Drum Setup Time Lapse

Drum setup is one of the most exciting parts of any session for me. This is very often where the artist and I start committing to the sound of a project because the way we tune, setup and mic the drum kit will have a huge influence on how everything else is going to sit in and around that. Here’s a time lapse of drum setup on a recent session where I was working on some soundtrack music with my drummer and assistant, Christian Burgess, and composer Deon van Heerden (Orchestrata).

The first part of drum setup, which isn’t shown here, is the tuning of the kick drum and toms. Learning to tune drums properly was probably one of the biggest improvements I ever made to my drum recordings. In the video you’ll see me tuning the snare that we picked for this track while Christian is setting up the rest of the kit to his liking. I always try to make sure that a drummer is comfortable and has everything in place before I start micing the kit. It also really helps that Christian is a very flexible drummer and can adapt to pretty much anything I throw at him, so I can get the mics where I want them while he’s still playing comfortably.  Double win!

For the sound we were going for in this track I went with a subkick and a close mic in the kick drum, a single mic on the snare (I don’t really care for bottom snare mics), close mics on the toms, a spaced pair of cardioid condensers as overheads and a pair of omni small-diaphragm condensers in an ORTF setup as room mics.  I almost never feel the need to close mic hi-hats (and 99% of the times where I play it safe and do mic hi-hats, I end up not using it in the mix). You’ll see me using a measuring tape to make sure that my overheads are placed in such a way that my kick drum is centered and that the rest of the kit is then automatically “panned” to where they should be.  A lot of the drum sound comes from the overheads so I make sure that I get a really good overall sound of the kit from them.

I Produced A Song Tracked Only With Shure SM57’s and SM58’s (pt II)

With every song I produce I try to get as close as I can during tracking to what I’m hearing in my head. Committing to sounds and the overall vibe of any song early on has proven to not only lighten my workload considerably, but also sound better in the end. It wasn’t as easy to do this while tracking every source in a song like this with only one flavor of mic at my disposal as it would be with a variety of mics but it was not even close to difficult either. When it came to mix time I didn’t feel like I could not achieve anything I was hearing in my head for this song.

I use Cubase’s stock plugins for a lot of my day-to-day mixing so I just did the same for this mix. They are flexible and sound really good to my ears. The plugins that I used that didn’t come with Cubase are available free (legally).

DRUMS

Kick Drum
The hardest part to get right of the whole kit was the kick drum. These mics roll off pretty much everything below 100Hz so there isn’t the same amount of low end that I would have to work with under normal circumstances. The song is in E, with E2 being 82.4Hz so I gave the kick mic a 3dB low shelf boost there. I also sweeped the low mids to find that cardboard-y/bouncing basketball sound and cut that a decent amount. To get the extra low end I wanted I also cheated a bit: I generated a 82.4Hz sine wave (with Cubase’s TestGenerator), with a gate triggered from the kick mic signal. I also blended the triggered kick samples we took (see pt.1) in there to give me some extra attack/slap. On my KICK buss there is also a HPF(high pass filter) at 20Hz.

Snare
The SM57 is still the go-to snare mic in many, many of the world’s top studios today and we had a beautiful Ludwig Black Magic snare to work with, so getting a cool snare sound was not difficult. I gated the snare and blended that with the triggered snare samples to a buss. On the snare buss, I added a HPF, a wide boost at the snare’s fundamental frequency (around 210 in this case). as well as a high shelf boost at 8KHz to give it some top end. I also felt like I wanted the snare to snap some more, so I used Cubase’s EnvelopeShaper (basically Steinberg’s version of Transient Designer) to help me get that.

Toms
I like lots of compression on toms to bring out the sustain and power so I used a combination of  EnvelopeShaper (with the Release boosted) and Vintage Compressor to get the toms to sit the wanted it to sit. Since it’s only a floor tom and I liked the low end, I had the HPF at 20Hz. I also boosted a bit at 100Hz, gave it some high-shelf boost at 12KHz and cut some low mids at 475Hz (after sweeping) to get rid of the “cardboard”.

Apart from the toms in the actual drum track, there’s a pair of tribal-sounding toms that we overdubbed and panned creatively to make the pre-choruses feel wide and powerful. They were treated the same way as the other toms.

Overheads
The SM57’s actually surprised me on OH as they weren’t as dark as I thought they’d be. I only gave them a wide high shelf boost of about 3dB at 12KHz and a HPF at 80Hz.

Drum Buss
I always use Bootsy’s FerricTDS, a free tape simulation plugin, on my drum buss. Used lightly, it seems to really bring drums together and give it just a little extra “something”. I also had a subtle high shelf boost at 8KHz and a slight cut at 350Hz.

Percussion:
All percussion (shakers, tambourine, triangle) have fairly high HPFs on them. The “intro” right after the first chorus has some percussion that was treated with a lo-fi/telephone filter to give it some vibe.

BASS

I only worked with a mic’d cab for the bass sound in this song. I gave it a touch of low-shelf boost at 100Hz. We often forget that the highs and mids are as important for a good bass guitar sound as the low end. Your ears can’t hear that massive low end if you don’t give them something to find it with. I added a high shelf boost at 5KHz to give the bass sound some clarity, along with a small amount of 1KHz to bring out the power in the notes. There is also a HPF at 20Hz. Even though I tracked with a fair amount of compression I still felt like the bass wasn’t sitting 100% as I wanted it to, so I knocked off a couple of peaks just a touch with some compression from Vintage Compressor.

GUITARS:

Acoustic Guitars
I got very close to the sounds I wanted for the mix during tracking so I only added HPFs (80Hz on one track, 120Hz on another) and a slight cut at 4160Hz on one of the guitar parts, where I felt that the high mids got a little annoying.

Electric Guitars
I always try to get the sound that I need finalized during tracking. I hate having to “work” guitars too much during mix time. Processing consisted mostly of HPFs and LPFs (Low Pass Filters). There’s something cool that happens on the LPFs on some analog consoles where, depending on how they are setup, there is a slight boost just before the rolloff. Cubase’s channel EQ has a LPF that mimics this and I sometimes use it to my advantage to brighten up guitar parts while still getting rid of any unusable high-end information (aka fizz).

I didn’t feel the need for any compression during the mix.

LPF with a slight rise just before the rolloff.

LPF with a slight rise just before the rolloff.

Electric Guitar Buss
I sent all my electric guitars to a stereo buss, where I took out a little bit of 350Hz, which cleared up some lo-mid mud and I added a very subtle, wide shelf boost at 16KHz to open the guitars up a little – really just to sweeten them.

VOCALS

Main Vocals
I compressed and EQ’d the vocal going in so I didn’t use any additional compression in the mix. I did add a HPF at 80Hz and a high shelf boost at 16KHz to add some “air” to the vocal. I always do a lot of vocal riding (aka volume automation) on vocals. I also used a combination of volume automation and the stock de-essing plugin in Cubase to smooth out s’s.

To give the vocal a bit more “size” and make it “pop” more in the mix I had 2 wide-panned, slightly delayed, copies of the vocal that were tuned +8 and -8 cents and HPF’d at 3KHz mixed in with the main vocal.  This comes from an old trick that was used in the 80’s with Eventide’s to make vocals a bit bigger.

Backing Vocals
BGV were tracked with the same chain as the mains, so no additional compression was added in the mix, but I did ride them quite a bit. EQ was a HPF at 120 Hz, a cut at 350Hz and a subtle high shelf boost at 16KHz.

FX
I treat Cubase as a mixing console so I’ll always have a couple of sends setup. My main sends are usually a couple of different reverbs (but not so different that things sound like they’re in different spaces all the time), delays at different note-lengths.

In this mix the reverbs plugins used were Cubase’s REVerence convolution reverb plugin. One instance was loaded with a PCM 90 plate impulse response, used mostly for drums, and another was loaded with an impulse response from Bricasti’s Concert Hall preset. Both had quite a bit of low end filtered from them to not muddy up the mix.

3 different flavors of delay were used in this mix:
1. A 1/4-note delay with some HPF and LPF to give it a bit of an analog feel, which gives me more depth.
2. A ping-pong delay that went into some subtle phasing and quite heavy filtering for effect.
3. A more standard 1/4-note ping-pong delay, with some HPF and LPF.

Main vox and BGV are sent to the #1 delay. While the main vox weren’t sent to any reverb, the BGV were sent to the Concert Hall reverb.

During parts of the song, the kick and snare, along with their reverbs during these parts, are sent to the #2 ping-pong delay, which creates a nice “drum-loop”-type vibe on the sides of the mix. Tons of vibe! Throughout the mix the snare and toms were sent to the PCM90 reverb.

The high, synthy guitar riff during the choruses are sent to the #3 ping-pong delay to make it soar “around” the mix a little.

While different guitar parts were sent to various effects, depending on the parts, I should mention that I like to add some depth to main rhythm parts by sending them to a subtle delay (the #1 1/4-note delay in this case).

STEREO BUSS
I really like the way SSL-style compression on the stereo buss “glues” a mix together. My favorite flavor of this is the TK Audio BC1 (I have the mk2 version). I had 2-3 dB of gain reduction going at a 4:1 ratio, 10ms attack time and release time set to “Auto”.

I also had an EQ on the stereo buss, taking out a very small touch at 350Hz and boosting a little at 10KHz. The boost, rather than being a shelf, is a very wide bell. I use this often as a way to mimic the way a Pultec-style EQ works and I find that it brightens up mixes without making it as harsh as a shelf EQ sometimes does.

CONCLUSION

As much as this was a super fun experiment, it was also a really great learning experience. It taught me again how important it is to commit early on. It also refreshed and reinforced to me that every piece of gear is just a tool. It doesn’t make or break a song, and there are always means to get what you need even if it means having to work a little harder. And it made me love my trusty SM57’s even more than I did before.

I Produced A Song Tracked Only With Shure SM57’s and SM58’s (pt I)

The Shure SM57 is my desert island microphone. No, it’s not the most glamorous mic in the world but it’s one that will always get the job done if you know what you’re doing. In the pro world it’s still the standard for snare drums and guitar cabs. Even though there are most definitely better choices on many sources, I’ve never found one where I wasn’t able to get at a sound that was at least usable when I was using a SM57. They are also virtually indestructible.

WHY I DID IT

I’ve always encouraged my clients to get themselves a small demo/home recording rig (I’ll get into this soon in an upcoming blog post) and I almost always recommend the same starter setup: a small interface, a pair of decent headphones and a decent mic – a Shure SM57 or SM58 (would ya look at that: all of a sudden you also have a world class mic for live use too!). Upon suggesting this almost all clients come back to me with a suggestion from whatever music store they’re buying from to get some cheap Chinese condenser mic. “It’s a condenser so it must be better than the SM57, which is just a dynamic, right?”  ALL THE FACEPALMS! I also fell into that trap when I started out. See, the vast majority of those mics are quite bright, which sounds really impressive to inexperienced ears, but will bite you in the a$$. I found myself constantly fighting that brightness, which turned quite harsh and spitty once I started “working” the mix.

The SM57 will teach you how to record. It will teach you how to use it properly, from which you’ll learn much more about capturing sound than any bright mic will ever teach you. So, when trying to steer folks in the right direction with that first purchase, my view has always been “if you can’t get it to sound decent with a 57, it ain’t the mic’s fault”. With all of this in mind I wanted to put my money where my big ol’ mouth is and prove that, with the necessary skills, you could produce a pro sounding track using just these amazing mics.

I had 3 SM57’s and 2 SM58’s to use for this experiment. Shure themselves say they’re close enough to each other and, besides, 57’s and 58’s are what most musicians already have available to them.

HOW I TRACKED IT

Drums
DRUMS:
Kick > SM58 > 1073 Pre/EQ > FMR Audio PBC-6A Compressor
Snare >SM57 > 1073 Pre/EQ > FMR Audio PBC-6A Compressor
Overheads > SM57 (spaced pair) > FMR Audio Really Nice Preamp > FMR Audio Really Nice Compressor
Floor Tom > SM58 > Yamaha “JapaNeve” PM1000 Console Channel Strip (Pre and EQ)

I used my Ludwig birch kit with a Ludwig Black Magic brass snare. Since I had only 5 mics to use, I setup the kit with only a floor tom. Because the SM58 as a small touch more bottom end because of the grille design (again, this is according to Shure themselves) I opted to use them on the kick and floor tom.

The kick and snare went into my pair of Neve 1073 channel strips. Both kick and snare got about 3dB boost at 12KHz and the kick also got a bit of love at 110Hz. Both were compressed (+/- 6dB of gain reduction) on the way in. The tom went through a channel strip on my beloved console, where we added a touch of bottom end and a bit of top end EQ-wise. The overheads just had a small touch of compression (+/-2dB of gain reduction) on the way in.

I also took samples of the kick and snare after we tracked the song and augmented (not replaced) the kick and snare tracks with them. My assistant/session drummer, Christian Burgess, did a great job of the drumming but we both quite liked what the samples added to the mix when we augmented the live drums with them.

ACOUSTIC GUITARS
Guitar > SM57 > 1073 Pre/EQ > 1176 Limiting Amplifier

I used 2 different acoustics for different parts and textures in the song: an old Epiphone mahogany/spruce dreadnought and a Cort rosewood/spruce cutaway dreadnought.  I added a touch of top end EQ and a touch of compression (various amounts on different parts) on the way in.

ELECTRIC GUITARS
Les Pauls > Marshalls > Cabs > SM57 > 1073 Pre (no EQ)
Les Paul > Fender Super Reverb > SM57 > 1073 Pre (no EQ)

I really like playing with different textures in my productions so I mostly used my 2 custom built Les Pauls into my Marshall JMP Super Bass and Marshall JCM800 2203 heads. One clean part was tracked with my ’66 Fender Super Reverb. The heads went into 2 custom built cabs that I’ve loaded with different Celestion speakers that I can blend as needed. I have a nice isolated booth so I can really crank these amps to do what they do best.

BASS
J-style bass > ’71 Marshall JMP Super Bass > Cab > SM57 > 1073 Pre (no EQ) > FMR Audio PBC-6A

I don’t have a dedicated bass cab so I just used my guitar cabs. I also used quite a bit of compression (up to 10dB of gain reduction) on the way in, as I always do.

PERCUSSION
Shakers/Tambourine/Triangle > 1073 Pre (no EQ)

VOCALS
Me > SM57 > 1073 Pre/EQ > 1176 Limiting Amplifier

It’s been years since I last tracked my own singing so go easy on me. 😛 I actually like the SM57 more on studio vocals than the 58 as I find it to be slightly more open sounding. I like to track vocals like this with a good bit of compression (up to 15dB on the most aggressive parts) and I also added some top end EQ from the Neve.

It was SO much fun tracking one of my own songs again, since I haven’t done that in years, that I’ve decided to do more songs in the near future. I always believe in getting things right at the source and it was extremely exciting to see all of this come together during tracking, knowing that we had good sounds to work with during the mix.

In the next installment I’ll discuss how I mixed this track using mostly stock Cubase plugins.

Revved Up Tracks With The Rev – Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along The Watchtower”

Album: Electric Ladyland
Producer: Chas Chandler, Jimi Hendrix
Engineer: Eddie Kramer
Mixing: Eddie Kramer
Year: 1968

It doesn’t happen often that a cover version becomes as big as the original version of a song. Even more rarely does it happen that the original artist thinks so much of the cover version that he adopts it himself. That was exactly what happened when Jimi Hendrix put his own spin on Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower”. I remember the first time I heard it like it was yesterday. I was 13, had just gotten into the blues , had just gotten my first electric guitar and I’d been hanging out with a bunch of dudes much older than me (like, 18 or so) who had told me that I needed to hear Hendrix. At that point it wasn’t all that easy getting hold of something that wasn’t in the charts so I had to take a leap of faith. I saved up some pocket money (import CD’s were much more expensive than the usual stuff stores sold) and got a store in Cape Town to order a “greatest hits” compilation for me. On collecting the disc, I asked the guy if I could have a listen.  He put the disc in the player and handed me some headphones. When I hit “play” “All Along The Watchtower” started playing. My life changed at that exact moment.

There is something about Hendrix that just makes you realise that he must’ve been some sort of freak of nature. I’ve watched every bit of footage I’ve been able to find over the years and I’ve spoken to folks who have seen him live. He always seems like a guy who was, at the same time, wilder than everybody else but also more together. That aspect of his character comes across beautifully in this track. It seems beautifully calculated but it’s as unpredictable as driving through a Karoo pass. There is incredible beauty that surprises you around every corner but it’s dangerous at the same time. Just like Hendrix lived.

That dangerous way of doing things was apparently exactly the beginnings of Hendrix’s version of AATW. One legend has it that he was out partying, then got a bunch of musician friends together and, under the influence as they were, decided that it was time to go record the song, which he’d been wanting to record since he first heard it.  There is something to be learned from the way they did the initial tracks on this song.  And it’s the way a whole lot of classics had to be made. Four tracks were all they had so decisions had to be made fast.  Maybe that translates to the urgency of the track.  Having only four tracks to work with at any given time means having to bounce things.  And having to bounce things means that you have to get everything JUST RIGHT before you move on. Ain’t no turning back. I love this mentality of committing. So call me old… I still find that, in my own work, committing leads to instant results because you know exactly where stuff is gonna go and you can play into its strengths. These old cats had that concept down to an art form. Maybe that’s why, even though this record was done in different parts, over different continents, in different studios, on different equipment, it never sounds disjointed or slapped together. Hendrix knew what he wanted to achieve and Eddie Kramer could help him realise that dream.

The basic tracks were apparently cut live, which accounts for the energy in the track. I’ve not found any approach, in any genre requiring real musicians playing together, that yields the same results in terms of vibe than tracking a bunch of good musicians playing together. Hearing players feed off of each other and having that electricity that happens during a great, tight performance (apparently there were no rehearsal so they did just shy of 30 takes to get the vibe they were looking for) will get you excited to the point of having the hair on the back of your neck stand up and your feet not being able to stay still. Hot damn!

There is something really wide and epic about the soundscape of AATW that seems to support its soaring lead lines and Hendrix’s vocals, which delivers Dylan’s poetry in a way that seems almost soft but still aggressive, much as he hated his own voice. This depth and width can be attributed to a bunch of things: Firstly, that bassline (which, depending on whose story you believe, Hendrix played after Noel Redding got pissed off and walked out) is so round and soft that the whole track just seems to bounce on top of it. It doesn’t have much top end but still it sits in exactly the right spot in the mix and never turns the mix to mush. Then there’s Kramer’s use of delays and reverbs. I gotta say, this was a revelation to me. Getting into record production I had no idea of the differences between digital, analog and tape delays and all its variants. I just knew that I couldn’t get that depth, no matter what I did with my digital delay. Learning that our ears were designed to perceive anything with rolled off top end as something that’s far away – space, in other words – made this track’s size “click” in my mind. The delays, which were done using tape, which has a natural roll-off at the top of the frequency range, is so smooth that it swirls and sits behind the elements triggering it, making AATW so 3D that I can picture that wild cat growling in the distance.

The arrangement, of course, is masterful. The percussion in the tracks highlights certain sections and creates intensity for the leads and more aggressive vocal parts to break loose from. The bassline bounces in an almost “happy” way, still leaving lots of space but really making the low end of the track truly stomp-worthy. The way that things pan across the stereo spectrum and shift back and forth must have been nothing short of science fiction back in ’68. Hendrix’s vocals capture your imagination and never feel like “this is really a guitar guy’s album.” Nope, Eddie Kramer understands how, no matter how good you play that lick, if the listener can’t hear the guy sing the single don’t mean a thing.

A concept that influences the very core of records like these is how great engineers and artists like Eddie Kramer and Jimi Hendrix was/is able to use very few tools – even ones he doesn’t find particularly inspiring, like the console used in the USA-part of AATW’s production, which Kramer didn’t particularly care for – to bring life to their vision, going onto capturing the imagination of a whole generation. That seems to happen a lot less in these days of virtually having all the tools at our fingertips.

Hendrix had about 4 years to do what he did. It seems like he came in, never lost focus and was always dangerously pushing his own boundaries. I don’t think you can make meaningful music without having that mentality. AATW inspires me to commit, to use what I have and to exploit every possible tool I have at my disposal every time that spooky first chord hits my ears.

Revved Up Tracks With The Rev – Sheryl Crow’s “Riverwide”

Album: The Globe Sessions
Producer: Sheryl Crow
Engineer: Trina Shoemaker
Mixing: Tchad Blake
Master: Bob Ludwig
Released: 1998

I have a serious soft spot for Sheryl Crow. From the time she released Tuesday Night Music Club she’s always seemed to me like one of those artists who can write amazing tunes that appeal to the masses, isn’t afraid to experiment and branch out into territory that might not always be associated with her but always maintains her artistic integrity. I love the earthiness and the honesty of her work. Plus she’s a real badass.

By the time The Globe Sessions was released in 1998 I was already a big fan. Just about a year before that I’d also had my first contact with string arrangements that didn’t sound like Disney movie soundtracks or cheesy 80’s ballads (not that there’s anything wrong with that, in moderation) in No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant UnLEDded which, admittedly, I should’ve discovered much earlier. The North African orchestra they had playing with them captured my imagination. When I heard Riverwide it immediately grabbed me and took me to that same, but much more modern, place. It felt like it broke all the rules. The arrangement, which blended some very cowboy-sounding guitars with a loop, that was still very much a pop thing in my head at that time, with those strings, gave music that felt familiar to me some new wings.  Eric Clapton, whom I had idolized, released some loop-based material earlier and I found it extremely bland, almost cementing the idea in my young mind that production techniques used in pop should be left there and not brought into what I held sacred. Hmpff… Kids…  I think this song saved me in that regard.

The song starts with a single riff that drones against a backdrop of reverb that seems like it comes from the scenes in the cowboy movies my dad and I watched as a kid. That reverb is like a pad – even when the real pad parts kick in. It fills a room and comes from a space far behind the speakers. The guitar is bright and articulate, but at the same time earthy and intimate. The part itself is brilliantly written as it serves as the backbone for the whole arrangement, driving the song from the center as everything else floats and weaves around it. Simplicity with some twists that reveals Crow’s brilliance as you try and dissect it yourself. The rotary-speaker guitar parts add a darkness to the arrangement that makes it feel like that whole mix vibrates. The intricacies of the string arrangement make me feel like I’m flying over mountains and over plains on the back of a painted horse. The combined coarseness of the shaker and vinyl noise feels like the sands of the dessert.

I always fear that vocalists like Sheryl Crow will disappear in this age of pitch correction and alignment to the grid. She sings like a preacher sometimes. She goes out of tune and her voice cracks and breaks.  But when these things happen it sends tingles down your spine. It’s pure emotion. And she makes a believer of you in whatever it is that she’s trying to get across. Even with no backing vocals the performance in Riverwide fills the space perfectly.

Riverwide is exactly what I love about Tchad Blake as a mix engineer: Even in his latest work, probably most notably with The Black Keys, he seems to bring together elements that might seem like they won’t fit together in such a way that it hits your ear as fresh, even though the sounds you are hearing are decades old. His work is the sonic equivalent of when I first had shop-bought custard from a box on that chocolate pudding I’ve been eating since I can remember. There are things in this mix that seems, to me, to not share the same space but still sit beautifully together. There are elements in the back of the soundscape that are as apparent as what is right in front of you.  The low end isn’t any smaller than any track that might have had a massive rhythm section but bass still drives the mix in the same way. Some parts of the string section are crystal clear while others sound like they are filtered and saturated in a beautifully ugly way that makes them sit just right. He made the vocals sound like she’s singing right next to my ear and I can hear the emotion in her breath and some of the lyrics that are no more than a whisper. It never falls away and keeps you hanging onto it.

It’s an amazing experience sitting in the sweet spot between speakers and the mix I’m listening to is so three-dimensional that I end up feeling like I could reach out and touch that guitar she’s playing and when I can almost see the singer’s face when I close my eyes. Great mixes are never contained within the speakers reproducing them.

Revved Up Tracks With The Rev – Breaking Benjamin’s “Diary Of Jane”

Album: Phobia
Producer: David Bendeth
Mix: Chris Lord-Alge
Mastering: Ted Jensen
Released: 2006

Chris Lord-Alge is a genius. Whether you’re one of the folks on the internet who love to hate on him because of tons of reasons that might even seem reasonable, or you’re one of the thousands of audio guys out there who would give anything to know his secrets, there is no denying that he is one of the biggest of the big guys. It may very well be because he’s gotten the most important skill of this record-production business 100% right: rather than just giving the listener some good audio, he knows how to sell emotions. He might come across as walking a super fine line between confidence and arrogance but just in the way that he talks about the records he works on you pick up that he is SUPER excited about what he does and that translates to his mixes. He seems to squeeze every ounce of energy and emotion out of whatever song he’s working on. Breaking Benjamin’s “Diary Of Jane” is the track where this first hit me. All the hours of effort I may put into what I try to achieve as a producer/engineer/mixer are pointless if what I deliver doesn’t make the listener feel the way I feel when I hear this.

Now, obviously the beginnings of this record were crafted masterfully by the band and producer David Bendeth. They captured beautifully thick guitars (which apparently had them retuning baritone guitars every 8 bars) with soaring lines that still stay thoroughly out of the way of a vocal performance with energy that most of us can only dream of, supported by some of the most cleverly constructed backing vocals I’ve ever heard. The bass line does that melodic thing where it makes the guitars almost sound “sad” in some parts, while laying down the low end so hard that it feels like it’s about to bloat everything up, yet never does. The drums strike that perfect balance of providing a backbone so that the song never seems to lose any power while still being extremely intricate. It’s almost like, since the kick and snare have basically zero dynamics through the bulk of the song, the toms and cymbals add the dynamic back in by being wonderfully exciting and complex without ever becoming overbearing. And I love the use of atmospheric soundscape-y type stuff that they bring in to offset the blunt-force groove of the rest of the track. The source is friggin’ everything!

Thing is, I’ve heard the other tracks on the rest of the album that was not mixed by CLA and, while by no means bad, they just didn’t do nearly as much for me as “Diary Of Jane.” Not even close. They don’t seem to have the cohesion that this mix has while still jumping out of my speakers (even a pair of small el-cheapo PC speakers) and they don’t make me want to pump my fist in the air and growl that guttural “noooooooo” like Diary Of Jane does. But there are more than a few of his mixes that do fit these criteria, so: Chris Lord-Alge.

Maybe CLA cheats or gets super lucky. Many times. I know he uses that one kick sample and that one snare sample that you’ve heard on a bunch of “his” hits a lot. Maybe those just worked really well with the guitars and bass in this track. His use of what is probably be the original snare for just a few bars in the beginning before that snare sample kicks in is the kinda thing that makes me walk around for days asking myself “who does that?”. The bass sound is something I strive for in every rock mix. That thing where, when I drive in my car, it sounds like the bass line is being sent up from the road below the car. Not many mixes do that without becoming muddy and bloated. No, I can still hear every single note that’s being played. Then there’s the way that the vocals sit in everything, or the way everything sits around it – I struggle to make up my mind. It seems like everything is super aggressive and it almost feels like Benjamin Burnley is fighting to be heard but also not really because at the same time his vocals are being carried by this massive force that will plant it right in your face. And everything is clear and bright, but not overly so, to the point where it seems like the mix is extending way beyond what any speaker should be capable of. The cymbals are so smooth they could’ve been made of that ice cream Heston Blumenthal makes at Christmas.

There is massive space behind/around the mix but it sounds like it’s a transparent and dry space that never softens its brutal force. CLA’s use of delay is masterful. I wish I could carve a snare reverb the way this guy does. The depth in the guitars during the verses literally pounds me in my chest even at low volumes (I never listen to music at super loud volumes) and feels like it goes “whoob whoob” without it ever feeling like anything is breaking loose from the tightness of the overall mix. And with top and bottom end like that it’s not like the mids are so scooped that the mix ever loses its energy and stops flying out the speakers. No, it’s as if they were carved with a scalpel. For a guy who constantly overcompresses, according to lots of folks in audio-forum-land (what serious, busy studio dude has time for that BTW?), this mix is stupidly punchy and dynamic, from that atmospheric intro, through the 2nd part of the intro where you think “hot dang, this kicked like a mule” to the parts after that which left you without teeth. Hurrah for the one dude who taught me what automation can do!

I think my favorite thing about this track is that it’s like a good Mel Brooks film – you can either just sit back and enjoy something that’s so good that you can’t help but be excited about it, or you can dig deep and discover layer upon layer of genius that went into making it. This is one of my reference tracks so I’ve listened to it hundreds of times. I’ve been listening to it on repeat since I started writing this. Every time – every single freakin’ time – that breakdown/bridge happens where the whole production comes to a head, with Burnley screaming “what have I becoooooome”, sending it into that final chorus – I get goosebumps and I have to stop typing for a bit. Hoping that one of my mixes/productions can have that kind of effect on someone is what makes me get up and open my studio every morning.