Mixer: Denise Barbarita, http://www.Myshytune.com
The Mix Facility: MyShyTune Studio, Forest Hills, NY (Queens)
Artist and Song: Krissy Krissy, “Broken Glass”
Construction materials: The genre is acoustic pop, live drums, bass, acoustic guitar, spattering of percussion, some organ, female lead vocal, female BGV. Not too many of them, unprocessed thankfully. All in all, about 35-40 tracks all together.
Of the 4 songs that I mixed for her debut EP “Above All”, three of them I got on the first try.
“Broken Glass” was NOT one of those 3.
“Broken Glass” was the second track I received. Whenever I get tracks and open them for the first time, I just hit “play.” In this case, there was a lot of internal bussing going on and I guess the ruffs were mixed in the box, and then bounced out because the master mix was also internally bussed.
All four of the tracks came to me with a gazillion plugins, submixes that went to submixes that went to master submixes that went to a final master bus. I got rid of all of that and started from scratch.
Once I got rid of all of the extraneous bussing, I immediately liked the song . Super catchy, good vocal performance, I like the lyric a lot and it’s a positive message. All great things! However, I wasn’t sold on the guitars. The main acoustic guitar being the main culprit.
This song was also very different from the first track I mixed, so we had a pow wow, and I asked for a few references to get an idea of what they were looking for. The references I got were Santana and Melissa Etheridge.
Strange combo, but I figured acoustic pop with some Latin elements, right? I mentioned my issue with the acoustic guitar and they gave me carte blanche to go ahead and do what I thought was good. I suggested adding a little percussion for extra Latin flair, and re-tracking the main acoustic guitar part as well as the solo guitar part.
As it turns out, my writing partner Kelsey Warren pILLOW tHEORY came over that day.
He came by as I was about to re-track the acoustic guitar and offered to lend a hand. We added the new acoustic guitar, and did some Santana/John Mayer-ish guitar leads, some rhythm parts, and my husband Rich Kulsar added some Latin percussion. Before I went ahead and mixed the track, I sent a ruff, along with my Santana reference track (“Game of Love”).
The verdict? “A for effort but not quite what we had in mind. But, you know? This could be a great AAA re-mix version.”
Epic fail. LOL
Then the conversation took a turn:
Client: Where are the Bachata guitars?
Me: What Bachata guitars?
Client: They should be there!
Me: I didn’t see anything, there was some solo guitar thing but I’m not sure it’s useable, so we replaced it.
Client: Oh, maybe the producer sent you the wrong version.
Me: Do you have a ruff I can use as a reference?
An hour later:
Client: The producer is on the way to Japan, How about you start on the ballad and I’ll see if I have the tracks somewhere else.
The next day, they sent me a ruff mix. A well-loved rough mix. OK! There’s that solo guitar prominently in the mix. THAT was the “bachata guitar”. Got it. No problem.
So, of the overdubs we did, I kept a shaker, a wood block in the chorus, and the new main acoustic guitar. Mixed the tune, sticking close to the ruff. Sent it for approval. There was hesitation as it didn’t sound like the ruff mix, it had all of the correct elements, just it wasn’t “raw”.
Since the ballad was already done, I suggested they play all three mixes back to back along with the other two they had completed previously elsewhere. Listen to the mix in context, rather than solely comparing it to the ruff. Once heard in context, everyone loved it.
Mixing It! More About the Process
Again, whenever I get a Pro Tools file, I open it and hit play.
While it’s playing I take a look at the tracks, see what’s there. Listen to it a couple times, name tracks while I’m at it, move things around to my liking.
I listen a few times, get the song in my head. I start to isolate individual tracks if anything sticks out. 99% of the time, I nix whatever plug-ins are there already. If the plug-in is shaping the sound, i.e. it’s a re-amp on a guitar, I tend to leave it for later.
I know a lot of mixers who have a Mix template all set up with their plug ins ready to go. I don’t do that. I don’t want to look at anything I’m not using. Besides, I still don’t know exactly what I’m going to use yet, I let the song and the individual elements dictate that. Yes, I have some tried and trues, for sure, but rather than approaching a mix based on having to use the gear that’s at my disposal, I listen to the track a few times, listen to individual elements, then decide what needs help and what KIND of help.
It’s easy to just start slapping plugins on tracks, but I’m a “less is more” type when it comes to mixing. Having 300 plugins is great, you don’t need to use them all at once and if you always have a mix template you tend to do use the same bag of tricks every time. I tend to ask the question, “Why doesn’t this work” or “How do I make this fit”? Search through the sea of plugins and experiment a little on problematic elements.
Vocals, Drums, Guitars, Keys
When I’m mixing tracks with vocals, I ALWAYS start with the vocals. Get the voice sounding exactly as I want it, give it some shimmer and some shape. Get the reverb right.
Then once I get the vocal where I want it, I add the BGV, get those sounding good with the lead vocal, do whatever editing needs to be done, then add the kick. If I hate the kick drum I may trigger it with something else. Blend the original with a trigger.
Usually that’s the case. I have a folder of kick drum samples I’ve created or tracked that I use for these occasions…
Drumagog makes that a breeze. Once I’m happy with that balance, I add the snare. If the vocal sounds different suddenly, I know I have to mess with the snare. Again, that may involve a quick EQ or I may trigger it, or both. Then on to the bass, same story: Nine times out of ten I’ll use one of my Distressors for the bass. Maybe EQ it slightly, if needed. Sometimes I may have to re-visit the kick drum again once the bass is to my liking.
It’s a balancing act. The vocal needs to be at the forefront and always the shining beacon. Everything gets molded around that.
Next, if there are guitars or keys, that’s when I add them. Usually that’s when the scheisse hits the fan, especially in tracks with female vocals. Once, I get those relationships figured out, my gain staging is a bit of a mess, and I mute everything and start with the vocal again, add the drums, get my levels, add the other elements one by one, start rides and fades and that type of thing.