I definitely seem to have a very emotional reaction to sound and dynamics. There were a few songs that really revealed this emotional effect for me. I think a great example was "Pour Some Suger On Me" by Def Leppard. The Hysteria record came out not long before I first got a pair of Urei 813C monitors. I had always been blown away by the sound of that song, but when I finally cranked it up on the Ureis it was overwhelming. That first down beat when the band comes in after the vocal intro was so powerful and satisfying. I had just never heard low end like that before. I could literally feel a rush of adrenaline when I cranked that song up in my control room. When I started to try and figure what it was it finally struck me that it really was just the sound. I have absolutely zero connection to the lyrics in that song. I have listened to that song easily hundreds if not thousands of times over the 24 years since its release and I couldn't remember even 10% of those lyrics. I know that there is a somewhat hilarious and awkward use of the word "saccharine" in there somewhere. Yet I love listening to that song. I just put it on recently when I was making an adjustment to my control room monitoring and it is still very exciting for me. I think when I am mixing I am chasing that sensation. I am always trying to accentuate those moments that have a sonic pay off and cause one of those adrenaline rushes I get when listening loud on the Ureis.
There are a lot of records that are great at delivering emotional sonics. Here are a few that are maybe not as well known. Peter Gabriel's "Passion of The Christ" sound track. Holy shit!!! Not a lyric on it and for me it one of the most powerful, emotional listening experiences of all time. Incredible low end and incredible dynamics. The other one is Scritti Politti "Cupid & Psyche 85". The singers voice is a bit cartoonish on this record but I don't even hear the voice when I listen to it. This record was very influential for me. It is one of the ultimate ear candy productions of all time. The dynamics and transitions from section to section are amazing. A good modern example is T-Bone Burnett's solo record "The True False Identity". In my opinion, the best sounding record of the of the last decade for sure. Amazing low end, and seemingly all with organic instruments. It is really fun to turn that album up loud in the control room.
Transitions and down beats are a big deal for me. It is important to me for them to feel a certain way. The most important part of it is how the kick drum and the bass guitar interact on that first hit of a chorus or verse or whatever. When tracking directly to tape I used to make the bass player repeatedly punch the 1st down beat of sections until I had one where the phasing lined up right. With certain kick drum sounds there is almost a 50/50 chance of the low end either being additive or subtractive when it plays at the same time as the bass. There is nothing worse than having the low end cancel out right on the down beat of a chorus. If I screwed up and missed one while tracking, I used to have to mult the final bass track to an additional phase reversed channel on the console and automate it to switch for that spot to fix it. Now I can just flip it or nudge it in Pro Tools to fix those issues. I don't have to torture bass players quite as much while tracking either
While figuring out arrangements I am always looking for opportunities to create emotional sonic transitions. The are 3 main variables I play with for making it happen: Volume, spread and spectrum:
"Volume" is pretty self evident although it can get lost when there is a lot of compression at play. One of the last steps of mixing for me is restoring some of the natural dynamics and volume increases that would normally accompany changes in a performance. I do like to compress the drums quite a lot because it holds things in place and keeps them in focus. That becomes a problem for moments in the performance when the drummer is accenting something… ala downbeats of sections. I always do a round of "pushes" as one of the last steps of the mixing process. I will push the kick/crash 2 or 3 db on the downbeats of choruses. I do pushes on the guitar and bass as well but usually a little less 1 or 2 db. It is simply using volume to try and restore the sense of excitement generated by a player that hits a little harder on the down beat of a section. The perception of volume can be very relative. Things seem loud when they are contrasted against things that are soft. That is why pull outs before the down beat of a chorus are so effective (something that is very easy to over use). A good example is the little 2 bar break before the choruses in Good Charlotte's "Lifestyles". Originally the song went straight to the chorus from the pre-chorus. The transition just wasn't being a big enough event for me. I specifically added those parts so there would be a moment to "inhale" before the big "exhale" of the chorus. Volume only gets you so far because you can't continue to turn up the volume at each subsequent section without running out of headroom, that's where the other 2 can help.
"Spread" for me has been a cool subtle way to give the sense that things are expanding and getting bigger. I like to try and keep all the panning in the verses more between 70 or 80 (in pro tools terms) and save the hard panning (100) for the choruses. It is subtle but it is just another way to manipulate the size of the mix. There is a good example of using spread to create an emotional effect on the 3EB song "God Of Wine". I think I described this in a thread about 3EB but it relates to this discussion as well. the second of half of the first verse needed something to help it expand and give the sense that is moving to another level that supported the new vocal range. The guitar sound for the song already was a stereo sound derived from an array of guitar amps and room mics. At about 1:16 in the song I had Kevin play an additional pass of the verse guitar part. When mixing the song i pulled down he right fader of the main stereo guitar pass and turned on the right fader of the 2nd stereo pass of guitar. It is the same part, in the same register, played the same way as the first half of the verse but it just sounds richer and more expansive all of a sudden at 1:16. It creates a bigger environment for the vocal to live in as he starts singing out more.
"Spectrum" is using the frequency spectrum to expand the size of the mix. Sometimes i will with hold some of the extreme top end and low end in the verses and save them for the chorus. Maybe by turning down the over heads on the drum kit and turning up a hi mic that has a LP/HP filter on it that makes it more mid rangy. On my spectrum analyzer I can watch the sudden inclusion of the frequencies below 80hz and above 10K when the chorus hits. One arrangement dilemma that comes up a lot is when the bridge of the song is trying to take a step up from the chorus which is already pretty much full on. Sometimes i will sneak in a dbx sub harmonic synthesizer on the bass and add some sort of percussion element to have the frequency spectrum reach out even further in both directions in the bridge when there is no room to push the volume any more. I guess this idea of "spectrum" is basically the over all practice of deliberately restricting the frequency range in one section to leave room for expansion in other sections. I appears that I find it very useful because it seems to be all over the stuff I work on.