Adjusting Levels: Enhancing the Emotion of the Song
After you have a rough mix and have your EQ and panning settings where you want them, your next step is to determine which parts of which tracks are used when — and sometimes, whether a part or track is used at all.
If you’re like most musician/producers, you try to get all the wonderful instrumental and vocal parts you recorded as loud as possible in the mix so that each can be heard clearly all the time. After all, you didn’t go through all the time and effort to record all those great tracks just to hide them in the mix — or worse yet, mute them — right?
During the mixing stage of a song, you need to take off your musician’s hat and put on the one that says producer. A producer’s job is to weed through all the parts of a song, choose those that add to its impact, and dump those that are superfluous or just add clutter.
Your goal is to assemble the tracks that tell the story that you want to tell and that carry the greatest emotional impact for the listener.
This can be the toughest part of mixing your own songs because you aren’t likely to be totally objective when it comes to determining what to use. Try not to stress out. You aren’t erasing any of your tracks, so you can always do another mix later if you just have to hear the part that you muted before.
One of the great joys when listening to music (for most people, anyway) is hearing a song that carries them away and pulls them into the emotional journey that the songwriter had in mind. If the song is done well, they will be sucked right into the song, and by the end, all they will want to do is rewind it and listen to it again.
What is it about certain songs that can draw you in and get you to feel the emotion of the performers? Well, aside from a good melody and great performances, it’s the way that the arrangement builds throughout the song to create tension, release that tension, and build it again. A good song builds intensity so that the listener feels pulled into the emotions of the song.
Generally, a song starts out quietly, becomes a little louder during the first chorus, and then drops in level for the second verse (not as quiet as the first, though).
The second chorus is often louder and fuller than the first chorus, and is often followed by a bridge section that is even fuller yet (or at least different in arrangement than the second chorus).
The loud bridge section may be followed by a third verse, where the volume drops a little. Then a superheated chorus generally follows the last verse and keeps building intensity until the song ends.
You have two tools at your disposal when crafting your song to build and release intensity. They are dynamics and instrumental content (the arrangement).