Mastering Analysis: “Aviation” by The Last Shadow Puppets – Brian Lucey, Magic Garden Mastering

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First Listen: His mixes are always well-crafted with aggressive filtering, creative distortion and short ambient spaces for uniqueness.  He has strong center channel and pans with passion.  Tchad’s in-the-box chain is well known: Decapitator or Sans Amp on each of the channels and many limiters on the mix for color, not level.

Tchad’s mixes are strong, and easy to work with, this track is no exception.  The vocal is where it needs to be, everything sounds like it’s been addressed, nothing hanging out too loose.

Being all in the box there is some harmonic sweetening that needs to happen, from the sound of my processing chain, and some frequency balancing to my taste.

The levels of everything are well controlled and we share an interest in punchy low end, clear center power, creative panning and beautiful distortions.

I generally don’t use any compression.  Or if I do it’s to shape and add punch to the mix.  On this track — none.

Masterful!   For this record the vocal and lyric is a huge piece, as is the groove, as are the strings and horns that flow in and out with power, but not overwhelming the story and the groove.  It’s always a cocktail.

Mas monitoring, via Immedia Allegra speakers.

Mas monitoring, via Immedia Allegra speakers.

I approached this record as I do every project … the bottom line is musicality and connection.  Whatever is the starting point (the style and the mix quality), the end goal is the same: maximum emotional connection between the artists and listener.

The music needs to connect deeply with the core audience, and expand that appeal to a new audience.  The production needs to exceed expectations.  Drivers need to move air, even with a loud record, and the vocal needs to be compelling.  The frequency balance needs to invite connection, not attack you with LOOK AT ME I’m an insecure little song!

There are some objective things that people like to hear in all music, style and artist aside. They want to be invited to connect with the artist, be uplifted, and empowered.

Back and Forth:  Every project is unique and has to be respected for the momentum and schedule it brings with it.  Time was running short, so we had mix revisions coming in almost until the end.

The Finality of it All:   I think it all turned out really well, and the artist and label are both very happy.

Ear Education: Listening and hearing are different. Hearing can be tested by an audiologist.

Listening requires differentiation from a frame of reference that takes a lifetime to master.  For mixers the main way to improve is comparison.  Level adjust and compare your mix to others in your genre.   If we assume that some minor frequency balancing and hot levels are all you need from mastering, you can do your own listening tests and get where you want to be as a mixer.

No matter the approach, listening is a muscle that has to be developed.  Comparing from a frame of reference is essential, else you’re in the woods, meaning going by feel only.  Feel is very important, yet within a frame of reference.

Twelve reference tracks in your genre that describe the EDGES and not the center, are helpful.  A bright one, a dark one, a dynamic song, a compressed song, a loud vocal, a lower level vocal, a sibilant vocal, a darker vocal, etc.

Once you learn the FENCE you can play inside the fence and that’s freedom.  Over the years, if you’re really good, maybe you will even move the fence.

  • Brian Lucey, Magic Garden Mastering

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