Baby Steps: Mix Commentary, Version 1

babysteps

Please see below for a rare glimpse into my personal emails. And as I told Will, we’re gettin’ there…

From: Nathan Beaver <xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, Jan 20, 2010 at 6:15 PM
Subject: Mix Commentary, Version 1
To: Will Robertson <xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>

Will,

See attached, and thanks for your patience!

Please forgive all the vocal edits for “Shame On Me.”

Looking forward to hearing more!

We’re getting there.

-Nate

————————————————-

Universal You: Mix Commentary, Version 1 (four songs)

General Comments

Piecing Together the World

Standby

Mason Jar

Shame On Me

General Comments

1) These mixes sound fucking great. Great work, sir! Really, really great.

2) There’s something about the Mason Jar vocals that sound “better” to me than the vocals on the other tracks… like they’re more “front and center” than the rest. Is this simply because there’s less going on instrumentally behind them? Or is it an effect/tonal quality that sets them apart? Furthermore, can/should we apply whatever this vocal magic is to the other songs, or is it most/only appropriate for Mason Jar?

3) I LOVE what you’ve done with the backing vocal levels… on my last record, I remember asking the engineer to “raise the harmony levels” on just about every mix. I think I let my love for singing backing cloud my judgment back then, but now I know better – it’s okay and often better if the bv’s are tucked away a bit (as in Standby) or even almost undetectable (as in certain lines of Shame on Me). My point is that I think you’ve got the bv’s pocketed PERFECTLY with lead vocals in each song, and I love it. Thanks! Less is more, less is more.

4) PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT YOU HAVE TOTAL VETO POWER. The below commentary is made up of mere suggestions or things I think I’m hearing, but you’re the one with the real ear. It’s possible and probable that I’m too close to these songs to know what’s best.

Piecing Together the World

1. At the end of the intro (0:37), right on the 5 chord: can you try bringing up the volume on the two acoustic “ca-ching-a-ching-a-ching”s just a hair (and the same at the end of the song, but again, JUST a hair)? Also, when we first tracked those sections at Full Moon, I remember hearing one playback of the intro that featured the first “ca-ching-a-ching-a-ching” softly panned left and the immediately following “ca-ching-a-ching-a-ching” softly panned right – it had a neat waltzy swaying left-to-right feel to it… “ONE, two, three (left), TWO, two, three (right)” and then right into the first verse’s 1 chord… Can you try this in a way that makes sense? Or is this stupid?

2. What do you think about adding a bit more verb to the snare? Or something to make it a little dustier?

3. Maybe bring up the piano a bit in the instrumental bridge, particularly the second half of it? Not to overshadow the pedal steel, which obviously takes the lead here, but to add a bit more weight to this section (especially the 4-1-rest and 4-6-rest parts): “duuuhnnn DUH-duhn (rest)… duuuhnnn DUH-duhn (rest).”

4. Sort of like comment #3: In the last chorus when the band comes back in on the words “DO-ooo” (4:18) can you bring in some stronger piano? Again, just to add some extra weight on these 4-1 chords, on which the band makes their reentrance? I don’t hear any keys here, and I think just a little would go along way on these two beats… the keys are right where they need to be, however, for the remainder of the chorus. It’s just the “Do-ooo” that needs a tad more girth, in my opinion.

5. You mentioned in your email that you were happy with this mix but “still wanted to check the vocal levels.” Do you mean checking the lead and backing vocals relative to each other, or the overall vocal levels relative to the accompaniment? If it’s the latter, I might agree (see “General Comments” above, #2).

Standby

1.  A quick thought: since we lose the real “beat” of the stick click on choruses 1 and 2 as the drummer switches to the toms, do you think adding a light hand percussion would help keep the energy up and help move things along (shaker? maraca? that wooden stick and ribbed tube thing that’s in every Santana song?)? Maybe even extending from the second chorus on through the instrumental bridge (but dropping out again for the third verse)?

2. See # 1 (that’s all I got for this one).

Mason Jar

1.  I should have just played this better, but maybe you can help me achieve the desired effect: the four consecutive “2-chord” acoustic downstrokes (beginning at 0:10) that connect the intro riff to the main 1-6-5-1 progression SHOULD crescendo from stroke to stroke, but I didn’t play it quite right. As it is now, the first stroke is at the correct lowish volume (“implied,” and almost undetectable – great!) and the fourth stroke is at the correct loudish volume, but strokes two and three (to my ear, at least) are of equal volume. Ideally, each of strokes two, three, and four should be a bit louder than the previous one, creating a steady swelling crescendo throughout the four-count measure. A similar problem exists in the songs outro (beginning 3:42)… the four downstrokes don’t seem to consistently grow in volume, rather they plateau somewhere in the middle. I think the solution lies in tweaking the volumes of the second and third strokes in both four-stroke progressions. Can we fix this?

2. I’ve had to listen to the entire song two or three times just to map out the reverbed tambourine pattern. It’s a bit unorthodox, and I love it, but I think we should 1) OMIT the tambo hit at the 1:59 mark (I think it’s a cleaner pick-up to the full-band second half of the chorus without it), and 2) ADD tambo hits at marks 2:09, 3:08, and 3:20 (if these hits are there and I’m just not hearing them, please just leave as is).

Shame On Me

1. The opening pedal steel riff feel like it’s missing a note on the very end. Shouldn’t it have one more note (on the 1-beat of the first vocal line) before falling off? I don’t know… something just sounds a little clumsy to me right around the 0:10 mark.

2. First vocal line of the first chorus (0:38): “This time she’s got me…” The word “time” falls pretty flat. Is there another take of this? Or, since the first line of the second chorus is definitely in tune, can we copy/paste this into the first chorus?

3. Second chorus, second vocal line (1:59): “This time she’s got time enough…” The first word, “This,” is also pretty flat. Is there a better take here? Or should we copy/paste the second line of the first chorus (I checked – it’s in tune) into here?

4. (2:19): “she’ll find me theeeere!” into the bridge — does this sound okay? I remember that was sort of an improv vocal line, but is there a better take of it? Or is it fine? The “there” isn’t quite in tune, but maybe that’s okay here? I would be interesting in hearing another take of it, if one exists…

5. (2:49): These two little acoustic guitar notes were never supposed to make it into the mix. Please omit them.

6. (3.28): Right before the “Ooooooh” I sort of sneak the word “and” (more like “’nd”) in there, almost like I was gearing up for the high note. Can we omit this “’nd” without afftecting the “Ooooooh”?

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