4.4.1 Mixing the Asian Flow albums

The Asian Flow records were a learning experience for me as a producer collaborating with sound engineer Jon Marius Aareskjold who previously have worked with Rihanna and Beyoncé as part of the production team Stargate. We did a preliminary mix of three songs sketches back in 2013 as a pre-production. This was before I decided to record live strings so the tunes were in different keys and had more programmed digital instruments. As this project grew out of proportions for me due to the workload a fixed schedule became impossible. With one-month notice Jon Marius graciously agreed to mix my album even though his schedule were full six months ahead.

I uploaded all my audio files as separate files with no volume automation and plug-ins in a shared Dropbox folder for mix down. The sound quality of my files variated since it was recorded by me over a time period of four years and often more focused at the artistic result. So Jon Marius ended up doing a lot of editing adding to his workload. The vocal files contained background noise from the traffic in Phnom Penh impossible to remove so if you listen closely to some of the vocal tracks featuring Ouch Savy you can hear it. We communicated through email, Skype and by SMS since he was mixing in his studio in Tromsø, a city far from Kristiansand. When a mix arrive I would comment like this:

Strings 02:45-03:20 +1decibel (dB)    

Piano 05:15-50 – 0,5 dB         

02:45 indicates the specific minute and second for the edit and decibel(dB) is a music industry standard when addressing volume measurement. Decibel is a progressive scale where small adjustments can have an effect on the mix.

I now wanted to preserve the open acoustic live string sound from Bratislava and use minimal compression so we went back and forth a couple of times to adjust this. A challenge emerged mixing the tune ‘Remembrance’ as the volume of the strings were almost non-existent. I failed to communicate this in a clear way creating some tension as Jon Marius now had the strings 6dB too high in his speakers, and I still had them too low. Since ProTools 10 only allowed real time bounces Jon Marius had no time to check the actual bounced file, that was my job. The day after I opened the session from Dropbox at UiA studio in Kristiansand with Alf the day after to check the mix. All played fine and Alf pointed out that the strings were routed through a separate aux and failed to come into the final mix. When Jon Marius got the message from Alf to check the aux setting for the strings’ it was an easy fix. So it comes down to terminology where I was not specific enough and Jon Marius misunderstood due to time pressure. 

4.4.2 Mixing the live albums

The experience from the studio albums helped me when producing the live albums although new challenges presented itself. Re-experiencing both of the live recordings in the studio as a producer is a different experience than being on stage as a pianist and musical director. In the mixing phase the role as the producer is prominent although as the composer I can decide to cut or edit part in close collaboration with Eirik shaping the soundscape. In the LIC-album Eirik were the Front of house sound engineer at the concert and had control over his technical team securing correct mics and setup on stage.

He uses this experience from live settings when working in studio and this knowledge and perception is not easy to obtain. As the regular sound engineer for KSO he has worked a lot on mixing string orchestra both live and in studio.

We met up in studio where he had set up a preliminary mix of one tune. We then started adjusting fine tuning the soundscape, as I preferred a bit tighter drums and less reverb closer to how I experience Karl Oluf sound like. In addition, we worked on the Arabic instruments to get their acoustic sound highlighted. Once we agreed on an overall soundscape Eirik used these settings as a starting point for the other tunes. We then communicated further via email and mix versions via Dropbox following the same procedure as with Jon Marius:

00:29-32 piano +1dB

01:18-21 piano +1dB

01:38-58 A bit high ride cymbal?

01:58-02:10 Strings – 1 dB

02:12-29 piano +1dB

04:02-27 guitar – 1 dB

Eirik is at times too polite and let me turn down the piano volume too low in the mix. I had trouble separating my critical inner pianist where I in fact should be making executive decisions as producer. In our second live album he was more direct, as I need resistance in the process. As demonstrated in the timelines Eirik had several challenges with digital errors and at one point replacing one bar with all instruments. His background as a musician were crucial in theses edits since it involved a sense of timing and musicality. We experimented with the placement and overall sound of Istanbul Strings in the mix fusing them into a live soundscape. In the end I made an executive decision to keep the sound as close to the original recordings in Istanbul and centred them in the mix, highlighting the difference from live and studio rather than spreading the strings out.

4.4.3 Mastering the albums

After the mix down from the sound engineer to a stereo track the files are sent to the master engineer as it is recommended to use a fresh set of ears for mastering. Some sound engineers have perfected the skill and are exclusively doing masters. One of these are the multi-award winning Björn Engelmann at Cutting Room studio in Stockholm, Sweden. He has mastered all of my albums. He started collaborating with the Swedish group ABBA in the 1970s and have now mastered close to 60 000 songs. The mix down files were sent digitally from Jon Marius and Eirik to Björn and usually there is no need to be present. But I wanted to meet him, observe and discuss my music choices and his sound aesthetics.

It is a bit of mystery how sound engineers work mastering albums. The award-winning sound engineer Howie Weinberg makes this comparison: Mastering is like Photoshop for audio (Weinberg, 2010) meaning using plug-ins and hardware (instead of filters for photos) to manipulate and improve the original stereo audio file.

Björn uses only analogue hardware and applies terms from nature when discussing changes in the mix; Open up and let the music breath, add warmth, more organic and adding clarity. The mastering room are without windows acoustically treated and sound proofed. His philosophy is to let the music itself determine the process and not worry about compression. Radio channels have their own compressions that they apply anyway. Surprisingly he does not use multi-compressor since according to him most people are not disciplined enough to restrict their use of it.

As a general comment Björn is a bit sceptical to the present pop aesthetics with mixes compressed with hard top in EQ. So for the Asian Flow albums he applied the hardware tool DeEsser to smooth the vocals and in general added warmth to the mix, or specifically boost EQ in the lower frequencies. He closed his eyes, listened and turned the knobs (background image). No digital automation. One master setting for each tune. It was fascinating watching him work. It was like watching a magician backstage only to still wondering how he did it even if I observed everything. He is not afraid to speak his mind and have an intuitive approach on the music. After each tune he positioned me in the chair so I could listen through it and approve while he took a break.

Mastering the live albums, he commented on the aesthetics in the compositions and mixes as similar to ECM and Kirkelig Kulturverksted productions. On the string orchestra sound from the LIC-album he started by asking: “Is this really live?” A credit to Eirik’s strings mix and complimented several of the musicans throughout the process.

Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Consent to display content from - Youtube
Consent to display content from - Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from - Google