Reader Spotlight: Dan Dybing Fights Human Trafficking

2013 Sep 23, 2013

Today’s reader spotlight is a huge encouragement to me and I hope to you as well. TRR reader Dan Dybing helped write, record, perform, and mix a song for Breaking Free, an organization that helps victims of human sex trafficking. The song (and accompanying video) is powerful and serves as a great example of how anyone today can help affect change for good in this world with a professional sounding song, all made with stock audio interface preamps and an in-the-box mix.


The Studio Setup

Dan (the guy singing the hook and playing piano in this track) produced this track on his iMac running Logic Pro 9. Vocals and acoustic guitars were recorded with a Blue Kiwi microphone, into the stock preamps on his Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 interface. All other sounds were stock VIs running in Logic. The song was mixed in the box in Logic using plugins from Waves and the stock Logic plugs.

The song started with the piano loop.  Very simple pattern, but it was enough of a platform to build on.  I wanted there to be a “there’s something more coming” feel throughout the song, with choruses that drop down instead of build-up, to eventually lead to the big payoff- the bridge. – Dan Dybing

 This sounds like a total home brew track to me. The guy starts with a loop, uses stock virtual instruments in his DAW, records vocals and guitars with one mic and the stock preamps in his interface, and finishes the mix in the box, including mastering. Just goes to show what is possible with the typical home studio setup these days.

Mixing With Vision

When Dan emailed me about how he mixed this song he said something that was simple but profound.

As with any mix, but especially this one, having a clear vision before even touching the faders, was critical. I wanted the mix to serve the song, not the other way around. – Dan Dybing

Instead of randomly turning virtual knobs and moving faders Dan wanted to establish a direction, a plan of attack before moving on with the mix. This sounds simple, but I think it’s a huge reason why his mix sounds good. He knew what the mix was supposed to sound like in his head before he inserted a single plugin.

Breaking The Rules

One of the great things about mixing rules of thumb is that you can break them. Dan did that very thing with his vocal compression approach on the this song. Check out what he says.

The instrumentation on this song is very clean and ‘pretty’ sounding. To contrast that, I wanted the vocals and the drums to sound very aggressive, in an almost vulnerable way.

Using the “all-buttons-in” feature on an 1176 plugin (Waves CLA-76), I hit the vocals HARD with compression, throwing all conventional compression wisdom out the window.  I wanted to use compression as an effect, as much a dynamic controller.

Slamming the vocals that hard meant using the rest of my vocal chain to alleviating some of the not-so-pleasant artifacts that heavy compression can leave behind.  But hey, the song called for smashed vocals, so who am I to complain?! – Dan Dybing

I know that when you’re starting out with mixing you lack confidence. You might mix tentatively and try to follow all the suggested tips and principles. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the more you mix, the more you begin to work like an artist: you try things and take risks.

Dan heard an aggressive vocal sound in his head so he used the compressor to crush the vocal. If it didn’t work, he could start over, no big deal. Be confident when you mix. Experiment.

Using Music To Help People

I think part of what makes today’s reader spotlight so special is that not only did Dan create a fantastic sounding track with typical home studio stuff, but he has a deeper purpose for the song than purely sonics. He has a “why” driving the song creation.

I’d like to make clear that I stand to make zero monetary gain from this video. I [just] feel the cause is worth spreading. I hope you’re encouraged Graham by what your efforts help create. – Dan Dybing

When we have a deeper purpose behind our music, whether it’s to cheer up people, identify with someone’s pain, or help promote an organization such as Breaking Free, then we have a stronger drive to create excellence with our stuff. I think it fuels us to do better work.

When I see readers like Dan not just making great music, but fueling hope for people, I’m encouraged and driven to keep churning out articles and tutorials.

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