Are metal mixers just... not as good as other genres?

Discussion in 'Recording Studio' started by JohnIce, Jul 24, 2018.

  1. JohnIce

    JohnIce Singlecoil Enthusiast

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    Bear with me :lol: So, I’m always looking for a great sounding rock/metal mix. I generally don’t find them. Today, I stumbled across this with mah headphones on:


    Very often, I’m pretty blown away with the production and mixes of modern pop, hip hop and off-shoots of genres like those. Huge, tight low end, crisp yet smooth high end, warm and spacious midrange, monstrous reverbs and ear-tickling percussion. Sounds dynamic, open and contrasting even when brickwalled. And I almost never hear anything that sounds objectively ”bad”, as in unpleasant or unbalanced. Even when the productions are unremarkable they still sound totally fine.

    With metal however… I feel like even the most celebrated metal mixes can’t REALLY compete. And below the top names, a surprising amount of popular metal actually sounds pretty cruddy but is released on major labels anyway, and most metal fans don’t really seem to mind all that much as long as it doesn’t sound like, you know, Death Magnetic. Like, that’s the bar. Am I the only one thinking this? I mean, there are definitely some factors that make metal hard to work with compared to pop:

    - Live drums are harder to work with than pre-made sample packs. Everyone knows that.
    - An electric bass is harder to get as consistent and full-bodied as a synth bass.
    - Distorted guitars eat up frequencies like no other instrument.
    - Metal is generally so busily arranged that it’s hard to get everything to fit while still leaving room for lush reverbs, vocal nuances and small percussion to shine through.

    But I don’t care about what is more difficult now, I’m talking about results.

    I mean… just come on:


    Just… come on:


    I’m wondering if I’m missing something here? Are there in fact metal music being made today that, from a mixing point of view, sounds as good or better as this stuff?

    Not trying to be mean, but I seriously wonder why some metal mix engineers get so religiously followed and copied and tutorial-binged on forums like this one, when musical taste aside, they… don’t really play in the same league as many pop, EDM and hip hop mixing engineers. Or do they?

    Can you give me some examples of aggressive music with bass, drums and hi-gain that honestly sounds in the ballpark of the examples I posted, in terms of balance, depth of bass, crispness and stereo width? I would be really pleasantly surprised to hear it.

    TL;DR: I sadly think that pop mixers are better than metal mixers. Prove me wrong :lol:
     
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  2. Clocks

    Clocks SS.org Regular

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  3. prlgmnr

    prlgmnr ...that kind of idea

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    First thing that came to mind: though obv you'll want to find better quality than that.
     
  4. Lorcan Ward

    Lorcan Ward 7slinger

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    Good post and you will find a lot of people with a similar opinion. Aside from the big guys in pop having much bigger budgets and better gear to work with you also have to remember how much you can get away with in metal, its known for having "its fine, most listeners won't care" mixing. Its meant to sound similar to how it will sound live and that kind of thinking hasn't really changed in recent decades.

    Its also worth noting how super produced pop is, people think metal has a lot of editing in it, it doesn't come close to pop. Your first clip the vocals are the equivalent of the Haarp Machine and the guy struggles so bad live.

    In my opinion this is the clear reason. Hi-gain guitar has a hundred disgusting frequencies that need to be cut make it sound pleasing and to allow other instruments to breathe but then you run into another hundred issues of the guitars sounding scooped, thin, fizzy, dry, scratchy, harsh etc.
     
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  5. JohnIce

    JohnIce Singlecoil Enthusiast

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    That sounds pretty stellar :yesway: Good call! I've been sleeping on Plini because I'm not really into instrumental music, but I could definitely ref my mixes against that!
     
  6. Metropolis

    Metropolis SS.org Regular

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    You pretty much answered to all of your questions in there.

    Modern pop like those rely so much on rhytm and bass with vocals on top is just a whole different animal than guitar oriented metal or rock mix. You can get it really bass heavy without losing definition, because there isn't happening anything else from time to time. Also electronic instruments/samples or what not are just super clear sounding when compared to real instruments. Something sounding better as a whole is completely subjective matter. And keep in mind that big selling artists like those have an army of producers and mixing engineers who are in top of their game. Almost nothing comes to close how edited and produced those songs are, just like Lorcan wrote there.
     
  7. LiveOVErdrive

    LiveOVErdrive CNC hack

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    This makes me curious to see what could happen if metal producers and writers took cues from pop when it came to songwriting and production. If we all leaned a little bit away from the "metal means distorted guitar" and more toward the "I'm gonna make this song and use whatever sounds seem appropriate" we might get some really cool shit.

    In other words if we made the guitar serve the song instead of the song serve the guitar.
     
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  8. JohnIce

    JohnIce Singlecoil Enthusiast

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    Yeah, I'm definitely getting a vibe that most people mixing metal are a) a bit production-phobic, they don't want to try anything on record that they can't do live, whereas in pop music the two are considered two different things, and b) They only put the bar as high as other metal mixes. They want to sound as good as Sneap or Sturgis instead of aspiring to sound BETTER than that.

    Personally I think that treating a recording that'll be played on someone's earbuds alone on a subway commute the same way you would a live show at 100dB in front of a social gathering, is a bit bonkers. Fletcher Munson aside, they're just completely different experiences and I don't see any harm in making the most out of the studio when you're in the studio, and making the most out of the live show when you're actually playing a live show.

    As far as your other point, I don't think budget is a too significant factor, besides obviously the salary of someone really skilled. But I'm hearing so much great stuff done by up-and-comers with basic plugins and presets, I think it has more to do with the attitude (and influences) in metal than lack of funds. If you can afford a PRS and a Boogie halfstack/Axe-Fx you can afford some Waves plugins and a decent interface :)
     
  9. cwhitey2

    cwhitey2 BlackendCrust Metal™

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    Most pop is not a 'recording'. It's samples...

    How many metal bands write songs with just samples?

    Also, I hate pop mixes as I find them to over the top and too 'perfect'. I love flaws in a recording...it reminds me/us that we are people and not perfect...well some are perfect :lol:
     
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  10. JohnIce

    JohnIce Singlecoil Enthusiast

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    Sure, but on that note, how do you feel about the Plini song that was posted here? To me, that's some top-tier solving of the problems you (and I) were talking about. And it sounds like he's taking some serious clues from the mixing styles of pop and EDM people, like LiveOVErdrive mentioned.

    Like I said, I'm not really interesting in why metal mixing is an uphill battle (I know all about that :lol), I'm wondering if there are solutions and what we can (or should) learn from them.
     
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  11. LiveOVErdrive

    LiveOVErdrive CNC hack

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    Which is valid, and I agree with others that that tends to be the sound people want in metal: "real music" played by real people (except drums :) )

    Still curious what more poppy produced metal would sound like. Not as banal as most pop, just more song oriented and less musician oriented.
     
  12. Metropolis

    Metropolis SS.org Regular

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    Maybe something like these? Doom has guitars of course, but I mean these as a more electronic approach to metal, not neccesarily pop at all. More pop? Devin Townsend maybe?




    I love Plini's work, it has definetly those traits as a whole. There is quite a lot going on in some places, but still everything is very well in order, clear and defined.
     
  13. will_shred

    will_shred Wannabe audio engineer

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    Anyone who has a lot of experience with mixing can testify that metal in particular is a difficult genre to mix, because of all the reasons you mentioned. Also, there really isn't much of a difference from metal production and pop production, the techniques are pretty universal as far as professional mixing goes. I also completely disagree that metal mixes in general sound worse that pop mixes, there are to many greatly produced metal albums to list but to name a new off the top of my head. Lamb of God, literally anything from Ashes of the Wake and up. Whitechapel, In Flames,
    Ne Obliviscaris
    Ice Nine Kills (Justin DeBlieck happens to have graduated from the same music school that i'm attending and came into my audio class to do a workshop on programming drums), Beyond Creation- The Aura, Archspire, Relentless Mutation, anything by Periphery. Most of shitty metal production comes from people just not really knowing what they're doing, or aesthetic choice, or time/budget constraints.
     
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  14. tedtan

    tedtan SS.org Regular

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    The biggest thing you can do to address the issue is arrange the track so it avoids the issues, as arrangement, to a large extent, dictates what is possible within a mix. But that will lead to the music sounding pretty different (e.g., there is only so much you can do with a tech death track, for example, as it is so busy).
     
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  15. LiveOVErdrive

    LiveOVErdrive CNC hack

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    Yeah good examples. I guess the main difference I'm thinking of right now is how in a "band" you've got a guitar player and a bass player and a drummer and a singer and they all do those four things and nothing else.

    Obviously that's a simplification and there are groups that don't do that.

    I'll shut up now. I'm confusing myself.
     
  16. Metropolis

    Metropolis SS.org Regular

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    Seriously a lot of progressive, symphonic, alternative and industrial metal bands have some sort of similar approaches how to arrange or produce their songs. Is it really refreshing or intresting, decide by yourself. Amaranthe might be most modern pop'ish example of metal I can think of. By the way it might be my new musical guilty pleasure from now on because of this thread...


     
  17. TedEH

    TedEH Cromulent

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    It's not that metal mixes are "worse" it's that they're being judged by a different standard. Pop aims to be shiny and easy to consume. Metal aims to be "cool".

    There's a big issue in that metal mixes can't stray too far away from whatever standard we're used to, lest it be torn apart -> look at Opeth's latest for an example. There's toooooooons of bass to it, lots of texture, it's very different than a traditional mix for their audience, and it got torn to shreds. You can't make something "too perfect", lest you be accused of "faking it" or "lacking feel". If you do any of the production tricks to make pop sound 'perfect', you've somehow betrayed the values of the metal community. Corrected vocals? How dare you! Parts slowed down and sped back up so you can nail the parts? You lied to us! Used a really smooth pleasant sounding amp sim? It's not reaaaaaaaaaal man. Too obvious that drums are samples? That won't fly.

    Metal mixes sound "worse" because that's what the audience wants. If you didn't record it yourself on a vintage boosted amp on a recto cab through a 57 with 8 noise gates and 34 compressors but kept all the mistakes in - then it's not "real" metal.
     
  18. KnightBrolaire

    KnightBrolaire despair ahead

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    you need to listen to more steven wilson/porcupine tree.
     
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  19. karjim

    karjim Set the World Afire

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    I produce myself some synthwave, Zimmer style soundtrack, some hip hop just for me and produce my metal band...with my humble level of course and I can say one thing. Metal is just a nightmare to mix, even with URM boyz and a ton of tutos on youtube its just impossible. Extreme metal is just comprises. This kind of music is not suposed to be pleasant or clean if I can choose that world. It s a bloody mess. You cant compared Katy Perry to Humanity last breath . It s like saying ` The sound of the sea or cascade is so much pleasant to hear that an earthquake or an avalanche`. And people want to hear every detail of the earthquake like every detail of the birds the waves and the boat on an italy beach. It s just impossible, it s just nature of sounds, it s physic
     
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  20. Mathemagician

    Mathemagician SS.org Regular

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    I feel like a couple of Escape The Fate songs off their albums “This War is Ours” and “Escape the Fate” have some higher levels of polish. They decided to live away from it on future records, but that album REALLY got me thinking about this topic. The vocals come in so clear, the guitar parts do not blend together, they use vocal synths/effects on a few tracks. It’s very pop-y, and compared to what I normally listen to it was very refreshing at that point in time. Content/material aside it did not “feel” like it was recorded as a metal album.
     

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