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Official production & mix info for Hammer Down
08-04-2017, 09:48 AM (This post was last modified: 03-05-2017 11:39 AM by Blitzzz.)
Post: #1
Official production & mix info for Hammer Down

Before writing a lot of comments with basically the same stuff over and over again I decided to put up a guideline for you. Big thanks to Mike first who is running this site and making all of this possible.

I've read an article about the famous Randy Staub some days ago and a lot of the things he does also apply here. So let us dive right in, shall we?

Who is Randy Staub you ask?
He is a Canadian recording & mixing engineer, and his sound is one of the most recognisable in the industry and often cited as a golden standard in the worlds of hard rock and heavy metal production. Some of the artists he’s worked with include Metallica, Alice In Chains, Nickelback, Stone Sour and much more.

Basic production info:
The song was partially recorded and completely produced/mixed by me. Our singer Carsten recorded himself in his studio, guitars & bass were recorded directly into the interface. We hired Dirk Verbeuren from Megadeth/Soilwork to play the drums, and he recorded his parts on his midi drumkit in his studio. So instead of audio tracks, Dirk sent me a midi file with all the drum data. Besides one or two very, very small changes made by me, I didn't touch his drum parts at all, so they are exactly the way he played them including small tempo variations, weaker hits on the snare and whatnot.

I`ve had a little help from Joel Wanasek and Joey Sturgis from (they both did a one on one mix crit for this song), and after ironing out the things they told me I gave the stems to Ermin Hamidovic who did the mastering for me. Ermin is the author of the Systematic Mixing Guide and a great guy too. If you are looking for a skilled and talented mastering guy, Ermin is your man.

What samples/plugins did you use?
I started with a "Frankenstein" kit made from different kit pieces from different add-ons in Superior Drummer, but after my mix crit with Joey and Joel I changed my drum sound and used Slate samples instead. The overheads are still coming from Superior Drummer, and I took the room track from Getgood Drums, but all the shells of the kit are Slate samples. I use Toneforge Ben Bruce on guitars, and the rest was just basic compression, EQ and saturation, mostly done with Slate plugins.

Generally, how should you mix Hammer down?
Let's start with some advice from Mr. Staub: “I like to talk with the producer and artist before I begin mixing, to get as clear a picture as possible of what they want to achieve. For the same reason, I like to hear the rough mixes, because people will have spent a lot of time on them, and they give me a basic idea of the kind of balance and perspective that the artist and producer have in mind.” – Randy Staub
In this case, there is a fully mastered version of this song instead of a rough mix, and you can listen to or download it right here:

This is a mp3 from the mixed and mastered version of this song, so it's way better than a rough mix because all the elements of the song are in the right spot regarding volume, panning, balance.

What's important for us (the band)?
Again, Randy Staub has some good advice for you:

"Your personal inclinations as a mixer won’t always align with that of the band & producer. Paying close attention to a client’s rough mix is the easiest way to gain some quick insight into their vision for the track and help you to determine the sonic direction to take it in. The band and producer have probably been listening-to & tweaking the rough mixes for weeks, even months before finally handing the sessions over to you. Chances are: They’re probably already in the same ballpark as what they want the end product to sound like. A mixer’s job is often simply to realise the artist’s vision and try to make it sound clearer, punchier, wider, etc… not to re-imagine and change the entire thing (Unless you’ve been told otherwise…) If the client wanted the final mix to sound drastically different from the rough, they probably would have recorded it differently in the first place!"

The last sentence is 100% spot on: We love the sound of the guitar, bass and drum tracks we created. We don't want you to change this sound drastically. Try to make your mix better, bigger, punchier than the mastered version, but don't change the sound of everything.

The five most important things for this mix:
- The vocals are the stars of this song and by far the most important part. They should be loud and clear at all times
- The guitars drive the song, especially the main riff which you hear at the beginning of this song. Give those guitars enough room but get them out of the way of the vocals
- Try to bring out all the small details from the drums - there are lots of them
- The Synths should keep the song interesting over time. Give them a place in the spotlight every now and then but let the guitars and vocals be the stars in 95% of the time.
- Try to play with the stereo field and dynamics in the verse, bridge and chorus. In the original mix, the verse is quite narrow and has a lower energy, while bridge and chorus have more power and are wider.

Tips & tricks:
- Hammer down is all about creating the right atmosphere for each part. Try to make the verses smaller by reducing the volume of all tracks and/or pan guitars and synths a little bit closer to the middle. Then use wide guitars panned hard left/right to make the bridge and chorus bigger and wider.

- Also, try out small volume adjustments for each part, e.g make the verse quieter and the chorus louder to make the mix more exciting. You can do this either by raising and lowering the volume on the master fader (you have to do this before limiting of course) or by raising/lowering individual tracks like vocals, rhythm guitars or snare. If you automate the volume of the 2buss (again - before any limiting), I would use very small adjustments by about 0.5 dB. E.g the verse sits at -1db, the bridge at -0.5 and the chorus is at 0 dB. That way the limiter hits harder in the chorus and gives the mix a bit more room to move in the verse.

- Synths should be flying atop of the guitars, but they don't drive the song. They are only there to create excitement. The guitars and drums drive this song, and you should always give them the space they need in the mix.

- The main riff (the riff the song starts with) should be as big and massive as it gets every single time throughout the whole song. Think of it as a "reward" for the listener, a part where people should feel the need to bang their head every time they hear it.

- The fist part of the guitar solo feels kinda empty if the hihat isn't loud enough. The hihat can add an interesting rhythmic pattern to the guitar solo, and you should use this to your advantage, creating another source of excitement for the listener.

- The doublebass parts can get messy if not taken care of correctly. You can control the kick with an automated low shelf or use a multiband compressor.

- The background vocals are not good enough to put them in the spotlight. We only recorded them to give the main vocals more beef, but they shouldn't be used as a "hey, listen to me, I´m interesting"-spotlight for the listener. Rule of thumb: as soon as you can clearly hear them, they are too loud.

Mixes from fellow mixers of this forum you should check out:

Have fun and happy mixing,
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08-04-2017, 08:34 PM
Post: #2
RE: Official production & mix info for Hammer Down
Awesome post. I have already got my version about where I like it and making adjustments. My goals was exactly what you stated in here. I didn't want to change your song. Your rough sounds good, but there where some things i felt could be improved on. Looking forward to hearing your feedback after I post it.
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25-04-2017, 11:45 PM
Post: #3
RE: Official production & mix info for Hammer Down
Blitzzz, thanks for the oportunity for mixing this awesome song. From Argentina, this is definitely a great help improving my skills. Sadly I didn´t check this notes before mixing the song, yet I think it went very well, check it out if you want! Cheers!
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27-04-2017, 11:35 AM
Post: #4
RE: Official production & mix info for Hammer Down
This is super informative Blitzzz, Big GrinBig GrinBig Grin
I have been giving this song a wide berth, but after reading this, I think I might have a crack at it. I will reference some similar material from this genre first to help get the flavour and feel.

Thanks again.
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