Originally we had planned to do 4 tracks for this project but at the bands request we ended up recording 6 with them. This was fine but did stretch our production planning to the limit but thanks to leaving quite an amount of contingency time spare, we were able to still deliver 3 tracks fully mixed. The remainder will be completed over the break which the band is very happy with, we may even try for another session with singer Tony to get a better outcome than what we have now.
A few of the songs stood out as sounding quite good already so after having a vote with the band members we decided on ‘Immigrant Song’, ‘Good Times Bad Times’ and ‘What is and What should Never Be’. This would be our biggest mixing challenge yet as while we had finished and delivered Permanent Revolutions 10 song debut album earlier in the trimester, these songs had more depth and many more elements that would be challenging for us. We were a little daunted, but excited and confident as well.
Shay and I spent quite a bit of time deciding which songs to mix knowing we would only have time for three and began with this one as it sounded quite impressive already and was short at 2:25. We thought it the best place to start so that we could cut our teeth on the mixing project and learn some techniques that could come in handy for the longer more involved tacks.
A great deal of initial planning by listening again and again to the original song was undertaken, identifying each instruments qualities, effects likely used and their position on the sound stage. It soon became apparent that whilst we had good recordings, their tones and position in the mix was very different in all three tracks. This was definitely an important learning for us to pay keen attention to the original or reference track well before the recording stage to give yourself the best chance of getting it right up from. For Immigrant Song some of the key elements that would be crucial to our success were:
- Bass really forward in the mix and in front of the guitar for the most part. Really drives the whole track
- Pretty solid reverb and delay on all elements throughout (more than we had originally noticed)!
- Punchy snare and solid kick sound, we would have to work on particularly the kick. Lots of cymbals which we had recorded well using the Glyn Johns technique.
- Vocals were going to be a big part of getting this sounding right as there are several double tracked sections that stood out and also the Ah Ah Ah Ahs which would need completely different treatment than the other vocals.
We set about by addressing the drums beginning with the kick.
As you can see from the settings above we cut everything below 80Hz, boosted at 140Hz, cut to remove mus at 500Hz and then found the snap of the beater at 1.5kHz boosting it there and cutting above 6kHz. This improved the kicks cutting through the mix markedly but now we wanted to add some compression to enhance further. One of the issues I think we had was at the recording stage we had all agreed that the D112 mic sounded better back from the skin so we ended up placing it about 40cm away from the source. This left us with a kick that sounded a little distant but once we set up some compression using the settings below we were happy with the improvements. We also used a limiter plug in and experimented with the threshold which made the kick even more present.
The snare sounded quite good already but we wanted to get a bit more crack out of it like the original so using EQ we bumped up around 500Hz and 5kHz while dumping everything below 150Hz giving it the little edge it needed. Overheads also didn’t require much so we panned them as per the Glyn Johns method left 50% and right 100%. We were really happy with the overall sound we got even right from the recording stage using this method and it was also an authentic mic technique given Zeppelin used it a lot. Once we had added some light compression to the whole drum bus we were completely satisfied and moved on to the bass.
The bass sound proved difficult to get right and as it was such a key element at the forefront of this track, we needed to get to work. We played around with the EQ for a good hour but could not find what we were seeking in the plugins so we decided to use the outboard gear. After all, this track was from 1970! First we put a little compression and used the limiter which gave an improvement in the punchiness, then created a mono bus and patched straight across to the QURE EQ boosting at 100Hz, 200Hz and higher at 3.5kHz.
From there we had our flow head to the Urei compressor and played with the settings there until we settled on a slow attack and slow release with a ratio of 4:1. These setting still allowed the definition of the string hits but really beefed up the sound. Once happy we recorded back to ProTools really excited with the improvements we had made.
We now turned our focus to the guitar which were one of the easier elements to mix in this song. At the recording stage Dan had used his pedal rack which had delay, distortion and compression at levels that suited the song era and unique sound. We had double tracked all the rhythm sections and panned these two takes left and right which provided more depth. We had plenty of mic choices to select from and blended each until we could feel the same tones as the original song. Not much EQ was required with everything below 100Hz being cut and also a little bit taken off at 5k which would let Tony’s voice cut through better. The only extra thing we added was tiny bit of saturation which really gave it something extra. We were happy with our achievements once more!
Our greatest challenge had arrived, the vocals. Trying to emulate Robert Plant at the height of his powers (early 20’s), is obviously a big ask but we were determined to get as close as possible. We had chosen the Slate VMS fat the recording sessions as research had uncovered Plant using the Neumann U67 or U47 and the Slate mic has emulators of these specific mics. It was by using the Slate VMS plug in
that the importance pf the order of the different units was reinforced for us. By having the compressor before or after the mic emulator made a huge difference to the result so we had the compressor first in the flow allowing the full potential of the emulator be realised. This was a key factor we were very mindful of with all our plug ins during the rest of our mixing experience.
We didn’t use too much EQ on Tony’s vocals apart from getting rid of everything under 90Hz, boosting at 200Hz and 4.5kHz. Now that we had the tone about right we turned to tape delay and reverb of which there is no shortage of both in the original track. We used the ‘Reel Tape Delay’ plug in for this purpose and adjusted the settings paying consistent attention to the reference track. Some of the vocal parts had additional and obvious slapback delay as well so we did some playing around and found a ‘Tube Delay’ plug in which had a slapback preset which we used then following it with more Reel Tape Delay with some heavier settings.
We decided after listening extensively that plate reverb would be the reverb choice to emulate what sounds like a large room on the original. We chose a medium plate verb for the main vocals and a large one for the Ah Ah Ahs as they appear deep in the mix in the background. The same reverb was employed for all the elements however the mix of wet and dry was adjusted to where they sounded in the original track.
Shay had made a great decision to have Tape Saturation on the master fader from the first day of mixing and this made complete sense given the vintage sound we were mixing with the modern and that it was definitely going to be used at the end and would affect our choices along the way. Once all our elements were sounding good it was time to get the levels right. As we had done all the way through this experience we listened religiously to our reference track trying to match the levels accurately. When we were feeling pretty good about our mix we went to look for some fresh ears to point out anything we had missed. The overwhelming feedback from students and audio lecturers was really positive with the main critique being the levels of the bass and kick. By dropping these two elements we really brought out the other elements of the tune whilst still having them the dominant feature of the song. We really didn’t lose anything but gained a whole heap.
They key learning’s for me through this mix were:
- A better understanding of signal flow by using the outboard gear again and also the importance of different effects in the signal flow within the DAW
- The importance of really getting to know your reference track before the recording stage as decisions made can be more accurate and cause less issues at the mixing stage
- A greater knowledge of all the available plug ins within tools and their best uses
- A better understanding of delay and reverb and how to best use them in a mix
- A better understanding of the power of EQ and compression
- The importance of seeking feedback and fresh ears when you think you have everything you need. This proved priceless in our experience.
If you would like to hear our finished mix you can listen here