Grammy nominated Dub mixing engineer Daniel Boyle (Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Max Romeo, Eek A Mouse, The Congos) serves up six tips to help set up your sessions for adding dub-style effects and processing to your mixes.
By Daniel Boyle
Dub mixing is an art form where the engineer becomes the musician and you use your console and the effects as an instrument in a way that typically a mixer or an engineer wouldn’t do.
There are two parts to creating a dub. The first part consists of effects—which create all of the textures, cool sounds, depth, space, and the weird stuff. The second part involves the reshaping of the multitrack mix into a new piece of music. Those two things combined are what makes dub.
It’s a learning experience. You experiment, you try stuff; I’ll typically do like 3, 4 or 5 passes until I’ve kind of got all the effects in the manner I want. The amount of times I’ve done an amazing beginning section in one mix, chopped off the rest of it and then done an amazing ending on another mix—thanks to technology, I can edit those together. Inside a DAW, you can create a mix that you typically wouldn’t be able to do on a console.
Tip #1: Do It by Hand
What’s the one thing in common that most (if not all) musicians use to express their emotion via their instrument?
In some capacity you’re being tactile with an instrument to express some sort of emotion, whether you’re a guitarist, pianist, or a drummer, you’re using your hands. It’s exactly the same with dub!
There’s an element of doing these things at exactly the right point to reshape the multitrack mix. That element of pulling faders down or muting groups to reshape the actual arrangement of the song, in combination with effects to make those specific changes pleasant to the human ear—that is the essence of doing dub.
To make a real dub, it’s got to be done with your hands. Otherwise it isn’t from instinct; it’s from thought, which is why dubs made with edits and automation sound cool, but they’re pretty predictable because it’s kind of the way you’d expect it to happen. When you’re doing stuff through a console or a MIDI controller; hitting mutes and pulling faders, turning knobs etc., you do stuff by accident but it sounds great! That’s really when dub comes into its own—when there’s mistakes.
Tip #2: Set Up Your Session for Creative Control
My typical dub mixing setup consists of a multitrack session on my SSL 6K desk with individual groups for drums, keys, guitars, bass, vocals, and the extras; horns or effects, or percussion. I have my outboard racks of delays, reverbs and effects, and the returns of those are routed back into my desk. With the stereo console output going back into Pro Tools where I can print the final mix.
If you were to do this in your DAW, start by setting up your effects on auxiliary sends and make sure you have a place to return them. For a very basic dub setup, you can try this:
These auxiliary sends will then return to individual channels in your DAW. It’s all about routing and being hands-on with the control of that routing. So sending single sounds or groups of sounds to effects, and then sending those effects to further effects to create soundscapes. That’s kind of the skill and the experimentation you get in dub mixing.
Tip #3: Creating Classic Dub Echo Delays
This is like the main, main skill in dub—sending the delay back to itself. Typically, I’ll send a delay to a fader and I will ride the same auxiliary knob on the return faders channel to send it back to itself, which creates a building—a bigger and bigger and bigger echo—and you kind of ride that particular knob in real time with your hands. The more you turn it up, the longer and louder it goes. Then at the right point in the mix, you’ll bring the knob back; and blend it back in in real time into the mix as the delay tapers off.
I’m used to using analogue delays with a manual knob that sets the delay rate, my delay rate’s never perfect - and changing that rate throughout the song also is a really good classic thing in dub. As long as the time gap between each turn of the knob is so small it's musical. The best delays are like that. Typically, I’ve got no idea what the rate is; it could be anything. It’s just about what sounds and feels good. With a dub, you want to literally turn the delay rate from super-fast and then back to super-slow so the entire thing sounds musical.
Tip #4: Manipulate Faders, Mutes & Pots
Another part of dub mixing is combining the use of effects with pulling faders or pressing mute buttons while using effects, to break down the existing multitrack into a much more sparse version. For example, try hitting your delay aux on the snares at the end of a drum phrase. Then hit mute on the drum group at exactly the same time - cutting out the drums and dropping the mix down to the raw bass and guitars.
That element of pulling faders down or muting groups to reshape the actual arrangement of the song, in combination with effects to make those specific changes pleasant to the human ear—that is the essence of doing dub.
Tip#5: Bring Out the Beats
Experiment by sending some drums to an aux with a phaser, and then sending that phaser to the reverb to create a really nice textured, phased reverb sound that you can blend in behind your drums—high-passed of course. Try sending that phased reverb sound to a delay and catch a few hits of that, and then let that fire off into the mix. Experiment with catching individual hits and riding delay signals back on themselves, or 3/4 note delay on the high-hats. You can really create some effects that are instantly recognizable as dub.
Pop a spring aux on the drums, then high-pass out all the bottom end and blend it in. Classic Dub version drums! Then you could automate a filter on the spring verb creating a change in the drum verb sound throughout the song.
Another thing I do is I may punch in the auxiliary with a mono delay to catch a single snare hit, or a single word at the end of a vocal phrase. I’ll then use the same auxiliary send on the return channel that the delay comes back to, to send it back to itself so it’s constantly looping and creating the classic, long-building, dub echo.
On Lee 'Scratch' Perry's Black Album, Smack Attack changed my world and I was able to create a really cracking, transient-heavy snare drum. Now my standard snare drum starting point is Smack Attack into a dbx 160 compressor/limiter. Literally, even before you get into the multitude of settings that plugin has, you can stick it on and just turn it up a little bit and it can really bring up the attack and make it punch out of the speaker—it’s crazy what you can do.
Tip #6: Warm Up the Final Mix
When I’m thinking, “This needs to be saturated, this needs to feel vintage or this needs to feel warm,” I immediately load up the J37 Tape or the Kramer Master Tape into the REDD console channels or the EMI TG channels or mix between them, and just play them out with the different drive levels going into those three different things. I always achieve one of those three points: warm, saturated or vintage or the combination—and the subtleness of them builds up. Like if you use more and more instances, you can really feel the difference.
On our new album Lee Scratch Perry meets Daniel Boyle to Drive the Dub Starship through the Horror Zone, Lee Perry and I dubbed the multitrack recordings of an album we did for Max Romeo called Horror Zone. It was all done on my SSL desk using super-vintage equipment and Waves plugs mostly for saturation and distortion. On the mix print channel, we used a stack of plugins that includes the Kramer Tape, into the Puigchild Compressor—which gave it a nice controlled feel and warmth, but tamed the highs. Then into the awesome Manny Marroquin EQ, followed by the Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain’s mid-side eq to take out any bottom overspill on the sides. I leave the final limiting for the mastering engineer and give him some head room to play with.