Artist Name: John DeBortoli Title: Crazy In Love Genre: Pop/Singer-Songwriter Rating:
“Crazy in Love” is a male vocal “Pop/Singer-Songwriter” track. The credits are listed as “John DeBortoli. Singer/songwriter/producer & Eugene Nergein”.
Reviewed By Marty Peters
In more than a quarter-century at the helm of Readers Tapes/Tracks, this may be the first submission that was accomplished from stem to stern with the employ of only headphones!
While we have had sparse equipment lists and more than a few missing vital information (failing to mention monitors, for instance), John has secured top honors in the minimum information category! In that spirit, we will do our best to give you the pros and cons of the track based solely on what we hear — levels, tones, panning, arrangement, balance, artifacts and performance.
Starting with the sound sources, we hear piano, basic programmed drums, synth bass, electric guitar and the lead vocal. We’ll get into that first. Through our monitors and headphones, John’s vocal comes across as quite heavily compressed with a speedy attack time and a slower release. The results sound off to our ears, not pumping exactly, but certainly not clear either. John has a powerful voice and a substantial range, but compression artifacts are noticeably problematic. We also found the frequency range on the vocal to be very mid-focused and narrow in the mix. As for the instruments, the drums and synth bass dominate the mix, while the piano, particularly at the intro and ending, seemed a tad underpowered.
Volumes have been written regarding the advantages and, more often, the disadvantages of mixing solely on headphones. Enormous variables come into play when mixing this way — physics, psychoacoustics, open versus closed-back models, how and by what they are powered, are they flat or hyped, especially in the bass range? Many circumstances may have informed John’s decision to go sans speakers. Perhaps it was noise concerns (every sound source here minus the vocal could have easily been recorded direct without a peep of noise out into the environment). It may also be as simple as not owning any monitors. He could lack proper room treatment. There is absolutely an argument to be made that headphones eliminate sketchy room acoustics. Add to that disapproving neighbors, landlord issues and sleeping children — and it’s headphones to the rescue!
But, as recording musicians, we are trying to make the best possible product. Those same headphones can mess with our perception of placement and volume levels in the stereo field, accentuate certain frequencies and cause fatigue when worn for long periods. Then there is the issue of compatibility. There are dozens and dozens of headphones on the market, along with earbuds at price points too numerous to mention, and few are ruler flat. The chance that John’s targeted listening audience employs the same set as him is pretty remote. On the flip side, good studio monitors in a treated room are designed to offer a flat response in terms of frequency, meaning they stand a better chance of translating over different listening platforms.
The ideal answer is to employ both, mixing on monitors and checking the mix on headphones to reference the finer details of your work.
As for tips, in the immediate, we would encourage John to increase the volume of his piano at the front and back of the song while reducing the levels of the drums and bass. Most importantly, we would urge him to experiment with his compression. Increasing the attack time, lowering the threshold and increasing the release time will go a long way towards correcting the compression artifacts on the vocal. Once that is sorted, we’d advise him to re-listen to the vocal tone. Whether John pumped the mids to get it to cut through the loud rhythm section is anyone’s guess, but we’d love to hear his strong voice covering more frequencies. Lastly, as we’ve said innumerable times, A/Bing ones mix against commercial releases in a similar genre is the most immediate and cost-effective solution we can offer. At the same time, we would urge him to check his mix against other mixes in his car, on a friend’s system, etc.
Whatever the reason, in our view, John’s decision to go with headphones only directly impacted his effort.
John DeBortoli, [email protected]