Mixing and Mastering Daniel Ho's “Come See Her Smile”

July 19, 2011 8:20:48 PM PDT

Six-time GRAMMY® Award-winner Daniel Ho is a composer, artist, multi-instrumentalist, and audio engineer who has crossed many genres in his twenty-year career. Returning to his earliest musical influences, Daniel has found great success producing acoustic and Hawaiian music for his indie label, Daniel Ho Creations. In this Producer’s Corner, Daniel explains how he used UAD Powered Plug-Ins to achieve the warm, natural tonal character of “Come See Her Smile,” off his album, Simple As Sunrise.

Creating a musical recording involves a myriad of subtle, almost indiscernible, decisions. Music, like many forms of creative expression, is subjective—there is no right or wrong. Lessons of experience and awareness provide a basis from which to make “sound” judgments.

I believe that in order to genuinely realize an artistic vision, it's important to see it through from beginning to end. We start with the choice of a note, then determine its place in time and duration with composition and arrangement, what instrument should play the note through orchestration, and how it should be performed, whether with a bright or dark tone, or loud or soft dynamics. The techniques and equipment used to capture the performance further contribute to the quality of the presentation. The final sonic treatments, mixing and mastering, balance and enrich the sound. This ever-evolving process establishes how listeners perceive the music we create.

Understanding each aspect of these intriguing musical concepts requires a lifetime of study, and I view each recording as a representation of where I am in my musical development. With regards to recording, Universal Audio has made accessible to audio engineers a level of sound quality previously unattainable without tremendous expense. The warmth and fullness of their vintage and analog emulation plug-ins are particularly well-suited for digitally recorded acoustic tracks. “Come See Her Smile” is a recent project I produced that utilizes many of Universal Audio’s UAD-2 Powered Plug-Ins.

I work in a genre that’s miles from the mainstream, which allows me some flexibility with regards to presence and volume. Because our releases are entirely acoustic, my goal is to present every instrument and voice as naturally as possible. I try to avoid obvious frequency exaggerations, maintain reasonable dynamic ranges, and strive for detail and clarity. I don’t employ sonic treatments that can be identified with a certain period (an obvious example would be the massive reverb snare drums of the 80’s) because it can often take years for a song on a small indie label like ours to see the light of day!

The sonic variations of the 710 Twin-Finity™ Tone-Blending Mic Preamplifier & DI Box are essential to our recordings. The tube side of this preamp is particularly effective in rounding out bass tracks, and the solid-state side, combined with small diaphragm condensor microphones, produces a pristine acoustic guitar sound. With more casual, spoken vocal performances, I favor the solid-state preamp for detail and articulation. If a singer is belting, I like to drive the tube for a warm, saturated sound.

Vocal Treatments

I shaped the vocal sound for “Come See Her Smile” while recording “Nothing Compares 2 U” for the end credits of the movie, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

The FATSO™ Jr. / Sr. Analog Tape Simulator & Compressor Plug-In is a natural fit for vocals and the Tranny function adds warmth and fullness. I use the Neve® 1081/1081SE and 1073/1073SE Classic Console EQ Plug-Ins on practically every track in a mix. In this case, I used the Manley® Massive Passive EQ Plug-In for wide and gentle touches of equalization.

Mixing Drums

When I’m mixing drums, I strive for just enough snap to articulate the groove but not an artificially sharp attack. FATSO Jr. was an essential key to creating a full, analog-sounding drum track. I only applied it to the kick, snare, and toms, and retained the pristine highs of the digitally recorded cymbals. I used the Neve® 33609 / 33609SE Compressor Plug-In to give the drums punch and body in the low-mids.

Using FATSO Jr. and the Studer® A800 Multichannel Tape Recorder Plug-In to place instruments in either digital or analog realms provides us with a wide palette of sonic choices. I like the contrast of using both in a mix.

Sculpting the Acoustic Guitar Sound

The Precision EQ Plug-In did an excellent job of transparently balancing the guitar sound. I used the Teletronix® LA-2A Classic Leveling Amplifier Plug-In to even out the sound a bit more, and the Neve 1081 for presence.

Final Mastering

The SSL G Series Bus Compressor Plug-In managed the density variations in the arrangement of “Come See Her Smile” nicely, and the Precision Maximizer Plug-In contributed presence and a more saturated sound. 

Before engaging the Precision Limiter Plug-In, I go through the tedious process of lowering the level of individual attacks instead of allowing the limiter to do this for me. This preserves the sharpness of the attack as well as the rest of the music that would be affected when the limiter is engaged.

For more music by Daniel Ho, visit www.danielho.com. 

Song Credits: “Come See Her Smile”
Writers: Faith Rivera & Daniel Ho
Publishers: Lil’ Girl Creations & Daniel Ho Creations (ASCAP)
Drums: Randy Drake
Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Piano, Mixing, & Mastering: Daniel Ho

— Daniel Ho