Bringing heavy to surround
When it comes to mixing the true sound of heavy-hitting genres like hard rock, metal and progressive rock in immersive formats, challenges are certain to arise. Such was the case for three-time GRAMMY® Award-winning Producer and Mixer David Bottrill and his longtime freelance collaborator, GRAMMY-nominated Engineer, Mixer and Producer Ryan McCambridge, who recently worked on both the original and Dolby Atmos mixes for Mastodon’s latest double album, Hushed and Grim.
Attention to detail
Known for a unique sound that ebbs and flows between heavy metal and hard rock, Mastodon’s album is full of depth, dimension, powerful emotion and some sensitivity. Taking that into consideration, Bottrill and McCambridge knew they needed to work on each song individually, giving each the careful attention it needed. To assist with the process, the duo turned to a variety of NUGEN Audio software, including Halo Upmix, Paragon and ISL, to help them achieve their goals.
''Since I work on both the music mix and in post, I suggested NUGEN for this project, which I had been using for years''.
Partners in sound
“Mastodon is a progressive band that required a lot of intricate sound design and layering,” explains Bottrill. “I mixed the album in stereo and then the decision was made to turn it into a Dolby Atmos format. It would have been a little more challenging for someone else to try and just match the mix that I had done, so it made more sense for me to do the Dolby mix. I knew what I wanted the sound to do and was able to turn that into an Atmos mix with Ryan’s help. We worked together, and it was a real education for me. It set the tone for everything Atmos as we go forward.”
“Paragon was good for when we were trying to smooth over the edges of anything we were adding into the mix.''
To accomplish their creative goals, Bottrill and McCambridge turned to NUGEN’s Halo Upmix software to take Bottrill’s Mastodon stereo mixes and put them into an immersive format. “Since I work on both the music mix and in post, I suggested NUGEN for this project, which I had been using for years,” says McCambridge. “The brand is such an industry standard. I use all of the company’s plug-ins and have come to rely on certain ones more as we are working on projects for streaming services and Dolby Atmos immersive sound.”
According to Bottrill, Upmix became integral to the project. “Everything went through Upmix in varying degrees,” he says. “It worked incredibly well for maintaining an album feel, while also giving the listener a sense of being surrounded by the music. Using Upmix, we also had the confidence that our mixes would still sound pristine when we bring them down into other formats. It doesn’t become sloppy and it doesn’t turn into a phase nightmare. It’s very graceful.”
''Using Upmix, we also had the confidence that our mixes would still sound pristine when we bring them down into other formats''.
Transparency is paramount
The duo also utilized ISL and Paragon on the Mastodon album to help them discreetly add things into the mix. “Paragon was good for when we were trying to smooth over the edges of anything we were adding into the mix,” McCambridge adds. “We didn’t want to pinpoint any stems that we were adding, we just wanted them to become part of the whole three-dimensional image.”
As for his use of ISL, McCambridge says it is his primary fail-safe plug-in. “Whether I’m mixing music or working in post, having ISL on the end of a chain, at least in the back of your mind, you know that you’re not going to clip,” he says. “Since it’s so transparent, you don't really have to worry and manage it as much as you do with other, more ‘vibey’ limiters and compressors. To be honest, I’m pretty shocked at how transparent it is sometimes.”
“We’re able to use comprehensive workings within the ISL just to set our levels,” adds Bottrill. “We tried different level settings until we finally came up with the one that seemed to have the most headroom, but yet still was able to kind of push it to the limits that we wanted to go to.”
"Pushing Tides,” the first single from Mastodon’s Hushed and Grim album was nominated fora 2022 GRAMMY Award for Best Metal Performance.
From naturally extracted and expanded soundscapes to full cinematic big-stage enhancement, Halo Upmix delivers all the control you need to produce and fine-tune your surround mix to perfection.
ISL is a transparent True Peak surround limiter with precise look-ahead intelligence, allowing you to focus on creative audio production while it takes care of compliance for you.
Paragon is a true convolution reverb with the flexibility and control of a classic algorithmic reverb, giving you the sound of real spaces, now with unprecedented tweakability.