The final stage of the recording process is usually referred to as “mixing”. This is the stage where all the different instrument and vocal tracks are combined to produce the final record. In reality, mixing is more like a three-step process: (1) comping; (2) mixing; (3) mastering. In this post, we’ll talk about these different steps and give you a sneak preview of the final audio for The Flood to demonstrate the impact of mastering..
Comping is the process of combining multiple takes of a vocal or instrument into a single “best” track. This step is often used for vocals, since they tend to be made up of isolated phrases that can be mixed-and-matched easily across takes. We did a little bit of vocal comping here and there. Every vocal take is unique and some just end up sounding better than others in the context of the song. The instrument tracks were mostly single takes, and we usually chose the last one we recorded – we tended to stop the recording when we nailed a good take.
Mixing is where the relative levels of each instrument and vocal track is set, along with a whole bunch of other stuff. Panning refers to how much of each sound is assigned to the left or right speaker in the final stereo audio. Dynamic compression can be used to reduce the variations in volume from a sound source and create the illusion of everything being louder (your ears naturally compress sounds in loud environments). Compression was used on the drum kit, vocals, bass guitar, acoustic guitar and occasionally electric guitar to add punch or clarity to some parts in a dense mix. Some degree of equalisation was applied to every track – i.e. preferentially accentuating or reducing some of the sound frequencies to provide a more pleasing sound, or to help carve-out space within the overall mix. Finally, varying amounts of reverb and/or delay were added to each track to add a sense of depth to the sound and create a more natural sound overall.
How long did it take to mix the record? Mixing is a lengthy process and tends to happen over a number of iterations. These days, mixing is usually done using purpose-built software and involves long hours staring at computer screens! Alex would come up with a mix, Matt would provide feedback and then we’d have another go. We went through at least six or seven iterations in total and we reckon mixing took about 14-16 hours (although this happened over a number of weeks). The key thing was getting a good drum sound. Once we had that, it was relatively quick to build the rest of the mix around that foundation. At the end of the mixing process, all the recorded music for each song reduced down to a single stereo audio file.
Mastering is the very last step. This is basically where magic fairy dust gets sprinkled on top to make things sound even better! 😉 Actually, there’s a little bit more to it than that. Skilfull use of multi-band compression is a big part of it and the aim is often to make the record sound bigger/louder. We were lucky to have Andy Gannon working on the mastering for us – he’s a great record producer who has worked with big industry names including Clean Bandit and Rudimental. The clip below of The Flood shows the impact of the mastering on the final mix audio, with the transition happening after about 14 seconds – enjoy!