A great mix isn’t simply good EQ and compression decisions, it’s more about great arranging than anything. As a mixer your job is to make the recorded tracks translate into a compelling and engaging piece of music for the average listener from start to finish. If you don’t currently think this way about mixing, then you really need to start.
Via Jorge Franganillo Flickr
Making The Chorus Sound Huge
I get questions and emails all the time that go something like this: “How can I get the chorus (or bridge/solo/etc) in my mix to sound huge?! What plugins (or trick/technique) do you use to do that?” Can you see what’s wrong with those questions? They don’t address the real “problem.”
If, like in this scenario, the chorus of your song is sounding huge, it’s not a problem of effects of plugins, rather it’s a problem of arrangement. A good arrangement will produce the desired sound you’re after. A super simple example is the classic Nirvana song, Smells Like Teen Spirit. The verses are mello, grooving, and eeire. When it comes to the chorus though, the song is in full out brawl of rock. We all love it.
So what makes that mix sound so huge at the chorus? Louder guitars and screaming vocals. That’s it! The verses have drums, a steady bass line, a melodic vocal, and a clean chorus guitar picking just two notes. Simple. The chorus, by contrast, as a thick wall of distorted guitars, crash cymbals out the wazoo, and doubled screaming vocals by the late Kurt Cobain. It sounds huge, because it IS huge. That is arranging.
When You Didn’t Record It
So how does that help you, the mixer, when you had no control over the recording phase. You didn’t get to tell the band to record the verses quieter and add more tracks in the chorus, etc. The point still remains, you need to think about the song as an arrangement and see what you can add or take away.
If the chorus sounds solid, but not much bigger than the verse, simply remove things from the verse. Strip it down. Mute tracks. Do whatever it takes to create a contrast for the listener. Maybe keep verse one very stripped down, but bring in more elements in later verses. You can of course use automation to force the listener’s attention where you want it, but at its core, good mixing involves simply putting together a compelling arrangement.
Sweeten To Taste
Part of what I do when I mix is go through a “sweetening” phase. This is usually after I have my main EQ, compression, verb, delay and other static effects in place. Sweetening simply means I try to tastefully add effects or even record a few subtle parts on my own (usually with virtual instruments) to fill out and enhance the already decent mix.
If you approach each mix with arranging in mind and allow time for sweetening, you can really pull off a dynamic piece of music that people will want to listen to all the way through. By way of education, take a moment today to listen to one or two of your favorite “pro” mixes and notice just how interesting the mix/arrangement is from first note to final chord. Notice how the verses build and no one section is ever identical with another. There is always something happening to keep the listener engaged. Then go out and copy that!