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Brendan James

Mix in progress: Amathyst Rocks

One of the engineer’s job in mixing is figuring out the identity of the track.

Through understanding of this general concept the mix engineer usually goes on to elaborate on this identity, exaggerating on the specific style sonically and stylistically. I’ve been having a particularly hard time the mix on this track, “Amathyst Rocks” and it’s overall musical concept in general. Is it hip-hop, soul, rock?

On first listen I would describe the essence of the this track as Hip-Hop with the live feel of rock, but with so much space to work with between two genres the direction of where to go with mix-wise remaind a little unclear. When I think and mix hip-hop I typically think of dry, punchy, kick heavy drums. I also usually think in terms of only a few elements: the drums, the sample or melodic content, the lyrics and the ad-libs. When approaching a mix from a rock perspective I usually think about ambiance a lot more, more compression, more room sounds, more distortion and overall aggressiveness. Part of the challenge with Amathyst is the various changes in the song, the verses are very hip-hop, with a heavy rimshot, almost reggae-ish back beat. The Choruses explode with the addition of the background vocals and horns.

Conceptually as I approached this mix I wanted to go from tight to wide and big in regards to the verse / chorus alternation. The main ingredient towards achieving this was the treatment of the drums in the mix. I am very familiar with mixing tight R&B and Gospel flavored drums, with a general inspiration being drawn from mid-seventies funk and pop recordings. (Steely dan, The Isley Brothers ect.) I usually accomplish my tight drum mixes by relying primarily on the direct mics on the kit ( kick, snare, hi-hat). In the mix I use expansion or transient shaping to bring out attacks on each of the individual drum elements and bus them together. I then lightly mix in the overheads and apply a heavy compression to the bus that incorporates the punchy combo of slow attack and fast release. Lately I’ve been working on better mixing drums with in the style 2000 era rock (incubus, the white stripes ect.) undoubtedly achieving this style depends largely on the idea of “variable ambiance” (direct / compressed room) and the use of various room microphone placement techniques that specifically exaggerate the ambiance of kit.

For the Amythyst track I began by first mixing two stems of the drums: one highly expanded and/or gated and dry, the other an exaggerated room track compiled by using the totally squashed ambient mics.

I had this vision of triggering and gating the ambiance with the direct mics in this way achieving a natural gated re verb which I could then mix back into the drum bus ala ‘variable ambience’. The side-chained gated idea turned out to be a little harsh, so I used a trasient shaper on the room mics and sloped the attack past the direct attack of the drums

With all this being said I still don’t think this mix nails it. I have definitely achieved the drum sound that I want, but problems still exist with the feel, immediately listening today (2 days after the mix) I am struck by a feeling of too much roominess and verb. Have I overcompensated for the dry elements apart from the drums by applying too much verb? Perhaps. I also have struggled in this mix with the placement of the vocals and keeping them on top of everything. As I did not record these vocals, I have been having a perticularly hard time with their quality. A good quality vocal will generally cut through a mix without much effort and, as is true with most things in the digital audio domain the more processing you add, the more clarity you loose. You can tell by my extensive use of FX / distortion on the vox that I am desperatly trying to get the vocals to cut artificially. They cut, but I the believe that the distortion and delay are having a general downing effect on the mix that is making the whole thing sound a little too lo-fi for my tastes.