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Mastering Experiment: “But They Do” with the Focusrite Liquid Mix

This post focuses on an experiment with my new Focusrite Liquid Mix, with which I mixed and mastered a song of mine that was in need of polishing.

First of all, I will be out of town until the 19th… meaning that I won’t be making any posts here at TSB until then.  But, I thought I’d offer you something to make up for it: free music!

I recorded this song, “But They Do” with my buddy Rich Waryan in 2006 and never got around to doing a final mix of it.  Last week I picked up a Focusrite Liquid Mix and decided to put it through its paces by using it to mix and master the song.  This isn’t intended to be a marketing spot for the Liquid Mix, even though I’m growing fond of it.

I recorded most of the parts either in Rich’s basement or in his living room.  The microphones were my AEA R92, an M-Audio Luna, and a Rode NTK.  Rich played his Kay upright bass, overdubbing a few parts.  Then he played a little clarinet and I tracked a French horn part (I’m not too happy with the French horn tone, but it was the best his living room could afford).  A rather jazzy set of Ludwig drums were tracked in the basement.

So, nothing too glamorous here mic-wise and space-wise.

Throughout the mix I used models of my normal favorites that I would use when renting out a well-equipped room:  API 550A/B EQ, SSL G series compressors and EQ, Summit TLA-100, Avalon EQ & compression, Neve 1073 EQ.

I have never before had the opportunity to use several mastering-grade compressors simultaneously and I know that it’s a popular technique of the big boys to chain several boxes together, each with moderate amounts of compression.  This produces greater overall gain reduction with fewer artifacts than a single compressor dialed with more aggressive settings.

I decided to try to see how hot I could get this song without degrading the sound beyond my quality threshold (which is pretty sensitive).  It was a challenge to retain the swelling of the strings while preserving volume and transient response.  It’s still not quite up to ‘commercial’ level standards, which is pretty scary but sounds pretty good.

Liquid Mix Variable Mu Model
Liquid Mix Tube Tech LCA-2B Model
Ozone 3 Limiting
Ozone 3 EQ

For the test I used the Liquid Mix’s Manley Variable-Mu compressor at about 1-3db of reduction with medium-slow attack and release at around a ratio of 1/1.9.  That fed into the Liquid Mix’s Tube Tech LCA-2B set to 1 ratio of 1/1.6 with about 4db down on heavy drum transients.  All of this was fed into Izotope’s Ozone 3 with a gain reduction of about -3db in the mastering limiter, a bass roll off around 35hz, and a slight boost from 13khz up to compensate for the darkening of the compressors.

Here is the mastered version: Dan Connor – But They Do

UPDATE: sorry, this particular master has been lost in the shuffle so the above link doesn’t work anymore.  The final master was mastered by Chris Reierson of Rare Form Mastering and can be heard here.

For now I’m releasing the song under standard copyright.  I’m flirting with the idea of releasing a collection of songs under Creative Commons, so don’t redistribute this as this may not be the final master.  Feel free to keep it around if you enjoy it, though.

Here is a clip from the unmastered version (volume set to -.1db before clipping): Dan Connor – But They Do (unmastered clip)

You can hear that there is a loss of ‘air’ in the mastered clip, but overall volume is much better and the transparency is impressive given the amount of compression happening.  Any further and the compression starts audibly pumping.  The Variable Mu model did a great job of reproducing the gentle, transparent reduction that it is known for and the LCA-2B demonstrated the transient response that I love for compressing rooms.   I would feel quite comfortable releasing the master on an album in this condition.

What are your thoughts?? I’d love some feedback on this experiment.

Lyrics:

People drive like they don’t have a soul to keep but they do. And I keep mine for you.
People live like they don’t have love in their hearts but they do.  And I’m loving with you.
People sing like they don’t have a song in their throat but they do.  And they’re singing with you.
People cry like they don’t have a tear in their eye but they do.  And I’m crying with you.

10 Responses to :
Mastering Experiment: “But They Do” with the Focusrite Liquid Mix

  1. Bryan Tewell says:

    So I decided to listen to the song and leave a comment, after reading the post you left after this one haha. Anyway, It sounds great! I’m interested in two things. 1st, how did you get the strings so wide? it sounds really good! 2nd, I’m curious as to what you used the NTK for, just because I personally own an NTK. I’m guessing you didnt use it on vocals because it has a lot of a high end boost that I dont hear. If you did you use it on vocals, then my bonus question is how did you remove that high end?

  2. Dan Connor says:

    Bryan – thanks for listening! heh. The NTK was used for the neck of the bass, the key holes of the clarinet and as a room mic for the horn. I like the NTK a lot but it is a little fizzy sometimes. I often roll off a bit of 10k to control it. I used it to record all the vocals of my album, but now I prefer the more rounded ribbon on my voice.

    I sold my NTKs about eight months ago and I sorta miss them. I had put NOS vintage Telefunken tubes in them, which also rolled off the fizziness a little bit compared to the stock Sovtek.

    The secret to getting the strings to sound wide? Not panning them wide. Seriously, it’s weird but as I said in my stereo image post, the wideness is relative. For this song the only things I panned hard were a scratchy bowed upright bass part played like a cello and the clarinet. The bass part is on the left and the clarinet is on the right. I used room mics extensively with the strings, usually using all three mics in various positions and I panned these mics a bit into subgroups to increase the size of sounds. Each is a little extra voluminous as compared to a mono spot mic.

    To achieve a larger sound with the strings and other elements, I chose three reverbs: a hall from Waves IR-1, a convolution of Lexicon’s ‘Cathedral’, and a woody room sound for the main guitar and vocals. These verbs are all panned to avoid pure center and never hit the left or right extremes. The cathedral is mostly used for the horn and the clarinet to help them sustain.

  3. Bryan Tewell says:

    are the more than one kind of preamp tube you can put in the NTK? The one in mine is kind of obscure if I remember correctly.

  4. very impreseed with the quality of the liquid mix, but more with the composition. Right on!

  5. Zaki says:

    Great post, I really like your place and I would like to add a link to my blog.

    http://zakirostom.wordpress.com/

    Thanks

  6. anthony pittarelli says:

    Hey,
    just stumbled in on this cruising around looking for stuff about the liquid mix. cool stuff kind of sounds like modern bruce springsteen less the vocals.
    great sounds!

    anthony pittarelli

  7. Dan Connor says:

    Thanks for listening Anthony! The Liquid Mix is amazing. I’m going to rely on Liquid Mixes quite heavily for my new studio in the Bay area.

  8. armando montiel ortiz says:

    what settings u use inthe armonic exioter in the ozone ?

  9. armando montiel ortiz says:

    excuseme . .

    Multiband Harmonic exiter . .

  10. Dan Connor says:

    I just use it to brighten up the high-end very subtly on especially dark material, such as the track I used it on in this post. We used some cheap mics that didn’t have a lot of good high-end articulation. It’s not a typical part of my mastering process, as I feel it sizzles and brittles up the high-end too aggressively. Better to use a good linear-phase EQ to boost the airy ranges.

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