Need help on Dream Theater-ish mix

Hi guys,

Ive been mixing this song for some length of time now. Its my most challenging mix project so far because of the instruments involved. How is the mix doing? thanks in advance



Hey Hey! You’re getting pretty good at this!

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really? wow thanks :slight_smile:

i’ve been reading a lot of Killer home recording and mixing engineers handbook vol2 lately.

I guess I’ve applied some of the knowledge from those references in this mix. thanks for the boost of confidence @Jonathan :slight_smile:

Sounds really good to me.

That kick is super slappy…not sure if it annoys me or if I like the way it cuts through the mix. The more I listen to it, the more it bothers me. Maybe it’s just my personal taste. That kind of kick sound is pretty common in metal now days. But , is it me or is it TOO slappy.?

Overall, I really like the recording and the performance here. :+1:

Very cool and interesting song! I too think the kick could have just a touch more beef to it. Since you have so much variation in this song, perhaps even slightly different kick tones in each section to give each one its own flavor, appropriate to the other instruments/sounds in that section. I’m assuming the kick sound is the same all the way through, and since it’s such a long song that may contribute to the fatigue of hearing the same kick sound for so long in so many different parts.

That piano transition at 8:14 surprised me, what a change of pace! It’s cool, very “jazzy” IMO. When I first heard it, the timing of the notes seemed a bit awkward. The phrasing seems really good, just the emotion/certainty of the timing of the notes seemed a bit weird. Of course then it takes off again and sounds very confident and energetic. Maybe it’s just that radical shift in performance style that shook me, or perhaps the initial piano notes are intended to be tentative and introspective for effect? BTW, is that a “real piano” or a Virtual Instrument? If it’s a MIDI performance, it just seems that passage (just the few bars at the beginning of the piano) could be tweaked for better flow. If it’s an acoustic piano performance then it is what it is. It does sound like a real piano, so that’s why I’m curious how it was recorded/composed.

Near the very end of the song, the finale(starting 9:40), the vocals and guitars (and keyboards) seem to be competing near the same frequencies, even cymbals add to it in that range. This may apply to earlier sections too. A beefier low end in general, at least in some sections, and less competing (masking) in the upper mids with multiple instruments could give this more impact. Try moving the instrument and frequency focus around, as the continual and long term exposure to the same frequency clashes makes it challenging to listen on such a long song. It’s an epic song, so it should sound epic; tonally speaking. :slight_smile: (create variation in emotion by tonal shifts) The finale has a very Styx vibe to it IMO.

The file you posted ends abruptly before the song is over, it sounds like there should be a bit more.

Hey Brian.

I still standby what I said about this mix being very good.

I just gave it a good listen on my reference monitors. The first thing that stood out was the arpeggio patterns at the beginning of the verse on the acoustic. I wished there was a more wild ambience behind them. (Think Eventide Blackhole, SoundToys Crystalizer or Omnisphere). You already lathered them up pretty good, but the overall sound quality of everything else behind the acoustics is so spot on that it makes the acoustic seem bland when it comes in.

After the line “…heaven and earth start to bleed”, when the guitar changes from picking to strumming, there’s something else playing a riff (I think its a piano)…I’d bring that up a little more. Perfect opportunity to use subtle but interesting delays (if they’re not already on there).

Also, I think the part in the middle part when you have the snare strainer off…remember that’s still a snare. You seem to have approached it as if it was a rack tom. I actually really like the concept, but I think its too dark. But careful because if you brighten it up too much, it’ll bury that synth solo (which is also dark).

I also wish the cymbals were a little wider.

The second time that ‘…heaven and earth’ line comes up, the vocals right after that are buried. Its a bit hard to make out the lyrics "God give sight to the blind??’. Maybe automate the vocal up just in that spot? Everywhere else its sitting fine as far as I can tell. And at the very end of that phrase at that super high note, a crazy chorused out phased out one-off delay throw might sound super cool.

The part after ‘…has been taken away forever’. During that really cool cue where the a gritty gnarly bass drives you for a couple measure…The open hi-hat seems too distant. Its too washed out, and begins to sounds like its not a cohesive part of the drum kit. I think if you just pulled the direct mic forward, or removed some of the verb, it would fall right in place. Ultimately, I think its distracting from the groove a little.

And when you’re bashing the snot out of that China cymbal after (I assume its a china cymbal), I wish there was just a little more shimmer and air on the top of that one cymbal). But you might not be able to get it, depending on how you mic’d the kit.

OooooH…‘every time a homeless child is abducted’. Have you thought about doing a low-fi distorted radio transistor type effect there! ?? :smiley: Just during that one pass where you’re sort of doing a couple spoken sung lines? Maybe run it through ‘starving and poor…(though) struggle’ Just a suggestion.

Brian, this is not golden must-do by any means, but if you skim thru here, you might find some stuff you could try specifically on the cymbals for that track.

This sounds great Brian.

About the only thing I feel is that when the music gets really layered with lots of synths, strings and vocals, there is a very slight build-up happening around 110hz, 170hz, 480hz and 820. I think you might be able to extract a little more polish and separation from the mix if you could further control that - being super-picky, though.

I.must really blow as an engineer as I seem to disagree with just about everything the others have told you. I’m sitting here listening to this wanting to high 5 you for killing this mix. Please don’t listen to anything I have to say. But I would like to at least play some devils advocate to explain why I at least disagree with some of what you’ve been told just so you understand why.

I dig the kick. Instruments will always be subjective. The question here is how is the mix translating? See, people trying to produce the tune while not just accepting it for what it is based on your decisions. I know…I need to shut up. This is why I stay away from these threads. I’m too opinionated about other peoples opinions. I just sometimes hate a voice for the sake of a voice or opinion when something is just done well.

Wide cymbals…it’s an accent instrument, not something that needs to be wide to where it has more identity. Wide cymbals = mix disconnection to me. The pans are perfect, right in between the core instruments where they belong. Just me though…

I love everything about this mix other than two possible things. One may be on my end and that is, I’m hearing a lot of S sounds on the lead vox. Please don’t take that as gospel…I’m not at my studio rig but will listen and get back to you on that. It could be these speakers…but they are normally pretty good with S sounds.

The other thing is the piano part in the breakdown section. Beautiful piece, great sound/sample whatever it is…but I believe the velocities are a little hot in places where it sounds a bit robotic at times and isn’t showing enough dynamic value. Kinda like when toms have high velocities on a drum kit and sound fake? Some of your fast passages there sound a little like that.

Other than the above, anything else I would add would be purely subjective. This is a great mix right out of the box that you should be proud of. Could I offer instrument suggestions and other things that may be of value? Of course. But it wouldn’t sound better, just different. This is not my mix nor was I asked to tell you how I might produce it. The mix and all your hard work are beautiful brother. Let me just check a few things on the good stuff and get back to you. That area Cold Room mentioned is a possibility as I heard a little something there too. Even if this mix may need more work than I’m telling you if it changes once I listen on the good stuff, it’s nothing a few little tweaks will not fix and I’d be happy to systematically tell you how/what to fix if that’s the case. I’ll be in touch. :slight_smile:


Ok, I stand by my first post. I freaking love this…even on my good stuff. Lead vocal is fine…I might automate it a little during passages where it’s on its own for the S sounds…but it’s nowhere as bad as it was on the other monitors. Totally acceptable.

Also meant to say before…agree on the dark snare minus strainers. Could have a nice little brightness on it and maybe bring it up a bit.

One other area…lead guitar in the beginning passage is fighting with the boards/other guitars. I’d just drop the boards a dB or 2 there and you should be golden. Usually, when a lead instrument steps in…the supporters have to drop back a bit. Usually, rhythm guitars so you can boost them again once the solo is over. But I think in this situation, I’d drop the synth down a bit. Rhythm guitars are making me smile from ear to ear…this so rocks in my main rig. Sub lows are a bit rich for my personal taste, but nothing is “too much”. Bass and kick drum relationship is awesome. You’ve controlled the low end in this incredibly well. I hear the build up CRS mentioned. This could be cured via mastering or you just lightly curb the kick and bass low end. They are really close to competing in my opinion, but that’s what I like about this. It’s so on edge of “wait…it sounds…hm…ok, it sounds fine, but oh wait…did I hear…oh damn, I think I like it…ok, that’s more than I would use in that and it…hmm…it actually sounds really good!” I’d probably curb just a little bit of low end thump on the whole mix and call it a day. It’s really well done, Bri!

If I had to pick the most offending spots, I’d say fix where that lead guitar is in the beginning to where you can actually hear it. Think of it as someone that’s never heard it before. Same thing with the synth solo later in the tune…it can come up a bit more. Don’t be afraid to drop some of your instruments to make way for the lead instrument. Same with the lead vocals that come in after the synth solo. They can come up a bit.

Rule of thumb for lead instruments for people that struggle with them being too loud or too low:

Most of the time, we are too low either because we are self conscious about ourselves being the lead instrument, or because we know the parts from mixing them and listening 16,000 times. My fix was to always mix the lead parts +0.5dB louder than where I thought they should be. Meaning, it my fader is at -3 dB on a lead vocal or lead guitar track, and it sounds about right to me…I’d push it up to -2.5 or -2. Now, I don’t do this today as I finally have a grasp on how to go about this. But when I was learning this stuff, I’d always be a little low with lead instruments. They need to shine at all times. So your job as the engineer is to calm down the backing or carve up the lead instrument to make it fit. Either choice is a good one. Well done brother, well done. :slight_smile:


Wow firstly thanks so much guys for the very in depth review and effort to help this mix get better beyond my mixing skills. I really appreciate it! cheers

Hi @Wicked

im gonna take a look at it. now that you’ve said it, im kinda noticing it too. thanks very much for the input. cheers!


thanks for the in depth review. about the kick, i will try to change the kick sounds by automating the eq and try to fit the sound depending on the mood of the song part. yes you are correct, the kick is constant all the way. I created the sound design using the drums and guitars as foundations. the piano you’re hearing is an electronic keyboard. I got the recorded files rendered to wave and I think the keyboard player didnt have midi files because the sound is coming directly from the keyboard.
“masking the upper mids” - spot on stan. I was also thinking about that. the whole song is around13 minutes and this mix is yet to be finished. that last part “styx” type vibe is the last that I tweaked and I kinda got lazy that moment because i was already mixing for about 4 hours straight already lol. as soon as i relistened to the track, thats when it hit me. I’m working on it as we speak and im gonna tame the choirs and strings. I think thats whats giving that kinda harsh sound.
thanks for the very detailed review stan. cheers! :slight_smile:


thanks for the boost of confidenc jonathan. I really appreciate it. about the acoustic guitars, I did color them with another guitar with chorus underneath. just a “miss em when they’re gone” effect. I havent tried the plugins that you mentioned but I’ll give em a shot. about the snare strainer off part, its actually a rack tom, a small one usually used on reggae stuff. The drummer really liked that sound and made it a distinguishing sound for their band. :slight_smile: “crazy chorused out phased out one-off delay” - spot on!!! great idea thanks! :smiley:
Hi hats on bass part - I’ll automate it. i put in a couple of eq’s for the hats to cut through during full throttle parts of the song. I think i’ll remove those eq’s during those parts only to give more space to the hi hats. CHINA - i think it could be done. I’ll just put a sample of a brighter china and trigger those during china hits :slight_smile: “everytime a homeless” - i did that same effect that you suggested but the vocalist thought of the less is more concept. I also really wanted to incorporate that sound. wow you really put time in reviewing this song. thank a bunch. I really really appreciate it jonathan. thanks!


Hi andrew. thanks for the tips. if i may ask, what plugin do you use to determine those uncontrolled frequencies. they’re really spot on. I need a reliable tool like yours :slight_smile:


wow danny thanks for the ultra in depth review. I really highly regard your opinion. even in the RR days you’ve always been spot on and keen of little details and IMO thats what makes your mixes and productions sound so good and pro. youve also helped a lot of us new comers back then. I really appreciate all the knowledge you’ve shared with me and the rest of the guys in the forums.
I also feel the same way about the vocals but thought, what the hell i’ll just post this mix anyway. thanks for confirming sibilance issues in this mix. the piano is a korg but i think the guy who played this also uses spectrasonics omnisphere for his sounds. although this performance was not recorded or plotted via midi. its the actual take and we captured it as wav. i think the only other way is to use automation and compression on those robo parts. :smiley:

the dark snares are actually small rack toms used commonly on reggae kits. its kinda like the drummers signature sound for this band :slight_smile:
lead guitars:
yes i really struggled on that part because there were 3 keyboard sounds accompanying it which were choirs, strings, and a pipe organ sound. to add to that, the guitar player quad tracked the rhythms with each 2 parts doing different things. I had very little space for that lead guitar and figure id just bring it up on the faders and high pass it to solve the problem. I totally forgot about automation at that time. thanks for reminding me. thanks for liking the guitar work. and the bass… it took me a whole day just to make a decision on what to cut and boost. a lot of experimentation happened and im glad it paid off :slight_smile: and also glad that you appreciate those small details :slight_smile: i’ve been recording for over a decade now and it seems like the more i learn, the less i know. hah! this is really challenging stuff for me haha.

nice rule of thumb there. I will boost it up on the next mix and see what’d happen :slight_smile:

thanks a million danny. again you’ve inspired me to push my limits. I can never thank you enough. cheers and now for me its back to mixing. i hope i get it right this time :slight_smile:

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No worries mate - your mixes are always killer, so it’s really only minor stuff…

As far as plugins go - Nothing special - just Voxengo Span as a frequency analyser.

If I think I hear something that might be improved, I download the track, import it into Reaper, then use bog standard ReaEQ to sweep around and find the stuff I’m hearing.

Sometimes Span will give me a visual cue if I see big bumps and dips, but in the “mastering” view preset, your mix was pretty much ruler-flat, so it’s a case of experimenting and using my ears.

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oh ok nice! youre really good at this stuff. thanks so much andew. I have the voxengo span but i havent really tested it. It must be time :slight_smile:

I use quite a few and know this was for Andrew, but multi freq has been my go to.

Insert one on each track and one on your master bus, and they all connect each other to one instance. It’s pretty amazing. It may look confusing due to how I have it set up, but you can make it as easy or as complex as possible. Really cool tool.


wow really? thats something new. that feature would really give you a clue to whats goin on behind the curtain. thanks @Danny_Danzi this is golden :slight_smile:

I’ve had it a few years now. At first I just put an instance on every track. Then Sonar added real time eq analyzers and I sort of stopped using it. Then I remembered it had the multi option where you can click one instance and see everything and I started using it again.

On complex mixes with big track counts, you definitely want to limit how many instruments you see. But the good thing is, you just press a button and something appears or disappears.

In the mix I was doing at the time, I was seeing how the bass, rhythm guitar and lead guitars were getting along. Normally, all those “not connected” slots will have instrument names. So at any given time on a track, you can just click up what you want to see on any instance. I don’t think the tool did very well because no one I know uses it but my sorry ass. Lol! Figured it might be helpful and you too can get engineer of the year awards like me. My spiders in my room nominate and vote me in every time. :wink:

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LOL If it was me, i’d collaborate with the ants. You could win a grammy with them haha.

by the way what frequency do you put your kick, bass and low end of the guitars to have a balanced low end?

Oh and I meant to also say, you’re welcome for anything I’ve ever helped with. It’s always been my pleasure and am glad you’ve found some of the stuff I’ve shared helpful.

Thanks for the explanation on the mix. It makes more sense now. You still did a great job in my opinion. :slight_smile:

I was thinking…but it’s probably done already on YouTube…I could show you how cool that multi.freq is via video so you can see how powerful and versatile it can be? It’s pretty self explanatory just looking at it though…was looking for something to do today. Not used to being off. Wifey to be said “do cut the grass” and I told our 140lb rottie “go eat ya mutha.” Haven’t heard from either one in an hour…ah! :wink:

Depends on the mix I’m working on. If I use a clicky kick sound, I can boost the bass at 50 -70 or even run a tight Q and allow a few low end sub harmonics to reach through. If bass is to be low 50-80. I really have been stuck on 80 for bass and 62 for kick. A little beater at 6-8K maybe. Bass clack at about 2K to about 3.5K.

Guitars…I’m really different all the time because it depends what the sound comes in pushing. Me.personally, I hate lows in my guitars. So I high pass from 80 on down. Sometimes I’ll push a little 105, or 110. 120 feels right but chugs can make you get that whoomf sound. If that does happen but j still like the sound, I’ll put a uad mulribsnd comp on it and police 120 so it doesn’t get out of hand.

Other times, I boost 130-160 to get what I need. I never allow anything under 80hz in though. It just sounds bad and gives you that blanket of low air sound which of course gets masked with kick and bass. Always different though as some.sounds come with more freqs than others. :slight_smile:

To begin, I thought the mix was incredible. And I thought the song was totally epic, not just long. I have no idea what it is about yet, but that’s due to its complexity and my little brain trying to pay attention to so much going on. I’m not sure that is a negative because a song of this magnitude is not going to be absorbed quickly no matter what. On the other hand, it might have road signs along the way that help us not get so lost in the grand scheme of things.

It is a musical masterpiece, and I’m sure the lyrics are equally epic, but they are not sticking out, not at all for me. I love big and long works that defy the ADD radio length format the world has been trained to expect where any idea longer than a tweet seems summarily wasted, and I plan to listen some more later as I should be working right now and discover the story.

This is a challenging aspect to all songs like this, and ought all epics be Stairway to Heaven? Absolutely not, but it might not take too many words to give the listener the belief they know what’s going on. A chant, a repeated phrase, a vivid image, and then you have an epic anthem. Like Spock to McCoy, remember…

One of my favorite bands is Yes, and their songs are amazing but their lyrics are so vague you have no idea what hardly any of their songs are about. In concert the bassist said, that last song was about a dog, and this next one is about a fish, to paraquote him. But he was owning up to the loss of meaning conveyed, maybe even that there wasn’t any. But, if there is, you might think about that silly aspect.

Now I may take all this free advice back on another couple listens, but I still think it could be achieved on the first listen and be better received for it.