Making an album with thirty one tracks is all very well, but sooner or later you’re going to have to mix the bloody thing. The recording side of the project brings its own energy – the different players coming in and out, all contributing something different – one cannot help but feel a sense of momentum. That momentum can evaporate pretty quickly once the mixing process has gone on a while though. One can all too easily obsess about a particular piece of a song, the amount of reverb or level of an instrument, only to find that when one takes a step back the whole balance has been thrown off and you have to start again. There have been times when we’ve just had to stop listening, go outside and throw a ball for the dog in an attempt to get our sense of perspective back (and get some much needed fresh air).
I won’t pretend to know anything about Hz or sample rates or resonant frequencies; but I do know that everything has to fit together properly. Mixing is not just about how loud things are in relation to one another but what space they occupy in the sonic landscape. It’s about guiding the listener through the song, making the journey as easy as possible.
There is an undeniable creativity to the process, as well as cold science. Watching Dan fiddle with squiggly lines that represent the sibilance of vocal performances or manipulate the degree to which a bass will shake a car is a fascinating lesson in aural fen shui. After a while, however, the clever stuff gives way to an inevitable whack-a-mole game of “find the noise” – hunting down some tiny little sound that shouldn’t be there – necessitating the soloing of every single instrument one by one until the offending blemish is banished (“ah, there it is… the oboe player sneezed during one of the rests” or “a singer is drinking water between verses… very loudly” etc).
As much as we all like that warm nostalgic sound of tape I’m so glad we recorded this album digitally. There is no way we would be making such quick progress otherwise. People say there is an honesty in the analogue process that is absent from computers, but I believe there is a different kind of honesty in being able to keep things moving quickly – trying things out retrospectively, flicking between alternate vocal takes and shifting sound files around. In the blog about the studio team I talk a bit about the need to choose one’s flavour of honesty; in cases such as these there is the honesty of the moment or the honesty of the intent. I tend to opt for the latter because I’ve never been a purist when it comes to this stuff, the songs are what’s important to me, not studio mysticism.
Mixing is all about clearing a path for the narrative. If a supporting instrument is louder than a lead line then it causes a distraction that can completely ruin the song’s effect, like if a camera is focused on the wrong character in a crucial movie scene – it doesn’t mean one character is more or less important than the other but things start to muddle and the plot doesn’t move along. In bands there is often an ego concern when it comes to mixing, someone may feel that what they’re playing is going unnoticed or that someone is getting more/less attention than they deserve. Sometimes bad mixing decisions are made simply because you can’t be bothered to deal with a sulky bandmate. So in many ways this musical soundtrack has been easier to make than previous records because at its core there is a governing story rather than a governing personality and everyone involved knows they are there to tell that story.
So here we are, taking a machete to the tangled creepers of a musical jungle, forging a path, trying not to get lost or swallowed up by monsters along the way. See you on the other side. Hopefully.
BACK TO MAIN JOCASTA PAGE
Read an article about adapting the myth
Read an article about composing the songs
Read an article about writing the script
Read an article about the studio team
Read an article about recording the rhythm section
Read an article about recording the singers
Read an article about the orchestration
Read an article about recording the crowd vocals
View photos from the Lowry showcase event
View rehearsal photos
Project Overview / Final Thoughts
And here’s a piece about being funded by Arts Council England