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How do you define the space for the music in a song?
Old 27th September 2005
Here for the gear
🎧 15 years
How do you define the space for the music in a song?

Hi Michael,

First, what a month! I love every single post of yours here. Very insightful and inspiring.

My question is:

How do you define the space for the music in a song?

Do you approach the mix as a physical space from which the music comes towards the listener or an intentional imaginary collage of different sounding spaces on top of each other by way of multiple tracks, artificial fx processing and mixing wizardry? Or maybe a result of a more spontaneous - and probably subconscious - "sounds good to me" kind of approach to the mix?

Since it's not completely about the captured room sound these days, how do you create a good sense of space and place in respect to the song and also getting the psychoacoustics of it all working?

I felt that you are the right person to ask this because in many of your mixes I've felt a strong sense of space that perfectly supports the message or the lyrics of the song thus accentuating the feelings of the listener and making it a deeply felt experience.

How do you go about making the decision about using different effects/toys to achieve a certain kind of spatial feel around the song? How do you define the concept, depth or the size of the mix for the music? Do you instantly have a strong visual image and sense of how a song should sound in terms of space, perhaps analogous to the excellent floating cork example you described in an earlier thread here?

I'm interested in your thinking process in terms of space.

Thanks for your time!
Old 28th September 2005
Past Guest Moderator
Michael Brauer's Avatar
🎧 15 years
Well, I asked for it, now I have to come up with the goods. As I began writing, it occurred to me that I’m not actually thinking about what I do, I just do it. I’m reacting to the song. The best way to approach this question is to ‘reverse engineer’ it a bit.

I get some of my clues from listening to the rough mix and asking questions to the artist. Some like their music dry, some hate delay, some love reverb and delay…a lot. So if, for example, the song is moody and sad, that’s what I’m going for. Are her lyrics going to be believable if I bury her in reverb? It’s not going to sound very intimate, is that good or is that bad? Should it have some reverb that sounds lonely? Does it make me feel the loneliness or does it make her too pop and she hates pop. Maybe at the chorus it would be good to open her voice up because the lyrics dictate it and then for the next verse, I’d go dry. I can use very subtle delays and small room reverbs to enlarge her image without drawing attention to the efx.

Prior to playback mix comments, all decisions made during the mixing process are based on what makes ME feel good. If I convince myself, I’ll convince the listener. Later I’ll address the comments, but not while I’m alone in my own world. Second guessing is of no use to me, I have to trust my instinct and my gut. I’m dead in the water if I doubt my thoughts. Hundreds of questions pop up as I’m mixing. (Does this idea suck? Do I suck? Am I going overboard? Is this angry enough? Is this transition working for me? She hates delays, yah, but this is a good one, I’ll risk it, nothing to lose.) There’s lots of talking going on upstairs.

Everything that is going on, as I’m mixing, is spontaneous and is triggered by recent or past memories of records that have made an impression on me. I want a certain feel, I bring up the appropriate sounds to match that feel. The performance will inspire me to create the soundscape. Over years of mixing, images come up in my mind when I begin to mix and I just follow my thoughts. If a bridge reminds me of a Hall&Oates song, I use it for inspiration. Was it the melody and the arrangement around it that reminded me of them? What elements stand out? (Is it the chord structure, the delays on the guitar, the delay on the piano, the reverb on the piano, the phase on the Rhodes?) What is it about the feel that remembering when I’m mixing this section? I analyze it and then apply it to the mix. A good example of this is in “You get what you give” from New Radicals. Every section reminded me of another song.

A lot of ideas come from artists. They push me in directions that I wouldn’t have though of. That information gets stored away in my memory to be recalled the next time the same type feel is required.

When I’m at home, I listen to old records including ones from Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Perry Como. Would you like to learn how to get a warm close vocal that just makes you feel good all over? Listen to the old recordings of great singers, you’ll see where I got my vocal presence ideas. Learn from the classics.
Old 28th September 2005 | Show parent
Here for the gear
slicraider's Avatar
🎧 15 years
How do you define the space for the music in a song?

When I listen to my Billie Holiday records I often am reminded that close micing techniques are a modern one. The vocal maybe close mic'ed but not so with most of the accompaniment. The space being dictated at tracking in large part. Thinking back I notice a trend of including ambient micing in my tracks. Do you see any of this approach in the tracks you receive? If so how many are useful?
Old 30th September 2005
Here for the gear
🎧 15 years
Thanks a lot!

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