No, I’m not talking about making your chorus into a Pop song – I’m talking about getting your chorus to explode from the speakers in a way that tells the listener “THIS is what you’ve been waiting for.”
Let’s make one thing clear: arrangement is a huge factor here and needs to be dealt properly in the production. Instrumentation, vocal range, business etc… all make the most impact so they need to be different from your verses.
I’m here to talk about how to further enhance the impact of the chorus in the mix through some common and not-so-common mixing techniques.
Not always, but usually, verses are more sparse and smaller sounding, meaning we want to make the verse sound more narrow and intimate. Why? So that the introduction of the chorus brings in not only new elements but expands left to right and front to back in a big way.
Ways to achieve this can include:
- Instruments panned more central, mono instruments (doubles muted)
- Mono reverbs (spring anyone?)
- Short, centered slap-back echo
- Panning hard L/R, stereo tracks
- Stereo reverbs
- Longer, stereo delays
Experiment with spacial processing of different elements. Bringing the drum room mics in/out can drastically change the implied size of the drums.
Quite often, a slight or drastic change in a mix element’s tonality can help differentiate song sections. Sometimes a vocal needs to be bright in the chorus to imply the vocalist is even more upfront. Maybe the kick needs more attack at 6k to cut through. Try it out.
Speaking of drums, bringing in new drum samples for further reinforcement can be great. While it might not be too noticeable, the added oomph, attack, and room blend of a snare sample might just make the chorus sound huge, or give the kick the power it needs to rumble your listener’s chest.
A more subtle, yet surprisingly effective technique I’ve muddled with is changing ‘console’ tones with a plug-in like Slate Digital Virtual Console Collection or Waves NLS. This, of course, would be difficult to achieve in the analog realm, but in the digital world, it is a cinch! For example, you may start out with a more neutral SSL tone, and in the hooks, switch the console to a Neve to get that big bottom end and slightly smoother top end ensuring things don’t get too harsh up there. Or vice versa – having a warmer tube tone in the verse and a bright, punchy tone in the chorus.
Most modern songs take up the full frequency spectrum from 20Hz to 20kHz. However, our ears quickly adjust to and can be thankful for a slightly band-passed section of audio. I’m talking about filtering out the extreme subs and top end of a song during the verse and bypassing that baby in the hook. The result? It sounds as if the chorus is HUGE compared the verse now that bass has its full impact. Serban Ghenea uses this technique with many artists such as Katy Perry. It can be applied to directly to the mix buss, or specific elements as needed.
Manny Marroquin mentioned that he used different buss compressors in different sections of Bruno Mars’ mix “Locked out of Heaven.” It is definitely something to experiment with as each buss compressor imparts its own characteristics on the song, it could be a defining factor of your music. Again, digitally, it’s just a matter of automating these compressors in and out.
Parallel compression can also be brought in or out, up or down to differentiate sections of a song. Michael Brauer and Justin Niebank are two mixers known for using at least three parallel vocal compressors and automating as needed. Why? Because each compressor not only tames the vocal but imparts its own character in the sound. Some may sound more or less aggressive, smoother, warmer, brighter etc… New York Compression is also a classic technique for processing the drum sub, and can totally change the feel and movement of the drum mix in a song.
In addition to standard reverbs and delays, other effects can help enhance the hook of a song.
Bringing in artificial or natural double tracks (delayed and slightly pitch shifted, panned wide) can open up a vocal or instrument. Layering in a touch of auto-harmonies, octaves, or chorus so that it is not able to be picked out, but brings power to the track can further enhance the feel.
Distortion – yes, our good friend distortion is a wonderful way to help give something attitude and cut through the mix. This works especially well with bass guitar, drums, and even vocals to give them some grit. When soloed, it may sound like too much, but in the mix, the distortion comes across merely as energy.
Transient designers can further help any tracks, usually drums, that need that extra snap to hit the listener hard in the hook.
And let’s not forget the most old-school and trusted mix technique of them all – levels and volume automation. Simply riding elements of the mix as needed will enhance the dynamics of the song and keep it from feeling stale. Even automating the master fader a bit section by section just a small amount can do wonders.