Today’s post is the first from my good friend, Sam Ellringmann. Sam comes to us from Germany where he enjoys making music, long walks along the shoreline, and holding hands with his lovely girlfriend. Haha.. I’m kidding, but seriously! Sam has written a great article for you guys and I’m excited to feature it here on the blog.
Take it away, Sam!
You’ve probably heard the saying:
“If the chorus ain’t banging, you left people hanging”.
Or not. – I totally just made that up 😉
But it’s true: In most genres, the chorus is the most important part of the song. The chorus is what sticks with people, what they remember and what they’re looking forward to the most when listening to a song.
This is especially true for modern Music: In genres like Pop, EDM, Hip-hop, and Rock.
Have you ever looked at the masses in a club? When is the time will they start dancing and jumping around like a bunch of crazy people? – That’s right: AT THE CHORUS.
Now imagine the chorus didn’t have that kind of impact. Would people still love this song and want to listen to it over and over?
– Not likely.
If your chorus is weak, don’t expect your song to be successful.
Now there are many aspects of what makes a great chorus. Great lead melodies, singer, lyrics, arrangement…most of the things I just mentioned are handled during the production phase of a song.
But what can we do as mixing engineers do to ensure the chorus will blow people away and make them fall in love with the song?
In this article, I want to share 3 techniques that you as a mixing engineer can apply to your songs to make people jump out of their seats when the chorus hits.
All of these techniques are easy to implement and A-list mixers like Manny Marroquin, Serban Ghenea, and others are using these techniques every day.
Unfortunately, I don’t see too many of my fellow mixing engineers applying them. Either because they don’t know about these techniques, or because they are under-estimating the impact they will have on their mixes.
From now on, this won’t be true for you:
You’ll find out exactly what techniques professional engineers use to make their choruses more impactful and exciting. So let’s dive right in:
I want to start with a quote from Manny Marroquin which I believe to absolutely essential to the mixing process and will summarize the techniques shown in this article perfectly:
“Another thing I’ll always do is I always think of the next section. If I’m in the verse, I think of the chorus. If I’m in the chorus, I’m thinking second verse subconsciously. Again I want that emotional shift.”
– Manny Marroquin (Read the full interview Here.)
So how do we create this “shift” between different sections that Manny is talking about?
1. Increase the Impact of Your Chorus With Level Automation.
A great “trick” for adding punch, energy, dynamics (or at least the impression of dynamics) is to automate the volume of your stereobuss.
What I’ve seen David and other great mixers sometimes do is pull the overall volume of the stereobuss down to -1db during the verses. Then, lift the pre-chorus to -0.5 and then let the song explode back up to 0 at the chorus/hook. I love this trick! Experiment with this… Sometimes you may only need to go down -0.5 to get the desired impact.
*Word of caution! This could be your master fader, however, if your DAW is similar to Pro Tools, the master fader may be pre-insert which would change your signal going INTO your masterbus processing. This would make your buss compressors work harder in the chorus and less during the verses. Which could be desired, but probably not. 😉 For this reason, many mixers will use a stereo aux track in Pro Tools for the stereobuss track/fader.
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2. Create the PERCEPTION of a Bigger Chorus by Using Filters:
Now, this article is supposed to be about how we can make our choruses wider, deeper, fuller and more impactful.
But there is a limit to how big we can make something. At some point the stereo spectrum is filled, all frequencies are occupied. Bass and drums are maxed out. – You simply can’t push it any further.
But there’s another way to get your chorus sound huge: By tricking the mind into thinking it’s bigger than it actually is!
How’s that possible?
Psychology! – Let me explain:
Our brain is estimating and evaluating the things around us by comparison and contrast.
Think about it: How would you determine a building is “big“?
By comparing the building to other buildings you have seen before.
If you’ve only ever seen an Indian hut before, you might think: “Wow this 2-story house is HUGE!”. If you’ve seen a skyscraper before – Eh, not so much.
I’ve got one more example. – And it’s about beer! (I told you I was German, didn’t I?) 😉
Have you ever noticed, that a beer will taste differently depending on what drink you’ve had beforehand?
If you’re having a low-quality beer but didn’t drink any other/better beer beforehand, it will actually taste ok. – It’s beer who will complain?
(Your brain will establish this taste as the standard for beer: “This is what beer tastes like.”)
But if you had a great (German!) beer and then drink a shabby one afterward – Ugghh almost undrinkable!
Now here’s the biggie: Try drinking a shabby beer first and then have an awesome German one after that. The German beer will taste SO MUCH BETTER!
– Even better than if you started drinking the good beer right away.
Why? – Comparison!
You’ve established a lower standard with your first beer. In comparison to this standard, the good one will appear even better.
The same is true for music. Our brain will notice changes in sound from one section to another.
If the first section sounds smaller, our brain will get used to it and accept it as standard. (like it does with bad beer)
Then when a huge sounding chorus comes after it, we will notice the difference: Wow, so much bigger!
Now, what does this mean for us when mixing a song?
Should we make the verses in our songs sound as small and miserable as possible to maximize the impact of the refrain?
Of course not! Our brain will also compare our song to other songs that were playing on the radio before.
But we can take away just a tiny little bit and bring it back in the chorus.
Here are some examples how this might work:
You can filter out a bit of low-end during the verses and bring it back in when the chorus hits.
The loss of low-end will barely be barely noticeable and accepted as the standard by your brain quickly.
But when the chorus comes in, you´ll notice the difference. It will sound much bigger than the verse because you created a bigger contrast between the two sections.
Check out David using this technique in this tutorial:
Don’t restrict this technique just to the bass. You could apply this to kick drums or other elements as well.
Our friend Jordan over at Hardcore Mixing recently released a tutorial series where he showed filtering out the body (around 200 hz) of electric guitars in the verses and bring back the full-bodied guitar sound in the chorus. – And let me tell you: It worked like a charm!
I really believe this is a highly under-used und under-appreciated technique by many beginners and intermediates. You might not notice it, but you’ll hear this technique in almost every pro mix and it can make the difference between a decent mix and a great one.
So play around and test it!
3. CREATE A WIDER STERO IMAGE:
I’m sure a lot of you are aware of this technique already:
To make the choruses stand out from the verses, sound wider and more impactful, you can automate your panning positions.
Let’s use the example of a singer-songwriter track: If you are provided with a stereo recording of acoustic guitars (one left, one right), you can choose to pan them closer to the center during the verses and pan them out 100% wide during the chorus.
As we have discussed above, the brain will accept the narrower stereo image as a standard and when the refrain comes in, it will sound bigger in comparison.
But that’s not all of what I want to talk to you about today.
I want to show you a technique that you can use to ACTUALLY make the stereo image wider than you would be able to by simply panning instruments.
And that is by using stereo widening plugins.
But before we jump into the tutorial, let me make a quick note:
The routing system I’m explaining in this tutorial is essential for this strategy to work well.
If you apply a widening plugin to the whole mix by putting it on your stereo bus, – depending on the plugin you use – you might run the risk of smearing your mid signal:
By pushing up the sides, your drums might lose impact or your lead vocal might lose definition, which is probably not what you are looking for.
But by applying the widening plugin as it’s explained in this tutorial, you’ll be able to push width without impacting the middle signal.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about the routing for now, and I’ll explain it in more depth in the tutorial. But the key takeaway is this:
David routes every track in his mixing session to one of these stereo aux busses:
1. All Vocals
2. All Drums
4. All Music
6. All FX
These auxes will then go out to the stereo bus, where he applies the final processing/”mastering chain”.
The important aux for our widening technique is the “All Music” bus:
Every instrument in the song will meet at this bus. But there are no vocals, no drums and no bass sent to it.
So by applying the widening tool to only the “All Music” bus, I can widen just the music without impacting my vocals, drums or bass. – And avoid losing the definition of our mid-signal.
With that, I’ll leave you to it. If you have any questions about David’s routing system please feel free to comment below.
I hope you enjoyed these tutorials and got some ideas how you can make your choruses sound more impactful.
– The best part? You have permission to use your mix of this song for your resume!
What are some of the special techniques you’re using to make your choruses stand out? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
If this article has helped you, feel free to share it with your friends and peers via Facebook, Twitter or other platforms.