Vision for the Mix with Ryan Hewitt

 

 

 

In the excerpt from the video “Ryan Hewitt Mixing the Lumineers,” Hewitt describes his strategy for arranging and mixing the song “Angela.”

“There was a lot of very intentional thought about each particular part,” says Hewitt. “When it was going to come in, when it was going to play, and what it was going to play.” He says that they weren’t just throwing lots of parts on, they very deliberately constructed the arrangement.

Although it’s a relatively mellow song and doesn’t have a conventional drum-kit part, it’s incredibly dynamic and full of clever little touches that help build the energy as it progresses. The song features percussion and string parts that have an orchestral flavor, which give it what Hewitt describes as a “cinematic” vibe.

Let’s dissect what happens in the song, starting from the beginning. To follow along with or reference the actual mix as you’re reading this article, you can listen to it on the official video.

INTRO

The song begins with a finger-picked acoustic guitar part. Hewitt made it sound fuller with a little bit of parallel compression, a sampled Lexicon 480 reverb, and several EQs rolling off lows and adding brightness.

Fig 1

The green track is the acoustic guitar, and you can see all of the processing Hewitt used on it. The track labeled ACO Crush is the parallel compression channel.

VERSE 1, PRE-CHORUS 1

Lead singer Wesley Shultz’s voice is the only element that’s added when the first verse starts. The arrangement remains just acoustic guitar and vocal through the first pre-chorus section.

Hewitt explains that The Lumineer’s music is all about the vocals. The rich, organic lead-vocal sound Hewitt gets in the “Angela” mix is a lot more complex than you might guess from listening to it. It features two stereo and one mono instance of the UAD EMT 140 plate reverb plug-in with varying decay and pre-delay times that create an intricate ambience. (For a detailed look at the vocal reverb settings for the song, check out this article.) Two different echoes, including a slap and a syncopated short delay, add to the richness of the vocal, as does some subtle parallel compression.

VERSE 2 and PRE-CHORUS 2

The mix starts to build at the top of verse 2. A piano enters, hitting high-chords on the downbeats. Hewitt puts a UAD 1176 plug-in on the piano to beef up its sound and add some sustain.

A kick drum comes in too, helping propel the song towards the first chorus. The kick was was added during the mix, and wasn’t in the original arrangement.

There’s a two-measure section leading into the chorus where the arrangement reverts back to just vocals and acoustic guitar with some light percussion mixed in low. This drop in intensity sets up additional contrast for the chorus, which starts when Schultz sings the vocal pickup, “Ho,” on beat three of the last measure of the pre-chorus.

CHORUS 1

On the short, four-bar chorus, the vocals become a lot more intense, and Hewitt decided to move them to a separate track, so he could process them differently. For example, he changes the delay parts, inserting a Soundtoys EchoBoy, set for digital delay with a bit of saturation.

Fig 2

The red tracks at the bottom are the vocals. Notice how Hewitt separated the verses, choruses and bridge onto separate tracks, so that he could easily give them different processing treatments.

Hewitt also boosts the high end a bit on the lead vocal during the chorus section. He explains that adding brightness is one of his tricks for helping propel a particular song section, because “brighter is more exciting.”

The piano gets more involved in the chorus, taking over briefly from the acoustic guitar as the foundational instrument. The piano plays a strong chordal part along with “bass bombs,” which are left-hand octave parts. Hewitt pans the piano wider for this section for additional contrast.

Dual toms hit on the chorus downbeat, adding significant weight. Hewitt adds “smashy” compression to fatten them up. Tuned bass drums also hit that same beat, with a lot of top-end rolled off and distortion added. The combination of parts gives the percussion an orchestral-like feel.

The last two measures of the chorus drop in intensity with the piano playing a sustained chord that slowly decays under the vocal. Like with the intensity drop that preceded chorus 1, it helps set up the new elements that enter in verse 3.

VERSE 3 and PRE-CHORUS 3

The song becomes more intense as the third verse starts. Most responsible for propelling this section is the kick drum, which switches to a steady, pulsing four-on-the-floor pattern.

The bass guitar enters for the first time, playing whole notes. Hewitt recorded the bass using his typical combination of DI, miked clean amp and miked dirty amp. Although used sparingly in a song like this, Hewitt explains that the distorted amp track’s upper harmonics help the bass to cut through, even on small speakers.

Also entering is a pseudo-shaker that’s actually a recording of hands rubbing together. Hewitt points out that he did volume-automation rides on its track to make it poke out between the vocal lines.

A violin makes its entrance at the top of verse 3, adding additional complexity and interest. It includes two parts: A droning loop and a pizzicato line.

Fig 3

The arrangement includes a number of violin parts to help provide the orchestral vibe and to strategically impact the energy at various points in the song.

In the middle of pre-chorus 3, a cello comes in, playing long legato notes. Hewitt points out that even though it comes in at a rather unusual spot in the middle of the section—on the line “Angela it’s a long time coming”—it just feels right. He processes it with some boosts in the low end and a UAD LA-2A plug-in compressing the dynamics.

CHORUS 2

Chorus 2 is more intense than chorus 1. It’s punctuated by booming tom hits. The cello changes to a line that doubles the rhythm of the tom hits for additional reinforcement. The violin starts playing a pizzicato eighth-note figure that Hewitt describes as functioning like an electric guitar part. He automates the violin line to stick out between the vocals.

Also coming in are ethereal sounding high-pitched background vocals that are very subtle in the mix but add texture.

BRIDGE

Another dynamic change occurs at the bridge, with the energy and instrumentation dropping somewhat to provide contrast with the upcoming final chorus. Hewitt explains that as part of the arrangement, the musicians all lowered their intensity at the bridge during tracking. He didn’t have to artificially create the change with automation and mutes.

Fig 4

The two blue tracks at the top are the hand claps. Notice how they build in volume to increase intensity leading into chorus 3.

Somewhat counterintuitively to the intensity drop is a subtle tempo speed-up that was programmed into the click before tracking.

The bridge builds nicely to the chorus, in part due to a hand clap track that starts quietly and increases in volume as it gets closer to the chorus.

Another interesting element that enters on the bridge is what Hewitt calls a “piano bee.” It’s a simple, repeating counter-rhythm part consisting of single notes that build in intensity. Hewitt panned it hard to one side and processed it a high-pass filter and delay from a UAD Echoplex plug-in.

The end of the bridge builds to a crescendo that propels it into the last chorus.

CHORUS 3 and 3B

Back to the chorus, and here everyone played their parts a little louder to add energy. Hewitt also accentuated those dynamics with volume automation.

A new kick-drum part comes in, playing a solid repeating pattern that adds extra power and propulsion to the percussion section.

For the backbeat, instead of a snare drum, Hewitt got really creative and sampled the shutter click of a camera belonging to a photographer attending the session. He processed it with Soundtoys FilterFreak with the highs cut and saturation added, used an EQ to cut the top and bottom and emphasize the upper midrange, fattened it up with a UAD Neve 1073 Legacy preamp plug-in, and added some stuttering echoes and reverb.

Also entering on this chorus is a cello part playing low staccato notes, a violin playing sixteenth notes and another playing pizzicato notes on the off beats, up an octave. Hewitt uses this higher-pitched part to add additional excitement.

Fig 5

Hewitt applied a high-pass filter to the “piano bee” part so that it wouldn’t clash with the other piano parts playing simultaneously.

The chorus repeats with all the same elements, but some higher variations in the lead vocal and a different high-harmony vocal part that’s panned to the right.

To increase propulsion, the strings and piano double the speed of all their parts on the repeated chorus. So, for example, the piano goes from an eighth-note oriented part to a sixteenth-note one. Going into this extreme high gear also maximizes the contrast with the outro section, which follows.

OUTRO

Everything but the acoustic guitar and vocal drop out, bringing the arrangement back to the simplicity of the first verse. Shultz hums the melody along with the guitar and then it just stops on a downbeat and the guitar rings out.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Clearly, Hewitt and The Lumineers created a dynamic arrangement and mix that constantly changed from section to section. The various elements coming in and out helped raise and lower the energy for the different sections, while steadily building towards the climax in the last chorus. These techniques made the song even more powerful and impactful.

Seeing how they achieved the results is instructive, and it’s useful to think about when you’re arranging your own songs to record. Watch the full video, “Ryan Hewitt Mixing the Lumineers,” to learn even more about how Hewitt helped the band create this masterful mix.

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