I got to sit in on a mix session with Michael Brauer1 in (I wanna say it was) 2000. This is before Gearslutz and Youtube, and his ABCD parallel bus compression method was a very new concept (to me) and kinda blew my young mind. Now parallel compression is the norm with a mix knob on most plugins, and while it’s nice to see a trend toward dynamics returning to mixes, one of the places I find the whole parallel trend lacking is in the realm of distortion, harmonics, and analog simulation. As good as digital emulation of analog gear has gotten lately, it’s not perfect and the shortcomings really start to show themselves when you try to use those effects in parallel. The mix knob on the Soundtoys Decapitator is a prime example. You get some cool nasty-ass torn speaker sound dialed in and as soon as you turn the mix knob things go flat real quick. So here’s a quick study on creating harmonic energy during tracking before you hit the digital realm so that when you go to mix, you’ve got some phase-accurate creative shit to play with.
Let’s talk about Esteban’s snare.
When tracking the band Good Field for their album Surface Tension, I knew they wanted a live off the floor sound with some bleed and uncombed hairs, but we also wanted it to sound really tight and powerful. Drummer Esteban Cruz wrote an intro drum fill to the first track, Necessary Feeling, that’s this bitchin’ snare and rack tom bit that drops the rock n’ roll in the best way. I wanted the snare sound huge and dirty but not unnatural or overly processed or stylized. We tracked to 2” tape and what I wound up doing was getting a good, thick, natural sound on the snare that the band liked, then multed it out to an 1176 and routed that to an adjacent track on the tape. So track 2 was the clean snare; track 3 was the 1176 snare. The 1176 snare wasn’t compressed – the box just has a shit ton of output on tap so I kept the input chill and cranked the output to overdrive the tape machine and saturate the tape. I recorded Esteban playing the song a bit2 while monitoring in repro off the tape. Doing this I could dial in the exact amount and flavor of saturation on the dirty snare by adjusting the output of the 1176. Too much got all square-wavey which was cool, but not appropriate or particularly musical. I decided on a pretty crunchy but not too over the top sound, knowing it would wind up playing a supplemental role to the clean snare in the mix.
After getting the take and some overdubs, I dumped the 2” down to Pro Tools3 and had my clean snare and dirty snare sitting side-by-side, perfectly phase aligned and sample-accurate, and could mix or process them however I wanted without having to worry about things getting blurry or wierd. In doing so I was able to get a big dirty snare that retained all its original clarity and transients. In case you missed that hyperlink above, here it is again4: https://youtu.be/z-ofEG6uYGU
Obviously there’s an infinite number of methods and applications for this sort of thing and I’m not re-inventing any wheels over here, but I really believe it’s important to think about mixing from the very beginning when you’re first mic’ing things up; and to frame thinking in terms of musicality and not just coolness when it comes to harmonic distortion.
And thus concludes the tale of Esteban’s snare. Check it on the fabulous second track, Ordinary People, as well. Thanks y’all!
- Sumday is the perfect marriage of lo-fi indie production and super slick, sexy mixing. His voice on that opening track? Uuuuggggghhhhh…. ↩︎
- without headphones – apparently playing in real time against tape delay from monitoring in repro isn’t “cool” or “fun” ↩︎
- fuckin’ Pro Tools ↩︎
- video by Cody Ground ↩︎