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Why are strings (violins, etc) allowed to dominate a leadvox in a mix?

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  • Why are strings (violins, etc) allowed to dominate a leadvox in a mix?

    Whenever I listen to an excellent pop vocal song that features real strings accompanying,   I always notice that they are allowed to,  in the mix,  be very forward in a mix,  very often being considerably louder in amplitude than the leadvox itself.     I've heard this so many times,   especially in traditional American "easy listening/soft pop" arrangements from the 60's onward (which I confess I love, BTW FWIW YMMV).

    My point is,   you'd never (as a rule)  mix your guitars,  piano,  bass, horns or drums louder than your leadvox,   while s/he's singing;   but orchestral strings very often do come loudly to the fore;  in fact they are often mixed louder  (apparently) than any other element in your mix.

    And of course,  it works.  But WHY?    Your theories here?    How is it that strings can "get away with that" while other sonorities couldn't?

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  • #2

     I think it's because a string section and a solo voice sound very different. So even if the former is somewhat louder, the latter can still be heard clearly. Try the same thing with trumpets, or reeds, and depending on the particular voice and what it's doing, there will lkely be a fight there.

     

     And it was a style that people had become accustomed to...Philly strings!

    A lot of attention was given to those string arrangements. So even if the vocal is a little weak here or there...those guys could be counted on to shine and hold it together.

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    • #3

      Lots of rock mixes have buried the vocals. There are whole genres where that's a dominant trait across the genre and if you try to mix it higher, the fans say, that sounds corny.

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      • UstadKhanAli
        UstadKhanAli commented
        Editing a comment

        blue2blue wrote:

        Lots of rock mixes have buried the vocals. There are whole genres where that's a dominant trait across the genre and if you try to mix it higher, the fans say, that sounds corny.


        ...such as My Bloody Valentine. That would not really sound great if the vocals were really prominent.

        To get back to the original question, since a lot of those old pop songs began without strings, the strings can add a lot of dynamics while still allowing the vocals to shine through.

        I'm guessing here. But if you don't buy that one, I'll come up with another reason.


      • blue2blue
        blue2blue commented
        Editing a comment

        I think Ken and RV are onto something with the stay-out-of-the-way timbre of well-orchestrated strings. The strings are the noise floor and the vocal is the signal that can still be discerned beneath the noise floor. It's science.  grin 


        Back when I was working in studios, I did a lot of punk rock. Punkers almost always wanted their vocals buried. And, you know, often not without good reason.  wink.gif 


        But I'd have to switch hats for other work, as I also did pop, folk and jingle sessions. You know, you just have to have different 'profiles' in your head for different genres. When in doubt, get some good reference works in the current pattern of practice to study. I found mimmickry to be a pretty good teacher.

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    • #4

      If you paid that much due to union wages, wouldn't you feature them prominently?

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      • #5

        rasputin1963 wrote:

        ..........

        And of course,  it works.  But WHY?    Your theories here?    How is it that strings can "get away with that" while other sonorities couldn't?


        I personally don't think it works all that well though I'm sure I'm in the minority on that. It's my opinion it's done to aggravate some of us. The same holds even more true for horns, expecially trumpets and cornets. The horns, in particular, are annoying by themselves and when pushed to the front and loud in the mix they become nearly unbearable, much more than the strings, IMHO.

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        • MrKnobs
          MrKnobs commented
          Editing a comment

          I agree with the reasoning that strings are EQ'd thinner, spread wider, and tend to have less dynamic range than a midrange-y vocal.  So it's really simple.   Someone mixing vocals and strings stops at a point where the vocals can clealy be heard and that leaves a string section pretty high in the mix vs say guitars or piano.


          There are three ways to make something heard in a mix: EQ, pan, and push the fader.  Well, maybe four if you count compression.   That's all this is about.


          That, and a string quartet just sounds lovely.


          Terry D.


        • JeffLearman
          JeffLearman commented
          Editing a comment

          I'd like to hear some examples.

          First, I think most pop songs are mixed with the vocals way too loud, drowning out everything but bass and drums. Of course, I understand why they do that, and if I was producing a pop record, I'd probably stick to what works, but that doesn't mean I'd like it or want my personal copy mixed that way. But those mixes sure do work better in the mall PA and cheap radios etc.

          So, given that I find vocals mixed way to hot in most pop songs, I'm surprised to hear someone say they're buried under anything, and I'd like to hear examples.

          What I do find, with my aging ears, is that most TV shows have the music and sound effects way too loud compared to the dialog. No doubt in my 20's I'd have loved the mix, but in my 50's I have a hard time understanding what they're saying (and my wife, who has far better hearing than I, has the same issue only not quite so bad.)

          I can certainly imagine strings being prominent in a mix but in a different frequency range to avoid conflicts. Frankly, frequency carving is one of the most important skills of a good mixer, a skill that should be used before resorting to stereo imaging to differentiate elements.

          To Terry's list of EQ, pan, and fader, I'd add stereo imaging, which is a lot more than merely pan, but no doubt that's what he meant to imply. As much as I love stereo imaging, it should be the last to employ, to provide separation.













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