I’m one of the judges, and have these notes from the “sweet 16” first round. Bryan assigned the numbers to the mixes using some dark, arcane formula known only to himself. Judges could see whose mix had which numbers, but in my notes I just used the numbers. Only about half the judges had voted when I did my evaluations, so when I refer to “evenly split” votes or “in the minority” in one or two writeups, that’s just what it was at the moment I posted my vote. Judges could view how previous voters had chosen before making their choice if they wished, but I didn’t. Waited until after casting my vote to see the others.
I did all my listening on my Sony MD-7506 cans. My procedure was first to advance the tune to about 2 min mark, then listen to a few seconds of each mix and adjust the volume levels as needed so that they were as close to the same as I could make them, to avoid the “louder sounds better” conundrum. Then I listened to each mix straight through, and listened a second time in sections, switching back and forth-- first minute and a half or so on each, then the next minute or so on each, etc. I wrote the notes as I went along. I judged the first four matchups on one day, and the second four on the next day, so as not to overdo it and keep the ears relatively fresh throughout. I also alternated the order I listened to the mixes in each pair: in one pair, I’d listen to the first one first, in the next the second one first, and so on. Just trying to level the playing field and avoid any bias as much as I could.
Keep in mind this is all totally subjective; we were asked simply to pick the one we liked better for whatever reason. In two of the eight matchups, the mix I voted for did not advance, and in the other six, the one I voted for did advance. Finally, I had no idea I’d be sharing these notes with anyone when I wrote them, they were just for myself. So they’re a bit more terse than I would be in a regular bash, where I would indulge my penchant for maximum verbosity to a much greater extent.
@FluteCafe vs 16. @JayGee (I voted for 16)
I chose 16 because despite 1 being an outstanding mix, I found the additional instrumentation added in 1 to be distracting, especially during the opening minute. I don’t want the vulnerability in Cristina’s vocal masked at that stage, it’s a defining characteristic of this piece for me. After voting I see I am totally in the minority!
@Miked vs 15. @doubletrackinjive (I voted for 2)
#15: Drums sound great but are a bit too loud. Highs are overemphasized. Don’t like the abruptness of the ending.
#2: has a darker verb-ness overall. Added instrumentation is nice and not overly distracting. Vocal seems more immediate and intimate owing to choice of processing (less 'verb and darker). Fill guitar on right side after about 3:20 is a bit loud but not a dealbreaker. Much nicer ending.
@CPF vs 14. @takka360 (I voted for 14)
#3: dislike the bass in the intro, distracts from that opening verse vocal and is too “beefy”, just doesn’t fit the overall vibe. Overall tone overemphasizes the highs. Dislike the flangey thing on the chord break a bit after 3 min mark. Dislike how the last guitar notes don’t resolve the progression.
#14: I like the accompanying vox in the open and the mix isn’t high-heavy. Kick drum is a bit too boomy. I like the piano starting around 2 min. Chord break (before 3 min in this version) sounds better and I like how it is prominent. Much more satisfying ending.
@bozmillar vs 13. @Jclampitt (I voted for 4)
I simply cannot agree with the choice in #13 to make this song a driving rocker. I find it very jarring, and all the added stuff just drowns out that tender and lovely vocal. So #4 wins by default here.
After voting I see that Cristina herself is OK with it! Oh well…!
@ManAbyss vs 12. @AaronNarace (I voted for 5)
#5: Really excellent mix. Cannot find fault with anything! The bass in the 2:30-2:50 range has a great subbiness, it is felt as well as heard (even on cans). Love the way he repeats the vocal phrase “as we dream about the…” right around 1:50. The rhythm-chord break around 3 min is arresting, grabs the attention. Great separation in frequencies and stereo, everything crystal clear. The very long fade-outro is effective.
#12: Another excellent mix. Overall wetter sound. The way the bg vox are used is highly effective throughout, reinforces the immediacy of the lead vox. No issues on levels, frequency, stereo field, or clarity/separation, every instrument can be perfectly heard. The rhythm-chord break around 3 min is less prominent than in #5.
Choosing between these two is ABSOLUTELY BRUTAL. If #12 had drawn almost any other pairing it’d have been the winner. And now after my vote I see it is evenly split…
@Moa22 vs 11. @jetwolf (I voted for 6)
#6: Overall drier sound than most of these mixes. BGV are uneven in level, first a bit too prominent, then fine… Bass sounds as if in a different space than the rest when it enters. Not wild about the shaker-y percussion after 2 min mark, needs some reverb on it to go with the overall vibe-- finding it distracting. Nice treatment on the breakdown rhythm guitar chords. In the last 45 sec, the bass being so dry actually works as a “shifting gears” feature.
#11: Lead vox is oversaturated, way too hot. BGV too prominent when they first appear in first minute-plus, and that persists when they return. Guitars should be more prominent. Low and low-mids are boomy when drums come in especially. Very nice use of added synth until 2:55, then it sounds like a circus or merry-go-round! Very jarring. Works fine as just a synth cello, but that bit is a dealbreaker for me.
@Jerze vs 10. @BigAlRocks (I voted for 7)
#7: Modulation on guitar part is subtle but noticeable. Helps set a distinctive tone/vibe throughout the mix. Guitar a bit too loud in first minute, drowning out vox a bit. Much better once bgv joins. Lows and low-mids are under control here, no undue boominess. Rhythm chord break just before 3 min should be a bit louder/more prominent. And from 3 min the vox overall seems too quiet compared to instruments, but I get it-- the outro fades the vox out gradually, so I think it works overall.
#10: Much darker overall, highs are muted. Vox very dry, too dry IMO given that most of the instruments have the processing baked in and are plenty verby/echo-y. This mismatch persists throughout and is a significant detractor for me. Sorry Al…
@redworks vs 9. @terryhesticles (I voted for 8)
#8: Interesting use of modulation on the lead vox, but it’s lacking in the higher freqs in the intro. But I like the doubling that starts in the first chorus. Guitars way too loud at 1:30 to 2 min. Drums in minute 2 make the snare too prominent. Distracting, especially during rhythm guitar break, that snare is just too slappy. Vox are too low from there to the outro. The modulation used in the vox seems also applied to the guitar, especially in the outro, and that’s satisfying. The very end is chopped off though, seems like careless automation of the master level.
#9: Intro is good, balance between guitar and vox just right. Bass entering at 1:30 ish sounds off, it’s way too loud and the minor-sounding key is weird with the rest of the song. The added guitar over the rhythm guitar break sticks out like a sore thumb as something plastered on top, doesn’t gel. The bass in the outro also just doesn’t work with the original instrumentation for me. Way too prominent and I don’t find the minor-ish key pleasing.