Trash with bass impulse response in Convolve (to simulate amp) on parallel overhead bus
8. “Mult” the snare when the drummer uses brushes
Julian also had a fantastic parallel-snare technique for brushes; I imagine it would work particularly well on a train beat.
“If I have a song that’s got brushes, I may have two channels of the same snare—a ‘mult’ if you will. One of them might be gated to get the backbeat, and the other one will be crushed to within an inch of its life to get the brushes.”
9. Let the song dictate your low end
What about that all-too-important balance between the kick and the bass drum?
“If it’s a four-on-the-floor kick drum,” Julian told me, “it’s a little brighter and smackier than you’d have on a kick playing a standard, straight pattern. You might be able to get more room on the bass down low, and let the kick drum be in that smackey range. It’s a song by song basis with whatever seems to suit the lyric best.”
10. Know when to leave the bass alone
Here, Julian said that “the key of the song can make a big difference. In a lower key or register, where the root of the song is following naturally to the bottom of the guitar, it maybe doesn’t need as much help in the low-end than if you’re up a third or a fifth higher. If it’s higher, maybe there’s a fullness that you miss.” In these cases, he may feed some of the bass track to that parallel amp-simulator drum bus to “add some sub-bass sorta vibe if it needs it.”
On mixing bass for modern country-pop, Julian remarked that “there’s a fair amount of programmed 808-sounding kick drums in the music we do here now, and they can take up a lot of space.”
“If those are prevalent,” he said, “I don’t need to go down there and add all that sub nonsense to the bass because those 808 things are already owning all that area.”
11. Make space for all the instruments
As you might’ve noticed, country arrangements can often get dense. I asked Julian how he handles balancing all the elements, and he agreed it could be tricky.
“I try not to get carried away carving things up EQ-wise,” he said, “but there are certain instruments that are overly rich in frequencies that are not their feature frequencies. You can end up with electric guitars that get too thick; they particularly get heavy where they can battle too much with the bass guitar, so I may have to scoop some low-middle out, still trying to leave some weight.”
Don’t go too crazy though. “You don’t want to take them apart to where they sound puny.”
The same goes for piano too, which “can get enormous. You want to hear these busy licks in certain spots, so you turn it up, but then it starts clobbering everything else. You’ve gotta carve and peel things away EQ-wise or compression-wise to make it speak.”
Here the stereo spread is also your friend. If your instruments are “living in a similar frequency range and doing similar things,” Julian says its best to “get them away from each other as much as possible.”
For example, take two mainstays of country music: the Hammond organ and the pedal steel guitar. These can often fight in the mix, So Julian tries to “find ways to put them on separate sides of the stereo image, so they can poke out when the time’s appropriate. It’s similar with acoustic guitars and mandolins, or acoustic guitars in pairs. Try to get them on opposites sides so you don’t have all of that high-end jangle all in one place.”
Indeed, balance of frequencies is key, so you don’t end up bashing one ear over and over again. “Even if it’s one acoustic guitar,” Julian stressed, “maybe I’ll get it on the opposite side from where the high-hat is living, just to try to get some separation.”
In general, Julian said, “It’s about leaving room in the middle for the vocal, and putting things that are accenting or accompanying the vocal to the side.
Which brings us nicely to the voice.
12. Use Neutron 2 on vocals
As Julian works in Nashville, he is quick to tout the virtuosity of the musicians he sees on a daily basis—which is why he’s quick to be self-effacing about grabbing excellent tones when asked for technique. It was this way when I asked him about recording guitars, and he was likewise demure when asked about mixing vocals.
“A great vocal mixes itself to an extent,” he told me.
But still, a tool like Neutron finds its way into his vocal chain, particularly when working with “singers that are not really linear.” By this he means, they exhibit a timbre “harsh in the midrange at some moments and really thick other times.”