In this blog, I want to talk about the process of mixing Big Monos first single forked tongue, the complications we encountered and the things we learned during this process.
When Adam Higginson, Jaxon Arundell and I started this project we started recording in Ableton to use this project as an opportunity to learn another DAW, but after tracking the drum machine, Moog synth and bass guitar we came to the conclusion that due to our limited understanding of the program, using Ableton was slowing our project down. So we decided to import all the audio files into ProTools and continue the project in ProTools, in which we recorded the live drums, more synth, guitar, and vocals.
We used the Roland TR-8 drum machine as the basis of the track. We imported the wav files straight from the Ableton folder into a new ProTools session. It wasn’t until we tried to use beat detective on the live drums to sync the kick and snare up with the drum machine that we realized it was not lined up to the grid. I asked one of our lecturers Stephane for help and even when we lined the beat up perfectly it seemed to drift later in the track. He tried to line the beat up and said that the beat on the drum machine had swing enabled and actually moved off the grid as the track progressed. We implemented a relative grid but that didn’t really solve our problems either.
Doctor Duck joined our team during the first mixing session. He encouraged us to clean up the track we went through deciding what we wanted and didn’t want. This included editing the drums quite considerably. At this stage, we stuck with the standard Avid plugins such as EQ III and Dynamics III. We used gating and some compression on the kick and snare. We used parallel compression on the whole drum bus. We Also used subtractive EQ to tidy up the frequency spectrum, with the intention of using the Neve custom 75 desk to boost the mix. During this session, we added some voice synth pads to the verse using Absynth 5 and we used some side chaining on a gate, triggered by the bass guitar to make the synth sound duck as the bass note struck. This fleshed things out and allowed both elements to sit really well together. It also made the pads swell and pulse. This session was where I really started to get my head around how to use compression and gating. I'm also becoming a big fan of the Native Instruments suite after using FM8 and Absynth 5 in this project as well as using Kontact on some other projects.
So when we went to the Neve session with the intention of using beat detective on the live drums to line them up with the Drum Machine and to run the drums through the desk for colour and EQ. We discovered how difficult it was going to be to use Beat detective with a relative grid, we could not get it to work and Jaxon ended up editing the beats for the live drums manually beat by beat. This was a painstaking and arduous task but a good learning experience. On the upside, we decided to use the live drums mainly on the chorus which saved time on editing but also added to the dynamics of the track.
Once we had done this we ran all the individual drum elements through the Neve custom 75, over drove the gain at the input stage and used some EQ to give the drums plenty of kick. We recorded this back into pro tools. We did the same with the bass guitar. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and didn’t get to run the other elements through the desk but we got some extra analog tone to the drums and bass and that was the main thing we wanted.
The next session we mainly wanted to compress the vocals and get the levels right for the mix. The synth and guitar already sounded pretty good so we just found ways to balance them in the mix with panning and volume. The verse section had a softly sung part and some whispers layered underneath, we used Pro compressor for some light compression on the soft singing parts, with much heavier compression settings on the whispered part. We leveled them in the mix so they complimented each other well. We used The Monster Compressor in the Slate Digital Suite to add some different compression settings on the chorus vocals. This really added colour, punch and helped to level out and blend the 2 vocal takes. We experimented with the panning and the further we panned these takes apart the more it really sounded like 2 voices. We wanted the thickness of a double take but we still wanted it to sound more like one voice so we panned all the mics center and blended the levels to get the sound we wanted. We actually only used reverb on the vocals because the drum machine and the synths already had reverb when we recorded them and so did the guitar amp. We felt like everything already sounded pretty big and reverb wasn’t necessary. We reached the point where we were all happy with the sound and we sat back to have a good listen before moving onto mastering the track.
Doctor Duck took over this task for a few reasons, the main reason was that we were all happy with the sound of the track and he could hear what he thought it needed. He felt it needed a slight boost in the lows to add a bit of thickness to the track. We used Izotop Ozone 7 and we went through some presets until we found one we liked and then we just tweaked the frequencies a bit. It ended up being a slight boost in the lows and highs with a slight dip in the mids. The whole track sounded fuller and more glued together. We bounced it out and took the file to listen to in some of the other studios on campus. We all took it home listened to it on our home speakers, in our cars etc. We came back in to just lower the vocals a bit and then uploaded it to Bandcamp to share our work with the world.