Mixed emotions

Posted on Posted in news, Recording, Technique
My mixing equipment is packed down, waiting for being carried away.
My mixing equipment is packed down, waiting for being carried away.

I made it! My album is finished and delivered to my record company.

Now what?

Well the release is in the beginning of February.

I said, now what?

Well it’s no exaggeration I’m having mixed emotions. Mixed like in a mixed album, and mixed in the way of feeling overwhelmingly happy, relived, proud – and empty, Not to say, a bit scared, and all the things you can feel between the positive and negative and those feelings you can’t decide on.

I got a last minute help with the last backing vocals needed for the last song, by Andreas Magnusson, who crumbled into my wardrobe under the stairs, and made an as-usually-solid-delivery with minimum time for preparing.

And I locked up the last song and forwarded the material to mastering at Masters of Audio in Stockholm. in the afternoon that day I got the final album back and uploaded it on Deadfrog records uploading portal. And that’s it, now I’m in this big black vacuum full of emotions, mixed emotions.

My mixing has been a long journey. When I first carried my mixing console up to our third floor flat in August, I thought I would be finished in September, how long could it take? Now, with the answer, three months, I’m convinced it could have taken even longer if I hadn’t actively forced myself to draw the line now and then, and that’s the first phase of mixed emotions I’ve had. After hearing a song a hundred times listening to details you don’t normally recognize if you’re not mixing, tends to make you confused.

It makes you jump between thinking it sounds great to thinking it sounds crap. And after getting to a point when you got the most in place but not really the best you think you can do, you’ll soon be stuck in tiny details making imaginary difference, and you still get annoyed about the detail you did before you tried to work it out. And then you realize you might hear it in your mind – and there we go. That’s when you begin to question your judgmental  ability, And then it doesn’t take long until you doubt you mental ability too.

After trying to cope with this situation for a while – in vain – I started to recognize the signs of it before ending up sinking in the mud. And I just accepted that I had to call it a day. And most of the time, the day after everything sound normal. At least a lot better than it felt the day before.

As you could read earlier this year (Inventory if equipment), I have a lot of vintage studio stuff for my mixing. It’s good, maybe not great, but things I really know how they work. Along the way I ran into an old vintage mixing console on for sale and decided to make a move. This new one is a Hagström, analogue heavy piece, with fantastic preamps and eq. The sound just was so much better already before I even had started to work the hundreds of knobs that could work the sound all over in any direction.

My original plan was to mix through my 8 channel Tascam mixer, and get it out through my digi002 sound card with eight simultaneous outputs. But now I wanted to benefit from the twenty channels in my Hagström mixer, and I bought an adat-interface making it possible to add another eight channels to the system. Now with 16 outputs from my sequencer in my computer, I could use the last four to effect returns, from my two lexicon multi effect racks. But I never got more than one of the effects run properly, so I only used two returns. That was just fine, since two of the channels in the mixer didn’t work anyway.

When mixing, I used the equalizer in the console, of course. But the built in compressors were obviously suited for live-mixing and didn’t work that well for studio compressing. Because of that, I only use compressor plug-ins in pro-tools. And since I only used one reverb, I backed up some with the plug-ins there as well.

When having all that settled I only huad to perform good mixing…

I had some struggle deciding on the right prioritizing. Of course, after recording a lot of instruments, and having everything planned in a certain way in your head, you want everything to sound like it. And ideally, you want the listeners to hear everything of you those details. But however well you think, and actually mix, you have to let some elements take the lead in the sound.

One is of course, the vocals. They have to be up front in the sound-scape, which I found difficult because of hearing yourself is difficult. But that’s where the story is told, so I had to get used to pushing up my own voice in the front.. The runner ups can vary, depending on each song, or the quality of every instrument, or just taste. I normally search for what instrument, or instruments, can drive the rhythm forward and trying to highlight them together with one signature instrument, that can be varied in volume throughout the song. In general, higher in the instrumental parts and lower in verses and choruses. And the rest is color and back beat.

For my album, I have often let the drums define the rhythm, while the acoustic guitar got a bit more in the periphery than I had planned. Because, quite early I found the electric guitars more suitable with the drums I had recorded. In many of the songs (you can hear it quite well in both The entrance and Waiting for christmas to pass) I recorded a slightly back beat electric rhythm guitar, giving the drums more power in keeping the beat.

If you compare to our old Hanif recordings you can hear a quite significant difference (for instance in I feel better now). There we had a strong driving in the acoustic guitar, and we decided to build everything around that. And when mixing then, we found the hi-hat and acoustic guitar being in conflict of driving, why the drums ended up quite low in the mix. When making it completely different now, when I’m on my own, I feel the sound really moves to more power, and rock n’ roll, even though I rarely have any electric guitars with distortion on the entire album. But, frankly, the beat is on.

After putting my voice up in front, and making a groove working between the drums and the back beat electric guitar, it was time to find place for the signature instrument, or should I say, feature tune. That varies in my songs. Sometimes it’s an electric lead guitar, sometimes the backing vocals and on some songs I had steel guitar. In those latter cases I could push it up quite roughly to the front, and I realized that I didn’t need to vary the volume at all, since the takes were already made to fit in the song, letting the steel guitar play un the gaps where there are no vocals. That’s what happens when you work with a professional like Gunnar Frick – he just knows where to be strong, and where to hold back.

But even if I had wonderful musicians helping me out, some nice stuff to make it sound great, mixing is really not a walk in the park. Like any creative work, you’ll sooner or later get to the point where you have to draw the line and decide you’re finished, and just accept it won’t get better if you just work even more on some details you can’t here the difference from. The listeners don’t know what darlings you’ve killed along the way, or what great bombastic idea you couldn’t make all the way through. They can only hear what’s there in the final mix. And if that sound good, leave it there.

But that’s just the rational side of me talking, my heart is anxious as hell. So now I guess, I have to carry my stuff away from our living room and start living in it. I need to go on, and work on how to reach out with the album. And whenever in the future I may be ready to write more song, and even record them, that must just be another story.

Now I’m just waiting for christmas to pass, and reach the release in the beginning of February. I’m dying to get your response on it.