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mixing 'from the top down'?
Old 5th February 2007
  #1
Gear Guru
 
u b k's Avatar
 

mixing 'from the top down'?

hi kevin,

i'm very curious about the nuts and bolts of your approach to building a mix, and wonder if you would answer a few more detailed questions. you've already touched on this aspect, but i'd like to go a little deeper if you're amenable.

when you've got a vocal and its effects, and you begin introducing elements, is there a typical order? iow, drums, then bass, then guits? do you prioritize by instrument, or by frequency, or some other mysterious principle?

what i'm most curious about is how and when you incorporate ambiences and effects. speaking to the average or typical situation, what do you do with verbs and delays, and what are you listening for? this question is prompted by my love of under the pink, the front to back depth and the palpability of the sounds on that album is outrageous and surpasses every other pop production in my collection.

lastly, with regards to panning, do you find that there is a pattern to the spread you create? iow, do you like heavy center, heavy edges, and lightness in between, or do you spread as evenly as possible, or...??

so i guess my curiosities boil down to 1) the order of elements as you mix, 2) when and why you choose fx, and 3) your thoughts on panning.

thanks so much kevin, this has all been very enlightening .


gregoire
del
ubk
.
Old 6th February 2007
  #2
Gear Nut
 
Jaguar Dreams's Avatar
 

Mixing Drums + Bass

Kevin,

What a body of work - brilliant! Can you give some eq and compression advice on mixing drums and bass? I'm mainly thinking rock drums here.

In particular, can you talk about bussing strategies you might use (such as bass gtr + kick to one buss w/ heavy comp, etc)? You seem to have a magic touch of getting these to hit hard, but leaving that hole in the middle for the vocal to pop through...

Thanks,
Jaguar

PS - Glad that Drew brought up Loreena McKennit, the mix on that album has always captivated me...
Old 6th February 2007
  #3
engineer / producer / mixer
 
Kevin Killen's Avatar
 

Jaguar,

I do not employ one particular trick as no sooner than I thought I had mastered it, it stopped working. I do find that either sidechaining (thru busses) an additive compression across the drum mix has a pleasing result. Unless called for , its never that severe, so a Neve 33609,with 3:1 ratio , medium attack and quick release seems to always work. Depending on the program material ( which lets face it....... it ALWAYS DEPENDS ON THE PROGRAM MATERIAL) I can try an additive compression on the bass , either a distressor or fairchild if available.

I have always thought that my work had less compression on it compared to some of my peers so I find it fascinating that you describe it as "hitting hard". I take that as a compliment by the way. May I send that to some A&R guys in the business who think I only do the "art projects?" In my humble opinion it has more to do with the fact that I mix from the top down rather than the bottom up, so by the time I am pushing up drums and bass, I know exactly the amount of space they can occupy.

Then again, its all an illusion we are trying to create.

Kevin
Old 6th February 2007
  #4
Gear Guru
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin Killen View Post
In my humble opinion it has more to do with the fact that I mix from the top down rather than the bottom up, so by the time I am pushing up drums and bass, I know exactly the amount of space they can occupy.
I would love to hear you expound on that a bit.

And let me add to the chorus thanking you for doing this. I think we're all learning a lot.thumbsup thumbsup thumbsup thumbsup
Old 6th February 2007
  #5
Lives for gear
 
PapillonIrl's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin Killen View Post


....Then again, its all an illusion we are trying to create.

Kevin
Beautiful.

I'm gonna try mixing vocal first next project.

Thanks for your insights!

Nathan

p.s. What kind of jacket was it you wore to that first interview ?
Old 6th February 2007
  #6
Gear Maniac
 
knightsy's Avatar
 

Top down vs bottom up?

Hi Kevin,

Could you please expand on what you mean by a "top down" approach to mixing? Is it simply a case of making arrangement decisions early in the process to free up sonic space later?
Old 6th February 2007
  #7
Kevin, your expression mixing 'from the top down' has really captured the imagination of your forum followers!

So I have merged the all questions about it into this one thread..

Old 7th February 2007
  #8
Lives for gear
 
pete's Avatar
 

...just to be sure - additive compression is the same as parallel compression?
Old 7th February 2007
  #9
engineer / producer / mixer
 
Kevin Killen's Avatar
 

Kevin, your expression mixing 'from the top down' has really captured the imagination of your forum followers!

So I have merged the all questions about it into this one thread.. Jules

It would appear that I need to clarify this approach so I hope by combining all of the inquiries into this reponse it will satisfy everyone, here goes....

This may seem an obvious thing to say BUT not all the songs I mix follow the same instumentation so that logically may allow me to do things that another composition might not. A track with strings and voice is a very different beast than a Loreena McKennit track that may have over 100 tracks.

By taking the "Top Down" approach, the Lead vocal gets first attention, then the main melodic instrument(s) then the foundation elements (drums / bass / perc) , then backing vocals , any counterpoint elements and finally if present , the quirky or oddball instuments.

Whether I place an effect on it depends on what I perceive as being the emotional aspect of the lyric, how the basic recording sounds, artist preference etc etc. This is true of all the parts and in general the more parts the more "space" I have to create to make it all work in those two speakers. The only hard rule I have about the panning is to try and keep the center position free for LVocal,Bass, Kick and Snare. The rest can be spread anywhere else but it still has to support the song. For instance , a very busy guitar part might sound wonderful in the hard right position but as soon as the vocal comes in it becomes distracting, pulling your ear rightward. However it may be ideally suited at 2 or 10 o clock. You just have to judge on a song by song basis.

I have on many occassions started a mix with one panning scheme and altered it as the song moves through the arrangement. I will also try and use some kind of image shifter to place a part of effect outside of the L-R plane , the trade off is that it may disppear in mono !

Once all the levels, eq's, effects are set and the balance is more or less right, I zero in on section by section , starting with the intro and working my way down until it all is a cohesive arrangement. Anything that gets in the way either gets removed or edited down or lowered. Final tweaks are made after listening down on phones and a number of playback systems, getting a cup ot tea or having an ear break..... its amazing how your perception of a mix changes after not hearing the song for 20 minutes or by having a friend show up.

My rules for mixing are: Whatever works.

Kevin
Old 7th February 2007
  #10
Lives for gear
 

Totally backwards from how I've always done it. Always drums first, then bass, guitars etc.

I can't wait to try this.

Thanks Dude.
Old 7th February 2007
  #11
OK I can see that there are two "tops"

1) Treating the vocal as "the top" - following on down with the rest of the instrumentation from there...

2) running from the "top" of the song and working your way down the tune automating volumes, panning and mutes - so the tune takes the sonic journey you want it to..

Old 7th February 2007
  #12
Gear Maniac
 

hi kevin,
thanks for doing this, I've learned some great things so far.

When using this " top down" method ITB, where do you start level-wise? what would the average level (in dbfs) of the vocal be before you moved on to the next part of the arrangement? what kind of headroom is left at the end of this process?
thanks
chuck b
Old 7th February 2007
  #13
Lives for gear
 
Solar's Avatar
 

Thumbs up These are somg Expensive Advises!!

Hello Mr Kevin!

First of all i would like to thank you for accepting and join this forum ( and big thank to Jules of course) and i do believe as you mentioned at the end of your answer in this thread that indeed the TRUE RULES of MIXING is: Whatever works

But i might say that your suggestions and opinions and feedback ythat you are sharing with us here today are advises that worth thousands and thousand of time, experience. And for that i thank you very much for taking the time to share with us and for sure i will be as many here trying to apply this approach of yours " From the Top Down"

Thank you again!!

truly

My
Old 7th February 2007
  #14
engineer / producer / mixer
 
Kevin Killen's Avatar
 

Jules,

U got It

KK


Old 7th February 2007
  #15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chuck B View Post
hi kevin,
thanks for doing this, I've learned some great things so far.

When using this " top down" method ITB, where do you start level-wise? what would the average level (in dbfs) of the vocal be before you moved on to the next part of the arrangement? what kind of headroom is left at the end of this process?
thanks
chuck b
This is good question, many folks know how much kick drum to start with in their mix bus VU meters (or DAW meters), but might be a little lost as to what level to put the lead vocal when starting like this..

Is there a trick to it Kevin? Some sort of reference / benchmark leve you like to start with?
Old 10th February 2007
  #16
engineer / producer / mixer
 
Kevin Killen's Avatar
 

Jules,

On a console probably around -10db on the VU's

In the box - 12 to start with. In each case I am begining the process with the vocal so i have to allow for additional processing over the mix buss of groups. Always better to give yourself some extra headroom . Nothing worse than pinning the mix before you are half way through.

Kevin
Old 10th February 2007
  #17
Lives for gear
 
temetrepo's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by redddog View Post
Totally backwards from how I've always done it. Always drums first, then bass, guitars etc.

I can't wait to try this.

Thanks Dude.
ive done it like this too

this is some great info in here

thanks KK
Old 11th February 2007
  #18
engineer / producer / mixer
 
Kevin Killen's Avatar
 

Happy to share



KK
Old 11th February 2007
  #19
Gear Head
 

Additive = parallel?

Quote:
Originally Posted by pete View Post
...just to be sure - additive compression is the same as parallel compression?
I was wondering the same thing.
Old 12th February 2007
  #20
engineer / producer / mixer
 
Kevin Killen's Avatar
 

yes, it is the same. I thought I had answered that one before? Forgive me if I spaced out

KK
Old 13th February 2007
  #21
Here for the gear
 

What type of people are in the studio aside from the engineer and musicians?

What type of people(if you could state what their position description is in the major record labels industry) are in the recording and mixing studios aside from the engineer and musicians?

are there Music Directors? - what do they do in detail, give example scenario if possible?

Are there Arrangers? - " " same questions as above.
Old 16th February 2007
  #22
engineer / producer / mixer
 
Kevin Killen's Avatar
 

Paul,

One may find the following during tracking / mixing

Producer: usually independent contractor hired because of their past or recent success
Engineer: independent of studio employee.... he/ she gets the great sound
Musical Director: aka MD or band leader. Musicain on the studion floor who routines the musicians throught the songs. May have history with produer or artist.
A&R : Label person responsible for signing artist.
Artist management: need I say more..
Arrangers: usually hired for writing specific charts, say for a horn section or string section or a choral group. Will work closely with producer ( could be the same person , like a Burt Bacharach)
Copyist: person responsible for writing out and correcting all the music charts
Assistant Engineer: responsible for setting up the studio and control room as per engineers instructions. A good one is invaluable, a bad one a royal pain.
Artist.

Kevin
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