Ryan West has worked with the biggest hip hop names in the industry including Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, and Eminem.
This tutorial is your chance to see how Ryan mixes the song "Break Bread" by Dujeous and featuring vocals from John Legend from start to finish.
See how Ryan handles:
- Acoustic and electronic drums
- Tons of keyboard tracks
- Live horns and strings
- Processing rap vocals and sung vocals (featuring John Legend)
Ryan shows you how achieve a hip hop mix all in the box and make your mixes sound larger than life. He goes through every step of his mixing process and even takes the time to experiment and have fun with some of the plugins.
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- 00:00 - Start
- 00:0 - Introduction
- 03:29 - Drums
- 10:32 - Bass
- 15:44 - Piano
- 21:25 - Claps and Other Elements
- 26:51 - Vocals
- 43:50 - Panning Effects
- 52:21 - Bridge Elements
- 1:02:51 - Hook Vocals
- 1:27:02 - Adjusting Earlier Choices
- 1:30:21 - 2-Bus Processing
Hi, I'm Ryan West. Today, we're gonna take a look at a mix that I did for New York City's Dujeous.
It's a song called Break Bread, featuring John Legend.
We're gonna break down the mix in a very simple way.
I'm gonna show you my thought process behind how I set up a mix, the kind of techniques that I use for level and panning, and gain staging on the Master fader.
Finally, we're gonna look at a verse and a chorus section so that we can see some transitions in the song, and how we deal with the dynamics. Then we'll play around a little bit with the pan tools that I use on the Master fader, just to give you some sense of how I put a mix together.
One of the very first things I do when I begin a mix is I listen to two different versions of the song.
I listen to the rough mix that was provided from the studio where it was recorded, and I also listen to the raw tracks in the Pro Tools session.
That can give me a sense of: #1: where the artist wants the mix to go, and #2: what I'm dealing with in terms of the way the tracks were recorded or any problems that I'm gonna have to fix before I can actually start getting creative with the mix.
So let's listen to the song from the very beginning in its raw form.
I really like that song, it's a lot of fun.
My first impressions are that I think it was recorded really well, even though it's very dry, but I think that's also my vision for the song.
It's got a lot of different elements in it.
I think I want to go for a dry...
concise, sort of a hard-hitting hip-hop type of drums because that's what the song calls for. But I also hear...
that I really want to accentuate the melodic vocals in the hook because...
I really think that's the exciting part about this.
It sort of carries you through the hook, and makes you kind of like have this really positive vibe, so I want to make sure that I keep that in mind as I start to mix.
I don't hear a lot of problems in the way that it was recorded and that's typically the first thing that I go for, as I want to fix things that weren't really done well, but that's not the case here.
A lot of the work we're gonna be doing here is shaping the sound of the mix, making sure that the drums have the punch and the impact, and the density that we really need in this type of song.
Then we're gonna make sure that the lead vocal really, really sings the way it should, so that the hook carries the song.
Ok! I hear a couple of things that I want to work on first.
Normally, I try to keep the vocals in as much as possible when I'm mixing, because I think the context is really important.
But at this point, I think I'm gonna take the vocals out, and just focus a little bit on the rhythm section first, and then fit the other instruments in around it, and see if I can get it to become a little bit more cohesive.
In this case, it looks like they have two different kick drums.
They've recorded a live kick, but they've also added some synthetic or sampled drums in order to bolster the sound that they were looking for.
Later on, I'll probably be making the decision of how much of the live kick and how much of the synth kick that I really want in there, to give me the sound that I'm looking for.
It looks like they've done the same thing with the snare.
They've put another lighter sort of thinner-sounding electronic snare underneath the live tracked drum kit snare.
Ok. Like most live recorded drums, we have a room mic setup, and we also have the overhead mics setup to give us some sense of the ambiance of the drum kit.
The next thing I really want to do is to work on both the room and the overhead mics, so I can sort of expand the sound of the room they were recorded in.
There's a lot of ambiance there to take advantage of, but I'm just not hearing it right now.
One of the things you really have to remember to try to practice and try to do all the time is to level match the output of things like compressors and other dynamic controllers because you want to make sure that you're hearing the effect of the processor and not just the loudness. Loudness can really fool you into believing that something sounds better when actually it doesn't.
Ok, now I can really tell what the compressor's doing.
In this case, I'm choosing an 1176-type compressor, actually this is the Universal Audio 1176 compressor, because it has a variable attack and release time.
It's really important to time it correctly with the program material because it has the effect of making it breathe properly with the song.
You don't want it to pump, and too slow of a rate, or two fast of a rate, because it'll just sound out of place with everything else.
I have to choose a compression ratio, and in this case, I kind of knew that I wanted something a little bit more than 2:1, so I chose a 4:1 ratio.
I may even yet revise that to 8:1, because I just want to make sure that I'm getting the right amount of gain reduction to get the effect that I want.
Because it's really important to do everything in context while you're mixing, I'm gonna go right to the next phase and get the overhead mics in there, and then quickly fill in the close mics and the electronic or sampled instruments, so that I can hear the context of the rhythm section.
I'm gonna go ahead and put a high-pass filter on the overhead microphones, because I don't want too much low-frequency information hitting the compressor and therefore causing it to react differently.
Most of the time when something is recorded from a live instrument, whether it's a microphone on an acoustic guitar, a bass through a DI or an amp, or even a kick drum or a snare, there's a lot of low-frequency information that gets transmitted through the large diaphragm capsule of your microphone that doesn't really need to be there.
You may not notice it at first, but trust me, it's there.
Now when you have all the tracks playing together, the sum of all that low-frequency information that you forgot to filter out can sometimes really take a lot away from the dynamic energy of the mix, and reduce the amount of available headroom.
Ok, and again, I'm gonna level match my compressor.
I'm gonna get the other instruments in the rhythm section in there, so I can hear it all in context.
In this case, we had two kick drums.
One is just a sort of a deeper, duller sound, and the other one has the snap and the punch to the top end of it.
I think they were recorded well, but for this type of music, I want to make sure that the dynamics sit very nicely and don't move around too much.
We need to have consistent volume on that kick drum.
In this case, I'm choosing to use the UA's SSL E-Series Channel Strip.
The reason why I'm using this is: #1, that's very familiar to me, I've been mixing on SSL consoles for years, but I like the Dynamics section for this case.
It has a nice snappy sound to it, that I can't really get on another compressor.
Ok, I'm just getting a little bit of gain reduction, and I'm starting to hear the attack of the kick drum get a little bit snappier.
I'm also gonna adjust the Release time so that the compressor lets go before the next kick beat comes in.
Since this is kind of a fast thing, and we have some doubled up kick beats, I want that to be pretty quick.
Ok. And finally what I really want to do here is to filter out some of those subfrequencies... Let's say below 40, maybe 35...
Most of that information takes up available headroom in the mix, so I don't want that.
Ok. I'm gonna go ahead and bypass the plug-ins so we can go back to where we started, take a listen, and then we'll put the plug-ins back on so we can hear the result.
And with the plug-ins back in...
That's a good start. I think my kick drum dynamic is tightened up just a little bit.
I hear more ambiance from the room mic and the overhead mic.
I think I'm ready to maybe move beyond just the rhythm section and start adding in some instruments so I can get a sense of how those instruments are gonna work with the rhythm section that I've already started working on. Now remember...
this rhythm section may evolve even more over time.
I don't necessarily believe that what I've just done here is gonna be the way it's gonna be in the finished product, but I've just got it started so that I can put the whole thing together and get a sense of how the entire mix is gonna come together down the road.
What I noticed here is that their bass is recorded in stereo.
Knowing the way this producer works, I know that they've recorded it in mono and added an effect to it that they really like, and I think it was just a really mild chorus.
Now I think one important skill to learn as a mixer is to learn that it's ok to undo or walk back some of the things that you did earlier in a mix.
As you move through the mix, you might realize that a decision that you made earlier doesn't necessarily work or something else could work a little bit better in its place.
In this case, I'm listening to this bass track in stereo and, first off it's not so stereo until you pan it all the way out to the left and the right, and then you realize that the center sort of drops out and it's gone.
I like to anchor the bass in the center of the mix, because when you're listening on headphones, or off-axis, that means not between two speakers placed perfectly, you'll hear things a bit differently and you can lose the bass altogether if it's not anchored in the center.
So I'm gonna collapse it into mono, and hopefully what's gonna happen here is it's gonna sit down a little bit better in the mix.
I'll probably have to reduce the volume a little bit, but let's try that.
That works a little bit better for me.
Actually the kick drum and the bass work together ok already, but there's some stuff in the low-mid range of the bass that we can probably pull out and just make it a bit cleaner and make it sit together with the kick drum a little bit nicer.
Ok, now it's getting somewhere.
What we did is we filtered out all that stuff that was below 38Hz, and I took out a little bit of... about 5.7dBs at 133.
To me, that's giving the bass a little bit of a deeper quality and a little bit of a smoother quality.
Now what I want to do is maybe control the dynamics a little bit so that it works with the kick drum in a much smoother way throughout the course of the song.
I really want to try to give this bass a little softer and girthier quality to it.
A slower compressor like the UAD LA-2A can sometimes give that quality, so let's give it a try.
Let's listen to it in context and see if it's really working with everything else.
As a reminder, this is where we started with the bass before we work with the EQ and the compressor.
Again, I'm not sure this is the way it's gonna end up in the final mix but I'm starting to hear the rhythm section come together in a way that I like.
So I'm gonna move on for the sake of expediency and to keep the sense of urgency about the mixing process.
I think that's really important, because once you start to lose the idea or the original vision that you had for the mix, you maybe might take a few left turns and paint yourself into the corner.
So I'm gonna move on quickly.
We're gonna start to work on several of the next instruments and what they do, I think, in this case is provide some ambiance and some melody that sort of lie underneath the vocal.
But also, I want to very quickly get that vocal back in there, so that I can make sure that what I've done with the rhythm section still works in context with the entire song.
I'm just gonna mute a couple of the smaller elements and focus on a couple a little time, so that I can just get the levels match and quickly move on to getting the vocal in there.
Let's jump ahead a few bars, where the piano seems to be the dominant element.
I think the piano sounds pretty nice already, but a little bit boring.
I'm hearing a little bit of low frequency information, rather than low-mid frequency information in that piano, that I think I might want to take out a little bit, to clean it up a little bit and make it fit better.
That's a little cleaner. I'm also gonna check with it in bypass to make sure that what I just did was what I was actually intending to do.
I like that. I want to reduce the amount of dynamic range that this piano has, because I think that in this song, the piano works both as a melodic instrument and as a rhythm-type instrument.
It's just a meter that it's playing in the song, it sort of holds down the tempo a little bit.
I'm gonna try to use a UAD Fairchild compressor, because it has a color of sort of a softer quality.
I don't want to put a hard edge on this piano, but I do want to control the dynamic a little bit.
I don't think this Fairchild plug-in is doing what I hoped it would.
So I'm gonna try something else.
I think the 33609 is giving just a little bit more excitement to the piano, holding back down the dynamic just a little bit more.
We can go ahead and move on. Again, we may revisit this decision later on to make sure that everything works in context, but I'm getting kind of happy with the way things are coming together.
From here on out, it's gonna kind of move pretty quickly in terms of what instruments that I add.
There's a lot of synth sounds that are also in this mix and they're just little parts that are coming here and there, and I want to make sure that I get them in there right now, but I don't want to get too mired up in the details.
I want to get that vocal in there very quickly, before I lose sight of what my original vision for the mix was.
Those claps sound a little bit boring.
I'm gonna put a little bit of a room reverb on it now to see if I can get it to blend together better with the rest of the kit.
I had a little bit of time earlier, and I went ahead and set up five Auxiliary returns in my Pro Tools session all the way up here to the right.
And I put up some effects that I kind of commonly use.
One is a shorter reverb, one is a longer reverb, and I have a couple of different types of delays, and I also have a Roland Dimension D from Universal Audio that I may use to put on the vocals later to give them a bit of stereo spread.
In this case, we're gonna use the really short reverb that I have.
I'm using the UAD DreamVerb, because I like the way some of the shorter room programs sound on this.
That's a good place to start.
I also think that clap by itself is just a little bit dull, it's not exciting, and it's such a huge part in that section of the song...
so I think maybe we could try a little bit of saturation or distortion.
There's a lot of different ways to get that.
One of them is by driving the input side of a compressor really hard so you get the tone of the input section of that compressor, or you can use something that's specialized for distortion.
In this case, I think I'm gonna start with using the Soundtoys Decapitator which has a couple of different options the way you can add a distortion.
It also has importantly a mix control on it, so that I can add the type of distortion that I want and adjust the blend of it, so I get just the right amount.
You know sometimes there are processors or plug-ins where pretty much as soon as you put them on, they just sound good to you, but I want to make sure I'm not getting fooled by the level adjustment as well, so I have to make sure I level-match it.
To my ear, that sounds a little bit more exciting.
I'm gonna play with the Tone control just a little bit so maybe I can get a little bit darker on the very top end, but also I want to maybe center the frequency of this distortion a little bit higher.
In essence, what I've done here is I've added a little bit of distortion by increasing the Drive control on the left hand side of the plug-in.
I also cut off some of the low frequencies with the Low Cut control, raised the center of the tone using the Tone switch, making it a little bit brighter in essential.
I also used the Hi Cut to take off the very top end of the spectrum.
In effect, I think what this does is it's giving me a little bit more...
excitement, a little bit more attitude.
The last thing I'm gonna do is adjust the Mix blend control so that I have exactly the amount of this effect that I want.
Ok! The Mix is at about 60% or so, and then I brought the Tone down a little bit because it was a bit too bright the way I had initially adjusted it.
I've got to adjust the Output level again because the level match isn't quite right.
As always, I'm gonna listen to it in bypass, and then put the plug-in back in and make sure that it's doing what I really want it to do.
And with the plug-in back in...
Ok, I think that sounds good to me.
I think the overall effect of adding some of this distortion is that it sort of smears the sound just a little bit, it makes it sound a little bit more live and natural.
It gives it a level of urgency and excitement that it didn't have before.
We're gonna keep moving on, start adding more of the instruments as we go along.
Because a lot of these elements were recorded really well or they are sample sources or keyboard sources, I don't know how much I really want to add to them until I get further along down the mix.
I really want to get that vocal back in there so I'm gonna add the rest of this stuff very quickly and then turn the vocal back on so I can listen to everything in context.
Mojo's vocal was recorded really well, I don't really have too much to fix there.
But like everything else that's recorded with a large diaphragm condenser microphone like his was, I want to make sure that I take out everything below...
let's say 50 or 60Hz to make sure that there's no rumble underneath there.
One way that I like to use plug-ins and even external processing is to push the processor to its extreme to find out what the outer edges of the envelope of its capabilities are.
Now I know what these EQs can do.
But I want to really push this frequency as high as I possibly can until I can notice the difference, and then back off just a little bit.
There really wasn't that much of a difference until I got well above 100Hz, which tells me that there's really nothing below 100Hz that I want to keep.
And as always, check in bypass...
And back on...
It's difficult to tell the difference individually, but believe me, once you get to the end of your mix, if you haven't done this, you'll notice the difference in the available headroom in the mix.
What I'm hearing when I listen back to this vocal, is it sounds like it was recorded in a small space.
The reason I think that is because I hear a lot of early reflections in the room.
That has a really specific sound to it, and I've heard it a lot of times before.
What I'm gonna try to do is use reductive equalization to see if I can remove some of the boxiness, or of the muddiness in the low-mid range.
Ok. I hear some resonance right there around 150 or 160Hz, I'm gonna pull a little bit of that out. But as I was sweeping the EQ around, I also heard a little bit of a muddiness around 270 or 280.
I'm gonna use another band of the same EQ to pull a bit of that out as well.
And around 300...
Or just below it...
I'll take a little bit of that out as well.
So we started here... And I bypass the EQ so we can hear the original.
Now with the reductive EQ back in...
That's a good start.
The only thing I really want to do with this vocal, because of the type of song that it is, and the type of mix that I'm going for, is to bring the vocal forward using compression.
I want the dynamic to be really controlled, so that I can get the same level on that vocal throughout the course of the verse.
When I'm going for an aggressive vocal compression sound, I like the 1176 because I can really finely adjust the attack and the release of the effect.
That's starting to sound more aggressive and that's what I'm going for.
Now in this particular version of the 1176 plug-in from Universal Audio, it has a ratio setting of 2:1, while the other ones start at 4:1. In this case, since it's a vocal, I don't want to go too heavy on the ratio to start with.
I just like the hardware units. This plug-in version of the 1176 tends to thin the sound out just a little bit, and make it a bit brighter the more gain reduction and the more input volume that you use.
Again I want to make sure that I adjust the attack and the release time to work with the tempo of the music and the tempo of the vocal.
Obviously with this one, the vocal's pretty fast, so I want a pretty quick release time so that the compression doesn't linger to the next word or the next phrase.
You noticed as I brought that release time down the vocal actually sounded more aggressive, because the compressor was pumping in and out with the timing of the vocal.
Most of the time with the 1176, I start with a medium attack time because I want to make sure the initial envelope of the attack comes through.
That gives me a bitier and more aggressive sound.
That's what I'm really going for in this case.
Let's listen to it in bypass...
And with the compressor back in.
One thing I did and really noticed when I was doing my reductive EQing before I inserted the compressor is that there are some frequencies in the low or low-mid range that are now causing the compressor to compress a bit too hard in that range.
So I'm gonna go back to that EQ and search for that frequency.
I think it's working a little bit better now.
What I just did was I widened the Q setting on the reductive EQ that I was using around 166Hz.
The next thing that I want to do is make sure that I listen to this in context because all these adjustments could sound great by itself, but in context with the rest of the mix, it could not work, or it could really work. I can't tell you until I put it with the rest of the mix.
But before I do that, I'm gonna add just a touch of brightness on the top end because it does sound a little dull to me.
I'm gonna add a little bit at 4.7k and see if that makes the vocal a little bit more intelligible.
I'm also gonna add a little bit of air at maybe around 10 or 12k.
That might be a good place to start.
I also noticed I need a little bit of de-essing after I added that high frequency.
Ok, now let's listen to it in context.
In a real mix situation, I'd spend a lot of time agonizing over these EQ choices but I'm trying to do this mix quickly just to demonstrate my technique.
Like we always do, let's listen without all the plug-ins on it, and then we'll put the plug-ins back in and see how it fits in the mix.
That's where we began, and here's where we ended up.
I think there's something that's worth pointing out, it's that in this particular type of mix, for this particular genre of music, we're not necessarily going for the most natural sound possible.
We're trying to make it work in the context of all the other instruments and elements that are in the mix.
In this case with really aggressive drums, those vocals really need to compete.
I really wouldn't want to make these vocals wet or make them sound overly effected, it just wouldn't work in this type of mix.
I wonder if that doesn't mean I need to leave them dry.
I need to get them some dimension so that they sound bigger than life, they sound livelier than they are right now.
What I'm gonna look at is try to add some short delays or possibly a really short reverb, just to give some dimension.
I may also try adding a little bit of an effect from the UAD Roland Dimension D.
That's a stereo effect, something between a chorus and...
an Eventide Harmonizer pitch-shifting effect.
So first let's try a really short reverb.
You noticed that you hear a lot of this effect when the track is in solo, but when I put it back into the mix, the effect is gonna fade back under the track a little bit, and it's just gonna give us a sort of a dimension.
I'm gonna bypass the reverb, and I'm gonna put it back in just to see what the change really sounds like.
And with the reverb in...
I don't think that reverb really suits the track, I'm gonna try something else.
I'm gonna set up a really short delay, maybe a 16th note, or maybe even faster.
I want to give a little bit of extra dimension, a little bit of extra weight to that vocal.
That's not it.
I definitely want it faster than that.
Ok, and in context...
I like that effect.
What I did was I used the LowCut and the HighCut to shape this delay, so that it sort of faded in the background a little bit.
We can just barely perceive this echo, but it does give dimension to the lead vocal.
Without the effect...
And with the effect.
I'm gonna try adding some Roland Dimension D to this to see if I can add a little bit more excitement to the lead vocal.
When I add effects, I think it's important to both listen to all the effects combined together, and then individually, to make sure that it's doing what you want it to do.
So this is with only the Roland Dimension D.
Like compression or EQ, I'm gonna adjust it to its extreme parameters so I can see what it's really doing, then I'll pull it back until it's just right.
Ok, let's audition it without... the Dimension D.
And with the Dim D...
Ok, I pulled it back just a little bit more.
I'm gonna add that delay back in and see what the combination of these two effects gets me. In solo...
I'm hearing a little bit too much of the high end on the delay.
So I'm gonna bring that HighCut down even more.
Now let's hear what it sounds like in context, put the rest of the mix back in, and see if it fits.
Now I'm gonna remove all those plug-ins and effects, listen to the vocal in context in its raw state, and see if it's really doing what I want it to do.
Remember I wanted it to become more aggressive, to be more exciting, and to become the dominant element in that part of the mix.
The vocal is so important, it needs to stand out and really be exciting and aggressive.
And now with all the plug-ins and effects back in.
I think we're getting there.
In a real mix situation, I would spend an awful lot of time on these lead vocals revising the EQs, maybe changing out the type of the EQ, revising the compression, to get it just right.
I noticed that some of the instruments were sort of fighting a little bit.
So I'm gonna revisit the panning and the levels, to make sure that I get things out of the way of the lead vocal to give it the room to breathe and shine in the mix the way that it needs to.
Specifically, I heard that this organ track is panned right at the middle and is being buried by the lead vocal. I want to be able to hear everything.
So I'm gonna use panning to move it out of the way a little bit.
In this case, I think I'll pan it a little bit right.
I've panned that organ right, and it seems like it's getting out of the way of the vocal.
But it could be a little bit more dynamic.
Maybe I might try something like a dynamic panning, or even a modulation in stereo so that I can push it further out of the way of the vocal.
It may give a little bit more excitement to the track as well.
Here's another Soundtoys plug-in that I really like: the PanMan.
It has a lot of different settings, but what it's meant to do is emulate an old piece of equipment we used to use a long time ago called the Pan Scan.
What that does is it's just an automatic panner that you can set at different speeds and in different widths to make things move around the stereo field of the mix.
I don't really want any wild panning here, I don't want anything to distract from the lead vocal.
I just want to add a little bit of excitement and movement.
I think the key to a good mix is to have things evolve over time.
So I don't want to do anything too fast, maybe something that evolves slowly and pushes it off to the side, and then back to the other side, or maybe even something that moves back and forth.
Ok. Now let's see what that sounds like in context.
The PanMan kind of works, it makes it fun to listen to, but I'm not sure if it's a little distracting or not.
And just for fun, because I love doing this stuff, I'm gonna try the Crystallizer too instead of the PanMan, and see if I can get an effect out of that that makes it more exciting but doesn't distract you too much from the lead vocal.
On really specific effects like this, I like to work in solo so I can really hear what the effect is doing.
And then I add it back into the mix to see if it's really working.
Let's hear it in bypass, and then we'll put the effect back in.
I like that, it's interesting, at least in solo.
Now let's put it back in the context of the mix.
I like that a lot better, I'm gonna run with that for now.
But again, let's hear it in context with the effect removed, and then we'll put it back in.
Ok! And with the Crystallizer chorus effect back in...
I also want to bring the volume of that track down just a little bit, because adding the effect actually made it more prominent in the track.
Cool! I'm really starting to feel the vibe of this track.
I'm gonna move on to the chorus. I noticed there are a couple of new instruments that come in in that section, so I want to get those in there pretty quickly and get the vocals in there pretty quickly to get the big picture.
This Mellotron sound is gonna come in just after the hook starts.
It's got a really cool vinyl sample vibe to it, I don't want to get rid of that, maybe I might even want to enhance it.
But I surely want to make sure it's part of the hook.
Let's hear it in context.
I noticed that I have to bring it pretty high in volume before I actually hear it in the hook.
It's because there's a little bit of mud in the low-mid range.
I'm gonna remove a little bit of that first.
And of course, I'm gonna do my high-pass filter.
I'm gonna put it back in the mix and see how it fits.
I think I'd like to pan it a little bit to the right because when it's in the middle like that, it's sort of clouding the vocal a bit.
All the time when I'm listening, I'm also adjusting the EQ just a little bit and refining the levels so that it fits into the track.
I think that's a good place to start.
In addition to that Mellotron sound that comes in in the hook, there's also a couple of extra horn parts that come in at the end.
Right after the hook is the bridge section.
And in that section, we have a couple of other instruments, and I'm just gonna go ahead and work on bringing those into the mix, and then we'll move on to the vocal.
I'm gonna add a little bit of reverb to my horns to give them some dimension and make them fit in the room with the drum kit.
I used the same reverb that I use on the claps, because I want to make it sound like the band is all playing in the same room together.
At this point, I think my reverb is actually a bit too short.
I'm gonna go back and adjust that a little bit.
When we get to the bridge section, we have four new instruments that are coming in there. There are two guitars, there's a Rhodes type piano sound, and there's also some cellos.
I'm gonna pop those into the mix quickly and try to get their level set, then we'll adjust them as we go.
Now that I hear all those parts together, what I really want is a little bit of a longer reverb sound...
Not only on the claps, but also on...
these cellos, and also on these guitars.
I want to elongate this part, I want to make it sound more epic.
I need something that's a little bit more distinct, and I think I'm gonna try a little bit longer reverb.
I like using this Lexicon 224 Digital Reverb from UAD, because it's got a lot of the flavor of the original unit, and I've been used to the Lexicon sound for years, so this works perfectly for me.
I'm gonna start by adding that to the claps, and I'll adjust the length of the reverb so that it's timed with the song.
Ok. That's a Plate sound, and that's not what I'm going for.
I'm gonna choose a Hall setting.
I've set the Diffusion rate on that reverb pretty high, because I want it to sound smooth, and not like a bunch of little echoes.
Notice how the decay of the reverb almost completely disappears before the next clap comes in.
Now we're gonna listen to that longer reverb in context.
I want you to pay attention to the way that that longer reverb sort of changes the whole vibe of that bridge section.
It's making me feel like I want to add that to the other elements that come in in that bridge, like the guitar parts and the cello.
I also think I want to come up with a special effect for the Rhodes keyboard part that gets introduced there as well.
It's getting there, but I'm gonna work on the balance just a little bit.
I'm gonna try a really unique delayed sound on that Rhodes part, to see if I can make it just sound longer, extend it a little bit longer, to give a more epic feel for this bridge part.
Now let's hear that in context, that's a fun sound.
I think I want to make that Rhodes sound a little bit more lo-fi.
So I'm gonna try a little bit of distortion.
That's starting to sound really good to me, I like the effect, I think I'm gonna tweak it a little bit more later, but one thing that I did notice is that my claps now sound pretty thin.
I'm gonna go back and work on those just for a second.
Ok, that's starting to get there...
I hear that I want my cellos a little bit brighter.
I want them to sound more realistic than they do at the moment.
So maybe just a touch of EQ.
Now that I have all the instruments in the chorus in, I really want to get back to the vocal.
I'm looking for something that sounds a lot more lush.
I want to add some effects like some delay, and maybe some reverb, I want the vocals to be a bit brighter, and I want them to be glued together more so that the hook sounds cohesive.
In this hook, we have three different vocalists.
Mojo is doing the lead line, we have Niki who's doing harmonies, and we have John Legend who is doing a background vocal part.
I think I want to treat these a little bit separately.
I'll probably go ahead and bus Mojo's vocals together, and process them in a way that glues them together.
I'll do the same individually for John Legend, and for Niki.
Then I'm gonna marry them all together to make the hook cohesive as a whole.
That way I can play with the texture or balance between their voices.
Mojo's vocals sound like they were recorded pretty well, but I think what I want to do is I want to put a filter on each one of them before I bus them together, so that I'm not getting too much low-end that's not necessary at the compressor on the bus.
I'm not gonna treat his chorus vocals exactly the same way that I treated his verse vocals, but I'm gonna use the same principle of reductive EQ.
I'm just gonna find a few frequencies that are bothering me in the low-mid range and in the mid range.
I'm gonna apply that to all of Mojo's tracks in the chorus.
Then I'm gonna bus them all together.
I grouped all of Mojo's hook vocals together so that I can control them more easily.
I'm gonna repeat the same process with John's vocals to separate busses.
I've also grouped John's vocals together as well.
For some reason there are two vocal tracks on a stereo track here, so I'm gonna split those apart so I can deal with them individually.
Let's listen to those in solo.
I think that also needs a reductive EQ, there's some stuff in the low-end that I want to take out.
So I'm gonna put a high-pass filter on it to clean it up a little bit.
I'm gonna apply that to all of John's tracks, because I think it was just the result of the microphone that he used or the proximity to the microphone itself.
Ok! So I want to listen to John's vocals in context with the hook as well.
I'm already starting to build the panning scheme that I think I'm gonna use for the hook vocals.
I think maybe what I want to do is have John a little bit to the right, have Mojo a little bit to the left, and have Niki sort of a little bit left and a little bit right.
We'll see how that works.
Finally, I'm gonna bus Niki's vocals as well.
Niki's vocals don't really need much correction, but I'm gonna put my high-pass filter on them.
Now I'm gonna listen to all three of those vocals in context with the music.
I'm gonna go ahead and bypass all of these high-pass and reductive EQs to show you what the difference is.
Here's the bypassed sound.
And with the filters in.
It's not a huge difference, but what you do notice is that it's cleaner and there's more available headroom in the mix, and we're gonna need that moving forward.
Like the vocal on the verse, what I want to do now is maybe try some compression to see if I can get a little bit more excitement, a little bit more aggression out of these vocals.
Then I'm gonna add some effects and make them blend in with the rest of the tracks.
I want to apply some compression to each one of these vocal groups and make them sound individual and distinct.
First, we're gonna work on Mojo's a little bit.
Like Mojo's verse vocal, I'm gonna start with a medium attack time, a fast release, and I'll raise the input until I get the kind of compression that I'm looking for. And then I'll level match it.
Now that I've got that working, I'm gonna add a little bit of EQ on it.
I want to make it shine a little bit, make it sparkle a little bit.
It is the hook, so it's got to stand out.
I hear some mid-frequency and some low-frequency stuff, and I'm gonna go ahead and try to take that out a little bit with this EQ.
The Cambridge EQ doesn't have a whole lot of color, but I can be very precise with it.
I also want to add some reverb, maybe some delay, and maybe even some of that Dimension D to this vocal to make it stand out and sound special.
In this case, I think the longer reverb that we were using before on the bridge section kind of works here. So I'm gonna try it out.
I'm also gonna try adding a little bit of delay to give some length.
I don't want it on every single word.
I'm just gonna use it on maybe a couple of the last words for delay.
I'm gonna automate that really quickly.
I like the way that delay sounds, but I want to make a few adjustments.
I'm gonna maybe cut some more of the lows, allow a little bit more of the high frequencies to come out, add some feedback, so I have more repeats of the echo...
I'm gonna put a send to the reverb on the output of the delay.
Basically what I'm doing is I'm just adding a touch of the reverb that we used on the vocal itself, to the return of the delay.
Let's listen to all those adjustments in context.
Now that we have Mojo's hook vocals sitting a little bit better, we're gonna move on and do the same thing to John's vocals.
I'm gonna copy and paste some of the settings I have for Mojo's vocals, but I know it's gonna be slightly different because of the gain staging.
So we'll go ahead and tweak it afterwards.
Alright. Now let's hear that in context real quick.
Ok! We're gonna move on and do exactly the same thing with Niki's vocals.
And just tweak it.
Now I'm gonna listen to all these vocals together, still in solo, and see how they blend.
Ok. I want to listen to them in context, and while I listen to them, I'm gonna go ahead and balance them just a little bit better.
Ok, we're getting pretty close, but there's a couple of things that I noticed that I want to take care of immediately.
One thing is that the overall hook itself is a little bit thick.
I want to give it a little bit more of a sheen, a little bit more excitement.
I'm gonna go one step further and take the outputs of all the busses we did for Niki, for John, and for Mojo, and I'm gonna send those to its own bus that I'll be able to process separately.
Probably what I'm gonna do is use a little bit of EQ to add a little bit of a brightness, and also pull out some of the low-mids so it's just a bit thinner.
It's a little bit too heavy in the bottom end and I want it to sit nicely in the track.
I'm choosing to use the Pultec Pro EQ because it has...
first off the bands that I want to control, and also it has a little bit of sparkle on the high-end when you're adding some 5k, or 8k, or even 10k.
We're gonna play around with those bands and see which one suits the sound the best.
Now that the EQ curve of the hook vocals is working a little bit more to my liking, I noticed that it's a little bit sibilant. I know it's unusual, but I'm gonna go ahead and add a de-esser after my Pultec Pro EQ, and I think that because it does a couple of things.
Most importantly, what it does is it helps to unify these busses and glue this hook vocal together a little bit more.
I know it's unusual, but stick with me here.
Ok, we're getting just enough de-essing to pull back on the sibilants, but not really to cut too much into the high frequencies we want to keep.
Now let's listen to all that in context, I'm gonna be adjusting the levels to make everything blend, as I'm listening.
I think that's working pretty well, it's getting closer.
But as always, I'm gonna go ahead and bypass it, and compare the way it was before I added the Pultec and the de-esser to the way it is now. So let's take a listen in bypass.
Ok. I'm gonna add the Pultec and the de-esser back in.
Ok! I think that's working really nicely and I'm happy with that result.
I think what really this does, processing these vocals together unifies these three different textures that we have from three different vocalists and glues the hook together to make it a cohesive unit.
It's almost like treating a group of instruments, say you would take a number of different horn tracks and marry them together on a bus, and it unifies that section.
Now would be a good time to go back and take a look at all the choices that we made earlier in the mix, and make sure that everything is still fitting together right.
I think at this point, we could really look at the kick drum and the bass guitar because they may be a little bit heavy.
They seem to be overshadowing the vocal a little bit, so let's look at that.
One of the ways that I like to consider whether an instrument is helping or hurting is just simply by removing it and taking a listen to the mix without it.
Does the mix sound more cohesive? Does it work better without that instrument in it? If that's the case, you've got some more work to do to make it fit into the mix.
So I'm gonna go ahead and mute our kick drum and bass, and see how the mix is working now.
I really do think they were getting in the way a little bit more, but I also noticed that the snare is a little bit loud.
Here is where you want to make these really fine adjustments, half a dB, a dB, or maybe a dB and a half.
It can make the difference between an instrument that fits in the mix and something that's just getting in the way.
I'm gonna bring the snare down a little bit to see if I can make it tuck just underneath where the vocal is.
That's a little bit better. Now I'm gonna put the kick back in.
I'm gonna adjust its level so that it's fitting in the song a little bit better.
I'm definitely happier with that. We're gonna get the bass back in there to make sure that the low-end relationship is working.
Now that the drums are more in proportion I hear a few other things that are going on.
These horns at the end there are a little bit too loud, so I'm gonna bring them down just a little bit.
It's at this point in the mix where I could spend hours, and hours readjusting equalizers and compressors, rebalancing the levels, and maybe even doing a little bit more panning to get it just right.
But since we don't really have another six hours for the mix, I want to move on to show you a really, really important part of the mix.
Some mix engineers like to do this much earlier on.
I feel like it's necessary to wait until a little bit later in the mix to apply my processing to the Master fader because I want to have a general picture of the mix sort of built already before I start applying things that affect the entire mix together.
I'm looking to glue the mix together a little bit better, so I'm gonna put my compressor on my Master fader and glue it together with just a couple of decibels worth of compression.
There's a lot of different compressors that people use on a 2-Track mix, like the SSL G Series, like the Neve 33609, but I think on this one, I want to try the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor from UAD.
I don't just think of compressors on the Master fader as a dynamics control.
I also think of it as a tone-shaping control.
Different compressors have a different response to different kinds of mixes.
Now sometimes, plug-in presets can be really helpful.
As a general rule of thumb, I don't just choose a preset and leave it on, I tweak it afterwards. In this case, I want to choose a preset that Universal Audio has included called the Mastering Discrete Steel.
That seems like it's gluing the mix together a little bit but as always you want to hear it in bypass, level match it, and make sure it's doing the thing that we really want it to do.
So we'll start with it bypassed, and then we'll put it in after a couple of bars.
I think it's really working.
It feels like it's gluing the mix together a little bit more but more importantly, it's adding another level of excitement.
I know it's subtle, but that's what mixing is, it's all about subtleties.
It's the sum of all these subtle things that you do that makes your mix sound the way it does.
Some people will argue that using a compressor like this in dual-mono mode like I am right now can move the low-frequency information around between the left and the right, and not keep it anchored in the center.
I don't think that's happening here. I think what's happening here is...
because the left side is programmed independent from the right, it's giving me some distinction, a little bit of a different movement, and therefore it might even be enhancing the stereo field a little bit, while really not disturbing the low-frequency information.
I am one of those mixers that believes you really shouldn't do too much to the 2-Track mix.
You can easily destroy your mix by trying to overprocess it with this EQ, or this M/S stereo... widener unit or whatever you put.
I think if you've mixed your song well to begin with, you shouldn't need much of that.
I like to use the compressor because I think it glues it together a little bit and I don't really trust every mastering engineer to get that just right.
So I want to give them something that's a little bit more cohesive.
For right now, I don't think I'm gonna add any EQ to my Master fader, but I do want to try something.
In quite of a few mixes I've been doing lately, I've been using the UAD ATR-102 plug-in.
This is a simulation of a tape machine that mastering engineers and mixing engineers have been using for many years to print their mixes to and to deliver as a format for mastering.
I've tried lots of different variations of settings for this unit, but I found that the 1/4" 456 tape formulation setting seems to be the most suitable for the kind of mixes that I do.
What I'm hoping for is just a little bit of tape saturation and just a little bit more glue from this.
I kind of treat this like another FX processor because it does really change the way the mix sounds.
There are a couple of adjustments on this plug-in that can change the curve of your mix.
One of those adjustments is the Repro head High Frequency control.
You can use it to make your mix a bit brighter, a bit darker, a bit more low-end, or a bit less low-end.
I think I like what that's doing, but again I'm gonna put it in bypass, listen to it, and after a couple of bars, I'm gonna put it in, and I'm gonna compare the two.
Alright, we're getting closer all the time.
Of course, you want to go ahead and bypass the plug-in chain that we have on the Master fader and see what the real difference is.
Ok. Now I'm gonna put my compressor and our ATR-102 plug-in back in.
When I'm adding processing to the Master fader of my mix, I'm looking for cohesion.
Some people call it glue, some people have other descriptors for it, but I think what it's doing is it brings all the elements of the mix together so it sounds like a cohesive piece of music.
The last thing I'd like to do is go ahead and deactivate all the processing that I have on this mix, take another listen to the mix in the state that it was in before we added anything.
Then we'll go ahead and put everything back on, and listen to our final product.
Everything we did on this mix today was to add drama and excitement and refine the mix so that it can compete with all the other stuff that's out there on the radio.
We worked on the vocals, the drums, the effects, and finally on the Master fader processing.
All these things help to bring the mix together and make it as exciting as it can be.
Thanks a lot for spending some time with me, and hope to see you soon!
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- Universal Audio Neve 1081, Neve 33609, 1176AE, Pultec Pro, Fairchild, SSL E Channel Strip, Roland Dimension D, Lexicon 224, Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor, Ampex ATR 102
- Soundtoys Echoboy, Crystallizer, PanMan, Radiator, Decapitator
- Wave DeEsser
In addition to many Platinum, Gold and Diamond RIAA certifications, he's been twice nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy and has a further seven nominations to his credit. Ryan has also participated in numerous discussion panels with mixing heavyweights Tony Maserati, Joe Chiccarelli, Michael Brauer, Andy Wallace and mastering engineers Howie Weinberg and Bob Ludwig.
A skilled multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, Ryan also produces music for film and television. As of 2012 over 60 million albums have been sold worldwide that contain a credit to Ryan West.
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