WHINCOP FOR THE WIN
Getting taught to mix by Manny Marroquin… priceless. Literally.
Wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall at Abbey Road when The Beatles were making Sgt Peppers, or soaking up the ambience of Led Zeppelin and knowing whether it really was the Helios or the Echorec that made ‘that’ sound. Getting that level of first-hand insight into records that shape the musical landscape is rare. You can read AudioTechnology and get the scoop, but being behind the desk with a Mix Master is priceless.
Ben Whincop recently got that opportunity, stationing himself behind the 72-channel Neve console at La Fabrique Studios with none other than mix legend Manny Marroquin for a week. And it really was priceless. Whincop had earned his all-expenses-paid trip to Mix With The Masters by winning a global mix competition — mix a song, any song, as long as it incorporated Marroquin’s signature series plug-ins. Marroquin hand-selected the Aussie from a shortlist of standout tracks, besting almost 500 other mixers from around the world. The final decision coming down to the variety of instrumentation in Whincop’s song, which was an eclectic track by Young Mayfair with live drums, guitar and programming. Marroquin identified with the difficulty factor of getting it all to glue together.
For a week, Marroquin’s new favourite student went to school. “The whole week was just lightbulbs going off in my head,” recalled Whincop. So here’s a few insights Ben picked up a long the way to give us all a secondhand masterclass.
Ben Whincop: One of Manny’s big points through the week was it’s not the mixer’s job to make it sound good, it’s the mixer’s job to make it feel good — the emphasis is on the feel of the song rather than making individual tracks sound ‘good’. A good mix is being invisible. If people get lost in the song then you’ve done your job.
“A big emphasis was on finding your comfort zone. For Marroquin, that’s usually bass and drums, then adding elements around that, flipping the vocal in and out all the time. We watched him build a mix six or seven times during the week, and he’s all about continually coming back into your comfort zone, where it feels good, and eventually get all the elements in.
“Balance first, then EQ and compression. In that order. While watching him mix I was surprised how little compression he was using. It’s all about balance. He focused a lot on how a difference in balance can make you feel and move differently — having what comes out of the speakers make people feel an emotion.
“Manny will spend a little bit of time to mix 80-90% of the song and then hours to mix the rest. The initial balance of the mix is where you capture the raw emotion. We did an exercise where we all had to do a 20-minute mix on the same song. We did it alone in the studio so it wasn’t intimidating at all. The purpose was to demonstrate the raw emotion that comes out when you don’t have time to fiddle. The 20 minutes meant we only had about five passes through the track. That was just enough time to figure out what’s going on throughout the song and then get the faders up to a point where it started to feel good. That was a lot of fun!
“Some of the automation he does to make a chorus feel bigger was interesting. Subtle low-pass filters that punch out for the chorus to make the chorus feel more open. He’ll also automate the width on the master bus (with the Brainworx bx_hybrid plug-in) to make the chorus a bit wider, and also gives the feeling of it opening up more.
“Here’s an awesome EQ tip I picked up: If something is clouding the track — e.g. the piano is clouding the vocal — cut and sweep the frequency in the EQ on the piano but focus on the vocal until you hear the vocal pop out. When you’re EQ’ing, always listen to the effect the EQ is having on other things in the mix.”
And a final tip?:
“Everything ‘as needed’. EQ, compression, reverb and delay as needed. If it doesn’t need it, don’t do it.”