One thing that always seems to happen…a mix sounds awesome when you first listen to it, but over time it morphs into something tragic. It’s as if a song ages like old food – tastes sweet when fresh, but gets all moldy as time transpires.
Such was the case with SMLXL’s “Change To Survive”. The last time I mixed the so-called final version of this was 16th June 2015. I’d also mixed a final version of this in on the 15th January 2011. In both cases, I’d listen to the mix months later and find them completely unacceptable, and it would prompt another round of time and additional progress mixes before arriving at another “final” version.
In the mix of 2011, the vocals were buried to the point of being frustratingly difficult to hear. In the case of June this year, the mix lacked energy and freshness (to again use the food analogy). In both cases, the artist and I had signed off the mixes. One had even been used for my Masters project.
Today I was updating the Soundcloud page for SMLXL. When comparing “Change To Survive” with other mixes like “Everything Changes”, “Too Far” or even some of the rough mixes like “Steer Clear” and “Words”, it sounded so lame and lifeless.
So it was with a big sigh that I had to tackle this song again – a spontaneous, yet necessary decision. Having found myself with a few evening hours to spare (due to an unforeseen cancellation of the usual evening social activities), I donned on the headphones at my Big Splash Studios.
The first thing I did was create MIDI triggers for the kick and snare. See how that is done here. I will say that I don’t quite do it this way any more, having found a slightly faster way, but the basics are the same.
Once the kick and snare MIDI triggers were done, they were sent to Native Instruments Battery. I used a modified version of the “studio lite” kit, layering a few kicks and snares. These were recorded onto separate audio tracks (one for kick, one for snare) and blended in with the existing acoustic kick and snare. Some additional EQing and the addition of the Native Instruments Transient Master made the drums overall stronger and more solid.
Since I was at Big Splash, I switched on the TC Electronics M2000, which was used in the original mix in 2011, but not in the subsequent version. The drums were processed with a snare plate to offer a bright character reverb. The vocals also were processed by a delay from the TC M2000.
Other sounds that were tweaked were the Wurlitzer sounds, making them less muddy and more present, boosting the upper mid range. Some additional EQ work was done on the Synth bass, the drum machine, and the drum submix. This usually meant boosting low frequencies on some instruments to make them fuller, but cutting it other areas making it less muddy. Basically it distributed the frequencies of the mix more sensibly.
Then I went through a whole new phase of automation. As I’ve mentioned in the past, my approach is to mix each section of the song (intro, verse, chorus, solo, ending etc), ensuring that the transition between sections also works. I really found that this stage of the mix brought a significant new life into the song. I found myself tapping my foot again!
Main stuff I focused on in the automation stage were the vocal level, and drum machine/drum level. Then it was the additional “nice to hear” sounds of the chiming guitar in the chorus, the moog synth in the verse. I also dropped the levels of the acoustic guitars in the chorus, as they felt brittle and slightly abrasive and even a little bit out of time.
Final tweak on the track was the addition of Avid Maxim on the Master buss. A lot of people really put shit on this plug-in, but I’ve actually found that it works great if applied really subtly. You get a nice punchy level, with no obvious pumping. But the key here is subtlety. Push it past this fine balance and you can hear why people dislike this plug-in. When it starts to give you gain reduction past 1-2dB, Maxim sounds awful. I think this was part of the reason why I hated the mix of this song so much before. I over-compressed the master buss with Maxim and it sucked all the life out of the song.
As an additional extra, I moved the opening pipe organ sound closer to the opening chords of the song, a request initiated by Jarrod ages ago.
So as the mix is finalized I await in hope that it won’t go rotten in a few months time. You can hear the new version of the mix “Change To Survive” here, and compare it to the mix I did in June, which is here.
In what turned out to be a very busy afternoon and evening, I also did a brief medley of most of the songs for SMLXL. In most cases they consisted of snippets of progress mixes. It gives a good indication of the overall sound of the album thus far. I’m going to use it for demo purposes to artist management, record labels and other industry types. Listen to the medley and comment of course.