WBL: Tricks for mixing wide guitar

In most conventional guitar band music you may notice that the guitars are wide and huge and cover most of the stereo field. This is because in most traditional senses the guitar is the musical driving force of the song from mid to high range and therefore requires a lot of attention from the listener. To achieve prominent guitar I have found a few techniques that work really well.

Double tracking.

First and foremost in this list we have double tracking. Recording a double track of a guitar does exactly what it sound like it would, it puts two guitars in the mix. The interest hear comes when we pan the guitars to opposite sides of the stereo field. If the guitars are playing the same lines in time with one another when we pan the guitars either way we exploit the phantom stereo field by giving our ears twos sounds that are indistinguishable, but still very slightly different and this creates an image that our brain can only decode as one huge, wide sound source. Double tracking a guitar however does remove some presence of the sound because the regardless of how good the guitarist is their will always be slight differences in the recording of a sound and double tracking this removes our ability to define the sound source precisely. This should be taken in to account in the approach of to your track.

Double tracking for soft excitement

When a guitar calls for a less in your face approach, this technique can add a beautiful glisten to the sounds of your guitar. This technique works well for picked guitar acoustic or electric, but usually cleaner sounds. The same process is undergone as before, the tracks have double takes and are panned across the stereo image, but then we zoom right in and drag one of the guitars very slightly out of time with the other. I’m talking milliseconds here, just enough so that the sounds attack at different times but not enough so that we can hear the difference as a slapback. This stacks the phase properties of each guitar against each other and creates a shimmery, chorus like effect.

Pan The Reverb

For ultra-wide guitars we can pan the reverb track to the other side of the mix, creating the idea of a huge space. When this is used in conjunction with a natural mix, we perceive the guitar as larger than life. To achieve this bus the signal into an aux, stick a reverb on the channel and then start panning, listening out for those desirable artefacts. I find around 50 percent on the opposite direction of the original signal works well.

 

 

 

WBL: EQ methods for bass definition

So, recently I’ve been working with a band that have a sort of psychedelic trip-hop, massive attack sort of vibe. If you’ve ever listened to anything by massive attack or similar artists you’ll know that the tracks sound phenomenal and an aspect that really stands out is the definition of the low end that they somehow achieve. If you listen to anything off the Blue lines album you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Creating this low end response is something I have been tinkering around with for a little while now and here are some little tricks I’ve found that work fairly well.

 

Multitrack EQ method

So, this method of mixing bass involves having multiple bass channels. One with a mic, one DI’d! The DI channel provides the clean low end that that can be boosted and processed easily. The mic track is then low cut. Mix these two together with appropriate plugin choices and it provides a big clean bass sound capable of driving the groove.

 

Pultec Low-end trick

This technique is reliant on a Pultec EQ. Like many sonic phenomenon within music mixing, this method exploits the physical design of a piece of hardware. This technique also works on emulations of this hardware because of the way that it functions. The Pultec EQ allows frequencies to be boosted and attenuated at the same time. So to get a rich low end we sweep through looking for a nice sounding frequency range between 70 and 180 and we boost and attenuate the same frequency, by the sam amount. The nature of the Pultec EQ finds the frequencies slightly out of line with one another creating a unique sonically interesting EQ curve. Which creates a full, warm and rich low end signal to be mixed in to the track.

 

WBL: a little bit of producing

In the modern music industry, the key to success seems to be the ability to function in multiple different disciplines. With music being such an accessible platform in the modern world, to set ones self apart from the crowd, we need to be able to apply ourselves well in multiple areas and provide multiple services. This is down to the job demand in the music industry being much lower than the amount of workers it provides for.

over the past few months, I have been trying to apply my own knowledge of composition and production to other artists. This has consisted of multiple sessions writing, producing and engineering.

This process has provided some huge challenges. Over the course of this project I have had the pleasure of working with several artists. The steepest learning curve for me came in the form of a female singer songwriter. Producing and engineering for her was a huge challenge for me and still is. This particular project has allowed me to work within restrictions that I usually would not have, such as minimal instrumentation and very accurate vocal presentation. Producing and writing with a solo artist who plays guitar has forced me to review my approaches to songwriting and producing relying more heavily on well written music and less so on the, in the box magic that so often is relied on to create music. Modern pop music is very reliant on production style and post processing to achieve a cohesive nice sounding track, by removing this I was forced to analyse the components of songs without the computer music mindset, which has actually led to me develop a wider understanding of acoustic instruments and allowed me to be able to help write much more cohesive instrument parts. So all in all a very useful process.

 

 

WBL: mixing variety for technical improvement

During my time at Western Audio Sam gave me a little advice in a passing comment that stuck with me “Listen to everything, mix everything”. I inferred this to mean the wider the range of things I mixed, the better I would get. So over the past few months I have been mixing in genres that I wouldn’t have explored for enjoyment, or come across in projects. Of course this process has demanded that I also listen to a wider variety of music. Which at times has been slightly unbearable, but overall an enlightening experience. Being able to apply my skills across new platforms has been interesting! It has definitely been effective in teaching subtlety. For example, I’ve never needed to mix a sonically beautiful acoustic guitar, because I usually mix more traditional guitar band music. So finding new ways to explore the sonic makeup of even such a mundane instrument, but for a different application was incredibly insightful as a process.

 

Without doubt the hardest challenge for me through this task was attempting to mix metal. I believe I found this so hard because I found the listening and analysis process really hard. To achieve the best mix I could I have been trying to absorb as much reference music as possible. Now I am a huge fan of  some metal, I love crunchy distorted guitars and hard drums and voices pushed to the point of breaking. What I can’t seem to enjoy is fast metal with 64th note arpeggios and constant double kick drum patterns. So, I think I found mixing this so hard because I just can’t conceptualise a nice sounding mix. Perhaps I should work on applying  subjectivity to my work. But hey, you were all idealistic once and I’m sure one day I’ll have to. But perhaps there is reason that mixing metal is a niche field of work.

WBL: TYPES OF EQ

Equalisation is used widely throughout the music industry. They are most commonly used to alter or manipulate the frequency response of a sound recording in order to improve it’s comfortability in the mix. They can also be used to flatten sound systems in order to optimise the volume levels. EQs are one of the most important tools in a mix engineers arsenal and to be as good as I can possibly be at mixing I should become acquainted with the type of EQ and the best way of using each. There are four main types of EQ; Shelving EQs Graphic EQ, Parametric EQ and semi-parametric EQ. Below are the described functionalities of each.

 

Shelving EQs

This type of eq is the most simple and inexpensive, can be found in any common equipment such as a stereo or Hi-Fi equipment. It offers the possibility to control the bass and treble, sometimes it also has a mid control. You can increase or decrease the gain and the central frequency and bandwidth are fixed, this type of equaliser is less commonly used in professional audio but can be a simple way to control EQ. This type of EQ in my experienced is most commonly observed on guitar amplifiers. Shelving EQ’s are extreme and therefore not suited to subtle use.

Graphic EQs

Graphic EQ’s consist of banded frequencies each with an individual gain control allowing the engineer precise control. However the flexibility of these modules can be problematic as the targeted frequencies are set in stone. They’re different types of graphic equalizers, the most common is the octave graphic equalizer, which has 10 frequency controls. This is pretty consistent because the audible bandwidth runs 10 octaves that are 30 Hz, 60 Hz, 125 Hz, 250 Hz, 500 Hz, 1 KHz, 2 KHz, 4 KHz, 8 KHz, 16 KHz. And it is in those frequencies where we can increase or decrease the intensity of the audio signal. The H-EQ by waves offers a much wider range of frequencies: Known as 32 band EQ.

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Parametric EQs

Parametric EQs are the most precise and versatile of the range of equalisers available to us. These EQ’s can contain many filters each with fully adjustable parameters of frequency, gain and bandwidth making it the most dexterous and precise type of EQ we can use. Parametric EQs are the most common type of EQ in the music industry and are very good at making corrective changes as well and creative.

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Semi-Parametric EQs

This equalizer is similar to the parametric EQ in the sense that it allows you to select the frequency you want to equalie and the gain.However, it differs from the parametric EQ because you can not change the allocated bandwidth. This type of EQ is commonly seen on mixing desk.

To be an adept mix engineer, I will have to familiarise myself with all of the circumstances for which to use each EQ and develop my own work flows with each. It is also worth mention to say that some hardware equaliser’s circuitry colour the sound. This is known as an EQ not being transparent and dependent upon its application this can be a benefit or a detriment.

 

 

Information sourced from: https://www.masteringbox.com/types-of-eq/

WBL: The importance of mono mixing

One of the largest problems facing a mix engineer is the unpredictability of the receivers  listening platform. In this modern technological age music is consumed constantly but the variety of listening platforms available make it impossible to determine the platform that the track is being mixed for. It must therefore be optimised for all listening platforms. The two most common spacial imaging setups within music are stereo and mono. Stereo referring to the use of two speakers to create a stereo image and mono referring to a single speaker with spacial, directional abilities. Common stereo platforms are headphones, car speakers, or computer speakers. Common methods of listening in mono are laptop speakers, wireless bluetooth speakers, Amazon Alexa’s and phones. With us being unable to predict where our mixes will be listened to it is of the upmost importance to check that mixes work in both mono and stereo.

To achieve this we should aim for a mix that contains the same information whether in mono or stereo but stereo simply providing a wider stereo image. To do this we firstly remove the concept of stereo imaging and focus on the dynamic and frequency relationships between the sounds, EQing and mixing our tracks so that all of the instruments are clear and cohesive. This process must take place because our brains are very good at differentiating sounds if they are placed within a space. Meaning that we are much more capable of isolating a sound source mentally if we receive it in different ears. This is often referred to as the cocktail party effect. If we have many sound sources being received by the same ear at the same time we are incapable of decoding the sounds. Effectively meaning that introduces the stereo image too early in the mixing process can lead to not noticing crucial problems because we are able to decode the sounds because our ears are receiving them respective of our positioning. So by adding mono flip we are able to work on the sonic and dynamic qualities of the sounds against one another truly.

Many plugins offer the capabilities of mono flipping, my particular go to plgins are the Scheps 73 because I like the sound that it makes anyway and it is capable of a high level of transparency so its suitable for use on a master bus and the Waves SSLChannel for similar reasons. If using a software plugin for mono/stereo flipping it is a good idea to setup a keyboard shortcut for quick checks, making the process more intuitive.

WBL: The four main types of compression

A compressor is a specialised amplifier used to reduce the dynamic range of audio (the range between the highest and lowest transients). Compression, broadly, is the act of reducing the dynamic range of signal. The entire signal can then me amplified during the makeup stage. Different types of circuitry are employed with differing results. Each of these results apply unique sonic characteristics suitable for individual applications.

To increase my abilities within the world of mixing it is important for me to fully understand the circumstances in which each type of compressor would be useful. Of course, this will develop in the applied use of different types of compression.

 

1. Tube Compression

Tube compression uses vacuum tubes to amplify a signal. The nature of the vacuum tube when driven results in a compression action with unique characteristics. Tube compressor’s tend to have a lower input response  resulting in slow attack and release settings. This adds harmonic distortion to the sound which is often a desired qualities in mix engineers, in applications such as gluing. This process is nearly impossible to emulate across other types of compression.

2. Optical Compression

Optical compression uses a light emitting component in combination with an optical cell to attenuate the output signal. The higher the input signal, the brighter the light shines causing the attenuating circuitry to work harder. A famous example of this type of compressor is the LA-2A. The LA-2A also uses a tube element in the makeup gain process.

 

3. FET Compression

FET compression applies ‘Field Effect transistors’ in linear bistable operation, in place of Vacuum tubes, because they are cheaper to manufacture. These transistors by nature also react a lot quicker than vacuum tubes and therefore provide a more punchy compression sound. This makes FET compressors good for applications such as parallel drum compression. An example of a FET compressor is the 1176.

4. VCA Compression

VCA or ‘Voltage Controlled Amplifiers’ compressor employ solid state or integrated circuits to compress a signal. VCA compressors tend to be cheaper than the other varieties or compressor. They also provide much less colouration. An established example of this compressor is the DBX160.