State of the Mix 2012: Maximizing Creativity
I really try and approach everything I’m mixing in a way so that I can have maximum creative control when I’m sitting behind the console. Getting there requires multiple strategies, but I had a few stick out to me when mixing a recent Night of Worship. This particular night was a little different for us since the music was primarily hymns. Stylistically, some of the songs fit in pretty closely with what we typically do on Sundays, however, some of it had a slightly different feel that I wanted to approach a little differently. So here are some things that stuck out to me over the course of a couple days putting the mix together.
I couldn’t have done what I did without a digital console and at the present time probably not even without the VENUE. The deep variety of processing available along with the ability to snapshot everything including mix balances, EQ’s, FX settings, etc. was huge for me. Some of the songs were almost like mixing an entirely different band for me or at least that’s how I wanted to approach them. To do what I did in the analog world would not have been possible even with several assistants to help make recalls for each song.
I always want to go somewhere with the mix whenever possible. The songs at the start of the night fit well with our typical rock feel, but as the night progressed the songs offered the opportunity to open things up a bit. I could have put a good balance together on a traditional desk and driven it like the good old days, but the impact wouldn’t have been the same. Great art, in my opinion, often needs contrast and the ability to change the feel of the mix provided some of that. My current console allows me to map this out over the course of a set just by getting some starting points set for each song’s mix via virtual soundcheck.
As we approached the end of the set, I wanted to come back full circle to the punchy, in-your-face vibe from the top of the set which I was able to do using snapshots. During a quiet, almost acapella verse before a build into the last chorus of the last full song, I recalled a snapshot that made some mix tweaks so when the band started building back in it had a different intensity. And I could literally see the results of what was happening with the music as the section in front of me leaned in and took their engagement up a couple notches which also propelled the band. As the band built up and kicked into the final chorus, the room just lit up with energy, and I opened the PA up even more.
You just can’t experience this at home. It’s a communal experience. By ballparking things with a snapshot, I could easily move with the synergy that happens between the stage and the seats because I’m not chasing settings all over the place to make it happen. One of our guitarists told me afterwards that he could see me out at FOH with a huge grin on my face through the whole thing. It was just really really cool to be able to do this, and I couldn’t have done it as smoothly or easily without my console.
A big part of changing the feel throughout the night involved different approaches to mixing the drums, and a big part of that comes from the mics. My typical drum mic setup involves a boundary-style condenser in the kick, a largish diaphragm dynamic in the kick, close mics on the top and bottom of the snare, close mics on the toms, close mics on the hat and ride, and then a single stereo overhead mic. These mics don’t just capture everything; they provide a lot of musical flexibility.
For example, the dynamic mic in the kick gives me a deeper sounding kick drum with more sub-thump while the condenser is a little punchier and exaggerates more of the attack. By altering the blend of those two mics, I can alter the feel of the kick from punchy and in your face to a more natural sound or even just make the kick work as subtle bottom-end enhancement in the mix.
The same thing goes with the snare mics. The top mic is more smack, tone, and what I traditionally expect from a snare. The bottom mic offers up more of the sound of the snares rattling and can be a little more open sounding. Early Beatles records employed only a bottom mic on the snare so this mic can also be used for getting closer to those classic sounds.
The stereo overhead is another wealth of opportunities. I can push it way up in the mix for more of a general kit sound. If I compress it a bunch I can move it closer to a punchy drum mix. Or I can back it down and let the close mics drive the drum sound.
I love the sound of parallel compression on drums, and I don’t even compress much. For a while I was doing around 6 dB of compression, but after hearing one of Robert Scovill’s mixes earlier this year I backed it down to closer to 3 dB and I really dig what it can do to the way the drums feel. The other side of it, though, is the flexibility I get in drum sounds.
Since most of my drum compression comes from the parallel group, I can alter the amount of compressed kit in the mix depending on how I blend it with my regular drum group. Dave Rat has talked about this, too, and I believe he makes use of multiple groups for his instruments so that he can have some compressed and some uncompressed.
There are all kinds of benefits to parallel compression. It can definitely help get things louder in the mix, but that’s not necessarily what really gets me going about it. For me, it’s more about a feel and a vibe it creates. Blending in the compressed buss can tighten things up and give them a different intensity and a sense of urgency. In some ways it can be the excitement fader. On the other hand, I can also pull it back a bit and get something a little more natural sounding. This can be especially helpful when I still need the drums to drive the bus, but I don’t necessarily want them to draw attention. Altering the blend over the course of a set can also help bring diversity to the overall mix which was a big deal for me at this event.
Aux Send Masters
This year I’ve been getting in to using a lot more effects than I have in the past. I think it started with some stuff I was playing around with when mixing North Point Online last year. I wanted to bring some of that into the mix in the room, and consequently I’ve started running a lot more effects.
Part of playing around with this has resulted in me blending multiple reverbs at times. Since I have a few different vocal verbs available at all times now, I was in the process of auditioning them a while back and ended up liking an accidental blend of them at some point. So now I play around with verb blends at times when I can’t find a single one that I like.
The challenge with this, though, is that sometimes I like to ride my reverbs in and out because I like the intimacy you can get when you go from a wet vocal to a completely dry one or vice versa. When I had a single reverb running, I would just pull the return back a bit, but this is harder to do with multiple verbs running where I want to maintain a blend. Normally a VCA could come in handy, but I’m generally out of them. So in these situations, I’ve started to grab the fader for the FX send and pulling it back. It’s simple, and it also sounds more natural because any lingering verb will trail off before things get completely dry. It came in very handy in a couple of moments for the Night of Worship.