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May 02, 2015 | Nick Payne

Mixing Rising River

There’s a lot that goes into a great sounding recording – good songs, great performances, good recording gear, etc,. But what happens in mixing that brings that all together to create an unforgettable sound?

Glenn Santry at work on "Never Had A Sweetheart". #recording #americana #countrymusic #bluegrass #dearorphans

A photo posted by Nick Payne (@orphan_nick) on

In order to make sure that all the work so far combines together into sonic excellence I have a secret weapon – Glenn Santry.

Glenn runs Heartbeat Studio in Sydney’s south and was first introduced to me by Karl Broadie when we were recording Dear Orphans debut album. Since then I’ve worked with Glenn on everything we’ve done including this solo album. Here’s a little bit about what happened last Tuesday night when we mixed Rising River and how he gets the sound.

The Brain

In the old days the centre of any recording system was the tape player – you’d record all your instruments down to individual tracks on the tape and then play those tracks back through your mixing console to mix them down to two tracks (stereo). The digital revolution has replaced the tape machine with the hard drive and — if it suits you — the computer can replace every single other bit of gear that you used to find in a studio (you can sit on a plane with a laptop and a set of headphones and mix an album these days!).

In this circumstance Glenn and I have opted for a “hybrid” set up — that is, a combination of digital and old world analogue — in order to get the best sound we can possibly create.

So for Rising River the computer and hard drive operated as the tape machine playing the multiple tracks back and out into the mixing console. Glenn dropped a small number of tasty “plugins” onto some of the tracks — mainly very light compression — mainly for the particular sound those plugins added to that instrument. We also automated the volume of some tracks inside the computer – that is, when a fiddle solo came round we made it a little louder and then made it a little quieter again at the end of the solo, etc,.

The Heart

Mixing Rising River. The heart. 1970s mix console. #recording #risingriver #dearorphans

A photo posted by Nick Payne (@orphan_nick) on

Whilst the computer — acting as the tape machine — is the brain of the operation, this bit of gear here is the heart.

Glenn’s 1970s Sound Workshop Series 40 mixing console takes all the tracks from the brain and is used to combine them together into the final mix. Importantly this is where all the EQing happens – that is, the tone of the individual tracks are equalised so each sound sits in it’s own space without muddying up the song and hiding the other instruments. This is also the place that the relative volume between each instrument and the voices are set so that you can hear everything clearly.

The reason for not doing all this EQing and volume-setting — mixing — inside the computer is that we want all the analogue randomness of capacitors and resistors and electricity running through them to impart it’s own “sound” to the mix in a way that 1s and 0s don’t.

The Soul

Mixing Rising River. The soul. Various outboard compressors, reverbs, etc. #recording #risingriver #dearorphans

A photo posted by Nick Payne (@orphan_nick) on

To further sweeten up the sound certain instruments are routed out of the mix desk, through specific sound processors and then back into the mix desk. These “outboard” processors are housed in rack and mainly consist of two types of processing: compressors and reverbs.

Compressors take a signal and they squash it. That is, they make the loudest part of the signal quieter and the quietest part of the signal louder. This evens out the volume of that instrument throughout the song and helps it sit better. One of Glenn’s favourite tricks is to run a sound through several compressors whereby each compresses it just a little bit. This is quite effective in “squashing” sound, but does it much more smoothly than a single compressor that squashes it a lot.

Reverbs are the echo or ambience that make an instrument sound like its in a real room or hall. With this record we’ve been recording the songs in real rooms with “room” microphones set up to capture the sound of the room itself. Because of this we haven’t needed to add much additional reverb, but a little bit here and there in the right places makes a big difference.

Heiroglennics

On a side note, Glenn labels each channel on the mixing console with symbols so he knows which instrument is on which channel. I’m yet to fully learn these “heiroglennics”, but I do know in the photo that channels 13 and 14 are the piano. I think channel 15 is snare and I have no idea what’s on channel 12.

The Sound

Here’s a sneak speak of how Rising River sounded on the night we mixed it.

Rising River... Sneak peak. #dearorphans #recording #americana #murderballad

A video posted by Nick Payne (@orphan_nick) on

Progress so far

Finally, here’s a summary of progress on the album.

As of next Tuesday night four songs from side B will finished. Next step is to record the remaining two songs from side B and then I’ll immediately release that side as a free download. After that I’ll be organising a band in Melbourne to work with me on all the tracks on Side A. I can’t say who they are at this stage, but reassured these boys are pretty wild!

Old Sydney Town has also been sent out to radio during April so keep your ears open for it.

Side B progress:

  • Old Sydney Town – done!
  • Rising River – done!
  • Never Had a Sweetheart – done!
  • Hometown – next
  • A Shipwrecked’s Lament – next
  • Peace Tonight – being mixed next Tuesday night

Thanks for your interest and please download and enjoy Old Sydney Town.

Download Old Sydney Town

And you can watch the video here:

Nick