In the last couple of blogs I've spoken about the slightly weird way in which we had to track instruments for Another Road. In this week's tension-filled instalment, I'll talk about the mixing of the album.
This took place somewhere between full lockdown in 2020 and that strange "kind of locked down but not quite but be vigilant" stage. I wasn't quite sure how this would turn out, because of the nature of sending mix iterations to and fro. I started by just getting everything balanced and making sense of where everything was, and including the new instrumentation that we had tracked. At this point, I hadn't done any EQ, or compression, these were just panned (placed in the stereo image) and volume balanced.
Jessica wanted Mary to be able to hear what we'd done, so I sent her these mixes, and we basically went from there.
From this point on, the mix itself was relatively straightforward - keep the vocal at the front and in the middle, keep everything else balanced and sounding as natural as possible.
A lot of what I was doing was setting the levels where Mary had recorded vocals and overdubbed them at different times. This was just a matter of raising certain parts of the vocal to a higher level. I then ran the vocal through a couple of compressors - they squeeze the very highest peaks down, and raise the level of the lowest part of the vocal. Each compressor was set to only take off 2-3 dB (so, really just pulling the peaks down a bit, but leaving the majority of the vocal alone). I used a little bit of EQ to remove room rumble and to add a little bit of sparkle and air in the high frequencies (that was a 6K and 10k boost, for you nerds). I had a couple of de-essers working gently to make sure there was as little sibilance as possible - those hissy SSS, TTT and FFF sounds. Mary had recorded these vocals very close to the microphone for that intimate feel, so I had to be careful to keep the sibilance to a minimum.
I then put the vocals through an auto gain plug-in, which is a little bit like you turning up and down the volume so the vocals are at a relatively consistent level. I had another plug-in - a Waves MV2 for the geeks - set after this, which again raised the lowest signal by 6dB, and kept the highest levels in check, with a ceiling of 1dB.
It might seem complex, but it's a pretty straightforward chain that has the sole purpose of ensuring you have absolute clarity of the lyrics and vocal melody - which is the bit you're paying for, right?
On the guitars (so very beautiful guitars) I EQd the bottom end below 100Hz, where there's nothing much more than rumble, added a bit of brightness in the high mids, and gently rolled off everything above 10kHz, just to leave that room for the sparkling prettiness in the vocal. I gave the guitars a little bit of gentle compression, again just to even it out, but even they weren't doing much more than 3dB of gain reduction (again, taking the loudest parts of the signal and squishing it by 3dB).
I could have compressed them a bit more, I but really only wanted to tame anything too heavy - the point was as I said, to keep everything sounding as natural as possible.
I said before that I had two bass channels - the amp and the direct injection from my pedal board. I compressed both of these on the channel, and fed them into a bus, which I then compressed bit more, and added a bass enhancer (Waves MaxBass for you geeks) - I used this to give a very subtle and gentle boost to the subs (the very low frequencies), and this was matched to the fundamental frequency of the key of the song - I can see your eyes glazing over from here! If the song was in A for instance, that has a frequency of 440Hz, and I would have boosted at either 110 Hz, or 55Hz. This is a very gentle boost, and just gives a little more bottom end for everything else to sit on.
Every grouping of instruments and vocals ran into its own auxiliary bus, and on each bus, I had an emulation of an SSL mixing console (we can't afford a real one yet, but if SSL would like to donate one to us, that would be marvellous). I used a little bit of tape emulation on the backing vocals, especially on the tracks with a lot of BVs - this gives a nice warm feel to the bus and also allows for a little bit more compression.
There were only a couple of reverbs that I used on the whole album; I tried to keep a standard one for Mary, which was a large dark plate reverb, and a little bit of a room reverb for the instruments, just so you get a sense of the instruments being in a room, gelling them together, and helping to keep them out of the way of the vocal.
Phew. You made it to the end, well done!
Until then, do feel free to tell me your favourite fundamental frequencies!
Read on about how we get the album ready for you to buy.
Christian Thomas sits in a darkened room and does techie stuff. He engineers, mixes and provides technical support to Mary and Jessica.You can buy Another Road at our online store or at our distribution partners' site.