glueOne of the members of the HSC Production Club posted a question in the members-only forum that I think is a GREAT question. What’s your glue instrument? Or to broaden it a bit – what’s the “glue” in your mix?

Part of last week’s content involved me recording a B3 (organ) part for one of my songs. I was talking about how much I love the organ. It really fills things out. A lot of times it’s the “glue” that holds the mix together.

Here’s an excerpt from the Production Club Week 4 content:

I…love to use a B3 in my recordings. It can easily be overdone, and I’ve been known to use it too much, but when it’s done well, it’s subtle, but it adds a lot to the song.

While I use the organ as my go-to “pad” sound, the same principle applies to most synth/keyboard parts. If you feel like something is missing from your song, experiment with various pads playing lightly in the background. It can be the glue that holds the song together.

There are songs that I’ve loved for years, and only recently have I noticed the organ/pad parts in them. It’s not that they weren’t audible. If you took them away, it would completely change the song, but they’re so subtle you sometimes “feel” them more than you “hear” them.

How about you?

What’s your “mix glue”? Perhaps it’s a guitar tone? Or maybe it’s a compressor? (That Waves SSL Bus Compressor is unbelievable on the mix bus…whew.) Or maybe you actually whip out a bottle of Elmer’s glue and start squeezing?

Let’s hear it. Leave a comment and enlighten us all.

HSC Production Club

This is just one example of the many things we cover in the HSC Production Club. If you’d like to dive in and learn a TON about recording and production over the next twelve weeks, I’m currently accepting new members!

Sign up here.

I’m closing the doors on Monday, December 14th, 2009 at 9 am CST. You’re gonna love it.

[Photo by rwkvisual]

  • Cowbell. And lots of it.

  • Larry Bade of Ravyn Recording

    I like to analyze the entire track after it’s mixed with a spectrum analyzer and see what frequencies are really absent. If it is something in the upper bands, say 7 to 10k, then I’ll use a nice high note string pad to fill up the space. If it is something down low, I’ll sometimes pitch up or down a second copy of a bass drum and fill in the space that way. So in essence my mix glue is to make sure that all the frequency space gets used up with something and that the levels are consistent before I compress it. Be careful though because this is easy to over-do.

  • Michael W

    My glue? I hate to admit it, but in the middle stages of recording (right after early vocal tracks get done) I like to put a….like I said, I’m sure I’m gonna tick people off….I like to add a BBE Maximizer to the main, just so I can hear the mix explode out of the monitors. I try to record fairly dry to make sure everything is nice and tight and its cool to go from night to day and hear the songs come alive for the first time.

    Then after that I try to replicate the sound without the ‘magic cheat plug-in’…but, its still cool to use it on projects that you just want to get done with.

  • My glue in the mix buss is the TriTone Digital, Colortone Pro in the Abby Road or SSL mode for satruration, the UA-1 Precision Limiter in Standard “A” mode and if necessary, T-Racks Classic EQ to taste.

  • I mentioned this in the production club forum, but here’s something I’ve really liked: put a really heavy reverb on a fairly clean electric tone, and play just a few notes of the chord way up the neck. Using only the ‘wet’ reverb sound, it has a sort of spacey pedal steel vibe. You can also slide the audio back a little bit, so the initial swell of the reverb sort of leads into each chord change.

    Another thing I tried once and really liked: recording several tracks of guitar harmonics on acoustic guitar (capo’d as necessary), using different rhythms to get a cool sort of bell-like arpeggio sound, and panning them around to give it some stereo interest.

  • Craig Olson

    I agree with the acoustic guitar. I’ll ,depending on the song ,have a acoustic strumming along in the back ground. When I get to the Chorus I’ll capo to the 3rd, 5th, or 7th and transpose the chords accordingly and that usually add a bit of excitement to the chorus. A well used compressor can help to, but nothing glues a song together like a well written song 🙂

  • I think Dave’s point bares repeating; each song deserves to be considered as a unique thing and deserves it’s own treatment. Certainly some songs shine best without any attempt to add “glue”. Yet others may feel like a group of disparate tracks playing back in sync but without any musical relationship. In this later case certain production techniques may help, or then again the best solution may be to re-track. The best “glue” really comes from tight performances that support one another in the mix. They fit together so tight that no glue is required for them to hold together. 🙂

  • Don’t think there’s any ONE glue that brings things together – kind of depends on the project and what’s going on. Sometimes it’ll be the B3, sometimes power chords, piano, strings, drum beat…

    It all depends, but I usually do look for some sort of common theme element that goes through the tune that keeps the listener grounded and doesn’t make the project sound like a bunch of different elements thrown together…

  • When does the next Production Club Course begin?


    • Hey Dave,

      The next course starts now. I’m closing the doors in about 12 hours (9am CST on December 14, 2009). I’d love to have you join! Otherwise, the next course will be sometime in 2010, but I’m not sure how soon it will be.

  • Jason Oakes

    I’ve heard that the McDSP AC1 is great on the mix bus. I haven’t tried it yet. I’ll probably be getting the Waves SSL bundle so I might try their Bus Compressor first

  • Instrumentally, acoustic guitar is a great example of ‘mix glue’ – especially in electronics-heavy music, oddly enough. A good jangly strummed acoustic sound is chock full of musical, natural harmonics. These can often be missing from heavily processed sounds, especially synths. I think Hammond works well for the same reason.

    My favourite example is ‘Achtung Baby’ by U2 – it’s surprising how many of even the most agressive tracks have a an acoustic guitar filling out the texture.

    Mix-wise, using the same reverb on mist instruments in the mix can help – so even if you have separate reverbs for snare and vocal, say, having another more natural ‘room’ reverb on the guitars, drum overheads and (a little) on the vocals can really help pull things together, especially if everything has been recorded seperately or with lots of isolation.



    It is interesting what holds a mix together sometimes. Heck, sometimes the drum loop your using is holding the whole thing together. hehe . Or the bass guitar or a subtle little guitar part. Depends on the song.

  • On a slower song it might be a pad or even reverb/ambience. On more upbeat stuff I like to tune my buss compressor to the groove of the song. Get the compressor pumping in a subtle, musical way so that the whole mix is kind of “bopping it’s head” to the beat. If the song has a steady tempo and constant pulse then I may set the compressor (the release is key here) and just leave it, but if the song has a more dynamic groove from section to section then I may find that I have to automate the compressor over the course of the song so that it stays “groovy” and doesn’t become over powering in places or fight the beat. Again this is all pretty subtle but when I get it right it makes me smile. My favorite bus compressors for this sort of thing are:

    Aggressive rock song: UAD 4K
    Laid back rock song: UAD Fairchild
    most other things: PSP Old Timer (just getting to know this one)

    p.s. I also love the sound of a B3 through a leslie but I have yet to really master the performance techniques of using swells, drawbar changes and kicking in the leslie at just the right moment. It’s on my list of things to learn. I just recently had some insight of how to use different tones on the different manuals to go from mellow to aggressive. I’m not used to playing two manual keyboards so I don’t usually think that way. 🙂