Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio - Additional Resources

1 Multitrack – 90 Mixes!

In December 2018, I kicked off my Cambridge-MT 'You Know Better' Mix Contest, based on the raw tracks of a song called ‘You Know Better’, the lead single from talented singer-songwriter Hannes Keseberg’s fantastic debut album Sentient Fool. 58 different mixes were submitted for an initial critique process, so I personally wrote critiques for those, and then more than half of those contestants subsequently submitted an updated mix for the final adjudication process – making a total of 90 mixes of the same multitrack. To judge the outcome and award prizes, I was joined by Hannes himself and special guest Mixerman for a special edition of the Cambridge-MT Patrons Podcast where we all chose our favourite mixes independently and provided separate feedback from our own very different perspectives.

Check out Hannes Keseberg's new album 'Sentient Fool'!

Needless to say, this whole process generated a load of great educational content, so I’ve created this special resources page to gather all of that stuff together in one place, making it easier to navigate through and learn from. Furthermore, the multitrack files are also still available in the ‘Mixing Secrets’ Free Multitrack Download Library if you fancy trying your hand at a mix to see how your own skills stack up!

My Latest Mix Review Critiques:

Many thanks to Hannes for allowing us to use his song as the basis of this competition. Please support Hannes and his music by clicking here! Thanks also to the one and only Mixerman, who provided several copies of his cool book The Musician's Survival Guide To A Killer Record as part of the competition prize haul!

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 The Mix Review, my weekly blog 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 Advice & Training page.

The Brief

Contestants had access to a ZIP archive of the song’s raw multitrack recordings; the band’s rough mix; my CD release mix; and a list of reference tracks Hannes provided . The idea was to work under the same conditions I did when mixing the release mix, using any means necessary to do justice to the musical material, maximise its appeal for mainstream listeners, and ultimately please the artist! The loudness of the mix was not a contributing factor in the competition adjudication, but the way in which the mix responded to potential downstream loudness processing was taken into consideration. I agreed to provide critiques for all patron mixes submitted within the first three weeks or so (with more in-depth feedback for $5/month patrons), after which contestants were allowed to continue updating their mixes for another month until the final submission deadline.

Read the brief in its original context here.

Dedicated Advice Podcast

To help contestants identify and tackle some of the unique challenges of this band-produced project-studio multitrack, I featured it in my December 2018 Cambridge-MT Patrons Podcast, where (as usual) I provided bundles of hands-on editing, arrangement, and mixing tips, illustrated with more than 45 bespoke audio examples!

Mixes & Critiques

Following that podcast, I also critiqued all 58 initially submitted mixes. Of these, 32 were subsequently updated for final submission. I’ve listed all the mixes below, along with their related sound files, critiques, and forum responses.

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

  • 0:00 – Intro
  • 0:10 – Verse 1
  • 0:41 – Verse 2
  • 1:12 – Chorus 1
  • 1:33 – Reintro
  • 1:43 – Verse 3
  • 2:14 – Chorus 2
  • 2:34 – Mid-section
  • 2:44 – Chorus 3
  • 3:11 – Outro

Also, just to clarify: in order to avoid loudness bias while carrying out my mix comparisons, I used Klangfreund’s excellent LUFS MeterMac logoWindows logo plug-in to match all the mixes to the same loudness level. The mix files on this archive page, however, are provided completely unprocessed, so please be careful with your listening levels, as there are occasionally big loudness differences between the tracks.

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

Mixes by contestant (alphabetical): 3ee, Absolem, Ale Lak, anto, APZX, ArmedNDaverous, B Kaye, batguitar, ccjamz, CWidener7, dagovitsj, Dangerous, davearrowgtr, Dell Brush, Devilskater666, Digitaldruglord, dtldarek, Eastwood, essentialmusic, Faders_up, glukin, Hairy Mark, HbGuitar, hcld001, Herb Felho, Houndface, Islander365, jameswoo, Jardim Asli, jeffd42, JuanCManosalva, Judders, kelsonz, KMuzic, loweche6, mick2015, Mixinthecloud, Noneya Bidnes, OctopusOnFire, oeltingbeats, Olli H, plasticdish, pmilani, RetchidGretchin, Rob Sidhe, RoyMatthews, Skipper, Spandexcore, stevejm, TheBouff, thedon, Thomas Stevenson, timo, tonyholmes, TRB6p, tucks, willjohnson, Yermany

Mix Magician's Toolkit course from Cambridge-MT

Mix 01


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Critique: Here are the main issues that occurred to me:

  • Nice laid-back vibe overall, but it doesn’t demand the listener’s attention as much as I’d expect of a single. Whether you want to address that with arrangement or automation is up to you.
  • Generally very solid balancing, and tasteful effects. Like the solo-guitar delay particularly.
  • The small-speaker bass translation could be better.
  • The rhythm guitar and lead vox are both quite ambient, ie. the reverb feels a bit too obvious. Is it too bright?
  • Cymbal crashes a bit harsh in the midrange. From the middle-section onwards, I felt they conflicted a bit with the lead vocal
  • The rising guitar line leading into the outro section feels a bit edgy tonally. I think it’s some resonances in the 2-3kHz region.

Like that version a lot – gets us off to a flying start! 😀 Thanks for getting involved 3ee!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: 3ee post; my reply.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 02

Ale Lak

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Critique: A super-bold vision, this! I like! 😀 In terms of more specific feedback, here are some ideas:

  • Love the modulated wah guitar sound too. Genuinely ear-catching, yet doesn’t feel too out of place stylistically.
  • I like most of the arrangement moves, but the transition into Chorus 2 falls flat. I think it’s moving the cymbal onto the downbeat that makes it feel too stiff. The middle-section seems to be lacking a little midrange ‘filling’ as well – sounds a touch hollow, somehow.
  • The snare/stick sounds too thin by comparison with the thunderous kick. This robs the fills of some dramatic impact. In general the kit feels quite dislocated, with the added samples (eg. the tom at 2:14) seeming too much like artificial add-ons.
  • There’s a bit of ‘bloat’ building up between the kick and bass at the low end. Differentiating them a bit more tonally would clarify both the beat and the bass melody.
  • The pre-Intro noise is unwise in the competition situation. Just feels like an inappropriate first impression to make.
  • I think the piano part is currently something of a hostage to fortune. I totally see the point of it in terms of adding realism and extra interest to that part, but it’s drawing too much attention to itself, especially during the first two verses. It’s something the band didn’t do themselves, yet it frequently distracts from things they did, so it’s a pretty risky move.

Hope that helps – love hearing genuinely arresting new visions like this!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: Ale Lak post.

Final contest submission: 8MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 03


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Critique: Here are some thoughts on the mix for you:

  • A very vocal-led vision here, which is no bad thing, but that does make the rest of the arrangement sound small. It especially causes a problem for the outro, for instance, which doesn’t deliver the climax you’d hope once the vocal “heart” line trails off.
  • I like the “you know” BV fly-in during Reintro – that’s a nice creative touch that works really well, I think!
  • The vocal levels need more automation as well. In Chorus 2, for instance, compare “the clothes” with “my body”, or “food and drink” with “should soothe my soul”.
  • The drums backbeat generally feels underpowered, and the kick in particular lacks low-end punch. It feels almost like the kick mic’s muted, in fact. As a result the mix sounds a bit too ‘polite’ and lacks rhythmic momentum.
  • The bass lines get lost on small speakers, so could do with a bit more midrange energy.
  • Hammond could be more of a feature, especially as it serves a structural purpose in terms of differentiating the sections.
  • The effects use could be improved: the vocal, whistle, and snare seem very dry and don’t glue well with the rest of the tracks, and there doesn’t seem to be any adjustment of effects to adapt to the demands of different sections of the song.

Thanks for posting, and glad to hear you giving the vocal the spotlight here – in general I think your heart is definitely in the right place there.

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: anto post.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 04

B Kaye

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Critique: A very nice balance this, albeit with some overall-tonality issues:

  • Nice dry punch to the snare, and well-rounded side-stick sound. Cymbals also pretty smooth, which helps keep the vocal upfront.
  • The overall mix tonality is generally bass-light compared with the references, and could probably do with a little less 100-300Hz too.
  • Very respectable midrange balance on the whole, with good clarity and a solid vocal level, The small-speaker bass translation is also great – maybe a little too good, in fact, in terms of competing for attention with the verse vocal occasionally.
  • There’s a serious low-midrange build-up around 200-300Hz when the Hammond arrives in the Chorus, which makes it sound muddy.
  • Liked the long-term dynamics, especially the transition from Chorus 3 into the Outro. It opens out really well in that feel-good kind of way.
  • Tasteful and appropriate use of effects – the mix really glues together, but without distancing anything unduly.
  • Is there a little too much presence on the second Hammond part? It just feels like the vocal is being masked a little too much by it in the latter choruses. Perhaps some EQ automation would help square the circle here, because the Hammond sound is nice on those occasions when it’s a ‘feature’.

Hope that’s useful, and thanks for getting involved!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: B Kaye post.

Final contest submission: 8MB 305kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 05


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Critique: A decent balance of the instruments you’ve got going on here in general! A few things I wondered about, though:

  • the hi-hat and cymbals seem to dominate the mix a little, appearing too upfront and adding a touch of harshness on occasion.
  • The overall tonality is very bass-light compared with the references. You’ve also got more 4-6kHz than the library preview mix, which arguably has too much energy there already!
  • There’s too much audible reverb, especially on the drums. Make it shorter and duller, and bring it down in level. At the moment, it sounds a bit like it’s recorded in a gymnasium, whereas the reference material and rough mix are all quite upfront.
  • I like the little vocal delay tail following the middle section – tickles the ear nicely! 😀
  • The snare fill into Chorus 2 doesn’t work for me – it seems to interrupt the groove too much. The one into Chorus 1 is also a little awkward for the same reason.
  • The outro could do with a bit more of the mob vocals. As it stands the solo singer and whistler sound slightly stranded, and would benefit from more ‘moral support’ in terms of creating a party vibe.
  • I like the way you’ve fitted the Hammond here: there’s width and presence, but it doesn’t swamp the mix or mask the lead vocal too much.

Thanks for posting!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Mix 06

Dell Brush

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Critique: Another well-balanced mix this, in general. A few things that struck me:

  • Kick/snare backbeat feels muffled. It seems like there’s too much 150Hz, especially in combination with the bass. The kick could afford to be better differentiated from the bass, I think, tonally.
  • The bass is cool – very understated and warm-sounding, but with enough midrange action to bring the melodic elements through the mix.
  • The overall mix tonality feels a little abrasive after a while, especially at higher listening volumes. Be careful with the 4-8KHz range – especially on the vocals, which are quite sibilant and aggressive.
  • I wonder whether the vocal compression is also a too fast and extreme, for example when I hear things like the ’s’ and ‘f’ on “seem to feel alright” at 1:20.
  • The solo guitar is very stark and stringy-sounding, so it pokes out of the mix unnaturally for me. It sounds like it really needs some amp-modelling. Compare your Intro with that of the rough mix, for instance.
  • Good use of subtle mix delay/reverb effects on the whole, although there could be more section differentiation in this respect.
  • Although the balancing on the whole seems very sensible, the mix still feels quite static, in that I don’t get that sense of being directed to the most interesting details the whole time, as I’d expect of a single.

Hope those hints are some use, thanks for posting!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Mix 07


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Critique: Nicely open, ambient presentation here. Some issues that occurred to me:

  • Overall there’s seems a little too much lower midrange around 300Hz.
  • I like the way the Outro opens up from the final chorus – nice long-term dynamics there.
  • The vocal tone is very scooped, with lots of low end and lots of extreme high-end. A little more true midrange around 1Hz would make it translate better on different systems. The HF fizz also makes the vocal sibilance rather overbearing. Plus there’s something amiss with the vocal rhythm at 0:56-1:03.
  • I like the tempo delay on the solo guitar, as it adds subtle interest during the sparse arrangement of the verses.
  • The kick seems underplayed and lightweight, which makes the Reintro and Outro feel a bit lacking in rhythmic drive. The hi-hat is rather bright too, which brings it a bit too far upfront, and makes some moments a rather spitty.
  • Shortening the Intro as you have makes good pop sense, in terms of getting to the vocal as early as possible. But the implementation feels disconcerting, because you don’t really know where the downbeat is as a listener until well after the vocal’s entered. It’s almost like the singer’s missed his entry, and should have come in with the cymbal hit.
  • Those whistles work quite well in the choruses, but it seems like it’s unnecessarily gilding the lily, because the Hammond and BVs already create plenty of impact at those moments. It’s nice to hear those whistles before the Outro, but I’m not sure that’s the best place to fly them in.
  • I like the Chorus 3 drop-down, especially the tempo-delay guitar and bass interjections, but it does seem to lose momentum when it goes on for so long, so it almost feels like the song’s ending early.

Hopefully those will be some use. Thanks for posting your mix!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: davearrowgtr post.

Final contest submission: 8MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 08


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Critique: Nice open sound here, with sensible balancing of the instruments and lots of good mix-effects use. The vocal’s well upfront, as well, which is sensible. Some other specifics:

  • The kick seems to have rather a rock-style beater-slap to it (particularly audible in the Reintro and Outro), which makes the rhythm as a whole seem too staccato and aggressive stylistically. Is there too much compression on the drums buss? Again, the transients sound like they’re being overenhanced by a slow compressor attack.
  • Nice solo guitar tone, and very tastefully balanced to avoid conflicting with the lead vocal.
  • Your mix tonality is bright enough to make the already-bright library preview mix sound muffled, so I’d rebalance that. I’d suggest removing a bit of 150Hz too, in favour of more sub-80Hz.
  • The vocal balancing is great – really nails it into place! (Other entrants would do well to listen to this, as it’s not easy to do.) You could take a bit of low midrange from the falsetto moments in the choruses, perhaps, as this would allow you bring them through clearer with your fader automation.
  • Long-term dynamics are also good, which speaks of careful planning. However, the mix still feels quite static, so I’d look to try to use more detailed automation to bring out more of the details and direct/maintain the listener’s attention more.

Hope some of that is useful – thanks for getting involved!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 09


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Critique: Nice clear-sounding mix, this. A few things to check over, though:

  • The bass guitar is all but missing from the mix. Given that it’s musically one of the most interesting parts, and also makes a big impact on the rhythmic groove, I think this is probably a miscalculation.
  • The vocal is quite sibilant, and could do with some de-essing. This sibilance is also splashing around on a bright reverb, which not only emphasises those esses, but also dates the production a bit. I’d shorten and darken that reverb.
  • The guitar in the Intro, Verse 1, Verse 3, and Chorus 2 sounds pretty appropriate, but the guitar in Verse 2 and Chorus 3 sounds extremely thin and brittle by comparison.
  • I like the sounds you’ve got for the conga and timbale – not too spiky, with plenty of tone. However, it sounds like quite a few editing clicks are coming through, especially in the Intro, so it’d be worth cleaning those up.
  • The piano is balanced high enough in the mix that it’s becoming a bit too audible to me, given that it’s a mechanical-sounding MIDI part.
  • You could balance the mob vocals in the Outro higher, because at the moment the solo vocal sounds a bit too exposed, which undermines the singalong vibe of the outro for me.

Hope those are some good pointers. Thanks for uploading your mix!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: jameswoo post.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Free 6-part Mixing Podcast from Mike Senior!

Mix 10


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Critique: This is an engaging mix with a good sense of cohesion and lots of decent balancing decisions. Here are a few things I noticed:

  • The widening effect on the vocal is a little overdone, I think, and distances the singer emotionally. It has a hint of ‘singing down a drainpipe’ about it too, which I reckon is unlikely to endear you to the singer. It’s also quite a strong effect to have going the whole way through the mix without any variation.
  • The drums sound a bit narrow, which makes me think you might be using a little too much of the room mic.
  • I like the way the guitar and hammond sounds work in the mix, and the long-term dynamics of the mix as a whole work well. The transition to the Reintro is great, for instance, as is the transition to the Outro, where those ambient mob vocals and claps come in.
  • I like your side-stick and snare sounds. They’re both punchy without being overly bright.
  • The distorted bass tone is fine when everything’s in the mix, but is it maybe overkill during the sparser sections? If so, you could perhaps automate the amount of distortion per section. On the plus side, the tone isn’t too bright, and the small-speaker translation is great.
  • There’s a tendency to harshness around 2-3kHz from time to time, particularly when the vocal hits the chorus. You may want to cut a few other parts to reduce the build-up – guitars and hammond for instance. You could probably give the mix as a whole more sub-80Hz energy too, given the references.

Hope that feedback’s useful – and thanks for entering the competition!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: Judders post.

Mix 11


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Critique: I generally like the clarity and openness of this mix, and the lead vocal’s nicely upfront too, which is all good. A few specific things:

  • The kick drum is dominating over the bass at the low end, which means that the harmonic content of the music isn’t well supported at the low end, which is maybe not good for a singer-songwriter like this. Furthermore, the bass plays a big role in the momentum of the track, and in the arrival of the Outro, so those don’t deliver quite as effectively with such a kick-heavy low-end balance.
  • The kick also dominates over the snare, but the Reintro’s groove doesn’t really work very well without a reasonably strong backbeat. The outro suffers a bit here too, although it’s mitigated by the addition of the backbeat claps.
  • The vocals are clear and have a nice subtle widening effect, but the low end could do with more control below about 200Hz. Listen to “…thing really swell” at 1:04, for instance, which suddenly booms out more than the surrounding lyrics.
  • In the outro, the mob vocals could be brought up, I think.
  • Both lead electric guitars feel like they could do with more dynamic control: some notes leap out unduly (eg. Intro), while others get lost, making the melodic lines less apparent (eg. Verse 2).
  • In general the effects are pretty tasteful, but also fairly static, which wastes some potential for emphasising the long-term mix dynamics – eg. Verse 1 doesn’t seem much different from Chorus 3 in this respect. Plus the lead vocal in the Outro feels like it could really do with a bit more expansive delay/reverb – it is the climax of the song, after all! 😀

Hope some of that is helpful – and thanks for letting us here another strong alternative vision!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: mick2015 post.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 12


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Critique: Here are some ideas I had listening to your mix:

  • The vocal reverb is more audible in the verses than I’d instinctively have had it, but I think it works on its own terms given the generally chilled vibe.
  • There are some extreme-HF transients that seem a little ‘spitty’ for want of a better word, although it’s a little difficult to work out where they’re coming from! I’m guessing stick noise from the overheads, or edit clicks on the conga/timbale/bass tracks, or maybe even rhythm-guitar picking? Not sure, but it’s a little distracting for me, especially when turning up the volume – which your mix makes me want to! 😀
  • Love the warm and understated nature of the bass, although I wonder whether the midrange could come through a touch more on small speakers.
  • I like the mix effects, which are adding an appealing wetness without washing things out – I get the impression that delays are as much responsible for this as reverbs, which would make sense if the case.
  • Both solo guitars feel like they could be more controlled dynamically. Either I’m getting notes poking out too far, for instance in the Intro, or I’m losing nice details of the musical line, as in the second verse. I wonder a similar thing about the whistling in the outro, which feels a bit overbearing on some notes, but not others.
  • I wonder whether the side-stick and snare could both be a bit more prominent – particularly in the Reintro, where the snare feels underpowered in the groove to me. It also makes fills like the one at the end of Verse 3 less dramatic.
  • I like the shimmering Hammond – a lovely character, and yet the vocal remains well upfront despite it.

Hope some of those suggestions are of any use – thanks for submitting your mix!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: Mixinthecloud post.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 13


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Critique: You’ve provided another bold vision here, with that strong kick foundation! A few issues I hear:

  • The kick is so huge, by comparison with the rest of the drums, that I think it risks overwhelming the groove, during the Reintro and Outro especially. Fills with prominent snare elements (such as the one in the middle of Chorus 3) also become a lot less dramatic.
  • The bass guitar is very weighty at the low end too, but for a mainstream single I’d want more midrange in the mix so that it comes through on smaller speakers – it all but disappears on my Avantone, for instance.
  • In general it feels like you’ve probably been too aggressive with your processing (and particularly compression) on the drums, so they’re coming across as a bit too garagey for this kind of style. It feels more like roots/rock than pop/jazz/reggae. The cymbals in particular feel quite crunchy and lo-fi, but in a kind of ‘angry’ way that’s quite harsh, rather than in a retro laid-back way that might better suit the fundamentally happy mood of the lyric.
  • Very cool Hammond sound. Although it initially seems to be competing directly with the vocal, because it’s so band-passed it kind of cuts through without obscuring it too much, which is a nifty trick.

Hope some of those points are helpful! I’m always happy to hear a cool alternative vision like this, so thanks for uploading it!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: oeltingbeats post.

Mix 14

Rob Sidhe

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Critique: In general, I love the way you’ve been working with the arrangement – you’ve clearly got a good ear for that! Introducing the claps in the intro was canny, too, as a foreshadowing of the Outro. Wish I’d thought of that! 😀 Anyway, here are some more ideas:

  • The Chorus 3 drop-down is another arrangement highlight, especially as it’s prefaced by a delay spin that was prepared at the end of Verse 2. However, when the drums return, it feels odd that the bass doesn’t too. I realise that might be because that’s what I did 🙄 but I think the contrast would also be better in your case that way.
  • The second Verse’s arrangement is pretty much identical to the first, so I find my attention wandering. How are you going to refresh the material there?
  • The biggest improvements you can make now would be on the engineering side. The overall mix tonality is very bass-light below 100Hz or so, and the hi-hat has a bit of a 3kHz edginess to it, but the vocal’s sub-250Hz energy is nonetheless making the mix sound a little congested. I’d suggest stripping out some of the processing and trying to do a bit more work with the faders if possible, as I think that might give a more open-sounding result. Remember too that the vocal should be king here, no matter how cool the arrangement stunts.
  • The overdrive guitar sound is great in its own right, but I wonder whether it’s a bit too much of a stretch into classic rock territory for this song. Also, its riffing in Chorus 2 is combining with the hi-hat harshness element to make the whole mix almost feel like it’s distorting – as well as masking the vocal, of course.

Hope some of that’s handy for you – thanks for posting!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: Rob Sidhe post.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 15


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Critique: You’ve delivered another intriguing new vision this, almost straying into remix territory in terms of all the fun arrangement stunts! 😀 Some specific thoughts:

  • Overall there’s a fatiguing 3kHz peak in the mix tonality, which makes me want to turn the volume down. I felt I wanted to cut about 6dB there, for instance.
  • The kick’s big, but it’s also pretty tight, which I like. The side-stick and snare are rather diffuse, though, which seems out of keeping with the kick and bass – I think they just need more actual midrange, rather than relying so heavily on the more lightweight upper frequencies.
  • The subs are coming mostly from the kick, which leaves the harmonies rather unsupported, and I’m not sure how well that suits singer-songwriter material in general. I like the novelty of the fuzz element in the balance, but I think the body of the sound could just be bigger in the mix and take more of a share of the low end.
  • In general, the effects feel over-egged, especially the reverb. I have no problem with dubby elements in a production like this, but I think it’s better to use such effects as ‘features’, rather than making the whole mix as ambient as this. The brightness of the reverb doesn’t help in this respect, as it dates the sound somewhat too, I think. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to EQ long/obvious reverbs quite assertively to maintain mix clarity.
  • There’s a low resonance to the conga part that’s confusing the bass line when that arrives. I’d notch this out, if only just when the bass is playing.
  • I think you could do more automation work to solidify the vocal level and bring out nice background details (such as some of the guitar fills) more.

Hope some of that’s useful – thanks for posting!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Mix 16


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Critique: A very ear-catching Intro section here – I genuinely flinched slightly in my seat when that solo guitar first played! 😀 Some thoughts:

  • Overall, you’ve got a bit of a 2kHz honk to the mix tonality, and the sound could also tolerate a bit more sub-80Hz, I reckon.
  • Also, you’ve got yourself into a bit of an upper midrange arms-race, with the lead vocal, cymbals, rhythm guitar, piano, and hammond all competing in this spectral region. That makes moments like the Mid-section and the lead-up to the Outro rather abrasive.
  • There’s a low resonance in the congas part that’s confusing the bass line, so I’d try to filter that out, at least when the bass happens to be playing.
  • You’ve chosen a very bright tone for the rhythm guitar, which is fine in its own right, but the pick noise has also become distractingly present. I’d take out some of that transient with other processing if you’re after that timbre.
  • Both guitars seem very dry, so they don’t really blend with the production, and at times are a distraction from the vocal, depending on the level. One of them (eg. in Verse 2) is also very thin-sounding and dynamically uncontrolled, so doesn’t really come through the mix too well, despite its musical interest.
  • In general, this mix needs more detailed automation work. I really noticed this with the lead vocal in Verse 3. In the first line (1:45), for instance, “the smile I” feels quite distant, whereas “see is telling” really jumps out front.

Hope some of that’s useful for you – thanks for contributing!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Mix 17


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Critique: You’ve pulled off a nice live-gig kind of feel, with lovely full-sounding drums, excellent blend, and a convincing communal acoustic space. One of my favourite mixes so far, in fact. Some specific thoughts, though:

  • That fat-sounding snare (I’m kind of assuming it’s a sample) is such a big departure from the raw sound and the rough mix that I might ‘deflate’ it just a touch – especially for the opening hit, until we get used to the generally more live sound. It’s just a little too ‘Boosh!’, if you know what I mean!
  • The piano’s balanced quite high, but it’s not that natural a sound, so I’m not sure I’d lean on it as heavily as this.
  • Very effective use of ‘outside the speakers’ widening for the Outro whistles. I physically turned round to check whether someone had come into my mix room whistling when that happened! 😀 Although there’s naturally a mono penalty, the loss of whistle in the balance in mono doesn’t stop that theme coming through clearly, so it’s a win-win. Canny move!
  • Although the vocal balance is already pretty good, there’s still more work you could do there, evening out the tonality from moment to moment for better translation and then automating to lock the singer in place. Detailed rides to bring out interesting musical features would also pay off too, I think, as there were things I had to hunt for in the mix a bit more than I’d have liked to (for example some of the solo guitar lines).

Overall, though, this is such a strong mix. And, furthermore, it’s one that’s very different from mine, which I’m pleased about! Vive la difference, and all that…

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Final contest submission: 4MB 160kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 18

Jardim Asli

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Critique: Some lovely work with detailed delays here! Very appropriate to the style. A few specific thoughts on the mix:

  • Overall the mix tonality feels rather muffled, on account of too much 200Hz. I’d probably cut 4-6dB there to start with, and probably a little cut around 2.5kHz too. The mix feels like it could be brighter overall as well.
  • Your kick and sidestick/snare are really getting lost, and I think that’s probably not a good idea given the clear reggae/dub influence here. Also, because the rhythm guitar off-beats are comparatively much louder, that makes the rhythm seem a bit bogged down, rather than rolling freely along as it should.
  • When the snare arrives, its tone is very dull, which seems like a bit of a waste. After all, the change to snare from sidestick is an important arrangement variable here, and the dull snare tone makes that harder to appreciate.
  • The lead vocal’s low end is rather uncontrolled, so it’s making it unreliable in terms of its position in the mix balance.
  • In addition to the overall mix-tonality issue, there is generally a little bit of a battle going on at the low end and in the low mids, and I’d look to be a bit more controlled and/or sparing with these frequencies on several parts: the bass guitar could have less 100Hz; the lead vocal could have more controlled 200Hz; and the Hammond and Verse 3 solo guitar feel too full below 300Hz. Clearly the mix needs some of this energy to have warmth, but there’s too much of a build-up there at the moment.
  • Are the whistles a bit overbearing in the Outro? They seem to pop out to the front rather too much, which makes the rest of the ensemble feel smaller somehow. I’d try to control their dynamics a little more and tuck them into the balance at a slightly lower level – especially if you’re going to pan them that wide, which will inherently tend to dislocate them more from the mix for headphone listeners.

Hope some of those pointers are useful – thanks for getting involved!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: Jardim Asli post.

Mix 19


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Critique: Wow – this is certainly a bold vision! Initially I have to say I was reeling a little, because it’s a very different perspective, and not what I’d expect in terms of the contest brief and references. That said, the more I’ve listened to it, the more it’s won me over with its own logic, and I have to say this could now be my favourite mix so far. The balancing is generally great, there’s bags of character and detail in the sounds and effects, the snare is meaty, the kick and bass are tight and extended, there’s good width, mono-compatibility, small-speaker translation, and sensible spectral balance… In short, it’s a really cool mix, whether or not it’s exactly the one Hannes might have been looking for! 😀

All that said, there were a few minor queries I had:

  • The editing clicks on the conga are coming through, and they don’t really support even this more rootsy vision, so I’d probably try to smooth those over.
  • The solo guitar in the Intro/Reintro and Verse 3 feels like it has a bit too much 300Hz. It’s dominating over the lead vocal (despite excellent vocal balancing throughout) and I think it’d take a step back into the balance if it had a bit less of that frequency. The Chorus 2 and Mid-section are the biggest culprits in this respect. That guitar sound was also the only part that I felt could maybe have a touch more delay or something to glue it in with the mix.
  • One small niggle with the vocal balancing: when he shifts to falsetto in the choruses that’s messing with the translation a bit, and I reckon it’d sit more solidly with the rest of the part if those syllables were multed to a sub-channel with more 1-2kHz and less sub-200Hz.
  • Loved the long delay-reverb effect on the Verse 2 guitar, which makes a fantastic contrast between the Verse 1 and Verse 2 sounds, thereby addressing one of the multitrack’s core arrangement challenges.
  • And, speaking of mix solutions to arrangement challenges, the envelope wah effect that appears in Verse 3 is a stroke of genius, because that not only creates a textural change for the onset of that verse (thereby improving the long-term mix dynamics), but it also (if, as I suspect, it’s being applied to the piano part) converts the liability of a mechanical-sounding MIDI instrument into the asset of a cool new sound – and a sound that’s totally in keeping with the Reggae influences. That brought a big smile to my face!
  • All that good stuff aside, I do wonder whether the mix could still give a little more concession to the idea of a mainstream single, in terms of manipulating the listener’s attention more assertively. The balancing is all great, but I reckon some additonal detailed fader rides could maybe draw our ears more readily towards all the lovely things going on in this texture.

Overall, though, this is first-class work. There’s just something very musical about this mix, and it’s a great example of taking the multitracks in an unexpected direction that’s nonetheless compelling. Bravo sir!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: pmilani post.

Final contest submission: 7MB 256kbps M4A  play_arrow

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Mix 20


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Critique: That opening vibraslap delay is certainly a statement! 😀 Other than that, though, this is a very sensibly balanced mix, with sensitive use of mix effects to blend things together and give an appealing sense of space. A few thoughts, though:

  • There’s some kind of funny little edit that causes a little ‘bump’ of vocal tail at 2:45. I’d try to get rid of that, because it anticipates (and therefore weakens) the off-beat Chorus entry just afterwards. It also sounds like there’s some kind of strange crossfade an eighth-note after that Chorus entry hit – the bass kind of pulses. Don’t know what it is, but again it seems distracting.
  • I wonder whether the kick and snare/sidekick could come up in the balance a little, and have a touch less of the very initial transient. It just feels that the body of those sounds isn’t quite solid enough to match the bass.
  • The place I’d concentrate the most attention on now, to be honest, is the automation. In one respect, I like what you’ve done already, in that the instruments and vocal stay where you’ve put them – in other words, the short-term balance is great. However, over the long term the mix feels a bit static. I don’t get the sense of the sound changing to support the section changes – the Verse feels too much like the Chorus and Reintro, so I feel a lack of momentum through the song’s duration. And the other automation thing I’d do is work at pulling out more of the interesting details (the little Hammond syncopation at 3:26, for instance) so that they poke the listener in the ear more and demand their attention. There’s lots of fun musical stuff going on here, but I think you’re asking the mainstream listener to work too hard to pick it all out.

Hope a few of those things are useful for you. Another strong competition contender… Thanks for joining in!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: Devilskater666 post.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 21


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Critique: As I’ve come to expect from your work, this mix shows a sure hand. The balance is very solid and sensible, with plenty of kick and snare attack, and a low end that balances the needs of bass guitar and kick confidently. The use of mix effects like delay and reverb is very sensitively done, so the mix coheres nicely and has a sense of envelopment, but without compromising on mix clarity. As such, all further detailed comments should be taken as suggestions, because the core presentation here is already very strong.

I like the overall spectral balance of the mix, although there is a sense of slightly woolly build-up around 250Hz or so from time to time. You can reduce this a bit just by using a band of dynamic EQ to cut 2-3dB in that range, but a more targeted approach would be to address the vocal, bass, guitar, and hammond overlaps that appear to be causing it. The bass could maybe have a touch less 100-150Hz, and some added 1-2kHz (so you get more audibility with less risk of ‘bloat’) and I think its mix level could be controlled a little more firmly, because I felt it wasn’t quite delivering dependably during some moments. It’s so important to the song harmonically, melodically, and rhythmically, that I think it’s worth going through with a fine-toothed comb if necessary to make sure it’s contribution is always audible.

The kick and snare attack, as I said, is a highlight for me, and I suspect that some editing may have been required to maintain it throughout the song by removing some of the flams. However, I did find myself wondering whether the kick and snare might actually be balanced a bit too high in the mix for pop singer-songwriter material like this. It’s not that I mind powerful drums, but I felt that maybe the vocal (and indeed the rest of the band) were being slightly overshadowed by those pounding beats. The HF attack transient on the snare exacerbates this too, and I’d be tempted to cut a little from the snare close mic in the 6-8kHz region. Alternatively, some kind of tape simulator on the drums might work well in this respect, by just rounding off the slightly fierce edge to the upper-spectrum transients. (Speaking of the snare transient: the opening hit of the song is, I think, being a touch overemphasised, and I suspect it might be because the master-buss compressor attack is long enough that it takes a little while for it respond to that first hit. You might consider using an extra ‘only to the side-chain’ signal to ‘pre-load’ the compressor gain reduction prior to the first hit to mitigate this, or else maybe automate the compressor’s attack time just for that first hit, or just adjust the mix balance feeding the compressor at that point. If it bothers you…) The cymbals feel rich and smooth, though, which isn’t the easiest thing to achieve on this multitrack.

I wonder whether the timbre of the opening guitar is a little too much ‘classic rock’ for this style, and it also has the disadvantage that it’s dense enough that it distracts a little from the vocal during Chorus 2. Perhaps it could at least be thinned out slightly there. In Chorus 3, the MIDI piano becomes a bit too audible for my taste too, seeing as it’s rather mechanical-sounding.

The vocal mixing is pretty solid, although small-speaker translation isn’t especially strong. I’d maybe look to add in a couple of decibels of true midrange around 1.5kHz or so on those grounds. In addition, I’d maybe still work a little harder on bringing out the lyrics, by pulling up consonant-vowel and diphthong transitions and rescuing some of the more swallowed syllables. The mob vocals at the end could be louder in the balance, I reckon, because the energy level feels like it falls a little too much once the Outro’s opening cymbal hit has faded away.

The long-term mix dynamics are reasonable, but I think there could still be scope for improvement there, especially in terms of adjusting your effects to adjust the ‘zoom’ of different scenes in the music. Adding a little more ambience to the snare in the Chorus, Reintro, and Outro, for instance, could work well. You’ve done some sensible arrangement tweaks, but they’re all quite restrained, so it feels like you’ve got to work a little harder with the mixing as a result. Some of the musical details could be hyped a little more too (I noticed the snare fills particularly) to demand attention, and I did feel slightly disappointed that there wasn’t at least one mix or arrangement ‘moment’ that really made me sit up and take notice – it was a little too easy to let the mix become background music to other tasks, which makes it feel less ‘mainstream pop’ than it might.

And, finally, the raggedness of the ending, including that strange edited note tail, would be worth smoothing out. It just taints the listener’s final impression of the track, which is a shame given the quality of everything else you’ve done here.

Hope some of that’s useful, and thanks for putting in such a strong competitor!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: ArmedNDaverous post.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 22


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Critique: This mix offers another strong vision for the mix, with some cool arrangement ideas, upfront lead vocals, and plenty of added reverb. Overall the mix tonality could do with a little less 3-5kHz and probably a bit more sub-80Hz low end too, because at the moment things get a bit harsh-sounding once you start turning up the playback volume. This sense of harshness is exacerbated somewhat by rather spiky hi-hat and ride-cymbal transients, so I’d try to find the tracks responsible for those and maybe apply some HF-only transient processing or perhaps analogue tape emulation to try to tame those spikes a bit.

The vocal timbre is also rather bright and overenhanced at the top end, with fatiguing consonants, which doesn’t help the overall mix-tonality tendency. So I’d be tempted to shelve off a few decibels from that at about 5kHz, for instance, subsequently rebalancing the vocal fader to compensate for any loss of audibility. If the vocal isn’t coming through the mix clearly enough, try cutting some of that same frequency range out of competing tracks – the Hammond in Chorus 1, for instance, could usefully be cut at around 2kHz to make room for those vocal frequencies. Be aware, though, that detailed level automation is the only way to get a solid enough vocal here, and you still also need to do more work with frequency-selective dynamics or region-specific EQ to even out the singer’s tone before you’ll really be able to settle the voice into the mix at a reliable level. For example, check out “see is telling” at 1:47, which suddenly hops out of the balance because of a fleeting low-mid timbral shift. You’ll never get that syllable to sit convincingly and translate across different listening systems unless you address things like that. Incidentally, if you’re having trouble hearing the kind of level/tone unevenness I’m referring to, try listening to the mix in mono on a single-driver midrange speaker – that makes things like this so much more audible.

I mentioned the reverb at the outset, and in principle I have nothing against obvious reverb. Here, however, there are several reasons why I’d reevaluate some of the reverb choices. The first is that most of Hannes’s references are quite dry and intimate, and even the rough mix has more delay in it than reverb. The problem with using so much bright, wide ambience reverb is that it begins to sound rather too much like the 80s, where everyone was keen to flash around their expensive new Lexicon 480. But even leaving that general stylistic issue aside, the reverb also presents a number of more concrete technical problems. The first is that, because it seems to be applied fairly liberally to most things, it actually robs the mix of depth, rather than adding it. What I mean by this is that you’ve made everything sound a bit distant, whereas the way to generate a sense of depth at mixdown is to create contrast between foreground and background elements – those define your front and back boundaries, so to speak. As things stand, most things are clustered in the middle distance, broadly speaking.

In addition, the reverb(s) you’ve used aren’t very mono-compatible, so you get a big difference in mix tone and perspective between the stereo and mono mixes, which isn’t usually ideal for mainstream music mixes. You’ve got the problem of vocal sibilance bouncing around in the reverb returns as well, and then there’s also the issue of long-term mix dynamics, because the reverbs seem quite static through the mix – in other words they don’t really change their character or level much to support changes in the music, as I’d normally expect from any pop song. Basically, it’s a bit like you’ve tried to capture a whole film with one camera angle and zoom setting – it dilutes the potential for drama. And, of course, the constant background level of reverberation also obscures low-level details of the raw tracks, which again will tend to make the recordings sound a bit bland.

So in the first instance I’d suggest stripping out the reverbs you currently have and experimenting first with reverbs you don’t really hear in their own right – darker and more understated settings with more of a natural tone (convolution can be great for this). Use these sparingly to indicate a sense of communal space, to glue everything together, and to help you define the perceived distance of each sound from the listener. Once those things are done, then you can always add more audible reverbs for tonal or sustain purposes to specific instruments or groups of instruments – and because you should have some blend and space going on already, you’ll be able to use much less of those audible reverbs to have a useful impact on the sound. Whatever you do with reverb, though, make a point of experimenting with EQ cuts on the reverb returns, so that the reverb energy you’re left with supplements rather than overwhelms the natural details of the raw sounds.

The kick and snare work pretty well in general, but there’s something funny going on with the first cymbal hit of the third Chorus – it pumps in a really weird way. I reckon the bass guitar could do with being more audible in the balance in general, seeing as it’s such a musically and rhythmically important part. A few decibels of midrange boost would help make it more apparent without introducing too much low-end woof.

The opening arrangement trick is certainly ear-catching, although I think it might be a bit too ear-catching for Hannes and the band! 😀 The problem is that it makes you pay attention to something that isn’t the vocal at the exact point where the vocal first comes in, so I think it’s slightly self-defeating, and it also undermines the basic groove at the very moment where it feels like it should be settling in there. I do, however, very much like the way you’ve flown those mob vocals into the Reintro. This foreshadows the Outro texture, which makes it seem a little more logical, but it doesn’t overshadow it, because the Outro definitely still feels fuller and more high-energy.

The drop-down just before the Outro is another inventive idea, and one that has a lot to recommend it in principle, I think. However, your implementation doesn’t yet feel that successful. I like the moment when it does the drop-down (around 3:01), and the moment two bars later when the whole band texture returns (around 3:06), but the way the bass returns at the start of the second bar (around 3:04) weakens the impact of both those sections for me. It almost sounds like the bass-player came in a bar too early by mistake, and prevents the full-band texture making as much of a statement when it returns at 3:06. Personally, I think it’d function better if you kept the initial drop-down texture going for two bars, and then went into the full-band texture directly from that. Kind of cutting out the middle man!

Hope some of that makes sense and is helpful. Thanks for showing us another interesting alternative vision!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: dagovitsj post.

Mix 23


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Critique: Hi Dangerous! As winner of our last mix competition (the Cambridge-MT 'Colour Me Red' Mix Contest), you’ll have plenty of people listening very carefully to your work on this Hannes Keseberg multitrack, I imagine – and with good reason! As I’d fully expected, the work you’ve done here is very slick, particularly as regards the balance and general sonics. Everything sounds smooth and full, even the more challenging sounds such as the cymbals, claps, and electric guitars. There’s a great laid-back quality to the overall vibe that’s really appealing too, and the guitar and Hammond tones you’ve chosen are meaty, yet at the same time tastefully understated, which isn’t easy to pull off. The effects are universally well-judged, giving a beautiful sense of blend, width, and warmth, and I was also pleased to hear what sounds like effects automation going on – hardly a surprise, then, to find that long-term dynamics were also a strong point.

The low end is nicely shared between the kick drum and bass guitar, and the latter’s small-speaker translation is good too. That said, I reckon you could get away with adding a few dB of extra low-end to the overall mix tonality below about 80Hz, in terms of bringing things into line with the references. I’m not sure about some of the arrangement changes to the bass part, though. The strongest one, to my ears, is your decision to mute the bass at the start of Verse 3. However, once it returns again at 1:51, it seems a lot less effective to drop it out again, especially because the original Verse 3 bass part relies to an extent on shorter punctuations for its musical effect, and those therefore lose impact as a result. I’m also unconvinced of the bass drop-out just before the Mid-section. On the one hand, I can see the reasoning: dropping out any arrangement element and then returning it at the onset of the Chorus can make the Chorus ‘arrive’ better. However, it just seems a bit half-hearted in this case, because it doesn’t really turn any heads as it stands. And if your listener doesn’t notice something disappearing, it won’t be as dramatic an effect when it returns.

It would be churlish of me to talk about the arrangement in this mix, though, without praising the super-cool Intro! Really creative and fun, and also immediately sets up the generally laid-back vibe. That said, I would question using the guitar riff here, because it feels almost like gilding the lily. What you’ve done simply with the backing vocals and whistle is so strong that I think it’s worth just letting that sink in a little longer. And, besides, if you leave the guitar riff out of the Intro, you’ve still got a trump card in your hand for later in the arrangement.

The main point where I think you’re dropping the ball, though, is Verse 2, because it just feels a bit ‘more of the same’ after Verse 1. To an extent you’ve made a rod for your own back, because such a creative Intro has set up the expectation that the listener’s attention will continue to be diverted as boldly as this, so when Verse 2 doesn’t deliver any real change I think people will feel that shortcoming all the more. Dropping out the congas for Verse 1 might be a solution, but it feels to me like you’ve already upped the ante beyond such subtle changes with your Intro.

A few little sonics details that rubbed a little: the opening guitar line’s mono-compatibility isn’t great (did you pan the close mics without phase-matching?); the ride cymbal’s stick noise is a bit spiky in the Mid-section; there’s a bit of a piercing resonance in the guitar tone leading up to the Outro; the Outro’s vocal texture feels a bit bottom-heavy; and the way the MIDI piano sound surfaces during the song’s final fade-out is a little unflattering. Also, although the lead vocal is really solid in the mix (well done there!), perhaps the backing vocals do overpower it a little at times, even when listening in mono.

However, as a whole this mix is extremely well-balanced and polished. That said, I do find myself wondering whether (Intro excepted) it’s playing things a bit too safe overall. Everything’s in its place and sounding beautiful, but it feels like it’s a bit too easy for me to think about other things while listening – and not just because I’ve heard this song so often now! 😀 Given that the brief is to provide a mainstream single, I think you could maybe put a bit more work into ‘selling’ the song at first listen, and refusing to let anyone tear their ears away before it’s done. Or, to put it another way, it’s probably unwise to have the most arresting part of your mix happening during the first 10 seconds, if it’s then all downhill from there.

Hope some of this helps. (Attention all you other competition entrants: this guy is going to give you a proper run for your money!)

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Mix 24


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Critique: Thanks for delivering one of the most creatively rearranged mixes so far! Before I talk any further about that aspect of the production, though, let’s get the engineering side out of the way, because there’s not too much to say there. Basically I find the overall tonality, balance, and sonics of this mix pretty appealing. There’s a satisfying width and space to the sound, and the vocal levels are nice and solid – although there’s still a little scope for improvement there in terms of mitigating some of the tonal variations in his voice, especially where he switches to falsetto in the Choruses. The bass guitar and kick seem to share the low end in a friendly way, although I did wonder whether the kick could be a bit louder overall, in order to balance against the bass guitar and snare a little more evenly. The bass comes through reasonably well on small speakers too, which is good. As with many competition entries, the ride-cymbal stick noise is a little overbearing in the Mid-section, and I also wondered whether the hi-hat might be a bit aggressive in the 6-8kHz zone. Overall, though, the engineering side of things is really pretty solid.

The more interesting point of discussion apart from that, though, is your arrangement decisions. On the one hand, I whole-heartedly applaud your willingness to engage so deeply with this element of the production, and I liked a lot of your ideas in their own right. (That hand-drum roll at the end of Verse 1 is fabulous, for instance!) But on the other hand, I have a number of concerns with some of the choices you’ve made. The main thing for me is that the brief here is to do a mix that will win over Hannes himself – and by extension his band too, given that he and his band are a pretty close-knit group. Fundamentally, Hannes has given his implicit seal of approval to the performances and sounds on the multitrack by delivering it for mixdown, and I think that puts a certain amount of responsibility on the mix engineer to make the most of those sounds where possible. (Indeed, I often think mixdown is often simply a way of reminding the band what they originally loved about their own recording, when they’ve long-since forgotten on account of playing their own rough mix to death!) Within this context, I think you have to be prepared to give Hannes a clear rationale for each and every arrangement change that you make, because if you rely on a purely aesthetic justification (ie. ‘I just thought it sounded cooler that way’) you’re effectively implying that you could have composed his music better than him. Now, I don’t know whether you actually do feel that way, but when you’re mixing to a brief like this, and the artist is the client, then you have to try to view it through the artist’s eyes.

Now, I realise this is all a bit abstract, so let me bring it down to a concrete example: your added piano part. When that first arrives, in Verse 1, it’s placed much more prominently in the mix than the existing rhythm guitar part. I think it’s fair to say, based on many of the other mixes here in the Discussion Zone, that there’s no absolute need for an added piano part at that moment in the song – there’s plenty of fresh and appealing musical material in the bass, drums, and guitars to sustain the listener’s interest at least until Verse 2. So by adding a completely new (and quite prominent) part which changes the character of that opening verse, you’re kind of saying to Hannes that “you should have written your verse like this, not the way you originally wrote it”, and also that (since the piano’s louder than the existing rhythm guitar) “your idea of what should be accompanying the vocal is less good than mine”. As such, I could easily see Hannes (or his guitarist!) being a bit offended on hearing this mix for the first time, and that’s not an easy first impression to come back from!

Don’t get me wrong, I quite like some aspects of your piano part (particularly the gently understated sonic character of the patch you’ve dialled up), but I’d have used it in such a way that I could justify its use in more concrete terms. So, for instance, if you’d only brought it in for Verse 2, there would have been a strong reason for it to appear there: namely, that it helps increase the arrangement’s performance energy for Verse 2 by expanding the arrangement (which otherwise would be pretty much identical to Verse 1). As long as you’d made Verse 1 sound great using Hannes’s existing tracks up to that point, then the addition of the piano in Verse 2 would cast fewer aspersions on the quality of those pre-existing parts. If the piano then audibly succeeds in its job of improving the intensity of the arrangement for Verse 2, and you can say “I’d have used one of your parts to do this job, had there been something in your multitrack that arrived in Verse 2”, then it becomes much more likely that Hannes will accept your addition, I think. It’s a subtle shift in approach, but can make all the difference in terms of your relationship with the client.

In a similar vein, your piano and brass arrangements are frequently adding quite a lot of new harmony notes and dissonances into the chord sequence that weren’t there in the original multitracks, and again I think that risks implying to Hannes that his chords are oversimplistic. Regardless of whether you personally feel that, I think it’s pretty slim odds that Hannes will agree with you, and he’s the client. In this case, I just think it’s giving a real hostage to fortune if you’re tampering with the song’s harmonic material in this way.

Leaving those more philosophical discussions aside, though, there are also several practical problems you’ve made for yourself with your arrangement changes. The first is simply that there’s so much going on at some points in the song (at the end of Verse 2, for example, or during Chorus 3) that the mix gets rather cluttered. This has two potentially undesirable consequences: firstly, that the singer gets rather overwhelmed, and the singer is the client; and secondly that you can’t really appreciate many of the internal details of Hannes’s pre-existing parts. As I said above, the easiest way to win over a band is by helping them to fall back in love with their own recordings, and it’s the fills and expressive nuances that are usually the key to achieving this. If you overlay those details with other parts, then it not only loses you that opportunity to bring out such details, but also implies that those pre-existing parts aren’t good enough to be foregrounded, and have to be concealed behind your new parts. (I realise I’m exaggerating this implication for the sake of explanation, but hopefully it’s clear roughly what I’m getting at here.) Furthermore, in this specific production, the ‘holes’ in the bass part are such an important part of the rhythm groove, and your added layers are inevitably lessening the impact of those.

One of the reasons I think the arrangement is getting overloaded like this, is just that you’re more inclined to add things to the arrangement than take them away, so the instruments tend to keep piling up until there’s not enough room for them all to fit. For example, you could easily have stripped back the beginning of Verse 3 much further, because that musical material doesn’t actually need too much arrangement development relative to Verse 2 – the intervening Chorus and Reintro have already cleansed the listener’s musical palette, so that the return of the Verse’s musical material itself is arguably novelty enough. That would mean that you could be much more restrained with your brass arrangement, perhaps only bringing in the horns for that rather lovely swell you have transitioning into Chorus 2. (It’s worth mentioning, though, that the horn patches you’re using sound quite artificial, so I’d guess that whatever you do with those will struggle to find favour with Hannes. Although you couldn’t know this, of course, he took the trouble to overdub live horns on several of the other songs I mixed for him, so he clearly cares about the realism of those kinds of sounds.)

Apologies for my rambling on for so long, but these less tangible issues of ‘client psychology’ are often the hardest things to explain in writing. Furthermore, I don’t want the length of my response to imply that I hate what you’ve done. Far from it, in fact, because I’m delighted that you’ve given us all the opportunity to ponder so many new and inventive arrangement ideas. Indeed, I’m sure I won’t be the only person listening to your mix who thinks “I wish I’d done that!” on at least a couple of occasions! Thanks for all your great work on this! 😀

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: dtldarek post.

Final contest submission: 8MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 25


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Critique: This was an interesting mix to critique, because I had an instant negative response to it the moment it started, but that gradually converted into rather a positive response after repeated listening! There were a couple of things I initially reacted against. Firstly it was the mix’s overall tonal balance: it’s very light below 100Hz; there’s a slight muddiness in the 100-300Hz region that affects the bass guitar, solo guitar, and vocal tones; and the 2-4kHz region feels overprominent, not least because there’s a rather scratchy 3kHz peak in the vocal sound. If you consider Hannes’s crooner-ish manner of vocal delivery, and listen to the vocals in the rough mix and the Ben L’Oncle Soul reference, it suggests that Hannes is a fan of warm-sounding vocals. (And I can personally confirm that he is from my experience mixing his album, as I had to revise the vocal sounds in a number of my first-draft mixes on those grounds.) So putting too much high end in his vocal, even in a pop-targeted number like this, is quite a high-risk move.

My second problem with the mix was that the bass, kick, and sidestick/snare all feel rather weak, diffuse, or distant in the balance compared with the rest of the arrangement. Unfortunately, this impression was emphasised psychologically because the first snare/cymbal hit sounds like it’s been overly attack-enhanced (by virtue of hitting a buss compressor ‘cold’, I’m guessing), and that only throws the reticence of the following drums into starker relief. The kick-drum also has the problem for me that it seems to fall between two stools, somehow: it’s neither punchy enough to really define the rhythmic groove; nor is it full and sustained enough to be a ‘fat kick’ statement in its own right. As a result it just feels a bit buttoned-up and polite. The snare, when it arrives, is a little better, but still it doesn’t really have the midrange solidity to deliver the fills (such as the one leading into Chorus 2) with a sense of confidence and authority.

However, once I began to get past these initial impressions and my ear naturally began to adapt to the overall mix tonality, I became conscious of lots of more creditable mix characteristics. For a start, I thought that the remainder of your balancing decisions actually felt rather good, when taken in relation to the lead vocal, with a nice range of guitar-tone choices into the bargain. Clearly, having an upfront vocal is a definite advantage as regards the mix brief here, and there is good clarity, with tasteful use of mix effects for blend and space. The stereo width is pleasant, with decent mono-compatibility, and the bass, despite seeming rather aneamic on account of the overall mix tonality, nonetheless translated well to small-speaker listening because of its midrange content. So if you’d just used a bit of master EQ, given the kick and snare more prominence, and rounded off the vocal’s upper midrange, I reckon I’d have responded to this mix much more positively straight away. That’s the psychological minefield of mixing for you… 😀

Once my general opinions had settled down, I did spot a few little niggles in addition: the Hammond has a rather fatiguing ‘whistling’ quality to it that gets a bit distracting in Chorus 2; the Mid-section’s texture feels a bit hollow, as if it needs more bass/Hammond/piano warmth; the vocal reverb is a bit bright for me, and the way it catches the consonants dates the production a little, I think; the Outro texture gets rather cluttered in the low mids, so you could be a little more judicious in sharing out those frequencies amongst the vocals, whistles, and solo guitar; and automating your effects use would help make the production feel a bit more mainstream – at the moment, it feels like you’ve set your ambience for the chorus texture and left it at that, but that then feels rather too loose for the verses, especially on the drums. As a little aside, your choice to pan the whistles and vocals to opposite sides of the stereo picture in the Outro isn’t what I’d instinctively have chosen to do, but I think it works rather well, particularly because you’ve not hard-panned them, so anyone listening on a single ear-bud still gets a hint of what’s going on over at the other side.

You’ve been quite assertive with your arrangement changes, which I have nothing against. The shortened Intro has decent pop-centric logic behind it, for instance, as it gets to the lead vocal more quickly, and generally I’m a fan of spreading some of the Outro goodness through the rest of the song as you’ve done. However, I would query a couple of your arrangement decisions. The main thing is that Verse 3 drop-down. In principle, I can imagine how you might pull off that concept, but it’s not quite delivering for me at the moment. It’s always hard to define why something like this doesn’t work, but the main things that struck me were that I missed the downbeat harmonic-rhythm change at 2:04, and that the return of the bass seemed rather apologetic, casting the drop-down more like an accident than a feature, if that makes sense. So I’d maybe experiment further with that drop-down to see if you can make it more immediately convincing.

The second small arrangement quibble I had was the way you’ve edited the flown-in whistles. I don’t mind the idea of truncating them in this way, but I think they have to sound like they were performed that way, whereas at the moment they sound edited. In a production with some EDM influences, this might be no problem (it could very well be a feature to be celebrated, in fact), but here it just feels out of place. Furthermore, the timing of some of those flown-in whistles doesn’t feel very well locked into the groove of the song, so I’d try to refine that aspect of the editing too.

Thanks for posting this mix – it’s always fun when I have to wrestle with my own opinions about a mix, and it certainly took me a while to make up my mind on this occasion!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Mix 26

Hairy Mark

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Critique: This is quite an ambient vision you’ve got going on here, and you also seem to be taking a cue from the Ben L’Oncle Soul reference insofar as you’ve chosen a very smooth-sounding vocal timbre, and a generally warm overall mix tonality. That said, I think you’ve probably gone a bit too heavy on the 150Hz region in general. I found myself cutting 4-6dB here while listening, for instance, although it’s not something that a master-EQ curve can really tackle effectively here because the prominent vocal track’s low frequencies are rather uncontrolled in this region. You’ll need to find a way of containing those (perhaps a multiband compressor) so that the low end of the mix remains more stable. Once that’s more in balance, you’ll probably also find you want to add a little more sub-80Hz energy to the bass guitar as well, as this seems a little underpowered by comparison with the kick drum’s low end. (A touch more midrange on the bass guitar would also help its small-speaker translation, as that’s not tremendous as things stand, and it’s quite important for mainstream translation, given the musical importance of the part in this particular production.) The mix also feels a little dull at the high end, but, again, a master-buss EQ isn’t the answer, because the hi-hat is so much brighter than everything else. I’d suggest smoothing out that hi-hat, and then boosting the upper octaves of the whole mix then.

The kick and snare both seem very low in the balance compared with the bass and lead vocals, which is robbing your mix of some rhythmic momentum and making the nice drum fills less of an ear-catching feature. The kick drum is quite resonant at the low end, though, so you may have to tame that character before turning it up, otherwise it’ll likely cloud the bass line unacceptably. I also suspect you’re overcompressing your drums buss, because the kick drum often seems to ‘fold’ in on itself, rather than providing a proper impact. Another clue for me is that the level of the side-stick in the balance varies dramatically depending on whether it hits just before the kick (ie. before the buss compressor’s started reducing the gain in response to the kick drum) or with the kick (ie. where it’s being turned down by the buss compressor as that’s responding to the kick hit) – this is something I really noticed in Verse 2, for instance. I don’t think this is a production that really calls for heavy compression as a ‘sound’ in its own right. If you want more sustain, perhaps switch to parallel compression so you don’t stamp on the peaks as much. Or if you just need level control then perhaps turn to more moderate limiting or something like Sound Radix’s Drum LevelerMac logoWindows logo – or indeed just fader automation!

There’s something odd going on with the cymbals in the Mid-section too. Is it some kind of modulation effect or frequency-selective dynamics? Whatever it is, it has a slightly weird phasey quality to it that feels a bit incongruous. There’s also something funny going on with the second Hammond part, which appears to be playing consistently 2 beats late (most obviously at the end of the Mid-section). If this is intentional, then I’d advise against it, simply because the Hammond’s harmonies then clash with the rest of the production for the first two beats of every bar, and I don’t think that kind of harmonic smearing really serves a singer-songwriter project like this.

I like the sense of atmosphere you generate with those guitar sounds – it’s a new flavour I’ve not encountered so far, but I do like it a lot. Overall, though, I think you’ve probably been a bit too indiscriminate with your reverb use, which slightly undermines the potential of those guitars. I’d spend some time carving away at your different reverbs with EQ, so that you clarify the mix more, at which point the character of those guitars should become more concentrated by virtue of greater contrast. The mix’s stereo width is also pretty decent, although the second Hammond part really takes a dive in mono, which does undermine the balance of the later choruses on single-speaker playback systems. I think you can afford a certain amount of mono-incompatibility on a chordal part like this in the name of impressive stereo width, but the Hammond also plays a textural role in differentiating the chorus section from the verse, so I think it’s a shame to lose it as much as this in mono.

I mentioned the lead vocal’s low-end variability, but I also reckon you could give it a bit more high end too, because it’s coming across a little muffled compared with the hi-hat and the guitar/piano off-beats. That way, I think you might be able to balance the vocal generally a fraction lower in the balance (as in the Ben L’Oncle Soul track, for instance) so that the rhythm section can deliver a better sense of power. The mob backing vocals in the Outro, on the other hand, could perhaps be a bit louder, because the ‘singalong’ aspect of that section seems to lack some enthusiasm at the moment.

Hope all of that makes sense and is some help for you – thanks for contributing your mix!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: Hairy Mark post.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 27


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Critique: Interesting take on the multitrack: more ambient and jangly, which is kind of cool! Love the panned delay effects on the guitar interjections, as these make great bits of ear-candy. Overall I like your balancing a lot. The kick and snare have a nice degree of punch without their feeling overstated, while the cymbals manage to remain fairly smooth. The bass guitar maintains respectable small-speaker translation, although I’d probably give it a bit more sub-80Hz energy to get it to balance more evenly against the kick drum. If that boost makes it feel too tubby, perhaps cut a little around 120Hz to compensate.

In the upper half of the spectrum, I’d suggest trading in a bit of 3kHz edge for more above-5kHz brightness, because the sound is currently a little fatiguing at higher playback volumes. Part of the cause of this is that the vocal is strong in the 2-4kHz range, and that’s probably a little risky too, given the smoother, more rounded vocal tones you can hear in the rough mix and the Ben L’Oncle Soul reference. (In fact, the vocal tone in my preview mix is already on the bright side, as far as Hannes’s preferences are concerned, and you’re thinner than that as well.) Your choice of a dense, bright vocal reverb is exacerbating this issue, and is also distancing the vocal more than necessary. A duller patch wouldn’t drag his dry sound backwards into the mix as strongly, by virtue of the contrast between the dry and wet signals. The reverb processing doesn’t seem to change much, either, through the track, which misses an opportunity for improving the long-term mix dynamics as well as generally making the production feel more like a mainstream single.

The Hammond parts both feel dominant, blanketing the choruses and reintro a little too heavily and undesirably masking the lead vocal with their strong upper midrange energy. The Outro level feels more acceptable, given the general party-atmosphere, but even then it’s possibly too much. I just think I’d rather hear more musical detail and less harmonic padding in a general sense, despite the understandable urge to generally fill out and warm up the song’s texture at those times when the Hammond plays.

The vocal balancing feels decent to me, and stays pretty solid on my Avantone, which I always think is a good sign. The guitar lines, however, don’t fare as well from the Avantone test, and I reckon you could do more work with automation to balance out their accents with their quieter internal details, so that the listener doesn’t have to work too hard to hear all those nice melodic moments.

You’ve explored a number of arrangement avenues similar to those I pursued in the library preview mix, but I nonetheless found your specific variations thought-provoking. I liked the way you were more sparing with the drums and percussion during the little fill leading into Verse 2, for instance, because that refocused my attention more on your lovely guitar delay effect. You’ve also demonstrated how stripping down the drums to the kick rather than to the snare during the drop-down section at the start of Chorus 3 is a perfectly valid variant. Nice work!

Hopefully some of the above will be useful for you. Thanks for submitting your mix for critique!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 28


114MB 24-bit/88.2kHz AIFF; preview: 5MB 192kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to Quick Links

Critique: This is another interesting new perspective, with the congas much more prominent in the balance and centrally panned, and a lovely smooth, expansive Hammond sound. The overall mix tonality feels rather low-mid-heavy, so I’d definitely give it a bit more sub-80Hz to start with. Be careful with this, though, because something in this mix is generating some powerful subsonics – I suspect it’s the kick-drum. Whatever it is, even just high-pass filtering it at 20Hz will help avoid people’s subwoofers complaining or any master-buss or mastering dynamics processors from reacting unpredictably. If you do boost the sub-80Hz frequencies, though, you’ll also probably want to cut at around 150Hz as well to avoid muddiness. At the upper end of the spectrum I’d suggest pulling back the 4kHz in favour of some added 10kHz, so you can brighten the tone a bit without adding too much harshness. You might have to rein in the 6-8kHz range of the hi-hat a little, though, to keep that from getting fatiguing in a brighter overall mix tonality.

The kick’s character seems a little out of keeping with this kind of reggae-influenced style – its low-end woof and upper-spectrum slap sound more in a rock vein. If you toned down those higher frequencies and gave it a bit more weight in the 80-200Hz range, I think you could balance it a touch higher overall to drive the rhythmic groove more solidly, as well as anchoring the prominent conga rhythms. The congas, for their part, do feel a bit too upfront for my liking (something that’s exacerbated by the spiky-sounding edit glitches), so I’d probably try rounding off their high frequencies a little and adding a bit of ambience reverb to pull them a touch less forward of the lead vocal.

I can see the thinking for the bass part’s added distortion, in that the extra midrange harmonics will inevitably improve small-speaker translation, but I wonder whether the treatment you’ve used in this case is maybe throwing the baby out with the bathwater, because it seems to be softening the instrument’s rhythmic definition significantly. Switching to a parallel distortion setup might help with this, by letting the sound’s undistorted attack phase through more prominently. In general, I reckon the bass could simply be faded up a bit too – it’s just more interesting musically than you’ve given it credit for in your mix balance.

The solo guitars feel a bit stark and upfront without any effects tail, and they’re also balanced rather high at times, distracting from the lead vocal, especially in Choruses 2 and 3. The Hammond’s timbre is lovely, but I reckon you’ve probably overused it. When it arrives it feels like it’s flooding the mix a little too much, masking the lead vocal and compromising the mix clarity. I’d suggest carving away at both Hammond tracks with EQ to try to make them a bit more ’efficient’, in other words, so that they’re not adding too much frequency information where it’s not really needed.

The lead vocal has low-frequency consistency problems. Notice at 1:01, for example, how the low end of “but I just thought of something really well” suddenly balloons for the last four syllables compared with the first six. This is something that multi-band processing or region-specific EQ can sort out, and that’ll help keep your vocal more solid on different playback systems. Other than that, the vocal balancing isn’t bad already, although there’d still be some room to improve the lyric intelligibility by micro-automating consonants and bringing up swallowed syllables. Oh, and the missing “the” upbeat to Chorus 3 feels strange.

The stereo width and mono-compatibility both seem fairly sensible, but the effects and balances do feel a bit static, so long-term dynamics aren’t as strong as they might be, despite the nice stereo ‘opening out’ that your Hammond timbre affords.

Hope some of that is helpful – thanks for posting your mix and getting involved!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: jeffd42 post.

Final contest submission: 8MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 29


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Critique: Given that I featured your previous mix in the December 2018 Cambridge-MT Patrons Podcast, I probably shouldn’t go into too much depth this time, for fear of accusations of favoritism! However, I can confirm that the balance between the bass and kick and the low end feels much better now, and the guitar off-beat tone feels more appropriate. The hi-hat is almost non-existent in the balance, which I initially thought to be a mistake, but there is something to recommend that approach, because it does then give the lead vocal more room to sparkle. I do think, though, that the mix still lacks a sense of ‘air’ to it, because it’s only really the lead vocal that’s tickling the upper spectral octaves much. Try muting the vocal and listening to the high-frequency tonality of the backing.

It also still feels like there’s too much going on in general in the 100-300Hz zone, especially from the bass. Perhaps trade in some 200Hz for 1kHz, so the bass cuts through more in the true midrange. The low-end of the vocal is also part of the problem here, as it’s still not very consistent in this respect. I’d get some multiband compression or region-specific EQ to work on it. Finally, a couple of smaller niggles: the conga edits are distractingly audible for me, so you should smooth those out if you’re going to mix this track like that; and the Verse 1 guitar solo sound feels rather stark and upfront – I’d take a little high end off, at least, and then automate the fader in a little more detail to catch the accents from poking out too much.

Hope that helps – and good luck with the contest!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: KMuzic post; my reply; KMuzic reply.

Free E-book: 5 References For Low End

Mix 30


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Critique: Wow – a much moodier and dubbier version this! Love the effects spin on “too much to drink” in Verse 2. (Although I wonder whether it might have been even more effective in the gap following the word “drink”, given than nothing else much is happening there.) The overall tonality feels a little boxy, so I think you could trade a bit of 120Hz and 3kHz for 60Hz and 10kHz respectively. That said, the 100-200Hz region is a bit of a battleground at the moment, so master-buss EQ isn’t really the right fix. The bass is very powerful in the region, as is the kick, and the lead vocal’s also probably contributing a little too much there as well. Then the first Hammond part uses a lot of that same energy when it comes it too, as well as being very narrow, which increases its competition with the central vocal. So I think you just need to be a bit more sparing with that spectral region, and really weigh up which parts will most benefit from it at any given moment in the arrangement. It’s often a tricky region for a lot of mixes, because you want enough warmth, but at the same time it’s easy to overdo things and make the mix sound woolly overall.

I can’t quite make my mind up about the drums. On the one hand, I like the punch you’ve got on the snare, and the side-stick’s also coming through nicely, but overall I get the feeling that the kit as a whole is too distant-sounding, and not really solid or loud enough in the mix to drive the rhythm along properly. But, at the same time, from about Chorus 2 onwards, there are some very aggressive transients coming through. It almost sounds like it’s a heavy-metal-style kick-drum beater ‘click’, but whatever it is it gets quite fatiguing on the ear and I find myself wanting to turn the playback volume down. And, if anything, I’d want to turn your drums up, as a whole, to get more rhythmic energy and momentum.

I like the drop-down you do in the Verse 3 arrangement, although it does suggest to me that the congas are also rather too reverberant. In a general sense, in fact, it seems to me that you’re using your delays/reverbs a bit too liberally, which is losing you some mix clarity and contrast. I’d try to make each reverb you use a bit more efficient, and adapt it more to the needs of the instrument(s) feeding it, so that more of the individual character of the sounds comes through. I have similar thoughts about the retro timbral flavours you’ve chosen. In principle I like that kind of thing, and I think it suits this production too (especially if you’re taking more of a cue from the reggae/dub influences), but at the same time it’s almost like you’ve overdone it, such that it begins to sound like it wasn’t intentional. The key to making retro sounds work in a modern setting is finding some elements of the production that say ‘retro’ but at the same time making sure that other aspects of it are clearly more contemporary, and it’s the latter aspect that feels like it needs more attention here so that the retro elements sound like an artistic statement.

In general I like the vocal balancing, and the high vocal level certainly makes sense in terms of lyric transmission. However, I think you might actually bring it a little lower in level in the verses in particular, and use a bit more automation to keep the words coming through clearly at that lower level. I also felt that I wanted some of the backing fills and licks to come through more clearly during gaps in the vocal line, so I’d maybe look to automate a little more with that in mind too.

Hope some of that makes sense, and thanks for getting involved with the contest. Another eye-opening creative vision – a pleasure to listen to!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: loweche6 post.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 31

Olli H

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Critique: This is one of the nicest-sounding mixes I’ve heard so far, in pure engineering terms. A lovely warm and enveloping mix sound with plenty of flattering effects adding blend and space. The stereo width is appealing and respectably mono-compatible, although the overall mix tonality could perhaps do with swapping some of the 150Hz energy for some additional sub-100Hz weight, especially on the bass guitar. The guitars all endear themselves to me timbrally, and have some nice ear-candy effects tails bouncing around in there too.

The vocal sound is a definite highlight for me, as it manages to sound warm and present at the same time, which is always a challenge. Its mix level is fairly solid, too, although I think you’re still struggling against the recording’s internal tonal variations in that respect, and I think you’d find it easier to nail the singer in place if you controlled his low-frequencies with some kind of multiband processor. A touch more true midrange on the vocal might not be a bad idea either, since this would help bring it forward on smaller speaker systems, given that we’re trying to target the mainstream market here. Maybe around 1.2kHz? Give it a couple of decibels of boost there and see how it sounds.

The drums sound great to me, delivering plenty of punch without ever coming over as aggressive. That said, whenever the snare played on its own (eg. in the Reintro), I did hanker for a bit more low midrange weight there, in terms of balancing its contribution against the kick, and this issue weakens the fills for me too. The cymbals are nice and smooth, which is great, albeit with slightly spiky ride-cymbal stick noise during the Mid-section.

Although I like the effects use in general, they do seem rather static, especially on the vocals, and I think this wastes an opportunity to make the mix as a whole a bit more assertive and attention-grabbing for mainstream listeners. Just drying up the verses a little would also help improve long-term dynamics, in terms of letting the choruses open out more. In a sense, this is symptomatic of a wider concern for me with your mix: although it sounds great, it also sounds just a bit too ‘safe’ overall. Verse 2, for example, feels a bit complacent because it doesn’t do anything much that Verse 1 hasn’t already done, so although I like the way it sounds, it’s not propelling me onwards through the song and trying to intensify the emotional content of the material. The Outro also doesn’t quite deliver once its initial cymbal hit has faded away, and I reckon you might make more use of the mob vocals to sustain the energy right until the end of the song, as well as maybe making the lead-vocal interjection halfway through a little quieter to avoid undermining the size illusion of the band.

In general, though, this is definitely an impressive mix, and sets something of a quality benchmark in engineering terms. Thanks for letting us all hear it!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: Olli H post.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 32


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to Quick Links

Critique: Generally a very good mix balance here, with the bass, drums, guitars, and Hammond forming a sensible relationship, and the guitar timbres appealing to me aesthetically too. The mix tonality’s also not bad, although it could have more sub-80Hz bass weight, I reckon, otherwise the harmonies won’t receive as much low-end support as I’d hope in a singer-songwriter project like this.

There is something very weird going on with the drums, though, because there’s a strange flamming quality to the drum sound throughout. Judging by the song’s opening hit, I’m guessing that one or more of the drum tracks has slipped out of sync, so that it’s around 25 milliseconds earlier than others, giving a kind of ‘pre-echo’. I suppose it might also be some drum-triggering software that’s not tracking the timing of the hits that well, or maybe it’s a plug-in that’s not declaring its latency properly to the host DAW. Whatever it is, though, it’s seriously undermining the drum sound as a whole, so I’d try to sleuth out what it is.

In addition, the snare is the one instrument that feels much too low in level. The sidestick’s fine, but the snare is seriously underpowered. This makes the Reintro and Outro, which both rely on the snare, feel like a bit of a let-down, and the drum fills (such as the one leading into Chorus 2) also fall flat as a result. The tom hit at 2:42, on the other hand, feels quite a bit too loud, and also doesn’t seem to cohere with the main kit sound at all.

The lead vocal has a very pleasant and smooth tone, with well-controlled high-frequencies, but it’s also probably a bit too loud, I reckon. Clearly, it’s an advantage to be able to hear the words easily, but I think you’re running the risk of making the band, especially the midrange instruments, feel a bit weedy by comparison, especially during the Choruses. If you turn down the vocal, though, I imagine you’ll have to give more attention to detailed automation work if you’re going to maintain that same degree of lyric transmission. You’ll also have to even out the singer’s low-frequency level variations, such as on “the smile I see is telling me so” at 1:47, where the words “see is telling” feel much bigger because they’re bassier.

The stereo width of the mix is nice, although the mono-compatibilty of the Hammond could perhaps be a little better, and the mix effects are generally very tastefully done, giving a reasonable sense of blend and space. The effects settings do seem quite static, though, and there were times when I felt they could usefully have changed – for example by giving the vocal a bit more of an expansive delay/reverb tail for the Choruses and Mid-section, thereby helping with the mix’s section differentiation.

Although I like the general idea of dropping down the arrangement for the start of Chorus 3, your implementation doesn’t yet really convince me. It’s partly that the bass kind of sidles in at 2:55, almost a bit apologetically, which seems somehow to weaken the subsequent drums entry. However the main problem for me is that it feels like the build-up never really picks up steam from there leading into the Outro. Yes, the arrangement has its own internal build-up, but it sounds like you’ve just let it get on with that, rather than trying to support the momentum with your automation. Also, when you get to the Outro, the comparatively low level of the mob vocals leaves the texture feeling a bit polite, rather than the feel-good ‘party’ culmination of the song.

Hopefully some of that is useful – thanks for uploading your mix for us to listen to!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: Skipper post.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 33


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Critique: Lots of cool ideas you’ve got going in this mix! The bottle-clink was a great touch, and the electric guitar sounds were fresh and interesting, if a touch mono-incompatible on occasion. Your overall mix tonality seems pretty sensible, although I’d probably give the bass a bigger share of the sub-100Hz energy, as it currently lacks a bit of low-end support for the harmonies. The kick also ends up being a little too ’thunderous’, and doesn’t balance too well against the comparatively lightweight snare, which means that the Reintro and Outro lose a bit of rhythmic drive and some of the drum fills aren’t as attention-grabbing as they could be. The cymbals are nicely contained though.

The lead vocal feels a touch boxy around 800Hz, and suffers from the variable low-frequency levels that afflict many of the mixes I’ve heard so far. In addition, the vocal level isn’t that solid throughout the mix, and I noticed some quite large disparities in vocal level between similar sections. Clearly, there are reasons you might actually want inter-section level variations, but in this instance it doesn’t seem planned that way. A trick I often use is to set up marker points at the start of each of a set of similar sections (say the Choruses), so that at any point I can remind myself where I should be aiming at while automating the vocal, and there’s less likelihood that the vocal level will drift quieter/louder through the song unintentionally. I reckon a slightly less dense and darker vocal reverb would also help, because the current patch feels a bit artificial and draws the vocal backwards in the depth perspective. In general, I’d also reiterate the advice I’ve provided to some other entrants, that it’s worth automating your effects sends in this case, as that’ll help make the production feel a little more like a mainstream pop mix.

The processing on the rhythm guitars is emphasising the little muted pickings on the sixteenth-notes between the main eighth-note off-beats, which feels to me like it’s causing the groove to drag. In general, the more you labour shorter beat subdivisions, the more you’ll create this kind of psychologic slowing effect. When the Hammond arrives in Chorus 1, it rather dominates the texture, especially in the lower midrange. I’d carve away at it with some EQ, so that it sits behind the lead vocal, not in front of it. The Outro could have a little more of the live clap tracks, I think, and the mod vocals could be widened in some way too – as it stands, they sound a bit narrow and distant, whereas it’d be better for the party vibe if there was a certain amount of stereo spread to them, I reckon.

I like a lot of the arrangement work you’ve done, but there’s still precious little differentiation between Verse 1 and Verse 2, which feels like an oversight. Then, in Chorus 1, I wonder whether the whistle riff’s gilding the lily. Remember that, at this point in the song, the casual listener will be hearing the Chorus melody and lyric for the first time, so I don’t think it’s wise to distract them from that important task with such a prominent counterpoint at that moment. By all means bring it in for Chorus 2, once they’ve already heard the Chorus tune once. Removing the off-beat chords during the Reintro section was one of my favourite ideas of yours, as it makes more of a feature of the solo guitar line and Hammond rotary-speaker texture, so good work there.

Thanks for posting – some great ideas for us all to ponder in there! 😀

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 34


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Critique: This is a really cool mix, full of good balance decisions. I love the attitude you’ve created with your compression settings, and the way you’ve also thereby created real cohesion without tremendous amounts of reverb – that’s my kind of mixing! 😀 With that in mind, I’m going to give a long list of potential critique points, but I don’t want it to take away from the fact that I think this is a really funky mix – one of the best I’ve heard so far, in fact, on a sheer gut instinct level. I’m always just of the opinion that it’s the criticisms that teach us anything, so I’ll now try to give the best educational value I can, if you see what I mean – apart from anything, given your terrific work in the Discussion Zone over the years giving feedback and encouragement to other forum members, I’m especially keen that you should get maximum value from my feedback! So, here goes…

The overall tonality is good, although there’s perhaps a touch of midrange honk in there at around 700Hz. Try cutting a couple of decibels there, with a Q of maybe 1, and see whether that makes the result seem a touch more ‘hi-fi’. To be fair, the 700Hz emphasis is great for small-speaker translation (an important point given the mixing brief here), but the downside is that the midrange can somehow cheapen the sonics of full-range playback, so I think I’d play it a little safe on that count given Hannes’s jazz leanings (and general penchant for smoother sounds, in the light of the Ben L’Oncle Soul reference). The other thing that appeals to me in general is the slightly saturated sound, which is part of what’s giving the ‘glue’ here, I think – it’s a kind of satisfyingly retro furriness and fullness that I can really imagine appealing to the artist, especially if you’ve had a listen to any John Mayer (which Hannes also referenced).

However, I think part of the saturation (and a less attractive part) is coming from your overdriving the master buss in pursuit of loudness. This is a seriously loud master (louder than the library preview mix, in fact, which is already pretty hot), and given the high level of both lead vocal and bass in your mix, both are generating quite a lot of square-wave-flavoured harmonics. (You’re not hard-clipping, but the flavour’s there nonetheless.) In combination with your master-buss compression, I think this would be a bridge too far for Hannes, who does like some microdynamics left in the mix (although admittedly less so on this one, given that this was probably the most ‘singly’ mix on the album). For me, the other problem with the loudness is that it does really soften the attack of your kick hits, so that they have too much of that ‘folded in’ feeling. Try comparing your mix with the library preview mix, but with both loudness matched, and you’ll hear what I mean. As you know, I’m very much a pragmatist when it comes to loudness processing, but I still think you’re discarding a little too much punch and rhythmic drive in pursuit of level here.

Moving on to specifics, I do like the bass sound: the way it shares the sub-100Hz region with the kick is well-judged, and its small-speaker translation is also decent. The drums raise a few questions, though. Firstly, there appears to be some kind of phasey sound to the main drum hits that seems a bit out of character with the music, particularly when the sidestick’s involved. Have you been time-stretching things to make timing corrections, perhaps? Is there some kind of parallel effect that’s not properly latency-compensated? These are both things I’d immediately suspect if I heard those kinds of artefacts. In addition, the snare does feel rather lightweight compared with the kick, which is something that isn’t a big deal when they’re playing together (ie. most of the time), but becomes more of a concern when they don’t, for example in the Reintro, Outro, and during some of the fills – in all of those spots, the groove isn’t nearly as effective when the kick outguns the snare.

And speaking of groove, the compression you’ve applied to the main off-beat rhythm guitar is pulling up the sixteenth-note muted strums, thus emphasising the smaller rhythmic subdivisions and making the rhythm feel a little bogged down – it’s a well-known psychological effect. In Chorus 2, the guitar solo seems to have had a similar kind of processing, although here the problem is more that the tone of the muted picking is rather clicky and distracting, so if you’re determined to use that compression there, then I’d consider using an EQ or transient processor to tuck those transients back into a more appropriate balance. One other guitar-related point: is that opening guitar solo just a bit ‘stringy’? Somehow it works better for Verse 1 than it does for the Intro. Perhaps you might EQ in a bit more 800Hz only for that opening section. Maybe that’s just me, though…

One of your headline additions is the string patch, and I can see the reasoning as far as Verse 2 is concerned, in that you can use it to differentiate Verse 2 from Verse 1. However, for me this is probably the least successful decision in your mix. The first issue is just one of realism – they sound too obviously like canned MIDI strings, which takes away from the fundamentally ’live band’ presentation the band have tried to create here. Admittedly, I’m a string player myself, so perhaps I’m oversensitive to this, but even if these strings were real live players, I think they’d still be inappropriate here, because they add a kind of veneer of large-scale saccharine glossiness that seems at odds with the band’s general aesthetic. It’s somehow too much ’easy listening’ or ‘pure pop’, rather than ‘singer-songwriter crossover’, if that makes any sense at all!

I don’t question your instinct that the second verse needs something to lift it after the first, but I think you could have fulfilled a similar arrangement role with piano, Hammond, or guitar additions (or even effect spins, given the reggae/dub influences), without having to expand the palette outside the range already set by the band themselves. You could even have got away with backing-vocal or electric piano additions, I’d have thought, depending on your own facilities as a performer. In general, though, it’s always lowest-risk to expand an instrument part that’s already there, rather than adding something new.

But there’s another aspect of the strings that I’d query, and that’s that they continue to contribute to the arrangement beyond the point where they really need to. For example, there’s no real necessity for strings in the choruses, because the Hammond covers that base pretty well already (even if it’s not quite as mono-compatible). In fact, the strings actually make the Hammond less audible, which might not endear you to the keyboard player! 😀 It’s a fine line, but I think it’s always least risky to make the most of the parts that the band have provided before adding anything else of your own.

I like the way the lead vocal cuts through the mix, but I wonder whether you could maybe give it a decibel or two less 2kHz, so that it sounds a little warmer and less nasal. As with many other mixes people have posted, the lead vocal’s low-frequency levels aren’t all that consistent yet, and could do with some specialist frequency-selective (or manual region-specific EQ) processing to even them out. Check out “smile I see is telling me so” at 1:47, for instance, and notice how the syllables “see is tell-” feel much bassier than the others. Even once you’ve addressed that, though, I reckon you could still put in more detailed vocal rides to maximise the lyric intelligibility, especially in the Choruses, where masking from the backing track is increased. In the Outro, the vocals mix feels very murky, so I’d suggest balancing those parts more in favour of the higher voices, and then applying some careful low midrange EQ cuts to further clarify the texture.

I like a lot of your arrangement moves here, but I’m not sure the drop-down for Verse 3 is operating that well yet. Basically, it just feels like you stay at that dropped-down level for too long. Then you just reintroduce everything you dropped out at the start of Chorus 2, which seems a bit of a missed build-up opportunity. I’d suggest selecting some element that you’ve dropped, and already introducing that at 1:57. Then adding another of those parts at 2:06. That way, there’s a sense of ratcheting up the arrangement towards the Chorus, which should not only keep the listener’s interest better, but also create some arrangment momentum through Verse 3. On a much more niggly note, the song’s ending fade-out feels a bit ragged too, especially with the Hammond cutting out so abruptly. It just seems a shame to me to leave the listener with a less-than-ideal final impression when you’ve done so much good work on the mix as a whole.

Finally, I think your stereo width feels rather constricted, despite the added strings element, because mainstream mixes on the whole usually like to make a widescreen impression. I’d suggest panning the solo guitar lines, for instance, and the added advantage there is that they’ll conflict a little less with the centrally-panned lead vocal that way. The Hammond and piano tracks are both candidates for MS-style widening processing, as I see it, given that neither is musically essential, so hearing less of them in mono is no great loss. One of my favourite tricks on pop mixes is to widen the bass too, because this gives a lovely warm enveloping feeling to the mix as a whole without recourse to master-buss EQ. In the preview mix I used GVST’s freeware GChorusMac logoWindows logo for this, and widened it a touch further with Voxengo’s freeware MSEDMac logoWindows logo plug-in. (I also high-pass filtered it to avoid any mono-compatibility problems at the low end.) Reverb effects are another candidate for widening processing, especially in this multitrack where the drums room and mob vocals are both feeding mono ambience into the mix.

I hope some of that proves useful. As I said at the outset, this is a mix that just feels engaging, and vibe counts for a lot when it comes to winning over clients in my experience. Thanks for letting us all hear it!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: thedon post.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 35

Thomas Stevenson

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Critique: Well, regardless of who wins the main mixing contest, I’m delighted to say that you’ve already bagged the ‘Brass Cojones Arrangement Award’! 😂 Honestly, leaving the bass entry so late, when the instrument’s such a big musical element of the track, takes a bucketload of chutzpah, but I have to say that I wish it had occurred to me while mixing this song first time round, because it’s a super-cool solution to the arrangement problem presented by the identical Verse 1 and Verse 2 arrangements. Hats off to you for coming up with that!

However, while I instinctively feel the potential for this idea to be totally killer, it’s currently not quite delivering as I’d hope, because the lack of the bass’s melodic interest means that the stripped-back texture gets stale quicker than it did when the bass was in there. In your situation, I’d probably try one of two things. Either I’d put some much more basic edited-down version of the bass into Verse 1 – enough to keep the attention a little more, but not so much that you don’t still get more interest in Verse 2. Or (probably my preferred option) I’d shorten the Intro, probably cutting it in half, so that the stripped-back texture retains it freshness for longer once the vocal comes in. In the latter case, I’d probably also try to find some simple sustained element to put under the third verse phrase (from 0:32) just to open that out a touch and keep the listener engaged right until the bass arrives. It might be just a gentle guitar, piano, or Hammond chord, nothing fancy, but just enough to give a touch of extra warmth for the vocal’s new melodic material and higher register there. (I’d probably also deliberately drop out that element cold on the downbeat of Verse 2, which would make the section boundary clearer, as well as giving a little ‘vacuum’ shock effect to refocus the listener on the vocal’s new lyrics. Heck, I’m just riffing now…)

Whatever you do with that Intro, though, I’d suggest dropping out the final guitar chord before the start of Verse 1, because that’ll make it clearer to the listener that something important’s about to arrive (ie. the vocal). And the flams in the drum part are also quite distracting, so I’d probably tidy those up a bit. When you strip down an arrangement, you’ve got to make sure that each element can withstand that closer scrutiny. Partially for the same reason, I think Verse 2 and Verse 3 feel a touch sloppy rhythmically, but it’s also on account of the solo guitar lines, which often seem to cause the groove to stumble.

The other great arrangment stunt you’ve pulled in your version of the drop-down idea in Chorus 3. It’s a cool idea to have that moment of retro sonics, but I think it’ll work even better if you don’t overdo the preceding transition effect – I think it can be shorter. The problem is that it’s an electronic element that doesn’t really fit the style, and when it starts it’s not really clear why it should be there. If it were shorter, I think the listener would find themselves in the retro sonics section before they’d really had time to be unsettled by that stylistic question. In other words, your transition effect would sound more like a bit of ‘here we go time-travelling into the past’ Foley, rather than like a percussion layer belonging to a different production. I reckon the vocal sound should probably also make a gesture in that retro direction too, just for that section. As it sounds, it feels a bit dislocated from the mix. I’m not saying you have to treat it as severely as the backing, but a step in that direction would make it appear more in keeping with the mood of the backing for me. Also, I do miss some rhythmic impetus during the retro sonics section, so I’d probably at least bring the backbeat up a bit, or else introduce some other rhythmic element to keep the groove ticking over a bit more strongly. Maybe that’s the moment for the congas to really shine, for instance? And I also reckon I’d experiment with adding some kind of transition effect (it could be longer this time) during the second half of the retro sonics section, so that you build a bit more anticipation for the eventual full-band-texture return.

To an extent, I have similar reservations about the reverse cymbal preceding Chorus 2 as I do about the transition effect into Chorus 3 – it just feels like it belongs to a slightly different production, because it doesn’t really sit comfortably with the implicit ’live band’ conceit. It just feels a bit too much like a programmed addition, a kind of production ‘sticking plaster’. Besides, the drum fill at that point is cool enough as it is, I figure, so I’m not sure it’s necessary anyway. And it also makes a bit of a rod for your own back, because Chorus 2 doesn’t really deliver the musical impact that the cymbal swell promises. It feels like you’d maybe need more piano, or to copy in the hand claps, in order to sustain the energy level that cymbal has taken you to.

Arrangement issues aside, I think this is also a strong mix from an engineering standpoint. The overall mix tonality feels pretty good (although a little lacking in ‘air’ at the top octave of the spectrum) and the balance and clarity you’ve achieved are commendable – there’s suitable deference to the lead vocal, but nothing’s been made to sound small in the backing. The mix effects are tastefully done, and in particular you’ve manged to create something that several other mixes have struggled with: depth. In other words, some things are clearly more foreground, and others much further away, and that really helps bring the sound to life. That said, I think there are still bonus points you could gain by automating the effects to improve the long-term dynamics and section-differentiation – for example, giving the vocals more expansiveness in the Mid-section and Outro.

Automation is also a key issue for the lead vocal, because it’s not as stable in the mix as I’d expect of a single, and I’m not getting the lyrics through as well as I’d hope. Take the first two phrases of the Mid-section for example: “have made” and “you to get” leap out too much, whereas “it home and I ask” and “it on” get rather lost by comparison. If you’re having trouble hearing this, check it out on your single-driver midrange speaker (I seem to remember you have the same Avantone I do) and it should become much more apparent. I’d also bring up the final vocal phrase a bit, if I were you. There are few better ways to end a song like this than with the spotlight firmly on the singer – especially if he happens to be judging the contest! 😀

One area of the mix that does feel a bit underwhelming is the stereo width, within the context of a mix brief that’s targeting mainstream listeners. I already mentioned a few ideas for this in thedon’s critique, so I won’t repeat those here, but it’d be well worth focusing on this aspect of your mix as you continue to reference it against commercial releases in the run-up to the final contest submission.

A few other small mixing/editing niggles: Are the drums maybe a bit overcompressed in the Reintro? It seems as if the cymbal pumps a bit more than it should when that downbeat hits. It has a certain retro charm to it, but I’m in two minds. The Mid-section feels rather drums/percussion-heavy, and therefore slightly too aggressive in terms of the lyrical content there. I’d try to give it more harmonic fullness with the piano, hammond, guitar, and backing vocals for that reason – and a nice side-effect of doing that is that your retro sonics drop-down should then sound even more dramatic by contrast. The electric guitar from Chorus 3 to the end is definitely a funky-sounding thing, but it does rather undermine the rhythm of Chorus 3 as it is. It also feels like it’s smearing unmusically towards the end of its rising figure in the Outro.

Hope all of that makes sense, and congratulations on coming forward with some cracking arrangement ideas!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: Thomas Stevenson post.

Final contest submission: 8MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 36


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Critique: I had a bit of shock when I first started listening to your mix, to be honest. It was hugely ambient and chorusey, and seemed totally out of keeping with the mix brief. A few hundred words of trying-to-be-encouraging-nonetheless feedback later, and I suddenly realised I’d left one of the other mixes unmuted and I was hearing two different mixes phase-cancelling against each other! D’oh! It’s been a long haul, this critiquing process, that’s all I can say… 🙄

Anyway, listening to your actual mix after my (clearly well overdue) lunch break, I immediately liked a lot of your balancing decisions, and the sense of warmth and blend afforded by some sensitive effects use. The hi-hat feels rather understated, so I might bring that up a bit, but otherwise the mix manages to present a sensible balance of the ensemble throughout. The issue of depth is thornier, though, partly because it feels as if the mix as a whole is a little heavy on the reverb in general, but also because the vocal reverb and drums ambience both appear to be all but mono, and that does give the production a slightly ‘recorded in a corridor’ feeling that doesn’t quite stack up with the ‘mainstream single’ part of the mix brief. In addition, the sidestick feels very distant, which somehow feels a bit incongruous with the powerful and pretty tight-sounding low end of the kick. The snare, when it arrives, is slightly closer-sounding, but not much, and I just think this makes the mix sound rather old-school, rather than a modern production (however retro tinged that modern production might be). To be fair, though, I do like the punch you’ve got out of the snare, so I wouldn’t want to lose that. Be careful with the 3-4kHz region of the cymbals, too, as they get a touch harsh-sounding during the Mid-section in particular.

The bass has good small-speaker translation, but could probably afford to have a bigger share of the sub-100Hz energy in order to support the harmonies better. The guitars are nice and full-sounding, but not so overdriven as to make the song too ‘rock’ overall, I think – it feels like you’ve struck a good balance there. The Hammond in the first chorus feels a bit thick-sounding, and smothers the vocal for me, so I’d perhaps be a bit more assertive with EQ cuts on that part to clear enough room for the star.

Speaking of Hannes, his vocal sound here does feel a bit fierce in the upper spectrum, with too much energy in the 10kHz region relative to the rest of the mix, I think. If you’ve listened to the rough mix and the references, you’ll know that Hannes tends to like smoother vocal sounds on the whole, so I’d rein in that aspect of the timbre a bit personally. However, as you may already have noticed, if you take the brightness out of the vocal, it’s not really coming from many other sources, so you’ll probably want to brighten some of the backing parts to maintain a representative overall mix tonality. Try referencing the track against some commercial releases with Hannes’s vocal muted so you focus more on what the backing parts are doing in this respect.

The lead vocal balance could be more stable too. Over the long term, there seems to be a certain amount of level drift between sections – eg. Verse 3 is quite a bit louder than Verses 1 and 2. And over the short term, you need to address the raw recording’s low-frequency variability more, and then automate the fader in more detail to maximise the lyric transmission. You could also bring the final vocal phrase up while you’re at it too, because it sounds like you prefer the guitar to the vocal at the end of the song as it stands, and that’s perhaps unlikely to endear you to the singer who’s judging the competition… 😉 The Outro feels like it could do with a bit more of the mob vocals, because the energy rather slacks off once Hannes’s long “heart” note has finished, and it’d be nice to keep the momentum going right until the end of the song.

From an arrangement perspective, it seems like you’ve taken the multitrack at face value for the most part, and that’s certainly the safest approach. However, in this contest (and indeed in any situation professionally where you find yourself pitching against other engineers for a mix job), you may have trouble competing with the other contenders unless you address some of the arrangement’s inherent challenges – such as the difficulty maintaining interest and impetus through Verse 1 and Verse 2, when they both have identical arrangements. You’ve done a lot of good work already, but I think you may have to take a few more risks (whether with arrangement or balance or effects or whatever) if you’re going to stick out from the crowd.

Thanks for uploading your mix – and I’m looking forward to hearing your final contest submission!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Mix 37


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to Quick Links

Critique: The basic balancing here is pretty decent, as I see it. Even on my Avantone single-driver midrange speaker the levels all seem to stack up well, with nicely managed vocal levels, good bass translation, and the sense that interesting details are being ushered forward subtly in the gaps between vocal phrases to keep me entertained. The long-term mix dynamics are also pretty good – only towards the end of the Outro did I feel that maybe the mob vocals could have been balanced a little higher to bring out more of the party atmosphere, but that’s a pretty small niggle. Some more assertive automation of effects could have improved the section contrast, though, so that’d be something worth still focusing on some more. In particular, the strong reverb/modulation widening of the vocal effects at the outset makes the singing feel a little too obviously produced to my ears, which I think slightly undercuts a sense of emotional immediacy from his performance. Maybe it’s just a case of putting a bit more predelay on the vocal effects and rolling off some high end.

The sound is fairly ambient overall, though, and I do get a sense that we’re losing some clarity as a result. As you’re probably already aware, I have a natural inclination towards clearer and drier mixes, so this critique point is of course partly a question of my own personal preferences, but even taking that into account I think you could still do a bit more EQing of effect returns to clear a little more room for dry details. A touch less of the drum room in the mix would also probably help too, as that’s a little bit murky by nature, and you could also cut some 150Hz from the mix as a whole, as there’s a bit of a build-up of energy in that range that makes things sound slightly woolly. One small thing that also niggles me about the depth axis is that the conga feels rather upfront compared with the drum kit and lead vocal, and I’d probably add a bit of ambience to that myself to sit it back a little further.

And, speaking of the congas, there’s a strong pitched resonance from the lower drum around 210Hz, and that seems to me to distract from the pitch line of the bass when it appears. If that bothers you too, it’s easy to notch down with EQ to a less obtrusive level. I wonder too whether the cymbals are a touch harsh in the 3-4kHz zone. I noticed it particularly at the beginning of the Reintro and during the Mid-section, and the latter section in particular masks the vocal more than is ideal, I reckon.

I like your guitar sounds in general and the variety of the effects you’ve used on them. I’d maybe work your fader automation a little harder for those parts, though, especially in Verse 2 where some of the lower-level notes feel like they’re not getting quite enough love. The rising line into the Outro did get a touch piercing, and I suspect that it’s a result of a resonance peak around 2.6kHz, so try notching in that zone to see if that smooths it out. The whistle tracks definitely appealed to me during the Outro: wide enough to stick out, but ambient enough not to dislocate entirely from the mix as a whole.

It sounds like you’ve already engaged somewhat with the lead vocal’s low-frequency vagaries, and I think that’s reflected in the overall solid vocal balance I’m hearing. Lyric intelligibility is also good, which speaks of either careful dynamics processing, or sensitive automation, or both. I reckon I might trade in a bit of the 100-200Hz range for a fraction more energy at 1kHz, which will help bring the vocal forward a little and give slightly more robust projection on smaller speakers, which I think would be a benefit from a mainstream market perspective.

The stereo spread is good, but not quite as mono-compatible as I might like. It’s not that anything disastrous happens to the balance, but the choruses in particular seem a little bit dull and lacking in ‘air’ in mono. It sounds to me as if it’s the Hammond and the vocal widening effects that are probably most responsible for this impression, so I wonder whether a little adjusting of either or both of those using an MS EQ to even up the Mid and Sides tonality might improve matters there. Obviously there’s always going to be a trade-off, but I suspect there may be a better compromise to be had in this case.

Overall, though, this is already a very respectable mix. For all its confident handling of the provided resources, though, I do wonder whether it’s a bit ‘safe’, for want of a better word. Maybe it’s just because I’ve trawled through dozens of mix versions by now, but there’s a danger that this mix might get overlooked in a competition environment because there’s nothing that really sets it apart from the crowd – and particularly from the small handful of other mixers here who’ve already displayed similarly high-level balancing chops. So my final word here would just be to consider whether there’s some little spice you can put in that’ll cement your version more in the memory and give it the edge when it comes to judging time.

Hope some of that helps! Thanks for posting your version for us all to learn from – and also for your continuing commitment to providing helpful feedback for other Discussion Zone users!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: HbGuitar post.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 38


56MB 24-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 5MB 192kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to Quick Links

Critique: It’s easy to tell you’ve been around the block a couple of times, because this is a very solid mix. The overall tonality is great, although I think you could afford to have a touch more sub-80Hz heft. You could probably just stick that in as EQ on the master buss, to be honest, because the bass/kick balance at the low end is already well-judged, in my opinion. If you feel it’s getting a bit tubby, you could always cut a little around 130Hz, but it’s a question of taste – I used less of this frequency than Ben L’Oncle Soul, for instance. (The solo guitar feels a touch too warm in the low mids on occasion, especially when overlapping with the lead vocal or during the fuller Chorus, Reintro, Mid-section, and Outro textures, so that might be another candidate for EQ cuts if you wanted to clarify the low spectrum. That said, I like the guitar’s fullness in the Intro, so perhaps there’s a case for multing that track, or automating the EQ.)

In general, the effects use here is great: varied and yet extremely tasteful at the same time. And what I most like about the effects is the moments of depth contrast: the ambient whistles during the verses; the guitar solo’s delay in Chorus 3; the ‘stage-right box’ feel of the mob backing vocals in the Reintro. (Featuring the mob vox there is also a canny rearrangement move, as it allows us to appreciate their unique character more clearly than is possible during the Outro.) The effects do still feel a little static, though, especially on the lead vocal, which felt like it could ‘blossom’ more during the Choruses and Mid-section.

Another strong point of this mix is the ensemble balance, which felt inherently ‘right’ to me, and the long-term dynamics as well. The drums are lovely too, with solid kick, snare and sidestick sounds that worked as well in combination during the verses as they did separately during the fills and Reintro/Outro. The claps are nicely judged, and have a kind of compactness during the Outro than I really like. The rhythm guitars are nice and widescreen in stereo, but I think they probably suffer too much in the mono balance, which changes the character of the groove rather a lot for single-speaker listeners. It may just be that you need to find a better polarity/phase match for the instrument’s multimic setup.

The vocal sound is another highlight – lovely and smooth, but with judicious warmth too and enough presence to feel intimate. The inconsistencies in low-frequency level in the raw vocal recording could be addressed more, though – notice, for instance, how the word “night” booms out during the first two lines of Verse 1. In addition, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to mult the Verse vocals to different tracks than the rest of the timeline, because there’s more space in the texture for low-midrange vocal warmth during the Verse arrangement.

However, I also wonder whether, during the mixing process, you might have developed a bit of a ‘blind spot’ as far as the vocal’s concerned. What I mean by this is that I think you’ve started to take the vocal for granted, because you’re so familiar with it (from hearing it so often), and have forgotten to factor in that you’re trying to captivate the mainstream listener who may never have heard the song before. So, for example, the Hammond in Chorus 1, while an appeallingly gnarly timbre, rather overpowers the vocal while it’s presenting the chorus melody and lyric for the first time; and in Chorus 2 the higher Hammond register and added guitar riff do this even more. It’s not that those parts aren’t cool, but that the singer still needs to be the star here.

Or take the mob vocals, which are very effective in the Reintro, but when you bring them in for the opening of the Mid-section, it feels like overkill, and distracts from a lead-vocal line that should really be the focus of attention, because it’s new material that you want the listener to remember. (The absence of those mob vocals from the second half of the Mid-section also feels a little like a step down, energy-wise, for me.) The concept of bringing the whistles into the arrangement earlier in the song is also very sensible, but they feel a bit redundant during Verse 1 (there’s plenty for the listener to digest with the vocal lyrics and guitar interjections alone – and, besides, it leaves Verse 2 with nowhere to go in terms of building the arrangement), and then they distract from vocal’s new melody and lyrics during the Mid-section. These are all basically questions of putting yourself in the shoes of the first-time listener, and trying not to make life too difficult for them in terms of getting to grips with the core melody and lyrics of the song.

Other than that, there are a handful of other little suggestions I had: the conga edits sound too audible (eg. at the start of Verse 2), so I’d try to smooth those out; the timbale feels a little too forward and starkly isolated, so maybe try a bit of high cut and ambience reverb on that; there’s some unpleasant-sounding distortion on “your eyes” during the Mid-section at 2:41; the mob vocals could come out more during the Outro, because they’re not as clear as the whistles in the balance; the whistle fill into Chorus 3 is quite cool, but I do still wonder whether the gap is actually more effective at that point, given how often the whistle has been featured by then in your arrangement; and the song’s fade-out feels a bit clunky, which leaves a less-than-ideal ’last impression’.

Also, although I thought the idea of bringing the Hammond in at the end of Verse 3 was canny in principle, the chords in the section you’ve flown in don’t really sit very comfortably with the rest of the instruments. To be honest, you might as well just add in a bit of MIDI Hammond of your own for the purpose, rather than copying/pasting sections of what’s already there. It’d give you more control over the addition, and no-one’s ever likely to notice that it’s a different patch, simply because Hammond organ by its very nature often changes its timbre through an arrangement by virtue of the player manipulating the drawbars.

Hope some of that’s useful – thanks for sharing your work with us!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: Digitaldruglord post.

Final contest submission: 38MB 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV; preview: 5MB 192kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to Quick Links

Mix 39


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Critique: The balancing is pretty solid here, and I love what you’ve done with the effects on the guitar solos. The tempo-related echoes work particularly well with the more rhythmic parts, such as the riff first heard in the Reintro. The overall mix tonality could probably have a little less 130Hz and a little more sub-80Hz, as well as being brighter overall, given that we’ve got current mainstream sonics in the crosshairs. However, if you do lift the high end, you’ll probably want to tame the open hi-hat and cymbals around 4kHz as well as reining in that slightly needling resonance in the rising guitar line that leads into the Outro. The claps will also need rounding off a bit, as they’re currently a lot brighter than the rest of the kit.

I like the subtlety of the Hammond during the first Chorus, but the higher-register part in Chorus 2 is probably a little too strident around 2kHz, so that it’s masking the vocal more than I’d recommend. Although I love the timbres and effects you’ve used for the solo guitars, they do present a few balance problems, in my view. The Intro guitar sound is quite full-sounding, and I found it distracted attention from the lead vocal during Verse 1, and also when it plays that riff during Chorus 2. The Verse 2 guitar, on the other hand, seems underpowered by comparison, and I’d have liked to hear more of its lower-level details. So those are definitely tracks I’d recommend applying some careful fader automation to.

I like the drum sound on the whole, and the kick and bass guitar share the low end well, I think. Bass small-speaker translation is good too, despite your having a warmer and more rounded tone than mine (in the library preview mix). The snare and side-stick sound fine in combination with the kick, but I do feel like they lack some weight and power when heard on their own, which loses the Reintro and Outro some rhythmic momentum and makes some of the drum fills less exciting than they might be.

The rhythm guitars really suffer in mono, and I think that undermines the groove under single-speaker playback conditions. I’m guessing that this might be a result of panning the individual multimics without sufficiently polarity/phase-matching them, so you may be able to address this quite easily with a simple sample-delay or polarity-inversion here and there. Despite this specific mono-incompatibility, though, the overall sense of stereo width in your mix isn’t huge, and I’d expect most mainstream music releases to be rather more widescreen than this – certainly anything with pop pretensions. Maybe just widening some of the reverb returns a little with an MS plug-in might help, for instance. The piano might be an option for widening too, when it comes in, as it’s currently a bit too solid-sounding in the mix, given that it’s not the most natural-sounding of sampled instruments that’s been used here.

The lead vocal feels quite rich in the low midrange, which tends to make the mix sound a little bloated from time to time, especially when the vocal is part of the thicker Chorus or Mid-section textures, or when the variable proximity-effect bass boost inherent in the raw recording is at its strongest – for example at the end of Verse 1 and the beginning of Verse 2. So I’d first try to even out some of those low-frequency variations with frequency-selective dynamics processing or manual region-specific EQ, and then I’d try to be more cautious about how you allocate the 100-300Hz headroom amongst the available instruments during the different sections of the song. That may mean that you end up wanting to mult the lead vocal, or automate an EQ plug-in for it, to adapt its low-midrange contributions to changes in the arrangement. Whatever you do, though, you’ll also need to get into a bit more detail with vocal fader automation, I think, if you’re going to maximise the lyric intelligibility here – the vocal level is currently a little unstable throughout the mix, especially during Chorus 1, for instance.

Your effects use in general is one of my favourite parts of this mix, with lots variety, contrast, and general good taste in abundance. This all adds up to a lovely sense of depth between the close vocal, drums ambience, rhythm-guitar reverb, and solo guitar echo tails, for instance. The hi-hat and snare felt a bit stark during the Choruses and Mid-section, so I’d perhaps automate in a bit of extra ambience for those sections, and the congas and timbale feel a little too upfront in general too, compared with the drumkit.

The long-term dynamics are reasonable, although the Verse 2 conundrum (ie. it having the same arrangement as Verse 1) could maybe do with a bit more work to keep the listener’s attention all the way up to the first Chorus. The Outro arrives nicely, on account of the entry of the Hammond as much as anything, but the similar transition from Chorus 1 into the Reintro doesn’t feel nearly as satisfying without that textural change (the Hammond’s already in during the Chorus), so maybe you could find some way to ’lift’ the energy of that section a touch.

A couple of final guitar-effect minutiae: Could the solo-guitar delay repeats be muted for that pre-Chorus 3 gap in the arrangement? It’s not that I dislike the echo effect (on the contrary, in fact), but I think the gap might actually be a more dramatic statement at that point in the arrangement. And I also felt it was a bit of a shame when the end of the mixdown audio file truncated the decay tail of the final guitar line – last impressions count almost as much as first impressions, where mixing’s concerned.

Thanks for uploading your mix and getting involved in the contest! Hope some of the above is useful too!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: APZX post; my reply.

Final contest submission: 5MB 192kbps MP3  play_arrow

Drum Compression Demystified course from Cambridge-MT

Mix 40


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Critique: Wow, that’s some serious master-buss compression! While there’s something about its unabashed boldness that appeals to me personally, it really is way too heavy for this style, I reckon, and it’s gain-pumping like crazy. Compression is an easy thing to overdo when working on headphones, in my experience, so that’s something you’ll want to bear in mind if you’re (as you mentioned) working primarily on earbuds. Some other specific thoughts:

  • Your mix tonality needs more sub-80Hz weight and has a bit of a build-up around 150Hz. However, if you boost the low end with the current master-buss compression setting in place, it’ll cause you even more pumping artefacts, I suspect. Given that you probably won’t be able to hear much below 80Hz on your earbuds, I’d suggest referencing this aspect of your mix as best you can using a high-resolution spectrum analyser such as Voxengo’s freeware SPANMac logoWindows logo.
  • Despite (or in fact, probably partially because of) the compression pumping, the balance and blend are actually pretty good, as far as I can judge. The sidestick’s a bit overprominent, but otherwise the midrange instruments work well together.
  • The effects seem fairly varied and tasteful too, and the long-term mix dynamics aren’t bad either. Again, it may be that this aspect of the mix may deteriorate once the compression is toned down (buss compression in effect does some of the mixing for you).
  • The piano isn’t particularly natural-sounding, so I’d not have that quite as high in the balance, personally. Let the guitar take more of that off-beat role in the mix.
  • Your stereo width seems fine, and I couldn’t see any obvious mono-compatibility issues.

Hope that helps. You say you have no chance of winning anything in the contest, but I have a feeling there might actually be quite a competitive mix in there, just waiting to emerge from behind the master-buss compressor. What your mix does have is character and balance, so if you can retain those good qualities without the unmusical compression artefacts, then I’d say you’re in with a good shot.

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: RoyMatthews post.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 41


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Critique: Well, this is the first version where someone’s adjusted the tempo, and interestingly enough you’ve slowed it down, rather than speeding it up as I might have anticipated given the ‘mainstream single’ mix brief. As a general thing, I’d normally be reluctant to do any time-stretching at mixdown, because time-stretching always introduces some artefacts, but in this instance I don’t really hear any untoward side-effects, so I’ll judge the end, not the means! Some thoughts:

  • Good low-end balance between the kick and snare, but I think you could afford to have a couple more decibels of energy below 80Hz. In general the kit sounds great, in fact, although maybe the sidestick could be a little louder in comparison to the main snare level.
  • Lovely vocal sound, although it is a touch sibilant and there’s still some low-frequency variability compromising the solidity of the singer’s balance position, especially during the Choruses where there are those switches to falsetto.
  • The dubby effects are helping to give a great sense of depth, especially in contrast with the upfront lead vocal. Blend is also excellent, with everything feeling like it’s well glued together. There would still be some more bonus points available if you automated the effects a little more to enhance the long-term mix dynamics, especially for the lead vocal.

I have to say that this is one of my favourite mixes so far from an engineering perspective – it basically ticks all the boxes for me in that respect. However, I suspect this competition will be won by entrants who can not only achieve such a convincing technical vision, but also manage to bring in a dose of ‘wow’ factor that will make them stand out from the crowd when judging time comes. Your effects use is a definite strong point in this respect, but I reckon there’s still scope for you to make a bolder statement somehow, perhaps by engaging more with the multitrack’s inherent arrangement issues or getting more assertive with your automation.

Thanks for uploading your mix!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: Absolem post.

Mix 42


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Critique: A really intriguing version this, with lots of detailed arrangement tweaks, but a lot of thought has clearly gone into them too, because there’s a suitable deference to the primacy of the lead vocal – something that it’s easy to overlook when you’re elbow-deep in rearrangement ideas. There’s so much going on, in fact, that I’ll go through section by section.

The shortened Intro is direct and to-the-point, and makes a lot of sense from a mainstream perspective in terms of getting that crucial lead vocal into the mix as quickly as possible. I like some of the ‘perforations’ you’ve done to thin out the first Verse and create some sense of build-up into Verse 2, but there were a couple of moments that didn’t quite convince me. The first was the big empty gap after the second vocal phrase at 0:22, which feels at once a bit too long in terms of maintaining forward momentum, and at the same time not really dramatic enough to sound confidently like a ‘feature’. The second moment is that bass line at 0:34. I realise what you’re trying to do here, kind of handing the listener’s attention from the bass to the guitar, but I think that bass riff just functions much better when leading directly to the downbeat – it feels a bit awkward musically in the shifted-earlier position, somehow. Again, this stunt kind of falls between two stools, feeling awkward enough to unsettle me, without being assertive enough to really sound like an intentional move. Maybe that bass line would sound more confident if the last note were sustained and then slid down to the downbeat note under the guitar line. Or if you perhaps made the gap even more obvious between the end of the bass note and the start of the following solo guitar chord – muting the drums completely for that moment might do that. This stuff is so ‘suck it and see’, though, that it generally involves a lot of trial and error to find something that really works.

In Verse 2, the whistle fragments at 0:41 and 1:02 feel rather distracting from the lead vocal, so I’d probably mute those myself, particularly the one that draws attention away from the work “drink”, which is one of the hookiest moments in the lyric, in my view. When you hit Chorus 1, I think it’s quite a risky move shifting the bass emphasis onto the downbeat as you have. Firstly, it changes the feel of that opening quite a lot, compared with how the band recorded it; and, secondly, it doesn’t feel like it ‘arrives’ convincingly, perhaps because it has no strong kick/snare hit underpinning its onset. The Reintro seems to lose a bit of momentum after the end of the sustained final Chorus syllable “heart”, because the backing texture is a little hollow. This has a knock-on effect too, because the transition to the more stripped-back Verse 3 backing texture isn’t then particularly dramatic, and you don’t therefore get very strong section differentiation, something that might have been useful to startle the listener into refreshing their attention for the singer’s new lyrics. I think you could afford to open up the Hammond more in the Reintro for this reason, even if that means multing it for that section so as not to disturb the well-judged way in which its Chorus 1 sound supports the harmony and adds appealing rotary-speaker movement without clouding the vocal timbre.

I’d also query the transition from Verse 3 to Chorus 2. Again, it’s not quite attention-grabbing enough to sound really confident. Perhaps if you paused the rhythmic movement a bit more for the word “glow” that might help. I really like your decision to bring the claps in early to bolster your vision for the drop-down in Chorus 3, but the pace of your build-up seems to flatten out after we get to the first “you know better” line, where I’d expected something new to come in, but nothing did. It’s also a shame, I think, to lose the rising guitar line that leads into the Outro, because this felt pretty effective to me the way it was by default. No point in cutting things that work!

On the whole, the balancing of the mix feels very sensible. The lead vocal is nice and smooth, with ample warmth and presence, and at a healthy level in the mix. You seem already to have taken some steps to even out the raw vocal recording’s low-end variability, which is good news, but you could still work more with your fader automation to maximise lyric intelligibility, especially during the Choruses – eg. on “better than that” at 2:26. The bass guitar has decent small-speaker translation, but comes across as rather lightweight sub-100Hz compared with the kick, and this makes the mix as a whole feel like it lacks warmth, despite something of a woolly frequency build-up at around 150Hz in the overall spectrum of the mix as whole.

I wonder whether you’ve gone a little too heavy on the drums/percussion during the Mid-section, because it lacks the sense of harmonic fullness that I’d consider more appropriate for that part of the lyric. Something a bit similar is going on in the Outro too, which could handle much more of the Hammond and mob backing vocals to beef up the cheery community atmosphere at the end of the song. As it stands, that section comes across as slightly self-conscious, whereas it’s clear from the arrangement that it should really be the climax of the song. The almost subliminal level of the flown-in whistle track in the Reintro and at the end of Verse 3 feels like a mistake, as if you left a bit of bleed in by accident. I think I’d fade it up a bit, and then use effects to keep it in the background, perhaps as another nice depth contrast moment.

I like your effects work, which is often very tastefully done. There’s a good sense of blend and space, and some nice depth contrasts too between, say, the lead vocal and some of the solo guitars. You could do more to adapt the effects to changes in the arrangement, though, I reckon. For example, the lead vocal effects don’t really seem to change between the Verse, Chorus, and Outro, and that wastes some opportunities for enhancing the mix’s long-term dynamics and section differentiation. I reckon you could also widen some of your effects returns with MS processing, because the stereo width feels a little too understated, given that the mix brief is targeting the mainstream music market here. The Hammond, piano, and bass would be other contenders for widening effects/processing of one type or other, but be careful not to destabilise the mono-compatibility of the bass’s low end in the process.

One tiny final thing: there seems to be some kind of distortion in the mid-section at 2:32 under the word “ask”. Might be worth checking what that is, and whether it’s more subtly compromising the sonics elsewhere.

Hope some of that is useful – and that it all makes sense! It’s often quite difficult expressing what I mean in matters of arrangement, so just let me know if you need me to clarify any of that. Thanks for contributing!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: timo post.

Mix 43


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Critique: Another entrant taking the commendably bold move of dropping the bass from Verse 1! While I certainly agree that fortune favours the brave in mix contests like these, your implementation doesn’t yet quite convince me, because although you’ve removed the textural uniformity between Verse 1 and Verse 2, you’ve made the Intro and Verse 1 texturally uniform instead! In other words, you’ve solved one arrangement problem by replacing it with another, as I hear it. 😀 Anyway, some other thoughts:

  • Not a bad low-frequency balance between the kick and bass guitar, but the latter doesn’t have tremendous small-speaker translation, and overall the mix could have more sub-80Hz energy and less around 150Hz.
  • Tasteful effects use, but it seems quite static, so you’re missing an opportunity for enhancing the long-term mix dynamics.
  • Reasonable balance between the kick and snare, but I wonder whether the hi-hat’s high end is a bit abrasive in the 3-5kHz region, and the ride-cymbal’s stick noise is distracting during the Mid-section.
  • The ‘group’ elements (ie. claps and mob vox) that appear for the Outro seem a bit understated for a feel-good ending. The Hammond could probably get away with being louder there too.
  • The vocal balancing could do with more attention, to mitigate the recording’s low-frequency inconsistencies, solidify the singer’s position in the mix, and improve lyric intelligibility. Notice, for instance, how “food and drink” in Chorus 2 really gets submerged compared with the following “soothe my soul”.

Hope some of those suggestions help – thanks for letting us all hear your version!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Mix 44


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Critique: Although you officially missed the deadline for mix critiques, I actually finished up a little ahead of schedule so I’ve still been able to sort out some feedback for you before the submission deadline:

  • Your kick and snare both feel very low in level compared with the hi-hat and side-stick. That loses you a lot of rhythmic momentum, especially in the Choruses, Reintro, Outro, and the various drum fills. The snare is very mono-incompatible too, which is rarely a good idea for mainstream styles.
  • Overall the low end of the mix could afford to have more sub-80Hz energy, comparing it with the references. The 2-4Hz range is also rather prominent, which makes it a fatiguing listen at higher playback volumes.
  • Your solo guitar timbres are very thin and piercing, and distract from the vocal.
  • That drop to the whistle before Chorus 1 is very dramatic and really demanded my attention, which is great from a mainstream production perspective. However, the way you return the other sounds to the mix afterwards feels a little messy, somehow, and less effective.
  • The vocal’s low frequencies are still rather inconsistent (eg. at the start of Verse 3), and the singer could also probably do with a little de-essing, especially with such a bright high-hat in the mix.
  • The ride-cymbal stick noise is quite abrasive during the Mid-section.
  • The bass guitar could use more midrange energy to allow its important melodic and rhythmic contributions to translate better onto small speakers.

Hope that helps, and thanks for getting involved!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Mix 45


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Critique: Although it’s officially past the deadline for mix critiques, I’m actually a little ahead of schedule so I’ve still been able to sort out some feedback for you before the submission deadline:

  • The start and end of the mix file are both quite hissy, which slightly taints the first and last impressions of your mix. There are also frequent prominent HF clicks (brightened editing glitches from the conga part?), which get distracting during the more stripped-back parts of the arrangement.
  • The kick is dominating over the bass guitar at the low-end, which means there’s less low-end support for the song’s harmonies. In general, the bass guitar feels underbalanced overall too, given its melodic and rhythmic importance to the music. Whatever you do, though, I reckon you could trade in a little 150Hz for more sub-80Hz energy in the mix as a whole, and maybe cut a little around 1kHz too, as there’s a slightly nasal quality to the mix tonality as it stands.
  • The global reverb feels rather splashy at the high-end, which distances the whole ensemble unduly, I think. That reverb also seems to be very mono-incompatible, so your mix sound changes quite a lot when heard over a single speaker.
  • In general the vocal balancing feels pretty respectable, although the low-frequency variability of the raw recording does destabilise the balance on occasion. The singer could do with a bit of de-essing too, because your bright effects are emphasising the sibilance.
  • The Outro could have a touch more mob vox and Hammond, I think, so the song goes out on more of a high.

Hope some of that input is useful – thanks for posting your mix for us all to hear!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: batguitar post.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 46


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Critique: A big, full-sounding mix this, with plenty of low end, good stereo width, and confident handling of mix effects – although the latter do remain more static than I’d expect of a mainstream mix. Some more thoughts:

  • The overall tonality feels a bit too full in the 150Hz zone, especially once the arrangement starts getting thicker, and I wonder whether you might also want to add a couple of decibels around 1.5kHz.
  • The second Verse has the same arrangement and mix as the first, which risks losing the listener’s attention before they reach the first Chorus at 1:12.
  • The snare when it arrives is nice and beefy-sounding, although I wonder whether the drums-buss or master-buss compression is causing some slightly odd-sounding hits when the hi-hat strikes before the kick and is therefore unnaturally enhanced. I really noticed this during the Reintro, for instance. If you’re going to stick with this buss compression, you’d be well advised to tighten up some of those flams with editing.
  • In general I like your balancing, but the solo guitar lines are balanced well below the rhythm guitar. Not only does this intuitively seem the wrong way round from the perspective of musical interest, but it also means that the groove doesn’t skip along as nimbly because of the rather laboured off-beats.
  • The harmonic information during the Mid-section seems a little overpowered by the rhythm section, and in the Outro the mob vox and Hammond could both afford to be more prominent.
  • The vocal balancing here is really good (possibly the best I’ve heard so far, in fact) – your efforts to control the raw recording’s tonal variability seem to have paid off. That said, there are nonetheless moments when the lyric intelligibility could still be improved by drawing in some micro-rides for smaller syllables, vowel transitions, and consonants. Furthermore, the automation of other details in the arrangement isn’t nearly as strong, and you could definitely do more to draw out the most interesting moments of the backing track for the listener.

Hope some of that helps – and thanks for sharing your mix with us all!

Forum responses: JuanCManosalva post.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 47


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Critique: You’ve got a cool new Intro idea there, which does a good job of highlighting the appeal of the congas, although I do wonder whether lengthening the Intro overall as you’ve done might be counterproductive in terms of the ‘mainstream single’ mix brief, because it means the singer only arrives after 20 seconds, and the first Chorus only arrives at 1:20. Some other thoughts:

  • The rhythm guitar (and piano) off-beats are very strident in the balance, and distract from the lead vocal and solo guitar interjections, both of which are more musically interesting. The brightness of the rhythm-guitar tone also emphasises the smaller beat subdivisions, making the groove feel a little sluggish.
  • The kick feels a bit flabby and indistinct, and could probably do with a bit more midrange energy so that its rhythmic punctuations cut through the mix.
  • The overall mix tonality could do with less energy in the 2-3kHz zone, based on my impression of the references.
  • Some of the hi-hat transients and Mid-section ride stick noises are rather fierce, and get fatiguing at higher volumes.
  • Pretty decent vocal balancing, although I think you could probably improve lyric transmission with a bit more micro-level automation of the swallowed syllables and some of the consonant-vowel transitions.
  • The arrangement of the first and second Verses is pretty much identical, which is encouraging the listener’s attention to wander before they reach the Chorus.
  • The whistles seem a bit underbalanced during the Outro, for such a characterful part.

Hope some of those suggestions are useful – and I look forward to hearing your final submission version. :)

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: willjohnson post.

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

Mix 48


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Critique: Nice slapback on the lead vocal – like that a lot! Some other thoughts:

  • The sense of reverb/ambience in the mix (particularly on the drums, rhythm guitar, and lead vocal) feels very narrow and ‘corridor-ish’, which undermines the sense of mainstream production values, where stereo spread tends to be quite widescreen on the whole.
  • You could do with more sub-80Hz energy in the mix as a whole and less 150Hz. Is there a bit too much 2.5kHz too? It feels a touch brittle.
  • The mob vocals are almost inaudible during the Outro, which loses some of the opportunity for opening out that section and making more of a feel-good ending. In a similar vein, the Mid-section and Outro could afford to have more Hammond organ to thicken the texture at those high-energy moments.
  • The kick feels very lightweight compared with the bass and snare, such that the groove doesn’t have as much power as I reckon it should.
  • The effects seem to remain pretty static throughout the arrangement, and could do with more dynamic changes to support the arrangement changes. Also, the guitar solo during the Reintro seems to me to be crying out for some kind of delay – it feels very stark at the moment.
  • You could improve the vocal balancing here. I particularly noticed the level ducking and diving in Chorus 2, for instance. Dynamics processing may be part of the solution, but automation is where the real bonus points lie there.
  • There’s not really much to sustain the interest through Verse 2, given that its arrangement feels identical to Verse 1.

Hope some of that’s helpful. Thanks for sharing your mix with us all!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: Yermany post.

Mix 49


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to Quick Links

Critique: Really like some of the depth-dimension work you’ve done here! Those cave-dwellers whistling at 1:50; the tempo delays on the solo guitar parts; the swirly vocal delays in Chorus 2; and the lovely diffuse trumpet presentation at 2:06. Those last two things are also particularly welcome for me, because they show evidence that you’ve not treated your effects processing as something ‘set and forget’, and have begun taking advantage of the potential of dynamic effects to help with section differentiation – something that very few of the entrants I’ve critiqued so far have done. Great job there! Love your rather psychedelic DIY guitar wah effect too – definitely worth the effort! 😀

Your overall tonality feels rather wayward, though, I think. Not sure what you referenced your mix tonality against, but from my impression of the references cited by Hannes, you’ve got way too much energy above 5kHz. Clearly this is partly a question of taste, but my own mix is already a little on the toppy side, I reckon, and I actually felt I had to shelve off about 6db at 7.5kHz from yours while critiquing it further, in order to avoid listening fatigue, so I think this is something worth reassessing. In common with many of the other entrants, there’s also a bit too much going on in the 130Hz zone too, I think. Some more true midrange around the 400-1000Hz region would probably also make sense, along with more sub-80Hz weight, especially on the bass line. With regards to the bass guitar processing you mention, it seems pretty extreme that you’re high-pass filtering at 70Hz and then cutting 6dB again at both 50Hz and 90Hz, given that the root note of the key chord has a fundamental frequency around 40Hz and a first harmonic around 80Hz. Indeed, it seems like the bass line gets much weaker as it moves into its lower register, and that seems somehow contrary to the musical aim here, given the obvious reggae/dub influences.

Part of the high-end abrasiveness I’m hearing is, I think, coming from the overheads, which again you’ve processed quite heavily with SSL-style EQ – an EQ that’s known more for its aggression than for its smoothness! I also wonder whether relying so heavily on the undersnare mic is advisable, because it’s left you with quite a bright and rattly timbre that seems not to complement the kick-drum very well in the groove during the Reintro and Outro. The lack of the oversnare mic’s low midrange ’thump’ also robs the fills of some of their impact.

The Hammond really helps to offset the brightness of the mix as a whole as things stand, and is nicely judged tonally to avoid conflicting with the vocal, so if you can maintain those attributes while readjusting the overall mix tonality, that’d be great! The piano off-beats, when they arrive, seem a little overbalanced, though, which is risky because you’re putting the spotlight a bit too much onto a timbre that’s obviously artificial, and also because emphasising the off-beats causes the groove to drag a little. In general, I like the solo guitar tones, although the second Verse in particular could do with some more careful short-term balancing to keep notes from jumping out unduly or getting lost in the texture. Careful with that guitar line leading up to the Outro too, as its rather needling momentary resonances are still making me wince a little.

The short-term vocal balancing is pretty respectable, perhaps on account of your Waves Vocal RiderMac logoWindows logo treatment. However, Vocal Rider isn’t intelligent or powerful enough to deal with the low-frequency inconsistencies baked into this raw vocal recording, so there are still moments when the balancing comes unstuck – for example on “but I just thought of something really swell that you oughta know right now, I think”, where those bold-face syllables push out noticeably. The backing vocals dominate over the lead at times too, especially in Chorus 3. During the Outro the mob vocals seem a bit low in the balance, which loses you some feel-good factor during this section, and the lower solo backing vocal there feels too close and intimate by comparison.

The stereo picture for the drums feels wide enough, but the rest of the mix is a bit narrow by comparison, I reckon. I think you could pan the solo guitars a bit more out of the way of the vocal, and there’s plenty more scope for widening treatments on the guitars, Hammond, piano, bass, or vocals. At the moment it’s the percussive elements of the arrangement that are mostly responsible for the mix width, but I don’t think you’re likely to achieve a good impression of ‘warmth’ to the mix as a whole unless the harmonic elements of the arrangement also have some decent spread.

From an arrangement perspective, it’s definitely a bold move to come straight out of the gate with two of your strongest creative changes: namely, the wah guitar tone and the new trumpet sample that appear right at the outset of your version. While I actually like the sound of both of those elements in principle, the question I’d ask myself as the artist would be: why did they need to be there? At the start of any song, just introducing the basic elements of the track is enough to sustain the interest, usually, so I’d normally expect to reserve such creative changes for moments where the arrangement needs a ’lift’ that isn’t already in the raw tracks. In this respect, for instance, the trumpet moment at 1:04 makes a lot more sense, because that’s a moment in the arrangement when a little extra ‘bloom’ seems to support the progression of the music. If you change things where the original arrangement already functions reasonably well, it risks making the artist think you just don’t like their music! 😀 If you’re looking for a spot for that wah effect, you might try Verse 2, because before that trumpet moment it’s otherwise pretty much identical to Verse 1 arrangement-wise.

Finally, talking of the intro, careful of the conga edits, which are distractingly audible in bar three, and there’s a truncated echo tail at the end of bar two that feels a little awkward too.

Hope some of the above was useful!

Final contest submission: 9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow

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Mix 50


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to Quick Links

Critique: Very sensible balance on the whole, with decent clarity and tasteful effects usage too. Some more specific points:

  • The vocal balancing is fairly solid most of the time, but the inherent tonal variations in the raw recording do make the level a bit too variable at times, especially during the Choruses, where certain syllables really leap forward, while others get lost.
  • The overall mix tonality seems a little fierce in the 6-9kHz range, which makes both the hi-hat timbre and vocal sibilance a bit wearing on the ear. Even with that region pulled back a bit, though, I think you might still want a little de-essing as well.
  • The additional snare ghost notes are quite a nice way of differentiating the second Verse, but they feel a bit more laid back groove-wise than the kit itself, so they don’t really ‘glue in’ with it properly for me. As a result, they make the groove drag a bit, and sound too much like an artificial addition. The way the ghost-notes track overlaps the gap after the Mid-section seems to undermine the drama of that moment in the original arrangement too.
  • The Hammond feels a bit understated, which means that you lose some of the section differentiation between the Verse and Chorus textures.
  • While I like the general sense of blend and depth you’ve achieved with the effects, they do seem a bit static, which again reduces the sense of arrival when we hit the Choruses and follow on into the Reintro and Outro sections.

Thanks for sharing your vision – I reckon this might have made my top twenty had it not just fallen on the wrong side of the submission deadline, so well done on that!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: glukin post.

Mix 51

Noneya Bidnes

9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to Quick Links

Critique: Love that slapback treatment on the lead vocal! Very much in keeping with the general vibe, I think. Some more thoughts:

  • The biggest thing that hits me is that the overall tonality feels very heavy on the 200Hz region, giving the whole mix a rather congested and boxy quality. It’s not a simple question of master EQ, though, because it seems primarily to be an interaction between the lead vocal and the bass, so I’d concentrate on tackling things on those channels.
  • Nice variety between the different effects treatments, and it sounds like there might also be some kind of automation going on into the Choruses and Reintro/Outro, which may be part of the reason you seem to be getting a good sense of long-term dynamics. (That said, some kind of differentiation between the first pair of Verses might improve things further in that respect, as well as a touch more of the mob vocals during the Outro.)
  • The lead vocal balancing is overall pretty strong, but your mix translation is still struggling on account of the raw vocal recording’s tonal variations – not least because of the 200Hz bias in the vocal tonality overall, given that it’s the low-frequency range of the vocal tone that is particularly troublesome in this respect.
  • Although the bass has great small-speaker translation, it feels a touch lightweight in the sub-80Hz region, especially once the 200Hz emphasis is removed.

Hope some of that feedback is useful – and thanks for letting us all hear your version!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Mix 52


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to Quick Links

Critique: Lots of really creative effects treatments here, which is always fun to hear!

In common with many other competition entrants, your overall mix tonality feels a bit underpowered sub-80Hz, with a bit too much 130Hz into the bargain. The bass in particular could do with more real low-end information to support the harmonic instruments in general, given that this is singer-songwriter material where the harmonic progressions are important to the musical momentum. You’ve got decent small-speaker translation on that bass part, though, which is good in terms of bringing through the melodic interest of the part for mainstream listeners. The stereo picture has a decent width to it as well, so no complaints there.

What strikes me most immediately about your mix is that the groove seems to be ‘swimming’ a bit, rather than propelling the track forward as I’d hope. There are a variety of reasons for this, I reckon. Firstly, there’s a general issue that if you mix tracks that have lots of off-beat information loud in the mix, it’ll usually tend to make the groove as a whole drag psychologically, so I’d question your choice in making the electric rhythm guitar and hi-hat as prominent as you have. Perhaps you could just thin out that guitar and take a bit of the edge off the hi-hat to shift more focus onto the on-beat elements such as the kick and snare. The fairly ambient sound of the kit as a whole exacerbates things slightly, as do the kick/snare/hat flams when they occur, of course. But in addition, the delay effects, while stylistically appropriate in abstract terms, feel like they’re taking a bit too much of a front-seat role. To an extent you’ve clearly tried to mitigate this by choosing some tempo-related delay times, but given the live-band nature of the recordings even these don’t always synchronise that tightly with the dry sounds. I’d suggest just being a bit more judicious with these effects: choosing which parts really justify them most, and perhaps using them only sporadically, rather than in such a blanket manner.

Another concern I have with the effects is that they’re already densely packed for the opening Verses, which leaves the Choruses and Reintro/Outro with nowhere to go. Again, backing them off earlier in the song could therefore potentially improve your long-term mix dynamics. I’m in two minds about the effects spins after the Mid-section. Again, in principle I like the creativity of them, but I do question their purpose: fundamentally, does that gap actually need any embellishing? As a gap following the thickly-textured Mid-section, it’s already a dramatic arrangement move, and the delays actually detract from that, as nice as they are. Effectively, you’re obscuring the band’s original mix dynamics, rather than enhancing them, which instinctively feels like a risky move to me. I do love the spacey effects on your Chorus 3 guitar part, which give it a tremendous sense of depth, although I do wonder whether the impact of this would have been increased had the mix as a whole otherwise been drier at this point.

The Hammond’s a bit of a question mark for me too, because I reckon it’s perhaps a little thin-sounding in context, which again contributes to my impression that the Choruses and Reintro/Outro don’t really arrive strongly enough. Of course, the problem with filling out the low midrange of the Hammond is that there’s a danger of woolliness in the mix as a whole, so I might take some of this energy out of the bass guitar and rhythm guitars, perhaps, and maybe even the lead vocal too – or at least control the singer’s low end a little more assertively.

Speaking of the lead vocal, the timbre has a slightly crusty/lo-fi element to it. I don’t have any problem with that within the context of a reggae/dub stylistic reference, but in this instance I’d query it a little given the artist’s mainstream and singer-songwriter leanings, which would seem to me to point to a slightly more natural and intimate tone. You could still have crusty-sounding effects to keep the stylistic influences, but I think it would play more to Hannes’s stated preferences if the dry vocal sound felt a bit more natural. Beyond this, the stability of the vocal level does suffer at times on account of Hannes varying his vocal delivery – the switches between the falsetto and chest-voice moments in the chorus stuck out for me, for instance. That said, the vocal tone as it stands does seem to mitigate some of the low-frequency variation elsewhere, which is no bad thing. One further small thing as regards the vocal balance: the final “therefore own my heart” feels like it’s very distant. I imagine it’s because you’ve balanced the vocal for that section based on its ad-libbing function, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fade it up for the final phrase to refocus the spotlight on the star for the final frames of the film, so to speak.

Hope some of that feedback’s useful – and thanks for posting!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Mix 53

Herb Felho

9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to Quick Links

Critique: As I’d expect from you, Herb, this is a very confidently balanced and processed mix! What was unexpected, though, was the wealth of creativity you’ve brought to bear, which brought a big smile to my face at various points: the cool wah solo guitar, that flown-in watery processed whistle, the super-close Chorus 3 guitar/congas drop, the full-sounding Outro mob-vocals… all reasons to be cheerful! There’s really very little to criticise, to be honest, but here are some ideas:

  • Although I love your creative arrangement decisions here, in terms of fulfilling the mix brief you’re perhaps in slightly risky territory, because you’ve moved quite a long way from the band’s original guitar sounds, and that whistle effect messes with the pitch clarity in a way that might raise some eyebrows. I like these things a lot personally, but I can imagine the band might feel differently! 😀
  • I love the clarity of your lead vocal tone, but I wonder whether it could have a touch more warmth to it, given Hannes’s stated references and generally slightly crooner-style delivery. It just seems to get a little thin when he hits his chest voice in particular.
  • Your vocal balancing is exceptional – one of the most impressive aspects of this mix to me, in fact, because it was something that pretty much everyone else struggled with to an extent.

Hope some of this is some help – and congratulations on delivering such a strong competition entry!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: Herb Felho post.

Mix 54


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to Quick Links

Critique: Nice warm lead-vocal sound and plenty of nifty effects touches here! Strong balance, sensible overall tonality (maybe a little less 130Hz?), and decent stereo width too, so this is clearly a strong contender from the start. Some specific thoughts:

  • That fill before the second chorus is one of my favourites of the whole contest – it seems so natural, and yet it still catches you by surprise the way the drums drop out and there’s that suspicion of reverse-envelope guitar. Wish I’d thought up that one myself! 😀
  • The cymbals feel like they get a bit overbearing during the Mid-section. You might get a more feel-good effect if you favour the Hammond and backing vocals more instead, and then drop down a little further with the arrangement (or at least the effects levels) for Chorus 3.
  • Nice communal ‘group get-together’ vibe for the Outro. This was a section transition that foxed a lot of people. but you get a nice payoff here by making good use of the mob vocals, claps, and Hammond.
  • The snare feels a bit underpowered by comparison with the kick, so the Reintro doesn’t quite deliver the rhythmic drive I’d hope. Similarly, I reckon that fabulous fill would probably have been even more compelling had the snare tone been meatier.
  • I love the depth implied by the effects on the whistles and mob vocals before Chorus 1, but it’d have been further enhanced if the Verses in general had been a bit tighter by comparison with the Choruses and Reintro/Outro – something that’d also have helped improve the long-term dynamics.
  • The vocal balancing’s reasonable, but the low-frequency variability is still making that vocal fader a bit unstable during Verse 3, and the switches between falsetto and chest voice in the Choruses are also reducing intelligibility more than I’d hope.
  • It sounds like there’s some kind of slow vibrato on the Hammond during the final fade-out, which makes it seem like the instrument’s tuning is drifting. It doesn’t bug me elsewhere, but I’d be tempted to avoid that potentially unflattering final impression using automation if possible.

Thanks for posting!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: plasticdish post.

Mix 55


7MB 256kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to Quick Links

Critique: Nice natural timbres here, with tasteful balancing and stereo imaging, and well-judged effects treatments. Some specific suggestions:

  • The mix tonality could do with a little less 130Hz, and more sub-80Hz energy, especially from the bass guitar, which supports the harmonic progressions of the music more strongly in this respect, given the singer-soungwriter aspect of this music.
  • The kick drum is out-gunning your snare in the balance. This isn’t a problem most of the time, where they play together, but robs the groove of drive during the Reintro and Outro sections, and undermines the impact of the snare during some of the important drum fills.
  • In general, I wonder whether the kick and snare are underbalanced in relation to the rhythm guitar and piano. It’s not that it makes the groove drag (as this kind of balance does in many other mix versions here), but more that it feels like the mix as a whole lacks power and punch.
  • I like the tone of the lead vocal in a general sense, but the balancing could do with more detailed attention, both in terms of level automation, and in terms of evening out some of the tonal variation within the raw vocal recording itself. Hannes is the star, so it’s vital to maximise the transmission of his lyrics and performance details.
  • Although I like that you’ve respected the multitracks as provided, I think you could also engage a little more assertively (especially within a competitive situation such as this) with some of the arrangement concerns of the production as it stands: the similarity of the Verse 1 and Verse 2 textures, for instance, or the relegation of so much new instrumental material to the Outro section.

Hope some of this is useful – thanks for getting involved!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Mix 56


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to Quick Links

Critique: Blimey, this is another totally different vision! I can see the argument for leading with the bass and lead vocals here, as those are both amongst the most interesting parts musically. That said, the guitar licks also seem to be coming through clearly enough, and in general the small-speaker translation feels pretty decent. The lead vocal balancing is quite solid too, which is something many other entrants struggled with. I’d maybe question balancing the hi-hat as loud as you have relative to the kick and snare, as it seems a little unnatural that way, from the perspective of an acoustic kit’s balance at least.

The overall tonality feels a touch heavy in the 130Hz region, and also seems to lack some upper-octave ‘air’, not least because of the curtailed HF extension of the deliberately retro vocal tone, but I like the stereo spread, especially of the Hammond sound. The effects provide a good sense of blend and a certain amount of depth, but I did think that the solo guitars could have done with some treatment with a little more tail – they feel rather stark as they are. The effects in general also seem quite static, which undermines the long-term dynamics somewhat. Despite that, however, you’ve managed to get a decent lift into the Choruses by virtue of your balancing choices supporting the music’s inherent arrangement. I wonder whether you’ve perhaps overcooked the master-buss compression, though, because the bass seems to be pumping some of the other mix elements, and I feel like you’ve sacrificed a bit too much definition on the kick, especially when the mix texture gets denser during the second half of the song.

The main issue for me, though, is whether you’re best serving Hannes’s mix brief. The first major concern is the vocal tone. With singer-songwriters it’ll always be a little risky going for an obviously unnatural ‘retro’ timbre unless it’s been specifically requested, but on top of that you’ve chosen a very strong modulation treatment that distances me emotionally from Hannes as a singer, and the story he’s telling here. I’m all for being bold at mixdown, but I think there’s a danger of alienating the client if you immediately stray a long way from his natural vocal sound, especially if this is the first mix you’re pitching at him (as in this case). The second concern is that the bass-heavy balance is also taking us away from the kinds of proportions one might expect of a more mainstream sound, so again it’s a little bit of a hostage to fortune. The rather retro Hammond and snare/hat tones may also be a bit too much of a good thing. What I mean by this is that there don’t seem to be enough elements in the balance that suggest ‘mainstream’ sonics, which means that there’s not much to contrast against the retro vocal sound, so it’s tricky for the listener to be sure that the mix is deliberately retro (within a modern context), or just ‘dated’ as a whole. It’s a difficult line to tread, I concede, but I think you could do more to bring out the ‘modern’ elements of the sound and thereby set the retro elements in better relief.

One final little niggle: it’s a shame that you’ve left the ending rather ragged, with those abrupt cutouts on the Hammond, bass, and guitar. Fundamentally, it’s rarely a good idea to leave the client with a final impression that’s compromised in any way, especially when it’s not too tricky to deal with using a few judicious fades.

Hope some of those views are useful – thanks for sharing your version with us!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Mix 57


6MB 239kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to Quick Links

Critique: This is a really thought-provoking version, because you put the material in a very new perspective. For a start, there’s masses of creative work going on here, especially the way you’ve made use of hard edits as a production hook on the solo guitar lines and Hammond. This reminds me of the kind of thing that really appealed to me on first hearing Mirwais’s productions for Madonna back in the day, and there’s no denying that it demands the listener’s ear. I also like that it’s a way of making the existing material more attention-grabbing without having to add new parts for the purpose. The downside, though, is that it’s introducing an EDM/electropop stylistic cue that has no real precedent in the raw multitracks. I’d understand taking this ball and running with it if the band had already experimented a little with such edits, but I think you’re on shaky ground here otherwise, because it begins to make your submission sound more like a remix than a mix.

And then there are the tempo changes – it looks like everything but the Verses have been sped up slightly, which is a cool subliminal trick to attempt here. I have to say, though, that I’d not personally ever hazard this kind of thing with an audio multitrack like this, simply because time-stretching can cause all sorts of insidious tonal and transient-smearing artefacts. I wonder whether this might be the reason for my getting a general sense of ‘hollowness’ about the timbre, for want of a better word, almost like there’s a touch of static phaser over the whole mix. It could also be on account of the overall mix tonality, which seems rather lacking in true midrange around 1kHz, while also having an excess of cloudy-sounding 200-400Hz energy, particularly on the lead vocal, making it congested tonally, as if it’s suffering from some kind of unpleasant low midrange resonance. These charasteristics conspire to make the mix feel rather muffled despite no lack of high end on the rhythm guitar, piano, and hi-hat.

Your Hammond sound is quite a statement, and gives it a very different character than in many other mixes. While the thinness of the timbre does have a certain ‘shock value’, there is a functional concern I have with that sound choice, because it means that it doesn’t fill out the Chorus and Reintro/Outro texture as you’d hope from an arrangement standpoint. This leaves you relying more on the piano to support that lower midrange region in those sections, which draws a little too much attention to its rather unnatural programmed timbre. It also puts the Hammond into competition with the hi-hat in the upper midrange, giving a slightly fatiguing overall mix tone, particularly during the Chorus 2 and the Outro sections.

There’s plenty of effects action going on too, but some of it does feel a bit like overkill, especially the heavy vocal treatments and the solo-guitar detune effects during Verse 3. The problem is that it’s making the production as a whole feel a bit too artificial, which seems to me to undermine the basic authenticity that you’d hope for from a mainstream singer-songwriter like Hannes, given his stated references. The master-buss dynamics feel over-squeezed too, so there are some unmusical gain-pumping artefacts during the Outro in particular, and a general lack of punch from the drums during the choruses. In this respect, your reliance on the very low end of the spectrum for the kick-drum doesn’t work in your favour, as the impact of that drum typically resides more in the midrange. The low midrange cuts to the snare reduce its sense of punch too.

Overall, I like a lot of your creative ideas, but I’m left with a general impression that you’re processing too frequently and too heavily on the whole. If you spend more time at the outset getting the strongest balance you can with just faders, pan controls, phase buttons, and high-pass filters, I reckon you may find that you have to do a lot less processing and effects work in the end to get a full-sounding and coherent final result.

Hope some of that’s useful – and thank’s for sharing your mix with us all!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: Islander365 post.

Mix 58


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to Quick Links

Critique: An interestingly ambient version this, and with an appealing wiriness to the bass tone and some cool wah tones that I’m a sucker for! Love that little suspicion of reverse-envelope effect before the guitar entry in Verse 2 as well – not only is that a great bit of ear candy, but the trippiness of the guitar effects there in general make good sense from an arrangement perspective in terms of keeping the attention of the listener during the repeated Verse texture. Nice to hear the vocal well upfront too, as you’d hope given the brief, although in light of the fairly rich high-frequency energy in general I’d probably do a bit more de-essing to prevent it feeling too fizzy. As with a number of mixes here, the 130Hz zone seems a bit too well-endowed, whereas the bass guitar could do with more real weight in the sub-80Hz zone to support the harmonies. Even though you’re using the stereo image sensibly, it does feel a touch underwhelming overall, so I’d probably widen the Hammond or the odd effect return to make things a little more widescreen, as mainstream singles tend to trade heavily on their width.

The snare feels rather thinned out by comparison with the kick, and while this doesn’t affect the combined ‘kick plus snare’ sound, it does make the kit feel bottom-heavy whenever they’re not playing together, such as in the Reintro, Mid-section, and Outro. I do like the way you’ve incorporated the hand drums with the drum kit, although the low resonance of the main conga part does feel a touch overbearing on some hits (a small EQ notch can easily rein that in) and the editing clicks are a little distracting at times too, especially during the intro. The higher-register Hammond feels quite thin timbrally, and that undermines the arrival of the later choruses for me, because there’s less textural contrast across the section boundary. Also, because there’s not much low-midrange harmonic warmth left in it, the Mid-section feels rather aggressively percussion-led, rather than like an expansion on the Chorus texture. The ride and hi-hat stick transients get a little tiring on the ear as well from the Mid-section onward, so perhaps some kind of tape-emulator might be worth using to slightly smooth those off.

The delay/reverb effects use feels both sensitive and varied, which means we get some good depth. I don’t get a sense of the effects adjusting themselves to changes in the arrangement, which misses a trick in terms of enhancing the long-term dynamics, but this is mitigated to an extent by the differing effects on different tracks, as these help increase the impact of arrangement variations that are already present in the raw multitrack. The vocal balancing is reasonable, but could be improved by evening out the low-frequency variability in the raw recording – you really notice how the level ducks and dives during Chorus 2, for instance, as Hannes switches between vocal registers. The mob backing vocals in the Outro could probably come up a little more, because they feel quite distant at the moment, and I reckon they’d help contribute to a more feel-good ending if balanced more audibly.

Hope some of that makes sense and is useful – thanks for posting!

Read the critique in its original forum context here.

Forum responses: OctopusOnFire post.

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The Shortlist

Following the competition deadline, I asked Hannes and Mixerman whether they’d like to listen through to all 58 final mixes, or whether they’d prefer me to create an initial shortlist – after all, just listening to all those mixes once takes more than three hours, so I wanted to be respectful of their time! After some discussion we all agreed that I’d do an initial loudness-matched shortlist of 20 mixes, and here are the entrants I selected for that:

Special Extended Podcast Episode: Final Contest Verdicts!

In this special extended February 2019 Cambridge-MT Patrons Podcast, I first provided an overview of some of the most common difficulties contestants encountered, demonstrating those points with carefully selected audio snippets from dozens of different mixes. Then I revealed my own top two mixes (from ArmedNDaverous & Herb Felho), before introducing special guest judge Mixerman! We chatted over his general impressions of the shortlisted mixes, as well as delving into some more advanced aspects of mix technique such as long-term mix dynamics. And, of course, he also revealed his favourite mixes too (from ArmedNDaverous & Dell Brush), as well as explaining what revisions he’d still suggest in both cases. Finally, I spoke to Hannes Keseberg himself to find out some more background about the song’s inspiration and recording workflow, as well as to get his reactions as the artist to some of the creative editing, arrangement and mixing moves the different contestants tried. And, of course, Hannes also delivered the final verdict on the competition winner:

Competition Winner (chosen by Hannes): 3ee

Runners Up: plasticdish (chosen by Hannes) & ArmedNDaverous (chosen by Mixerman & me)

Mixerman’s Shortlist Feedback

Further to his comments in the podcast episode, Mixerman kindly provided the following ‘shoot from the hip’ notes he made about specific mixes on the shortlist.

Mixerman Shortlist Feedback: 3ee, Absolem, APZX, ArmedNDaverous, Dangerous, Dell Brush, Devilskater666, Herb Felho, JuanCManosalva, kelsonz, KMuzic, OctopusOnFire, Olli H, plasticdish, pmilani, Skipper, thedon, Thomas Stevenson, tucks


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to top

  • I don’t love the fact that the drums are in an organic room which is then smothered with a hall reverb. And I would say there is too much reverb overall for my tastes.
  • The Mid-section seems almost inverted to me. That section wants to get bigger and more open, and it seems to me like your mix is being held back. Part of it might be because the snare is too thick. And I don’t feel like the kick drum is really loud enough. The kick is just as important as the snare in this song, they hit all the same beats other than the fills.
  • I would dump one of the upbeats. One single electric guitar on the side is all the strength that backbeat really needs.
  • The vocal is definitely too low in the Mid-section going out.
  • The Mid-section is inverted, meaning it seems smaller than the more sparse sections. That is likely due to a plug-in compressor on the master buss. I’m all for compressing the mix, but when the mix gets small in the big sections you lose your lift.


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to top

  • Drums are good, but I find the delay and verb on the snare a bit distracting. All those are doing is taking up space and distracting me from the vocal. Same with the excessive radioed-out delays on the vocal. I don’t understand the decision in the Mid-section to affect the vocals that way, and that brief solo should explode out of the Mid-section.
  • The drums are practically mono. Not a fan of that treatment.
  • The ending doesn’t lift. You made so much of those claps, and it makes the band seem small. Be mindful of these sorts of transitions and let big sections become big. It would be more effective to place the band and big vocals up front, with the crowd clapping behind that.


5MB 192kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to top

  • Super heavy on the bottom. I don’t mind that. It seems like all the attention was placed on the kick and the rest of the drums are almost an afterthought.
  • The vocal level is on point and the vocal is warm and beautiful, but at times sounds a bit woolly to me. I think the entire mix is a bit woolly, in fact, and the rhythm section a bit heavy.
  • The drums crumble at the big sections.
  • The snare is almost all bottom snares, which stick out especially against that dark vocal.


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to top

  • Nice big crash into the Chorus, which opens up a bit more.
  • I think the harmony vocals can be louder, which would give the section a bit more lift. This is true of all the harmony vocals to me on this mix. And as much as I love wide mixes, and commend you for doing that here, I think that in this case, it would be better to bring the harmony vocals in a little and make it feel like the group is together in the soundfield. I often pan harmony vocals hard like this, but sometimes it works better to place them closer to the vocal. In this mix, it seems like you’re almost trying to hide them. You can make them a little louder.
  • Nice use of the width with the panning overall. It’s so much more interesting to listen to a mix that has things coming from different places in the stereo field.
  • I think you can turn up the mini solo out of the Mid-section a little.


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to top

  • Nice drop before the first Verse.
  • Guitars are too loud. Especially that backbeat. A little goes a long way when it comes to backbeat. I think if you tuck those guitars a little, you’ll be able to give the vocal less weight and tuck it into the track a little.
  • Bass is the instrument that drives a song like this. You can make the bass part louder. This is the level I would expect in the 80s.
  • By the time you get to the second Chorus, the mix crumbles because the vocal is too loud, the cymbals are too loud, and the track loses all weight. Part of this is the drums get louder throughout the track. You need to deal with that using automation.
  • Once you start to pull the vocal into the track, then you need to spend time making it so that the arrangement stays out of the way of the vocal (especially those side instruments). When the track and the vocal work together, that’s when good things happen for the listener.

Dell Brush

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  • I think the offbeats are too loud and the bass not loud enough or compressed enough.
  • The vocal is super loud on this one too, too loud at times, but the clarity is there.
  • That solo after the Mid-section needs to come way up.
  • I think that you can bring up the Hammond.
  • The Outro isn’t big enough, not on your mix or anyone else’s, but you seem to have dealt with it best. I would probably spend way too much time trying to make that Outro lift more! That said, the lifts in general are working, and overall this mix draws me in nicely.
  • I would bring the cymbals down for the second half of the song. It gets a bit bright by the end.


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to top

  • The Chorus lifts really well in this mix.
  • I wish the kick was way louder.
  • I think the vocal is too loud. The snare fill into the chorus sounds tiny, and then the Chorus the vocal is super loud, and way too dynamic. You need more automation and more compression. You can compress the vocal more without applying audible compression. I really like a vocal to sit rock solid in a mix. This one doesn’t. I would say if you spent an hour clamping down the vocal, you would have a powerful mix.
  • The vocal harmonies can be louder, but part of that has to do with the vocal just getting too loud in the Choruses.
  • I don’t love the delay on the upbeat guitar. Don’t be afraid of space.

Herb Felho

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  • You got the best Outro lift of anyone. Very good mix. If I walked into this as a producer, I’d want to make some changes, but they would be minor. You got the mix working dynamically, and that’s the most important part.
  • The track has good clarity. The vocal is loud but not dwarfing the track. I find the mix overall a bit heavy in the top end. It’s not outrageous. But if you gave that Hammond a bit more low mids and brought the balance of it up slightly, and if you gave the vocal just a tiny bit more weight you’d still maintain the clarity, but it would be less tiring to listen to.
  • I think you should de-ess the vocal more.
  • Hate the vocoder shit. You changed the melody of it. If I was the Artist I’d find that exceptionally annoying!


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to top

  • I think this mix starts out well and carries me through the first Chorus nicely, but then it starts to fall apart.
  • The cymbals are too loud in the Mid-section and the overall brightness of the mix starts to wear on me.
  • The vocal harmonies are way too low, and the Outro isn’t lifting like it should.
  • The Chorus snare is way too loud to me.
  • BUT, you are so onto a great mix because you chose to arrange and mute parts to help the production.


8MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to top

  • Don’t love all the room on the drums. The drums are so jolly with all that room that they just crumble at the Mid-section. This was a problem with many of the mixes.
  • Vocal is a bit woolly.
  • I do like how the mix carries me forward though.
  • The noodle guitar on the right is distracting me from the vocal.
  • More de-esser.
  • Nice lift at the Outro.


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to top

  • This is an interesting take. Dark. The lo-fi treatment isn’t horrible at the front, but it falls apart by the Mid-section, because it’s so obviously a rock part, played like a rock part, with a full kit. It’s almost more of a remix than a mix.


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to top

  • Use more width. The rhythm guitar should be panned hard to the side. Standard. All you’re doing by putting the guitar in the center is placing a competing instrument in the same place as the vocal. So as a result, the vocal is too low.
  • There seems to be a disconnect between the room and the reverb on the vocal.
  • I find this mix overall is way too bright and over-squashed. The big sections are smaller than the small sections, which is what I call inverted. Overall, there just seems to be a bit of a disconnect in the balances. Like it’s almost too carved out in the clarity in one sense, but then it’s got this hollow bottom that doesn’t go with the top.
  • If you’re compressing the master buss, you’re way too aggressive with it. That’s what it sounds like to me, and if it’s a plug-in, don’t use that plugin on your master buss anymore.
  • I’m not trying to beat you up here. The mix isn’t bad. It’s just super bright.

Olli H

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  • Needs more bass.
  • Less verb overall. The backbeat is so swimming in verb that it loses all crispness. It’s a rhythmic part and you’re essentially obfuscating its purpose with this treatment.
  • The drums sound overcompressed and small to me and the overheads are super crisp. It’s lacking in low end beef. As a result, there’s not a whole lot of lift as the mix stays super static.


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to top

  • Way too much reverb to me. Sometimes you want some things to do this. But you have too much reverb on everything other than the vocal. When you put that much space in a mix, you take up space. So you have to pick and choose what’s going to get the reverb, otherwise you completely lose clarity.
  • The placement of the noodle guitar is somewhat ambiguous.
  • Your Mid-section lifts nicely. The Outro does too. So the mix has a lot going for it. But you give yourself away when you try to hide things with reverb. A little goes a long way.


7MB 256kbps M4A  play_arrow | Back to top

  • Sounds like it’s underwater.
  • The Chorus doesn’t lift because there’s almost no contrast between the sections. This is a result of too much reverb and an approach that’s more like a remixer than a mixer. There are times when I will completely flip an approach with the mix, but the lo-fi dub mix approach is revealed at the Mid-section when the drums go rock. That makes this approach not work to me.
  • Nice lift at the Outro where other mixes failed.


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to top

  • This mix is a bit warm and is generally a bit rough. There doesn’t seem to be any automation, and so the mix just falls apart by the time we hit the Mid-section. However, your lift at the Outro is really good.
  • More compression.
  • The drums are noticeably tubby.
  • The vocal’s super dark.
  • I like the concept of the breakdown, but the drums aren’t really strong enough for it in my opinion.


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to top

  • I don’t find anything compelling about that noodle guitar treatment with the audible compression.
  • The mix is very symmetrical. Live a little. Put one backbeat guitar on one side.
  • Vocal sounds good and is placed well until the Chorus where it’s way too loud to me, and the vocal harmonies aren’t loud enough. You are probably looking for some lift. If you use one backbeat in the Verses panned hard and two panned hard in the Choruses, you will buy yourself some contrast. At the moment, there is very little contrast between the sections.
  • The cymbals get louder throughout the mix. Those need to be ridden down.
  • The Hammond is raging loud without any warmth to tamp it down.
  • Your Mid-section kind of works.
  • Overall the mix is okay, it’s just a little bright for me.
  • A little verb goes a long way. The verb you’ve chosen is bright, and I usually choose darker verbs if I have a bright track.

Thomas Stevenson

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  • Very mono.
  • You can really hear the drums flamming in this mix and I find it exceptionally distracting on this track.
  • The post-Chorus solo can come in way louder-


9MB 320kbps MP3  play_arrow | Back to top

  • The kick is arguably as important as the snare, but I feel like this mix needs more kick.
  • I think the reverb is over the top.
  • The Chorus lifts decently. Bring up the vocal harmonies, however, and it will lift even better.
  • Good vocal level.
  • Good transitions.
  • Good lift on the Choruses and Mid-section, but weak lift at the end – although, I think that’s a tough place to pull lift from based on all the other mixes.

More Information About Our Favourite Mixes!

Following the Podcast, I was able to persuade the entrants responsible for each of the judge’s favourite mixes to post in-depth technical details about how they achieved their mix results:

Drum Compression Demystified course from Cambridge-MT