A DAY IN THE LIFE: Mix Magic On Music Row

One of the best ways to learn the finer points of an art is to observe a master of the art in action. I recently had the good fortune to do just that:

One of the best ways to learn the finer points of an art is to observe a master of the art in action. I recently had the good fortune to do just that: while in Nashville for the NAMM show, I got to sit in on a mix session with award-winning recording engineer Chuck Ainlay. He was mixing a ballad for the latest Toby Keith record, How Do You Like Me Now?! (DreamWorks Records, 1999).

Talk about getting the goods! In a career spanning 20 years, Ainlay has worked with many of the world's top musicians and producers. He has engineered well over 100 albums, including several Grammy-award winners. He also won the Nashville Music Recording Engineer Award for two years in a row (1996-97) and Music Row Magazine's 1998 Engineer of the Year award (which is given to the engineer with the most top ten country records). Ainlay was a Grammy nominee himself in 1994 in the Best Engineered Recording Non-Classical (Rhythm, Country, and Blues) category, and this year he was nominated for a TEC Recording/Mixing Engineer award.

Ainlay has long been recognized for his proficiency in cutting-edge technology. He conducted the first all-digital recordings in Nashville, was Music City's first master of the SSL console, and is currently leading the pack in surround-sound mixing with five releases in 5.1 this year. Recently Ainlay has worked with George Strait, Vince Gill, Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, Olivia Newton-John, the Mavericks, and the Dixie Chicks. He also produced Mark Knopfler's solo album Golden Heart, as well as movie scores for Wag the Dog and Metroland.

So if you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall during a mix by an industry giant, here's your chance (virtually, at least). Although this article details the mix for one song only-"Bottom of My Heart," a ballad penned by Keith-a close analysis of how Ainlay shaped the song's raw tracks into their final form should prove instructive. It will be especially valuable to those readers who mix country and rock songs and are seeking to improve their understanding of what goes into a fully professional mix. True, most of us don't have access to the premium gear Ainlay uses on a daily basis, and even our best use of what we do have probably won't yield equivalent results. But just the same, careful readers can extrapolate from Ainlay's example and adapt some of his insights and techniques to their own mixes.

Nashville PaceThe mix of "Bottom of My Heart" took place at Loud Studio in the UA Tower on Music Square West. The producer, James Stroud, was out of town for several of the Toby Keith mix sessions, a somewhat unusual situation. But it presented no problem-after completing a mix, Ainlay simply burned Stroud a CD and FedExed it to him overnight for comments. If any changes were in order, Ainlay would recall the mix the following morning and make the necessary tweaks before moving on to the next tune.

Loud Studio's mix room is outfitted with an SSL 4000 E Series console and numerous racks of premium gear, much of which is vintage (see Fig. 1). Ainlay brought in his own KRK E8 monitors, which are active, mid-field units. "I like the E8s," he says, "because the mixes I do on them translate well to other speakers. They sound a lot like Yamaha NS-10s, but with more bottom." To my surprise, Ainlay used the E8s exclusively, never once firing up the studio's main monitors.

In addition to carting around his favorite monitors, Ainlay also brings along three large racks of his own gear. These hold an impressive array of processing tools, including select vintage goodies, premium recent-model EQs, and some units often found in home studios (for example, an Alesis D4, Akai S1000, and Ensoniq DP/2). (For a complete list of Ainlay's gear, see the sidebar "Tools of the Trade").

Unlike some acclaimed engineers who keep an air of secrecy about the tools and techniques they use to shape audio, Ainlay was remarkably forthcoming. "There's nothing I do that's all that special," he says. "Either I stole it from someone else or it's something everyone already knows about." In this generous spirit, Ainlay fielded my questions and revealed the signal paths for each instrument, as well as the parameters he dialed in on each piece of gear used in the mix. I also got invaluable help from Ainlay's assistant engineer, Mark Ralston, who also answered countless questions and provided photocopies of track and gear sheets.

Picture ThisAinlay describes his approach to mixing as being "pictorial" based. "First I pull up all the tracks and just listen to the song," he explains. "That puts an image in my head. From there, I just keep working on the mix until I reach the image. I also listen closely to the lyric and what that asks of me, while keeping in mind what the musical genre calls for."

Organic is the word that came to mind as I watched Ainlay mix. I was impressed by how little time he spent soloing and tweaking individual instruments. "Generally, I try to mix across the board," he says. "I will spend time working on individual things, but not all that much. It becomes obvious to me sooner or later that, say, the bass drum needs some top or bottom added, some middle pulled out, or whatever. But I try not to get too caught up on any one instrument for too long."

Even when Ainlay soloed instruments to EQ them, he heard what needed to be done first, while all the tracks were up. "I see the whole picture," he explains. "For example, with the acoustic guitar, I could tell right away that it was too boomy and not really cutting through. I went into solo just to hear what I was doing, but I knew in my mind beforehand what I had to achieve. And, once the track was back in the mix, I still grabbed the EQ and played with it some more."

Interestingly, Ainlay had the television on, tuned to the sports channel, throughout the day (with the sound off, of course). "You need distractions," he states, "so you don't get too caught up in the mix." Ainlay also stressed the importance of not working too long on a mix. "I find if I work too long, I get too inside the mix and everything starts sounding more and more wadded together. I'll stop and call somebody, take a break-anything to get some distance and fresh perspective. Besides, if the tracks are recorded halfway decently, it shouldn't take all that long to mix a song. If it takes more than six hours, there are problems with the tracks-or there are 96 tracks!"

Despite the range of gear at his disposal, Ainlay generally favors a less-is-more approach. "When I first started mixing," he recounts, "I thought I had to patch in every piece of gear I owned and turn all the knobs to get a good mix. But later I realized that's not how it's done. If the song is recorded well, you shouldn't have to mess with it that much. For example, for the George Strait album I recorded, we mixed the songs in two or three hours each. The tracks went onto tape sounding great, so afterwards there wasn't all that much we had to do to them."

Ainlay shows similar restraint behind the behemoth consoles he works on. "Once I've found where all the levels sit, I'll go through and do mutes and any obvious level changes," he says. "But in general, I only use automation when it's necessary. Depending on the song, I may decide to ride the vocals, just to get more out of the track. But I don't get fancy with the technology just because it's there."

Country SpreadAinlay describes the country songs coming out of Nashville these days as being mixed like rock songs from 15 years ago. "We're finally moving into the '80s!" he laughs. "Which is good, because everything you do on the SSL 4000 has that sound."

Ainlay's approach to panning instruments in a country mix derives from seat-of-the-pants experience-that is, based on folks sitting in their vehicles. "I think most people listen to country music while driving around in a car or truck," he explains. "When I'm sitting in the driver's seat, the thing I want farthest away from me is the steel guitar. Traditionally, the steel has a lot of reverb on it-kind of a wash-so I like to hear it from farthest away, panned far right. I definitely don't want it beside me, on the left."

To balance that, Ainlay usually puts the electric guitar "pretty far left, because we don't want it right up next to us in the pickup truck, either." Placement of acoustic guitars depends on how many are in the song. If there are two acoustics doubling a part, Ainlay tends to spread them wide, left and right. But if there's only one, he will usually put it closer to center, panned slightly left of the lead vocal.

For drums, Ainlay generally generally goes for the perspective of looking at the performance. Assuming that the drummer is right-handed, the hats are to the right of the kick and snare (which are panned dead center), at about 1 or 2 o'clock. The piano tracks (stereo) are panned hard left and right. "This puts the piano player's right hand on the right," explains Ainlay, "near the hi-hat, where it seems to go nicely." (See Fig. 2 for complete instrument pans to "Bottom of My Heart.")

All Things Being EqualAinlay's approach to equalization is best described as musical rather than clinical. "I think of EQ more like tone controls," he says, "rather than like, 'Yeah, let's go in there and EQ this frequency and that frequency and surgically fix things.' If the track is well recorded, you shouldn't have to do that. Instead, I usually just brighten things, add a little presence, maybe pull out some low mids if something sounds 'swarmy' from close miking."

I observed that contemporary country mixes seem, on the whole, brighter and less bass-driven than mixes from decades past, and Ainlay agreed. "You're right," he says. "Country music has become very bright. I think that's partly because the vocal needs to be right up there. So you're trying to get a lot of musical activity yet not interfere with the voice. If you start making the track really big-sounding, with a lot of bottom, you run the risk of making the voice sound small."

Bottom of the MixNow that we've heard Ainlay's general views on mixing, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. The track sheets for "Bottom of My Heart" indicated 36 recorded tracks, including a vocal scratch track, four final vocal takes, one vocal comp (composite), a tuned vocal comp ("Pretty much all vocals in Nashville are comped and tuned these days," says Ainlay), and a click track. Obviously, of the seven lead vocal tracks, only one (the tuned comp) was used for the final mix. Also, Ainlay opted not to use two of the drum tracks (from a stereo pair of room mics on the kit). With the click removed, the final number of tracks was 27 (see Fig. 2).

Typically, after listening to a song with all the tracks up (to get his image), Ainlay starts in on the drums. He then proceeds to bass guitar, piano, acoustic guitars, and electric guitars, in roughly that order, and focuses on vocals last. But again, Ainlay is apt to mix "across the board," going wherever the muse dictates, so the following sections are not to be taken as an exact account of what he worked on first, second, and so on.

You Send MeTo understand the signal processing on "Bottom of My Heart," it helps to know how Ainlay routed signals from the console to the processors. The SSL 4000 E offers a wealth of routing options, but as with most mixers, the three most readily available signal-processing paths are aux sends, group outs, and channel inserts. We'll start with the auxes, which typically are used for the primary reverbs and delays.

The 4000 E has five dedicated aux sends: one stereo and four mono. Ainlay used all five. He routed the stereo send to his Ensoniq DP/4, a quad processor that he runs essentially as two stereo units. "That way, I can put a delay followed by a chorus, a chorus followed by a reverb, or whatever," he explains. "In this case, I've got a phase delay followed by an eight-voice chorus-just a big smear, really-on one side and a chamber setting on the other. I absolutely love the Ensoniq DP/4 and DP/2. They've got all the basic building blocks and I can modify them really quickly. They're my main smearing boxes."

Send 1 was routed to the Lexicon PCM 70 multi-effects processor, which was set to a brass plate. Send 2 was routed to Loud Studio's Lexicon 224XL, a popular reverb that is controlled from a LARC (Lexicon Alphanumeric Remote Control). The 224 was set to a bright hall with 110 milliseconds of predelay. Send 3 went to Ainlay's Lexicon 300 multi-effects processor, which was set to a snare plate. And send 4 was routed to the studio's EMT 250 reverb, one of those huge old units that stand upright on the floor and look like steam radiators with four big, R2D2-style levers on top.

"The EMT has the weirdest sound," says Ainlay. "It kind of sounds like a live room-there's a hint of real space going on-yet it has the impact of a plate, that gggzzzhhhhh. But at the same time, it's sort of dark and rumbly like a chamber. It sounds great on electric guitars, snare drums, and hi-hats. Most reverbs, when you put them on hats, kind of go sssssssss, like hiss going on in the background. But the EMT doesn't do that. It has a real distinct sound that just lays nicely on lots of things and really works."

As much as Ainlay likes the sound of the EMT 250, however, he describes it as "pretty boring by itself, and definitely not very modern-sounding." (The EMT 250, which debuted in 1979, was the first digital reverb.) His solution is to layer a brighter reverb or delay on top of it-in this case, the Lexicon 224XL's bright hall-to "disguise" the sound of the EMT. "This song is sort of a big, bashy ballad, and I'm using the Lexicon hall primarily to bring things into the same space. The Lexicon gives it that shhhh sound while the EMT is the warmer sound that fills out the shhhh." Reverb time on the EMT 250 was set at 2 seconds and predelay at 40 milliseconds.

Alternate Bus RouteAinlay configured additional sends-three stereo and three mono-through nine of the 32 buses available from the SSL's small faders. Buses 1 and 2 were patched to Loud Studio's AMS dmx 15-80S digital delay, a "plus/minus harmonizer," as Ainlay calls it. "The AMS is awesome," he says. "It's an older technology, so the frequency response is somewhat limited, which I like. Also, just going through its converters causes quite a lot of delay-about 30 milliseconds, I believe. I've added 8 milliseconds more, so it's more like 38 total." For "Bottom of My Heart," Ainlay pitch-shifted the left channel of the AMS down to 0.996 and the right channel up to 1.004.

Buses 3 and 4 were patched to Ainlay's Ensoniq DP/2, which was set to a delay on one side and a flanger on the other. Bus 5 was sent to Ainlay's Lexicon PCM 42, one of the early Lexicon digital delays. "I really like the 42 on vocals because it has a somewhat limited bandwidth. Also, it has a nice limiter that not only stops you from overloading it, but also gives it sort of that tape saturation sound of a tape delay." The PCM 42 was set with 330 milliseconds of delay, a figure that Ainlay arrived at using his bpm chart. "I always try to get my delays to work with the tempo of the song," he explains. "On this song, the tempo is 91 bpm, and 330 is the eighth note on 91."

Buses 7 and 8 were patched to Loud's TC Electronic M2000, which was set to a gated room. Buses 31 and 32 were patched to the left and right channels of Ainlay's Joemeek SC3 stereo compressor, which he typically uses on drum submixes. Ainlay used channel inserts to feed 13 other outboard units, which I'll cover individually for the instruments on which they were used.

First Things FirstThe first thing Ainlay zoomed in on after listening to the tracks was the main acoustic guitar, which sounded a bit boomy. "You can hear some off-axis coloration going on as well," remarks Ainlay. "But the main problem is that it's just too muddy sounding."

Ainlay routed the two acoustic guitars-the main guitar and the high-strung, each mono-through the left and right channels of his Millennia NSEQ. Both channels of the unit, which offers independent solid-state and tube paths, were set to the solid-state mode, the more transparent of the two.

While soloing the two guitars, Ainlay discovered a part where the high-strung was momentarily out of tune-due, evidently, to fumbled fretting. Fortunately, the out-of-tune part was fleeting, and not too egregious. "If it were any worse," says Ainlay, "I'd put it on another track and tune it. But in this case, you probably won't be able to hear it in the final mix." (This proved to be true.)

Ainlay dialed in both low and high shelving filters on the main acoustic: a 3 dB shelving cut at 50 Hz and a 6 dB shelving boost at 16 kHz. Using the NSEQ's high-mid control, he also boosted 4 dB around 4.5 kHz using approximately a half-octave Q (bandwidth). On the high-strung guitar, Ainlay employed another 6 dB shelving boost at 16 kHz and positioned the low-frequency shelf (also with a 3 dB cut) at 34 Hz. Ainlay dialed in roughly the same high mids on the high-strung, but with a broader Q, close to an octave wide. (Note: These were the final EQ settings. Ainlay decided on them after returning to the acoustic guitars a number of times during the session, each time refining his tweaks according to the rest of the mix.)

Ainlay also compressed and limited the two acoustic-guitar tracks using his Calrec RQD 6400 twin stereo compressor/limiter. The main acoustic was compressed at a ratio slightly higher than 2:1 with a 0 dBu threshold and 4 or 5 dB of makeup gain. Attack and release times were both in auto mode. Threshold on the limiter was set at +11 dBm with a 0.2-second release. On the high-strung, the compression ratio was closer to 3:1, threshold was set at -5 dBu, attack and release were on auto, and makeup gain was again around 5 dB. The limiter threshold was set at +8 dBm with a 75 millisecond release.

To create a stereo spread for the main acoustic, which was panned left of center, Ainlay sent the signal to the Ensoniq DP/2 (delay/flanger) and panned the returns to the right of center. "I put a really wide flanger on the DP/2," says Ainlay, "so there's a lot of regeneration." The main acoustic was also sent to the Lexicon PCM 70 (brass plate), Lexicon 300 (snare plate), and EMT 250(reverb). Ainlay sent the high-strung to the AMS delay and fed some of the signal to the Lexicon 300 (snare plate) as well.

Flip, Group, and SquashTurning his attention to the drums, Ainlay first checked the phase relationships of the various tracks, particularly of the overheads in relation to the kick and snare. "The distance of the overhead mics from the drums can cause close to a 180-degree phase shift," he explains, "so I always check to see whether flipping the phase helps or hurts. In my experience, it usually sounds better with the overheads flipped. Basically, I want the sound to be as full as possible. My assumption is that if you get all the leakages to sound their biggest and fattest, then you're probably more in phase than if they sound thin. So if the snare drum sounds kind of hollow and the low end of the bass drum goes away when I'm not flipping the phase, then I'll flip it and go with the fuller sound."

Ainlay also checks to make sure that reversing the phase on the overheads doesn't degrade the sound of the toms. "Often, when I flip phase on the overheads, some of the sustain of the toms goes away, which means there's some cancellation going on. But the kick and snare are hitting a lot more in the song, so they're more important. Besides, you might even be wanting the toms to thin out a bit, especially if they're roaring."

All nine channels of drums were submixed to the Joemeek SC3 compressor and brought up on a stereo return. The controls on Joemeek compressors are pretty arbitrary-they don't really correspond to controls on other units-but just in case you have one, here are the settings Ainlay dialed in: input gain at 6, slope at 4, compression (threshold) at 3, attack at 9 (slow), release at around 250 milliseconds, and no makeup gain.

Ainlay also compressed the kick and snare drums individually through his Urei 1176LN peak limiters. "I was one of the first guys to always drag out the Akai sampler," says Ainlay. "I wouldn't necessarily replace things, but I would always put a sample in with the original instrument. But samples just get to be really boring. I'm way over it. I prefer the performance aspect of a real drum over a sample. The drummer is going to hit the drums differently throughout the song, perhaps even intentionally, and there's just no way a sample is going to have that intimacy. These compressors allow me to use the real thing and still get bass and snare drums as hot in a mix as you could using a sample."

Ainlay used similar settings on both units. "Usually, I set as fast a release and as slow an attack as possible-the 1176s aren't very fast to begin with. I squash the kick and snare until I get a nice snap out of them. The snare should have that sort of kooosh sound, like a basketball being dribbled in a gymnasium, but not too much body. On the kick drum, the compressor should give you a whole lot of slap from the head." The secret of the 1176, says Ainlay, is in how you set the four ratio buttons, which are labeled 4, 8, 12, and 20. "By pushing in more than one button at a time, you get this cool overcompression thing. If I want a really smashed sound, I push in the 4 and the 8 on the bass drum and the 4, 8, and 12 on the snare."

Returning the compressed kick and snare signals on separate channels allowed Ainlay to gate them without affecting the original signal. "Gating the compressed signal helps eliminate some of the leakage from the hi-hat and other drums," he explains, "and it helps deal with some of the increased leakage you get from the extra compression. At the same time, I retain some of the quick transient response from the original signal, because it isn't gated."

Generally, Ainlay puts his equalizers after the compressors so that EQ changes won't affect the compression. He EQ'd the kick and snare with his two Neve 1081 channel strips, the overheads with his two Neve 1083s, and the hi-hat with his Focusrite ISA 115HD. "On kick drum, I usually boost a little at 60 Hz, cut a little at 450 Hz, boost somewhere around 4.5 kHz, and boost a bit at 10 kHz for some air. Snare drum gets a big boost of 10 kHz shelving, a whole lot of 5.6 kHz, and a little 100 Hz. I usually don't cut much out of a snare drum."

On the overheads, Ainlay boosted a few dB at 10 kHz on both channels. He cut a bit at 56 and 390 Hz on one side, and at 100 and 400 Hz on the other. On the hi-hat, he engaged a low-cut filter at 105 Hz and boosted a little at 12 kHz.

Ainlay used console EQ on the toms. He boosted at 4.5 and 5 kHz on the high and high-mid toms, respectively, added a touch of 10 kHz to each, and cut a few dB at 700 Hz on each. The low-mid tom got boosts at 4.5 and 9 kHz and a cut at 700 Hz, and the low tom received a boost at 4.3 kHz and a cut at 500 Hz.

For effects, Ainlay sent plenty of signal from the snare and toms to three units: the PCM 70 (brass plate), Lexicon 300 (snare plate), and EMT 250. A touch of bass-drum signal was sent to both the Lexicon 300 and the EMT, and a moderate amount of signal from the overheads was sent to the PCM 70, Lexicon 224XL (bright hall), and EMT.

One-Track Wonder"Bottom of My Heart" had a DI bass track only. Ainlay treated the track with compression and EQ only-no effects. For compression duties, he selected his Joemeek SC2 "Classic." Again, the settings won't mean much unless you own the same compressor, but here they are just in case: input gain at 7, slope at 1, compression (threshold) at 6, attack at 5 (medium fast), and release at 3 (faster).

To EQ the bass, Ainlay patched in the right channel of his Manley Massive Passive stereo equalizer. He chose a bell filter centered at 2.2 kHz (with a broad Q) and a shelving filter at 8.2 kHz (with a slightly narrower Q). He boosted the bell filter about 2 dB, and the shelving filter 7 or 8 dB.

Keys to the HighwayAinlay used similar boxes to process the stereo piano tracks: a Joemeek compressor followed by an outboard EQ. The stereo compressor was his Joemeek SC4 with input gain at 6, slope at 1, compression (threshold) at 3, a moderate attack time, and a medium-fast release.

Ainlay EQ'd the piano with his Avalon Design AD2055 pure Class A equalizer, first cutting a few dBs at 25 Hz on both sides. On the left channel (the pianist's left hand) he boosted around 1.8 kHz (with a broad Q), and added a few dB of 10 kHz as well. On the right channel, he boosted at 1 kHz (also with a broad Q), and again added a touch of 10 kHz.

For piano effects, he sent moderate amounts of the tracks to the Lexicon 224XL (bright hall) and the EMT 250. He also bussed a bit of the signal to the AMS dmx harmonizer.

Synths You Fell for MeNot surprisingly, the stereo pad and stereo synth bells received minimal processing. Ainlay EQ'd the synth pad at the console, boosting 5 and 8 kHz by about 2 dB and cutting 2.5 kHz by 2 dB. For effects, he sent the signals to both the Lexicon 224XL (bright hall) and the EMT 250.

The synth bells received neither EQ nor compression. They were sent to four processors: the Ensoniq DP/4 (phase delay chorus/chamber), Lexicon PCM 70 (brass plate), Lexicon 300 (snare plate), and EMT 250.

Steel YourselfThe mono steel guitar track also received minimal treatment-just a bit of EQ, some effects, and no dynamics processing. Using console EQ, Ainlay boosted 3.5 kHz by a few dBs. He sent a bit of the signal to the Lexicon 224XL (bright hall), a bit more to the DP/4 and EMT 250, and the biggest portion to the Lexicon 300 (snare plate), the return of which was panned left to complement the right-panned main signal.

Guit' In the Truck!The five electric guitar tracks all received similar treatment in the mix. Ainlay didn't use dynamics processing on any of them, and he handled all EQ at the console.

The mono texture track received slight boosts at 6 and 8 kHz. The biggest part of the signal was sent to the Ensoniq DP/2 (delay/flanger) and DP/4 (phase delay-chorus/chamber)-"for that big swirl," says Ainlay-but a fair amount was also sent to the EMT 250 and PCM 70 (brass plate).

The stereo solo tracks were sent to those same processors, as well as to the Lexicon 300 (snare plate), with most of the effect coming from the 300 and the EMT. Ainlay bolstered the tracks with a 3 dB boost at 8 kHz, a 6 dB boost at 2 kHz, and a 1 dB boost at 2.4 kHz.

The stereo rhythm tracks were sent to the DP/4, PCM 70, Lexicon 300, and EMT 250, with most of the signal going to the DP/4 and Lexicon 300. They received no EQ.

Back On UpAinlay imposed 70 Hz low-cut filters on the background vocal tracks at the console. He then patched them through his Focusrite ISA 215 dual-mono mic preamp/equalizer (for the EQ only), and from there into his Crane Song LTD STC-8 discrete Class A stereo compressor/peak limiter. On the Focusrite 215, he boosted at 10 kHz and around 4.5 kHz on both tracks. He also cut a bit of 300 Hz from one of the tracks.

The Crane Song STC-8 is a unique compressor/limiter with several parameters that don't translate to other dynamics processors. Ainlay used the unit in KI mode, which adds second-order harmonic distortion to warm up the sound. The STC-8 offers presets, but Ainlay chose the variable mode. This allowed him to dial in his own attack and release times (medium attack, medium-slow release), as well as gentle curve and slope on one channel and aggressive curve and slope on the other.

For effects, Ainlay sent the background vocals to the Lexicon 300 (snare plate) and EMT 250. He also bussed a bit of the signals to the AMS dmx delay/harmonizer and the Lexicon PCM 42 delay.

Main AttractionFor Keith's lead vocal track, which he worked on last, Ainlay reserved a channel of the Manley Massive Passive EQ and his GML (George Massenburg Labs) 8900 Dynamic Gain Control (Series III) compressor. For EQ, he employed a medium-wide bell filter on the low end, cutting 3 dB at 68 Hz, and a low-cut shelving filter set at 22 Hz. Ainlay set a second shelving filter at 4.7 kHz, which he boosted 2 dB, and a third shelving filter at 12 kHz, which he boosted 4 dB.

The GML 8900 is another unique box with certain parameters (for example, Crest Factor) that don't translate to other units. In simple terms, Ainlay operated the unit in soft-knee mode with a medium ratio and medium "timing" (simultaneous attack and release times).

Ainlay used the same effects on the lead vocal that he used on the background vocals: a mix of Lexicon 300 and PCM 42, some EMT 250, and a touch of AMS dmx delay. His concluding move for the mix was riding the lead vocal track manually-"to get more out of the track"-while the SSL 4000 E "memorized" his moves.

Get a ClueHopefully, this session account has provided a helpful glimpse into Ainlay's thoughts on mixing and deepened your understanding of the various elements that go into a professional mix. However, I do want to issue this warning: Do not take the various EQ and processor settings given here as recommendations on how you should process your own tracks. Those settings are pertinent to "Bottom of My Heart" only, and are based on Ainlay's extensive mixing experience and familiarity with his gear. Certainly, you can't expect to go plugging them into your own productions and have them work!

On the other hand, you may well benefit from thinking critically about the gear and settings Ainlay chose and why he chose them. Moreover, some of the settings (for example, EQ on the bass drum) may prove a good jumping-off point in your own mix efforts. Just make sure that your ears and musical sensibility have the final say.

To get the most from this piece, you might also want to pick up a copy of How Do You Like Me Now?!, and give "Bottom of My Heart" a careful listen. Just learning to identify the different elements of the mix-where the instruments and effects are coming from in the stereo field, which elements are more or less compressed, which brighter or darker, which louder or softer, and so on-will do much to sharpen your sense of how to mix a song.

Brian Knave is an associate editor at EM. A warm thanks to Robbie Clyne, Chuck Ainlay, Mark Ralston, James Stroud, Loud Studio, George Petersen, Fletcher, and everyone else who helped make this piece possible.