Thursday, 2 June 2016

Mix hour #3

Todays mix was a hip-hop song:
Side Effects Project: Sing With Me

I decided today I would challenge myself again today, and I certainly achieved that with this mix. While the stems themselves weren't challenging, the sheer amount of tasks I had to complete in an hour was kept me going 100 mph throughout the whole mix.
While I haven't had any experience mixing or recording in this genre, I listen to fair bit of early 90s hip-hop so I am fairly familiar with the music style.

The mix process

I knew how pushed for time I would be almost from the start, so throughout the mix I was trying to be conscious as to not spend too much time on things that would only make a minor difference to the mix.
I began by mixing the drums, bringing in the tracks one by one, doing panning on the fly and adjusting the volumes so that the kick and snare tracks were the forefront drum sound. I applied a little EQ and compression to the kick and snare when I was starting the mix, but soon realised I didn't have any time to do this for any other tracks, bar the vocals and maybe the bass.
The bass was simple enough to mix in, adding some slight compression before adjusting the levels, allowing the kick to come through nicely.
I moved onto the keys bus next, harp and synth tracks. The harp wasn't too hard to fit in, but the synth line took a little more to time to figure out how to tastefully add it in.
Now came the vocals, by far the hardest part of the mix to work on. When I worked out what vocal lines were doing what, I found that many were double or quad tracks of the same vocal lines. This made the mixing process a little easier, but didn't reduce the time it took to balance the vocals as much as I hoped it would. I started off by balancing the two main vocal lines, then subtly adding in the double tracks for dynamics. I added in the main vocal chorus lines, panning the 4 tracks, varying the stereo width. They weren't easy to match with the verse vocal lines, as the vocal delivery was very different. The backing vocals were laid out in a question-response format, and sounded closer to the vocal style of the verses, so weren't as hard to mix in. As there were 6 tracks per backing vocal delivery, I took advantage of this panning them 20, 40 and 60% left & right, giving a wide stereo image. When I was adjusting the faders of the vocal tracks, with the main two main vocals aside, I worked by adjusting all the tracks of a certain vocal line at once, which saved a lot of time. Once the vocals were mixed, I gave brief thought to FX, adding a slight bit of compression to the tracks. Because time was such a concern, and there were many similar sounding doubletracks, for the compression of each vocal line, I solo'd an individual track and applied a compressor to that, then copied it over to other relevant tracks. In most mixes, this would be a very lazy approach, but I feel it helped achieve my goals without using up too much time.
I quickly moved onto the samples, adding them in a similar fashion to the tracks on the other buses. Some of the samples were harder than others to mix in, and one I felt had no place in the song so I muted it and left it out.

As by this point, I was running very low on time, I quickly got some rough settings of my reverb and delay tracks. Next I threw up some delay and reverb sends to some of the vocal tracks, the snare tracks and the guitar loop.

Time management

As i've said already, I knew I had barely any time for anything other than things that would change the mix drastically, so I had to focus my time on the important tasks. The drums took a while to mix and pan, spending a good 25 minutes on them alone, without even spending any time thinking about any major usage of processing FX.
The bass and keys tracks took virtually no time but following that was the most complex element of the mix, the vocals.
Due to my time saving methods, I managed to get through them faster than if I had been working with them each as individual tracks. But I was still extremely hurried, with every minute spent being of the upmost importance.
I was left with something like 5 minutes to decide what I felt needed reverb and delay and then apply the effects to them tastefully. With the amount of drum and vocal tracks this was a huge effort and I had to stop before I had even applied reverb to all the tracks I planned, because I was out of time.


I was far from happy with this mix, listening back to it, it's best elements are barely acceptable..the worst a trainwreck.
As can be seen in the picture, the some of the buses were clipping, however I had no time to sort this out, so all that could really be done was to quickly drag the mix bus down to ensure the master would not distort.
I had some minor issues with how the drums sounded at the end. The kick and snare sounded okay and cut through the mix enough but if I had more time, the other elements of the drums could have used some adjustment to give them more presence in the mix. The bass and keys and guitar were okay, but the vocals at some points were dire. The verses were okay, being present, if slightly overpowering, however the choruses were mostly very quiet in comparison. It was not helped by the reverb, which brings me to my next point..
Okay, I did have less than 5 minutes to put reverb on a fair few tracks, but it doesn't stop the fact that the reverb sounds terrible in most cases. The reverb on the guitar loop sounded nice, giving it some ambience, and the reverb on the snare was acceptable, but still too much. The vocal reverbs went from bad to shocking though, with the verse vocals sounded much too airy, but still had a forefront sound. The chorus vocals however..a different story. The main vocals sounded too dry, but this would have not been too much of a problem were it not for the backing vocals, which sounded like they were recorded 15m away in a wide hallway.

While I am not at all pleased with the outcome of this mix, I have to remember that this is part of the challenge and it is a learning experience. I know that I bust a gut to fit in time for all the usual elements of a mix, which I barely had time for, so in a way this was a lesson showing me how a simple composition, with many recordings can be far from a quick mixing session.

I've been sleeping little over the last couple of days (not getting to sleep til 5am mostly) so I think I will choose the next song to mix tomorrow.

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