My good friend and incredibly talented Gospel artist out of South Africa, Dr. Tumi recently came to me for yet another beautiful track called “Fight For Me” and today I want to give you an inside look at some of the techniques and processing I used to bring this mix to life.
Before we breakdown the mix here’s the video Dr. Tumi released about an hour after we finished hitting mix notes. I want to give a huge shout out to my mastering engineer and good friend, Joey Fernandez for slaying yet another awesome master! Also to the insanely talented producer Job Thako and engineer Robin Fernie for making my job easy.
Vision from the Artist
First up, let’s talk about the client’s vision. Dr. Tumi came to me with a couple of references for the direction he wanted to take the song. He wanted a live/ambient sound that still maintained clarity and punch (he likes a big sound). He called me before they got started tracking and asked how they could capture the ambience better for the song and more specifically, the vocals.
My suggestion to capture the ambience being that the band was pre-recorded in studio was to take my rough mix of the band and play it back through the P.A. at the church while tracking the vocals (the vocals were 90% live with only a handful of overdubs to his lead). I asked him to mic up the room so that I could utilize these mics instead of trying to recreate a live sound with reverb in the mix. Real room mics ALWAYS sound more natural and are a large part of the sound for most modern Gospel and CCM albums (Bethel, Hillsong, Elevation, etc).
Here’s what those raw room mics sounded like:
Not bad, right? I thought they sounded great BUT I definitely wanted more size and less clarity from them. Being that I had recordings of the individual mics and instruments (which give us the definition and clarity for the bulk of the mix) these room mics needed to serve as ambience mics so I chose to process them to add size, width, and depth to the track.
Here’s my processing to add size, width, and depth:
Context is everything with mixing so here’s the mix with and without these congregation mics:
Fight For Me [With Congregation Mics]:
Fight For Me [Without Congregation Mics]:
The references for this one varied but here’s a quick breakdown:
- Wait on You by Dante Brown Ft. Chandler Moore
This reference was for the overall vibe and ambience that Tumi wanted “Fight for Me” to resemble.
2. You Define Me by Kim Walker-Smith
This was the reference for lead vocal positioning and texture.
3. The Cry by William McDowell
This one was sent to me with background vocals in mind.
The drums are always my favorite part of mixing because I rarely receive amazing recordings and the tools we have available in mixing make delivering awesome drum mixes a blast for me, personally. That being said, these drums did sound great coming to me and needed only
I was sent a kick in and a kick out mic but felt the kick in mic was enough to give me the sound I was after. Once I gated the kick to remove bleed and tighten things up a bit I was left wanting a little roomy decay so I blended a roomy kick sample to add some natural decay without muddying up the bottom end.
Here’s the raw kick as sent to me:
I chose not to use the kick out mic and instead relied merely on the kick in mic. Here’s the kick in mic processing:
I was happy with the kick in mic in the mix except for the handful of sections where the sound lacked a natural decay. To solve this I simply blended a roomy kick sample. Here’s that blend:
The snare was a combination of the snare bottom mic blended with 5 different yet purposefully chosen snare samples (6 if you count the tambourine sample I added).
Here’s a listen to the raw snare top and bottom mics:
Now check out the new snare featuring the snare bottom mic and my 5 (okay, 6) snare samples:
Next up, in context with the full mix. Here’s the raw snare simply turned up against the final mix:
And finally, the final mix which features my six snare sample blend:
The toms are the live toms with a bit of processing to help shape them into something that cuts a little better and provides some nice roomy sustain.
Here’s what the original unprocessed toms sound like:
Genuinely, these raw toms sound great! However, in order for them to cut through the mix and compliment the ambient vision of the artist I chose to do quite a bit of processing. Funny enough, this is one of the few songs in recent memory where I chose not to do my famous “tom trick” or gate the toms. They’re wide open and I never felt the bleed distracting me from the worship experience and therefore I didn’t gate them.
Here’s the processed toms sound sample:
Bass & Low End
I recently had a great conversation with my mastering engineer and best friend, Joey Fernandez (Smokie Norful, Dunsin Oyekan, Percy Bady, R. Kelly, Jennifer Hudson, Dr. Tumi to name a few) and I asked him what the most common mixing issues were that he had to address in mastering…
His answer: low end management.
I’ve covered bass and low end quite a bit over the years as it’s not only important but it seems to be a huge barrier for up and coming mixers.
Let’s take a look at the raw bass vs my processed bass and then I’ll share a tutorial that will help you achieve a much tighter low end.
Up first, here’s the raw unprocessed bass guitar I received with the files:
Here’s the fully processed bass guitar:
A cool tip for mixing bass guitar is to use FabFilter’s Saturn 2 in multi-band and use the dynamics knob (shown below) to increase sustain as needed per band. Below is a screenshot of my exact settings from this mix.
In addition to Saturn I also have a couple compressors running one after the other. First is the UA LA2A and it’s knocking down 3-4 db at the peaks with the average reduction hovering around 1-2 db of reduction. I also used Kush’s amazing new(ish) plug-in called Silika. Silika is giving me another 4-5 db of gain reduction at the loudest parts of the bass performance but it’s also generating some pretty sweet sounding upper harmonics from the saturation section of the plug-in.
Mixing Low End with the Low End Mixing Trick
As promised, here’s the video I mentioned that will help you get your low end right in every single mix:
The acoustics sounded great coming to me so all I felt that they needed was some EQ to help them sit on top of the dense mix and some compression to even out the dynamics. The performance was excellent but the strumming pattern’s dynamics were a bit too open against the rest of the tracks.
The solution? Parallel compression.
Here’s the raw/unprocessed acoustic guitars (no compression or EQ):
I love the warmth and natural vibe of these acoustics but in the context of the track I felt they were too dark and didn’t sit consistently due to the dense mix.
Now for the processed acoustics:
See below for a screenshot of my go-to compressor when mixing just about anything and the exact settings I used on these acoustics. The actual gain reduction at the peaks was around 7-10db BUT take notice of the mix knob… In this case, it’s set to 65%.
The electric guitars were well arranged and the performances were great. I used some compression, delays, and reverb to help place them in the mix and as is custom on a lot of Gospel that I mix I used some amp cabinet IR’s to change the sound a bit of the recorded tones.
The first set of guitars were the diamond chords (big, long duration chords often raked with a pick). I was sent these as a pair tracked once on the left and then on the right but something to keep in mind when mixing is the overuse of stereo sources. If you give too many instruments the full stereo width you’re going to end up with what we call “big mono”. Ultimately, if you want a wide mix there needs to be differing elements on each side. So I ditched the right side of this pair and panned the one remaining track hard left.
Here’s the before:
I removed the right side, hit it with some compression, added some delay and reverb and this is what we got:
Picked Electric Guitar
A new favorite technique that I’ve been using on various elements in a mix is to hit the instrument with some of Slate Digital’s saturation within VMR called the Virtual Tube Collection. On this particular guitar part I used the New York model (most aggressive saturation model if I remember correctly). See below for my settings.
Here’s the picked electric raw/unprocessed:
In solo it sounded great but in context to the rest of the mix this guitar was dark and lacked sustain. After some compression, saturation, and EQ to brighten it up a bit I felt it sat on top and served its role nicely.
Here’s the processed guitar using the exact settings shown above:
Piano & Keys
This will be the least exciting part of the mix breakdown because the producer and keyboardist, Job Thako is the man! His layers come well recorded and aside from a little compression or EQ touches here and there I almost never mess with his artwork too much.
Here’s Job’s piano before any processing:
I barely applied compression to his piano (1-2 db of reduction) using Kush Audio’s Silika.
Here’s the processed piano settings:
And now for the processed piano sound example:
The Rhodes sound was great as well so it really didn’t “need” anything fancy. However, this is one of the tracks that I had a little fun with being that it was the lone instrument after the band died out around 6 mins (gotta love these long Gospel tracks! Haha).
I say “fancy” but really all I did was add some extra bottom and then automated it between sections. The end of the song from around 6 minutes until the very end at after 16 minutes (yes, you read that correctly) gets some extra love on the bottom end from both a Pultec and Slate Digital’s Revival.
Here’s the Rhodes without any processing:
And now the warmed up and fully processed Rhodes:
Synths, Pads, and Bells
This section I’m going to leave blank because that’s exactly what I did in the mix. Nothing. I didn’t add a single EQ or compressor outside of the Arp synth at the chorus but there’s nothing exciting there besides some saturation and lots of top end. Let’s move on!
BGV’s (Background Vocals)
I have a mix template that I use for most genres and my background vocals buss setup is nothing to scoff at. I’m quite proud of the template and I normally get excited to plop BGV’s into the mix, route them to the BGV’s chain of busses and hear them come to life. This was not the case with this mix.
Do you remember at the beginning of this article I mentioned the artist, Dr. Tumi calling me and specifically talking about making the vocals special on this song? I didn’t realize he meant that he wouldn’t be recording the standard amount of vocal stacks per voicing. I also didn’t realize that he would be sending the live background vocals to me. Live, live… As in the live background vocals from the night of the event. 🤯
Usually, my experience is that the artist will go into the studio and track the BGV’s nice and clean in a controlled studio environment and then they’ll get edited tight, maybe even some pitch correction to appease our spoiled ears nowadays. But no… These came raw and with all the bleed you could ask for. And you know what? I loved it! Talk about talent… This crew can straight up sang!
The only real challenge I faced with mixing these BGV’s was that there were only two tenor tracks, two alto’s, and two sopranos. Usually, I’ll see anywhere from 4-6 of each voicing. I have a few tricks up my sleeve for when I need to make BGV’s sound like there were more singers so… #challengeaccepted
2 Singers Are Better Than One
First, I applied Wave’s Reel ADT (mono to stereo) to each singer using my favorite preset “2 Guitars are Better Than One”. This effect takes the mono source and creates what we call “fake stereo”. In addition to the stereo effect there’s also some nice saturation that gets added (which I backed off slightly for these pretty BGV’s).
Quick tip: You can easily recreate a similar effect using your stock stereo delay. I’ll share the settings below.
My Reel ADT Settings:
My stock delay settings which recreate a similar effect (notice the ms and wet %):
More importantly, how do they sound?
Here’s the BGV’s dry/unprocessed:
BGV’s with all processing (not just the stereo effect):
Pretty big difference, eh? That’s the magic of mixing for ya… 😉
Dr. Tumi is a great singer with a beautiful and unique voice. It’s truly an honor to have now mixed on his last two albums (with more on the way!).
Would you believe that his live vocal is 90% of the final vocal recording? Well, it is. Aside from a handful of overdubs (that I’d imagine were done due to severe bleed in his microphone or his drive for perfection) which probably weren’t even necessary.
Matching the live vocal and studio overdubs to be more similar sonically
The biggest issue with most live projects where there’s a true live lead vocal and a studio set of overdubs is that the mic used for each are very different. A good rule for recording these overdubs in studio is to use the same microphone that was used for the live performance. However, this is rarely the case.
Here’s the solution… EQ Match!
Simply put, iZotope’s EQ Match plug-in allowed me to first capture the sonic profile of the studio vocal before then capturing the sonic profile of the live vocal and matching the live frequency curve to the studio (at least to more closely resemble it). Fun stuff, huh?
Here’s an audio example that features first the live vocal and then a few lines of the studio before going back to the live again:
Not bad, eh? How about Dr. Tumi’s voice?! One of my favorites!
The Almighty Stereobuss
I’ve been writing articles and creating YouTube tutorials for over 7 years now and some of my earliest videos to take off and gain views were my “Stereobuss Masterclass” vids on YouTube. Don’t look them up because I have something way better for you… But first, here’s a look at my stereo buss for this song.
Here’s a sick trick for any of you brave enough to try it… Put Slate’s Virtual MixBuss on your stereo buss and drive the input until the light stays solid red. What do you hear? Any unpleasant distortion? No? Me neither. How about a more limited mix? Yeah. Me too… Which is what I typically aim for nowadays and I’ve been loving it.
My go-to buss compressor for over a couple of years now… I think I hit 1-2 db of reduction on this mix. Sometimes I get a little crazy and push 4-6 db of reduction but that’s only if I’m really going for that SSL buss compressor sound. Otherwise, it stays fairly tame.
A trick used a lot in the dance world is to slap a clipper on your mix before the final limiter. I use this on almost every mix nowadays.
My go-to final limiter and it does the job nicely. Perhaps, an industry standard at this point…
I said I have something better for you than any of my old stereo buss tutorials so here it is: