The Making of VX1: Mixing and Mastering
This is part 6 of the process in The Making of VX1
My Role in the Mixing/Mastering Process #
Bill Hare did the mixing and the mastering for this project. I asked Bill to mix and master this project because, in my experience, mixing acappella is just really tough. Much of this is due to the same reasons we split percussion into multiple tracks; the frequency range of the human voice is quite wide for a single instrument (especially when we include beatboxing), but it is still pretty narrow in the context of creating a full track. Combine this with the fact that we record all these vocals as a mono channel, and it’s just difficult to put it all together to create a strong sense of space. Generally, acappella has a strong amount of eq, compression, and other effects to achieve this kind of feel, and I don’t really have the expertise to do this in any kind of timely manner.
I think maybe a good way to explain this is comparing some of a rough mix to a mix from Bill.
But long story short, my role during mixing and mastering is as the producer; making final decisions around direction, and soliciting/processing feedback.
Getting Feedback #
Getting feedback is vital throughout the ENTIRE production process. I started gathering feedback from many friends starting towards the end of the arranging phase of my album. However, during the mixing and mastering part of the process, it becomes my only responsibility and my primary focus.
And, basically, the more people who give feedback, the better the song will be! Ask as many people as you can! Bill recommended that I have 20-30 people listen to a each song at MINIMUM. This is because when we are looking at what to focus on, we are really looking for trends in comments, rather than specific feedback.
When I ask for feedback from friends, I generally send them a
FEEDBACK.txt text file to use as a template, and have them fill it out and send it back to me. My
FEEDBACK.txt looks like this:
General Notes ============= This song made me feel... Something I really liked was... Something I would change is... I listened to this song on [ headphones | speakers ] Line Notes ========== 0:00 - The song started! 0:20 - This feels too busy. There's too much happening at once. 1:05 - The lazor sound here is very cool! Make sure to keep it! 0:43 - I got bored here. 1:53 - I can't hear the lead vocal here.
I will then save all these feedback texts. I name them with the person’s name and the version of the song they listened to. Ala:
Pay Attention 2.02 - Ben Feedback.txt.
Once I have all the feedback I asked for on a particular version, I consolidate it into notes to give to Bill.
Applying Feedback #
Basically, at this point, we want to sort through all of our feedback, and decide what actions to actually take.
As I mentioned before, we are mostly looking for trends on where to focus, rather than focusing on specific advice. When specifically asked for advice, most people will be pressured to “say something”, so they will likely write a bit more than what they think is truly important. So a lot of this consolidation process is about filtering opinions, hence, why we are looking for trends.
One other thing to note is that everyone’s opinions should have equal weight. Bill told me that “expert” opinions by themselves can hurt a track, if they aren’t diluted by more lay opinions. After all, we’re not trying to write music that only musicians can appreciate. Even the large professional Hollywood films have focus groups to get the opinions of the normal people.
The other feedback I consolidate into this is what I hear from my own listening. Usually, this is feedback that I give when my vision of the song isn’t quite in sync with what Bill is thinking. Generally, this is something along the lines of “I didn’t mean for this instrument to be so loud”, or “I really want to feature this instrument during this section”.
So usually, my mix feedback is a consolidation of those trends + some of those more specific vision details that I didn’t necessarily get feedback about. I send it back in an e-mail and/or text file.
Example: Pay Attention
Here’s my consolidated feedback for mix 1 of “Pay Attention”
General Notes =========== Didn't have much notes for this one. Sounds great to me! # Mix Notes 0:09 - m5 - could we bring down `22 Clock Tick 1s` just a touch? 2:17 - m67 - I don't really like my tone on `39 Held Pad F`, was just trying to add shimmer on top. Could we either bring down the top note in this chord down, or filter it? 4:27 - m129 - I think I still like `23 Outro Exhale`, but I'm thinkin it should be much quieter. # Cuts The biggest feedback I got was more around arrangement, where people felt it was a bit too repetitive. That was somewhat intentional; I was hoping to daydream a little during this song, but it seems like I took it a bit too far. So let's try to get rid of some of the excess "Pay Attention to me's" to make it a bit more engaging. These are the cuts I'm thinking: m49 - m56 (1:40-1:56) m81 - m97 (2:46-3:20) Basically after cuts, you would hear "Pay attention to me": - 4 times in the first chorus (cut the last 2) - 2 times in the second chorus (cut the last 4) Still not entiiiirely sure about the extra 2 repetitions cut in the second chorus, but I wanna see if anyone notices in the next mix. Thanks! - Ben
For this particular “Pay Attention” feedback, the big change that was “trend oriented” was the cuts. A lot of feedback on this song was that it ended up being quite repetitive. There are different ways to solve this (in The Problem, I had similar feedback during the arranging process, and solved that by changing the vocal percussion line during the bridge). In this song, though, I just made cuts. The other, smaller, changes I asked for in this case were more my personal asks in this case.
This is the basic way I received and applied feedback on these different songs. We worked through mixing in this way until it was around 90% done. At that point, we had an in-person session to fix a lot of the very specific small things that were either difficult to explain over e-mail, or needed more small iterations and explorations. We also did the mastering while I was in-studio.
Note: I will include some of my feedbacks on different mixes in each song’s session walk-throughs, once I get those up.
Song Order #
By the time we had an in-person session with Bill, we had already discussed song order. So during our in-person session, we did do some minor adjustments to transitions between songs that were always meant to be paired. I had based this song order off feedback I got from friends (I sent some of them the full album, once we had decent mixes of the whole thing). Here’s kind of the idea behind track order, though…
- Charlatan Days – I really liked the idea of starting off the album with this song’s intro. All the pitch-bending and glitchy-ness signaled that this was not just “straight acappella”. And the song has good, big, energy. My biggest worries were that this song’s lyrics were a bit negative, and that maybe midway into mixing is when I realized the intro sounds a lot like “the lick”. At that point, it was kinda too late though haha.
- Sweet Honey – This is the “biggest” song. So I put it in the spot where you’d usually put the album single.
- S.U.S. – I liked that this is in the same key as Sweet Honey. Also, a good rhythmic/energy variation.
- Highwire – I always imagined this song following up “S.U.S.” with the kick-powered tempo switch.
- The Problem – This is mostly there as a change-of-pace. Give a break from all the up-beat stuff.
- Everything – I consider this as the intro to “Fired Up”. That’s basically why it’s here.
- Fired Up – Time to go back to up-beat! This was the other song I was considering leading the album off with. In the end, I didn’t want to because the song is more “standard”.
- Pay Attention – Mostly this is just here because I didn’t want to close the album with it…
- Getaway – This one was the hardest to place. It felt like it should come later in the album, since it’s a chill vibe. However, I liked the idea of putting it earlier in the album, in a way to say this album could be a “Getaway”. Ended up putting it at the end for the vibes. Also, it loops well back into Charlatan Days, which is nice.
Once we have a master, the album is done! Then it’s just a matter of the non-music stuff (album art, and getting it in the hands of the people)!
Finally, we are at the end! Onward to Art & Distribution!