Mixing Clockwork Clown - A fHumbling Journey - Part 3 - Guitars
by, 04-07-2012 at 06:01 AM (3147 Views)
This is a continuation of my blog about mixing Clockwork Clown - here is the previous installment, if you missed it: Mixing Clockwork Clown - A fHumbling Journey Part 2 - Wrestling the with THE GROOVE.
Here is the link to the mix I am discussing: cLockWork cLown - fHumble mIx
Ok, so here we are at the third installment of this odyssey - I hope it has been somewhat informative & entertaining.
After getting the drums & bass into some sort of order I kind of put them aside & said "that's good enough for the moment", & moved on...
It came time to look at what I could do with the "top end" of the mix - the guitars ... Well actually, I was planning to do guitar & synths in this one, but the guitars got a little lengthy, so the synths will have to wait their turn... Sorry about the false advertising - I know the Americans among you are crazy for it, but please, no litigation is necessary, just patience.
As I mentioned at the outset, I wanted to try to evoke two contrasting "states" in this mix - one that was LO-FI - "claustrophobic, grimy, glitchy & industrial" & one that was HI-FI - technicolor, open, smooth, wide & full. The "Hi Fi" aspect has come about by listening to Eric Valentine's mixes on the latest Slash album - I'm going through a phase of being in awe of how wide & clear they are. On the other hand, I felt that if I made the whole mix that way, it wouldn't really reflect the swings of mood & the changes in the narrative... I needed to get really down & dirty in some parts of the track....
This is something that I have noticed in the best mixes... actually, scratch that, I should say "some of the most exciting mixes" - to draw attention to something, the best way is to create a contrast... ie: if all the mix sounds "BIG" right from the start, it has nowhere to go, dynamically. However, if you start off really small, when it hits the big chorus, you can really make it B-I-G!.. I went searching through my iTunes library for some inspiration & direction - This was quite difficult, because I have a lot of rock stuff, which tends to mainly draw it's contrast from an arrangement, rather than a mix angle. In view of the alternative pop vibe of LazyE's track, two bands came to mind, both of whom use this combination of arrangement and mix dynamics to create an expansive sound that ranges from very lo-fi to HUGE.
The first was Gomez - an alternative English band that are very popular here in Australia, & my wife & I are pretty keen on. Gomez - Bring It On - YouTube
The second is Radiohead - this song in particular "Sit Down, Stand Up" - listen to the transition @ about 3:04 - that's the kind of contrast vibe I was aiming at...
I decided that I needed to attack this from two angles: Firstly, I needed to create at least two "versions" of each mix element, each one of which would fit into the respective "hi-fi/lo-fi scenarios" that I had developed in my mind.
I tried to keep in mind that LazyE was pretty keen on having the electric guitar element prominent in the mix, so as is usually the case with me, I put that on the backburner (ie. read: procrastinated) & headed straight for the acoustic guitar track...
My first instinct was to create an acoustic guitar sound that was w-i-d-e for my Hi-Fi section. A cool trick I discovered when I had been handed a single guitar track in the past was to grab another section of the song that plays the same part move it to play in parallel with the original, & thus construct a "duplicate" guitar part from a single performance - then you can pan them hard left & right & voila! Instant lush stereo acoustic guitars! This is fine, as long as the song is played to a constant tempo (which it was) & has plenty of repeating parts to choose from. Unfortunately, this second prerequisite is where I came unstuck, because there was a LOT of variation in the parts, so scraping something coherent together was proving difficult... This didn't deter me so much, but ultimately the reason I scrapped this approach was because it simply didn't work when I brought in the other mix elements. Because I was struggling to bring the acoustic guitar to life, I decided to let it wait for the moment & concentrated on developing my "lo-fi" textures...
Again good ol' Guitar Rig 4 was my go-to sound-mangler. I called up a preset called "Megaphon" that made the acoustic sound like it was being played out of one of those tiny toy "suitcase" record players that kids use to get in the 60's & 70's... Perfect! I may have added some hefty compression inside GR4 from it's own rather wonderfully filthy compressor just to encrust the sound a little further. In the screen shot, you can see that I have sent some of the acoustic via an auxiliary send to a bus containing Voxengo's "Perfect Space" convolution reverb. I called up an impulse called "carpeted room", which seemed like a suitable setting for a claustrophobic domestic nightmare... Still, it did need a little background tweaking within Perfect Space's high pass, low pass, & eq parameters to sound "just right (or should I say "just wrong").
What about the "lo-fi" electric guitar? - Well, it might be a cliche, but nothing says "creepy, cheap & nasty" to me like a reverbed tremolo. I started by massively high passing & low passing the electric guitar track with Sonars Pro Channel eq until only the gnarliest of midrange boxiness & honk was left, & added a little of Pro Channel's 1176 modeled compression set to moderate the attack portion & of the sound & sustain the sparse chordal strums. Next, rifling through the effect section of Amplitude's "X-Gear" plug, I discovered an old-style opto tremolo. Hitting the "BPM on" button on the tremolo synchronized it's venerable warble to the tempo of the track, & adjusting the speed & depth to a fairly un-subtle setting provided the creepiness quotient I was craving...So with a heapin' helpin' of reverb from the aforementioned "carpeted room", the lo-fi guitar contingent was finally tonally equipped to disgust & dismay!
So... back to the acoustic tone. Listening to the tone on it's own, it seemed pretty unremarkable, which made it easy to mangle & destroy for the ugly lo-fi side of it's Jeckle & Hyde act. On the other hand, producing a slick, seductive & charming version to infatuate the listener's left ear might prove slightly more challenging. I set to work high passing & low passing in Sonar's Pro Channel eq to get rid of mud in the bottom end of the signal & tame some of the "pluckiness" apparent in the raw track, then I plumped for the standard "sweep & destroy" method to seek out some frequencies that were creating some boxiness & harshness in the sound. Notches around 455hz & 3.4k seemed to imbue the track with a touch of class. Adding some parallel 1176 style compression from the Pro channel seemed to smooth things a little further. I also chucked in some midrange goodness from UAD's Pultec with a generous broad boost at 8k to add some "shimmer" to the sound. However, playing back the acoustic guitar in context just wasn't rewarding me with the sonic gratification I was craving. The fingerpicked acoustic just seemed rather stark, & didn't really flow in the way I was imagining it - The sound I wanted was like rippling water flowing over pebbles - a continuous stream of harmony just bubbling away.. hmmm..
... time for Guitar Rig 4 again... This time I called up it's great digital re-creation of the Roland Space Echo tape delay - a sought after piece of gear in the analogue domain, prized for it's vibey organic combination of delay, reverb, tape saturation & general grunge. Again tweaking the delay settings to produce repeats that slotted into the timing of the track, it seemed I was getting one step closer to the sound I was hearing in my head. At this point the sound just needed some "smoothing", so that the original sound & the delays dissolved into one continuous melange of rippling sound... Sweet. Playing it in the track, only one more tiny tweak was needed to get it to penetrate the mix - I dialed in a tiny bit of drive from the Softube "Saturation" control on Sonar's Pro Channel...
Here's the signal flow below:
What about the electric tone? - This was to be a feature of the track, & although the original tone actually seemed pretty good, I still did a little eq. work to get it to behave & "expensify" the tone a little. I dialed out everything above 8k & below 110hz respectively with the Pro Channel eq, & made a "de-boxifying" notch at 349hz. Next, I called on my most recent plugin acquisition, Waves CLA-76 compressor. This compressor is modeled on Chris-Lord Alge's hardware 1176 units - & let me tell you, I don't like to rave about plugins, or gear in general, because I've always been of the firm belief that "ears & skills" beat "gear & thrills" every time (yeah that was pretty lame, sorry) - but I have to say, this plugin just makes distorted guitars sound right just about each time I try it... it puts them "in your face" & yet, somehow they just seem to sit right in the mix ... & using it is child's play... a sound "goodify-er" if ever I've heard one.
However, getting the sound to work with the vocals was another matter - LazyE had stated that he was rather attached to this part, & he wanted it to be prominent. When absorbing the vibe of the track on my initial listens, it became clear to me why - it's meandering waywardness is a crucial element that intensifies the tracks off-kilter vibe. Without it, the track just seems to have less "teeth".
Nonetheless, it's a real challenge to have such an active guitar part (basically a lead) that sits most of the time right in the same prime eq. real estate that the vocal occupies... Let's face it, in any pop/rock track the vocal is KING - having a guitar line like this competing with your vocals is like coming back from vacation to your house in the Hamptons, only to discover your long-lost Biker relatives have moved in to stay... You're gonna have a hard time getting them to fit into the neighborhood, & something's gotta give!
My first line of attack was to make an eq. cut in the guitar right at the audible heart of LazyE's vocal - a broad gentle dip centered around 1.26k. This definitely helped, but I was still not getting the volume I wanted out of the guitar before it started spitting in the face of my precious vocal...
So let's get all psycho-acoustic for a moment - The brain is amazing in it's ability to trick our ears. Have you ever noticed when you are in a noisy room full of people having conversations, somehow your brain is able to decipher the words of the person next to you from all the other words ricocheting around the room? Your mind focuses on their words, so suddenly everything else seems to recede into the background. Nothing has really changed, but our brain has played a trick on us... A similar thing happens in reverse - if we hear something very loud initially, even if that sound is attenuated in volume later, our brain continues to register our first impression of that sound.
This phenomenon works to our advantage in the kind of mix situation that I'm describing here - when you have two loud attention-grabbing sounds vying for attention. The idea is to let the guitar be as loud as the vocal when the vocal isn't present, but to "turn it down" considerably under each vocal phrase to clear plenty of space for the vocal to shine - when the vocal stops for breath, the guitar comes back up, & so on it goes.... The cool thing is, the listener's brain doesn't notice this sleight of hand, it only keeps on repeating the listener's first impression: "That guitar is damn loud!"
Now, this can be accomplished by good ol' straightforward volume automation on the guitar, but it's pretty tedious & time consuming...
Time to bring in the heavy technical artillery. THE SIDECHAIN COMPRESSOR. A compressor's sidechain in simple terms is a place where the compressor can get it's information from. Under normal circumstances the compressor is "listening" to the information coming from the track that is being compressed. But by feeding the compressor's sidechain a completely different signal, you can get it to compress based on the information being fed to it. So here's what I did: I sent the signal from the lead vocal via an auxiliary send to the sidechain of Sonar's Sonitus compressor, which I put on the lead guitar track. I set up the compressor so that when the lead vocal came in, it's signal triggered gain reduction on the guitar track of about 6db...
Ahh... finally the vocal & the guitar were living in peace!
One final word about the panning of the guitars - I mentioned that I was going for a huge wide panoramic feel to the "hi-fi" sections of the track - to me, the only way to really get this was to go the LCR panning route for these key elements. As you can see, the electric & acoustic are panned at 100%. Notice though, that the reverb sends are panned to the opposite side of the spectrum relative to each element - not completely, because the element's reverb would be masked by the other element - but at 66. This effectively allows the sound to "bleed" across the mix to give a real sense of spaciousness that would be somewhat less apparent if the reverb were being masked by other elements filling up those spaces. This technique does double-duty in also being a key device to "glue" the wide-panned elements together. Another interesting advantage to using this technique is that the wide panned elements can sound quite "dry" & "in your face" despite having a fairly hefty helping of reverb on them.
Next up... Synths (I promise)
...& here they are: http://forum.recordingreview.com/blogs/fhumble-fhingaz/159-mixing-clockwork-clown-fhumbling-journey-part-4-synths.html