Vern's Verbal Vibe

Singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and purveyor of folk 'n' roll: spirit-filled sad songs made better.

May 14, 2015

The Thrill of a First Mix

I finished recording last Friday and am now on to mixing. I've started with a few of the easy ones: songs that I'd previously mixed where I had only replaced, say, one keyboard part. The process for these is pretty simple. I fly in the new part and solo it along with the old one, temporarily panning the parts hard left and right, and listen to match volume levels. Once that's done I remix the song, compare the new mix to the last one I did, and nine times out of ten that's that and I'm done. It's kind of like having an old friend in for tea—there's a pleasant familiarity in which things run smoothly and you know what to expect.

A first mix, on the other hand, is something like a first kiss with someone you already know you're quite fond of. Take "Lady Air," for instance. (She is lovely, you know.) For a couple of months I've been adding parts incrementally, shaping the song and arrangement one piece at a time. You'll recall from my previous post that I started with just a click track, lone guitar and me humming. That was back in November. The completed song has drums, tambourine, shaker, handclaps, bass, two acoustic guitars, 12-string guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, organ, piano, harmonica, keyboard tin whistle, doubled lead vocal and two backing vocals ... plus various and sundry reverbs. But because of (a) the limitations of my XP computer, which sputters in the face of too many tracks and (b) the nature of an additive recording process, all I could really hear to this point was a growing collection of individual parts.

That is, until tonight and that sumptuous first mix. Now I hear a song. Sure, I can still "zoom in" and focus on how the individual parts sound, which I'll need to do to create a better mix on the second pass. (Aside: how many mixes till you hit on "the one"? Depends on the song. I think the fewest I've done is four. With the more complex songs, I've made it into the thirties.) But finally, I can now hear the whole and discern what's happening in the big picture. Examples: how does the build work coming out of the quiet chorus? How do the vocals blend, with each other and with the instrumentation? Is the rhythm section in balance?

So, welcome to the party, "Lady Air," and thanks for the heady first-mix experience. I have two more songs that have never been mixed to look forward to as well, plus remixes of this one and four more. All in the space of a few short weeks as I prep for the real mixing with Dave in early June.

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