Mixing ‘Zed Leppelin’: What Is And What Should Never Be

The third song we were to mix was not actually one we had planned on recording ,but when the band wanted to begin with it as it was one that would get Tony’s voice warmed up for the harder vocals, we agreed. Unexpectedly, it was one that the band played really well and had good synergy on. The vocals are really right in the middle of Tony’s preferred vocal range and we did the recording of bass and drums in one take, so decided it should stay. The guitar tracking was similar with only a couple of takes required and when it came to the vocal tracking there was also little effort needed to get it the way we all wanted it.

By the time we had everything together we realised that it sounded technically one of the best songs we had tracked, so in retrospect (despite being a little anxious at the time), we all agreed it was a sterling idea to shift from the original plan and record it. Have a listen to the original version below:

The song has some interesting lyrical phrasing with the verse really mellow and reflective with a cool flanging effect then explodes into the chorus with the unmistakable sound of Plant’s vocals in the higher registers. When we had a vote on which songs to mix first with the band, almost everyone reacted positively to mixing this song. Shay and I were especially happy as the song had very different qualities and some interesting effects not present in the others we had mixed thus far.

With two songs completed and literally days mixing in the studios, it was pleasant for us to realise that what we had was actually quite close to the original (minus that typical Led Zeppelin ‘swagger’), as I kept mentioning to Shay every time we revisited the reference track and compared it to ours. No way for us to match that undeniable and distinctive mojo Zeppelin were able to create, but we were going to get close!

We began the mixing process by importing some of the settings we had used in our last mix and whilst this song needed different treatment, we had given ourselves a solid starting point. As with the other mixes, we began with the kick and snare. Comparing our recording with the original, we noticed that the kick was very much back in the mix on the reference. Shay then did something interesting and took the kicks fader right down and slowly brought it up till we found the spot that matched the reference track. In stark contrast, the snare was in a front position and had a decent smack to it which we emulated with EQ and tape saturation (settings below).

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drum bus compression
Compression settings on the Drum Bus

We actually did very little to the guitars as they were very close in the softer versus and just a bit sharper with more grunt in the chorus. As mentioned in the last blog, whilst we wanted to emulate the original, we still wanted a modern vibe and didn’t feel this contrast was an issue. We did also actually do some automation on the guitars towards the end of the song, bringing their overall volume down so that the grand finale had more punch. This worked really well I think.

Bass Reamp
Re-amp mic setup

The bass (which had caused us quite a bit of grief in our past mixing sessions), was like the guitars in this particular song in need of little work. We changed the mix of microphones we had re-amped with however dropping the D112 and the DI, opting to keep the SM57 and MD421 blended with a small amount of the Slate VMS we had used as our distant mic.

Now it was time for some fun and a new experience as neither Shay nor I had experimented with the flanger plug ins and this was a key element to the vocals in the verses of the song. Fortunately we had a visit the day before from our lecturer Rose who explained a little more about how the controls on the Reel Tape Flanger plug in actually affected the signal. After playing around for a quite a while and comparing our results to the reference, we ended up with a slow rate and higher depth setting (read more about how the settings on a flanger work here). We then experimented with how wet to make the signal of the effect on the vocals and decided whist the effect is quite thick in the reference track we would use a little more of the dry signal and ended up at a 60/40 ratio. We were pretty close to the original vocals!

real tape flanger
Our final settings on the Reel Tape Flanger

There is quite a bit of reverb in this song particularly on the vocals in parts so after messing around we decided upon 80ms of pre-delay and a decent 581ms of decay. We then did a bit of EQ boosting around 4kHz and removing everything below 200Hz.

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Unfortunately I had to leave for work before we attacked the panning which occurs at the end of the song (mainly on the guitars). We had planned to automate this but it proved to be difficult and time consuming, so with me gone and missing all the fun, Shay sent the signal back into the desk and did some manual panning in the appropriate sections which turned out to be quite effective in the mix. Well done to Shay on this one!

To conclude, despite having less to do with the drums and bass, this song had perhaps been the most interesting of the three we mixed given the flanging effects and contrasting energy between the verses and chorus. However, ‘Black Dog’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ (featuring theremin), and ‘Dazed and Confused’ are still to come, so who knows! Shay and I plan to mix these very soon so keep an eye out on my report on these mixes and what we encounter along the way.

You can listen to our mix here

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