If you produce and record music you know the inherent importance of the mix. In the last ten years a deluge of gear and plugins has arrived on the scene. This new age of audio tech all but claims to mix music for you. Producers have the ability to isolate, normalize, smooth, de-noise, quantize, spectrally analyze and multi process on microscopic levels. Yet you could argue that a great mix in this era is no greater than a great mix from days gone by. So maybe good mixes share something in common outside of technology that contributes to a better mix? One could suggest that getting a different perspective or collaboration goes a long way to getting your work to places that you alone cannot go.
We thought it might be interesting to take a mix from our collection and have it remixed by a studio that specializes in mixing music. We asked Salvad0r if he would allow us to have his track Grow With Us remixed by contributor TheShoeShiners.
Salvad0r is a longstanding contributor that has been contributing solid tracks with iStockaudio since our beginnings in 2008. TheShoeShiners joined us in late 2012. It was the quality of their application mix's that lead us to follow up and find that TheShoeShiners are actually Vins and Mauro. Vins owns and operates CrossRoad Recording Studio and collaborates with Mauro on the music that they submit.
Lets have a listen to the two mixes. First the orignal mix.
Now here's the remixed track.
We did not choose a track that was mixed by someone short on skill. Rather we choose the Salvad0r's track as it shows a higher level of skill (similar to many of our talented artists here at iStockaudio). As a result what we were really trying to explore here and constantly strive for as audio producers is gaining perspective on our own work. Mix's like music live in the ear of the beholder and there are as many mix's as there are songs. Sometimes an outside ear on a mix can help us hear things differently ideally providing us with new approaches for our own work.
We thought a Q&A in regards to TheShoeShiners process would be a good way to get some insight to the process involved in the remixing of Grow With Us.
Could you give us a brief overview of the audio experiences that have brought you to this point in your career?
I have played music in bands since i was 13, playing in gigs around my town. When I turned 16 or 17 i got into recording my own songs in my bedroom. I decided i'd love to do this for living. I graduated from Teatro La Scala di Milano Accademy in 2002 where I then started to work at music production for a studio that made mainly soul and RnB. At the same time I worked in an other postproduction studio, doing mainly overdubs. Music business here in my country does not pay very well so it was necessary to have more than one job. For the next years I served as a runner/engineer for a few recording studios here in Milan and in Montecarlo. At this time I was apart of some big italian productions (insofar as big could be an italian production compared to the endless world). three years ago i decided to open the Crossroad Recording Studio here in Milano. My goal was to combine the things i found to be essential in my production, all the equipment i love and trying to maintain really low prices for all the independent bands that still want to emerge in spite of the hard moment.
What is the first thing you do when presented a new set of stems/tracks to mix?
When I'm mixing something that I didn't recorded or produce, the most important thing for me is to listen carefully to the rough mix to catch all the nuances the artist or the producer wants to express. I focus on the sense of the song and what the song is trying to tell. I pay attention to all the most important parts of the track and then write down all the thing I think I can improve on to make the track shine.
“I focus on the sense of the song and what the song is trying to tell.”
From your perspective what were the elements of Salvad0r's mix that you thought were in keeping with your mix style and which elements did you explore as needing to be adjusted to suit your style of mix?
Working in a postproduction environment has taught me that mixing for commercial purposes requires me to be very mindful of different issues, The attributes of a commercial mix are very different from mixing an album. You have to pay attention to things like mono compatibility etc.. The track has to be very catchy without being annoying so you always have to find something new to keep the listener interested without distracting from the production as a whole. In this perspective Salvad0r's song was very impressive, well arranged and played, the mix just needed to be more focused with a clearer stereo image.
What is some of the gear, software and plugs you used to mix this track and why did you pick these particular tool/s?
Right now i'm absolutely into a plugin by acustiaaudio called nebula. Briefly explained it is a dynamic convolution sampler that samples pieces of gear by creating impulses (algorithms) to be used as virtual emulations - maintaining all the real harmonic distortion and all the character of the real gear that was sampled. I've made impulses of my own gear and i love it.
In this track i used it in the percussion/rythmic bus with the neve comp sample that gives a really nice grit. I also use al lot the transient designer, it really can soften or add thickness to the transient as you want. I use it al lot on bass. The rhythmic path was the most hard to work in this particular song because the main part felt loop based. I've cut all the unwanted bass frequencies that takes a lot of energy ad treated it with a multi band compressor to glue the frequencies that had issues togher. I then doubled a sample kick over the loop to give it back all the punch in the critical zone of 100/400 Hz. For Eq i use a lot the mcdsp or the pultec sample in nebula and for dynamic I love the 1176s (waves cla bundle is great), neve and emi.
Then I usually use a lot of filtered delays and reverbs combined with harmonic distortion, for this purpose my favorite is the decapitator by sound toys
When first listening to the tracks of a song you are going to mix - what technical attributes of the tracks do you look for to build a foundation?
The two most important things in a great song (in my opinion) are the melody and the rhythmic path. The first thing I try to build is a solid Rhythm that gives credibility to the track, then the melody needs to be clear and recognizable to have success happen. When analyzing a track (a guitar, a bass, drums or everything else) I try to catch where most of the sound and harmonics are in term of frequencies. Then i try to emphasize these - I listen carefully and adjust the individual track to find a proper space for it in relation to the other tracks. A mix is all about space and priority.
“The two most important things in a great song (in my opinion) are the melody and the rhythmic path.”
Is there a technique plugin or piece of gear that you use that is so good it feels like your cheating when you use it?
I love my purple audio mc76, what it does to a voice I cannot duplicate with any other compressor, not even in the UA 1176.
What are some of the most common mistakes you find with other peoples mix's?
Most problems with a track mixed in an improperly treated environment are about bad controlled low end and spacial conflicts. A well treated room and good monitors are key to a good mix. Every instrument or sound needs to have a clear space and sometimes amateur mixes are overcrowded.
Do you use reference mix's to compare your mix's with? if so what tracks are they - if not, what are a couple of your all time favorite mix's or mix engineers
It depends on what style of music i'm working on. Sometimes reference mixes are very important to have an idea of at what the listener will listen to next to your song on the radio. you have to compare it to make sure you are in the same league as the tunes from the majors. Sometimes, mostly in alternative genres, you just don't wanna be influenced by anything.
When people use the phrase "transparency in the mix" how do you interpret this and how do you feel you achieve this in your process.
Again, space gives perceived clarity. Both in terms of frequencies but also in depth, you have to carefully decide what to bring to the front of a mix and what has to stay in the back. with this eq and reverb do most of the big of the work.
When you get lost or fatigued on a mix how do you refocus your ears and approach?
I've found for me it is essential to stop and take a break about every 3 hours, do something else without listing to anything. if i'm working with a reference track I listen to it first when I come back, then i listen to my mix and compare it with fresh ears
If you could only have one EQ, one Compressor and One Reverb to mix a recording which of each would you choose?
Mcdsp eq, waves cal 1176 and Waves Reverb.
If you were not recording a project, only mixing it, what would you ask of the recording engineer to help assure you have great stems/tracks to work with in the mix?
There are lots of amazing engineers out there that deliver great recorded tracks to mix. It is also very common that an artist that is not so knowledgable about the recording process, record their own tracks. With this scenario I absolutely recommend the artist send me the tracks clean without any eq, compression or effects inserted when exporting. If thers a particular effect that the producer or the artist wants to keep i recommend to send it to me with a dry copy of the track. The most important thing is to be sure to record and export all the track paying lots of attention to not clip - digital clipping is the only thing that i can't fix.