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Great headphone mixes
Old 8th February 2007
  #1
Great headphone mixes

What do you think makes a good headphone mix? Do you think that the balances in a good headphone mix are much different from a good final mix?
Old 9th February 2007
  #2
engineer / producer / mixer
 
Kevin Killen's Avatar
 

Mike,

Well for the purpose of recording a Lead Vocal track, I think they are different. You are trying to inspire the singer, so mood , clarity , headroom are all important. The artist needs to feel immersed in the track and that is a subjective thing depending on who is standing at the mic. If the balance is uninspring, then you will get a performance that reflects that. The opposite could also be true.

So much of it depends on the moment ( arguing with your girlfriend right before a take is maybe not the right mood enhancer unless of course the opening line is "I hate my f...... girlfried!"). I have seen all emotions regrding vocals. You have to be sensitive to the mood and there is a certain amout of psychology involved.

A finished mix is optimised for mastering, everything just perfectly placed. If the artist is trying out new lyrics then there may not be enough "space" in the track for them to be comfortable.

Make sense?

Kevin
Old 9th February 2007
  #3
How do you make a headphone mix when working with a singer who doesn't have a definitive request becuase they don't have enough experience to know or the ability to articulate it?

Do you have an opinion on which instrument provides the best pitch reference? I've been told by a top vocal coach to crank the bass, which I thought was a bad idea until he demo'd a few things on a piano which made me reconsider.

Do you have particular intstuments you like to keep high and do you make the vocal the loudest thing in the headphone mix?
Old 10th February 2007
  #4
engineer / producer / mixer
 
Kevin Killen's Avatar
 

Mike,

Good follow up.

With an inexperienced artist I would bring them into the control room and work on a balance on the board that sounds fresh and exciting. Then I would simply patch that into the headphone cue. I would then don on a pair of phones to make sure its the same. If at that point they cannot articulate the problem, then its time for them to try a different career. heh

For me it is the main melodic instrument ( this is where it helps to have had all the instruments tuned really well before tracking and even printing a reference pitch for everybody to tune up as they overdub )

Bass could work although if its a muted sound then it may not be that helpful. Acoustics , Piano or keyboards without a lot of modulation can also be used. I guess it all depends on what the instrumentation of the track is.

Its not always true that the artist wants the vocals to be the loudest thing. i have had some who wanted to be phased, flanged and placed at the bottom of the Grand Canyon before they could sing a note. Needless to say , it was not very good. There is a balance between providing inspiration or sublimating them in so many effects , that pitch really does become an issue.

Taking one headphone off slightly can allow the performer to hear the pitch more naturally or failing that you can always try sitting them at the console with speakers on , one out of phase and singing to the track. You sacrifice clarity but you may just get a killer performance. It can be offset slightly by recording a pass of the track sans vocal, at the same settings to another track, flipping the phase and blending it in with the vocal take to see if you can get some background cancellation. In truth this is hard to make work, and potentially time consuming. But you never know.

Kevin
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