Why Aren't You Feeling Your Mixes?
by Raziel Castaneda, 7/15/2021
It’s late. I’m on the fifth version (or was it the sixth?) of the song I’m working on. The track is the title track ‘Gasper’ off of The Last Straw Motel’s debut EP. There’s no energy in the track, I boosted 10kHz on the Lead Vocal but it still is bland, and the drums feel flatter than roadkill. Fatigued-eared and hungry, I turn off the lights in the studio and head back home. Fast forward two or three days later, I’m on my way to the studio for the day listening to an interview with a well-known mix engineer where he lays this golden nugget on everybody:
“I mix emotion. I want the mix to make you really feel something.”
I’ve heard this a thousand times from a hundred different people. It’s always meant something different to me (I guess I never really understood what anyone meant). But this time, it sort of made sense. Suddenly with adrenaline pumping and mind racing with ideas, I was ready to get to the studio to work. I sat down in front of my Ramsa and started mixing. Three or four hours passed and when I stepped outside of my state of flow, I realized what I had just done - I got the mix. I didn’t buy anything new. I didn’t recap any gear. I used something like 14 plugins total. And I was happy.
The track starts off strong. Alongside the toms and kick, preparing you for the next four energetic minutes, is the bass pumping away note after note with pure feel. The bass felt like it wanted to be mean. It was serious, non-smiling, and meant business. I could almost feel myself playing the bassline with a mean bass-face to boot. That was it! I knew where the bass wanted to be. The bass had to make you frown. The type of frown you make in disgust because what you’re listening to is so damn good. This was a lot simpler than I thought it’d be. Armed with all my UAD plugins, I started sculpting the bass guitar. But what did the trick was really a single plugin. I added an instance of the Neve 1084 for some perfect saturation, with a little eq accentuating the meanness. I tried different frequencies but eventually landed on the right one. The more I boosted, the meaner it got. I finally got the bass speaking and boy, was it saying something.
BE VOCAL ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS
Everything in the track is finally coming together. And right on top, the singer is delivering a great melody. Time to finish this track and nail this vocal. I used to always do what I read on Gearspace.com - boost some top end, add or attenuate some proximity effect, 1176 to catch the peaks, CL1B to even it out. But once again, I took the time to listen and eventually found what about his voice I loved. There was a character in there that would tie it all together. It made him sound like who he was in the vocal booth - that passionate, determined songwriter/frontman. His personality began to shine. I actually threw on an instance of the Fairchild 660 on his vocal and a Pultec and I heard it. Immediately going for the Neve 1073, I knew this type of saturation would do it. And it did! Somewhere in the already well-recorded vocal and flawlessly performed track, the real emotion - the heart of the song - was hiding. It wasn’t a bite to his voice, but more of a honest grittiness that made him sound like what he needed to sound like. The track was now mostly done.
B****, DON'T KILL MY VIBE
ITB, Hybrid, or Analog mixing? It's always one or the other and every different school of thought has their reasons. You can go clean in Protools, or super dirty through hardware, or in between using both. There’s pros and cons to each one, but at the end of the day it’s your choice. I think I always have to choose Hybrid. It’s hard to put into words, but the weightiness, stereo image, and depth that analog circuitry adds are second to none. This was my last step of the mix. After I had the mix feeling great and close to done, I ran most channels and busses through my Ramsa WR-T820. It can be a clean mixer if you keep the input trims low and push the faders but it’s amazing when you push the inputs and get that saturation going. It added something so real to the tracks. With some slight eq on every channel, I was left with something that felt complete. I didn’t change up the balance completely, or recreate what I had, I just sort of…added to it. The song not only felt done, it felt good. And as I drove home listening to the print of the mix, for the first time I wasn't just listening to my mix. I was feeling it.