Getting into the story headspace
Is mixing just EQ, compressors and effects or is there more to it?
For me, mixing is a marriage between the technical and the heart-pulling strings of emotion. The technical is the foundation of what the song will sit on, but the emotion is what actually draws the listener in to experience and connect with it.
Mixing with the story in mind is a completely different headspace to creating a technically good mix; if you don’t have this, you could go on a tangent and the mix won’t line up with the song, regardless of how technically good it is.
If you’ve worked with a mix engineer that didn’t seem to get the vision for your mix, this could be one explanation for that misalignment.
In this blog we'll show you how to understand a song story and help tell it with a creative mix.
So instead of having a geek session and get distracted by all the plugins and what they're doing, let’s listen to the song itself and get into that emotive headspace.
"Nobody's gonna love you" by Briana Tyson
Alright. Get rid of distractions (turn off the lights or wear a blindfold if you have to!)
Press play and have a listen. What do you notice and feel?
Interpreting the song
If this was a client mix, the song interpretation comes from the client in their creative brief, but for this blog I’ve used my own.
So ask yourself:
1) What is the song message, and
2) Is it being highlighted or buried by the mix?
To me, this song is about a person feeling unloved and alone, but then someone comes through and tells them they are loved.
If the lyrics mention something - a topic, feeling or thought - then the music and mix needs to follow suit. So these elements of loneliness and reassurance need to be expressed.
In this case the producer (who is also the artist) has done an amazing job of making the music line up with the lyrical story. So now it’s up to the mix engineer to make sure the listener experiences the message to its fullest.
Let's break it down
FIRST VERSE (0:20)
The opening vocal is dry, isolated and broken. The instrumentation is sparse to match. It’s all a little cold. The inspiration for this feel comes from the third word sung - “broken”.
A fun mixing surprise for me was when the word “pieces” (at 0:40) came out sounding rather broken and in pieces, like glass shattering. In other cases a cleaner sound would have been better, but this sound just reinforced that moment. It was an amazing mixing "hole in one".
FIRST CHORUS (1:09)
Now that the verse has set a tone for the song (one of isolation), the chorus lyrics tell the opposite. The message being "don’t think no one loves you, because someone does". This shift needs to be represented in the mix. The lead vocal now gets surrounded by the music bed and other vocals to make the person feel surrounded by others and that they aren’t alone any more.
From here it’s rinse and repeat… or is it? Not quite!
SECOND VERSE AND CHORUS (1:29 and 2:12)
The instrumentation is fuller. The guitars add a layer of warmth and this warmth starts creating a layer of comfort. The pre-chorus snare drum hits are introduced and hit hard to pull you into the chorus.
The second chorus hits and now the lead vocal is pushing out from the mix, almost shaking the person they are singing to, telling them again that they are loved.
A chance for the song to breathe. This contrasting quiet, distant section helps reinforce the feeling of loneliness and the insular and broken thinking of the person being sung to.
When the bridge switches back to "there is someone who loves you", the track starts to get wider and louder in contrast. This gradual shift introduces a sense of suspense and intrigue.
FINAL CHORUS (3:02)
The last chorus is where it all gets thrown at the listener. The lead vocal is a little recessed again making it feel surrounded. The overwhelming message of “you are loved" confronts and cuts through, reinforcing the message so the loneliness is now a distant memory. Kinda like a loving slap!
And it finishes with a single vocal left fairly dry to bring it up close and personal for that exhale at the end.
And there we have it!
A simple breakdown of song story.
Next time you're in a mix, take a step back and "feel" the song before rushing into it.
Over to you
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