Chris Zane is a New York-based producer, engineer, and mixer who has worked with such artists as The Walkmen, Holy Ghost!, and Friendly Fires. In this Producer's Corner, he shows us how he uses UAD Powered Plug-Ins to help shape the sound of a track off of Passion Pit’s latest album, Gossamer, which he produced.
First things first, full disclosure — I'm a bit of an analog gear junkie. I still mix on a 60-channel Neve console, with three towering racks of gear looming around me. So, I have a different relationship to plug-ins than a lot of people. I don't feel like I have to rely on plug-ins, but instead I choose to use them to enhance what I'm already hearing. I was first properly introduced to UAD plug-ins a few years ago by Ed Macfarlane from Friendly Fires; he had been using them to great effect in making his own records. At first it was the reverbs — like the EMT 140, EMT 250, and DreamVerb — that stood out to me, but soon after I became addicted to the SSL E Channel Strip, Harrison 32C EQ, Neve 1073 EQ, as well as too many others to list.
Just because I have so much of the "real thing" in my room doesn't always mean that it's the right tool for the job. I tend not to focus on whether a software emulation sounds exactly like the real thing or not, I focus on if it sounds good. A lot of the records I do have high track counts, which can lead to some submixing in Pro Tools coming out to the desk. Because of that, UAD plug-ins have become an indispensable part of my workflow.
The song we're going to take a look at is a Passion Pit song, "It's Not My Fault I'm Happy," from their latest album, Gossamer. Like a lot of songs on this record, it's quite a dense mix with layers and layers of stuff going on. Co-mixer Alex Aldi and I made sure to focus on how to balance the idea of weight, size, and “wall of sound,” whilst still retaining all the detailed work inside of the song.
First off, here's a snippet of the final track:
Like I mentioned above, there is a lot going on in this track, but I want to look at just a few of the particular bits that I think of when I think back to mixing the song.
Giving the Vocals Space
You can really hear the reverb giving the whole part a wide-screen effect, and the delay borrows from the rhythm that's happening other places. The two effects, when combined and correctly routed, really lift the vocals in this section.
I like the Space Echo on vocals because I think the little amount of tape warble that it has gives the vocals some nice movement. The delay time is just a simple quarter note repeat, but the way it catches the last word of the phrase and the inadvertent ducking effect caused by tons of compression gives it this great upbeat feel. I remember trying a bunch of different delays on this part and trying the RE-201 at the last minute — it was just immediately perfect and sat nicely in the mix.
Here's a clip of Michael Angelakos' chorus vocals dry:
Getting the Right Kind of "Crack" From the Drums
There are a lot of drums on the track — a live kit, stomps, claps, toms, electronic kick, and snare to name a few. Part of the challenge was to get the drums to "find their space.” I didn't want them to be up front, but I didn't want them behind the programming either, so the idea for me, usually, is to find a blend of all percussive elements that create one big rhythm.
For this task, I think it's all about finding the right places to boost and brighten the live kit. For that, I turn to my time-tested and trusted SSL E Series Channel Strip Plug-In. It's a must-have for me. The way that it opens the upper midrange of drums sounds perfect to my ear, and is really where drums are truly heard. I absolutely love it on kick, snare, and toms. This is a great example of its ability to push that midrange to where the drums sound just perfect in the track.
Here are the drums flat with no EQ:
And with the SSL Channel Strip:
Sprucing Up The Synth
Finally, here is a very simple example of a nice arpeggiating keyboard that was just a bit flat when we recorded it. We used the Studer A800 Multichannel Tape Recorder Plug-In to give it some push and the EMT 250 Classic Electronic Reverb Plug-In to give it depth and a bigger space. These plug-ins helped it become one of the defining sounds of the intro.
Here’s the raw arpeggiated synth :
And here it is transformed with the Studer A800 and EMT 250:
I really could on and on about how great I think UAD plug-ins are and how important they've become to my everyday workflow. Between the variety of types of plug-ins and quality in which they capture, it makes me feel a lot better walking into a session where I don't have too many ideas straight away. I know I have these plug-ins in my back pocket.