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The Great 'Blood To Bone' Mixoff

1 Multitrack -- 100 Mixes!

In March and April 2011, I presided over a mixing competition at Mixoff.org, based on raw tracks of a song called 'Blood To Bone', which had been written and performed by the talented rock band Young Griffo. 100 different mixes were submitted for the competition and I wrote detailed critiques of more than 60 of them, which I've drawn together into an archive here (along with their related audio files) so that they're easier to navigate and compare.

Because the original recording was carried out on a limited budget under typical small-studio circumstances, these critiques provide concrete examples of many of the issues that I raise in my book 'Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio', as well as providing a lot of material for general mix-related ear-training. In addition, the multitrack files are still available in my 'Mixing Secrets' Free Multitrack Download Library, if you fancy trying your hand at a mix to see how your own skills stack up!

Many thanks to John McKay of Mixoff.org for hosting the event. Please also show your support for Young Griffo by clicking here. If you have any questions about any of the critiques, do please let me know so that I can clarify. Also, if you like the mix critiques on this page, then do check out my Sound On Sound magazine The Mix Review column, where I analyse commercial chart productions in a similar way. If you need this kind of critique for your own work, then please head over to the Studio Services page.

The Brief

Contestants had access to a ZIP archive of the band's raw multitrack recordings, as well as forum-member fHumble fHingaz's original mix (made in collaboration with the band). (These are still available for download here.) I agreed to critique all mixes submitted within the first two weeks of the competition, after which contestants were allowed to continue updating their mixes until the final submission deadline a couple of weeks later.

The object of the competition was to mix the multitrack as if you were employed by the band to maximise its potential as a single. Within that brief, however, people were completely free to use any means they wished to create their mixes. So if they wanted to remove tracks, edit things around, do replacements/overdubs, or anything else, that was all allowed. The only aim was to deliver the most exciting mix possible, and generally to blow the band's socks off! I also stipulated that the loudness of the mix would not be a contributing factor in the competition judgement. However, I added that I would nevertheless be taking into consideration the way the mix responded to typical loudness processing, in line with market expectations for this style.

To help give an idea of what 'market expectations' might be, I supplied Young Griffo's Facebook and Myspace links, as well as this list of reference tracks suggested by the band themselves:

  • 'Sober' by Tool (for the bass tone)
  • 'I Will Possess Your Heart' by Death Cab For Cutie (for bass and vocals)
  • 'All The World Is Mad' by Thrice (for chorus vocals/instrumentation and also for guitars)
  • 'Are You Interested' by Cog (for guitars)
  • 'Avon' by Queens Of The Stone Age (for drums)

(Read the brief in its original forum context here and here.)

Mixes & Critiques

It didn't take long for the mixes to start pouring in! I've listed all of them below, along with their related sound files, critiques, and forum responses. Where appropriate, I've also provided MP3 conversions of the sound files to allow easier web preview, although all my critiquing and judging was carried out using the originally submitted files.

For the purposes of the critiques I refer to the song structure as follows:

  • Intro 1 (just guitar): 8 bars
  • Intro 2 (drum entry): 8 bars
  • Verse 1: 16 bars
  • Chorus 1 (instrumental): 16 bars
  • Re-intro: 8 bars
  • Verse 2 (short): 8 bars
  • Chorus 2: 16 bars
  • Mid-section 1: 16 bars
  • Mid-section 2: 16 bars
  • Chorus 3: 16 bars
  • Outro: 16 bars
Quick Links:

Mixes by number: 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72

Mixes by contestant (alphabetical): a.r, ALivingSight, angusmaclean, AnthonyMF, Argle, Audio Monkey, Berk13, Broman, cahyanandra, chops, cosmicdolphin, Daunt, deejsirois, DirkZuber, dnastudios, drbob1970, essessbe, ExpressMix, Fishmed, fixated7, FritzErlangga, Gizzmo0815, gLOW-x, gregrs, Guitar Zero, hatliff, huntermusic, japancakes, javy_a, jodawo, JohnSuitcase, JoshERTW, karumba, kman, Lastrite, leaky24, lettenmusic, living sounds, Loon, louie_1, man with hat, manuke, Martin Olsson, Mattski, Mike Mercurio, Minorhead, mixerJB, mlabman, MortenDK, mrtuesday, mugo, nanda_sfx83, PauloGomes, pc999, RiF, Robin, RobRokken, slater05, smallfishrecordings, Smelly Biscuits, stickfigure, Studio Cat, studioIMP, The Elf, themuzic, THF, TonyPizza, Vincent, vvv, washburn, Xander, Zabrilla

Mix 01: karumba (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: Great job, karumba -- gets us off to a flying start! So here are some comments...

The kick has a nice controlled low end, but the high-frequency 'cut-through' works better in the choruses than in the verses -- it drives the rhythm along nicely, but feels just a bit too aggressive to me. The snare, on the other hand, seems to work a little better in the verses than the choruses, even though I like the sound of it in a general sense -- it's nice and clear, but its character begins to submerge a bit under the massed vocals and guitars. I like the guitar and bass sounds a lot, although the bass-guitar fret squeaks are a bit distracting and could be automated down. The lead vocals seem slightly too thinned out during the verses for me -- it keeps the tone clear, but somehow distances the vocal a little too much. The backing vocals feel understated in the choruses, where I think they could really open things out. The lyrics are quite indistinct during choruses, and automation might be the answer there, as well as maybe some anti-masking cuts elsewhere in the arrangement. Effects have been very tastefully used, without any of the all-too-common clutter problems. Overall tonality feels a bit more mid-scooped than the references, but I don't mind that personally.

It's testament to the quality of the overall tone and balance decisions here that my biggest criticism of this mix is that the long-term dynamics don't quite stack up. This first really niggles me at the start of the second chorus, where the entry of the vocals doesn't quite deliver what I'm hoping for in terms of emotional payoff. I'd probably do some vocal tuning to sweeten and gel the texture a bit better, which might help you fade up the vox more without losing blend. Something a bit more expansive in terms of effects there might also be an idea. My favourite bits of this mix are the two Mid-sections, which really work up a good head of steam, but the problem is that they make the energy-drop into the final chorus a lot starker, so the end of the song is left a touch disappointing.

Still, this is a great mix in most respects, and certainly flings down the gauntlet in style! Bring on the competition!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: karumba post; my reply.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 10MB 314kbps MP3 
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Mix 02: Lastrite (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: Thanks for this mix. Another solid showing! On to the comments then...

Firstly, the opening fade-in feels a bit odd. Not sure what the purpose of this is, because it feels to me like it works better coming in unfaded. Anyway, that's a really small thing. In general, the balance is very strong, and I like that you've kept the vocals nicely audible throughout. (Although there's nonetheless some room for improvement here using micro-automation -- the vocals are still rocking backward and forward a bit on my Auratone.)

The audible vocal effects create a nice individual sonic fingerprint, but I think I'd probably try to duck the returns a bit in response to the vocal to avoid masking it too much with its own effects. At the moment it feels like the vocal's slightly veiled. I think you might also EQ the effects returns to tuck them a little more behind the vocal itself, and to slightly declutter the bass/guitar details. I'd almost certainly dip out some top end to keep the effects in the background.

Your tonal decisions are pretty much laser-guided, and the overal mix timbre matches the Thrice record particularly well. I'd personally try sneaking a bit more low bass power in there, as well as a little more air, but that's a judgement call. More of an issue is the presence region, and I think you could tone down the 4kHz zone a little, because it begins to grate on the ear a bit at higher volumes, especially during the middle section where the cymbals and guitars are thrashing away against each other. One of them needs to give a bit of ground, I reckon.

I think you could work more on your send effects, in particular using short blend reverb to gel the snare and vocals better with the rest of the backing, and using simple eighth-note tempo-sync'ed delay to give the vocals and guitars more sustain, especially during the more expansive sections, which feel like they could do with a few extra vitamins compared with the verses. (I tried adding a single-tap eighth-note delay over the whole mix to test this theory out, and I was surprised how well even such an unrefined approach worked on this mix.) Don't forget to EQ those effect returns carefully, though! Giving the kit (especially the kick and snare) a bit of parallel compression might also help, as these instruments are sounding a bit slender once the guitars and vocals really get going.

As far as long-term dynamics are concerned, there's still quite a bit that could be done to underline the track's natural ebb and flow. The backing vocals feel underused in this context, and you could certainly ride overheads, drum room, and effects profitably -- or else get busy with some mults. Again, the final chorus entry is the killer moment to get right in this mix, I think, and it doesn't quite lift off here yet.

One final point: I suspect that you may be monitoring a little too loud. This often leads to an undervaluation of blend and sustain requirements, as well as a tendency to undercook the frequency extremes. It's important to monitor loud from time to time, but most real-world small-studio monitor systems start to get less reliable if you make a habit of pushing them too hard as a matter of course. Your ear more easily plays tricks on you too if you monitor loud most of the time.

Overall, though, this is another sterling effort. It's great to hear so many things done right!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: Lastrite post; my reply.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Mix 03: slater05 (submitted file: 60MB 24-bit/48kHz WAV; preview: 5MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: Happy to see someone try their hand at editing things here, but while shortening the first instrumental chorus is an idea which I can see some good reasoning for, by the same token isn't the reintro a bit to long too? I agree that it's tricky to come up with a coherent editing strategy for this song once you open up that can of worms, which makes me wonder whether editing isn't the whole solution to making the structure as a whole work.

In terms of balance, it feels like the guitars are too loud in the stereo balance (but probably a bit quiet in the mono balance, as discussed below!), but otherwise most things seem pretty well-judged. I like the body to the snare sound, which gives it a nice sense of weight to compete with the guitars, but it does then end up sounding a bit dull-toned compared to the cymbals. The bass fret squeaks poke my eye out at times, but it's nothing a little automation couldn't solve. The floor tom seems to have too powerful a fundamental, and risks eclipsing the kick in the fill in the middle of chorus 2, for example. As far as general tonality is concerned, the bottom three octaves or so of the mix feel light overall, though, and I think this is more the fault of the bass than off the kick. I think you could afford to put in a good 3dB of extra low end without bloating it out. The upper octave 'air' band also feels underplayed, and could benefit from some livening up.

There's a lot of interesting effects stuff going on. I really like the delay spin you've got going on the verse lead vocal. Very effective, and actually longer than I'd have thought of going for -- good idea! I like your concept of thickening the chorus vocals to contrast with the verses, although it sounds like something's getting a bit scorched in the process. It's not a particularly pleasant distortion, so I'd try to troubleshoot the gain-staging there if possible. This effect certainly helps with that tricky transition into the start of the final choruses (as does the suggestion of synth/organ pad in the background), but the downside is that things begin to feel a little cluttered in the choruses as a result, and I'd recommend reassessing the EQ on the guitars, backing vocals, and effects returns during that section to see if some well-targeted narrow-band cuts might clarify things and bring out the details more. The vocal effects also recess the singers well behind the drier guitars in the mix, which doesn't seem quite right.

Whatever effect you're using to widen the guitar parts is causing fairly serious mono-compatibility problems, which means that the balance changes a good deal between the stereo and mono mixes. Even if you disregard this issue, though, having such wide guitars in this particular stereo mix is also problematic on the basis that it emphasises the narrowness of the drums and their ambience.

My biggest criticism can be summed up in one word: blend. Although there's lots of good EQ and effects work going on here, the parts just don't feel like they hang together, especially in the verses. The width issues I've already mentioned have a part to play here, but short 'ambience'-style reverb or delay slapback would the first things I'd look to add to this mix, to try to make things gel together more convincingly. Again, the overall tonality and blend issues here make me suspicious that you might be monitoring too loud for too long.

I'm glad to see that a certain amount of multing and automation has already occurred, but I think there's quite a bit you could still do in terms of nailing down the lead vocal intelligibility. I also wonder if the final backing vocals could come more to the fore once the lead is out of the way, as they do have a nice little line of their own, and there's nothing else going on in the outro to keep people any better entertained.

Thanks for submitting this -- it brings a lot of great ideas to the table that haven't been explored by the other mixes so far, and also dares to reevaluate basic issues of structure and balance. And as every mix engineer knows, mixing is often a case of 'who dares wins'!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: slater05 post; my reply.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 60MB 24-bit/48kHz WAV; preview: 5MB 192kbps MP3 
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Mix 04: THF (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: There are a lot of good balance and EQ decisions here -- all the parts feel full-sounding without getting in each other's way unduly. The bass is lovely, and gets through on the small speakers well. Nice kick sound in the verses, but maybe doesn't cut through enough when things really get going. Backing vocals once again feel underplayed, and I suspect that compressing them a bit more stiffly might make it easier to push them higher in the mix. As it is, certain notes are leaping out of the balance more than others. The guitars feel like they could be louder in the choruses, especially at that critical moment at the start of the final choruses, and they could possible be more present too -- they're somehow a touch soft-sounding to me.

The snare is nice and punchy in the mids, but lacks high-frequency density and sustain, and feels quite 'dead' in the fuller sections of the mix. This is an issue that is likely to cause everyone some effort, simply because the drum overheads have captured quite a dull snare sound, while the close mic is, well... a close mic , so it's never going to give you real sustain and character to the sound. It strikes me that layering something like a meaty stereo tambourine sample with the snare in the chorus might actually be something to experiment with in this track, but that's only one possible solution...

I like the overall mix tone a lot -- it matches Thrice nicely, there's enough going on at the extremes to give the hi-fi listener a good time (maybe a sprinkle more air?), and you can mostly afford to turn it up good and loud before you start sand-blasting your ears. Good call here, I think.

Love the autopan effect on the guitar -- a good 'outside the box' solution to providing width in the verse arrangement without incurring stereo imbalance. In general I like the way the stereo picture fits together, and there's a nice overall width to the mix, although at the expense of some mono compatibility -- especially in the upper frequencies of the drums. I also like the way this mix blends. Very tastefully done on the whole. (An exception is the reintro, where the drum fills feel rather dislocated. It also highlights some unevennesses in the timing that I'd probably look to smooth in some way.) However, I think there'd be more scope for automation here to expand the chorus sound, especially by riding room ambience and effects sends on the drums. There's also the danger of things getting a bit abrasive during the first of the mid sections, and automation might help there.

In all, then, another very capable mix, and although there's some room for improvement in the balance and long-term dynamics, I nonetheless found it curiously compelling on an emotional level -- there's something indefinable about the way it coheres into a piece of music that goes beyond the sum of the parts. Nice work!

(Just noticed one more thing while reviewing another of the mixes. I think you might be compressing the bass with too fast-acting a compressor, because it sounds like it's breaking up a bit. Or are you multi-band processing it? Certainly the fret noises seem well controlled. Whatever -- there's something that doesn't seem quite right in the intro to me, and I think it's a compression thing.)

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Mix 05: themuzic (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: Another good mix, and probably the clearest vocal presentation so far. Excellent! I really like the verse. Nice sense of width and space to the guitars, contrasted against the quite upfront drums, yet the blend nonetheless feels pretty good. The vocal effects are just my cup of tea too, and are well-suited to this context: enough delay to give a bit of atmosphere, but still keeping the vocal right out front. The harmonies help, of course, just because I like their line! The drummer's stick clicks seem a touch too aggressive/upfront, so I'd maybe get busy with a bit of micro-automation there, and I also think that you could improve the kit's blend using stealth reverb/delay treatments without compromising the upfront 'no reverb' concept. Even when the kit is upfront, you still want it to sound like a cohesive kit, in my view. The toms are panned very wide too, and while this kind of '50-foot-wide kit' idea is popular with some engineers, I've never really got on with it. In this case it's particularly odd because it makes the toms image a lot wider than the crash cymbals! That apart, though, the stereo width overall is pretty well-judged in this mix, and seems to translate quite well to mono too, which is another plus point.

Once the chorus gets going the snare feels a little too thin-sounding, and could do with some thickening and widening, as I've commented on with previous mixes. It's trying to compete with the strongest frequency areas of the guitars too much, so it'd probably be better to give it a touch more weight so that it can work around the guitar textures. I love the kick drum sound during the verses, but it doesn't really seem to be coming through well enough in the choruses on small speakers, so I might be tempted to mult it for extra high end at those points. The lyrics are good and clear in the chorus, which means that the singer's performance gives a good dose of energy to these sections, and helps with that make-or-break moment when the final choruses arrive. (The more prominent BVs make a difference there too.) This is slightly at the expense of the subjective size of the backing track, though, and this is always a very fine line to tread. Also, if you fade up the vocals this high, you really can't afford not to tune them. In general I've not noticed tremendous amounts of attention to timing or tuning issues in the mixes so far, and I know this kind of corrective work would certainly be on my list of things to do. Also, the vocals in the choruses seem over-sibilant, although some simple de-essing should probably sort that out.

I like the general sparkle to the mix tone overall, but I wonder if the vocals are contributing a bit more low mid-range than they should compared to the guitars. It takes your mix closer to the vibe of the Death Cab For Cutie reference for me, but I think that might be taking the parallels between the two tracks a bit too far. I reckon that this mix probably wants the vocal to be upfront in the choruses, but with the guitars 'feeling' bigger, in the sense of carrying more of the chunky midrange frequencies. (You've done a good job of rivalling the DCFC bass sound, though, including that sneaky little dash of surreptitious stereo width. Maybe a bit more 1kHz would make it cut even better, and lend the tone more 'wire'. I'd almost certainly reach for Stillwell Audio's Vibe EQMac LogoWindows Logo for that application, because it's great at creating a harder tonal edge on sounds, rather than just adjusting the frequency balance, and its very affordable.)

You mentioned in your submission that you did no mastering of your mix submission, and I'd like to reiterate that there's no need. I loudness-match as a matter of course when comparing the different mixes/references. The main mastering issue that should concern most people with this particular mix is that if peak-limiting is used to increase the loudness, then a snare which is heavy on spike and light on sustain will tend to suffer unduly in the mix balance.

Hope some of these suggestions help. Again, this is a good solid effort, and makes a good impression right from the outset. Thanks for submitting it!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Mix 06: MortenDK (submitted file: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: Another very assured mix vision here, and with quite a few new ideas to offer. The switched panning for the main guitar is a nice thought, creating an appealing call-and-response vibe which somehow keeps the guitar higher in the consciousness than in other mixes. In fact, I almost wonder whether it might be backfiring a bit, simply because it seems to drag a bit of attention away from the vocal. However, this might just be because I'm now so used to the vocal performance that it doesn't pack the same immediate emotional punch it once did. Only time can tell with decisions like that.

Given the wetter overall feel, it's perhaps not a surprise that, to my ears, the drums seem to gel together more successfully in this mix than in most of the others. However, it's not just the general wetness -- the toms feel sensibly panned; the kick sound has more room to it, so that it combines a lot better despite a fairly high level in the balance; and the snare appears to have some kind of dedicated ambience patch on it to widen it and glue it in with the overheads, the latter making a respectable stab at dealing with the 'snare spikiness' issue that's come up a lot already. That said, I think you could still afford to make more of the room and/or layer in some parallel compression so that the kit sound itself has more sustain even in its dry state. I think you're maybe relying on the artificial reverbs a little too much.

I don't know what you're using for your vocal chain, but I love what it's doing to the lead vocal character in the verse -- there's a real growl in there, which enhances the performance a good deal for me. You can really hear the sound rattling around in the back of his throat! The verse delay and reverb work nicely too, with what sounds like a proper helping of predelay between the dry signal and the reverb onset. Good call, because it keeps the vocal well upfront -- notwithstanding that the vocal's also pretty loud. In fact, I reckon that the vocals are probably too high in the balance overall. Although they seem alright within the context of the drum peaks, the rest of the arrangement feels underpowered by comparison. Try muting out the drums completely and see if that makes this aspect of the balance easier to resolve. (This is also an issue that loudness processing won't help, because it'll tend to punch the drums back into the balance, thereby exacerbating the dominance of the vocal.)

The stereo picture isn't perhaps as wide-screen as some of the mixes we've had so far, but it's still well within the ballpark of some of the references, and inevitably offers the advantage of reasonable mono-compatibility. Overall tonality could probably do with a bit of a rethink, though, as both the low end and high end seem significantly recessed (I dialled in 4dB of each before I had something which felt more suitable, and there's an additional 3-4kHz emphasis that doesn't particularly flatter the middle-section guitar/cymbal workouts. However, even if I put a master EQ over the mix to tweak those things, the bass guitar still feels too low in the balance.

Irrespective of any of the above niggles, though, this mix probably gives the most convincing account of the final choruses entry of any of the mixes so far -- although fHumble fHingaz's original version is also strong in this suit. Definite kudos for that! That said, it sounds a little bit like you mixed the verses before you mixed the choruses, which makes the latter feel like they're pushed a bit too hard somehow.

Thanks for providing another fresh vision of this track -- a good contrast to some of the other representations which provides a lot of useful alternate perspectives.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: MortenDK post.

Mix 07: a.r (submitted file: 42MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: Nice bold move with the verse vocal, giving it an immediately intriguing telephonic mix sound with obvious delay/reverb special effects. However, I'd query the decision to pan it so far to the left, because anyone listening to just one side (people in a lot of small restaurants/shops, people sharing earbuds, people with defective audio hardware, to mention just a few) will lose quite a lot of intelligibility as a result. Even were this not a concern, I'd suggest if anything panning the vocal to the right, rather than the left, simply because otherwise both the vocal and guitar are panned to the same side, making the overall soundstage left-heavy. The extreme vocal panning in the chorus is fine, given that the two leads are balanced, but the BVs feel too dry, and are too easily confused with the leads for me. Also, if you're going to wide-pan like this, it's probably best to edit the vocal timing of the two leads to match more closely -- there's some distracting stereo ricochet on some of the consonants in particular.

Widening the bass in this mix is not a bad tactic (it's something that the famous rock mixer Andy Wallace often does, for example), but in doing so you've introduce phase mismatch at the low end of the mix. This can lead to low-frequency inconsistencies in mono, or in stereo systems that use a single subwoofer, so is best avoided. Try simply high-pass filtering the widener effect's return at 100Hz or so -- you'll still get the width, but without the risk of bass problems.

Just by nature of the fairly wet overall mix sound, most things are already blending quite well, but the snare in particular could do with some further blending effect in addition to the longer reverb, so that it sits with the rest of the kit. I'd instinctively go for a shorter stereo ambience, and probably restrict its stereo width a little to try to match the overheads image. The lead vocals in the chorus also feel a bit too separated -- upfront's alright, but if they're going to be as loud as this in the balance (and panned as they are), I think they do need a little bit more blend to really belong with everything else. The toms seem a bit over-resonant and overpowering. Maybe some automation might help here to keep the balance more consistent if you like that level of those mics for their spill contributions.

Love the idea of a transition effect before the second chorus, although the execution of it doesn't quite feel on the money yet. Perhaps its the right-heavy imaging of it, or the way the following snare feels a little bit thin, I don't know. It's very difficult to judge what exactly will smooth it out without tinkering with it directly in the project. It might be that you need to let the transition effect go to the kick, rather than the snare, even though I do like the general concept of stopping it on the snare -- it gives that upbeat a kind of extra psychological power.

Well done for experimenting with the idea of adding something new to that final chorus entry, and it doesn't half make a difference! It's certainly the most successful take on this particular long-term dynamics challenge so far. (The transition there is also part of the recipe, but again it feels like it needs a bit more tweaking before it really delivers properly. Those things can often be pigs to nail!) That said, the specifics of what you've added could probably be managed more successfully. The first thing that bugs me is that you've effectively added a seventh to the first chord in the process, which seems to destabilise the harmony significantly, making it seem less powerful. The second thing I'd say is that the sound feels a bit too sustained and synth-pad-like to me (although I suspect it's guitar -- it's pretty well buried so it's hard for me to tell), and something which is matched a bit more to the existing bass or guitar rhythms would probably reinforce the band's original intent more effectively. Finally, the additions are bunched mostly into the centre of the stereo picture, which narrows it and also muffles the drum details a bit much for my liking. (It also clutters up the vocal range quite a bit, despite the wide vocal panning.) Adding pads (synth or otherwise) at the mix is almost always most successul if you very carefully target them to specific frequency ranges.

I found the stereo image very appealing, and the stereo treatments also assist with the blend to some extent. However, mono-compatibility is a bit suspect, and both the cymbals and guitars seem to lose a lot of treble in the conversion to mono. Overall tonality isn't bad at the frequency extremes, but the general mix warmth (and the bass guitar balance in particular) seem to suffer from a bit of a spectral dip in the midrange, particularly at 350Hz or so. I'm not a huge fan of this frequency range myself, because it's the most common place for muddiness to reside in a mix. However, you do need enough going on there if you're going to avoid things sounding brittle, especially in the 'abrasiveness danger zone' of the mix's middle-sections.

Well done for trail-blazing so many valuable new ideas! All grist to the mill...

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: a.r post.

Mix 08: Broman (submitted file: 9MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: Crumbs -- the spirit of the Floyd is clearly alive and well! Lots of great off-the-wall ideas here, although it does take us almost into remix territory. As such it's perhaps not that sensible for me to compare too closely to the references, so instead I'll try to evaluate what you've got more on its own terms.

For a start this is clearly not designed as a radio single: bass auto-panning; extreme panning of other parts (including lead/backing vocals) and frequent stereo imbalances; screamo distorted vocal layer ("I'm a frog" -- diamond!); tonally distorted drums with a muffled snare; prominent bright slapback vocal delay -- all these argue strongly against, I'd say. The total sonic overhaul provides a great new perspective on the possibilities for the multitrack source, though, and I loved the trippy opening overdub; the change of emphasis between the verse guitar lines; the 'Pulp Fiction' guitar sound; the distorted tom fills; and the raging solo guitar line.

Although this is obviously not designed to be something glossy, I'd still say that you might nonetheless showcase the evocative internal details of each of your reinvented sounds more effectively, in particular by attending more carefully to EQ masking issues, not least in terms of how the liberal mix effects fit in with the dry sounds. At the moment things feel a little cluttered, and there's only so much that stereo separation can remedy, even under ideal listening circumstances.

Thanks for submitting this mix. Although it's not likely to take first prize in the competition given the stated brief , it offers a lot of good ideas for re-evaluating the possibilities of this set of raw files. I particularly liked the guitar timbres and contrasts, and I think aspects of them could work well within a more commercially focused context too.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Mix 09: ALivingSight (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: The biggest thing that this mix lacks for me is clarity. There's a lot of masking going on between the parts, and also a measure of low-midrange frequency build-up which is muddying the mix tone as a whole. This makes me suspicious that you're not giving enough consideration to this aspect of EQ. Assuming a decent recording, most mix EQ is actually about balance, not about tone -- you can't have a mix where everything sounds as fantastic as everything else, because you'll just crowd yourself out. Particularly in the choruses, you've got the bass, guitars, vocals, snare, and toms all competing for space around 300Hz or so, and there can't really be five winners in a battle like that! Pull things apart a bit, and look for areas of character in each instrument that don't overlap as much, and I think the veil will begin to lift a bit. To take another example: does the opening bass sound really need all that high end? I can understand giving it some midrange to cut through on small speakers, but there's a lot of hiss in there too which is doing nothing useful -- on the contrary, it will probably be masking things like vocal details. Low-pass filter that out, I'd say.

In terms of the subjective nature of individual sounds, there's little to criticise. I like the nice delay patch on the guitar at the start -- a little bit of a stereo 'bump' in there to tickle the ear! The kit blends rather nicely with itself, and also with the rest of the arrangement -- a highlight of your mix version for me, and very similar to how I would probably do it myself. The longer reverb/delay patches are also well-managed for the most part, although I think I'd like a bit more reverb width surrounding the instruments, especially when the chorus kicks off. In fact, the stereo field in general feels underused, and the one place where you widen it out using the guitar overdubs is in the middle sections, undermining the 'size' impact of the significantly narrower final choruses.

The bass feels a bit underpowered in the low end, and although I can understand the thinking behind that given that the low-midrange is already so packed with contributions from other parts, I'd try to give the bass more room in the mix so that you can bring its low end further forward. The kick is great -- just enough bite to cut through the merrier sections, but not too slappy for the verse. Very well judged that. The snare is a little bit of a sticking point, despite some nice midrange weight to it, because of the high-frequency density/sustain issues most people have already come up against.

I think there's some stray vocal lip noise in the re-intro before the second verse, and the lip-noise is perhaps a little pronounced for my liking overall. Automation or editing is often the only way to deal with this, I'm afraid.

Beyond the issues I've already mentioned with masking/muddiness, the overall tonality of this mix also feels a little stifled in the air department, so a couple of decibels lift of the upper octave wouldn't be a bad bet, especially if you can fill out the low end of the bass guitar to balance that, expanding the reach of the mix's spectrum.

Thanks for that submission -- the blend is particularly impressive, and is worth a listen for anyone still thinking of entering/updating their own mix.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Mix 10: Mattski (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: Hah! I wondered how long it would take for someone to have a go a drying up the lead vocal as a drop into the chorus, and here it is at last! This dodge came to mind almost as soon as I heard the song, and I'd certainly have given something like that a go myself. (Ah... It's like an old friend... ) The difficulty pulling it off in this particular song, though, is the funny snare upbeat that starts the chorus -- which also caused problems for the reverse transition effect in a.r's mix previously. Exactly how and when you turn off the effects, and how the decay tails of the different instruments interact with that can make a huge difference to how well it works. In this case I'd experiment with editing down the tails of the bass and guitar sustains under that last vocal word. Shortening one or both of them would be my first experiment, I think, although I might alternatively choose to extend them more into the chorus itself.

There are several other great little effects spins here. Good thinking with the feedback repeats midway through the chorus -- there's a little lull in the melodic interest at that point in the proceedings which you're filling beautifully. You could make it even better by fading it down when the guitar moves up for its little fill, and then fading up the fill a bit too. It's this kind of 'listener direction' with automation that can really breath life into a mix.

The snare is a definite talking-point in this mix too, because it seems to me to represent one of the better attempts to give the instrument that extra high-frequency sustain I'm hearing in my head. However, like karumba's barn-storming show-opener in this competition, a little more low mid-range feels necessary in this particular mix for me, so that the snare doesn't have to be as loud in the upper frequencies as this. Despite the advantages of the snare sound, though, the overall kit feels a bit skeletal and lacking in body. This is partly because there doesn't seem to be much buss compression going on, either on the drum buss or the whole mix. This style is definitely one in which I'd expect to hear a fair amount of compression, because if it's handled correctly it can lend a sense of urgency and thickness to the sound. If you're worried about dulling the drum attack, by all means use parallel compression, but I for one have an almost unconscious expectation that the cymbal tails will have a certain touch of wobble -- if not straight-out suck-and-breath pumping! I think you're trying to compensate for this at the moment by using a little too much longer reverb, which only really distances the drums, and also makes them feel less 'authentic' somehow. Blend isn't bad though, with the exception of the snare, which feels a touch too upfront and disconnected during the verses.

You've kept a tight rein on the low midrange of the vocals, and while that does aid the clarity of the mix as a whole, I think you might have gone a bit too far with it, especially during the choruses, where the singer just feels a bit like he's pushing too hard too early. I'd save that character for the choruses, where it's most needed, otherwise you'll always find it tricky to make the choruses seem harder-edged. You've done some good corrective tuning work on the vocal too, although it sounds to me as if the doubletrack might still need to be tightened a little more in this respect. (I'm surprised how few people have attended to the tuning: it looks like fHumble fHingaz and Lastrite are the only others so far who've had a proper stab at it. The choruses are never going to blend properly in this production unless they're in tune.)

There are two main points where the long-term dynamics need particular attention, the first of which is our old friend the start of the final choruses, of course, for reasons I've gone into before. The other is the beginning of the outro, and this could be because you've chosen really quite a high level for the lead vocal in the balance -- higher that I'd probably go for. The moment the lead vocal goes, your track loses quite a big chunk of level and performance energy. The backing vocals are quite well-judged in relation to the lead, though, and feel nicely nailed into place, but somehow their tone seems a bit too upfront for me. Maybe they just need more blending effects, in addition to their added sustain tail. Hearing you ride those BVs up during the outro confirms me in my opinion that this is a good tactic for making sense of that section, and I'd almost certainly follow a similar approach myself. I'd probably also make more of the guitar solo, though, too, as the potential of that seems a little wasted at the moment.

Lots of good ideas there, though, and plenty we've not heard before either. Just goes to show that mixing's never obvious!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Mix 11: Fishmed (submitted file: 41MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: An unusual choice of delay spin on the verse vocal, simply because its unsync'ed nature risks undermining the rhythm. But on balance I think that you've pulled it off -- always good to hear someone living a bit dangerously and getting away with it!

I'm not convinced by the specific reverb you've chosen for the toms in particular. It sounds a little too close to the 80s for most bands these days, and given that I don't think Young Griffo are casting any knowing glances back to that era I'd rethink that particular effect. If you need more blend, then try a more subtle and frequency-tailored ambience. If you want more 'boosh', then maybe try lifting the overheads or compressed room with automation -- or simply compress things harder!

The 100-200Hz region feels a bit overcooked, particularly on the bass and toms. Maybe pull those back a bit and allow some more of the guitar low end through. The guitars seem too wiry at the moment, even though that does keep the overall mix fairly clear in the midrange. This becomes a particular issue during the middle-sections, of course, where my eardrums are getting lightly sand-papered currently! If you can give the bass more character above the 100-200Hz range, that would probably help you, as well as bringing the roots of the chords out more clearly on small speakers. The 2-5kHz region also seems to be emphasised a little too much, which is making the middle sections feel rather hollowed out and buzzy.

There's a lot of good stuff in the drums department here, with some efforts clearly being taken to bring out that snare in the high frequencies. While this does have some success, I think that drum still needs some real midrange power too, so that it can push against a buss compressor and surreptitiously ride the whole mix. I particularly like the way the cymbals and room are coming across -- the whispery sustain of the ride and hat in particular. Another very well-judged kick-drum too, which fits both the verse and the chorus quite well to my ears.

As in Mattski's mix, the vocals feel as if they've been pulled too high in the mix, and it's unsettling the overall balance as well as the long-term dynamics. As I've mentioned once before, I reckon that you'd gain a lot from listening to your mix balance without the drums (and maybe the bass too) to get a really good handle on the internal balance with fewer distractions. It's amazing how effective this dodge is. (Besides, if it's good enough for Geoff Emerick and Alan Parsons, then it's good enough for me!)

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: Fishmed post 1; Fishmed post 2.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 41MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Mix 12: ExpressMix (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: Another very different interpretation here -- although not in quite as distant an orbit as Broman! The soft fluffy bass tone is a strong opening statement, as it overturns the driving rhythmic element within that part, and makes things feel more in suspended animation. Despite my instinctive apprehensions about losing this rhythmic element, in practice I'm pleasantly surprised how well you've made it work out.

The chorus texture is equally inventive, although here I'm not as easily won over. Probably the biggest stumbling block for me is the hyper-clicky drum tone, which weaves in a rather incongrous speed-metal thread, while the snare is very rattling and garagy -- it's got plenty of HF density to cut through the guitars, but at the cost of a rather disconcerting unnaturalness to the overall kit sound. The overheads appear to have been used primarily as cymbal mics, rather than allowing them to blend the rest of the kit much, and the toms are way in the distance.

On the plus side, though, I like the way you've brought out more of the character of the second chorus guitar line -- most people have majored on the main line, rather to the detriment of the secondary one, which I think's a bit of a shame. In fact, I wonder if there might be some arrangement variation available in this song from highighting the secondary part for a moment here and there.

The vocal tone sounds a bit like it's been over-EQ'd with narrow-band boosts, which makes it feel a bit scratchy. Also -- Help! Police! Someone's stolen the singer's dentures! Seriously, though, there's some pretty severe lisping on 'you see a devil in me', and there's no need for that with any modern de-essing tool. The severity of the processing makes me suspicious that it might be part of some kind of 'rock vocal' channel preset or something, rather than something intentional. (Presets for frequency-selective processing in particular are a complete non-starter for almost all mixing purposes, because these effects are so dependent on a sound's unique context at mixdown.) The lip noise is overbearing in the second verse too. Glad to see another serious stab at pitch-correction, though! (There appears to be some kind of glitch between 'coming around' and 'I am a failure indeed'. I figure this probably isn't desirable, so you might want to do some troubleshooting to ascertain the cause.)

You've got a fair bit of width to the mix, which gives an impressive spread in stereo, but it suffers some balance upsets in mono -- the BVs and guitars in particular take a pretty big level dive on a single speaker. The guitars also lose out from the mid-scooped overall mix tonality -- the two-octave range centred on 500Hz seems roughly 6dB down compared to the references mentioned. This mix seems to make much more sense once that's tackled with a bit of buss EQ, so I'm suspicious that monitoring problems may be holding you back.

Irrespective, I'm impressed by the boldness and creativity being demonstrated here, both of which characteristics are usually present in all the best mixes. Thanks for letting us hear what you've done!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: ExpressMix post.

Mix 13: Minorhead (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: The low end feels a bit funny in this mix. For a start, the low frequencies of the bass guitar are rather inconsistent, and this won't be helped by the phase mismatches between the left and right channels (a side-effect of bass widening again, I imagine). However, I also think that it's got something to do with the bass tone in this mix relying a lot on its fundamental, something that puts it into direct conflict with the kick drum. As a result, the pulse ends up feeling slightly blurred, and seems to lose a definite punch somewhere along the line. (Fret squeaks are overprominent too.)

I like the snare sound, and there's no danger of it getting lost in the texture, which is great. Although some of this is undoubtedly down to the guitar EQ, the snare pops through fine even in the much more present middle sections. This is just the kind of thing I'd had in mind for the snare, although I do still wonder if it's a touch lightweight -- as indeed is the mix tonality as a whole -- in the octave around 400Hz or so. The blend also isn't as good as I'd hope, and I wonder whether you need to lean a bit more heavily on the overheads, the room mic, and the tom-mic spill. Speaking of the toms, they suffer from a problem we've had once before already -- they're hyper-wide, and that feels very odd within the context of a not-particularly-wide overheads image.

Vocals seem pretty well balanced, but I wonder again whether the low midrange power of the choruses would be better coming from the guitars than the vocals, nice though it makes the vocals sound in their own right. The thickening effects on the chorus are well-designed, I think, and thicken things in a really good way.

Despite the niggles, I find myself warming to this mix a lot, which means that long-term dynamics issues become more of an issue relatively speaking. I find myself wishing that the choruses filled out a bit more, that the second mid-section was rebalanced to smooth out the tone a little, and that the final chorus had some trick up its sleeve to avoid the otherwise almost inevitable arrangement letdown. I think compression/reverb and overhead/room rides are the order of the day here. (Here's a leftfield thought for anyone feeling adventuresome, though: what about doubling the final chorus, and making the first one a drop-chorus? That would negate the need for the final chorus entry to sound bigger than mid-section 2, and would allow the second final chorus to arrive with a bigger subjective bang, even if it included no extra parts... )

Anyway, thanks for putting this one together Minorhead -- it's a really strong submission, not least because it's upped the ante on that snare sound.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: Minorhead post.

Mix 14: RobRokken (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: I can see that we're in no risk of running out of new ideas for this mix. What a menacing intro sound this is -- I like it! What I would say, though, is that I feel the drums could be much more menacing in response. At the moment they come across with fairly straightforward heavy rock aggression, but what if you shaved the top of the kick and slightly lo-fi'ed the cymbals instead, say? That bass entry has such character, I kind of feel I want to hear more of it. You could even give it a bit more presence at the expense of the lead guitar, because you sacrifice a lot of the bass line's internal rhythmic drive the way it currently is. The verse vocal tone and effects are already right on the button for a menacing kind of vibe too, and I think you'd get more atmosphere out of the opening that way, allowing you to leave extra aggression in reserve for the chorus.

Even when we get to the chorus, I think such spiky kick and snare sounds are perhaps counterproductive (even though the snare sustain seems to be heading along the right lines), because they concentrate a lot of energy into the 3-5kHz zone. By the time we get to Chorus 2, the guitars and the distorted vocals are all also cramming that region full of energy, with the result that the overall mix tone gets uncomfortably grating on my ear, and I find myself turning down the volume. (Kind of the opposite of what you'd want, really!) It's not that you don't want energy in that region; it's just that you don't want to pile everything in there at once, or else you lose all definition. This kind of situation is most likely to crop up if you make your EQ judgements with each track soloed, rather than within the context of the mix -- everyone instinctively has their favourite frequencies, and those that they aren't as fond of, so that will tend to translate into frequency peaks/troughs in your overall mix tonality. Everything can't sound great in every frequency region, so give your favourite frequencies to the most important instruments and then make sure the rest of the instruments make enough space for them to shine.

In addition to the 3-5kHz bunch-up, the low-midrange is quite recessed, presumably for similar reasons, but even if I adjust this with master EQ, it doesn't feel like the bass is nearly audible enough in the mix, especially in the light of the kick-drum's rock-solid low-end thud. The bass could contribute additional useful warmth and power, as well as driving the arrangement along with its nice melodic riffs and fills. The stereo picture feels a little narrow to me, yet the mono-compatibility feels less good than I'd expect from this. I'd guess that this probably comes down to your panning the drum and guitar multimics for width purposes without first confirming a decent phase-match for them in mono, although it's possible that some of the less hi-fi effects might also harbour hidden mono-compatibility problems -- you've got to be quite careful with freeware reverbs on that count, for example. Long-term dynamics are so-so at the moment, but I reckon a little rebalancing and some rides could make a big difference there. It's a shame to hear so little of the chorus BVs, for a start.

Altogether, then, my main message is to reasssess your EQ methodology and remember to check mono-compatibility. These issues aside, however, there's a lot to recommend this mix, and I reckon you could bring about big subjective improvements here without too much extra work. Thanks for letting us hear your ideas!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Mix 15: vvv (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: There's something very odd about the timing at the outset of this mix -- the guitar line sounds like it's slipped out of line. If this was intentional, then I'd be interested in knowing the thinking behind it. It does make it a bit trippier, I suppose, but it doesn't really work for me as it stands. Your dramatic reinvention of the bass sound makes for a nice swirly atmosphere in the verses, and also makes a great contrast with the aggression of the chorus. The downside, of course, is that it does also inevitably lose most of the rhythmic momentum of the verse part, and there are also phase mismatch issues at the low end on account of the deep stereo chorusing.

Before being able to judge anything else in the mix, I first had to adjust for the overall mix tonality, which is unfortunately very boxy, with a low-midrange emphasis and recessed frequency extremes -- a long way away from the references. Turning the playback volume up makes much more sense of the balance, though, which makes me think that you're monitoring too loud. Once I'd adjusted this frequency imbalance with some broad-brush master EQ, the mix was a lot easier to deal with.

The kick sound and general drum tone suits the verses pretty well, especially given the softer bass timbre. However, when the chorus hits, the overall drum sound feels very muffled. Although you do have to compromise some drum brilliance if you want to deliver clear-sounding guitars without harshness in a mix like this, it's gone a bit too far here, I think, and you could afford to be more sparing with your high cuts. The dull-sounding kick tone of the verse also gets mostly lost on smaller speakers during the choruses. Despite these things, I think there's actually a really good drum sound waiting to get out here, because if I mentally try to compensate for the drums' spectral tilt, the balance seems very respectable, and the snare's got exactly the kind of density, weight, and width that I'd hope for in this arrangement. The toms feel like they're maybe a bit too wide and not well enough blended, and the cymbals may be over-present in the outro particularly, but those are pretty small niggles, to be honest. (Did you trigger a snare sample in there, by the way?)

The overall balance is also pretty well-judged once the mix tonality is taken out of the equation. I think you could balance the main guitar during the verses a little lower compared with the vocal, because it feels like it's stealing a shade too much of the limelight. I like the sound of the guitar, though, because it's a nice contrast to the bass and drums, ringing out nice and clearly. The overall stereo width of the mix is also rather well-judged, although it's difficult to ascertain how the mono-compatibility holds up given the mix tonality issues.

You've introduced some interesting production touches here as well, although I think they could probably still do with some polishing as far as execution is concerned. I liked the delay overlap into the second chorus, for instance, especially because the chorus vocal melody doesn't start until the middle of the first bar of the chorus. However, the delay's timing feels a bit out of sync with the chorus, subjectively speaking, and that bugs me a bit. The alternating panning was also cool in the first mid-section, but the editing needs to be cleaner for this to really work properly, I think -- especially bar six, which rather stumbles over itself as a result. The reverb features on the drums in the second verse are also nice, but I reckon there's a danger of dating the whole production unless you differentiate these a bit more from the overall drum/production sound. Finally, is the lump in the final cymbal tail meant to be a production feature, or is it a dodgy edit?

On the whole I think you've explored lots of interesting new angles here, and you've clearly got a good ear for balance and blend already, so just paying a little more attention to your monitoring/referencing technique should hopefully improve things no end.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: vvv post.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 41MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Mix 16: JoshERTW (submitted file: 4MB 128kbps MP3 
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Critique: The first problem with this mix hits me straight away: the stereo image is very wide indeed. While there's an understandable tendency to think that 'more is more' in this respect when working on stereo systems, you put yourself at the mercy of serious balance side-effects on mono systems. Your bass guitar in this case suffers tremendously in mono, for example. It's not that surprising that you say you're working on headphones, as cans won't provide nearly the same giveaway 'beyond the speakers' stereo-imaging clue about potential mono-incompatibility, plus you're already used to hearing much wider images on headphones simply by nature of the lack of L/R crossfeed between your ears. My advice would be to get yourself a good stereo vectorscope plug-in to give yourself a bit more visual information to go on while mixing -- there are some suggestions under the 'Affordable Middle & Sides (M&S) Plug-ins' heading here, as well as lots of other examples/resources on that page relating to stereo-enhancement tricks.

Having reduced the stereo Sides signal by 6dB for auditioning purposes, I was able to concentrate more on other aspects of the mix. The top of my list of tweaks would be to bring the bass and drums up in the balance, because they're currently not very representative of the reference tracks. In my experience listening volume is much more critical when trying to mix on headphones, and you can often end up with low drum levels just like this if the listening volume is turned up too high -- it's natural to avoid sharp transients when the headphone drivers are only a fraction of an inch from your ears. You might expect bass to be overcooked and/or uncontrolled on headphones normally, but in my experience it's usually the other way around, for any number of potential reasons: mass-market headphones often incorporate an enormous bass boost to give them a flattering sound, and often distort the LF too; overloud monitoring is especially easy on headphones, leading to a natural low-end tip-up in your hearing system; and the anticipation of bass lightness by headphone users often leads them to over-egg the low end in an attempt to compensate. Your best tool here (other than a set of decent full-range monitors ) is a decent spectrum analyser. Again, you can find some affordable suggestions here. Having said that, there are other balance issues too (the lead vocals are ducking and diving into the balance, and the backing vocals are all but buried in the choruses), so I'd very much recommend you start checking your mixes in single-point mono as a matter of course to evaluate this aspect of the production more easily. You can find some little speakers I personally recommend for this here.

Despite the moderate use of different reverb/delay effects in your mix, the blend could be improved further, I think. It sounds to me like you're currently running different reverb effects for every part, which won't help. Try setting up a couple of global effects and then use your mixer's send controls to share them between a number of different tracks. That should help pull things together a bit more without washing everything out. (Having said that, the drums seem to blend with themselves pretty well already, albeit at the expense of a sound which feels a bit wet/distant most of the time.) The vocal ambience patch you've applied in the verses feels too prominent, and too audible as an artificial effect. This makes me think that you're trying to use it to achieve an enhancement which it's not good at providing. I'm guessing that you need to add some longer reverb/delay to give a sense of size and/or sustain, and then pull back the ambience into a more subtle blending role -- this might require EQ in addition to fader adjustment on the reverb's return channel.

All in all I think your choice of monitoring is currently holding you back in your quest for the perfect mix. While it's actually possible to create effective mixes when working primarily on headphones, you do need to be familiar with all the various workarounds to avoid various inherent stereo, EQ, and balance traps. As far as the low end is concerned, you might want to have a look at Chapter 3 of my book (which is one of the free sample chapters I've put on my site), as that goes into a lot more detail about this than I have space to do here.

Hope this helps!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: JoshERTW post.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 4MB 128kbps MP3 
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Mix 17: The Elf (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: My first impression here is that the low end of this mix needs filling out a fair bit, and therefore feels quite lightweight compared with the references. It took around 6dB of low end shelving boost at 50Hz to bring things back into the ball-park for me. If this often happens to you, then I'd be suspicious that your monitoring (and/or room resonances) might be bloating the low end of what you're hearing. The main offender in this case appears to be the bass line, which isn't really delivering anything much in the bottom octaves, despite a great midrange tone which translates well to my Auratone. The kick could also have more welly down low -- the rest of its spectrum seems appropriate for the chorus, but is perhaps a little too aggressive for the verse. There's a good stereo width to this track, and although it's not too wide for the most part, I think that a lack of phase-alignment between the panned guitar multimics is causing their sound to recede unduly in the mono balance -- the secondary chorus guitar and the additional middle-section parts in particular.

Each of the drum/cymbal sounds in isolation seem otherwise pretty reasonable, and the snare has a good dose of sustain to prevent it getting lost in the guitars. The clarity you've achieved between the guitars and snare in the first chorus is admirable, so whatever you've done with the EQ there is working! However, the issue that should now be highest on your list is blend, because the drums in particular sound too much like a collection of inidividual pieces, and not much like a kit -- almost like BFD or something, rather than a live drummer. Either you could try to improve this with short reverb, or you could make use of the overheads, the room, and the spill on the tom mics -- my preferred approach usually, although in practice a combination of both is usually necessary in most cases. (Whichever you use doesn't really matter, though, as long as the kit blends.) It's apparent that you've added reverb already, but it's not really the best type for this kind of job -- too much high end and length.

In addition to this, I'd suggest looking at master-buss compression for a track like this, because I think you could add extra excitement to the mix with it. (It'll also help push the snare spike back into the mix balance a bit, compared with the sustain tail, which will blend it a little better with the texture as a whole. However, for buss compression to work right in your particular mix version you'll need to fundamentally reassess the balance of the lead vocals, which feel much too loud and full-sounding in the mix at the moment, especially in the choruses. If I set up a buss compressor to take 3-4dB off the Chorus 1 peaks, then the vocal severely ducks the backing track come Chorus 2. It's not just a question of allowing you to use a buss compressor to advantage, though, because it's also about the basic decisions that you make as to which instruments are most important to the sound. In a fairly heavy rock track like this, the power and impact of the rhythm section is usually quite a lot more important than the richness of the vocal sound -- as long as the vocals can be clearly heard and understood, then they're probably doing their job pretty well. (As long as they don't sound completely rubbish, but there's little risk of you ending up with something dreadful-sounding, judging by your other timbre decisions here.) Clearly the vocal sound in the verses can afford to have more warmth, simply because the context is so different, but even in the verses the balance feels quite vocal heavy. (I like your lead vocal delay/reverb effects, though!) Are your monitors too far apart? That can be a reason for over-balancing central instruments such as vocals. Whatever the problem is, single-point mono monitoring really highlights the issue -- the vocal almost gobbles up the chorus backing track on my Auratone! To some extent the loud vocal helps with the tricky transition into the final choruses, but not that much given that the guitars at the end of the middle section are so aggressive-sounding (probably a bit too much, in fact).

Finally, I do like your added spot SFX in the reintro (a section which feels like it needs something like that to justify its existence) and in the run-up to the outro. The icing on top of another respectable mix -- despite my focus on the niggles here, you've done a lot of good work, especially in terms of retaining clarity, which is a common stumbling-block for small-studio users.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: The Elf post.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
)


Mix 18: Zabrilla (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: First off, good work on the more creative aspects of this mix. You've showcased a lot of different ideas, and many of them are very effective in contributing to the forward momentum, or just to a sense of unease which is entirely in keeping with the track. My main comment as regards maximising their potential is to concentrate on getting the timing exactly right, because otherwise you risk causing the overall groove to stumble unduly.

The vocal sound isn't really in the zone yet, and the thinness of the tone feels quite a long way off the mark, especially in the verses. While this sound is a little more suitable for the chorus onslaught (where mix space is more limited), the dryness of the vocal doesn't really feel appropriate to the wide-screen soundscape there either. There seems only a little delay and some kind of chorusy widener applied, whereas more expansive delays and reverbs feel more appropriate to me there. Don't get me wrong: much as I'm going on a fair bit about blend and reverb issues on this thread, I'm perfectly happy to leave things bone-dry where appropriate, it's just that this doesn't feel to me to be the right scenario for that kind of sound. A side-effect of the thin vocal timbre is that the sibilance has been very much exaggerated. If you're going to EQ the sound that way, then you need to get some serious de-essing involved. However, my recommendation would be to strip the vocal processing right back and try to think more in terms of clearing space for the singer using EQ on other parts, rather than applying such heavy processing on the vocal channel itself. You'll need a good deal of compression, but the EQ shouldn't need to be this drastic.

The kit sound seems to be fairly well balanced, and you've made a good stab at keeping the snare upfront, even though it's not particularly dense in the high-frequency region. The snare tone does feel a little muffled, though, so I might roll back a few of the low mids there. The kick is maybe a little too edgy for the verse, but feels good for the chorus. Blend isn't too bad, although the reverb effects that seem primarily responsible for this are rather too audible in their own right for a modern production. The kick-drum in the opening section is probably the clearest example of this -- the reverb is both noticeable and rather unnatural-sounding. Try to refine the sound of your reverb(s) so that they still do their blending/size-enhancement job, but without being as obviously audible as artificial effects. EQ'ing the effects returns will be a key weapon in this battle, so do give this activity the time it needs -- it's one of the things most commonly neglected in amateur mixes, in my experience. A bit more compression of the full drums buss (or using a parallel channel) would also be advisable, especially in this genre. Not only will that glue the kit sound together better, but it will also give you a little more sustain, so the drum peaks won't have to be as high to compete with the guitars in the mix.

While the kick is providing a measure of low-end weight, the bass is letting the side down on this score, I think, because it feels much too low in the mix. As a result, the overall mix tone lacks a certain amount of warmth and tunefulness in the 100-200Hz region particularly. If you're struggling to balance the bass part, then I'd guess that you might be suffering from low-frequency resonance problems in your listening room (most small studio have them to some extent), so do what you can to improve the acoustics if possible, and then try to make the maximum use of the various low-end workarounds I mention in Chapter 3 of the book (it's one of the sample chapters available here).

In addition, though, the mix has rather too much boxy-sounding 300-600Hz octave in there, and would also benefit from a good two-octave boost around 2kHz to bring the primarily instruments into focus and supply a slightly harder edge to the tone (in line with the references). These frequency mismatches between your mix and the references suggests to me that you might not be performing enough comparisons between your work and commercial material, and if that's the case then try to get into this habit at the earliest opportunity -- it's one of the most powerful mixing tools you have at your disposal. Although the width of the overall stereo image is for the most part fairly reasonable, the wider guitars which enter during the second middle-section suffer from mono-incompatibility. That means that although the second mid-section seems to step up an energy level in stereo, this effect is lost in mono -- in fact, if anything the second mid-section actually appears to lose power somewhat compared to the first.

Thanks for this submission, especially for demonstrating the impact that reverse-envelope transition effects can have in a mix like this.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: Zabrilla post; my reply.

Mix 19: Kman (submitted file: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: I like the guitar sounds in this mix -- they've got a nice sense of space to them. However, I'd say that the modulation effects are probably a bit too heavy for this style, especially when we reach the chorus, even though they do widen the stereo image nicely without introducing any serious mono-compatibility trade-offs. You're just taking things in a bit too much of a soft-rock direction for me. The bass guitar seems fairly sensibly mixed, and comes across well on a small speaker, so no real concerns there.

The verse vocal is nice and clear, without sounding too abrasive, and the effects are tastefully applied, making it seem a bit larger than life and yet still leaving it right at the front of the mix. However, when you reach the chorus the vocals don't really work as well in the new context, where there's less room for manoeuvre. I'm not sure it's actually much of a tonal issue as such (although a 2kHz prominence in the overall mix tonality certainly exacerbates things somewhat), it's just that they're really high in the balance, so they undermine the relative power of the rest of the mix. (I suspect that you're trying to compress them with too long an attack time, too, because the onset of the first syllable of each line is jumping out of the mix.) Try bussing both the lead and the double-track to a single group channel, and then fade it all the way down. Then, with the track playing, slowly inch the fader up until the vocals seem to fill the right niche in the mix -- where they're audible and intelligible, but not making the drums and guitars sound small. If you can't do that fairly easily, then the EQ probably needs a rethink. (You'll probably need to attend to the tuning issues too.) Again, as in The Elf's mix, single-point mono monitoring makes these balance decisions a whole lot easier, so I'd consider investing in something to do that if vocal balancing often proves challenging in your particular studio situation.

The main thing that needs work on this mix, though, is the drums. Have you done a lot of gating here? Whatever it is you've done, it feels like you've probably thrown the baby out with the bathwater, because the result is lacking in body, sustain, and blend. Although I can hear that you've added some reverb effects to these tracks, these don't really succeed in pulling all the separated bits back together. To be fair, it's almost impossible to artificially reinstate that sense of coherence you get naturally from the spill on a multi-mic drum recording, so it's not necessarily a criticism of your effects use. It just sounds like you've tried to build the kit out of the close mics first, only lightly sprinkling in the overheads and room at the end of the process -- whereas the opposite approach is often a lot more successful in generating a convincing rock drum sound. It also means that your drums balance is heavily weighted in favour of the kick and snare, and that the kit's stereo image and sense of 'air' are compromised. My advice? Take a deep breath(!), pull the whole drum mix down, and rebuild it starting with the overheads. (Bear in mind that you may need to consider issues of phase more carefully when taking this approach, though. If you're unclear what I'm talking about there, check out this SOS article I wrote on the subject.)

Overall, though, there's much to be proud of here, not least the guitar and bass balancing. Don't beat yourself up about the drums, either -- live multitrack drums can be extremely tricky to handle at mixdown, no matter how much practice you've had at dealing with them.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Mix 20: mrtuesday (submitted file: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: Right -- attention everyone! This contest has just moved up a gear!

(Step forward and take a bow mrtuesday. )

Seriously, this is now the 20th version of this mix I've listened to, but it's the first one that's had me bopping around my living room. The drums sound full and cohesive; the vocal tuning is much tighter; the guitar textures have been subtly filled out with additional overdubs without overshadowing the band's own musical lines; the low end is both powerful and controlled, without muddiness; the clarity of all the individual parts is excellent; the small-speaker translation is splendid; the overall tonality and stereo spread are on the whole very well-judged; it sounds like there has already been a good deal of automation work to keep a close handle on the balance as the texture changes; and there are a dozen little production touches besides which keep tickling your ear to stop you zoning out. There's so much I like here that I'll be more concise if I concentrate my critique on the few remaining niggles, but make no mistake: for my money, this is currently the mix to beat.

So what could still be improved? Well, the first thing I'd suggest would be to have a closer look at the timing. I wonder whether you've already done some timing tweaks, because it feels like it skips along better than most of the other mixes, but it's possible that this is an illusion created by the balance itself. Whatever the case, there are still numerous points in this mix where the timing stumbles subtly, reducing the forward momentum of the track -- probably most starkly the two verses, but there are moments in the mid-sections and outro as well which I'd think of attending to if I were in your position. It's particularly the timing relationship between the drums and the massed bass/guitars rhythm that's my concern. There's also the odd section of tuning in the choruses that I might revisit if the vocal's going to be that high in the balance.

While I like the drums a lot, the tom fills feel thin-sounding and are rather low in the balance for my liking. I'd also be tempted to push the snare up another decibel at least. That might seem initially to imbalance the snare against the kick, but the moment you try to increase the loudness of this mix the snare transient that's currently slicing cleanly through the texture will lose some of that edge it's relying on. The snare might also benefit from some more high end just during the choruses, but I'm not sure. We're getting into 'suck it and see' territory here. And maybe you could have a slightly larger 'virtual drum room'? It's not wrong as it is, exactly, but it just feels a little like I'm sitting and watching a great live drummer in my living room, rather than in a live venue. Who knows, you might be able to achieve the effect simply by delaying the room mic a bit.

There's little to fault the guitar sounds, as far as I'm concerned, with the exception of one balance issue: the main high riff in the choruses feels a bit understated, where it's actually something of a hook. This is particularly apparent in mono, because that part is panned well to the left and therefore loses roughly 3dB in the balance against the vocals. I'd also like to hear a bit more riding of the melodic details of the chorus guitar parts, particularly where they plug the gaps in the vocal phrases.

The lead vocals sound great to me in the verses: tall and wide, with nice throaty things going on. However, in the choruses they're not quite as successful. For a start, I think they're a bit high in the balance, and you could make more of the effects and doubletrack in terms of matching the vocals to the more expansive chorus backing. At the moment, the vocal feels a little stranded out the front, and is undermining the otherwise excellent illusion of size generated by the rest of the arrangement. While I like the general direction that's been taken with the backing vocals, they're competing with the vocal in the midrange in a way that I'm not sure is ideal. I'd be tempted to give them less 2-3kHz and a bit more 'air'. Their reverb effect is a bit stodgy too, from a tonal perspective. You don't have much space in the mix for these backing vocals, so they have to be carefully carved to fit. You could bring them up higher in the outro too, I think, or even make a new SFX feature of some kind out of them.

I'd like to hear even more automation riding, pulling up melodic corners and fills in the backing parts, and really taking the initiative in directing the listener's attention towards the most interesting elements of the music from moment to moment. The lead vocals still aren't quite as stable as I'd like, either, and automation could help there too -- although you'll probably only be able to improve significantly on what's already there if you spend quality time with a single-point mono monitoring system. Automation might also provide some help with the first verse, which doesn't seem quite to sustain the intensity between the vocal phrases, now that the guitar has been ditched in aid of the long-term dynamics. (If rides don't go far enough, then other sampled effects might be introduced, or else some kind of interesting 'spot modulation' of the existing ones.)

And speaking of long-term dynamics, there's still more that could be done to provide that crucial final-chorus-entry pay-off. Given that this mix has already pushed the supplied multitrack material about as far as it can go, it seems pretty clear to me that people are really going to have to think outside the box to make significant further headway on this issue. It's probably the biggest single challenge of this job.

Although the stereo picture isn't too wide, by any means, there are still some mono-compatibility issues, in that I'm losing quite a bit of top end off the guitars and cymbals in mono. I wonder if a Vitalizer-style buss process might have been applied to the high end, in fact, which would help account for it. If it's not that, then maybe a little additional phase-alignment between the two sides of any stereo signals in the mix might improve matters. As a smaller point, the super-wide guitar chops in mid-section 2 feel a bit too far off-centre, so that they seem to stick out unduly. You could say that this is a nice bit of variety (as they're not essential to the texture), but I'm not sure I quite buy it in practice.

The overall mix tonality is within a gnat's whisker of the Thrice track, and generally very suitable for the style. Personally I might cut a decibel or so around 250Hz to combat a hint of tubbiness, and also maybe boost a decibel at 1.5kHz to slightly harden the overall tone. That said, mid-section 1 is already sounding just a hint harsh/hollow at the moment, so a bit of EQ tweaking or rearrangement may be required for that section independently of this.

There's a new line in the sand...

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: mrtuesday post; my reply.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
)


Mix 21: Loon (submitted file: 9MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: Another very accomplished mix this, hot on the heels of mrtuesday, although quite different in outlook. (I see we have more than one dark horse to contend with!) Lots of nice production touches here again, including one of the more effective solutions to the reintro 'interest lull' -- I like that idea a lot, although it still needs a little development to really tide me over the whole section. (What can I say? I get bored easily... ) Can you perhaps subtly change the sound as it repeats? Just an idea, although it might not be enough to clinch it.

The real strength of this mix for me is that it captures much more of the expansiveness that I've been talking about in previous critiques. This is partly a function of the effects usage, which teeters at times on the brink of over-wetness, but just about gets away with it all things considered. My main concerns with the effects are that I think they might be clouding the guitars a bit, losing some of the nice internal details of the sound, and that the drums feel slightly too distant. The main chorus riff also feels as if it might be just a touch washed out, whereas I think it still needs to have an element of distinctness to it. The way the vocal double-track and effects blend in with the guitars is great, although I think they could be controlled more closely level-wise and then lowered into the balance to allow the guitars and drums to provide more subjective power.

Nice to see another conscientious tuning job, although it does sound as if you've only tuned the lead in the choruses, and not its double-track, so it's still sounding a bit sour on account of that. I'm not suggesting we make this into R&B , but they've nonetheless got to be tight enough to achieve sufficient blend with the backing. That new little vocal motif in the reintro could also be tweaked a bit, I think. It sounds to me as if some timing adjustments have gone on here too, and if so that's also great to see, because there are definite bonus points to be had there. That said, there are still a number of areas where the timing still feels like it's fighting itself, so there's more you could do if you had the time to spare. In my experience, the impact of timing edits is one of the things that small-studio operators most commonly underestimate. (Another thing: I'd probably tweak some of the consonant flamming between the lead and double-track vocals, to improve the intelligibility a bit.)

The stereo image feels maybe a bit centre-heavy during the choruses, although I suppose it does open out further with the extra overdubs in the mid-section, and there's definitely a sense that you've painted out to the edges with your effects, so it's perhaps not a huge issue. One of the biggest problems with this mix for me is the overall tonality, which is rather woolly: too much energy at 200Hz, and not enough at 1kHz or 5kHz. Adjusting this overall curve isn't too tricky with a buss EQ, however, so it's just a question of comparing the mix with the references and experimenting -- try to avoid anything too narrow-band, though, or it could cause undue upset in the balance department.

Applying this kind of EQ myself for comparison purposes revealed that the vocals are probably a little too perky in the 4kHz region, and get rather grating on the ear as you crank the playback volume, especially because this is otherwise quite a smooth-sounding mix in terms of the backing timbres. Other than that I have to say I like the balance you've created a lot. Even the snare, which initially struck me as maybe a bit too lightweight, actually fits quite well with the smoother-sounding guitars than it would with the more aggressive-sounding chords that have frequented many of the other mixes so far. I wonder whether you might shift a little of the low midrange emphasis away from the bass in order to allow the guitars a greater contribution in that area of the spectrum. It's just that the guitars feel a touch thin by comparison with the bass, even on small speakers.

As far as the individual section balances go, things are pretty solid throughout, although I might be tempted to push up the drums a decibel or two overall and then get busier with a buss compressor to give the whole mix a bit of additional dynamic movement. However, the long-term dynamics seem just slightly shaky at the moment, and I'd try to focus your attention on ensuring that you don't push things too hard too early, so you leave yourself as much leeway as possible to create a splash when it's warranted. The long-term dynamics crunch-point at the start of the final choruses definitely suffers by comparison with the all-guns-blazing excitement of mid-section 2, for example. While it's great that the mid-sections are a blast, it's actually the chorus where I think you want the crowd to really go crazy.

Still, there's no question that the competition is really hotting up. Good work Loon!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: Loon post.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 9MB 320kbps MP3 
)


Mix 22: JohnSuitcase (submitted file: 5MB 196kbps MP3 
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Critique: First things first: the mix tonality is rather off-kilter at the moment -- the 300Hz-1.5kHz region seems to be missing in action, and there's a significant 3-10kHz emphasis too. Without adjusting for those everything seems out of balance, so I applied some master EQ to compensate before getting down to the proper critiquing. The vocal, drum, and guitar sounds all suddenly made much more sense once that had been done. If this mix tonality sounds right in your room, then I reckon you need to have a look at your monitoring situation, reference more often, take more frequent breaks -- or all of the above!

Anyway, on to the details. The reverse effect into the first verse is perfectly judged. It can be tricky to makes these things work, but you've pulled it off really nicely here. The edit is also very canny from a commercial perspective, as it brings the vocal into view a good 12 seconds earlier, and means that you hit the first iteration of the chorus material by around 0:40. This is no small consideration in a track like this, which is unusual in introducing its first vocal chorus rather late in the game.

Even with the buss EQ in place, the verse vocal feels like it has maybe a touch too much 4kHz, and this impression increases in the choruses. I'd probably add a little 500Hz in the verse too to thicken the tone a bit and help the listener really identify with it. You've made interesting use of an obvious artificial reverb on it too -- it makes a good contrast with the slightly claustrophobic bass and kick vibe you've got going. The chorus vocal presentation doesn't quite work for me, though. It sounds rather too isolated without the double-track, and the rich reverb seems out of place in this style for me. You could make more of those BVs, too, especially as you've captured rather an effective tone/effects combination for those.

Speaking of reverb, I think maybe you're relying on it too much in general. At the moment, the clarity of the parts just seems slightly veiled and homogenised, so maybe try turning down the reverb returns/lengths overall to see if this helps. Some careful EQ'ing of the returns would also probably be worthwhile.

The kick feels slightly over-clicky, and the lower tom feels like it could be reined in a bit at the low end, because it booms a bit too much in the chorus fills for me. The rest of the drums, though, sound good, and the snare cuts nicely without feeling too slender, which is always a bit of balancing act. I do wonder, though, whether you've carved a little too much midrange out of the overheads, because the cymbals feel slightly thin, and it'd be nice for them to have a fraction more body when the drummer really starts flailing around.

I like the wiry guitar sound in the verses, and it cuts through really well in the first chorus too. Initially I wondered whether it had enough gravitas to carry that first chorus, but I think it's fine -- it's bigger than the first verse, yet leaves more room for the second chorus to impress. The extra guitar drive in the second chorus is a good idea in principle, and certainly helps the transition into the final choruses, but the downside of it is that it emphasises the 4kHz region that is already at risk of harshness on account of the vocal, so you probably need to do some further EQ tweaking there.

Tuning is pretty good again, and it sounds like you've also done some timing work too, because the verses seem less lumpy in this respect than on some of the other mixes. The stereo image feels a bit 'W'-shaped, in that there's not too much going on between the extremes and the centre most of the time. Some people engineers actively prefer this kind of presentation, but I'm not as keen, and it usually affects the sense of blend adversely for me, as well as presenting difficulties with balance changes in mono. That said, your mono-compatibility is good in terms of tone, even though the wide-panned guitars do inevitably drop quite a lot in the balance.

This is a good solid mix (albeit tricky to get into initially given the skewed tonality) and offers some important new input as far as dealing with the final choruses entry is concerned. Thanks for posting -- and, of course, thanks too for hosting the contest!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: JohnSuitcase post.

Mix 23: Vincent (submitted file: 9MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: Wow! There's a lot of inventive stuff going on here. (And I had a good giggle at myself when I turned rounding thinking someone was knocking on the door at 1:06... ) Full marks to you for grabbing the material with both hands and bending it to your will! The dubby delays are particularly interesting, and I reckon those might inspire a lot of the other mixers here to incorporate something like that, especially in the verses. You've carried out a bold section edit too (ditching half of the first vocal verse), which gets us into the depths of the song quicker -- a justifiable trade-off potentially. The fade-out ending is also an interesting idea, and I can't quite decide whether I like it or not. Maybe that's a good thing! Keep the audience guessing...

I like the way you've drafted in plenty of effects to broaden out the texture in the choruses and mid-sections, although your implementation could do with a bit of additional work to get the best results, I think. Firstly, I reckon that you could pull back the returns by probably 3dB at least, and then use buss compression to bring up the drier details a bit more instead. At the moment, the reverbs in particular are making the sound a little 'soupy' as the finer points of the sounds struggle to really make their character felt. In addition, I think you also might reduce the decay times of some of these effects for similar reasons. Some EQ coutouring might also pay dividends, reducing the audibility and 'artificialness' of the sound at the high end, and leaving more room for the bass, kick, and toms at the low end.

The stereo image is fairly full-sounding, but doesn't transfer particularly well into mono -- partly a question of phase-relationships between the multi-mics and partly on account of some of the very uncorrellated bright stereo effects you're using. In terms of overall tonality, there's a definite lightness to the low end, in particular as far as the kick's concerned -- it's not nearly audible enough for me in the balance, even on big speakers. I suspect that you could also cut a little from the mix around 600Hz as well, as it feels slightly boxy at the moment.

Aside from the kick-drum issue, the tone and balance decisions are fairly reasonable for the most part. The lead vocals are quite high in the balance during the choruses, though, and detract a certain amount from the apparent size of the backing. The BVs are also really jumping out of the balance on the third note of each of their phrases -- not sure why that should be, but maybe they just need to be more carefully controlled with dynamics. The tom fills also feel rather bloated at the moment, both in terms of level and EQ. I'd probably turn down the snare a bit too -- it currently feels like it's dominating over the cymbals most of the time.

Overall lots of fearless mix decisions being made, which I'm all definitely in favour of! Thanks for contributing all those ideas -- certainly opens up all sorts of new possibilities.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: Vincent post; my reply.

Mix 24: TonyPizza (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: You've judged the overall tonality pretty much spot-on in this mix, which immediately gives it a sense of 'rightness', and in general the tone and balance of the instruments is pretty commendable. The only major thing I'd rethink is the razor-sharp edge on the kick, snare, and tom sounds, which takes things slightly too far in a metal direction for me and fairly quickly begins to make my ear canals feel a bit sore. If you can round them off, both in terms of tone and transient level, I reckon you should be able to bring them up in the mix so that they inject more character and subjective power. I'd also probably fade the overheads up a couple of decibels, because the cymbals seem rather overpowered by the drums at the moment.

I like the verse lead vocal a lot, with its tight but musical compression and no hint of emphasised sibilance. Great work! The delay spin is also good for helping to bridge those section boundaries. My one criticism is that the compression is lifting the level of the lip noise to a distracting degree in the reintro and second verse in particular. Simple to sort out once you've tuned in to it, though. The chorus vocal sound is also great, managing to sound thick and well-blended even though the double-track isn't as high as I'd instinctively have put it in the balance. In fact, it's a testament to the quality of the blending treatments used here that they succeed so well despite the uncorrected tuning, but I'd still suggest attending to that if you want to improve things further. The BVs feel rather low in the balance again. They're a real hallmark of the chorus for me, so it seems a shame to bury them.

The bass and guitars are well integrated and balanced, and I can't say enough good things about that opening bass-guitar riff! Really gutsy and menacing. Love it! In general you've managed to pull lots of nice details out of the guitars, but without them getting harsh, which isn't always easy with home-brew recordings. Not sure I'd want the guitar solo panned hard left, though -- it's his moment in the limelight, so I think it's only fair to allow him to step up and pull shapes with his foot on the vocalist's floor wedge!

While I like a lot of your mix effects, I would pull down the returns a decibel or two to let the raw sounds speak a bit more for themselves. A bit of high-frequency EQ cut on some of the returns should also prevent a suspicion of early-90s digital reverb signature creeping in -- it seems to me that a more organic vibe would probably serve the band better in this respect.

Mono-compatibility it a bit of a concern, because the guitars, cymbals, and chorus-vocal widening effects all lose quite a bit of high end in mono -- more than I'd be happy to let go personally, especially given that the balance is quite light on overheads already. Panning the main guitar chorus riff hard left also impacts directly on the mono balance, leaving what should be a full-band texture sounding rather hollowed-out in the midrange.

I was pleased to hear how well you'd managed to handle the final chorus entry, which is about as successful a rendition of that little turnaround as we've had so far, despite no lack of moshing during the middle sections. A good bit of sleight of hand! (Although it does have to be said that it doesn't fare nearly as well in mono, on account of the reduced chorus-riff level.) On the other hand, the entry into the first chorus (and to a lesser extent the second chorus too) feels like it could be more of an event.

On the whole, there's loads of good stuff in this mix without it getting flashy, and you've clearly got a lot of good instincts to draw on in terms of balancing guitars and vocals. Thanks for the submission!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Mix 25: louie_1 (submitted file: 7MB 233kbps MP3 
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Critique: The top end of your mix could do with a good dose of extra air, but this could be easily remedied with some buss EQ. However, if you're going to do this then a few of the HF transients (kick, stick clicks, snare) will probably need to be rounded off a bit to avoid them poking anyone's eye out. The kick in the choruses particularly sounds almost like it's glitching -- it's a bit like it's been gated with too high a threshold, turning the natural attack into a kind of audio click. The vocal lip noise in the reintro and second verse will also need to be dealt with, I reckon, as it's rather distracting with the extra air boost in place.

In addition, there's also a bit too much woof overall in the 100Hz zone, but this is probably beyond the reach of such a simple fix, because it seems to be coming from a build-up between the bass and kick. I'd suggest looking at the EQ on those different instruments to try to focus them into slightly different regions. Most people have tended to leave the 100Hz area of the kick clearer to let the bass through, but although that's perhaps the most straightforward approach it's not the only solution.

The snare sound is relying heavily on its sharp initial transient to carve its niche in the mix, but I'd suggest giving it more sustain character as well (as I've already discussed in a number of these critiques), otherwise any down-stream loudness processing will murder the apparent drum balance. The tom fills seem a bit wide, as compared with the cymbals image coming through the overheads. I like the compression pumping! (I'm a bit of a sucker for that, what can I say... )

I like the vocal sounds, both in the verse and the chorus, but I think they're being sucked a little too far back into the mix by their effects. Get a bit more predelay in there, and see if you can pull the return levels down a touch, because I think the performance will impress people more if you keep it a little clearer of the backing. The vocal levels, on the other hand, are probably a fraction too high throughout at the moment. That said, I think there's still quite a bit of potential for filling out the drums and guitars in the mix texture, in which case the higher vocal level might be more necessary.

Speaking of which, my suggestions for inflating the texture would be to make a bit more of the overheads and guitars in the balance, and maybe to shift a bit of the low midrange emphasis onto the guitars instead of the bass. The backing vocals could make much more of a statement too, filling out the top end of the stereo picture and hinting at more epic acoustic dimensions. Tempo-sync'ed delay could really be your friend here, as well, as it'll give you more sustain without washing things out. It already feels like there's enough long reverb, but I'm not convinced you've found the best patch for it yet. Something more spacious and high-ceilinged, but without too much length, which will only add mix clutter.

Despite the criticisms, you've clearly got a vision for what the band are trying to achieve, and it's just a case of pushing your implementation to get closer to it. Thanks for submitting!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: louie_1 post.

Mix 26: stickfigure (submitted file: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: Vocals in the verses are nice and airy, but perhaps too obviously widened, which seems to detract a bit from the authenticity of the lyrical sentiments. Love the way you've flown the vocals around a bit to other sections of the song, and generated artificial harmonies to fill out the vocal arrangement. (I'd double-check the tuning of the latter, though, as they gave me the odd twinge.) It's possible that you've overcooked these additions during the outro, though, so that it begins to become slightly gimmicky -- that seems to me to undermine the central angst of the message in this song. Careful of the 10kHz frequencies of the vocal sibilance during the choruses.

The verse bass line's widening effect is putting out-of-phase components into the low end of the spectrum, which won't help the consistency (as I've mentioned in previous posts). Maybe high-pass the effect's return at 200Hz or so to head off any problems. The bass in the chorus feels a bit underplayed, though. I like the alternating panning you've got on that guitar riff in the verse, but although it's an elegant solution to a potential stereo-imbalance pitfall in this section, I do find that the cut-out on each side (as it switches to the other) gives the game away too much. I'd probably try to create some apparent overlap using surreptitious copying/time-stretching of the note tails to try to smooth this a bit.

The kick drum works much better for the verse than the chorus, where it almost completely disappears on an Auratone. The overheads hold their own in the mix nicely, but their 3kHz region feels like its hashing the mix out once the guitars really get going in the mid-section, and the whole tonality starts to feel too thrashy. The snare is again balanced sensibly, but would nonetheless benefit from more HF sustain to avoid its timbre clouding over unduly during the heavier-sounding sections. You've blended and widened it very nicely, though. The lower tom sounds rather bloated during the fills, but a little notching of its powerful fundamental should easily sort that out.

Overall the spectrum isn't badly judged, although it could do with more energy in the top octave or two, and maybe a little dip at 2kHz or so. The stereo's got a decent enough width to it, but mono-compatibility could certainly be better on the guitars and cymbals in the more full-on sections. Carefully investigate your multimics and effects returns to find the worst culprits, then look to see whether some phase realignment might help improve things.

The final thing to mention is that this is probably the most extreme buss processing we've had so far, and it really makes its presence felt when the big guns start firing. While I think that no-one up until now has really pushed the possibilities of buss compression as far as I think you could do on this particular mix, it does need to be done carefully if you're to avoid disturbing the balance and long-term dynamics, and unfortunately this mix falls down a bit in those areas. It feels like the guitars and bass are getting pushed down into the mix at the very moment when they need to open up, while the drums are losing presence and definition, and folding in on themselves. The result is that the mix is tending to feel smaller the harder it hits the compressor, which is kind of the opposite of what you want! I'd recommend taking the buss compression off briefly and trying to rebalance the mix roughly without it, before returning to the buss compression settings and keeping your ear out as much for the side-effects as for the benefits.

Another thought-proviking mix, which opens up a number of lines of inquiry which others might also do well to explore.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: stickfigure post.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
)


Mix 27: deejsirois (submitted file: 35MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 5MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: We've reached another milestone: deejsirois has come up with the first really inventive solution to the long-term dynamics problem facing the final choruses entry. And it's an absolute pearl in my opinion, not least because I'd probably never have thought of it myself in a million years! The fade-out pulls the rug from under the middle-section's rock-out, the delayed chorus downbeat wrong-foots you, then the transition drops you like a rollercoaster into the real entry, at which point the master fader pushes everything up a notch. In a word, brilliant.

Still, being the picky so-and-so that I am, I'd nonetheless say it could still be made quite a lot stronger. Arresting as the fade-out is, I'm thinking that it's a bit too great a hiatus at this point in the track, and will be reduced in effectiveness anyway by any subsequent loudness processing. I think you could probably get away without it, hitting those three snare hits full-throttle and then relying more on the pause to drop the level in anticipation of the chorus entry. Whatever you decide, though, I think that you might be able to make things even more effective by leaving the entry just a split-second later (irrespective of how that lines up with your software's metric grid). It just sounds slightly hurried to me. The listener's perception of time will inevitably go a bit haywire whenever you drop out the rhythm completely like this. Your other edits are well-thought-out, but I'm not quite convinced with the six-bar reintro. Sometimes changing the phrase length works, but it confuses me a bit there.

In general I like most of the balance decisions, and everything seems to come through well on small speakers, so there's not much to say on that side of things. The snare and cymbals both feel a bit too strident at 3-4kHz, which robs the snare of some power and nudges the mix towards harshness during the more heavily overdriven later sections. The tom fills have gotten a bit lost somewhere, and could do with a bit more level. The vocals feel well controlled in terms of dynamics, but I wonder if you might be able to get away with a tiny bit more body in the low midrange to make them feel a little more solid, and maybe have a touch less 3-4kHz too.

I like what you've done so far with your effects, which have already broadened the basic tracks a great deal. However, it sounds to me like you're relying too much on reverb (and comparatively bright reverb) to do this job, where a more even mix of dynamics, modulation effects, delays, and/or overdubs would almost certainly achieve greater fullness while compromising the clarity and immediacy of the whole mix less. Try to carve away every bit of reverb that isn't essential using EQ, and then fill the shortfall with other techniques.

The overall tonality of this mix feels a touch cool for me, so maybe dial in a little more sub-150Hz to just widen the spectrum a little and balance it out against the well-extended highs. The stereo picture is fairly engaging, and while the cymbals seem to survive quite well into mono, the guitars do take rather a level hit on account of some of the hard panning, and the opening bass widening has the usual low-end phase issues. The vocals also seem to get less clear during the choruses, presumably because of phase-cancellation in some of their stereo widening effects -- always something to be on the lookout for.

Again, congratulations on an inspired long-term dynamics stunt. I almost hugged my speakers when I heard it!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: deejsirois post.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 51MB 24-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 5MB 192kbps MP3 
)


Mix 28: FritzErlangga (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: The first thing that strikes me about this mix is that the kick's pretty much missing in action. Not sure what the thinking is here, but I'd expect it to at least rival the snare for mastery of the rhythm track and it's almost non-existent in the balance at the moment. The good news, though, is that the rest of the kit blends really nicely and otherwise seems to balance sensibly. The snare has a nice mid-range tone, but could do with some more power and length in the upper frequencies as well, because it's coming across as a bit dull/boxy tonally. It's maybe a little too wet too -- I'd prefer it a bit closer up, I think. A bit more compression on the drum buss might not go amiss to try to thicken the cymbals and sustains more. Just be careful not to emphasise the cymbal sticks any more, as they already seem on the verge of overbearing on occasion.

I like a lot of the guitar sounds, which are full and detailed without harshness, although a hint of something slightly metallic seems to be happening during the middle-section which I'm not quite as fond of. Are you reamping at all in there? If so, then it might be a phase mismatch somewhere causing comb-filtering. The bass feels low in the balance, and could do with both additional low-end warmth and some extra presence higher up in the midrange to bring the riffs through the guitars better.

You're clearly not afraid to push important parts out front, and there's a lot to be said for that in terms of commandeering the listener's attention. However, some of the lead instruments do feel a bit too high in the balance, which weakens the momentum and power of the rhythm section to an extent. The moments that most stick out to me are the second and third choruses, where the vocals undermine the long-term dynamics by towering over the backing. For the vocals in particular a 450Hz peak in the overall mix tonality isn't helping this issue, because the vocal is probably too strong in this region even without that, so will tend to feel bigger in the mix than it should.

I like the effects in this mix, which fill things out without getting too heavy-handed most of the time -- the main exception being perhaps the lead vocals, where I get the impression that the reverb has been edged up to try to blend a vocal that is essentially just too loud. Even if blend were all it needed, the longer reverb you're using here isn't really the best tool for that particular job. A shorter, more modest-sounding ambience would work better.

Given the bass/kick issues I've already mentioned, it's a little tricky to judge the overall tonality of the mix, but I suspect that a little more air in the top octave would be a sensible tweak, and a small dip at 2kHz might also smooth out a little nasality there. The stereo field is fairly well managed, although the guitar/cymbal mono-compatibility issues do cause some tone and balance problems on a single speaker. In particular, I'd try to centre and narrow that guitar solo at the end, because at the moment it's bombing quite badly in mono.

A bold mix, this one, with some tasteful effects enhancements. Thanks for letting us all have a listen!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Mix 29: huntermusic (submitted file: 41MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: Here's an updated critique for the huntermusic mix, which I previously felt was very bass-light. Because huntermusic was surprised at this, and was worried that I might have listened to the wrong mix by mistake, I removed the previous critique, and have now freshly re-downloaded the track and double-checked everything. The mix is indeed the same one I reviewed, but I think I may have been rather unclear what I meant, so it's as well to have revisited it. So let me start afresh and see if I can make it any clearer what I mean.

Comparing the mix tonality against the references there's a considerable mismatch, which makes it a little tricky to evaluate other balance/tone issues. How you look at this mismatch is a question of perspective. The way I see it is that the low end of the mix energy appears to tilt away below 1kHz, and I needed to apply about 8dB low boost at 50Hz to bring it more into line with what I would expect. What I didn't make clear in my previous critique, though, is that the kick drum is actually supplying a reasonable portion of low end in the 50-60Hz region, so the track is not without some low frequencies -- it's just that the subjective tone of everything else (which I rather too loosely referred to as 'the mix' before) feels like it's lacking lows.

As I said, though -- it's a question of perspective. If you turn up this mix so that the low end from the kick feels right, then it might not seem bass-light, but instead overly forward in the higher frequecies (especially around 2kHz or so). Since my original critique, huntermusic PM'ed me to say that he'd applied some mastering-style processing to the mix, specifically to boost the highs (which he felt were lacking), and he also sent me the unmastered version for comparison, which did indeed have 3dB or so less high end. In reassessing the critique, I therefore decided to work from that unmastered version (40MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
) to make it a little easier to judge other aspects of the mix. In addition, he mentioned that he'd referenced against some mainstream 'radio rock' acts, so he may well have been chasing a different goal tonally speaking. Taking all this into account, then, let me move on to the other issues in the mix.

The first thing I noticed is that there appears to be some kind of periodic audio glitching going on. Maybe the audio interface latency is set too low -- you usually want a good old buffer size for mix work, given all the processing going on. The vocal feels rather too prominent in the 5-9kHz region without enough hardness in the 1kHz zone, such that the 'f's, 'd's and 't's came across as rather 'spitty' (even though the sibilance appears well under control) and the timbre somehow spongey. When the singer's delivery changes for the choruses, however, the vocal seems to get more centre to it and becomes more appropriate to my ears, albeit with a touch too much sibilance.

It's good to hear tuning being addressed again, although I wonder whether I'm hearing some wobbly side-effects of the correction processing in the verses. It could just be the vocal's modulation effect, but it does feel like it's reducing the sincerity of the singer's delivery. The timing seems a bit tighter in this mix than some others. While I suspect he may have done some work on that, it may also simply be the nature of the balance that's making things groove better -- after all, the thinner-sounding guitars don't impact the rhythm as much, and the kick's very prominent in the balance.

In general the bass guitar feels significantly too low in the balance for me, and given the generally middly choice of guitar tones, this leads to a lack of warmth in the low mids when we hit the chorus. Come the middle sections, I really missed its input in terms of the great slides and melodic riffs it uses to drive this section along. Just lifting the bass fader would make a big difference to this mix, I reckon.

The advantage of the clear, bright guitar tones favoured in general in this mix is that they work well for pulling out all the interesting melodic fragments in the verses/choruses, but without overburdening the mix as a whole. The main disadvantage, though, is that it seems like it's heading too much in the direction of punk for this particular song, and when the overdrive really kicks in during the mid-sections a 3-4kHz peak builds up which I found quite fatiguing to listen to -- I caught myself reaching for the volume knob, which is rarely a good sign! My suggestion would be to rely more on lower frequencies to give the guitars power, rather than majoring too much on the 'bite'.

The snare tone has little difficulty in slicing through the mix, and is commendably resistant to being ducked by loudness processing too. In fact, I reckon it could actually be turned down a little (and probably dipped a touch at 6kHz too) to blend it more with the rest of the kit, and could be treated with a little extra short, narrow reverb just to glue it better with the overheads. The toms feel fairly well balanced, although the low tom's fundamental could be poked down a bit with an EQ notch at its fundamental frequency. While the overheads seem to have sensibly avoided exacerbating any harshness in the guitars unduly, the cymbal stick transients do make their presence felt in a way that somehow makes the cymbal tone appear less full-sounding. I'd usually turn to threshold-independent transient processing to tame this kind of thing, and if you don't have such a plug-in on your own system yet, then there are some affordable suggestions here.

The final main area where I think this mix could be improved is in terms of its feeling of subjective 'size'. The simplest thing to do in stereo would be to widen the image a bit, as it's narrower than it need be. Clearly there are a number of inherent mono-compatibility issues lurking within the raw tracks themselves, but nonetheless I figure there's probably more scope for widening things than has currently been capitalised on here. While panning is part of the recipe, there are many other stereo enhancement techniques that might be drawn on, such as those I've demonstrated here. A decent global large-room reverb low in the mix would also help paint out to the edges of the image a bit.

Hopefully I've been a bit clearer in my comments this time. What's interesting is that this mix balance comes across much more strongly on an Auratone (where of course the low-end tonality and stereo width are less of a concern) than it does on my nearfields, so huntermusic's aim of targeting this mix at radio has in a sense been fulfilled. It also demonstrates that there are already many sensible balance decisions at the heart of this mix, which should only increase in value as the overall mix timbre and 'size' are improved.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: huntermusic post; my reply.

Mix 30: Guitar Zero (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: On the whole this is probably one of my favourite drum sounds so far, I think. True, it does feel like it needs 4-5dB of 'air', and its sense of size/sustain is perhaps not as well-developed as some others, but I really like the snare tone, which strikes a good balance between power and brightness, and the kick, toms, and cymbals seem to get on with the job in hand without fuss. There's a nice understated sense of blend, and I don't get that slight impression I've had with some previous mixes that the kit's been overdubbed one instrument at a time. I'd perhaps still tame the kick's click a little for the verses, and add perhaps a fraction more snare sustain and blend, but the bottom line is that this feels like a solid raw sound upon which to base any fine-tuning. As regards increasing sustain, you could do with some drum-buss compression, and probably master-buss compression too. For size, it's room reverb of some type I'd go for, but not anything too long -- you want the acoustic 'frame' around your sound, but not any enormous tail.

It occurs to me that something has been bothering me about this set of multitracks for a while now, and although it affects most of the mixes here, I've only just put my finger on it this minute, so I'll talk about it now and hope that people will also take it as a more general point. As huntermusic commented in his response to my critique, the bass guitar part here is a bit unusual in that the amount of low end it contributes to different parts of the track, and the frequency range in which it makes its low-end contributions, vary a good deal from section to section. As a result, most of the mixes so far aren't really very consistent in terms of the low-end of the combined bass/guitar sound. If I were doing a mix of this track myself, I would almost instinctively mult the bass across several different tracks to tackle this, but I suspect that most people haven't been doing so, and are therefore struggling with a well-nigh-impossible task of finding a bass-processing chain which works equally well throughout all the song sections. The place I notice the inconsistency most is in the middle sections, where the first middle section almost always feels a bit bass-light compared to either the preceding or following sections.

I love the guitar sound in the verses, but it's eclipsing the vocal, which I figure is probably counterproductive. However, the fault here is with the vocal timbre, I reckon, which sounds to me like it's suffering some kind of unintentional phase-cancellation -- it's strangely hollow and crispy in that characteristic way. Have you tried to parallel-process this vocal and inadvertently defeated your software's plug-in delay compensation, or something like that? Irrespective of what the root cause is, though, I'd go back to the drawing board on it, because I think it's letting the side down currently. It doesn't bug me nearly as much in the choruses, though, except on the more exposed 'feel like a failure' end tag. (Incidentally, I really like that delay spin, which is great for the momentum into the middle-section!) There is, however, an unpleasantly prominent 12kHz peak in the sibilance which needs dealing with. The BVs are also unfortunately not quite working for me either, because although they're commendably wide-screen, the cluttering side-effects of their long echo tail mean that on balance it's not good value for money.

The secondary guitar in the choruses is disappearing almost completely in mono, and I suspect that it's on account of some kind of polarity-based stereo-widening effect. Now while I'm fine with using a super-wide 'outside the speakers' sound for peripheral parts which are inessential to the mono presentation, I personally feel that the secondary guitar is more important to the song than that. The mono-compatibility issues don't stop there, though, because the mid-section guitars, the snare, and the backing vocals all dull considerably on their way to mono, and the cymbals (especially the ride) seem to lose a good deal of power and air -- check out the outro section in particular to hear the kinds of things I'm talking about. The general mix tonality is pretty good (the general lack of 'air' notwithstanding), but things do nonetheless get overly abrasive with the thicker guitar texture in the mid-sections, I think, and some EQ tweaks there would be welcome.

You've clearly put quite a lot of effort into expanding the sonics with effects, and with a certain degree of success it has to be said. However, my opinion is that you're pushing this angle a little too hard. I don't think the kind of size illusion you're looking for can actually be created by send effects alone, and by trying to take things that far you're beginning to muddle and distance the mix as a whole. Instead, take the effects as far as you can without their side-effects becoming problematic, and then look to make up any shortfall in other ways -- compression, overdubs, double-tracks, or whatever. You need as many strings as possible to your bow if you want to dramatically pump up a texture like this.

Anyway, thanks for submitting this mix -- and for finally alerting me to the bass issue that had been lurking on the brink of my consciousness for so long!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: Guitar Zero post 1; my reply; Guitar Zero post 2.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 61MB 24-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
)


Mix 31: Daunt (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: Blimey -- now that's what I call a balance!

As far as presenting the multitrack files provided in the best possible light, this mix currently has a comfortable lead over any of the other mixes I've heard so far. By virtue of careful EQ and dynamics (and beautifully restrained effects usage) Daunt has managed to create an upfront-sounding mix which nonetheless coheres into a convincing whole. The timbres are focused and appealing, yet without compromising the clarity of line, which is excellent -- notice how clearly you can pick out the bass and guitar lines in Chorus 1, for example, even on a small speaker. The overall tonality is very well-judged in relation to the references (could it have a decibel or two more at 10kHz perhaps?), the mono-compatibility is for the most part good, and the mix translates well across a wide range of listening volumes and playback systems.

As such, the few suggestions I can make don't really add up to a hill of beans: a touch less 4kHz in the overheads might stop the cymbals roughening up the sound too much in the mid-sections at high listening volumes; the toms would benefit from a little automation to refine their position in the balance from fill to fill; there are some over-emphasised fret squeaks coming through from the bass part; the cymbals lose a bit too much high end in the mono balance for me; the lead vocals and main verse/chorus guitar riffs feel a fraction recessed in the 1kHz region; the BVs still feel a little low in the balance; and the outro solo isn't making enough of an impact yet for me -- I think that can afford to take more of a step forward, and assume a more central position in the image.

In short, if mixing in the traditional sense were all this track needed, this version would tick all the boxes in style. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that I prefer the sonics of this mix to those of the reference material in a lot of respects. Daunt: this is first-class work!

However, what this mix categorically demonstrates for me is that this particular set of multitracks needs more than traditional mixing (however slick) to bring out its full potential. For a start, tuning and timing issues are still drawing me away from the music more than I would wish here, although it's a testament to how well this track is balanced that the blend is nonetheless as effective as it is. Beyond this kind of session-prep handle-turning, though, the main problem I have with this mix is that it has yet to grapple with the wider production issues that are within the power of a mix engineer to address. As a result the long-term dynamics don't quite fulfil expectations, and it feels as if the inherent emotions aren't condensed into their most concentrated form.

We've already seen a number of attempts to deal with these kinds of things using section edits, mutes, fly-ins, overdubs, and SFX. While none of these mixes have had a balance to rival Daunt's, what they have provided is some additional headway in terms of enhancing the emotional drama and contrast within the song (especially between sections) and attempting to compensate for inherent arrangement difficulties, such as the textural thinning into the final choruses. It's because Daunt's mix mostly steers clear of this kind of thing that it doesn't quite sound quite finished to me, despite the great sonics.

One can of course argue that it's not the mix engineer's place to make production decisions. However, my opinion is that it's more important that the mix engineer do whatever it takes to blow the client away, and in a lot of situations (especially when dealing with self-arranged/produced small-studio multitracks) it's production decisions which are required to achieve this.

Many thanks for taking the time to put this mix together, Daunt. It's truly been a pleasure to listen to, and I hope that it will be an inspiration to everyone participating in this competition.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: Daunt post.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
)


Mix 32: Audio Monkey (submitted file: 62MB 24-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: Well, I think the competition for most sub on a mix has just been sewn up! Seriously, though, there's way too much going on here in the bottom octave-and-half. Even setting aside the fact that the references have nothing like that amount of sub, there are good practical reasons for reining it in. Firstly, you'll have difficulty reaching a competitive loudness at mastering, because low end is usually the main headroom bottleneck. Secondly, you won't be able to turn it up as far on a full-range playback system before the subwoofer parts company with its cabinet. And, thirdly, a lot of small playback systems will distort unmusically at what feels to the user like a comparatively 'safe' listening level, simply because the speaker/headphone driver is trying so hard to recreate signals that are beyond its capabilities.

Speculating for a moment, this low-end issue leads me to wonder whether you're carrying out sufficient small-speaker checks on your mixes. On both of the small speakers I've got permanently rigged up in my own system, the kick-drum all but disappears during the choruses, which makes the rhythm feel rather lop-sided. And those are still three-inch and four-inch cones -- I'd expect a laptop speaker or pair of earbuds to fare even less well. Irrespective of whether you feel you need to hear the kick on small speakers, though, the very high sub levels do make it quite difficult psychologically to judge other aspects of the balance on nearfields, so checking on small speakers would help to clarify your mixing decisions regarding the rest of the musical arrangement. (I also wonder whether your own monitors are adding distortion artefacts to the low frequencies, as a lot of mid-market ported speakers do, so that they seem fuller in the midrange than they actually are, because I notice that the bass is also very much focused at the low end, and while it's audible on the smalls, it does come across as rather dull.)

Regardless of this overall tonality issue, however, I also think the bass sound could dominate slightly less in the lower midrange, because it leaves the guitars sounding a bit thin, where I'd hope for them to have more subjective power. This is exacerbated by a certain amount of 400-800Hz scoop in the mix tone as a whole and a bit of hyping in the upper octave (the latter presumably partly in order to balance the heavyweight low end). The problem of vocal sibilance also raises its head for similar reasons, but the esses still feel out of line even if I try to compensate somewhat for the mix's general timbre using master-buss EQ. De-essing looks like the order of the day there.

Beyond the issues with the kick drum, there are a couple of things I'd look to tweak with the rest of the kit. Top of my list would probably be to round out the snare a bit, so that the attack is pulled lower in the balance and the sustain elements therefore take a relatively more important role. This might also address what feels like a slightly low overheads level too, but those tracks might need a bit of a boost and/or some additional compression. The toms seem pretty well balanced, although it sounds a little strange that they don't have the same kind of sense of reverb as the snare in verse 2. (I also found it a little off-putting to hear the snare coming slightly from the left, although I realise that in a real kit it is indeed to one side and I know that some engineers (Andy Wallace, for instance) do like to crack the panning of central instruments a fraction off-centre to aid separation.)

I quite like the way you've dealt with the vocals (sibilance issues notwithstanding), which are well-controlled dynamically and nice and wide-screen, despite the remaining waywardness in the tuning department. However, I think the reverb has too much high end to it, which means we're getting an unwelcome George Michael-style reverb 'hiss' on consonants. (Aaaaaa... tschoo!!! Sorry -- I'm allergic. ) In a general sense, though, I like your effects use here, which sounds like it involves a number of short 'under the hood' enhancement patches in addition to the longer tails. The guitars begin to sound a bit washed out in the mid-sections, though, so whatever you're adding there could be backed off a couple of decibels.

One of the things I like most about this mix is that you've managed to give a respectable sense of stereo width, while still retaining good mono-compatibility -- I think it's one of the best examples I've heard so far in this respect. It's not that nothing changes in mono (you can't have no change at all), but the changes all seem relatively benign and don't appear to dramatically impact on the character of the mix sound or balance. Good work there! The only real casualty of the switch to mono, in fact, appears to be the BVs, but I'm not sure that's much of a disaster in the grand scheme of things.

Thanks for this mix -- it's nice to see a real advance in the mono-compatibility stakes in particular.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: Audio Monkey post 1; Audio Monkey post 2; my reply.

Mix 33: essessbe (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: I like this mix a lot -- it's a good solid balance which lots of good individual timbral decisions. Blend is excellent, and there's a nice sense of size too -- wetter than Daunt's balance, for example, but no less valid for that. Criticisms from a balance perspective are therefore pretty few and far between: the vocal is perhaps a bit muffled, and I'd probably look to add a little 2kHz to bring it forward; the hard-panned toms image doesn't really fit with the cymbals presentation in the overheads; and there seems to be a note clash on the final 'bone' of both vocal choruses (a slip of the Melodyne? ) between the lead and double-track, plus there's some distracting flamming of the consonants. Really good work, though, in the main.

Beyond that, though, there are some elements of the long-term dynamics of the choruses which could do with a tweak. The problem is that at the moment the first two feel like a little bit of a let-down in the context of the verse material that precedes them. A big part of this is I think to do with the vocal levels, which are probably over-pushed in the verses, and a little under-balanced in the choruses. However, the guitar and bass levels might also benefit from rising slightly in those choruses too, and a little more buss compression might actually assist too, if my own experiments here are anything to go by. (Incidentally, I'd expected that buss compression might actually be counterproductive in this instance, but you never can tell anything for sure with audio processing until you try it out!)

That said, listening to the killer long-term dynamics moment at the beginning of the final choruses, I was surprised how well this worked, as it didn't initially seem that you'd added anything to the arrangement. However, listening more closely, it sounds like you've edited together a 'fake' double-track for the main guitar riff in the chorus, or used some kind of ADT, and this really makes a difference. The wide panning of these elements, though, does rather reduce the benefits in mono, so I'm not sure I'd be ready to proclaim this a complete solution just yet.

Overall mix tonality isn't bad at all -- in particular you've managed to navigated a good course between 'bright' and 'harsh' in the mid-sections where the guitars and cymbals start giving it some elbow grease. However, I'd scoop out a couple of decibels around 300Hz and give a little more emphasis to the 8kHz region myself. Much more of a concern is the mono compatibility, because this mix suffers quite badly when summed to a single channel. The high end of the cymbals in particular really dives, while the guitars also lose quite a lot of brightness and the vocals sacrifice some important 'air' frequencies. Looking at the top three octaves of the mix on a vectorscope, I'm wondering whether you've been applying some kind of high-frequency M&S-based stereo-widening effect, because the display 'blob' looks consistently flatter than I'd expect. I realise that some people are willing to take a tonal hit at the high end in mono in return for greater 'sparkly width' in stereo, but even if this is your aim I still think you've probably overdone it.

All in all, though, this is a very capable mix indeed, and while it's not perhaps as overtly inventive as some of those we've heard already, it does provide an excellent showcase of the band's material and shows that you clearly know what you're doing.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: essessbe post.

Mix 34: Mike Mercurio (submitted file: 42MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: The overall tonality of this mix presented me with a few obstacles in terms of evaluating it, simply because it's very strong in the 3-4kHz zone and also quite heavily mid-scooped with rather too much HF 'zing' for these ears. Although the 3-4kHz region is important for a sense of upfront-ness and aggression in this mix, it's very easy to tip the scales and end up with a timbre that's rather shouty and fatiguing. In particular, this region makes it difficult to turn up the listening volume, and this is the kind of music that I'd want to be able to turn up good and loud, even while making allowances for the lower playback levels typical of mass-market listening.

Although both kick and snare punch through the texture well, the snare attack is making my ears bleed a bit! I'd try to tame that spike a little for the sake of children and small animals. It's partly just a question of the level of the transient, but also because the spike really hits the 3-6kHz region hard. The overheads feel like they could be higher in the mix for me, but more compressed to keep them from getting out of control during the thrashier sections. The low tom has the usual fundamental-frequency balance issue, but you probably only need a quick EQ notch to sort that out. The main thing with the drums, though, is that they don't really seem to blend. Compression and short reverb are the two main tools I'd use to tackle this, although the general EQ overhaul I'd suggest in the light of the large-scale tonal issues will probably also make an impact too.

On a subjective level I do like a lot of your guitar sounds, and although it's tricky to comment on their frequency balance given the over-bright timbre of the whole mix, it seems to me that they're fairly well controlled in terms of not turning too abrasive in the mid-section. As in some of the other mixes so far, I think you could afford to leave a bit more low end in the guitar sounds, so that they do have some real power as well as clarity. However, my impressions may be being skewed by the level of the bass guitar, which does seems to be lacking a certain amount of low end -- it comes across fine on the small speaker (which is good), but feels a bit small on my nearfields.

The vocal in the verse sounds fairly respectable once the mix timbre is compensated for, but I found the lip noise in verse 2 a bit distracting. The chorus comes across as more brittle, though, and the 4kHz region of the sibilance feels overbearing despite what sounds like some de-essing going on. I think the vocal is probably too high in the balance as well most of the time, which risks belittling the backing track by comparison.

I love the way you've popped those backing vocals into the mid-section -- very clever to spot that they work so nicely there, although the tuning could perhaps be a little tighter. The downside, though, is that you don't leave yourself much in the way of ammunition to make the final chorus entry stand out, so you could see this as something of an 'own goal' in context. Shame, though, because I do like it, and it gives that long double mid-section stretch a definite additional shot of momentum. In general, the BVs could also be more heavily compressed, because they're not at all stable in the balance at the moment, and I think that's dissauding you from turning them up enough in the choruses.

Switching to mono presents this mix with some difficulties, as the wide-panned guitars take a big step down, the overheads lose top end, and the chorus vocals appear to lose some important body. In terms of priorities, I'd therefore put addressing this issue up there with an EQ rethink at the top of the list.

Thanks for submitting this mix. The good news here is that I think that if you can iron out the main large-scale mix-timbre and mono-compatibility issues, a lot of the smaller points may cease to be much of an issue.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: Mike Mercurio post.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 42MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
)


Mix 35: Smelly Biscuits (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: Your mix tonality needs addressing first of all, because there's a general tilt to the frequency spectrum towards the lows: a kind of ramp which feels roughly 5dB too strong at 40Hz and roughly 4dB too weak at 10kHz. The good news, however is that this kind of broad tonal bias can be very successfully addressed by master-buss EQ, and I was pleased to find that a couple of very gentle shelves revealed what is actually a pretty reasonable balance -- so I kept that EQ in for my further listening.

In general terms the drums are fairly sensibly put together in terms of relative levels and overall tone. The kick is the main exception to this, though, because it doesn't really provide anything much for the small-speaker listener -- it's almost all low end, so sinks from view almost completely in the chorus. (The bass is better in this regard, exhibiting enough mid-frequency information to carry the line through on an Auratone.) While the snare feels like it's tonally in the right kind of zone, it feels a little anaemic in its sustain phase, and could probably be blended slightly better. I like the sound of the toms, but their drier sound and hard-left/right panning makes them stick out unduly -- panning them to 50-60% and adding a dash of snare reverb would probably get them to gel better. The tone of the overheads is good too, but I feel that these (and probably the kit as a whole) would benefit from a bit more compression, both in terms of level consistency and sustain.

I like the bass sound in the verses (where you've managed the fret squeaks well), and it makes a good transition to the chorus as well. It's only in the mid-section that it strays from the straight and narrow for me, providing too little support in mid-section 1, and then eating Manhattan in mid-section 2! Guitar sounds are for the most part very nicely judged, my main gripe being that I wish I could hear the secondary guitar in the choruses a bit more clearly. The spread of the parts across the stereo picture also feels a little narrow, especially given the wide spread of the drums. (Although the narrow guitar spread ensures a certain degree of mono-compatibility, that doesn't stop the overheads losing quite a lot of high end. See if some subtle inter-channel timing or phase shifts might help there.) Having said that, though, the little bit of automated panning in the reintro is surprisingly good at grabbing the attention -- simple, but effective!

When it comes to vocals, the basic tone feels to me over-bright, compared to the rest of the tracks in the arrangement, and that's not helping the sibilance (which needs the attentions of a de-esser) or the lip noise in the reintro and verse 2. The bright timbre of the vocal effects is no help to the essing either, because they therefore spray the sibilance energy all round the stereo spread. De-essing of the effects sends would be advisable if you're wedded to this particular effect sound, but to be honest I think it's probably not the most suitable treatment under the circumstances anyway. It's not that you couldn't make it work in the right context, but the comparatively conventional sounds of the rest of the instruments don't seem to justify such an extrovert vocal presentation. If the overall vibe were a bit trippier and effect-saturated, then it would work better. That said, the effects in the choruses work a lot better for me, thickening and blending, even though they do also feel like they need a healthy HF cut to tuck them better into the mix. In general I think you could also probably just turn down the vocals a notch or two, because they're making everything else sound a bit Matchbox by comparison.

In general, though, this is a mix with a lot of good basic balance decisions and some nice tones into the bargain. Thanks for letting us all hear it!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: Smelly Biscuits post.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
)


Mix 36: leaky24 (submitted file: 5MB 160kbps MP3 
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Critique: Crumbs. It's certainly a potent new vision for the drums you've got here! So much so, in fact, that I confess to feeling a bit baffled. While I agree that there are broader production issues that need attending to in this mix, rather than just straight mixing tasks, I'm not really convinced that this outlook holds together and I can't really follow your reasoning for proceeding in this direction. The big problem for me is that you've taken the whole production almost into a different style (drum-and-bass? ), which is an exceptionally bold move for anyone to take with someone else's music, yet you haven't really nailed that new presentation in the process. In my experience the only way a dramatic production change like this is likely to carry the client with it is if the emotional logic of the final product is unassailable, whereas I'd be surprised if you were able to carry the band with you on this particular journey. Full marks for courage (bravery is a lot of what mixing is about, after all), but I'm afraid I think you've made a misjudgement on this occasion.

So assuming that I wanted to try to improve the effectiveness of this new vision, and thereby improve my chances of convincing the band of its merits, what would I do? First of all, I'd not let any tuning or timing issues through the net, the latter especially important with regard to the new triggered snare part. The kind of direction that these snares appear to point is one with more of a programmed feel, in which case you really can't afford to have flams between the triggers and other drum parts, because it undermines the essential rhyhmic drive. I'd also do my best to keep the low end of the mix clear, in order to maximise the power and focus of the kick-drum and bass, but in this case the lower octaves are actually rather over-warm and murky -- fine perhaps for something more gothic, but inadvisable for fast, detailed rock or electronica parts.

Taking the mix on its own terms, though (and leaving my own general confusion to one side), the overall balance is fairly sensible in most respects, the main exception being that I think there could be more careful EQ applied in order to combat frequency masking, and the vocals in particular feel like they need to be clearer in the choruses. Issues of blend and general-purpose delay/reverb use become less relevant in the light of this particular drum sound, simply because the context is more one of artifice than authenticity. There are some interesting creative vocal/guitar effects here and there, which feel in keeping with the radical change of direction overall, and help sustain interest in the less full-on sections.

Overall tonality isn't far off the references, but I'd suggest a couple of decibels more in the 1-2kHz region, which serves to bring out the vocals in the balance in particular. Mono-compatibility of the drums and vocals is rather good, but the main chorus riff guitars do take a dive in mono on account of the wide panning -- although I think they're still perhaps a little loud in the balance even then, and I'd probably pull them down a decibel or so.

I'm conscious that this particular critique may not feel particularly useful to you, but I'm afraid I'm not sure I can be of any more help in this instance simply because I'm not sure where exactly you're wanting to head towards aesthetically. Many thanks, though, for giving us all an entirely fresh take on this material -- even if it does blow my tiny mind!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: leaky24 post.

Mix 37: mlabman (submitted file: 8MB 256kbps MP3 
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Critique: This is another good confident balance in the main, albeit with a fraction too much spectral energy in the 250Hz region and in need of a little more solidity in the guitars and vocals around 1kHz. There are some isolated niggles such as the bass fret squeaks; vocal lip noises; rather low backing-vocal levels; a touch too much stick noise on the cymbals; and mono-compatibility issues (the levels of the hard-panned guitars and a loss of cymbal/snare 'air'), but these are all not too hard to remedy and I've discussed them frequently in previous critiques. General tuning and timing issues could be adjusted too, as in many of the mixes here. A more specific niggle with this mix, though is a slight 5-6kHz emphasis in the vocals and cymbals which gets a bit wearing to listen to, and doesn't do the sibilance any favours.

For me there are three areas of this mix which offer the greatest potential for improvement. The first is the snare sound, which is really quite different from anything else I've heard so far, I think. While it seems to do its job rather well from a technical balance perspective, it just doesn't feel like it actually belongs with the kit as a whole. It's possible that this is simply because I'm now way too accustomed to the sound of the raw snare itself, and am therefore having trouble computing a different timbre, but I have a hunch it's more than that. However you've brought it about, though, both the tone itself and the acoustic signature which surrounds that tone don't seem to tally properly with the overheads and the rest of the drum sound in general. If it's a sample, then it just doesn't feel like the right sample. If it's not, then I'd personally save a copy of the project, take the duplicate project's snare sound back to the drawing board, and then see if you can improve on what you've already achieved. We've already heard a few very successful snare sounds which seem to work within the balance without this problem, so it might be helpful to take some inspiration from those.

The second main thing I'd look at is the exact reverb and delay patches you're using, because I get a sense that things aren't as clear, close, and detailed as they might be. Given the skills you display in so many other respects, I'm going to guess that it's not one specific thing that's at fault, but rather that a number of small tweaks are what's required here. Decay times (or delay feedback levels) could probably be shortened by 20% or so, and more assertive filtering of unwanted contributions from effect-return channels would probably be beneficial. Some additional pre-delay might allow also you to pull the reverb returns down a touch, while retaining the same apparent level of wetness. The basic guideline for me most of the time is that the less effects you need to pull the mix together, the more the listener will be able to appreciate the intricacies of the actual sounds themselves, and they'll therefore get closer to the heart of the music.

My final concern is the hoary old issue of long-term dynamics as regards the choruses. The high vocal level in the verses isn't a bad thing in its own right, but I do feel that it's making it tricky for the first two choruses to really lift off by comparison. See if you can pull it down by 2dB without losing too much closeness and intelligibility. You may not need that much reduction, but the activity of trying it out should help clarify your own thoughts on this issue at the very least. How little vocal can you get away with? The less you use, the bigger the choruses will sound. Of course the hard-panned chorus guitars inevitably contribute further to this dynamics problem in mono. As for the third chorus, I think it has been well demonstrated already in previous mixes that it takes more than just mixing chops to create a decent sense of arrival there, and this is something that you've yet to contend with so far.

Still, this is nonetheless an impressive piece of mixing, and I appreciate your sending it in for us all to learn from.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: mlabman post.

Mix 38: cosmicdolphin (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: On the whole the drums are nicely balanced and blended, with a good sense of dimension to them. I think the cymbals probably have a touch too much 10kHz, because they get a little wearing at higher volumes and overshadow other parts in that region excessively for me. The sustain you've got out of the snare is fantastic, and it holds its place well in the track, but I'm not sure the sound you've chosen really fits the kit or song that well in a wider sense, and I have some misgivings about its blend within the kit. The kick is also a bit of a sticking point for me, because (for want of a better description) it isn't really serious-sounding enough for me. It's quite flappy and lacks low end compared to most of the renditions so far. The sound of the kick can have a huge impact on the way a track is perceived, and I think this choice is making things a little too upbeat, given the lyrical subject material. There's an impression of gated reverb on the snare too, which when combined with the lightweight kick and prominent bright chorusing/reverb effects conjures up a strong flavour of the late 80s for me. While this is a period of music that I have a lot of time for, Young Griffo don't seem to me to be the kind of band that benefit from a connection with the kind of artificial shininess that tends to infuse sounds of that era.

You've made the bass nice and tuneful in the track, without bloating out the low end (although I might pull out a decibel or two at 100Hz), which is great -- love it! It really helps drive the track along. Do deal with the fret squeaks, though, if you can. The guitars are also good, although again perhaps a little too watered down with effects for the style. Mono compatibility is a big problem as regards the main chorus guitar riff, the level of which suffers badly in mono. The bright vocal effects also become a bit phone-booth-y in mono, and the 'air' on the snare/cymbals loses some of its sheen too.

The chorus vocal tones are pretty good, although with some overprominent sibilant whistling still to be taken care of in the 10kHz region. The verse vocal, on the other hand, feels rather too thin and waspy for me, such that I'm finding it difficult to connect with it on an emotional level. Give it some more 900Hz or so and I think it'll already work a lot better. Vocal tuning is still on the 'to do' list as well, of course.

Despite these issues, I have to say that this is probably one of the most exciting versions I've listened to so far. The bass presentation, the liberal drum-buss compression, the fullness of the effects (although there's a risk of clutter during some fuller sections), and the nice transition stunts (the lead-in to the choruses, for example) are all clearly part of the recipe, but I also wonder whether the timing has been tweaked somehow too, because things seem to bounce along really well. What this mix has which so many of the mixes so far don't is a real forward momentum. The long-term dynamics are rather well-judged too, especially in resisting the temptation to rock out too far in the mid-sections so that the final chorus still has enough firepower to compete.

Thanks for sharing this with everyone. There's a lot to be learned from your overall methodology in this mix, even for those who don't agree with the aesthetics of any specific sounds/effects you've used.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: cosmicdolphin post; my reply.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
)


Mix 39: gregrs (submitted file: 6MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: "Walk away from the Scissors Tool with your hands in the air!" You're certainly not shy of editing things around, and I'm delighted to see someone really pushing this aspect of the production as far as this, because it constitutes a useful test of concept. Your reasoning seems pretty clear and defensible to me: the vocal is the star, so it should get in early and then remain in view as much as possible. It's particularly interesting to hear the song with vocals in the first chorus, because I'd almost certainly have done something with vocals there too, and I'm actually surprised that no-one's tried it before now. However, the outcome of your reasoning is that we end up with a short total duration of 2:20, as you've already mentioned in your post. Although this works for Blur's 'Song 2', and might indeed be made to work for this song as well, I'm not sure that it's actually playing to the song's strengths -- and might also rub the band up the wrong way too! "Where's my guitar solo gone?!" While I agree that the raw multitracks do tread water to some extent at all the moments you've cut, I reckon there's only so far the editing solution will get you in practice.

So if you can't edit, what are the alternatives? Well, my instinct would be to try to make subsidiary hooks out of some of the non-vocal features that are already there, such as the guitar riff in the reintro and the outro solo. I'd also look at possibilities for making more of the backing vocals as a general concept, and get busy trying to re-use hook phrases and ideas from the lead vocal elsewhere in the mix wherever interest appears to dip. I'm not saying I wouldn't do some section edits in your position, but it's a question of degree.

Returning to sonics, the first main thing which hits me is that the guitars all feel too slender, and lack a good deal of power below 1kHz. Remedying this, however, will probably involve reducing the kick energy in the 300-600Hz region to make way, so that things don't start getting too woolly. I like the snare sound you're getting here, although it does feel like the transient is pushed rather too high in the balance. Try rounding it off a bit with a limiter or saturator and see if it sits better that way. The cymbals need a good old helping of compression, in my view, as the low-level detail is getting lost, and the crashes are fading out too quickly. The bass tone has plenty of warmth, but I'd be tempted to give it more midrange to allow it to cut through better on small speakers. (The kick also has trouble competing with the snare on small speakers too, so adding some extra click in the fuller sections would probably be a good idea, even if you want to leave it rounder in the verses.)

Given the focus on the vocal for editing purposes, I was surprised you didn't allow the singer to have a fuller and more involving tone for the verses. Clearly the choruses don't have much room for this kind of sound, but that's no need for the verses to feel at all anaemic. A bit of boost around 2kHz, a more flattering compressor, a hint of stereo width, and some ambience reverb could work wonders in very little time, I reckon. You've maintained the vocal balance well though as it is, particularly in the choruses, where the lyric intelligibility is great.

Effects are an area which could probably do with a bit more work, I think, because the blend of the drum kit and the mix as a whole isn't terrific, and I suspect that adding more sustain and size-illusion would help further your vision for the track. Overall tonality is a bit thin, and more energy in the general region of 500Hz would help here, as would taming things a bit at 10kHz -- the cymbals in particular are rather sharp for me there. You lose quite a lot of 'air' from the cymbals and vocals in mono, but the guitars don't seem to fare that badly.

You mentioned that you were worried about the low end. This will have been very difficult to judge on the cans and Tapcos you've mentioned using, and I'm not sure that typical hi-fi speakers are likely to be any more revealing here -- it's not uncommon for hi-fi equipment to hype the low end. As far as I'm concerned the bottom octaves feel about right to me, especially as there's often a fair bit of variation between different engineers in this respect.

Thanks for posting this mix. Your exploration of the possible edits is very instructive indeed, and although you could do more to inflate the sonics here, you've nonetheless done a good balancing job so far.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Mix 40: mixerJB (submitted file: 42MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: I do like the jangly tone you've opened the tune with, and it immediately demanded my attention. However, I wonder if it's just a little too bright, because it does make the drums and guitar sound a little underwhelming when they arrive, which would be self-defeating in the long run.

Overall, this mix has some similarity with huntermusic's inasmuch as it has a good deal of super-low kick energy, but with something of a spectral 'gulf' between that and the low end of the bass/guitar conglomeration. First things first, I would personally be reluctant to put that much sub on a kick in a track as fast as this, simply because it will tend to lengthen the hits and blur the part's details. Depending on your monitoring situation, it's very possible that the sub levels could also impact on your ability to balance the rest of the track reliably, and it does seem to me as if the whole rest of the spectrum has been tilted treble-wards a certain amount to counterbalance the low end. I'd reset whatever low-end enhancement you've dialled in, and try investigating what the 80-90Hz zone has to offer instead. It might not cause your lava lamp to walk along the meterbridge anymore, but I suspect it'll give you more subjective bounce on big speakers, while translating more of the power of the drum onto smaller systems. (It's not that you can't hear the kick on small speakers at the moment, though, because the part's coming through very well in the higher midrange, it's just that it feels a bit lightweight in those circumstances.)

If you approach the kick-drum more along those lines, I think it'll quickly become more obvious that the low end of the bass and guitars needs nudging up below 200Hz or so to warm them up. That said, the bass is really nicely controlled and it cuts through wonderfully on the small speakers, while the guitars are kept out of each other's way so that the texture remains pretty clear throughout, and nothing starts sand-papering my ear canals come the mid-section either. (That said, maybe the cymbals could be softened slightly in the 10kHz region during the outro, when the solo guitar hits.) I'd like a bit more of that secondary guitar part in the choruses still, though.

I like the way you've dealt with the lead vocals a lot. They feel chunky enough to command the track, but not so big that they upset the well-judged balances. There is a little too much sibilance for me, though, so it'd be worth putting a de-esser into action. I also like the way you've flown in the BVs in the reintro, and the harmonies in the chorus are interesting, even though they perhaps draw undue attention away from the lead in the grand scheme of things -- although that might just be me having heard the track hundreds of times now without them. The vocal tuning and timing does still need work.

By choosing to keep a fairly compact stereo picture, you've managed to maintain decent mono compatibility, which is great. However, although you do paint out to the edges of the picture in stereo, it does nonetheless feel a little bit too constricted for me, and I'd probably try to introduce more non-essential stereo widening tactics -- some wide stereo background hiss might be a worthwhile thing to try, for example, although be careful not to overemphasise the 10kHz cymbal danger zone.

Thanks for getting involved with the competition. This mix already works very well on an Auratone, which says a lot about your balancing skills, and you've made the long-term dynamics work pretty well too. Your job now is to try to retain those advantageous characteristics while fattening up the stereo presentation, I think.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: mixerJB post.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 42MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
)


Mix 41: Xander (submitted file: 10MB320kbps MP3 
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Critique: This mix has a nice atmospheric opening that sets the stage well for the overall level of effects usage. Nice transition effects into the first chorus and outro too, and I like the 'feel like a failure' fly-in as well -- you've correctly identified a potential lull in vocal proceedings and filled that gap imaginatively.

The kick here has similar issues as in mixerJB's version, but less severe on account of a greater relative 60-70Hz contribution. A fairly aggressive click to the sound gives it more than adequate small-speaker translation (I'd tone that down a bit, in fact -- perhaps move the current HF emphasis more into the midrange around 800Hz), but I did find myself hankering after more 80-100Hz in the sound. The bass feels, on the other hand, like it has a bit too much information in that area, and that its fundamental frequency could be pulled back a bit in the mix to allow you to feature more of the harmonics above it, especially in the light of the current balance change when switching to small speakers. I'd also try to give the guitars some more body in the lower midrange, simply because they're feeling slightly scratchy at the moment, and seem to be contributing to an excessive mid-scoop in the overall mix tonality. I'd also look at the relationship between the 1-2kHz, 2-4kHz, and 4-8kHz octaves, because it feels to me as if the second of these is a bit proud of the others, making things sound a touch nasal.

I like the snare sound a lot, and the cymbals appear to be fairly well balanced against it. I do wonder, however, whether there's a fraction too much going on in the overheads in the top couple of octaves by comparison with the other parts, so I'd probably shelve a couple of decibels off them, even if that means you end up lifting the high end of the whole mix to return to your original level of 'air' overall. The vocals feel a bit low in the 1kHz region, but otherwise very well controlled and without any trace of sibilance issues. I like the balance of these parts too, in relation to the rest of the arrangement.

Mono summing affects the balance quite a lot, given the hard-panned guitars, but you've sensibly (in my view) chosen to favour the mono balance over the stereo, which means that the dynamics still work just fine on an Auratone. The cymbals are still losing quite a bit of HF, though, and the vocal effects seem to add a degree of murkiness to the vocal tone when they're collapsed down to the single channel, so those might warrant some further attention.

In total, though, this is another great Auratone balance, which surely only needs a few tweaks to make the best of its qualities in full-range stereo. Thanks for submitting it!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: Xander post.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
)


Mix 42: manuke (submitted file: 62MB 24-bit/48kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: Whoa! That's an awful lot of bass you've got going on there! I'm not sure what you're monitoring on, but whatever it is, I'm afraid that I don't think it's telling you anything useful below about 100Hz. The difference between the low end of your mix and the low end of any of the reference mixes is as clear as day, but only if your monitoring is actually telling you what's going on. Given that it appears you're faced with a situation where you can't really rely on what you're hearing down there, then, what can you actually do to improve the situation? Well, in the first instance, you could have a look at the 'Low-end Damage Limitation' chapter of my book, where I go into this in detail -- it's one of the free-to-view sample chapters available here. That gives lots of workarounds catering for exactly this kind of situation.

Further to that, I'd suggest removing any EQ or bass-enhancement plug-ins from the kick, bass, and tom tracks straight away, and taking those back to basics. In rebuilding their balance, try not to do any EQ boosting at the low end, because this is I think one of the reasons for your LF problems -- the low frequencies appear to be ringing in an uncontrolled manner, and this just leaves you with a muddy swamp without providing any real subjective power or punch. If you have to EQ to keep the instruments sounding clear and defined when they're together, try to use EQ cuts (rather than boosts) wherever possible. Keep any effects returns which are fed from the drums or bass high-pass filtered to stop them adding undesirable rumble, and also high-pass filter any non-bass parts as high as you can without changing their useful tone (or the weight of their attack) in the mix.

The bass issue puts the whole mix tonality out of alignment, and makes it very difficult to make meaningful judgements about things like relative balance and tone of the instruments. On top of this, though, I'm suspicious that the whole mix is going through some kind of extremely aggressive multi-band dynamics setup, presumable to increase loudness and aid mix cohesion, but this is a sticking plaster that won't solve any underlying mix problems, irrespective of how much the processing tries to smoosh the frequency response of your mix into an static profile. It also doesn't help that it sounds like it's introducing a bunch of very strange pumping and distortion artefacts -- I wonder whether it's set rather too fast. This is the kind of mix processing that's too complicated, powerful, and delicate to start using during the cut and thrust of the mixing process, so if you're using it while mixing, then ditch it -- you'll be able to hear much better what you're doing and the fact that you'll have to work harder to get a consistent tone in your mix will mean that your mix will respond much better to this kind of processing if you choose to add it at the mastering stage.

(On the other hand, slower-acting full-band buss-compression is fine at mixdown in rock styles like this, but the reason for doing it is not primarily to increase the loudness or homogenise the frequency contour -- it's to 'glue' the mix together, create pumping effects, and/or colour the mix tone. It can be tricky, in fact, to get a rock mix to balance right without hearing the mix in the context of the buss compression, so I usually recommend mixing through it. Mastering processing it isn't, though.)

In the light of these two overriding issues, I'm not sure I can actually provide any more detailed advice about the inner workings of the mix itself with any confidence, because it's very much like trying to hit a moving target. Sorry! Can you maybe upload a version without any of the buss/mastering processing and maybe then I can give some pointers?

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: manuke post 1; my reply; manuke post 2.

Resubmitted mix without mastering processing: (submitted file: 57MB 24-bit/48kHz WAV; preview: 5MB 192kbps MP3 
)


Critique of resubmission: Hah! Not sure how much you've changed about the mix itself, but the difference between this version and the first one you posted is like night and day! And (as I had hoped to be able to say ) you really don't need to be hammering multi-band buss processing to get your balance to work. On this evidence I'd say your instincts are already going very much in the right direction. There's also a lot of excitement in this mix, something that wasn't at all apparent before, so well done on that count. The way you've got the tracks to blend with each other is another highlight, and is indicative of a sensible approach to send effects throughout.

Some balance issues could be tweaked here and there. The toms are low in the balance and rather anaemic-sounding. The bass is very strong at 500Hz, and while this makes for excellent small-speaker projection and rhythmic/melodic drive from the part, it does leave the mix as a whole lacking in warmth in the 80-100Hz region. In a similar vein, the kick is balancing very nicely on the small speakers, but I'd like at least 3-4dB more power from it below 80Hz for more full-range systems. The vocals during the choruses could take a step forward too, to improve their clarity, but you may also need to perforate the guitar fuzz a little with EQ to help out further.

All that said, however, this is a mix that already works pretty well on Auratones, so balance can't really be considered a big weakness. Overall tonality could perhaps have a little less 500Hz and 4kHz, as well as maybe a bit of 900Hz boost, but it's also not bad as it stands, notwithstanding the aforementioned low-end issues. Switching to mono doesn't hold many surprises either, although the usual phase-cancellation does dull the tone a fair bit -- it's only the mid-section guitars and chorus backing vocals that really experience significant level reductions in mono, and the music survives those issues pretty well.

Thanks for posting this revised version, because the energy you've brought to this production sets a good benchmark for others on this thread, and the guitar/bass processing in particular makes a very interesting listen. Plus I'm glad that I can actually provide some more positive comments now that I can hear into the mix better!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: manuke post.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 35MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 5MB 192kbps MP3 
)


Mix 43: pc999 (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: The overall mix tonality here is a bit of a sticking point, I'm afraid, which makes it difficult for me to judge many other aspects of the balance. You've got masses of 200-800Hz, which gives the whole production a rather boxy sound, and the response drops away very steeply below that, such that the low end feels very lean compared with the references. Trying to bring out the low end better using EQ over the whole mix reveals that the lowest LF information in the mix is coming from the bass, but this only extends to about 80Hz, leaving the bottom two octaves of the spectrum largely untouched. In most people's mixes the kick's low end has been used to fill out this region, but here it sounds as if the kick has been high-pass filtered at 100Hz or higher so that doesn't help out here in the same way. I can see that you might have had trouble dealing with this with mastering processes, and that's usually an indicator that something in the mix is fighting what the mastering is trying to do.

The kick drum also feels very quiet in the drum balance for this style, and doesn't make much of an appearance even on small speakers. The snare, on the other hand, has a different problem, namely that it has some kind of fairly extreme stereo effect going on. I'm not sure what it is, but it's making it very difficult to work out where the snare is coming from, which is disconcerting to listen to in stereo and also causes a big balance/tone shift when you move to mono listening. The cymbal image is also pretty wide (and suffers the same kind of issues in mono, albeit to a slightly lesser extent), which makes the very narrow tom-track panning a bit puzzling relatively speaking.

The guitar sounds are pretty respectable, without any danger of harshness, although the mono-compatibility is again a little suspect -- I think it's probably those multi-mikes causing phase-cancellation issues again. The bass feels like it could do with quite a lot more dynamics and automation control, because it's really jumping around in the balance. In music like this the bass needs to hold its position in the balance with supreme confidence, especially given the comparatively interesting line played here. The vocal sound is doing a reasonable job on the whole, but it does appear to have been gated with too high a threshold -- you can hear the gate cutting off softer consonants in the verses, such as the 'f' sounds of 'flawed' and 'fraud'. There's no real need for wholesale gating of the lead vocal in this track, because any bits of extraneous lip noise between phrases are so easy to edit out or remove with fader/mute automation.

The effects seem to me to be rather reverb-heavy, where a more even blend of delays, reverbs, and wideners would probably achieve blend and size more successfully. The reverb choices you've made could probably be reassessed too, because they feel like they're pulling everything rather a long way away from the listener. (A bit of a dip around 4kHz in the overal mix tonality doesn't help with this either, of course.) Choosing the preset/algorithm you start work from is an important step in the process, so don't rush it, and then make sure you give enough time to EQ and predelay in the effect-return channels.

Overall, the impression I get is that you're trying to overreach yourself here, in terms of getting into detailed processing and effects before you've really given the tracks a chance to speak for themselves. Alternatively, it might just be that you were feeling a bit rushed by the impending deadline and tried to push on too fast with your normal mixing process. My recommendation would be to try putting together the best mix you can of this track using just faders, mults, high-pass filtering, polarity inversion, and phase adjustment -- no other EQ, compression, or effects. Once you've got the best raw balance you can like this, compare it to the references to get your bearings and refine it further. The longer you hold off adding in any other processing, the better I think you'll develop your instincts for what instrument should be where in the mix -- and the more sense the other more complicated processing decisions will start to make.

Thanks for letting us hear your work!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Mix 44: washburn (submitted file: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: Interesting bass tone this, with its characteristic 500Hz and 2kHz response peaks, which means it takes more of a midrange role than in some of the mixes. The advantage of this is that it really brings out the instrument's melodic and rhythmic features, thereby driving along the verses and mid-sections in particular. The main downside, though, is that it does make the 400Hz region of the mix as a whole feel a bit overcooked to me, and the vocals and mid-section guitars in particular feel as if they lose out in this region unnecessarily if I attempt to compensate for the production's tone with mastering-style EQ. The low end of the bass guitar feels like it lacks a certain amount of power and warmth, so a little more information in the 100Hz region would perhaps help there, bridging the gap between the kick foundation and the low midrange of the guitars, and allowing you to pull back slightly on the bass's 500Hz region while still maintaining the importance of the instrument in the balance.

The kick tone is great for the choruses, but I might pull the HF back a little for the verse, where it feels a bit too perky for the lyrical sentiment. The snare comes across as somehow too trebly in relation to the rest of the instruments, and I would personally tone that down a little bit, making up any lost feeling of overall brightness in the mix with a master EQ shelf if necessary. The overheads could probably be higher in the mix, because their cymbal accents are probably too reticent. Other than that, though, the general balance is very strong in this mix, and pretty much everything comes across well on a single small speaker, bass and kick included, which is a significant achievement. That said, I reckon the verse vocals in particular will balance better if you give them a bit more lower midrange, as I've already suggested. Mono compatibility is reasonable for most of the main parts, but the overheads and especially the mid-section guitars do lose some of their sense of 'openness' in mono, which I'd probably try to improve with phase adjustment if possible.

I like the way the backing vocals are balanced against the lead parts in terms of overall level, but I wonder whether a slightly less solid BV tone (less information at 1.5kHz, for example) might slot them into place more neatly, with less potential for confusing the lead-vocal line. Some tuning correction would probably assist with this too. These vocals are too upfront for me as well, which makes me think that some kind of blending reverb would be a sensible addition. The snare is another part which appears to have troubles from a blend point of view, and while toning down the high end (as suggested above) will probably help a little with this, I think some additional short ambience reverb might pay dividends when it comes to gluing it in with the overheads. Some smoothing of the snare transient might also improve matters in this regard.

Overall, though, well done for putting together a pretty solid balance in what sounds (from reading your submission post) like less than ideal circumstances!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Mix 45: Argle (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: This is another mix with a lot going for it. There's generally a very good sense of balance, and the mix tone is also pretty well-judged, albeit with an overall tilt towards the low end -- the high end feels roughly 3-4dB down by comparison, I'd say.

I like the stringiness of the bass guitar tone, which keeps the instrument well up front in the verses, and makes sure it doesn't get lost in the thicker chorus/mid-section textures. The bass is also pretty well balanced throughout too. Perhaps I might not ride it up as much you have in the second half of the first mid-section, but it certainly draws the ear that way. The guitars are well controlled and not over-harsh when you hit the mid-sections, which is good, but I do hanker for a bit more 'poke' at around 900Hz for many of then, particularly the main chorus riff. I'm not sure I'd go quite that far with the vibrato-style effect on the main verse guitar, not because I don't like the widening effect in principle, but just because it makes the tuning appear to droop for me.

The drums are all nicely balanced, I think, and there's enough overheads in there to give it a bit of excitement and splash. The kick's particularly good, coming through well in stripped-back and full-on sections alike, although I wouldn't mind a little more mid-range cut-through for the small speakers when things really get going. The snare is the part I'd be most inclined to adjust, because it seems like you're adding something like distortion around 4-5kHz which makes it quite abrasive, especially during the verses. I'm not against distortion for snare processing in rock mixes (it's quite a common recourse of mine, in fact), but I'd personally suggest EQ'ing the resultant spectrum to tuck this area into the balance a bit more. That being said, this sound does have a great ability to cut through the texture in the choruses and mid-sections because of its thick sustain, so try not to remove that ingredient of the recipe at the same time. Maybe automating the level of those frequencies for different sections might have some merit?

The vocals maintain a respectable level in the mix most of the time, but I wonder whether they could just come forward wholesale throughout the mix -- maybe up a decibel, with a couple of decibels less reverb. At the moment they seem a bit too blended into the mix, which means they're being sucked back into the texture more than I'd hope. Your tuning work helps a great deal with the chorus blend, but I'd probably still get the editing tools out and try to deal with the consonant flams there too if you can, because intelligibility is getting a bit blurred, and I'd like to be clearer about the words if possible. Again, a little more overall level may help here, although I imagine that some careful automation may be required as well.

I like how you've contrasted the LVs and BVs here, and the tone of the BVs stays well out of the way too, which is great. The jury's still out on whether the extra harmonies are in keeping with the track as a whole -- I kind of like them myself, but they do seem to add a hint of euphoria that doesn't sit that well with the lyric. The little vocal fly-ins in the outro are nicely restrained -- great little production touch, that, without being too flashy.

You've already made some attempts to support the long-term dynamics, but I reckon you could probably go significantly further with this, particularly in terms of being a little more sparing with the verse effects, so that you have more subjective room for manoeuvre when you want to increase the scale of things later. The final chorus entry does seem to take quite a big step down in energy too, as has been an issue with many of the mixes we've heard so far.

Mono compatibility is good on this mix overall, although at the expense of some stereo width in the guitars which is a little bit of a shame, especially because the greater width of the overheads and toms then feels a little strange by comparison.

All in all, this is a great effort -- a nice combination of solid balancing with tastefully creative sound-design and editing. Good job!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: Argle post.

Mix 46: Berk13 (submitted file: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: This is one of the wetter mixes we've had so far, but the balance in general is nonetheless very nicely managed on the whole, and there's also a nice sense of dynamics, both in the short term and in the longer term. In particular I think this may be the best mix-only solution to the final chorus entry I've heard so far, which you've pulled of by a clever sleight of hand: by recessing the meatier midrange guitar frequencies during the mid-sections and keeping a firm lid on the bass (it's normally inclined to eat the rest of the mix for breakfast in the second mid-section if left to its own devices), you've then given the main chorus guitar riff much more impact by making sure it's rich in the very midrange energy that the mid-sections were lacking, and the bass doesn't feel a let-down either. An impressive solution to the problem without recourse to overdubs. (And I thought it wasn't possible -- oh ye of little faith! )

The bits of this mix that convince me the most are the larger-scale sections, where the richer effects landscape really comes into its own to make the production full and epic-sounding. The snare is a highlight for me, because it manages to make its presence felt strongly, without being either very bright or very spiky -- it's got that elusive midrange sustain that I've already mentioned so often, achieved comparatively conventionally in this case with judicious compression and reverb, it sounds like. For my own tonal preference I'd prefer it to have more high end to bring it more in line with the brightness of the cymbals, but it already functions perfectly from a balance perspective as it is. The kick, toms and cymbals fit together beautifully too, with the possible exception of the low tom, which does seem to boom a little on occasion. I also wonder whether the cymbals might be a bit rich in the 5kHz region, especially in the middle section and outro when the guitar tones get more strident. Switching to small speakers does reveal that the kick doesn't survive too well there, however, so I'd be tempted to give that a bit more high end for the choruses at least.

I've already alluded to the quality of the bass-guitar processing, but it really is exemplary -- rock solid control and a lovely rich sound, but without overloading the low midrange such that the guitars have no room for their own warmth frequencies. It also comes through beautifully on small speakers.

So far so good. However, there are a number of areas where I think improvements could be made. The first main point I'd make is that while the heavier use of reverbs has its benefits in terms of making the very biggest sections of this mix impressive-sounding, I think that the effects are perhaps making the whole production sound a little too smooth and lush. It's not that I don't like 'smooth and lush', but this is a rock band carrying a bucketful of angst, and it seems like it's getting slightly sugar-coated. Back off the returns by a couple of decibels and give the mix a little more overall compression, however, and I think you'll find yourself back on the right side of the line there. More of an issue, is that I think that there's not enough contrast in the effects use from section to section, which waters down the verse/chorus dynamics for me. Get the automation going and pull back some of the more epic treatments for the verses in particular -- it's surprising how effective this can be at breathing extra life into an arrangement.

In addition, I think you could maybe have a bit more front-back depth going on by varying the send levels a little more between different tracks, especially in terms of the vocals, which feel like they could take a good couple of steps forward in the balance. However, I don't think it's only the reverb levels which are holding the vocals back, so I'd probably bring their fader up at least a decibel across the board into the bargain. The vocal tuning could be tighter too, in the choruses especially, and the consonant flams between the lead and double-track are still a bit distracting for me. The sibilance feels a bit out of control on the choruses, so it's probably time to get busy with a de-esser. The chorus BVs are quite nicely done in terms of having a greater sense of distance than the leads, but I'd weed out a bit of their low mids to avoid clogging up that area of the mix. You've made an interesting choice by panning them to one side only, but it does rather imbalance the stereo picture for me -- there's nothing on the other side of the image performing a similar duty. I suppose you could say that they're balancing the riff guitar, but it doesn't really feel that way to these ears.

Overall tonality might benefit from some tweaks: I found myself adding a couple of decibels at 900Hz and 8kHz, and dipping out a little 3kHz too, to get closer to the Thrice reference, for instance. I'd also have a close look at the phase relationship between the overhead mics in particular, because the mix feels like it's losing a lot of 'height' in mono.

Criticisms aside, though, this is a really nice-sounding mix in a lot of respects, so thanks for sending it in. You've pushed the sense of size about as far as anyone has so far, and it's great for everyone to hear a good example of the possibilities available there.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: Berk13 post.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 64MB 24-bit/44.1kHz AIFF; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
)


Mix 47: studioIMP (submitted file: 63MB 24-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: Love the kick-drum sound in the verses -- velvety, but powerfully insistent. It probably needs some high-end boost during the louder sections of the mix to bring it out better on smaller speakers, though. The cymbals sound fine too, although they might perhaps be smoothed out a little with some cut at 5-6kHz. I love the sense of sustain you've achieved with the snare. It's not the longer tail that some people have gone for, but more of a brief burst of energy focused around the attack so that it doesn't become just a 'bip' even when the guitars are at their most aggressive. (I'd be interested to know what you used to achieve this, in fact.) Could it have a fraction more low midrange? I can't quite make up my mind on that. The toms feel a little indistinct, though. It's like I'm not quite sure where they're coming from, even though they seem balanced fairly sensibly.

The bass tone is well-judged, well-controlled, and translates pretty faithfully to small speakers, which is all good. At times, though, I wonder if the bass could balance with the kick a bit more equally in the sub-100Hz region. The guitars are in general rather low in the balance, even if I drive the mix hard into a loudness processor (thereby ducking the drum peaks), and I think they could afford to fill out the texture more across the board. While the tone of the chorus guitars seems fairly sensible, and there's decent separation of the two lines, the mid-section guitars feel like they're rather lacking in the low midrange, which leaves the bass alone to provide the power in this department. Even in Berk13's mix, which scoops out a good deal of midrange to assist with the long-term dynamics, there's still a suggestion of low-end weight in there that prevents the bass guitar feeling too disconnected. I'd also like to hear more stereo width in these parts if possible, because their image is rather narrow at the moment. (That said, the mono-compatibility of this mix is very good currently, so be careful not to compromise that if you can.)

The vocal seems a little on the thin side, although that's partly on account of the tonal character of the mix as a whole, which feels a couple of decibels shy in the 2kHz area, as well as a touch too crispy at 9kHz. Still, even taking this into account, I think the breathy upper frequencies are perhaps overplayed. Sibilance is also a problem throughout -- whether you stick with this tone or not, some de-essing would be advisable. I like the verse spot effects, which provide some welcome ear-candy, but using that heavy chorus-like treatment carries with it a danger of dating the sound, so I'd probably choose delays myself out of preference. I like the way the LV and double-track are blended together in the choruses, and also the BV tone and effects, but the latter are mixed too low for me, especially in the outro section, and I remain to be convinced about their unbalanced stereo spread.

The main comment I have about this mix, though, is that I would want it to sound subjectively 'bigger' in a general sense. That's partly a question of just turning up and spreading out the guitars, but you could also perhaps use a bit more compression on the drums and the mix as a whole, as well as considering adding in things like additional overdubbed layers or faked double-tracks. However, don't be tempted to turn up the reverb, because I think that's already been taken as far as it can at the moment, and you'll risk washing things out if you go any further. Delays, on the other hand, are probably worth further investigation, because of the way they can add sustain without many of the less-desirable side-effects of reverb.

Thanks for submitting this mix. You've got the workings of a very good balance going there, especially in terms of the way the drums and bass fit together.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: studioIMP post.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 63MB 24-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
)


Mix 48: Gizzmo0815 (submitted file: 41MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: The bass guitar delivers a lot of energy in the 150Hz region, and while this does keep the low end of the mix sounding warm, pushing the instrument into a much more prominent position than in some of the other mixes, it also lends it almost a slightly dubby timbre which doesn't seem to quite fit in with the stylistic context, as well as skewing the overall mix tonality undesirably towards woolliness. The other difficulty with this particular mix choice is that you've left no room for the guitars to provide power in their lower frequency ranges, so they tend to come across as being slightly thin-sounding. A couple of decibels boost of the whole mix at around 800Hz and a slight dip at 5kHz helps with this issue a certain amount, but a simple master EQ is too blunt a tool to bring about a complete solution -- especially in the mid-sections, which feel altogether too tinny.

The cymbal timbre is nice and smooth, which I like, but you could probably process it a bit further to pull down some of the stick noise, which pokes out of the balance at times. The kick and snare both appear to be relying too heavily on their lower frequencies: the former therefore has trouble cutting through on small speakers during the choruses, while the latter just ends up sounding rather muffled against the guitars. While a lot of people on this thread have over-emphasised the snare HF, in my opinion, I reckon your choice of tone has taken things too far in the other direction. The toms seem a touch too loud and also don't seem to blend quite as well as the snare does with the rest of the kit, so maybe you just need to apply a bit of whatever treatment the snare has to those mics as well.

The essential channel processing of your guitar sounds seems fairly sensible, and I like the stereo flanger/phaser widening a lot, even if it's possibly drawing a fraction too much attention to itself in the mix overall. The delay/reverb 'tail' effects, however, feel rather like they're wrapping the guitars up in a blanket, and while this doesn't sound unpleasant by any means I figure it's probably not the best decision stylistically again. It's somehow a bit too epic and not tough enough, so that the details of the parts themselves don't come through well and they're distanced in a way that waters down the emotional aggression of the louder sections. There's scope for these kinds of effect sounds to an extent in the verses, but even there you'll need to exercise some care in terms of managing the transitions to and from the louder sections to make it work convincingly. (If you're after a bit more sustain, you could do worse that going a bit heavier on the buss compression, both on the master channel and on the drums buss.) The way you've created stereo width in the choruses using effects rather than panning is a canny solution to the potential for stereo imbalance in this song, and I like the way it's turned out in practice too.

Is the phaser/flanger on the verse vocal too? Whatever it is you've got on it, it seems like you're sitting on the fence, in that the effect's active enough to imbue the vocal with a not entirely attractive tonal boxiness, but not extreme enough to act as a featured special effect! My advice would be to let the vocal speak more directly from an emotional perspective in the verses, and leave that treatment for more extreme spot effects. I do like your vocal delay effects a lot, though, and the way the chorus expands the vocal sound into stereo is also great.

The choice of a more central riff guitar in the choruses, widened with effects, means that this part translates very well into mono against the lead vocals in particular, but there are other aspects of the balance that don't fare so well, in particular the BV levels and the high end of the cymbals. Taken as a whole, though, this mix is already very proficiently handled, and the idea of using a more overt stereo-widening patch to tackle the stereo guitar picture is an excellent bit of lateral thinking. If you can just shift your mixing emphasis slightly more towards dynamics rather than effects, then I reckon most of my niggles will clear themselves up pretty swiftly. Thanks for sending this in!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: Gizzmo0815 post.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 41MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
)


Mix 49: man with hat (submitted file: 5MB 160kbps MP3 
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Critique: You've produced a pretty successful balance overall here, with clear sounds and good separation of the individual parts. I like the delay spins you've used a lot, and the long-term dynamics make a lot of sense from a musical perspective. There are a few straightforward balance issues which I'd want to look at, though: the kick and bass both feel like they're struggling to come through on small speakers at the moment, so might benefit from more mid-frequency definition; I reckon the BVs have been ridden up too far in the outro (although I love the way you've differentiated them from the leads so they don't get in the way), and the guitar solo could probably afford to take up more slack instead; and the low tom is booming unduly at the low end, with relation to the kick level. The overall mix tonality could probably do with a bit of tweaking too, as it's light on the 700Hz zone and gets a bit harsh at 4kHz when things really get going. Plus the vocal tuning feels too unstable to support such a prominent place in the balance come chorus time.

These simpler issues aside, the bulk of my remaining concerns all relate to one thing: blend. At the moment the track only really hangs together if you really crank it up, in which case it's means it's having to rely the ear's built-in safety compression and the listening-room acoustics. This is an area that I reckon you could do a lot to improve here, but in doing so you may find that you have to pretty much rebuild your mix from the ground up -- such is the way of mixing a lot of the time, I'm afraid!

The drums are probably the biggest contributing factor. It sounds to me as if you've hard-gated the overhead and room mics, because I can clearly hear two different layers of drum ambience cutting out after the first cymbal hit of the track, and also after the end of the first chorus. In the first instance, it sounds like one of the gates (the one on the room mic?) is also chattering as it closes. While the audibility of this processing could be decreased by giving the gate a longer release, I don't really think you need much in the way of gating on these tracks at all, and the fact that you've applied it here makes me suspect that all the close mics are gated too. Although gating is very useful in live situations to avoid feedback problems, I usually recommend applying it with caution for studio recordings, because removing lots of inter-mic spill on individual drum tracks tends to suck a lot of the life out of the combined sound, and stops the instruments gluing together into a cohesive kit. In this case this blend issue is exacerbated by the transient-rich snare tone too, which has a high-frequency spike that seems out of character with cymbals, but that's really only a secondary issue for me.

So my suggestion would be to try remixing the kit from a different perspective, trying to treat the spill much more as an asset rather than as a nuisance. If you can bring in more of this natural ambience, then the sound should fill out nicely with a bit of drum-buss compression, and the overall feeling of blend should improve, even without any effects at all. Some of the close mics may still need some short reverb to gel them with the overheads, but this needn't sound like anything obviously artificial if you prefer to gravitate towards more 'raw and authentic' kinds of sounds as a rule. Tying the rest of the tracks into the balance alongside a more cohesive drum sound should be more straightforward, with just a bit of short delay/reverb -- if you've already got the book, then check out sections 16.3 and 17.1 in particular for help with this. You've already got some subtle longer delay/reverb effects in there which work fine, but those kinds of treatments won't create enough of a blending effect on their own.

Thanks for letting us hear your mix. Your instinct for balance already seems well-developed, so I reckon you'll notice the whole mix making a lot more sense once you get more of a handle on the blend angle.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: man with hat post.

Mix 50: chops (submitted file: 39MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: The drums present a respectable overall sound and blend nicely. Adding a little high end above about 6kHz to the whole mix seems to match the references a bit more closely, and also lifts the cymbals in the balance, which is no bad thing, and I think you should probably take this further using the overhead and room faders too. The kick has good cut-though on small speakers, but feels a bit bloated on a full-range system in the 50-60Hz region, such that the hits lengthen unduly and the rhythm becomes a bit laboured. The snare feels a bit too pointy, so if heavy-handed loudness processing of the mix ever smashes the transient back into the balance the instrument as a whole will end up feeling a bit underpowered. I'd look to compression to provide some extra sustain in your case (given the reasonable sense of blend you've already managed), perhaps via a parallel channel to give you more control.

I like the wide, bell-like lead guitar during the verses, although I might just reduce the modulation depth a fraction, because at the moment it's making the tuning feel a bit vague. The bass in the verses, though, lacks a certain amount of definition, which is a shame, I think, as this robs the sections of some valuable rhythmic drive and forward momentum. Once you hit the chorus, however, the bass and guitars really lock together, showing a kind of united front and avoiding the midrange hole that many of the mixes on this thread have exhibited. The bass comes through fine on the small speakers, despite being not as bright as some, so well done there. The overall tonality of the bass/guitars combination does feel a bit heavy at around 400Hz, however, and also perhaps a little too strident at 3kHz.

The lead vocals throughout feel 3-4dB too aggressive in the 3-4kHz region, and I would have liked a bit of extra body to the sound lower down the spectrum to give things more intimacy, maybe around 800Hz or so. Come the choruses, this tonal contour inevitably exacerbates sibilance, and de-essing should be a high priority within this particular mix. Nonetheless, I do rather like the way you've balanced and effected the vocals to give them thickness and blend, sitting them at a level where intelligibility is decent yet without running a risk of making the backing seem small. Another finely-honed balance decision.

The BVs have an interesting sound which contrasts well with the lead vocals, but I think it could be better controlled in terms of dynamics -- the top note of the BV phrase sticks out much further than the rest, and the last note of each phrase feels like too much of a let-down. Such a clear Harmonizer-style sound is also a gamble, just from the perspective of introducing a whiff of the band Chicago -- which I'm guessing wouldn't go down too well with Young Griffo!

There's a strong stereo panorama to this mix, but mono-compatibility is a little lack-lustre, with both the cymbals and guitars losing out particularly in the higher frequencies. The main question-mark which hangs over this mix for me, though, is why it sounds somehow rather 'flat' dynamically. I'm not talking long-term dynamics here, which aren't bad (and enhanced by some nice transition effects); it's the short-term dynamic range which feels like it's had too much life squeezed out of it. It's tricky to diagnose the reason for this kind of sound without seeing the project file, but there are several possibilities that immediately come to mind. It's possible that you've been compressing too heavily track by track, using over-fast attack and release times; or you might have applied over-fast buss compression over instrument groups or the full mix; or you've got some kind of multi-band compression algorithm over the master buss. Whatever it is, I think it's sacrificing too much energy, so I'd try to back it off and then investigate the slower, more obvious full-band buss compression which tends to be more typical for a style like this. (It's possible that your reverb/delay effects processing may also be a factor in what I'm hearing, so do check that you're not overextending decay times, and that you're EQ'ing effect returns to focus them on their most useful frequencies.)

Overall, though, I like what you've done in a lot of respects with this mix, and I'd just encourage you to give your sound a little bit more room to breath.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: chops post.

Mix 51: fixated7 (submitted file: 63MB 24-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: The thing that struck me straight away with this mix is its clarity. Right from that first bass-guitar line, you've made it easy to hear inside this mix, so that I can hear lots of nice details (as well as the odd sly little production stunt, such as the panning delay in verse one). It just seems to me as if you've got an instinctive feel for bringing out the inherent qualities of a given track and then fitting it into the mix with EQ such that it doesn't conflict with other parts. This is one of those mixes that really showcases what's there 'on tape', and I found this aspect of the mix to be slightly mesmerising almost. I don't think I've heard anyone make the toms sound so wholesome, for example. And what a great cymbal tail to finish. Basically, you're making it sound like you're mixing a recording that's better than this one actually is! (Incidentally, that's not meant to be a snipe at the original recording, because I think the band did a great job within the restrictions they were working under.)

The general balance is also pretty sensible for the most part, although there are aspects of this I'd tweak: the lead vocals could be a little lower in level, I think, and are perhaps also too forward in the 5-9kHz region; the sibilance needs attention in the choruses; the kick drum could come through a bit better on the small speakers; the opening bass tone could probably have a touch more 1-2kHz to give stronger rhythmic cues; the backing vocals need firmer dynamics control and a higher level in the balance, I think; the snare sounds a little boxy, and could maybe have a bit more high-end sustain; and I hanker for a bit more of that secondary guitar line in the choruses. Overall tonality is pretty good too, although mono-compatibility could be better as regards the guitars and cymbals. These are all pretty small things, though, because I like a lot of what I'm hearing.

Beyond the fundamental tones/balance, though, I think this mix could still be improved quite a bit in terms of its use of mix effects. It just feels a bit bare and stark at the moment. For a start, the drum kit doesn't seem to cohere very well with the other instruments, even though it blends quite well internally. Although you've already applied some tasteful effects, the drums still sound like they're in a rehearsal room, while the other instruments sound like they're close-miked. This gives a disconcertingly polarised depth picture to the mix, with the drums more blended and in the background and the guitars/vocals right up your nose. Careful use of blending reverb would lend a hand here, and larger room reverb over the drums and guitars would also help teleport the track out of the original basement. I reckon some subliminal stereo tempo-sync'ed delay would also help to fill things out so that you can achieve more 'richness', without sacrificing the clarity that you already have. (Delays will typically be better at retaining clarity than reverbs will.) And of course you could also experiment with additional layers or double-tracks as well, which is a whole new ball-game again.

The bottom line is, though, that this is a great foundation upon which to build further, and I think you should be able to trust your balancing instincts to steer you clear of muddiness and clutter while you experiment with any additional effects and/or parts. Keep up the good work, and thanks for the submission!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: fixated7 post.

Mix 52: jodawo (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: First of all, while I like the compression pumping on the master buss, which gives things that 'everything fighting with everything else' sensation, I'm less keen on the way the loudness processing in particular feels like it has flattened the mix dynamics as a whole. Don't get me wrong: I have no problem with you applying loudness processing to achieve this kind of peak-to-average figure if you feel that you want it to compete in loudness terms with market competition. My problem is that I think you've settled for an unacceptable degree of processing artefacts in return for the loudness hike: a slightly folded snare sound, some over-emphasised low-level details (giving a sense of excess reverb and overall mix clutter), and some rather disconcerting level-hike 'bubbles' in transitions (for example during the 'feel like a failure' lyrics both times, and at the end of the track). My suggestion would be to go back to the loudness processing stage, match the subjective loudness of the loudness-processed signal with that of the unprocessed signal using the loudness processor's Output/Ceiling control, and then toggle the bypass switch. With the subjective loudness change out of the equation, the side-effects of the processing will become much more audible and apparent.

Remaining on the subject of dynamics for the moment, the individual channel and group-buss processing is also pretty heavy across the board, and although the compression is adding a lot of character to the sounds, I'm suspicious that you may be relying on it too heavily for balance purposes, pushing the settings slightly beyond where they sound best in order to nail down each instrument's level in the balance. The chorus vocals in particular strike me this way, and I'd be tempted to back off the compression a bit (or maybe chain compressors to get more transparent gain-reduction) and then make up the dynamics-control shortfall with fader automation. The drums also feel like they've been squeezed rather too much; if you're after that degree of sustain and 'pump', then perhaps more reliance on parallel processing would be advisable. You also need to be careful with heavy compression that it doesn't pull up details you don't want it to: lip noise, fret squeaks, and sibilance -- you've de-essed fairly heavily against the latter, it appears, but the others still need attention.

There are a number of great bits of creative effects work. I love the verse guitar's tempo-delay patch, which makes particularly good sense when it reappears in the reintro, fleshing out that line nicely. (It's often seemed rather stranded to me in most people's versions.) The psychedelic BV modulation effect is another highlight, which really catches the ear. That said, I'm not sure whether these effects remain close enough to the band's original intent. Clearly only they can answer that, but if I'd been in your situation designing them, I think I'd probably have filed them under 'great, but use some other day', rather than gambling on comparatively short odds here.

Beyond that, the balances and timbres you've used are broadly in line with my own preferences, and you've taken care to mult/automate some important parts, such as the kick drum. (Maybe dial in just a touch less beater on the chorus kick, though.) The snare drum is probably the biggest question-mark for me, because you've gone for a very trashy kind of sound that steps a bit too far outside naturalness for me. Rock drums are never really natural as such, of course, but they still need to hang together into a kit, and the snare here feels a bit too lo-fi and 'stuck on'. Although you could just try tweaking the sound you've already got, or adding more effects, my preferred course would be to strip it back entirely, listen to the track without it, and then try to rebuild a tone from scratch that fits in with the arrangement more easily.

It's difficult to pick apart mix-effects usage given the heavy master-buss processing, but I suspect that you might be over-egging the pudding a little with those too. The guitars in the choruses lose out most to this, such that we're left with lots of size and power, but at the expense of considerable blurring of the sonic details of the original recordings. Try shortening some decay times in the first instance, and also try turning different effects on/off while the mix is playing to remind yourself how much each is contributing. Listening to the mix without the drums may also help you examine the effect balances of internal parts more critically.

Overall tonality is pretty good in the main, although I might pull back a couple of decibels around 450Hz and raise the top end above 1kHz a couple of decibels too. The characteristic 1-2kHz peak in the backing vocals tone slightly overcooks this frequency range in the chorus balance for me as well, so perhaps there might be something else going on there that could be EQ'd to clear some space for them in that region. Switching to mono brings about a significant loss of high end on the cymbals and pushes the chorus guitar riff in particular rather too far back in the balance for me.

Thanks for letting us listen to your mix. As much as I think you can still refine your compression tactics, I do like the assertiveness of the vision you've presented here, as it tallies with how I imagine the track too.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: jodawo post.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
)


Mix 53: dnastudios (submitted file: 4MB 128kbps MP3 
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Critique: Not sure whether you intended it this way, but you've managed to submit a mix with no stereo information whatsoever. (Mono-compatibility's fantastic! ) The mix tonality is well-judged, though, and I agree with a lot of what you've done with the general balance. I like the cymbal pumping on the drum track, which I'm guessing you brought about with parallel compression, because the rest of the drums seem to be nice and punchy. In fact, I'd suggest that the snare could perhaps be a little less punchy in a transient sense, as it has difficulties blending like that, even factoring in the effects of any down-stream loudness processing. I'd perhaps compress it a certain amount on its own, which might give it a touch more sustain too. The same might be said of the high tom too, which pokes out too far, while the low tom if anything needs to come up.

The kick is great in the verses (a lovely tight, urgent-sounding low end), but lacks a bit of small-speaker cut-through in the midrange -- you could just dial that in during the thicker textures. The cymbals seem to lack a touch of air at the high end, although I would imagine that this may partly be a result of phase-cancellation between the two sides of the overheads during the mono summing process, so EQ may not be the most effective solution to this.

In the intros/verses it feels like the rhythmic bass-line is rather understated, which seems to me to be wasting an opportunity for rhythmic momentum. Or perhaps the problem is that the lead vocal and lead guitar feel maybe a bit too high in the balance at these points, although I do like the level relation between those two lead parts. The guitar riff and vocals in the choruses also strike a nice balance for me, although the secondary guitar line does rather lose out.

The vocal sound works better for the choruses than in the verses, where a little more lower midrange would draw the listener in better, I think. The chorus vocal treatment is doing quite a good job at blending, but you can hear on the 'feel like a failure' lyric that it's introducing a slightly phasey 'telephone booth' kind of sound that's not particularly attractive, possibly as a result of the mono summing again. Sibilance might also be a little over-zealous at the moment, especially in the context of the air-loss on the cymbals. Mono-summing may have done the dirty on your backing vocals too, which struggle to be heard -- I'm assuming they've been balanced on the low side in stereo because of hard-panning.

Beyond these things, I think there's still more you could do to fill out and glue this mix, and top of my list would probably be getting buss compression involved. I tried this on my system with an SSL quad compression emulation and it sounded promising, but I suspect that there's also lots you could do in terms of incorporating tempo delay effects in particular -- at the moment everything feels like it lacks some sustain and warmth, which is something tempo delay can supply without washing everything out.

Despite the mono presentation, this mix is pretty respectable in my view, and I like a lot of the sounds and balances you've got going here. I think it's the 'back end' of the mixing process (buss processing, global send effects, automation) which would benefit from the greatest attention now, because that's where you can really push the mix beyond simply providing a solid balance. Thanks for posting!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Mix 54: AnthonyMF (submitted file: 9MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: Overall the drums don't really feel strong enough in this mix, for a number of different potential reasons. It's partly just that the levels of the overheads and room mic are quite low in the balance, and would probably benefit from additional compression to lengthen the cymbal hits, but it's also that the snare has had quite a lot of low end carved out of it and its sustain lacks energy in the 1-4kHz region -- taken together these conspire to leave it sounding rather slender when the guitars really start swooping in. The toms, on the other hand, seem if anything over-prominent level-wise (as well as being panned outside the kit's image in the overheads), and I'd rethink those within the context of a revised drum balance.

Although the bass feels reasonably controlled here, I do find myself wishing it had a bit more midrange so that I can hear its melodic line. It's a really good part, I think, with a lot of rhythmic impetus to it throughout most of this arrangement, so it would be nice to hear it better, especially on small speakers. The guitars in the chorus feel over-large, in that they seem to be pushing a lot of 300Hz-1kHz into the balance, with the result that the vocals and especially the drums lose too much ground against them. On the plus-side, though, I like that the secondary chorus guitar part is more prominent here than in some of the mixes. In the mid-sections (especially the second) the 4-5kHz zone of the guitars also begins to become too forceful for me, so I'd look at the EQ of the band's additional mid-section overdubs to see if you can tame this element of harshness.

Balance issues notwithstanding, the vocal sound seems nice enough in the verses, although a little too crispy for me at 12kHz or so, an aspect of the timbre that causes real sibilance problems once the chorus arrives. Time for a de-esser there, I think. I do find it a bit strange too that the chorus vocal doesn't appear to have much in the way of long reverb or delay on it, despite the use of this kind of sound for the guitars. Clearly you have to be careful using this kind of patch on a lead vocal, but it should be do-able with some predelay and return EQ. That you've decided to ditch the vocal double-track is fine on an artistic level, but it does make it trickier to blend the vocal into the fairly lush guitar backdrop.

Beyond these specific things, there are two main areas I'd look to concentrate your continued energies on, and both are in response to an impression of clutter and 'soupiness' that I'm getting -- most strongly in the final choruses, but also elsewhere to a lesser extent. My first suggestion would be to exercise your high-pass filters a little more in order to clear up the low end, leaving more headroom for your kick and bass. I'm getting some rogue subsonics coming though, which is always a warning sign, but in general the combined unwanted low-frequency information is just drawing a bit of veil over what's going on in the low midrange, even despite a definite 300Hz emphasis across the mix as a whole. Try cutting a few decibels out of this region from some of the less important tracks while the whole mix is running, and see if it makes any negative differences. It's sometimes surprising how much cut you can get away with in this context. After all, it doesn't matter what any instrument sounds like on its own as long as it sounds right within the final mix.

The second area that needs some additional thought is the use of delay/reverb effects. To some extent this is an extension of the previous issue, in that it's their low mid-range build-up that's part of the problem. However, I think that you may just be using too many effects. Try backing off all the returns by 3dB and then see if a bit of buss compression can achieve a better sense of size and cohesion instead. I suspect the long decay times of the effects may also be an issue, because I'm noticing a slight sluggishness to the harmony changes in the chorus, presumably as the previous chord's effects overlap the onset of the new chord.

Don't let these criticisms get you down, though, because you've already done a lot of things right, particularly in terms of expanding the dimensions of the production sonics. Once the drums take a step forward in the balance, and the effects a step back, I think a lot of the other things should fall into place quite logically. Thanks for letting us hear your work!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: AnthonyMF post.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 9MB 320kbps MP3 
)


Mix 55: mugo (submitted file: 4MB 128kbps MP3 
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Critique: This is another mix which presents a good deal of clarity, especially in terms of allowing you to pick out guitar details -- the way the secondary guitar part in the chorus comes through is really nice, for instance. One reason for this appears to be that the main guitar parts are panned hard to opposite sides, along with their delay/reverb effects. The issue of width and panning in effect returns is often ignored by people starting out in mixing, but it can be incredibly important in terms of issues of blend and clarity. In this particular case, though, I'm not sure I'd have gone for the 'panned effects' approach myself, simply because it generates separation and space in an arrangement where I instinctively gravitate towards wanting additional blend and thickness. It's a judgement call, of course, but it just seems to me that you can't make sense of the critical long-term dynamics moment (the final chorus entry) without packing out the chorus texture in some way.

There's a lot to like with the basic drum sounds you've created. I think you could probably sneak a little more low end into the kick drum, though, and the toms feel underpowered during the fills (especially the one which leads into the first chorus). The snare sounds great in its own right, with enough low-end weight and sustain to carry through the guitars. However, I think its transient is too spiky, especially in the high-frequency region, and this has a number of ramifications for the mix as I see it. The first is that it overpowers the rest of the kit, making the cymbals feel rather small, and almost inevitably causes blend problems into the bargain. In addition, it's prominent enough in the balance that I think it's misled you into underplaying the high-frequency information of the cymbals and guitars, which therefore sound slightly veiled and lacking in energy. (Try punching the snare spike back into the mix with a fast limiter to hear more clearly what I mean.)

The bass takes on a more supporting role in this mix than in some I've heard, and while this tactic again isn't my immediate instinct for this song given the melodic/rhythmic interest in the part itself, you have nonetheless controlled it well and balanced it sensibly against the guitars, with no danger of coolness in the difficult 200-400Hz region. (If anything, I might actually rein in that region slightly overall to combat a hint of muddiness to the overall mix tonality.) The hiss on the opening bass guitar entry isn't really necessary, though, so I'd simply filter that out. There are plenty of more useful frequencies (1-2kHz, say) for bringing that line to the listener's attention in the midrange, if you so wish, without having to rely on any of the serious HF -- better to leave that range for the cymbals and vocals.

You manage to keep a lid on the guitar harshness in the mid-section, and I particularly like the slightly honky tone you use for the second middle-section, because it makes a great impact into the section change. (The downside, though, is that I then feel there's a small step down into the final chorus, which I'm less fond of.) I think the vocal tone works well on the whole too, although tuning/timing issues do compromise the blend for me during the choruses. I'm not sure I'd use such a bright vocal reverb either, as it tends to sound artificial, and also catches the sibilance in a distracting way. (If you feel that the bright reverb needs to stay, then try heavily de-essing the reverb send.) The backing vocals are nice too, although these could do with some automation to keep them solidly in their chosen mix position.

Thanks for posting this mix, which I like a lot, not least because it ploughs a very different furrow than the one I'd instinctively pursue myself. There's no arguing with the fullness of the tones you've achieved here, and you've balanced them confidently. Good work!

v the critique in its original forum context here.)

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 4MB 128kbps MP3 
)


Mix 56: smallfishrecordings (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: There's some fantastic creativity in this mix! Unlike some of the more way-out ideas we've had so far, the digital glitch/telecom theme you've overlayed here actually feels very supportive of the band's own music and lyrics, so even though I'd never have tried it myself, I have to say I think it's got a lot going for it. To be honest, if you're going to take it that direction, I'd possibly make the statement of intent even more clear, so that there's no risk that people will think their modem's malfunctioning! Seriously, though, the best way to pull off a bold character-enhancement like this (in my opinion) is to give it your full conviction, so that the force of your vision (and it's alignment with the music's inherent emotions) will be most likely to win the band over.

And there's more too. How do I love the bass drop in mid-section one? Let me count the ways! Firstly it's just a great attention-grabber, which is never a bad thing, focusing the listener on the new guitar parts for a moment at a point where the recorded bass line is actually fairly pedestrian to begin with. The drop also functions as a way of buying extra arrangement headroom, allowing more of a build into mid-section two. And finally, I actually prefer the bass note you've put in as a lead-in to mid-section two more than the original one. Result! All that said, I'm not quite convinced by some of the bass notes before that point, as they seem to meander without seeming to quite know where they're headed. They just seem to need more logic somehow. Maybe try giving the notes some kind of scalar pattern, as this is a simple way of generating a sense of direction to the line.

The drop before the outro isn't a bad idea in principle, but the execution doesn't quite live up to the concept, in my view. It's enough, at that stage in the mix, to wrong-foot the listener to some extent, but you go a bit too far for me in this case, with the reentry feeling like it's happening mid-way through a beat (according to my 'internal metronome' free-running after the drums drop out). Maybe you'd get away with this kind of drop before a second verse, or at the start of a middle-section, but by the end choruses of a song like this it's just going to be a recipe for chaos in the mosh-pit! I'd personally try to keep the eight-bar phrase lengths intact from the start of the final chorus onwards for this reason, although you still have lots of room to get seriously creative within that framework.

Those are all good things, but the more technical parts of the mix aren't quite on a par with the creative side at the moment (and I imagine that lack of time may have played a role in that). My biggest concern is that the lead guitars and vocals have pretty much swapped mix positions here, to the extent that during the final choruses the lead vocals almost sound like backing vocals, and the lead-guitar riff becomes more like a solo. I like your guitar sounds overall (which chart a very sensible course between aggression, solidity, and aggression), it's just that they're dominating a little much for me. The fact that the effect levels get a bit OTT towards the end only exacerbates the situation, and everything starts to swim undesirably. While I agree that reverb can be useful in creating a powerful illusion of space, if it's taken too far then it begins to sound too much like the band's on the wrong end of a cathedral.

I like the way the bass and drums fit together, and the long cymbal sustain (with a good dose of compressor movement) is certainly along the right lines for the style. The snare, however, feels a bit spitty, with not enough going on in the low midrange to imply real power. That said, the high-frequency energy seems to be enough to guarantee good audibility during the heavier guitar sections, even when the loudness processing's hitting the end stops. The cymbal stick noise is poking too far forward for me too, partly as a result of the heavy drum compression. Threshold-independent transient processing would be my fix for that.

Your overall mix tonality could probably bear a few tweaks, taming the 3kHz region a decibel or so and adding some more centre at 900Hz. Mono-compatibility is a concern too, because the cymbals are really dulling in mono and some of the reverbs are becoming woolly on account of phase-cancellation. (Mono-compatibility is something that can really separate the men from the boys where reverb algorithms are concerned, but not many people seem to look out for this.)

Thanks for letting us all hear what you've done -- and for making my day with that bass drop, of course! I'm still grinning thinking about it...

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: smallfishrecordings post.

Mix 57: hatliff (submitted file: 41MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: This mix provides a innovative approach to the chorus balance, building much more on the interplay between the bass guitar and secondary guitar line, and relegating what most of us have thought of as the 'main' chorus guitar riff to very much a background role. I think it's fantastic the way people keep coming up with fresh angles on these multitracks! However, while I like the idea of dramatic balance reversals like this (who doesn't like cheering for the underdog, after all?), I have to say I'm not quite convinced that this version of the balance is as strong as the more conventional perspective taken by most of the other mixers here. Perhaps it's just that the secondary guitar doesn't yet speak here with a character that's really clear and undeniable, but I can't help feeling that it operates best as support for the higher line rather than as a feature in its own right. (Still, the more conventional route is no walk in the park to put together either, simply because that gives you three melodic elements to weave fairly equally into the balance alongside the two vocal lines.)

I love the way the kick, bass, and snare come through on a small speaker, and the cymbals also survive fairly well into mono to support them. The kick and bass, however, achieve their small-speaker translation by means of some fairly aggressive high frequencies, and these become rather wearing on the ear after a while, especially when we hit mid-section two -- it sounds like there's heavy pick-noise coming through from the bass guitar there, and it makes the main guitars sound scratchy even though I don't think they actually are. It shouldn't really be necessary to reach so high up the spectrum to bring out the bass guitar, but if it is, then multi-band processing, dynamic EQ, or automated channel processing might be necessary to bring the pick-noise element back under control.

You're not shy with gain-pumping artefacts when compressing your drums, and while I approve of that kind of sound for this particular style, I wonder whether the compression you're using is adding an unwelcome crunchiness to the tone of the cymbals, snare, and toms. Perhaps it something else that's doing this, but whatever it is, it's making things sound slightly cheap and gritty -- especially in the snare/tom fills. I have no problem with lo-fi sonics per se, but they don't seem to be supporting the music that well for me in this specific case.

The chorus vocal sound does the job fine, but when you get to the chorus you need to do more to rival the fullness of the drums and guitars. Your muting of the double-track is one factor in this, but even if you prefer not to include the double you could still afford to fade up the main vocal track and give it a bit more width and/or sustain with effects. At the moment it just comes across as slightly apologetic, which feels counter-intuitive. If you bring the singer up in the balance, however, then you'll almost certainly want to de-ess, because the sibilance is already too forward at the current level.

Overall tonality seems a touch heavy on the low mids, so I'd be tempted to pull those back a couple of decibels, as well as maybe boosting a decibel or so around 1kHz to harden the timbre a little (and to pull out the vocal a little more). Mono-compatibility could be better too, with the guitars losing quite a lot of level when the left and right channels are summed -- a particular problem in your specific mix because that focuses even more attention on the bass guitar's aggressive high frequencies.

Despite the few criticisms I have, I think this mix succeeds on a lot of levels by doing a lot to increase the scale of the sounds (without overdoing the mix effects) and by putting in a lot of excitement into the bargain, so thanks for letting us all hear it! (Love the sneaky little stutter-edit before the first mid-section too. I'm a sucker for that kind of thing! )

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: hatliff post.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 41MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
)


Mix 58: PauloGomes (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps WMA; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: This is a mix very much after my own heart, in the sense that you're clearly looking to expand the scale of the climactic moments, not least by enhancing the musical contrasts. This is certainly the most rich-sounding first chorus we've had so far, and I think its moodiness actually reflects the band's intentions well, despite your own reservations. I'm also very impressed with the thoughtful (and thought-provoking) arrangement adjustments you've employed, including the first proper implementation of a full drop-chorus for Chorus 3. There are loads of great little ear-tickling special-effects features in there as well, which are great for sustaining the interest -- and they seem less out-of-place than in some of the mixes we've heard so far because the stage has been set for them from the outset and they're fairly evenly distributed. The verse vocal tone is also well-managed, even if the 'telephone vocal' idea always carries a whiff of cliche with it these days. Overall, excellent work on all of those things -- you've clearly got more good ideas than most of us would know what to do with!

I'm also impressed with the way you've managed to achieve such a good sense of blend, in terms of the way you've managed to get the kit sounding like a single instrument, and in terms of the way you've glued the drums together with the guitars and vocals. You might want to ease back a little on the lead vocal blend, in fact, simply because I think it could afford to be a bit more upfront than it currently is.

All those good things notwithstanding, there are a number of areas of the balance which could be improved upon, most of which are to do with reducing a sense of muddiness in the mix as a whole. This is partly an issue of mix tonality: it feels like there's rather too much energy around the 200Hz region, and not quite enough at 1kHz or in the top two octaves. However, if you try to compensate for this using master-buss EQ, you quickly find that it's only a comparatively small factor. A big part of the problem I think is that you're relying too heavily on the low midrange frequencies of the bass guitar. Clearly, these are frequencies that are important to bass guitar in general , but you also need to have enough energy further up the spectrum to maintain audibility against the guitars and vocals. As it is, though, you've (sensibly, I think) chosen to have the bass melody audible in the balance, and the inevitable outcome is therefore that the mix as a whole gets murky. My advice would be to clear some of that region out of the bass guitar, and then give it more character above 500Hz instead -- it'll carry through on smaller speakers that way too.

The guitars also contribute a certain amount to the problem too, I think. Just as the bass could clear some room for the guitars around 200-400Hz, the guitars could also make more space for the bass guitar below about 200Hz. At the moment they're contributing a lot of rather undefined low end which just makes the bass and kick feel less punchy, robbing you of mix headroom for little benefit. The additional overdrive you appear to have applied to thicken the choruses will also be making it more difficult to keep the overall mix tone clear, because it's increasing the high midrange density of the guitars and therefore masking the vocals quite heavily, so that they'll tend to feel somehow dull-sounding unless you pile on masses of EQ. This is a common problem in rock mixes, and there are various different solutions. One thing you can try is actually adding distortion to the vocals in the 3kHz range to give them more competitive density, but the danger there is that you end up making the whole mix sound harsh and fatiguing. The other solution is to punch some holes into the guitar spectrum so that the more important spectral regions of the vocals can pop through those gaps.

The third major issue affecting clarity here is your mix delay/reverb effects usage, which feels like it's overloading the mix at the moment. You could pull back those returns by a good 3dB, I'd have thought, and maybe take 30-40% off the reverb/decay times too. Further clarity gains could be achieved with careful EQ on the effect-return channels, especially high-pass filtering. A good rule of thumb with mix effects is that you should only really notice them when they're muted, and while that might not be quite true of a mix on this kind of epic scale, it's still something to bear in mind. The master limiting you've used to boost the loudness probably isn't helping you either, because it feels like it's set very fast, such that it's ironing out the drum peaks more than should really be necessary, even within the context of this kind of peak-to-average figure.

Finally, there are some serious mono-compatibility issues, and it sounds like it's on account of your using stereo-widening techniques involving hard-panning delayed copies of your guitar tracks. Just looking at the waveforms in some more exposed sections, it looks like you've applied something in the order of a 1ms delay time. Although this does indeed produce a strong stereo widening effect, the phase-cancellation side-effects in mono are pretty disastrous, and have dramatic implications for the balance in the choruses and mid-sections. The biggest casualty is your main guitar line during the chorus, which drops a large amount in the mono balance. (Just to clarify, the main guitar line in Paulo's mix is what I normally refer to as the secondary guitar line in other critiques, but he's chosen to make it more the bedrock of the chorus sections in his version of the arrangement.)

Thanks for uploading this mix for everyone to listen to. It's another great new angle on this production, and adds a lot of intriguing new ideas to the pot. If you can do more to clarify the sonics, then these ideas will only shine out brighter!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: PauloGomes post; my reply.

Mix 59: living sounds (submitted file: 8MB 256kbps MP3 
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Critique: It's official: we've now had everything but the kitchen sink in this competition! The 'rain atmosphere' sample that this mix starts with is the first bit of proper Foley we've had so far, I think. I'd not be surprised if you'd been reading Mix Rescue, actually, because I use Foley stuff quite often for those mixes -- although rarely as prominently as you've done here. Still, I'd suggest rethinking this particular usage for two reasons. Firstly, it's very difficult to fade out of the rainstorm sample without feeling the loss of its natural acoustic signature. (This is why I rarely push ambient effects like this so upfront, and tend instead to use them in a subtler background role, so that they function almost like a sort of reverb.) And, secondly, I think that the fact that this particular sound effect has already been used to death in so many record/film/television productions means that it carries too much emotional baggage from cheesy 'C'-grade ballads and dreadful TV-movie weepies. As such, I'd be worried that you'd fall at the first hurdle when it came to winning Young Griffo over to your vision for the song.

Overall tonality is in the right kind of ball-park, but I'd probably take out a couple of decibels at 350Hz and 3.5kHz, as well as boosting a similar amount around the 1kHz region. Mono-compatibility, on the other hand, is a big issue with the guitar in this mix, and I think it's because (as I mentioned in relation to PauloGomes's mix) you've panned the guitar multimics to opposite sides of the spectrum without sorting out their phase alignment. In mono both the main and secondary guitar phase-cancel fairly severely, and although the former comes out of it slightly better than the latter, it still takes a real dive in the mono balance compared with the stereo. The overheads don't fare much better either, so the cymbals suffer a lot of 'air' loss, and the backing vocals also appear to have been widened in a way which leaves them considerably dulled -- flip the mono switch in the outro in particular to hear all this in practice.

Once you factor out those particular issues, however, and look at the stereo presentation on its own terms, it's actually got a lot to recommend it. There's a good combination of clarity and balance, in particular, something which isn't easy to achieve, and I like the way the kick and bass-guitar interact. The lead vocals in general could probably have a bit more body to them in the 800Hz region, while the 12kHz region feels too crispy for me. My guess is that you're pushing this frequency with your EQ to try to give the vocals better clarity, but the reason they're not coming through is that the guitars and cymbals are strongly masking them an octave or two below this. It's only by dialling in some EQ cuts on those conflicting tracks that you'll be able to carve a space for the vocal to really pop through. (That said, a general increase in the vocal level of a decibel or so would also be within reason.) On a related note, the cymbals also seem to be strong in the 12kHz region, and are combining with the vocal sibilance in a slightly unattractive way, so either you should reassess that EQ decision, or look into putting a high-frequency dynamic EQ on the overheads tracks, triggered from the vocal sibilance. (Admittedly, the latter is usually a bit unwieldy to implement in most DAW systems. )

I like the snare sound you've got, which has enough brightness, but also a nice weight to it, as well as a certain amount of sustain. The additional snare accents and reverb spins are also an interesting idea, although perhaps fractionally out-of-time on occasion. The toms feel rather low in the balance against the snare, which makes the fills feel a bit odd -- during the lead-in to the first chorus, for instance.

As I've already hinted, I like the way you use mix delay/reverb effects, which is both tasteful and responsive to the needs of the music. My only comment on that front really is that you could probably use more in the way of stereo quarter-note tempo delay to fill out the larger-scale textures a bit more. So overall, I was actually surprised how much I liked this mix, given the eyebrow-raising opening gambit. Bar the mono-compatibility issues, most of my criticisms are pretty niggly, to be honest. Thanks for submitting the mix!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: living sounds post; my reply.

Mix 60: Robin (submitted file: 41MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: The overall tonality of this mix feels a little hilly to me in the 300Hz and 12kHz regions, while the 1-2kHz midrange frequencies seem recessed. A little more low end below 100Hz would also make sense too, I think, although you should also get busy with high-pass filtering on individual tracks at the same time, because there are some fairly useless subs coming through at the moment between the kick hits, and there's no sense in boosting those at the same time. There's a 2-6kHz emphasis to the kick and snare which may be misleading you here, because those tracks give the impression that the complete mix is over-played in that region, whereas the rest of the individual tracks don't really seem to be. It's an odd effect, that one! Toning down the brightness of both of those close-mics would help with this, and would also improve the blend of the kit, although don't go too far with rounding off the kick in the chorus, because that does need a certain amount of energy above 500Hz if it's going to cut through the mix on small speakers. I wonder whether you're using some kind of distortion on the snare too. Although I'm not at all against this in principle, there is an abrasive quality to the snare sound currently which isn't that pleasant, and if a distortion is what's causing that then I'd look at trying to EQ the distortion separately to smooth it out a bit.

Beyond those drum issues, I suspect that you might have cut a little too much midrange out of the overheads, because the cymbals feel rather thin and hissy. Bringing those frequencies back into the mix will also help with the blend of the snare and toms, neither of which glue particularly successfully into the kit as a whole as it stands. That said, I wonder with this mix whether you're doing a little too much boosting, and not enough cutting, because there's a certain brittleness to the drums in particular which I often associate with too much boosting (especially with CPU-light digital EQ plug-ins). When I mix, usually about 80% of the EQ bands I use are cuts, and if you get into the habit of working that way you're less likely to fall foul of the loudness bias when balancing.

The bass and guitar tones and balances are pretty solid for the most part, although I'd be tempted to give the bass a little more lows, because it feels too lightweight against the kick. The mid-section bass also becomes too emphatic in the higher frequencies, which adds a certain grittiness there despite the fairly well-judged guitar tones -- especially in mono where the panned guitars inevitably take a step back in the balance. The main guitar riff in the chorus feels a bit underwhelming too, both in terms of level and midrange presence. It's a hooky part in its own right, so it's a shame not to hear it clearly.

Vocals are crispy in the 10-12kHz region, and although you've managed to control the sibilance fairly firmly, I still feel that a bit more midrange in conjunction with a small fader hike would help them feel a bit more solid in the mix. They do blend quite nicely, though, despite the usual tuning/timing concerns. Overall effects use seems fairly successful, although there's a hint of overall muddiness in there that might be attributable to low-end reverb tail (rather than just unwanted low end components on individual dry tracks). The cymbals' mono-compatibility seems to be better than on some mixes, but the guitars do still become rather woolly-sounding when the left and right channels are summed, so I'd probably have another look at their multimic phase relationships.

Another interesting mix this, and already pretty accomplished as it is, certainly from an overall balance perspective. It's mainly EQ and phase-matching that you should concentrate more on to really snap it into focus, I reckon. Thanks for posting!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: Robin post 1; my reply; Robin post 2.

Follow-up mix: (submitted file: 41MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
)


Mix 61: gLOW-x (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: Love the opening synthy sound! Really atmospheric and unsettling, and works nicely with the general vibe of the music for me. However, I'd somehow expect it begin fading out from the first drum entry rather than waiting for the vocal -- don't know quite why, though! Maybe it's because the entry of the vocal isn't such a big arrangement change as the entry of the drums/guitar, so provides perhaps less of a transfer of interest from that perspective.

The kick and snare are both struggling to punch through the thicker textures of this mix, but for different reasons: the kick doesn't quite have the mid-range energy to punch through on small speakers, while the snare doesn't have enough lower midrange 'oomph' to sound meaty next to the guitars and vocals. In addition to this, however, I'd probably turn up the drums buss as a whole by a couple of decibels, and then ease those drum peaks back into the balance with buss compression. That way you'll get more subjective cut-through for similar peak levels, because the strong drum hits will effectively duck the rest of the backing slightly.

Overall tonality is generally well-judged, although the vocals in particular feel like they're focusing too much on the upper octave and not enough around 700Hz or so, and so come across as slightly hissy even though the sibilance is still just about within my comfort zone. (In fact, a similar thing could also be said about the drum overheads.) I wonder also if the bass has perhaps a bit too much going on in the 100Hz region in this mix, although it might be the warmth of the kick down there that is making it appear that way. Whatever it is, I reckon that it might have encouraged you to take too much low midrange out of the guitar parts in response, which means that they don't come across as powerfully as I'd hope they would. This is a critical balance issue in rock music of any kind, and one that many mixes here have struggled with, so be sure to give it the time it needs, and perform some mults if necessary to deal with the textural changes in the arrangement.

Speaking of which, I suspect that mults might be particularly useful on the bass in this mix, as it doesn't really hold its place that consistently in the balance at the moment -- it seems to be ducking and diving a bit. A bit more compression will help too, I imagine, but one setting may well not work for all the song sections here, judging from what I can hear on the raw multitracks. More compression might also be sensible for the backing vocals, which always seem either too high or too low in the balance, despite a promising tone.

You've already used some send effects quite sensibly, but I figure you could make more of this aspect of the production, in terms of filling out the sound. A bit more not-too-bright and not-too-long large-room reverb would probably be of benefit, as would stereo tempo delay. Just watch out for clutter, because things are fairly clear at the moment and it would be a pity to sacrifice that aspect of the sonics. The overall stereo picture makes decent sense in stereo, but the guitars and cymbals suffer quite badly from phase-cancellation in mono.

Thanks for letting us have a listen! Despite my few criticisms, you've made lots of sensible balance decisions already, and therefore I think you may find that a few simple EQ and effects tweaks will make a big difference to the final results.

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: gLOW-x post.

Mix 62: javy_a (submitted file: 42MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
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Critique: The first thing that really strikes me with this mix is that the snare is way out front, and much louder than I'd suggest having it in the mix. The transient is the biggest culprit, but even if I hammer that back into the mix with hurricane-force limiting, leaving only the sustain elements, the instrument still feels overpowering even in the final choruses. This sense of imbalance is exacerbated by the roundness of the kick timbre you've chosen, which doesn't provide enough competition in the midrange to really make sense of the rhythm on smaller speakers. The inherent sound of the snare also feels rather out of character with the rest of the kit, with a boxy 350Hz emphasis, and if it's proving tricky to get anything more in keeping then I'd suggest exploring triggered samples as an alternative. The rest of the kit seems much more appropriate, although the wide-panning of the toms still seems a bit odd to me, and you could maybe afford to dip a couple of decibels out of the overheads at 3.5kHz to combat a touch of harshness that's creeping in during the mid-sections in particular.

The bass isn't as warm as on some of the mixes on this thread, and could therefore do with a bit more action sub-200Hz (I especially notice this in mid-section 2), but it's nonetheless very well controlled and translates splendidly onto small speakers. Guitars are also pretty well managed, especially in terms of avoiding harshness, but again I'd think of sneaking in a little more low midrange if you can do so without introducing too much muddiness.

I like what you've done with the chorus lead vocals, which are quite full and smooth-sounding with a pleasant width to them in stereo, although there's some distracting stereo flamming going on with the consonants as a result, not helped by slightly out-of-control sibilance. They're probably too high in the balance overall as well, I reckon, because they're making everything except the snare feel rather small by comparison. The backing vocals have a nice tone too, but need to be more firmly controlled dynamically if they're going to balance well from moment to moment, and they could probably lose some of their low mids, which make them feel a bit too 'big' compared to the drums and guitars in the outro especially.

Given the issues with the snare and vocals particularly overshadowing the rest of the rhythm section and guitars in the balance, it's no surprise that you've encountered difficulties getting the long-term dynamics to support the ebb and flow of the song. However, even with the balance aspects sorted out, the guitar texture you've created in the chorus is always going to have difficulty competing with the end of the second mid-section unless you either reassess the chorus's EQ or add some additional layers at that point.

As far as overall mix tonality is concerned, I'd suggest pulling out a little 350Hz, and then adding in some 800Hz and general HF 'air' -- there's a slight boxiness to the sound otherwise. Mono-compatibility could be improved too, with the cymbals and backing vocals both taking on rather a muffled sound in a single speaker, so if you were able to go back and have a look at what the inter-channel phase is doing there that would be great.

This is one of those mixes where it feels like your own musical impulses are maybe getting in the way of putting together the most successful balance, because a lot of the tones are fine, but their relative levels aren't quite meshing yet to give a really good ensemble sound. A bit more switching between different monitoring systems would probably help you a lot here, I think, as it tends to refocus your ears on the technical level-balance issues irrespective of the tone quality of each individual instrument. Hope this all makes sense, and thanks for posting!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Mix 63: Martin Olsson (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: A very nice balance this, with a lovely natural open sound and a decent sense of both size and long-term dynamics. Up there with the best on this thread I'd say, in those terms, and possibly the slickest-sounding mix I've heard so far in terms of straight sonics. A lovely thing to listen to, and also pretty well in line with the reference sonics -- although I might add a speck at 800Hz and take out a sliver at 3.5kHz. The clarity is great, as is the blend, and there are just enough more expansive effects to enlarge the field of battle nicely without washing anything out or adding clutter.

In a situation like this where the sounds have been so carefully woven together, I find that the interaction of the different timbres makes all the tonal choices seem logical, irrespective of whether they match my own tonal preferences. So, for example, if I really concentrate , then I can come up with a number of little things that I'd tweak personally. I might want the opening bass tone to have a bit more 1kHz solidity, for example, or the kick to have slightly less click in the verses. The snare could have a little less transient and a fraction more 'boosh' (to use the technical term ) or the toms might be blended slightly more with the entire kit. The bass might have a touch more weight and warmth below 500Hz... But, to be honest, in the grand scheme of things there's such a cohesive overall vision here that it's hard not to just get swept along by it and forget about any minor niggles. A big factor in this, I think, is automation, because it seems to me that things just ease themselves forward in the mix slightly whenever they want to be heard, directing my attention and making it very easy to take everything in without having to work too hard as a listener. This reminds me very much of Andy Wallace's mixing technique, where he uses extensive rides so that he doesn't have to rely on EQ or other processing as much.

As with Daunt's entry, though, your version sticks fairly strictly within the parameters of the supplied tracks, which means that despite a sterling 'pure mixing' job, the musical 'light and shade' isn't as dramatic as I think it might be, and the long-term dynamics don't quite deliver the spine-tingling pay-offs I'm hoping for in the final chorus and outro. The mono-compatibility could do with some additional consideration, as well, because the cymbals are really suffering in mono, and the hard-panning you've used for the guitar and backing-vocal parts leaves the backing feeling slightly skeletal and mid-less against the drums/vocals on a single speaker. You're sounding great in stereo, admittedly, but I'd be more inclined to go for slightly more of a compromise position. (Bear in mind, though, that opinions do vary quite a bit amongst engineers on mono/stereo balance issues, even if there is something of a more general concensus on the issue of left/right phase-match.)

You've left a good deal of natural dynamics in your submission, and while that's commendable, I do wonder if a bit more attitude in the buss compression might not help to add some worthwhile extra excitement here. The thing is, though, that adding this in will inevitably change things like the lead-vocal balance and intelligibility (which are good, despite the remaining tuning/timing issues), so it would make sense to mix with the compressor in place rather than leaving this until mastering.

All in all, you probably deserve some kind of medal for making the band and the recording engineer look so good! This is a really great mix, and it's been a pleasure listening to it -- thanks!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: Martin Olsson post.

Mix 64: lettenmusic (submitted file: 9MB 320kbps MP3 
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Critique: Interesting intro, and a good way to get to the vocals quicker. Given that you've opened the can labelled 'filter effects', though, I wonder whether you could actually reuse this idea in some way so that it seems a little less arbitrary.

The chorus kick and snare seem to balance well on my full-range system, but the smaller speakers are suggesting to me that perhaps the kick's midrange attack is a bit too high up the spectrum, because it's coming across as rather clicky, in a way that doesn't quite seem to sit with the snare's timbre. Perhaps you could try shifting that EQ boost down an octave or so and see whether you feel it might give a better match on those systems. It might also just be that the kick makes very little attempt to blend with the rest of the kit in terms of ambience. While this isn't 'wrong' in any absolute sense, because the idea of a dry kick within an ambient kit sound has an enormous number of commercial precedents, it does make the tone of the kick more critical if you want the drum to feel like it belongs in the track. (I'd also tone down the verse kick a little in the HF region too, simply because I think you could get better contrast between the song sections that way.)

The toms seem wider than they ought to be compared with the overheads, so I'd be tempted to toe those in a bit, although I reckon the tone fits in pretty well with the snare. The cymbals are quite strong in the 6kHz region, which reduces the breath-like qualities of the ride (which I rather like) and replaces them with more of a sizzly sound which I found a bit wearing by the time we got to the outro section. A bit more information in the overheads/room below about 2kHz or so would help with this if you share my preferences, and in general would also give the cymbals more weight and gravitas, which I kind of feel they need in this kind of music. (Maybe that's just me, though! )

The bass seems to do a sensible job, even though you've gone for a more understated tone than I'd have instinctively chosen, and small-speaker audibility still seems reasonable. I wonder if the balance of this line could be made a bit more consistent throughout the song by multing (if you haven't already), particularly in the mid-sections -- in mid-section 1 it feels rather lightweight, while in mid-section 2 it woofs a little too much for me, which causes problems with achieving a real impact for the final chorus entry.

As far as guitar sounds go, you've kept the 3-4kHz zone mostly in reserve for the mid-sections, and there's no denying that unleashing it there does make quite an impact. The downside of this approach, however, is that you make the job of delivering the final-chorus pay-off almost impossibly hard for yourself, simply because of the drop-off in this aggressive-sounding frequency region. In general, I've found that the people who've managed that particular section transition most successfully have tended to suggest aggression in the mid-section in a more illusory manner using the 5-6kHz region, thereby keeping 3-4kHz in reserve so that it helps bolster the chorus guitars instead. It's a kind of reverse psychology, I know, and it didn't initially occur to me either until I first heard Berk13's mix put it into practice!

While my personal preferences for the verse vocal tend to err on the side of dry/intimate sounds, I did rather like what you've done here in making it rather unnerving and diffuse. Another one of those things that I'd probably have never done in a month of Sundays, but which seems to me to be an equally feasible alternative to the vision I have in my own head. (Always glad to have my horizons broadened!) All I'd suggest in addition to what you've already done is maybe to give it a touch more 1kHz to bring it a little closer, simply because otherwise I think there might be a risk of the guitar stealing too much of the limelight. On a more technical note, the lip noise is also coming too much to the fore in the reintro and second verse, and could usefully be edited/automated out.

When you hit the choruses, I think you could also push the fader up a decibel or so to give the lyrics a bit more projection. However, there's clearly only so far you can go down that road before you start detracting from the perceived size of the backing, and I think it would also be sensible to look at whether you could carve away at a few of the other parts with EQ around 3-4kHz, because the vocals feel quite heavily masked in this area of the spectrum. Careful of the sibilance too, which feels out of balance to me, and perhaps consider tightening up the tuning/timing too, especially since you're using the double-track at a reasonable level. Did you decide against the BVs? It sounds like there'd still be space for them, but maybe they don't appeal as much to you as they do to me.

Your effects use appears to be well-handled for the most part. The only real criticism on that front would be that the lead vocals in the chorus feel a little bit suffocated by their effects, and a bit of predelay could go a long way there, not least because increasing the predelay often allows you to use a lower return level for the same degree of wetness. The overall mix tone seems to favour the 200-500Hz region a bit much, and could also do with a couple of decibels help around 1-2kHz. More of a concern, though, is the mono-compatibility, because your nice expansive stereo panorama is getting wrapped in a blanket in mono. It sounds like there are several phase-cancellation and balance effects operating simultaneously here, so I'm afraid it might take a bit of detective work to sort out, but I reckon it'd be worth the effort.

Overall there's a lot of food for thought in this mix (for me at least!) because you've shown the potential for several lateral tone decisions. Thanks for submitting!

(Read the critique in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: lettenmusic post.

Additional Competition Entries (submitted after critique deadline):

Mix 65: nanda_sfx83 (submitted file: 8MB 256kbps MP3 
) -- back to Quick Links back to Quick Links


Mix 66: Studio Cat (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
) -- back to Quick Links back to Quick Links


Mix 67: DirkZuber (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
) -- back to Quick Links back to Quick Links


Mix 68: cahyanandra (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
) -- back to Quick Links back to Quick Links


Mix 69: RiF (submitted file: 8MB 256kbps MP3 
) -- back to Quick Links back to Quick Links


Mix 70: drbob1970 (submitted file: 42MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
) -- back to Quick Links back to Quick Links


Mix 71: japancakes (submitted file: 10MB 320kbps MP3 
) -- back to Quick Links back to Quick Links


Mix 72: angusmaclean (submitted file: 41MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 6MB 192kbps MP3 
) -- back to Quick Links back to Quick Links


The Shortlist

Following the competition deadline, I listened through to all the final submissions afresh and built my own personal shortlist of the five best mixes so that we could get a forum poll going before the band finally chose the overall winner. Here's an edited version of my announcement post, with links to the mixes in question:

First of all, thanks to everyone for getting so involved in this competition. I've been extremely impressed by the quality and variety of all the mixes that have been posted, as well as by the friendly and constructive nature of all the thread posts.

However, a competition is a competition, and the time has come to announce the results of my first stage of judging. I deliberately left a few days gap before returning to these these mixes, and removed the track names in my comparison DAW project, so that I could try to avoid listening with too many preconceptions. My only criterion for choosing between the mixes was how well I thought they fulfilled the potential of the material within the brief provided by the band. Where appropriate I loudness-matched the mixes to try to avoid loudness affecting my decision.

Shortlist: ALivingSight, Daunt, MartinOlsson, mrtuesday, and mugo.

Very well done to you five, but I'd also like to give 'Honourable Mentions' to the following people, who made it through the first round of auditioning, even though they didn't quite reach the top five: Argle, Berk13, deejsirois, DirkZuber, essessbe, fHumble fHingaz (who provided a great original mix), fixated7, gLOW-x, Guitar Zero, karumba, Loon, mlabman, and Xander.

I'll be sending the mix files to the band for their input now, although I'll make it clear to them that they're also welcome to consider any of the other mixes which might have taken their fancy. I've also just now set up a Competition Shortlist Poll so that the band can get an idea as to the general concensus of opinion on this forum if they want.

(Read this post in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: There were lots of responses to my shortlist (some more positive than others ) many of which focused on the important issue of how much a mix engineer should expect (or be expected to) 'fix' at mixdown. I've collected the main posts together here: Lastrite post 1; living sounds post; angusmaclean post; karumba post 1; my reply 1; karumba post 2; Guitar Zero post 1; deejsirois post 1; JohnSuitcase post; Smelly Biscuits post; Guitar Zero post 2; Lastrite post 2; AnthonyMF post; my reply 2; karumba post 3; Argle post; reply from Young Griffo; mrtuesday post; reply from Young Griffo; Lastrite post 3; deejsirois post 2.

The Winners

Once the band had decided on the winning mixes I posted the following announcement on the forum:

Drum roll please!

After long deliberation, Young Griffo have chosen a winner for the competition: Martin Olsson!

Congratulations, Martin, for homing in so efficiently on what the band were looking for. To quote them directly: "This mix is pure, clear, and clean, and it sounds like us. The mixer has done a great job with what he has to work with, using a few production tricks in there in just the right places without going overboard. Listening on headphones and on monitors, this is the one we all agreed on."

They also chose two runners up:

  • mrtuesday's second mix.

  • The band commented: "The most commercially accessible and innovative mix. There are some great ideas in there and we could see it working wonders on many commercial radio stations (here in Oz at least). It's turned an alternative rock/indie style track into a much more polished and probably better-thought-out track. The question in our minds, though, was 'does the track fully represent who Young Griffo are?', and in the end we decided that the mix had swayed slightly too far away from the references in that respect. Having said that, there are parts in this mix that are awesome, that drop-out is golden, and when we heard this mix early on we knew it would be in the running for us."

  • fHumble fHingaz's original mix.

  • The band commented: "This mix still really stood up for us amongst the mixes. Rose-coloured glasses? Comfortable with what you know? Perhaps, but we still believe Andrew did a great job. Of course he did have guidance from us, unlike the other mixers, and had worked on our other mixes too, so he had something of an unfair advantage! "

Given the nature of subjective assessments, I have to admit that I was actually rather surprised to discover that my own first and second choices were... identical to the band's! I would also have chosen Martin's mix as the winner in the band's position, and there's so much I like about this mix, as I commented in my critique. I loved mrtuesday's creativity, musicality, boldness, and lateral thinking, which all made his mix one of the most exciting and propulsive to listen to, for me. However, I did share the band's concerns that he'd moved their sound a little too far from the original material presented on the multitracks, stylistically speaking.

I'd probably have awarded third place to ALivingSight's mix myself. However, I can definitely see why fHumble fHingaz's mix appealed to the band, because the thing it really nails for me is the overall attitude and excitement, something that carries really well even on rubbish little consumer systems -- there's a definite art in that. (On a more general note, I suspected from the outset that fHumble fHingaz's mix was in the right ballpark there, and in retrospect I'm surprised that more of the competition entries didn't seem to take more of a cue from it.) The reason I decided against putting it on the shortlist was that it felt to me that the 'grit' had been pushed a bit further than necessary, and that the raw sonics of some of the other competition mixes seemed to hold together better on more hi-fi listening systems.

Even with the winning entry, though, it's as well to point out that the band would still prefer to request one or two revisions before proclaiming themselves completely satisfied. Indeed, I would personally expect no less from any band who'd had no direct input in the mixing process up to that point -- none of us are mind-readers, after all! In addition, I think there's a considerable likelihood that the band could also have steered any of the shortlisted mixes (and a fair few others besides) towards a final mix they would have been completely happy with.

So there we have it! All that remains for me to do is to thank everyone once again for helping to bring this competition about: John for coming up with the idea and hosting it on his forum; the band for providing a great performance of a great song (don't believe the nay-sayers! ); and everyone who's posted a mix, for sharing your ideas and expertise and for giving us all plenty to think about.

Thanks also to everyone who got involved with the poll. However, since I registered my own vote (and posted encouraging people to participate) there were 17 votes in a row for Mix 3, which seems a bit odd statistically speaking -- however, I'll leave everyone to draw their own conclusions there.

(Read this post in its original forum context here.)

Forum responses: Martin Olsson post 1; mrtuesday post; Young Griffo post; fHumble fHingaz post; Martin Olsson post 2.

The Sound On Sound 'Top Ten Mix Mistakes' Article

During this mix-off contest I noticed quite a few mixing traps that people were falling into time and time again, so for the September 2011 issue of Sound On Sound magazine I put together a 'top ten' list of these, with some advice on how to avoid them and numerous illustrations taken from the competition mixes. You can read this article by clicking on the cover image below.

The Sound On Sound 'Mix Rescue' Article

Following all my critiques during this competition, I had quite a few requests asking for me to mix 'Blood To Bone' myself to give a kind of practical demonstration of the kind of result I might expect if I were mixing these multitracks myself. I did consider it, because I still really like the song (despite having listened to it for about two weeks solid! ), but in the end the band specifically asked for my help with another very similar track of theirs called 'Facade', so I mixed that for them instead for Sound On Sound magazine's October 2011 'Mix Rescue' column (before:MP3
; after:MP3 
)
. Because the multitrack layout and recording techniques on 'Facade' are almost identical to those on 'Blood To Bone', and because the commercial references cited by the band are also the same, pretty much everything I've written in that article applies equally to either mix. You can also download the raw multitracks for 'Facade' from the 'Mixing Secrets' Free Multitrack Download Library.

Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio Book: Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio: A complete mixing primer, based around techniques from more than 100 of the world's greatest producers. Ever wondered how Mike can achieve such dramatic Mix Rescue transformations using ordinary mass-market gear? This book shows you how, step by step.


Recording Secrets For The Small Studio Book: Recording Secrets For The Small Studio: A complete recording primer, based around techniques from more than 200 of the world's greatest producers. Full of power-user tips specially adapted for small rooms and limited budgets. If you've been listening to Mike's Session Notes recordings, then you can read in depth about his recording methods here.

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