Signe Jakobsen – What Have You Done To Me?

Here is part 1 of 2 of my mixing assessment for my Production & Professional Practice module.

Signe Jakobsen is a Danish-born singer/songwriter and I mixed her track What Have You Done To Me?. After extracting the files from Mike Senior’s multitrack library, it was good to notice others had posted their remixes the song. This became homework listening and acted as references for my own mix. I gained from ideas which I thought were useful, but mainly from parts of the mixes which I thought didn’t work i.e. too much reverb, bass too prominent.

It was my first real attempt at mixing a pop/rock tune, so I relied on Mr. Dave Pensado (the legend himself) to explain to me a little more clearly some of the key issues and differences when mixing for a specific genre:

Just look at his cheeky smile!

Here’s a wee clip of a test I ran at work on the PA. It was really useful to hear that mix on a larger system as it exposed the width I had created. I also ran the whole track in mono in order to identify issues with phase relationships and their coherence. Luckily, it didn’t suffer too greatly, however I noticed things like cymbals sounding a little mushy.

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Twitter

Figured I should get with the times. Follow me for generic studio snaps and also full dinnertime commentary.

Thought I’d managed to control my Facebook habits, but this changes everything:

Greg’s Twitter

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Parallel Compression

After a class on the subject, I have discovered a new love within the mixing process. Most famously used with drums, parallel compression is a fantastic tool that usually involves mixing unprocessed information with heavily compressed signals. Also known as upward compression or New York trick, it brings out some of the weaker energy signals as opposed to reducing more transient signals. At the same time, signals with more attack are sustained whilst raising the level of quieter features. It is often referred as ‘NY‘ compression simply because mix engineers in 1980s New York began developing the technique.

You can achieve this kind of effect in Pro Tools by the following steps:

  • Create two stereo Aux Input tracks and name appropriately to distinguish them i.e. DRUM SUB, NY SUB
  • Solo Safe these Auxes [COMMAND + CLICK] so they don’t interfere when you’re soloing separate tracks
  • Select these Aux tracks’ inputs to available stereo buses i.e. Bus 1-2 and rename them as above
  • Select all drum tracks and change their outputs to DRUM SUB (Bus 1-2)*
  • Decide which tracks you’d like to send to the parallel compression bus. Send them to the NY SUB via Sends until your mix window looks like this:

  • Remember to bring up the faders of all selected Sends and select PRE for pre-fade*. This will ensure your signals are feeding regardless of the track’s main fader position

  • Add a compressor to your NY SUB track and to notice immediate effect, draw the threshold fully back and mash the ratio and make-up gain straight up (NOTE: Increase the gain gradually if you’re already playing back. Don’t whack it straight up then play, or you may become infertile)

  • To avoid possible phasing issues before mixing in your NY SUB, ensure Delay Compensation is active in the Options menu

  • Play your tracks back using your DRUM SUB submix. Begin to bring up the fader of your NY SUB track with compression applied. Notice the difference in sound as you introduce this. Mute the DRUM SUB track to hear more clearly what the compression is doing to the same signal.

The mix you aim for is entirely subjective, however you must experiment by ear to achieve a suitable balance of original and compressed signals. It’s very much about:

  • Adding a suitable amount of the compressed track – Too much can sound unnatural and gimmicky
  • Selecting what drum tracks you want involved – You may find you like the effect on the hats and overheads, however not the snare and room mic.
  • Setting the compressor  itself – Play around with the ratio, attack and release as the ‘thrash the pants off’ approach may not appeal to the type of recording

*Hold [OPTION + SHIFT + CLICK] when delegating outputs/zeroing faders/enabling pre-fade. It’s the ‘do to selected‘ shortcut and will save you a lot of time.

I really enjoy experimenting this technique because in the past I have often struggled to create dynamically impacting drum mixes. Using  it helps to fatten the sound of drums (or bass or vocals), adding more interesting sonic content. Being a big fan of pumping (jokes aside) in dance and rock music, I particularly like the effect parallel compression has to offer.

Here are some prepared examples of using varied amounts of parallel compression:

Original dry signal:

Original dry signal mixed with a healthy amount of NY:

Original dry signal mixed with an insane amount of NY:

Leaving that drum take unmixed and pushing all the tracks in to the NY bus has made me realise a few things. The spills from mic-to-mic had horrible consequences when using the NY compression. It made it sound very crowded and undefined. By separating some tracks into their own NY buses, you can have more control over the sound each grouping makes. Even by using a mixed product, EQing some of the compressed sounds i.e. snare rumble can clean up the mix greatly. Finally, not all drum tracks need to be used when applying NY compression. Be selective and find out what works best for you.

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Sidechain Gating

A great way to add dynamic flow to your project would be to gate something using a DAW’s sidechain functions. Classic uses of this go back to early 1980s dance music, where you’d find kick drums controlling gate signals generated at sub bass frequencies, or a synth being chopped into 16ths from a gate receiving signal from a beat. This technique is extremely useful when keeping a track in time (which is why it’s heavily used in EDM) as it can also add qualities and relationships within the tracks you didn’t know existed. It can be used in a number of ways, methodically and creatively.

I found this video is particularly useful as it explains the process clearly how to set this up. This SOS article helped too in understanding other ways in which sidechaining can be applied when mixing

This technique is also popularly used to tighten up bass guitar tracks by gating them and feeding their key inputs with the kick drum — you can at least prevent the bass note from starting before the kick drum. Just make sure you set the hold and release controls to suit the type of sound you want. (Paul White, Advanced Gating Techniques, Part 1)

The sine kick trick in Pro Tools:

  • Firstly, take the track you want to control the gate i.e. KICK
  • Choose a Send (A) and select an available Bus (1) 
  • Select the Send and click PRE for pre-fade. Bring the fader up to 0dB [OPTION + CLICK]

  • Apply a gate the to track you want gated i.e. TONE GENERATOR 

  • Beside the key symbol    (or KEY), select the Bus you have sending (1)  
  • Locate the sidechain enable option and press it  
  • Once you’ve set the ratio, tweak the attack and release times until you have something that appeals to your taste. Adjust the threshold throughout to control the gate. Watch your times though, as you can begin to get an undesired (or desired!) crunching effect if you don’t leave enough time between opening/closing.

*Remember if you are going for a sine kick effect, you need to create an Aux track and select Signal Generator

An absolute in-sine (ho ho ho) example of this comes from amazing dance producer TEED (Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs). Orlando Higginbottom (I know…) came out with Bournemouth in 2009. I first heard it from my friend Roy, through two of his twin 18″ L-Acoustics subs. I sound like a Skrillex fanboy, but, I veeerry nearly had to go to the toilet. It was ridiculous.

Anyway, I call around 45Hz sidechained to that kick beat (1:10). It sounds like it’s double-sidechained so that there’s a continuous ‘doo, doo, doo, doo…’ sent to one bus, and also a ‘swelling up’ warpy effect on another (next blog on parallel sidechaining?!)

I think he’s a fantastic EDM and house producer and has collaborated[written] with[for] many great artists. You may have heard his track Garden being synced with Nokia phone adverts.

A cool thing about sidechain gating is that by controlling the time for a gate to open, you can have one instrument trigger another without immediate effect. I’ve made the bass here swell up from the kick beat to achieve a more interesting sound. It also defines the transients of the kick beat too, and this is important in a track like this – to maintain a strong beat.

Here is a MIDI triggered bass along with the beat:

With SC gate enabled, and a slow attack to create the swelling effect:

Hear how the bass does not impact the kick beat. It is allowing more space for the beat to manoeuvre in what would be a busy mix. This swelling technique is (over)used in a lot of (‘filthy‘) dubstep production, to help towards that ‘wob wob wob’ effect.

Using a tone generator can add extra character to an existing signal. Here I have routed the bass into the gate plugged in to the tone frequency track. Without the gate sidechained, all you’d hear is the tone playing throughout, regardless what the bass is doing.

Here is the tone gated:

Just the beat and synth:

The beat with sidechain gated synth (with the original track thrown in):

I gave all this a spin in Studio A at uni. Sorry for the phasing, I should really get Elluminate Live or something…

These are all extreme examples, however when used subtly and by creating track relationships it can definitely improve the sound. It opens up so many more options, and can appeal to just about any genre. It completely depends on who’s mixing and for what style, so it’s a matter of balancing a sound which appeals to the rest of a track. When using the gate controls in more depth, you can also notice creative changes to the entire feel of the music.

You may want to view the sister post to this entry, Sidechain Compression, where I run over similar issues but with the power of using compression.

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Find me on SoundCloud!

Hallo,

I run a SoundCloud account, which I like to use to host any work that I’ve been doing. You’ll probably find embeds scattered across this site, so don’t be feert to have a lookie. Thanks!

Greg’s SoundCloud

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What’s that? You asked what I’ve been up to?

Quite a few things, really.

MMP – Good News!

Taking on a pretty big project – probably biting off more than I can chew. It basically involves me writing a module on live sound and teaching it to a group of six students from The Academy of Music and Sound. Got the go-ahead a few days ago after a meeting with their head, Jonathan Tait. It was a brilliant meeting and it went well – I was quite nervous because he was calling the shots whether I can use his students or not. He welcomed the idea with open arms and offered his full support – great success!

He took the email I prepared and circulated it around the Academy, to which I’ve already had 9 responses! I now have to take all applicants and filter them down so that I have at least one drummer, bassist, guitarist and vocalist… Might be tough as I haven’t had any drummers reply yet!

It was an uplifting feeling though, that people are interested in working alongside me, however now I must rise to the challenge I’ve set myself. I aim to work hard at this for the next few months, and will begin teaching the module in January. My biggest worry is that I don’t get enough work done, resulting in a disappointing end product. The last thing I want to do is let these guys down and create a bad reputation for myself…

Wee Red Bar

I’m forever busy working at the amazing Wee Red Bar, at the Edinburgh College of Art. Absolutely love it there and it’s the perfect venue for a young live sound engineer.

During busier months, I was used to doing up to 3/4 shows per week but now I’m down to 1 or 2. Suits me better anyway for when uni work sets in – tend to get carried away with work!

There’s been some cracking gigs happening the past couple months. Some of these include:

Kaiho, Frightened Rabbit, Hector Bizerk, Dead Boy Robotics, Warren MacIntyre & the Starry Skies and techno DJ Ben Sims.

Hector Bizerk was probably the most memorable. They rocked up from another gig in Glasgow to play on a five band bill *shudders* with a 15-channel tech spec. I had 10 minutes to: reverse the previous stage setup, frantically rip apart the stage box for a whole new patch, throw extra D.I.s and mics in, set up their gear/electronics AND line check the entire setup, ready for their unique hip hop sound. Was one of the quickest changeovers considering, however they sounded fantastic as they’re a great act and really nice guys.

Cab Vol

After a rather controversial change of hands in Cabaret Voltaire‘s operations, I’m back working there doing club shifts. Technically, everything’s changed in terms of control and overall sound. We have no mixing desk and outboard now, just a few switches controlling the amp levels of each room. All the lighting is automated and without a desk, meaning there’s no creative control over this. It’s a shame because even the little things like the timed flashing of par cans or building up a heavy strobe effect all makes a positive difference to people’s nights. Now, it’s too bright and colourful in the club, making it look cheap and cheesy. As for the sound, well, don’t get me started.

Bands

I’m still regularly playing bass with northeast ceilidh band, Ceilidh Stomp. We’re very busy in the wedding season and also with parties/fundraisers. I play with some great musicians including Liam Flaherty who first got me involved with the band. Clare Penny runs the band and is a ridiculously hardworking woman – definitely the most organised band I’ve ever been in! As I find myself performing less and less, it’s great to have gigs lined up as I’m busier with other work, and it’s a great source of income!

Getting things going with Bertrand. We’re an alternative rock four piece and have been together for a while now. I’ve been in the studio doing a bit of recording with drummer Ben  where we laid some tracks down, also experimenting with a few different ideas. Hopefully in the next couple months you’ll have some proper recordings to listen to, as we only have demos with MIDI drums at the moment. We played at The Wickerman Festival in July and have just been to The Third Door supporting The Glitch. Anyway, yeah, I hope to begin tracking more of our songs soon. Stay tuned!

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New Facebook Page!

Along with this website and Twitter, you can now view my public page for all things sound engineering! You’ll find news on live and studio work, complete with an obligatory collection of swanky close-up shots of expensive microphones.

Be sure to give us a ‘Like’, and ‘Share’ if you think I’m cool enough.

Greg Smart Sound Engineer’s Facebook Page

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