Saturday, October 5, 2013


Hello and welcome to this week's article!
This article can be considered an extra part of our Ear training section, and explains practically how to learn something about a professional record's song and to translate it in our mix.
Let's picture this scenario: we have our mix project in our Daw, we add a new stereo track and import our favourite song, lowering its volume until it matches the one of our project.
Now we can investigate that song, asking it the typical questions that we have already seen on the second and last part of our ear training aricle:

"how much room is reserved for rhythm guitars? Where is located the snare? How deep the bass goes? how much room is taken from the vocals?" ...and so on, and we use the tools and the methods explained in those articles to find out how our favourite mix is composed.

Once we have clear in mind how the song is constructed, tonally speaking, we need to compare it with ours, keeping in mind that 60% of the tone shaping is in the recording, and that we cannot twist a sound into a completely different one without runining it: we can cut frequences doing relatively little damage to the nature of the sound, but when boosting, the more we boost, the more it will sound unnatural and digitally warped (as it actually happens).

Comparing our song with the referincing one we coud notice for example that our snare drum sound it's completely different from the imported one: that one for example can be high oriented, because the drummer had a small snare with a very high tuning, while ours is dark because the snare was huge and low tuned, so the sound will never be similar, and it will sit on a totally different place in the mix. We cannot completely transform it because it's gonna sound awful, so we got two options: replace our snare with a sample through a drum replacer, or compare our track with another one that has sounds more similar to ours. It has no sense to have for example a grunge song to mix, and compare it with a death metal one only because we like the snare: it will only confuse us and lead us to wrong choices.

What it's particularly interesting is to understand how the audio engineers have treated the 2 most problematic areas: the one in which the vocals and the snare drum lies, and the low end.
The first one it's the zone the human ear is most sensible to, so we can understand by listening to it how a mix is balanced: are the vocals at the same volume of the drums, as in the modern rock?
Are kick and snare louder than vocals (as in death metal)?
Or the opposite, as in pop music?
We can apply the same pholosophy to our mix, and it will make the difference.
This area is also interesting to study, to understand how the engineer has treated guitars: has he cut the guitar frequences here to leave room to vocals and snare, or did he let the guitar be prominent, sacrificing frequences of the other instruments on that area?
About the low end: where does the guitar stops and where does the bass pops out?
The lower the guitar tuning is, the more usually a guitar is low-frequency oriented and "eats" room to the bass.
Is the bass distorted? How much?
To the point of becoming just a complement of the guitar as it happens in many black or death metal albums?
Or at the opposite, it's just lows and it lies on a range reserved to it?
How loud the cymbals are? Usually the louder they are, the more the album acquires a "garage", realistic, alternative rock feeling, and the more it becomes "dirty".
In pop music and modern metal, cymbals are held very low in volume, while the indie bands likes them to be high and resonating, so, again, it's a style choice that we must understand and use to our advantage.

These are all lessons in sound balancing and eq choices that we can absolutely learn on our own from the masters, and apply them on our mixes, keeping in mind that in the end our mix has to sound well, to be euphonic and balanced with what we got, that is totally different from the original sounds tracked for the referencing songs.
We cannot be too stubborn in wanting a sound that we cannot obtain because the raw track is too different, and we should focus instead into making great music with what we got.
In the end, that is really all that matters.

You can learn more about the best uses of a reference track HERE.

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