077 Tips for Mixing Country Music

On this episode, we are going to be taking about the subtle differences in mixing Country music.  We are going to talk about what makes it slightly different than other genres.

Show Notes:

Country Mixing tips:

  • Mixing things is the right order is important.
  • How is mixing modern country different than classic country?
  • What’s the most important thing when mixing modern country?

Raw Transcript:

Kevin: This is the MixCoach podcast, episode 77.John: This week on the MixCoach podcast we’re going to be talking about mixing conventions as related to country music.Voiceover: If you want to become a more confident mixer, now you can get the training, tools, and community you need to achieve a better mix and workflow. MixCoach Member is a growing community of versatile mixers led by award winning engineer, producer Kevin Ward. Each month you’ll get access to Downloadable session files, so you can build your confidence and hone your mixing skills; mix tutorials, so you can see how a pro mixer approaches each month’s new mix; the forum, where you can get real time feedback on your mix from a huge community of mixers just like you; members-only webinars, where you can get your questions answered and get advanced training; plus hours of mix critique videos, so you can see what the mix coaches say about the monthly mix submissions.Steve: Hey it’s Steve Borden from Los Angeles, California. I’m a MixCoach member. I’ve been involved since its inception and my game in mixing has elevated greatly through the excellent tracks provided, the feedback, and the community. It’s a great group of people.If you’re thinking about joining MixCoach membership and you have any questions or any hesitation, just do it for one month. MixCoach will start you on a course that will only elevate your game in mixing.Voiceover: Become a more confident mixer now. Go to mixcoachmember.com

John: This week on the podcast we’re continuing our talk on genre conventions as relates to different genres of music.

Kevin: Right.

John: And how you mix each genre a little bit different. This week we’re going to talk a little bit about country and some of the differences between country and some other styles, as well as country within itself, there are a few different types of kind of sub-genres, I guess of country.

So Kev, last week we talked a little bit about rock music. And so as country relates to rock music, I guess the thing that we’ve talked about before, you and I, is that modern country, a lot of times, ends up being like rock music was maybe 17 years ago. Something like that. And it’s very kind of classic rock kind of driven stuff with big guitar riffs and things.

So talk a little bit about the similarities, I guess, and then some of the differences between country now versus the classic country.

Kevin: Right. Well, if you look back to when I was a kid, it was The Eagles. They were squarely rock’n’roll.

John: Yeah.

Kevin: And they were top of the game.

John: Yeah.

Kevin: Now, you compare any Eagles song to any modern day country song and the Eagles song sounds really tame compared to what’s coming out now. So really country is morphing into this modern rock sort of thing. Modern country is anyway.

So really, country, these days — when you talk about Jason Aldean, some of the stuff he’s coming out with, he pushes the envelope as much as anyone, and it’s pretty much a rock mix with a vocal forward and the vocal just on affect a little bit more. You’ve got big room sounds on the drums. Basically it’s a rock song with fiddle in it.

John: Yeah.

Kevin: Mainly. That’s really what it is. And steel.

John: Well, and you even look at something like a Taylor Swift. Nathan Chapman, the producer in her first album or whatever, he would do different mixes depending on what market it was going to go to. So he would do a mix with the country people, it would have the fiddle in it, but then in the rock or pop, whenever you pitch it to a pop station, he would take the fiddle out and mix up the guitars and mix up some of these other things that are in it. So there’s a lot of that going on too, where depending on what you emphasize in the mix, you can potentially make almost a different style.

Kevin: Well, I think the biggest thing about country mixing is, as it compares to rock’n’roll mixing, we mentioned this last week about how rock is pretty much guitar and groove driven.

John: Yeah.

Kevin: Country is kind of the same way except vocal and the vocal hook almost always trump everything else. So, when you’ve got a Taylor Swift song, people, they don’t remember the hook, the musical hook.

John: Yeah they don’t remember whether or not there was a fiddle a lot of the times.

Kevin: They don’t remember it a lot of the times, but they remember what she’s talking about.

John: Yeah.

Kevin: Taylor Swift’s fans can quote you the lyric of the song. So country, not that Taylor Swift’s pure country right now.

John: Right. She’s more pop now.

Kevin: I guess she is, but country, fiddle and steel and banjo are kind of the things that…

John: Define it.

Kevin: Define country music, I guess.

John: Yeah.

Kevin: So I guess country is kind of a rock mix with fiddle and steel in it now, possibly sometimes banjo as of lately. Banjo’s the hip thing. But vocal trumps everything. So the way to mix country music, in my opinion, is just to make sure that you mix the most important thing last.

John: Yeah.

Kevin: When we talk about “Last is loudest.” So if you mix everything else in, and then you put the fiddle and steel in, and then you put the lead vocal in, you’re almost always going to nail it.

John: Yeah.

Kevin: If you’re mixing rock, then you probably need to mix the drums later. You talk about, “Should the drums always be first on rock music?” I’ve seen this on forums and stuff, it’s like, well it’s whatever’s the most important to that style of music should probably be last. And country, it’s almost always the vocal followed by usually the fiddle and the steel and the guitars and stuff.

John: What a lot of times, whenever we talk on MixCoach to guys what we’ll suggest is, “Hey, go ahead and ride the instruments.” Like for example, whenever we do mix feedback, a lot of times, in a vocal driven song, you’ll get a mixer who all of a sudden, the electric guitar is doing this cool lick and it covers up the vocal.

And you always, nine times out of ten, you ask them, “Hey, did you mute? What were you mixing whenever you did that?” And a lot of times they’re just listening to the mix, but whenever you do your vocal or whenever you do your fill rides, like you were saying, where you’re riding up the interesting parts — like the keyboard does an interesting thing here, and the guitar does an interesting thing here — if you mute the vocal, you’ll place those correctly, and then you put back in the vocal and it’ll be right. Whereas if you leave the vocal in while you’re riding those, you’re basically going to overdo the vocal and cover up the vocal in those instances.

Kevin: You could, definitely. That’s definitely something that normally happens if you mix things in the wrong order. Which, I think there’s a YouTube video that we did years ago where I was talking about the hierarchy.

John: Hierarchy of mixing.

Kevin: Yeah, and it’s basically the principle of “Last is loudest.” And that you should mix last whatever’s the most important for that genre of music. And as far as country goes, it’s almost like a rock mix now, especially modern country.

Let’s talk about bluegrass next week, because that’s what country used to be back in the day, but it’s got its own set of rules too.

John: Definitely. We can relate that kind of stuff, like the classic country kind of sound, the older country, that sort of thing.

Kevin: Yeah. But to sum this up, really the biggest, I guess the rules for country music is just make sure that you pay attention, special attention, to the vocal.

John: The vocal.

Kevin: Because country is, most of the time, lyric driven. So mix it in the right order. Mix the vocal up where it should be and then make sure that the fills and the musical hooks are in there too. And you pretty much got a loose set of rules for mixing country music. Don’t affect the vocal, keep the vocal loud, but not too loud. I know that’s the magic sauce that nobody knows exactly what it is, “How loud is too loud?” or whatever.

John: Right.

Kevin: Mainly, I think, if you concentrate on the vocal, you’ve got a good country mix.

John: For sure.

Kevin: Thanks for listening. This has been the MixCoach podcast, the podcast dedicated to making your next recording your best recording. For more tips, tutorials, and even a free course, be sure and visit us at mixcoach.com.

Do you have any tips on Mixing Country?

About The Author

Jon Wright

As a graduate of MTSU with a degree in Audio Engineering and Technology Jon has been working as a full time mixer and engineer in Nashville. He loves running, writing, and all forms of entertainment. He also enjoys long walks on the beach with his wife.