Track Focus: Example’s “Kickstarts”
By Mike Senior
This mix has a couple of problems to my ears — check it out on the official site and see whether you agree.
The first thing is that the lead vocals are all multi-tracked to some extent, and most of these tracks are panned fairly hard toward the sides of the stereo picture. The problem with this is that it puts a lot of vocal information in the sides component of the stereo signal, so if you listen in mono (where the sides signal cancels itself out) the vocals take a noticeable step backward in the balance.
Fortunately, however, most of the other parts in this arrangement are also quite sides-heavy, so the vocals only really lose ground to the kick drum, the low frequencies of the bass, and the dull-sounding melodic lead synth, none of which mask the vocal much anyway. However, where the lyrics say, “Start to think it could be fizzling out…” (at 0:30, 1:37, and 2:43) the centre image of the synth arrangement fills out in a frequency range that competes directly with the vocals. Although this doesn’t affect the stereo rendition (the wide panning unmasks the vocals very effectively), in mono the lyrics suddenly get less clear. This could easily have been remedied either by widening the added synth parts or by adding in another vocal track panned centre, but I suspect that the mix engineer simply wasn’t aware of the problem because he/she didn’t check for mono-compatibility.
This production also features heavy gain-pumping of the synth tracks by the kick drum. However, listening to the section where it’s most obvious (2:13-2:40), I suspect that the release characteristics could have been improved — the gain doesn’t quite reset quickly enough between kicks to support the off-beats, but also doesn’t reset slowly enough to feel like it’s making a connection to the next kick hit.
Mike Senior is a professional engineer who has worked with Wet Wet Wet, The Charlatans, Reef, Therapy, and Nigel Kennedy. He has transformed dozens of amateur mixes for Sound On Sound magazine’s popular Mix Rescue column. As part of Cambridge Music Technology, he also provides in-depth training courses and workshops specialising in the documented techniques of the world’s top producers. His new book Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio is a down-to-earth mixing primer that shows how to achieve commercial-grade sonics within real-world project/college setups.
Photo by stuartpilbrow from Flickr