With the tracking finally done, Adam Higginson and I were ready to start mixing the tracks for Zed Leppelin. We decided to start with Immigrant song, as this was an immediate stand out performance to us. We had a good listen to the original, paying close attention to the drums. We soloed the drums we had recorded and listened to what we had to work with in contrast to the original song, this would be the way forward at each stage of the production to keep us on the right track.
For more background info on this project, check out some of my previous blogs:
Pre Production Plan
Guitar Tracking Reflection
Vocal Tracking Reflection
The Glyn Jones Technique
The Original Immigrant song by Led Zeppelin from the album Led Zeppelin III (1970).
We put a high pass filter on and set it to 80Hz to minimise the sub-bass, boosted the resonant frequency at 139Hz, we tidied up the mud by cutting at 500Hz and brought up a bit of presence at 1.5kHz this really brought out the beater. We didn’t want to use any gating on the drums and wanted to use the bleed in the mics to our advantage so when subtracting the highs we listened to the kick in relation to the snare and the overheads. We felt that when we brought the low pass filter down any further than 6kHz we lost some of the presence and also a little bit of snare in the kick mic was adding to the sound of the snare. So we set the low pass filter at 6kHz. We used a slow attack and fast release so the compressor kicks in just after the smack and then reshapes the tail of the transient to achieve a punchier sound. The mic was about a foot back when we recorded it, so it sounded a little bit distant and this style of compression can make it sound a little bit smaller overall, so we used the threshold on a limiter to make it sound closer and bigger.
EQ settings on the Kick
Compression settings on the Kick
Limiting settings on the Kick
The snare already sounded pretty good, we used a high pass filter and cut at 150Hz to cut a bit of the woodiness and let the kick breath. We only used some very subtle boosts with a wide Q at 500Hz and 5Khz, just to give it a little bit more presence. We also sent the snare to a large plate reverb to increase the tail and to match the roominess of the original.
EQ settings on the Snare
We didn’t add or take anything from the overheads, we just panned the top mic left 50% and the side mic hard right as per the Glyn Jones method and levelled them so it sounded balanced, there was only a 2db difference as they already sounded pretty level when we recorded them. The thing about the Glyn Jones method is that it’s the kind of technique you need to get right when you are tracking, not try and fix later. All in all, we had a pretty good drum sound coming in and only needed a basic tidy up to get them sounding nice and close to the original. We also used some gentle compression on the Drum Bus with a slow attack and slow release just to tame the cymbal hits and glue the drums together a bit. We didn’t add reverb til right at the end when we were doing the vocals but when we did, we sent the snare to a large plate and the overheads to a medium plate, more on those settings later.
Compression used on the Drum Bus
Check out the article below about using drum bleed in recordings.
Also check out my blog about the Glyn jones method below.
Drum Recording - Let it Bleed
The Glyn Jones Method
The bass sound was not as easy to get right. When we recorded the bass I pretty much let the bass player dial in his settings and just said “is that how you have it on stage?” and went with it. The tone we had may be right for some Zeppelin songs but not for this one as The bass sound is a prominent feature in the original and really drives the whole song, it’s in front of the guitar and locks right in with the kick. Basically the bass sound needed more presence. We tried using EQ7 and couldn’t really find what we were looking for tone wise, but we added some punch with a little bit of compression and limiting. Since this was an EQ problem and the EQ7 didn’t seem to be giving us what we wanted, we levelled the mics to our taste and sent them to a mono bus, patched it out to the QURE EQ. We gave it a small boost at 100 Hz, 200Hz and 3.5kHz, and then ran it through the Urei Compressor to compress it at its final stage and add a bit of colour. We used a slow attack and release with a ratio of 4:1 so as not to squish it too much and to let the initial pluck of the string through. This whole process made the bass sit better in the mix and sound much more amped. I know that sounds weird when it was already recorded through a huge Mark Bass cab, but this was our way of tuning it to the mix of the song and I’m really glad we did. In retrospect, we really should have compared the tone to the reference track when we were recording it and got it right then.
First stage compression used on the Bass
Limiting used on the Bass
EQ Settings on the Qure Parametric EQ, used on the Bass
Final stage compression settings on the Urei compressor, used on the Bass
Check out the article below on using compression.
The sections on attack and release and on
limiting espescially helped us in this production.
Compression Made Easy
The guitars needed very little attention as they already sounded fantastic Dan knew exactly what type of tone he wanted. He used a Marvel FX Drive for distortion, an Echoplex delay to create a different texture and tone through the amp and an Xotic SP compressor to lightly compress the signal on the way in. He also used a combination of the Strymon timeline and the vox time machine delay in the solo. It was really important that we had the delay and compression on the track while we recorded it so that Dan was responding to these effects as he played rather than adding them after.
We had a really great selection of tones to blend with the microphones. We’d used a Slate VMS for the room mic and selected the FG-800 which emulates the sound of the Sony C800G tube mic which filled out the sound of the room mics and added some brightness to the overall guitar sound. We sent these channels to the medium plate reverb to just make the guitars sound like they were recorded in a bigger room as per the reference track. We balanced the microphones to get a good tone and since we had double tracked all the rhythm guitars we panned one take hard left, the other hard right, with the solo dead centre. Later in the mixing process we added a saturation knob to the guitar bus and gained it just a little bit to give the guitars some bite and help them cut through a little bit more, we also used some subtractive EQ, we high passed at 130Hz and put a small little cut at 4kHz to let the sibilance of the vocals cut through a bit more.
EQ used on Guitars
Saturation Knob used on Guitars
We also recorded the vocals with the Slate VMS, we had been using the the FG-67 which is a Neuman U-67 Clone, on the way in so that Tony could respond as if he was singing into a mic with a bit of colour and not just a flat response. We used the monster compressor in the virtual mix rack and literally left it on the default setting. I remember when we first put it on Dan said “yes that’s it” and after playing with the settings we reverted back to the default setting. An important distinction is that since the monster is a set threshold compressor that means that the input is the only way to control the threshold and since the virtual mic increased the volume of the signal it compressed the vocals to hard if you put the FG-67 before the compressor so we put the compressor before the mic emulator and it worked just fine.
In terms of EQ we used a high pass filter too cut some lows but not to much, we seemed to lose some of the resonance if we came up to 100Hz so we cut at 90Hz, this may be due to the added warmth of the U67 emulator or just the fact that even though Tony could sing quite high the resonance of his voice was quite low and there are some lower phrases in the vocals of this song. We boosted 200Hz just a bit and added a nice wide boost in the upper mids at 4kHz, I wanted a bit of contrast in the double-tracked vocals, as in the original song they sounded just a tad lower. We ended up using a preset called “add thickness” which was just what I was looking for and helped make the vocals underneath feel thicker and fuller in contrast to the main vocals cutting through the mix.
When we initially choose the reverb to use in this song it was the sound of the vocals that made us think it was plate reverb that they’d used so when it was time to start adding reverb, we sent all the main vocals through the medium plate reverb and the Ahh Ahh Ahh parts to the large plate reverb and positioned them much further back in the mix. We used presets for these but still tweeked the pre-delay so that the vocals had clarity and we tweaked the decay until the reverb tail sounded right. We also put a Low pass filter on the reverb cutting at 10kHz just to soften some of the shimmer (especially on the drum overheads). We wanted to use similar reverb settings on everything because we were trying to create a real soundstage and make it sound like this was all happening in the same space.
It was quite obvious to us that there was a lot of tape delay going on in the vocals we noticed this big slapback delay on the end of some of the phrases as well as just a general light delay on the main vocals so we had to use some different delays in order to make this work. We mainly used the avid plugin real tape delay because they would have created the delay on these tracks with real tape and we wanted to emulate tape delay rather than digital delay. We adjusted the speed and feedback until it sounded right constantly checking the reference track and then for the slap back delay we used a tube delay plugin which had a slapback delay preset and also added real tape delay after this with much more feedback than the settings on the main vocals.
Compressor and Mic settings on the main vocals
Tape Delay settings on the main vocals
Mic settings used on the iconic ahh, ahh, ahhs
Slapback Delay used on the ahh, ahh, ahhs
Final Stage delay used on the ahh, ahh, ahhs
So What is Tape Delay?
Basically, a tape machine has 3 player heads from left to right, one that erases, one that records and one that plays back. The record head touches the tape before the playback head, which means if you hear them both simultaneously it creates a delay. This was achieved a number of ways but essentially if you send a signal to a tape machine and monitor the record and playback you will hear a slight delay, this can be further altered by changing the speed of the playback, manually messing with the tape speed as it plays back and sending the signal coming out of the tape machine back into itself which will create feedback. Speed and feedback are controls commonly found on delay units. Increasing the feedback will increase how much of the signal you feed back into itself, which can add warmth and thickness to the sound.
For this production we adjusted the speed on the main vocal so that the delay was only just discernible but added enough feedback to bring it a slightly unnatural tone and effect, we used a little wow and flutter for the same reason it just made it sound slightly affected and unnatural which was just what we wanted based on the reference track . On the Slapback delay, we used two delay’s together to achieve the sound we wanted. The first one creates the slapback, which is just one delay. We wanted this fairly quick and right on the beat so we adjusted the speed accordingly, we used no feedback but then ran the signal through the second delay with lots of feedback and a slightly faster speed to achieve a subtle flutter after the man slapback. We also turned the drive up on both of these effects to add some grit.
The Ultimate Guide To Delay
A Guide To Using Time Based Audio Effects
Now in terms of mixing one of the first things I did was put real tape saturation on the master fader. If I am going to put saturation or compression on the master fader I always add it at the start of the mix so I am mixing to it and not altering my mix when I add it later. Due to the era the original was recorded and the vintage sound we were going for I knew right from the start that I would be using tape saturation on the master fader, the band had even asked about mastering this onto tape and had some ¼ inch tape we could use, but unfortunately we don’t have tape machines available to us. I am still very keen to learn more about recording onto tape and using tape for effects in the future.
At this stage, the elements all seemed to fit together nicely and it was just a matter of getting the levels right. We followed our instincts but still checked against the reference track regularly. We actually went for a walk looking for people floating around campus to come and give us some feedback. Simon Audus was blown away with the overall sound of our mix but also gave really useful and critical feedback, the same could be said of Adrian Carroll and David Page who had both come in to have a listen to what we were doing and contributed really great feedback that we took on board. Adam and I were very happy with the overall mix and we presented it to the boys in the band. Their feedback was extremely positive with a few critiques about the kick and bass being too loud and the just a few vocal phrases that needed fixing along with needing to add the slapback delay which we hadn’t actually done at this point. The very next day we got stuck into it, fixing those issues. It was amazing how much the whole tone of the song opened up just by dropping the kick and bass by 3 dB’s each. The guitar was heaps more audible even with the bass still in front. Learning to get the balance right isn't always easy but I think we got there in the end. When we finished that mix and sent it to the boy's everyone was really happy and the consensus was that this was is and the track was ready to be sent to Sam Ludinski for Mastering.
Recreating the sound of a classic song like this is no small task and I am honestly really proud of how far we’ve come and the work that we’ve done. I have learnt so much more about using EQ, Reverb, Compression and Delay. I learnt that the perceived loudness of an instrument in a song doesn’t always mean it’s louder than other instruments and that there are heaps more ways to make elements of your mix stand out than just using volume. I am really looking forward to mixing some of the other songs we recorded and sharing them with you all soon, but for now, check out the finished mix of Zed Leppelin performing Immigrant song below.
Zed Leppelin - Immigrant Song - Pre-Master (2017)
Tony Hollis - Vocals
Daniel Cox - Guitar
Dean Ristuccia - Bass
Brett Bradley - Drums
Recorded by Shay Jagger, Adam Higginson & Jaxon Arundell
Mixed by Shay Jagger and Adam Higginson