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Ep.8 (Part 1) Grammy Award Winning Audio Engineer Reacts to KNK, Monsta X and NCT 127


My name is Steven Roessner, I’m a professor at the University of Rochester in the audio and music engineering department. I’m also a Grammy Award winning engineer, and I mix, and master, and record. I’ve been doing it for probably too long, but I enjoy it. I enjoy it. I love it. Mixing and mastering in particular. So, we’ve already recorded the band, so that recording is done. So mixing and mastering is kind of like I’ve got this whole board of individual tracks that I need to mix together. One of my favorite ways to explain it, that I do in class, is akin to baking. Okay, so, recording is going out to the store and you buy a whole bunch of ingredients–you buy the flour, the sugar and all that kind of stuff, whatever you need. You’re gonna bake a cake. And so, mixing, you got all those ingredients in your kitchen, and you literally put them in a mixing bowl. So you have all these instruments that you’ve recorded, so now we’re gonna put them in a mix, and and what comes out is the batter–the stereo track, or the 5.1 mix, or 7.1 mix. So we need to make sure that all the proportions are right. If there’s too much sugar, the cake is gonna be too sweet; if there’s too much flour, it’s gonna be too dry, and sit like a rock in your stomach when you eat it. So, you have to balance everything and make sure it’s right. Mastering is the icing on the cake. It’s making sure it’s even on the top, and it’s making sure that all the songs in each slice is going to have the same amount of flavor, and all that kinda stuff. Umu: So the very first group that we’ll be reacting to is a group called KNK. They debuted in 2016 with five members, under ynb entertainment. This group’s concept is to bring back the original style of K-pop.
R: How far back does K-pop go? Umu: 1990s.
R: Okay, so like mid 90s. Okay. Alright. Umu: And this song is their debut song. R: I like the dissonant piano part. I quite enjoy that. It’s very right-heavy. There’s almost nothing over here. I’d say musically it’s 90s, yeah. That’s very Backstreet Boys. Harmonies that are going on? But the… Sonically, it’s 20, mid-two thousand-teens, you know. It’s a lot of energy in the 3kHz, 4kHz range, where it’s like (mimics sound)–like those kind of sounds are too much. Seems pretty muddy. And by that, I mean there’s a lot of mid-range, that’s just like fighting for attention. So there’s not a lot of clarity in this mix. It’s all very jumbled together. I can hear the vocals, I hear things, but they’re all occupying the same space. And like, as a mixing engineer, I can see the mixing engineer did that, he’s enhancing those frequencies and the vocals because there’s so much going on with the rest of the music that there’s no clarity there with the instrumental tracks, so in order to make the vocals heard you boost the vocal in the range that we hear best, which is one to four kHz, okay. So, that’s where we’re most sensitive in our hearing, that’s where all the fricatives of speech, of the (mimicking speech sounds) all those kinds of sounds, that’s all in that range, and so, whoever the engineer is, they’re trying to bring that out in an already dense mix, where they probably should have just been like, okay, let’s make the mix more clear. And then they wouldn’t have to had to do that. Those frequencies were annoying in the main song but not overwhelming, but then when the hip hop, when the rap portion came through, it was like, ooh, yeah, this hurts. This hurts my ears. Umu: All right. Yeah, that’s interesting. And also the harmonies during the chorus–could you tell whether they were Auto-Tuned or were they real?
R: Yes. Yeah, they were Auto-Tuned. Pretty much everything there was Auto-Tuned pretty exact. The actual music, yeah, that was very 90s. You know, I remember those songs and dancing awkwardly at the high school dances to those songs. Musically, that sound is, that’s there. Umu: Okay. R: But production-wise, it’s very now. Umu: Well, we’ll move on. This is a boy group that was formed on a reality show called No Mercy.
R: They compete for a spot in this band.
Umu: Exactly. So they officially debuted in 2015 with seven members under Starship Entertainment. This group is a very genre-based group, focusing more on a rap hip-hop style. This song was considered a larger departure from their usual style, because it took a more dance approach to hip-hop rap stuff.
R: Okay. That’s an interesting sound I’ve never really heard that one. That’s good. I need more bass. This is a hip-hop song. It’s very controlled in the bass. I need more of like a boom. Keep in mind, we’re not listening with a subwoofer, we’re just listening, normal speakers. Would a subwoofer help with that? Yeah. But I also should be able to feel that base with just a stereo set of speakers without a subwoofer. Right now it’s kind of weak. Also, this mix is nice and wide in stereo, which leads me to believe the previous song, there was something wrong with the YouTube rip, because it was very right-leaning. So just to clarify , it was not our setup. There’s something with that particular Youtube upload Vocals sound great right here, and the depth of field is very nice, so the layers of the instruments, I can hear the stage, kind of. You know, this way, as opposed to just this way. I hear this way, and this way. Almost every song we’ve listened to in the other episodes as well, the girls, the girl groups, the bands, there’s a build-up, and a drop, and then a chorus, and that’s modern production. That’s modern songwriting. Just, it’s fun to point out. I think overall, it’s a nice mix. Again, I don’t think it’s top-heavy, I think it’s base-light. It’s a different distinction. So before, in the girl groups and the bands episodes, I discussed the fact that the music was a little top-heavy, meaning it was harsh in the top end. This, I think, is balanced in the top end, I just think the lower energy needs a little bit more. So I wouldn’t change the top end at all. It’s just kind of like, I just want to feel it more. Overall, the mix is really good. It’s interesting, there’s nice delays, and again, I mentioned the depth of field as well as the stereo width, so it’s it’s a very well-done mix in that regard. Like there’s a lot going on. It’s not this flat wall of sound like we’ve heard before It’s kind, of I could hear the vocal, like background vocals kind of set back. It was very nice. Umu: So having it so close together versus further apart, is that just the amount of compression?
R: That’s…yeah. So, to go back to, was it the band episode? I think I talked mostly, so you can listen back to that episode. So, a lot of mixing engineers get stuck with just the phantom image, which is essentially the space between left and right, that’s what we call this, the phantom image. And a lot of engineers get stuck, just like, ok, left right, and that’s the only palette I have, is horizontal plane. But you have to remember in a mix, you also have depth. And so you create depth by using delays, by using dynamics, by using reverb. And if an instrument has dynamics, it will automatically itself kind of come to the front and go to the back. Think of it like a string quartet playing. Say, the first violin is playing the lead line, and then that melody transfers over to viola, and the string player then starts playing quieter. The violin starts playing quieter so the viola can speak, and the viola starts playing louder. It’s a lot like that. So it’s interplay, and you hear the depth of field, kind of thing. Yeah. Umu: Great, thank you.
R: Um, hmm. Umu: Next group is NCT 127. They are a subunit of a group called NCT. This group debuted in 2016, and this song actually ended up being unfit for broadcast because in the lyrics it mentions violence and gore, etc. But I thought that the mix would be something to comment on. R: Unfit for broadcast in the country?
Umu:Yes. R: This is a nice mix, so far. I like the song, and I like the mix. There’s that synth in the background, like that ghostly, like (mimicking synth) It’s like, kind of creepy. I really like it. It’s a nice texture It’s a very sparse song. There’s not much going on. You got a beat, you got the vocals, you got a couple synths in there. And it’s very creatively mixed, as far as like the vocals are center, and then on this chorus part they go wide, and they’re doubled, and there’s a lot to listen to. It’s a really dynamic mix as far as like stuff going on. Everything’s very clear, everything’s very nice, balanced, it’s not top heavy, it’s not bottom, you know, light. It’s very, very well done. Even there, where everything was coming to a climax, and there’s all these synths coming in and filling in the space, like it was still balanced. That’s a sign of a good engineering job, where they were conscious of, that was coming, and they made room for it. Lots of Auto-Tune, right there. That was weird. The vocals seem to drag behind the beat there. I wonder if that was intentional or not. That was good. I enjoyed that song and the mix. That was fun to listen to, actually. Umu: But yeah, so this is like the first song where you aren’t complaining about it lacking bass.
R: Complaining, yes. That’s what I do best. No, I think it’s because they’re using you know, very traditional 808, 908, 909 kick drum sample, so it’s like this do, do, do, you know, and it’s sparse enough that it’s not stepping on itself, but it’s filling out the bass nicely. And it’s tuned to the actual song, which does make a difference. If you tune that sample to the key that the song was supposed to be in, that helps a lot because it kind of, it generates harmonics and then reinforces the rest of the song. I think it was a very well-balanced mix, and like I said, there was that point where it was like a build up and there’s all these other synths kind of came in, and then of course a drop, and then we go into a bridge kind of rap section. But the engineer who is mixing this knew that that was coming., and planned for it really well. In the beginning, it’s like this very sparse mix.
Umu: Mm. hmm. R: There’s certain things going on, lots of little ear candy and delays, but it’s not overwhelming. And so by that, you know, you have, everything has its place, and you’re kind of getting used to it, and then these synth pads come in, and a lesser talented engineer would screw that up by making the synths fight with everything else, but this engineer knew that, it was very purposeful, and carved out a space for it before we even got there. Like, I didn’t know those were coming in, I’d never the song heard before. But when they came in, it was like oh, that’s what was going to occupy that space that was left open in the beginning. So, just a well-planned mix.

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