I can still remember the day: it was warm, I was fed up, and I wanted something new. It was 1998 and my CD walkman had died on me and I needed to change things up and get the next best thing. Off to the store I went to buy a new one, but that’s not all.
I knew I had to bring my trusty Sony headphones and my Xzibit CD in order to test some of these players out, because that’s just what you do when you buy a new walkman.
Did you know that you could also do the same when it comes to your mixing?
You Have To Study
I always hear stories of producers and beatmakers having trouble with their mix, and although there’s a broad range of things that could be hindering the success you have with your mix, it’s still best to tailor your mix after some of your favorite artists. Why? Because you know their music inside and out.
One of my favorite albums of all time is the GZA’s “Liquid Swords”. It could be because of the time that it hit the store shelves, or it could be that it was arguably the RZA’s greatest work, but either way it’s a dope album. I have listened to it over and over again and I can tell you that the way the album is mixed fits perfectly with how the music sounds. In other words, it’s not a gutter-sounding album that’s been mixed to sound like a Pop album.
But when you want to perfect your mix, you should take a listen to some of your favorite albums, or just artists in general, and see how their music sounds.
GZA – “Shadowboxing”
Like the rest of the tracks on the album, “Shadowboxing” is mixed with an overall thick sound, but a lot of that has to do with the time period. What’s interesting is how everything is placed within the track. One of the RZA’s most notorious techniques is to use vocal snippets, or sometimes full vocals, playing in the background while a rapper spits his verse. I have heard many others attempt this but they just muddy up the mix because everything clashes together.
If I had put together that song, I probably would have panned the vocal snippet hard left or right, but instead the RZA kept it near the center – and it works. The other thing that he did was he used a “subtle track” as I’ve mentioned previously. Take a listen and see if you can spot it.
Apollo Brown – “The Answer”
Apollo Brown is such a dope producer, and this track proves it. When I first heard it, I had to take a step back and really appreciate it because it just sounds great. With the sample he used, he didn’t just loop it as most producers probably would, instead he built his beat and made it sound monumental!
Take a listen to the vocals and hear how he doesn’t just use the same part, rather he uses it in a way to build momentum before he drops in the verse with just the piano.
Around the 1:30 mark is when things get interesting. Listen to what he does – he brings in the vocals again but cuts it off just as they’re pronouncing the letter “s”. At first I thought it was just a lazy chop, but then at 1:42 I realized that he did that so that it leads to them singing “somewhere”. In other words, he’s continuing to build the track with a clever way of using samples.
How To Apply This To Your Mix
Now, you may not use any of the techniques described above, but I am just showing you how you can take any kind of song and tear it apart by analyzing it. By doing so, you will have a much better appreciation for how mixing and arranging can improve your beats. To use it yourself though, is the challenge.
It’s simple though, how you can apply other producers’ techniques to your own. By listening and studying how they do their beats, it doesn’t mean you have to use their exact blueprint, but it can at least give you ideas on how to improve your own.
Like the example above with Apollo Brown and how he flipped the letter “s” with a sample. It’s so dope how he did that, that it got me thinking and now I want to do something like that – but not quite. I don’t want to start cutting off “s” everywhere, but it’s inspired me to try and build up my beats more, because that’s essentially what he was doing.
So the next time you sit down to mix a beat, don’t just mix it – change it up. It doesn’t always have to be about levels and compression, instead focus on flipping things around so that your mix sounds great and not bland. There are tons of other producers out there doing the same mixes as you, why not set yourself apart?