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Upper Hand - FAQ by the author - ptalbot - 29-01-2016

Hey there fellow mixers!

Here are a few info about the song that you might find useful when attempting to mix it:


This song is yet another of my attempts to blend jazz and rock and blues and pop, I think it works nicely here.

It started with a simple jazz/blues progression and the vocal melody, and then there's this piece of guitar part that I loved to play because the harmonics sound nice on my Taylor. That's the part you hear in the intro which is really me channelling my inner Steve Howe with the harmonics... Big Grin It fitted pretty nicely with the rest so I worked on making these two parts work together into something that grew quickly to larger proportions...

The song took another turn when I started adding the harmonies which are kind of a pop hook. And then the horns were really something I started hearing in my head when I added the drums groove. For the end guitar solo, I was looking for yet another kind of sound, and when I started noodling around I came up with a few things that sounded like rockabilly, so I dialed a kind of Stray Cats sound and it fitted nicely, adding another flavor to that song for the finish...

I think it should be pretty straightforward to mix, and I'm not too unhappy about my own reference mix TBH.

The arrangement is done so that it builds nicely so it should only be a matter of balancing all the elements when they come and keep the groove going...


The acoustic is a Taylor 314ce, double tracked with a SM81, I think the source is pretty good, but I did work on making that sound light and crisp.
The vocals are tracked with an ADK Hamburg condenser, I've done my best as usual to keep my living room out of the equation using a vocal booth as a gobo to isolate from computer noise, a sofa and a mattress and a SE Electronics Reflection filter. The vocals are not pitch corrected in these sources, so you might want to correct a few bad notes here and there. There's some sibilance, that I've knocked manually in the reference mix.
The drums are Superior Drummer Custom & Vintage SDX
The bass is Spectrasonics Trillian upright
The electric guitars are done with a Variax JTV, into my Kemper Profiling Amplifier... IIRC the solo profile is a Vox AC30, it has some bite to it Smile
The keys are AAS Lounge Lizard
The piano that doubles it is XNL Audio Addictive keys - it's really there for texture more than anything.
The horns section is done with Native Instruments Session Horns pro, so it's just a stereo track
There is a tambourine and a shaker from Stylus RMX
The FX track is a sound from REV that is used as a transition to some sections of the song

Pay attention to

As I said, the vocals are not pitch corrected, so it will most likely need some gentle tuning
The upright bass has a lot of transients, that's the nature of the beast. I think they work great but make sure you keep them in check.
IIRC there is a Tom track that is actually doubling the kick. This is from a preset in the Custom & Vintage SDX that I used as a starting point. I quite liked it and used some of it in my reference mix. Up to you to use it if you find it useful, but feel free to mute entirely if you don't...
The main keys are the rhodes, but the piano double can be used (I know I did but at a very low level) to add some texture to it
The horns are a stereo track, they will probably require some compression, preferably parallel compression and EQ and a healthy dose of room verb to make them sound realistic. I'm happy about mine in the reference mix.
There are 8 tracks of bgvs, the idea being that you can stack them or spread them apart, you can probably tune them thoroughly as well and perhaps add some modulation/stereo enhancement to them.
The song is supposed to end with a fade out. You will hear that it ends abruptly and that at the end the guitar is not that good. I didn't care about re-tracking because it was meant to be a fade anyway. Realy, I don't think the ending will make any sense if you end it abruptly as it is. So either fade out or be creative...

What I would expect

Once again, up to you to take on board any of the hints I'm giving here, as long as your mix is coherent, the balance is correct and the tone elements are all working together to make this work, it will be a good mix.

This should groove and grow, everything in the arrangement has been done for it, all you need to do is to make it shine!
You could probably apply some tape saturation (I know I've used UAD Studer 800 on a lot of tracks + Ampex ATR-102 on the master bus + Slate VCC Neve) to make it warm and organic, a lot of tracks are VSTs so they can handle it pretty well.
The drums should be punchy but dynamic, beware of crushing them, prefer parallel compression if possible (at least that's what I do, I've used a UAD Fairchild in parallel mode on the drums bus for this one).
The song has some pop element to it, so vocals and bgvs should be clear and engaging.

Happy mixing! Smile