90dB. The answer then is that you should mix at a single volume around 83dB (or a little lower to protect your hearing) but check your mix at other higher and lower volumes. Same is true for mastering but it is even more important that you have a stepped and calibrated volume control so that you can set it at and repeatedly recall it accurately to 83dB (or what volume you monitor at). If you can't/don't then your masters will vary from session to session.

In addition to this though there is a possibly some masking going on and as the volume changes ths becomes more/less apparent. Distorted guitars are well known for their ability to mask a lot of the mid range.


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Ivan Milenkovic
post Jan 13 2012, 01:06 PM
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That's a great advice Tony, never thought about mixing at certain fixed loudness level. I'll try to apply this rule from now on


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SirJamsalot
post Jan 13 2012, 06:12 PM
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QUOTE (tonymiro @ Jan 12 2012, 05:17 AM) *
If I remember rightly Smashing Pumpkins would multi the guitar anywhere up to 20+ times in the climatic chorus and the other regions had fewer takes.


What do you mean 'multi the guitar' ? as in 20 separate tracks like double tracking?? ohmy.gif

QUOTE (tonymiro @ Jan 12 2012, 05:17 AM) *
A recent top 10 hit in both Europe and the US had just over 1000 edits in 3 mins, a lot of which were automated moves on the lead vox - a lot though were pitch and time corrections...


ohmy.gif ohmy.gif ohmy.gif ohmy.gif huh.gif huh.gif huh.gif huh.gif huh.gif


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Ivan Milenkovic
post Jan 14 2012, 08:53 PM
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QUOTE (SirJamsalot @ Jan 13 2012, 06:12 PM) *
What do you mean 'multi the guitar' ? as in 20 separate tracks like double tracking?? ohmy.gif



ohmy.gif ohmy.gif ohmy.gif ohmy.gif huh.gif huh.gif huh.gif huh.gif huh.gif


Yeah, 20 layers indeed sounds much. How can this work in the mix without mudying up?


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Saoirse O'Shea
post Jan 15 2012, 11:44 AM
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QUOTE (SirJamsalot @ Jan 13 2012, 05:12 PM) *
What do you mean 'multi the guitar' ? as in 20 separate tracks like double tracking?? ohmy.gif



...



QUOTE (Ivan Milenkovic @ Jan 14 2012, 07:53 PM) *
Yeah, 20 layers indeed sounds much. How can this work in the mix without mudying up?


I've never seen the mix files so this is just speculation -

20 multis is quite possible by having some: focus on different areas of the frequency band; use the Haas affect in different ways for double tracking; compiling performance.

If you do these then personally I'd say that 20 isn't that much smile.gif .


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Ivan Milenkovic
post Jan 15 2012, 11:49 AM
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Indeed, after reading this, I went to check out some of their work, and it does sound like many layers were used. Their music is like that in general, and it's quite possible that 15-20 tracks are important. Each of them probably does specific function on the climax. For example, making combined 5 layers of single note riffs can sound cool, multiply by 2 for panning, and adding some specific 3-4 layers of some short percussive style tracks, is already close to that number, and it's not unusual.


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Saoirse O'Shea
post Jan 29 2012, 06:27 PM
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QUOTE (tonymiro @ Jan 12 2012, 01:17 PM) *
...

A recent top 10 hit in both Europe and the US had just over 1000 edits in 3 mins, a lot of which were automated moves on the lead vox - a lot though were pitch and time corrections...


I was talking to the mixing engineer and the producer last week. That particular song also had another engineer and his job was to do the tuning and timing correcions on it - pretty common with a lot of commercial mixes these days. Anyway the singer was a bit out of key all the way through and is too much of a diva to call back to re do the session. The autotune engineer felt it was quicker, easier and would cause fewer audio issues to tune to the singer rather then tune her. So all the guitar, backing vox, keyboards parts etc went through autotune to make them as off pitch as the lead vocals.


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Ben Higgins
post Jan 29 2012, 07:11 PM
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QUOTE (tonymiro @ Jan 29 2012, 05:27 PM) *
I was talking to the mixing engineer and the producer last week. That particular song also had another engineer and his job was to do the tuning and timing correcions on it - pretty common with a lot of commercial mixes these days. Anyway the singer was a bit out of key all the way through and is too much of a diva to call back to re do the session. The autotune engineer felt it was quicker, easier and would cause fewer audio issues to tune to the singer rather then tune her. So all the guitar, backing vox, keyboards parts etc went through autotune to make them as off pitch as the lead vocals.


Wow... an engineer's work is never done !! wink.gif


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