It’s Friday before VBS week so this will be short. I was going to Tweet something to this effect a few weekends ago, but figured it would make a better post.
When you’re mixing a song that builds dynamically, don’t use up all your dynamics in the first chorus. The problem is simple; if the song is supposed to build all the way through and you pushed it up to 11 on the first time through the chorus, you now have no where to go as the song “builds.” In fact, it won’t really build because you peaked too early.
Imagine boading a roller coaster and staring up the big hill while you wait for it to start. Anticipation builds as the train pulls out of the station, you take a quick trip to the top of the first hill, then...as you crest the hill...you find the rest of the ride is basically at that height. Not quite what you were hoping for. That's what happens when we run out of headroom too early in a song. (after that the rest of the analogy breaks down, too)
We do a lot of songs that go like this:
Verse 1—start soft, slowly build a little
Chorus 1—a little bigger
Verse 2—a little bigger
End—either HUGE! or settle down
The tendency for younger engineers (and musicians of all ages) is to give it everything they have too soon. While that might feel good in the first chorus, by the time you get to the apex of the song, it’s unsatisfying. Ideally, the band and the engineer are working together to build the dynamics of the song as the tune progresses. The musicians should gradually be playing harder and more as it builds to it’s climax, while the engineer is slowing pushing those elements up.
However, sometimes the band gets too eager in the beginning. In those cases, I will actually pull them back at the beginning of the song so I have someplace to go (hey, someone has to be the adult…). The dynamics end up being a little off from a playing perspective, but at least I can manipulate the volume to create a sense of dynamics.
So remember, just like good BBQ, you can’t rush the dynamics of a building song.