Today, I decided to push into new territory and mix a bluesy jazzy number. This was done purely for mix practice, not for a client. The song was “Blue” by Patrick Talbot, which you can download and mix yourself from the Cambridge Site.
In this post, I wanna walk through my process on this mix. We’ll start with mix prep. The track names came with track numbers in them, which I don’t like. It’s just a personal preference, and I have my REAPER template set up to automatically change the track color and icon based on what the track is named. So I changed the names before I imported them so they would trigger the appropriate automatic coloring and icon. For example, “04_SnareUp1.wav” was changed to simply “Snare Top 1”. The files included midi for the drums, bass, toy piano, and rhodes, so I already knew we were dealing heavily with sample based instruments. But I didn’t know how well they had been generated, so this was gonna be interesting.
Having no idea what to expect, I imported the tracks into REAPER and hit play. To my surprise, the sampled instruments felt pretty real and had groove. My thinking is that they were played on a controller and not programmed by hand, because these had definite musical vibe to them. The drums included two room tracks and an overheads track, both recorded in stereo. The other kit pieces were all mono, but there was no bleed of any kind due to the sampler that was used not adding bleed to the individual tracks.
Even on sample instruments, I usually break out MAutoAlign. You’d be surprised how it can tighten up a drum kit even when the kit is nothing but samples. This was no exception, it brought out some beef in the low end. However, I wasn’t pleased with it, and felt it made the drums a bit too aggressive for the vibe the music was giving me. It was at that moment that I took off MAutoAlign and decided to try something bold. I muted all of the close mics and just listened to the overheads and rooms together. And that was the sound I was after. It sounded old, jazzy, and dripped with groove while not grabbing the center of attention.
The vocals were a little bit pitchy. I tried a couple of plugins to help it out. The first was MAutoPitch, which was too aggressive. We went from laid back lounge singer jazz to Cher in the flip of a bypass switch. So I took it off and decided to try TB_VoicePitcher_v3, a new one I was demoing from ToneBoosters. It didn’t take much to get things where they needed to be for the most part, but there were still a couple of notes that were off. So I ditched it and settled for Melodyne in Melodic Mode. I used the global pitch correction tool set to 85% on the main vocal, and manually corrected a note or two that were off. The backup vocals were set to 100% correction. No timing was changed on the vocals, or on anything else, because I wanted it to feel very live. I then froze melodyne onto the vocal tracks and moved on to gain staging.
For gain staging during mix prep, I normalized all the tracks to -18db peak. It’s a very simple task in REAPER to do so, and since normalization happens by using clip gain to turn the track up or down, it’s non destructive and doesn’t introduce any weird artifacts like it might in other DAW’s. I have a custom action assigned to my Novation Launch Control that selects all media items and lets me type the db value I want them to be normalized too. Since REAPER creates peak files of all audio in a session, all it had to do was look at the maximum peak it had measured when I imported the audio and then use clip gain to bring it up or down to -18. The whole process takes about 10 seconds.
To set up a similar custom action, you’ll need to have the SWS Extensions installed. Go to the actions menu, and create a custom action using the following commands.
– Item: Select All Items
– Xenakios/SWS: Normalize Selected Takes To DB Value
From there, save the action and assign it to a control surface. All I have to do when I want to gain stage is push a button on my Launch Control and type in -18. Done.
The song spoke in a way that said “vintage tape”. So I decided to process every instrument as though it had been recorded through an analog chain. I used Slate’s FG-73 with the drive pushed to 70, fed into VCC on the RC-Tube console with the drive at its default, and then fed it into VTM. I used 2” 16 track tape, FG456 tape type to get less headroom before saturation, 15ips, and low bias. I created a group on VTM, which allowed me to apply those settings to every track quickly. All I had to do was open a new instance of VTM and switch it to the group, and the settings were applied. Effectively, this chain mimics recording into a preamp, through a console, onto tape. This is a typical chain that would’ve been used when recording in an all analog environment, mimicked using Slate plugins. Here’s a mix minute video I made showing the chain in action.
I grouped all busses and tracks to the same group on a new instance of VCC and played around with a couple of consoles briefly, ultimately settling on the trident. It had a thinner sound that added to the lower fidelity vibe I was going for. From there, a bit of EQ on the master bus and each instrument bus was used. I used AIR EQ and backed off of the Air band to push it into yet more dark warm territory.
From here, I used a touch of eq on the indivdual vocal tracks to address some low end build up and top end sparkle that I didn’t like. A touch of EQ on the 3 drum tracks I was using in the mix, and readjusting the balance showed me the need to address the dynamics of the vocals. I wanted it to sit and float, but not be overpowering, however the dynamics were being too difficult for HoRNeT’s AutoGain Pro alone. I brought in FG-401 to add just a touch of vocal leveling on the lead vocal.
Interesting to note that the entire mix is in mono. There are tracks that were recorded in stereo, but they are mono information with stereo reverbs printed onto them. So I left it in mono because I liked the vibe it had. The stereo reverbs added to the ambiance of the balance.
But there was one last thing I wanted to address. It had groove and vibe, but it needed a little more ambiance. I brought in Waves’s IR-L to bring in a schnee studios reverb impulse on the master bus at the end of the gain. I only mixed in 6% of the reverb, but it was enough to give it an eerie ambiance and really contribute to the old recording vibe I was going for.
From there, a touch of FG-X to bring the level up to around -12RMS, and it was time to print. This was a fun mix to do, and it was very cool to just throw caution to the wind and do some unorthodox things on this mix. Check it out, then give the mix a try yourself!