Alan Moulder: On Mixing BM Linx

New York-based, electro-rock band BM LINX recently enlisted Alan Moulder to mix its upcoming Craze Factory release. Moulder—who is considered one of the U.K.’s preeminent alt-rock producers—has worked on many hit records for groups such as Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, Depeche Mode, the Killers, and Marilyn Manson.
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“There are a number of different elements to deal with here,” says Moulder of the BM LINX project. “Some songs have programmed drum samples, and others are played with acoustic drums. There’s quite a bit of sequencing, as well as vocals, guitar, electric bass, and synth tracks. The songs are a bit more aggressive than the band’s previous album, and we wanted to retain that quality in the final mixes.”

How did you approach the drum mix?
This is not an overly elaborate recording of the drum kit—which I like. They used three mics for the kick—inside, outside, and a sub [a speaker is placed in front of the kick and used as a “mic”]—a snare with top and bottom mics, the toms, and a couple of room mics. For the kick, I used about 25 percent of the speaker mic, and then equally balanced the inside and outside mics. I routed all three sources to one mixer channel so that all the EQ and compression blended together.

What compressors did you use for the combined kick track?
The kick track was processed with the SSL’s channel compressor, but then I sent the signal—along with some of the other drum tracks—to a few different compressors, such as a Neve 33609, an Empirical Labs Fatso, and an Elysia mpressor. I use different combinations of these compressors for different bits of a song. For example, I may bring in the mpresser for the choruses, and the Fatso for the verses.

How much of the room mics do you blend into the overall drum sound?
The song I’m working on now only has a rear room mic. I didn’t do any compression or EQ to it. Levelwise, it’s positioned where you barely notice it, but it definitely makes the drums sound bigger— especially the kick sound. You really notice it when you take it away.

Did you use any samples to beef up the drums?
I used a couple of very subtle kick and snare samples just to fill in some stuff I couldn’t get with EQ tweaks. All the samples were MIDI mapped to match the attack of the acoustic drums.

What about ambience effects?
There was a bit of a room sound from an Eventide H3000 on the snare, along with a Lexicon PCM-60 Room preset on the kick and snare.

What about all the synth tracks? Did you fatten them up at all?
The sounds were pretty much there. I used SoundToys FilterFreak to take off a bit of the top end. Filter- Freak gives you four or five ways to saturate a signal, so I could also make the synths sound dirty, fat, clean, or overdriven.

How do you ensure the electric bass doesn’t get swallowed up by low-end synth parts?
I had a miked bass sound—no DI—and I ran it through Native Instruments Guitar Rig to give the tone a bit of a growl. I wanted Guitar Rig to accentuate the bite and attack of the bass strings. The synths are dealing with the low end, so it wouldn’t work to add any lows to the bass guitar.

What about the guitars?
I didn’t do a lot. I used a little compression, and then I’d EQ the tone to filter out some of the low end and bring out the top end. I try not to change the guitar sound too much.

How did you approach the vocal sound?
The vocals were generally doubled. I’d blend them together in the box, and bring them up on one fader of the console. Then, I used a Chandler TG1 compressor and a Neve Portico 5042 Tape Emulator to add a bit of drive to the vocal sound. I set the compressor to limit, which makes the vocal sit nicely in a track. It also brings out some of the sound of the room the vocal was sung in, so you don’t have to use as much reverb or delay in the final mix.

Can you detail the delay and reverb processing you did use?
It depends. For delays, I tend to use short slaps around 100ms, or perhaps a 300ms delay mixed underneath the vocal to add space. Sometimes, I send the delays into reverbs, as well. Some of my favorite processors and plug-ins are the Eventide Orville, SoundToys EchoBoy, and Line 6 Echo Farm. I also like the Electro-Harmonix delay pedals.

Do you compress the entire mix through the stereo bus?
Yes. There’s a chain with a Manley Variable Mu Limiter/Compressor, a Manley Massive Passive EQ, and then the SSL compressor at the end. All of the compression is very subtle—no more than 1dB or 1.5dB.

Why do you use two compressors— the SSL’s onboard processor and the Manley?
I just like the sound. It’s more for the tone than for any sort of compression, actually. The Manleys offer a bit of added drive through their tubes and transformers, and the SSL throws in a bit of extra punch.

Is there any trick to crafting a fantastic final mix?
Well, I think the main goal is having everything balanced. I mean, that’s a very simple thing to say, but it’s really about moving sounds around, and putting them all in the right places. For example, having stereo tracks helps you get your sounds out of the center, which, in turn, leaves more space for your vocals. At that point, it’s just filling in any holes in the frequency spectrum with instruments, musical parts, and EQ adjustments. It can be as simple as letting the guitars take the top end, the bass take the low end, and giving the vocals their own spot. But whether a song is dense and complicated, or fairly minimal and open, you need to shape and sculpt each sound until the mix sounds right to you.