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  • Léo Chupin

Vibrant Rhythms, Fused Guitars: The Rock Mix that Sets Your Speakers on Fire!

how a great mix can propel music to new horizons !

Last year, I mixed "So Hi So Lo" by the Garage/Psych duo "The Balkun Brothers". I'm gonna take you thru the main steps.

I've always loved garage-rock duos like The White Stripes, The Black Keys, Jeff The Brotherhood, Black Box Révélation, The Pack A.D., Crown Lands and so on. Simple and effective: guitar, vocals, drums, big FUZZ, big energy, it's authentic, you can't hide from it!

A big, fat sound

It's always a challenge for a duo, starting at the composition stage and requiring some radical sonic choices!

For example, Jeff The Brotherhood plays "Drop D" on a 3-string guitar with a bass amp, and Crown Lands has a pedal board to play bass notes on the synth. For the White Stripes and the Black Keys, sound culture was at the heart of their music and an integral part of their artistic approach.

The Balkun Brothers have chosen to duplicate the guitar sound to create a bass: the sound passes through a POG pedal to keep only the low strings and is sent to a bass amp. The result is a fairly massive guitar sound, with the bass's usual solidity.

The state of play

"So Hi So Lo" is a bluesy, psychedelic garage-rock track. It's a 6-minute flight of fancy, which alternates between big, creamy heavy riffs, fairly straightforward sung verses and psychedelic flights of fancy with all kinds of soaring effects.

This is a live studio recording made by Telefunken, of decent quality, but with limited appeal.

So we have a guitar/vocals/drums duo, live, without artifice, without production...

The rough cut (no mix, just a quick balance between tracks)

Plan d’Action

The advantage of Telefunken mixes is that there are plenty of more or less professional mixes online. I take this opportunity to listen to them and note their qualities and faults.

The intention is not to shoot these mixes in the foot. We learn a lot by listening to what colleagues are doing, both good and bad. We have to remain humble, because mixing is an arduous discipline that requires a lot of practice, hindsight and experience.

In any case, these mixes are very different from one another, proving that many directions are possible.

There's a lot going on in these mixes:

  • unstructured drums (artificially placed elements) absent kick or, on the contrary, drums too "trigered" (kick and snare replaced by samples) and aggressive, artificial, toms on a different level from the rest of the kit, lack of reverb or unnatural reverb.

  • Guitar too cluttered (phase effect), or too thin, abstract reverb, too compressed, clumsy stage, phase problems, poor spectral balance, muffled sound,

  • voice not strong enough, not emphasized enough.

  • Lack of punch, between parts, imbalance between instruments, missing heart, etc.

  • Problems with spectral balance, dynamics, loudness, stereo placement, depth, etc.

Some mixes have good ideas, elements that stood out and inspired me. The aim is also to do better. Whatever it takes.

Stratospheric Sound Objective

  • I want drums that sound acoustic and natural, powerful and precise with lots of energy

  • an in-ground kick with a nice attack and low end

  • a snare that slams and punches through the mix

  • precise, round toms that stand out well

  • beautiful cymbals, alive and well, but not too crushed (compressed)

  • coherent reverb, a "natural" and live vision (Voice in front, drums behind the guitar, hi-hat on the right...)

  • a big guitar with massive sound on the choruses, but expanded on the psychadelic passages.

  • a strong voice, catching the tension in a steady, lively way. The drummer's voice should also be respected and emphasized, as it brings good energy.

  • Overall: hear the movements of the structure, bring the energy down on the verses and instrumental parts, and get a sound slap when the choruses break through.

  • A coherent, consistent and effective overall balance.

Intense Mixing, Peaceful Mastering

After many hours, here's the result :

I spent a lot of time on the sonic identity of the elements, but mostly on automations to ensure that the track could come to life and evolve without getting boring.

UAD's API channel and AKG BX20 Spring Reverb are must-haves for electric guitars. The PIE compressor from Waves works very well for toms. For spacey, psychadelic guitars, Sountoys' Crystallizer and PanMan are perfect. UAD's FatsoSr is brilliant, perfect for drum overheads and bass.

Beautiful plugins are wonderful, but it's the automations that make all the difference! They bring life, movement, excitement and, most of all, clarity.

Some of my automations (you can see how well the heart and toms tracks have been cleaned!)

Once again, my mixes are very accomplished and quite loud (-12dbLUFS). Very little work is required, and the mastering is there to give the whole thing a little polish. Aided by these two beautiful babies who are now an integral part of my mastering template.

The end result:

The global comparison :

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