Girls Under Glass – We Feel Alright

Part 2 of 2 of a mixing assessment from my Production & Professional Practice module at Edinburgh Napier University.

It’s by German gothic synth/electro rock trio Girls Under Glass. I chose to mix this track because it differed greatly to What Have You Done To Me? and it had a lot of interesting layered rhythms, basslines and atmospheric sounds. It also allowed me to develop my sidechaining abilities and vocal delay which is what I want to discuss.

You can hear the synths compressed throughout (1:01) and the guitars pumping to the beat in the chorus (1:31)(how old do I sound?), with the vocals having syllabic offsets delayed at times after the choruses (3:15). I also did a manual EQ sweep on the D-Command console before the second verse (2:06) which was cool as I felt like propa DJ lyk.

Producing this track was a bit of a challenge as I’d not really looked too much into mixing rock electronica (I’ll admit here to not knowing where to look for inspiration). I typically thought about Jacob Hellner and Rammstein when I heard the heavy guitars and German accented vocals with the layer of choral atmosphere. Then with the electronic side, I thought of The Prodigy’s Music For The Jilted Generation, only ’cause it carries a similar electro-industrial sound which Liam Howlett and Neil McLellan pull off so greatly, incorporating live band instruments like distorted guitars.

Slightly unrelated, but this link is so cool. Remember seeing this a couple years ago and was fascinated at the amount of samples used and the techniques applied towards the production of Smack My Bitch Up (explicit).

One of the main interests of this mix involves quite heavy use of sidechain compression. I wanted the verses to flow as standard, but the choruses to sound loud and pumping. Some of the synths and layers were compressed to the beat (1:00) which sounded good and added a greater dynamic to the piece. The guitars were lacking in impact when it got to the choruses, and by sidechaining to the pulse, it gave new life to them, creating an interesting throbbing effect. In electronic music, it’s important to utilise techniques such as sidechaining as  it bonds the track together in ways you can’t using standard methods.

This article by Paul White proved very useful when it came to researching sidechaining. He cleverly states the difference between using SC gating and compression to create the ‘ducking’ effect (i.e. my guitars and synths are ducking from the signal caused by the kick beat).

“The higher you set the ratio, the less the amount of gain reduction will be affected by the absolute level of the side-chain signal, as long as it is high enough to cross the threshold. For this reason, a compressor with a ratio control that goes right up to hard limiting is the best choice for ducking.” (Paul White, Sidechaining in the Software Studio)

Paul confirmed for me that I was going about it the right way, as my ratio ended up at 100:1. I tried using a gate, but it didn’t have as good an outcome (maybe I was doing it wrong?).

A lot of time was spent negotiating a suitable release time and threshold position. Because the tempo remained 125BPM throughout, I could have used a timing calculator to accurately pinpoint the release of the gain reduction, however I thought it was best to just stick with what sounded good and in time.

I think more has been achieved since my last post about sidechain compression. A bit more experimentation hopefully led to placing the technique more effectively in context with the genre. The SC compressed synths work well in that part, too – It was about training the ears to relax and listen more passively for the effect, having it subtly placed. (Tip – take a break from mixing every hour or so – your ears will start deceiving you!)

Another thing I only realised until tutor Dave Hook showed me was to simply automate the vocal channel Send to the auxiliary channel with the effect. This was in attempt to delay the vocal on “Alright!” but only capture the “…right!” ending up with “Alright!…right…right…right…” which can be heard throughout from c. 1:51. This time, the delay calculator was used to build the effect in 1/4 notes, which came out at around 480ms, nicely in time with the music.

The beef I have with this track is reverb on the vocals. During the verses when they’re a bit more exposed they tend to drag the rhythm out than the tight sound I aimed for, to compliment the bassline. I thought by gating it, it would stem the tail of the reverb and it did, but I realised the problem was the amount used. It sounds a bit sloppy and there’s too much reflections happening for it to still sound in time, never mind the vocals being in yo’ face.


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