Monday, 30 May 2016

Mix Hour

Since the end of my uni year, I've still been fairly busy with some days in the studio mixing and some gigs I've been to, but I saw that I didn't have anything planned for this last week before I go home. 
To fill this time, I thought I would keep practicing my engineering skills and challenge myself at the same time. 

In the time I've been mixing the cover album for Recluse, I've noticed how useful time constrains are for 'finishing' a mix (A mix is never really finished just left sounding as good as possible, with reasonable time spent). As rough estimate, I have probably spent about 6 to 7 hours mixing each song on the album.
Given this, I thought I would challenge myself, giving myself a measly hour to complete a prepared mix (tracks in a properly bussed project, trimmed & delay & reverb times work out), seeing what results I could achieve in a logically ridiculous timeframe.
Once I had spent my hour mixing, the track would be bounced down, and uploaded to my soundcloud page. 
I would also make a commentary immediately after, documenting any difficulties I had mixing, mentions of what things went well in the process, and issues I didn't get time to iron out. 

Mix #1: Jesper Buhl Trio - What is This Thing Called Love

I wasn't sure what the outcome of this particular mix would be, given that i've only worked with jazz music only a handful of times ever. With the time restraints, i'm happy with the sound I achieved. The fact that there were only 6 audio tracks helped with this a bit I reckon.

The mixing process

After first giving the track a quick listen, I started off by mixing the two kick tracks together, combining the attack from the kick in track and the thump from the sub kick track. As the overheads were recorded in mono, I duplicated the track and panned each out to 70% left & right respectively. I then combined the kick and overhead tracks, before adding in the snare. Before starting on FX, I tested how the kick and snare tracks sounded together in isolation.
Once I was happy with the drum mix, I started off by EQing the subkick track, cutting out some of the high end spill from the cymbals and snare drum. I also removed a resonant frequency at 650Hz that I disliked. With the kick in track, I applied a lowpass filter at around 10kHz to cut out cymbal bleed, and added around 3dB to both 80Hz & around 800Hz to bring out some of the attack of the drum. I readjusted the balance between the tracks after this and moved on to the snare drum.
As the snare track sounded like only the top of the snare was recorded, it didn't quite have enough bottom end so I boosted a bit of 60Hz using a pultech style EQ plugin. I also added some 4kHz attack and cut a little of a 15kHz shelf.
Now that the drums were finished I moved onto the double-bass track. I started off by sidechaining a compressor to a kick track, ducking the bass a couple of dB when the kick hit. I then EQ'd the track, applying a low pass filter at around 8kHz cutting out some bleed from the piano & cymbals. I boosted a couple of dB at around 120Hz to add thump to the bass sound.
I moved on to the piano last, leaving it as the stereo track it seemed to be recorded as. a little compression was added, reducing at max 4dB, then EQ was applied. a few dB of roughly 200Hz was cut, allowing more of the mids & high end to come through. a few dB of 5kHz added to increase the midrange of the track and a lowpass filter at 18kHz applied to attenuate some of the high notes of the piano.
I then moved onto the FX. For my short reverb I used a drum booth preset and changed the predelay times to the song tempo, and adjusted the time to taste. For the long reverb I used a studio room impulse, and for the delay used Native Instruments Replika, set to an 8th note delay in time with the track.
A small amount of the sub kick track was sent the long reverb, as well as a small of the bass track. A fair amount of the overhead tracks were also sent to this reverb.
To the the short reverb, a little bit of the snare track was sent, as well as a fair amount of the piano. A tiny amount of delay was applied to the piano as it could be considered the 'lead' track in the mix.

Time management

In terms of time management, it took a while, spending a good 20 or more minutes mixing the drums and applying FX.
With 20 minutes to go, I had added FX to all the tracks, and I was working on balancing the tracks & applying reverbs. I was close to finishing with 10 minutes to go, messing about with track balances & reverb sends, however I remembered with 2 minutes left, that the bass could benefit from some compression, so I placed a LA-2 style compressor after the sidechain compressor, compressing at max 4 or so dB. While working on adjusting the volume of the compressor, I slightly broke the rules and overshot a minute or so.


In hindsight, I didn't find anything took unreasonably long, however I probably should have worked a little more on compression, compressing the kick drum slightly, perhaps even trying out how some parallel compression worked on the drums (in moderation of course given it is a jazz song).

For my next song, I think I will challenge myself again, working on an ambient electronic song.

Friday, 27 May 2016

First year completed!

Two weeks ago on friday, I officially finished my first year of university! While it is only the first year, in which getting a pass is all that really matters, most grades i've got have been in the 2:1 area, even with a few 1sts!
I'm pleased about the grades, but at the same time, grades aren't the only thing you come to uni for. I've had a load of my own recording projects i've done which have varied a little between recording to recording, however I certainly feel that my production skills have come along in leaps and bounds since my time at Brockenhurst college. This is certainly from teaching i've received from lecturers, but I have so much to thank my coursemates for, with many tips and tricks picked up from them that I have benefited from greatly.

With my course aside, I've been pretty busy these past few months, recording the alt-rock band Recluse in February, fighting in a Judo competition towards the end of that month, taking part in and holding a couple of recording sessions in the months up and til now, going to a gig every so often and of course Judo training bi-weekly, however the most time consuming thing has been mixing the songs for Recluse.

I started mixing the first song around the start of march. I got a mix completed, however I found that the guitars didn't quite sound beefy enough. In reality I should have double tracked the guitars, however during the recording session I forgot to so instead I re-amped the tracks during one of my mixing sessions, running them through a Mesa/Boogie Stiletto Ace in the university. While I had the mics set up, I also ran the vocal tracks through the amp, which gave me a raw, saturated to mix into the tracks if I wanted. Capturing these additional sounds proved very helpful, solving my issues by both fattening the guitar sounds and also giving me the opportunity to add some edge to the vocals if they suited the mix.
At this point, nearly all the mixes are completed, with five tracks definitely completed, three mixes currently in limbo as to whether they need tweaking and one last mix which I will hopefully finish in university tomorrow! The band hinted to me about sending the mixes off to the mastering engineer that worked on their last album, a proposition i'm pretty excited about. I managed to see them play live last week at long last, supporting a Kings of Leon tribute act. While I enjoyed the tribute band, I would have preferred to see Recluse headline the gig.
I'm pretty proud of the whole experience of working with the band, the mixes i've been doing and everything to be honest. I feel that the whole project has been a great piece of work to sit as my main piece of work of my first university year.
Aside from skills, it has also taught me that I cannot rely on using university studios for mixing, purely due to time and booking issues, especially if i've got a nine track album I need to mix. For next year, in the last few weeks invested in a fairly expensive pair of studio monitors, so I can record in university and do my mixing in my house next year. I'll include some pictures of gear i've brought in my next blog post.

I've been thinking a fair bit about the house lately, very much looking forward to it!
Lately the noise here seems to have increased with the progress on the building site, with the trains remaining the same irritating noisy entities that they were when I first moved to Cardiff. I could be totally wrong, and instead just got more fed up with the noise disrupting everything from mixing music, playing guitar and even just watching Youtube videos.
While I've definitely enjoyed living here and have certainly seen the benefits of living in halls, even if only for the first year, I cannot wait to move in September. Going to probably take a bit if getting used to sharing a house with eight people but I'm sure it'll be great!

As a brief sidenote, in some previous blog post I had  mentioned the list I had made of everything I had drunk or smoked in the conclude this year, here is the list that spanned from the 16th of September to today. It's a long list, however I know that had I wished I could have certainly added a lot to many different sections of the list.

Times drunk: Too many to count
Times chundered: 1

Captain Morgans rum: 1L, 10 shots
Diserrano: 1L, 7 shots
Desperadoes bottles: 44
Cider pints/bottles: 84.5
Beer pints/bottles: 78.5
Crabbies bottles: 13
Hooch bottles: 9
Glasses of Wine: 8
Gin & Tonics: 14
Various Cocktails: 18
Vodka shots: 32
Sourz shots: 8
Sambouka shots: 3
Tequila shots: 6
Jager bombs: 11
Absynth shots: 2

Nights high: 10
Joints smoked: 14