The dub approach to mixing is based around the creative use of effects and usually improvised re-arrangement of the instruments and parts used in the song to create a unique ‘version.’
Start by setting up your basic mix so that all elements are well balanced and the sound stays crisp whilst keeping bass and drums dominant.
A great many classic dubs were made on very basic tape machines, so to emulate this you can sub mix or group the individual channels so you can dub the whole drum kit simultaneously etc. Basically it means you need fewer fingers and less brain power, which helps...
- Guitar and piano chops
- Organ shuffle or keyboard melodies
- Vocals and harmonies or lead instrument melodies
- FX or samples
Simplifying your mixer layout enables you to control all the elements of the mix really quickly and easily, giving you one hand on the arrangement and the other for the FX. It also allows you to EQ whole sections of your mix together (and sweep them). Your mixer layout is important, how you arrange your channels can help or hinder the spontanaity of your dub.
Learn the track; make a mental note of the time of any significant melody or vocal hooks and remember all good dubs have to have a great intro, a memorable bass line, a hypnotizing beat, a signature sound or melody hook and some well timed FX and arrangement drop-downs. Never forget - SPACE IS KING!!!
- Send to the input of your dub machines from either the auxilary or group sends of your desk; this allows you to 'hit' the sends at significant moments in your dub by the flick of your wrist.
- Avoid leaving effects on too long, particularly long reverbs and delays, they can swamp your mix and become annoying. Far better to use them sparingly but loud, giving them more impact when they do come in.
- Bring the outputs of your FX back up channels on your desk. This allows you
to send delays back to themselves, allowing you to control the delay feedback from either the channel fader, aux or group send rather than the feedback control on the unit itself. This also allows you to use cumulative EQ as well as giving the option of adding further FX to the delay signal (see below). Set the channel so that the feedback maintains a consistant level (this is your zero point) and then back it off slightly so the signal fades. If you want your delays to rise in volume, push the fader or pot past this point.
- Equalize or filter the FX inputs and outputs. Experiment with radical boosts in the mid-range frequencies, roll off the bass by using a filter or EQ (200 Hz and under). On delays, the effect is cumulative; i.e. if you EQ adding top end to the delay channel, each successive repeat will become brighter.
- If your level changes within the FX are too extreme, or you are overloading the input with your big hits try inserting a limiter before the input to smooth things out
- If you're using digital delays, filter the top end off (on the input or channel) so as to simulate a tape echo's degenerating sound
- Change the delay times during the song, use musical intervals to keep your delays running in time with the track i.e. 1/16th, 1/8th, 3/16ths etc. Use the Drumdrops Delay Chart to work out the time accurately
- Open the input to your FX send slowly over 2-4 bars letting the echoes accumulate until they start to peak then switch off the input. The delays will go on for a while and fade out, this is a good time to bring in a new element or change the mix
- Trigger reverb or echo on the snare drum or rimshot, not every time but once in a while
- Phase and EQ the hi-hats with a triplet delay to add some urgency and momentum
- Apply reverb on the bass for ghostly breakdowns and occasionally mess with the EQ by cutting the bass frequencies and boosting the mid range. But don't forget to take your reverb off again or it wont be special any more
- Envelope filter or harmonizer FX before the input of a 400 ms delay for the Scientist sound
- Maestro Echoplex and Fisher Space Expander reverb for King Tubby sound
- Roland Space Echo and Mutron Bi Phase for the 70s Lee Perry vibe
- Daisy chain and combine effects by sending them to each other, you can create some wild sounds by experimenting....
- Be adventurous, anything goes (well, nearly). Dub is jazz engineering.... improvise!
- Don't be too precious about your fader and EQ settings, some of your best moments will be the completely unbalanced bits and mistakes.
- Don't repeat yourself and try and turn things around on themselves
- A good dub should test the fidelity of your speakers and sound system by encompassing the entire audio spectrum
- Make things jump from speaker to speaker and be dramatic
- Look for your own signature sounds within your set up
Credits: Style Scott, Mike Pelanconi and Nick Coplowe