Tracking Vs. Mixing

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AdamGrossmanLG
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2017/12/15 12:21:22 (permalink)

Tracking Vs. Mixing

So I often get these 2 phases confused and never sure how to do this properly, but sometimes I will be tracking a part (could be any instrument), but I feel it just doesn't sound right unless it has a reverb on it or some EQ. I always thought you are supposed to record in dry and then in the mixing phase bring in all the FX, but the problem for me is that I sometimes don't know if my tracking is ready to be sent in for mixing if I don't hear that sound I want.
I know people will be replying (just do what sounds right), and I do agree, however - I don't want to screw anything up for myself later on in the mix. Here is an example: let's say I add some different reverbs to an electronic drum kit (the snare with the most reverb, the kick with the least, and other cymbs/percussion with somewhere in the middle), I get it to sound really nice, BUT... I really don't know how it will sound after drum buss compression and other FX that I might add later. What if I want to use a final Reverb FX bus to make the drum kit sound together? Now I will have 2 reverb layers.
Just wondering how people tackle this, and forgive me if I am overthinking this.
Thank You!
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    dwardzala
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2017/12/15 14:04:20 (permalink)
    A lot of times, effects will be non-destructively applied during tracking to help get better performances.  Many vocalists like the vocal in their headphones to have some reverb as it makes them sound better to themselves and gives them more confidence.
     
    My advice is to non-destructively apply effects to enhance tracking without spending too much time selecting/dialing them in.  Try to save the mix decisions for the mixing stage.
     
    Basically, yes you are overthinking it.  Save the mixing stuff mixing and only do what you need to do get a good recording down.

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    #2
    batsbrew
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2017/12/15 15:11:54 (permalink)
    for me,
    tracking = performances.
     
    that's what i try to do........
    capture performances.
     
    i do not even think about mixing,
    until i have a full track set of performances,
    then this becomes what i mix.
     
    it's just that simple.
     
    no plugs,
    no busses,
    just audio tracks sent to master.
    one after the other.
     
     
     
     
    mixing = working towards final stereo bounce.
    it's that simple.
    and whatever works is fair game.

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    jamesg1213
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2017/12/15 16:04:20 (permalink)
    Here is an example: let's say I add some different reverbs to an electronic drum kit (the snare with the most reverb, the kick with the least, and other cymbs/percussion with somewhere in the middle), I get it to sound really nice, BUT... I really don't know how it will sound after drum buss compression and other FX that I might add later. What if I want to use a final Reverb FX bus to make the drum kit sound together? Now I will have 2 reverb layers.

     
    Just use a 'placeholder' reverb on a bus while you're getting a rough mix together if it helps to get the 'vibe' going, but don't print reverb on anything while you're tracking.
     
    When you have all your tracks done, take out the placeholder reverb and experiment with a few different ones to see what works.
     

     
    Jyemz
     
     
     



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    batsbrew
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2017/12/15 17:01:43 (permalink)
    AdamGrossmanLG
    Here is an example: let's say I add some different reverbs to an electronic drum kit (the snare with the most reverb, the kick with the least, and other cymbs/percussion with somewhere in the middle), I get it to sound really nice, BUT... I really don't know how it will sound after drum buss compression and other FX that I might add later. 



     
    first off,
    don't mix, until you are finished tracking.
    make tracking decisions first, get the arrangments right, do not put a single plug on anything.
    when you are ready to MIX,
    then,
     
    i would simplify your approach.
     
    if you are going to have a master buss compressor, have it on from the get-go.
    mix everything into it.
    use it sparingly, and add other compression before it, for multiple layers of compression, which always sounds better than one big hammer full of compressor.
    then........
     
    mix multiple tracks INTO a sub buss compressor.
    have it on from the beginning as well.
     
    then, you will not have anything change on you later.
    make those decisions upfront.
     
    it's easier to take a compressor off, and tweak the mix then, 
    than it is to add a compressor after you finished mixing, and have it change the entire character of the drum track.
     
     
    same with reverbs, 
    keep a sub buss dedicated to reverb, and do not use it on the master.
    only send it to the individual sub busses, that way you have more control over the overall reverb sounds, and you don't layer them up.
     
    if you just have to have reverb on the lead vox, and not on the backups, i'd seperate the backups out and send them to their own sub buss, and have the lead vox go to it's own sub buss, and add reverbs on the sub busses, not the individual...
     
     
    the idea is, use the least amount of plugs for the most amount of work.
    you CAN just set sends on every individual track if you want,
    but i think that's a can of worms.

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    AdamGrossmanLG
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2017/12/15 17:08:13 (permalink)
    batsbrew,
     
    thanks for the detailed write up.  I like your approach, but what if say the snare doesn't sound right without say a big reverb on it or something.  I feel like I need to hear it with that reverb BEFORE I send it off for mixing.   I mean how would the mixing engineer know I even want a big reverb snare?
     
    someone else will be mixing my music that is why this is important.
     
    thank you!
    adam
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    jamesg1213
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2017/12/15 18:15:46 (permalink)
    AdamGrossmanLG
    batsbrew,
     
    thanks for the detailed write up.  I like your approach, but what if say the snare doesn't sound right without say a big reverb on it or something.  I feel like I need to hear it with that reverb BEFORE I send it off for mixing.   I mean how would the mixing engineer know I even want a big reverb snare?
     
    someone else will be mixing my music that is why this is important.
     
    thank you!
    adam




    Ah, well that makes a lot of difference. You'll have to send dry tracks and make notes about what you want. No point sending tracks with reverb on them, he won't be able to mix them.

     
    Jyemz
     
     
     



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    batsbrew
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2017/12/15 18:41:38 (permalink)
    AdamGrossmanLG
    batsbrew,
     
    thanks for the detailed write up.  I like your approach, but what if say the snare doesn't sound right without say a big reverb on it or something.  I feel like I need to hear it with that reverb BEFORE I send it off for mixing.   I mean how would the mixing engineer know I even want a big reverb snare?
     
    someone else will be mixing my music that is why this is important.
     
    thank you!
    adam


    ok, never mind,
    i thought YOU were the mix engineer!!
     
    LOL
     
    if you are sending stuff off to another mixer,
    then send him everything dry,
    and let him decide how to apply.
     
    you simply experiment at home, apply something you like, give him the parameters,
    and let him decide which plug to use....
     
    if you are using impulses, you could always just send him the same file you used at home to experiment with!
     
    once you send tracks off to another mixer,
    you kinda have to let go of it.
     

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    AdamGrossmanLG
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2017/12/15 19:53:34 (permalink)
    Thanks for your reply.  Yes I figured as much.  The thing is I record mostly electronic synth pop music, so reverb to me is more than just an effect.. its part of the patch, it becomes one with the instrument.  I mean some synths have reverb built right in.
     
    I just always feel weird turning it on knowing that kind of stuff should be in the mixing phase.
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    batsbrew
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2017/12/15 22:01:04 (permalink)
    AdamGrossmanLG
    Thanks for your reply.  Yes I figured as much.  The thing is I record mostly electronic synth pop music, so reverb to me is more than just an effect.. its part of the patch, it becomes one with the instrument.  I mean some synths have reverb built right in.
     
    I just always feel weird turning it on knowing that kind of stuff should be in the mixing phase.


    i would NEVER work with samples that have effects as part of the sound.
     
    you have just hamstrung yourself doing so.
     

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    wst3
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2017/12/17 15:39:17 (permalink)
    Well this may sound strange, but I think some of the best tracks (not mine!!) ever recorded turned out as well as they did because they were mixed from the very beginning - sometimes as early as while they were being written.
     
    Please note, I didn't say ALL the best tracks, nor do I mean to suggest that waiting till tracking is completed will always result in a poor mix - some truly amazing tracks have been recorded with both approaches, but for me, having the final mix in mind has always worked better.
     
    How can that be?

    I walked into my first recording studio in 1974, it was an 8 track studio, and for the time it was a very well equipped 8 track studio, they had two Urei compressors (probably LA-3, maybe LA-4) and one Urei 1176 and two Orban Parasound equalizers. While I was working there they added a second 1176 and a pair of dBX 160s. They also had a spring reverb (I think it was also an Orban) and an EMT plate. The 8 track was a Teac 80-8, and they mixed to an Ampex AG-440, might have even been a 350, my memory is a little blurry. The mixer was, I think, a Mother's Finest Audio - can't remember the exact name, they were made in the Philadelphia area by former RCA engineers. It had a simple 2 or 3 band EQ on each channel, I think there were 16 inputs and 8 busses and a 2-Mix.

    Anyway, that was where I started to learn the craft. Every studio that I worked in from then till the mid 1980s was, at best, an 8 track studio with similar gear. Eventually I stumbled into a 16 track studio and thought I'd found heaven, but alas all that really did was let us do more stuff in stereo.

    What did I learn, and why do I still work this way (sorta)?

    The first thing we would do was sit with the musicians and plan the recording. What instruments, how many vocal tracks, what, it any, effects - pretty much a road map. We'd take detours, of course, but we always started with a map.

    So we'd know if we wanted the drums in mono or stereo, and we'd know there would be this or that so that the drums would need to be pre-mixed accordingly. I really can't recall a single session where we did not end up bouncing the drums down to two, or sometimes one tape track, so  we had to have an idea of what the final mix would sound like - we could make minor changes to the drum mix later, but we could not change the balance dramatically, nor could we remove a drum.

    At which point we had six empty (?) tracks. We'd do the same thing for the rest of the rhythm section, we'd bounce guitars, bass, and keyboards down to a stereo pair, so all panning decisions and basic balance had to be made right there. Sometimes, for musical or scheduling reasons we'd record the entire rhythm section together (I always preferred that). So we'd have to really pre-mix the drums, like in the mixer. That was a challenge, but the performance always seemed ever so slightly better, so we did it.

    Now we had four tracks left for vocals, and we'd end up bouncing down the background vocals a couple times. At which point we would have:
    one stereo pair for drums
    one stereo pair for the rest of the rhythm section
    one stereo pair for the background vox
    one track for the lead vocal
    one track for whatever else we wanted
     
    If we had horns we'd end up bouncing the entire rhythm section down to a stereo pair to free up a stereo pair for the horns. And if we were doing anything remotely different we might have to work with mono tracks for the drums or even the entire rhythm section.

    Needless to say there was some stress involved.
     
    When we moved to 16 tracks things became somewhat easier. A typical (as I recall anyway) session might be mapped out something like this:
    1) Bass
    2) drum overheads L
    3) snare/hat
    4) drum overheads R
    5) lead guitar
    6) acoustic guitar
    7) keyboard mix  L
    8) keyboard mix  R
    9) hand percussion
    10) lead vocal
    11) rhythm guitar
    12) background vox L
    13) background vox R
    14) piano L
    15) piano R
    16) Bass drum
     
    You can see that we had the ability to push off some decisions till much further down the road, and that was kind of cool, but we still had this discipline of thinking ahead firmly ingrained, so we tended to think that way even with the extra tracks. And there were lots of different version of that - sometimes the drum overhead was mono, sometimes all the keys were pre-mixed, sometimes the piano was  mono,  sometimes the rhythm guitar was stereo, and so on. But it was a big leap.
     
    I still think that way today, even though I have, for all intents and purposes, infinite tracks and infinite processors and effects. The effort to plan things out keeps my mind on the right path, I think.

    I've made some minor tweaks so that  I can make major changes at mixdown time - I'm not a idiot<G>!
     
    I still print all my processing and effects while tracking, but I keep the unprocessed tracks too. So if I change my mind I can swap out one phase shifter for another, or re-equalize or whatever I need to do.

    It's kind of the best of both worlds! And I apply all my processing and effects to live and MIDI or VI tracks.

    How can this help?

    For one, I'm always thinking about the mix, how different instruments will fit in to the final mix. I find that really helpful.

    For another, at mix time the only thing I need to do (in theory anyway) is ride levels and add the final reverb. Believe it or not, sometimes that really happens.

    Give it a try, I think you'll find that with a little practice it not only makes mixing easier, but it also makes the structure of the song stronger.
     

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    Jeff Evans
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2017/12/17 19:03:45 (permalink)
    Recording with effects depends a little on the style of music you are producing.  For example working with samples as Bats mentions and recording with effects may make it difficult later on.   Standard rock music style here.   Adding effects later on allows you a lot of control.
     
    But by the same token say you are producing electronic music for example things are different.  I have 8 or 9 hardware synths for example and used to in many cases turn the effects off before tracking.  But then you end up with similar sounding effects being applied later on to the same machines which is good but after a while I decided to try tracking with the synths effects being applied. 
     
    What happens in this situation is you end up with the parts sounding different to each other and in a funny kind of way they stand out more so.   All my synths have reverbs in but they all sound a little different to each other.  The built in reverb in a Kurzweil K2000 sounds different to a Roland JD800 or a Roland JV2080.  Often with these patches the effects play a very integral part of the patch so switching effects off on them can actually reduce how effective that patch sounds.  By leaving them on those instruments tend to sound more different to each other and in a way they stand out more from each other later in the final mix.
     
    The trick I find is to simply edit the effect slightly and usually by that I mean backing the reverb off maybe slightly to the point where it is still there but not so much now e.g. less swimming in reverb. You can get quite good at judging this and even if you backed off a reverb a little too much, it is easy to add a touch again later with a plugin say.  It will usually then give you the amount of reverb you want to hear in the end and at the same time add interest to that patch. 
     
    I used to own a Yamaha SY77 synth.  Many of the patches were swimming in too much chorus and reverb.  Often switching off the FX made the patch more interesting and detailed.  What I ended doing with that machine was often backing the reverb off down to that just being heard type of thing and either turn the chorus off or alter the wet/dry mix in order to get a much nicer balance.  That is all it took and then the patch still sounded lovely but had the effects on at the same time.  Often later in the mix it rarely needed any more processing. 

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    Jeff Evans
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2017/12/17 19:13:13 (permalink)
    Reading Bill's post reminded me of how I used to work in the early 80's.  I only had a 4 track machine (with Dolby C noise reduction) and a quality two track machine.  Firstly I would limit the end mix to only contain 9 parts.
     
    I used to track the first 4 parts on the 4 track.  (punching in and out)  Then mix that down to stereo and transfer to the two track.  Adding in effects and also adding in a 5 th part live.  So the 2 track had the first stereo stem on it.  Then I would wind the 4 track onto new virgin tape.  Transfer that stereo stem (with 5 parts on it) to tracks 1 and 2 of the 4 track while add in live a 6 th part.. 
     
    Then add in parts 7 and 8 on the 4 track. (punching in and out) Then mix all that down to the stereo machine adding in the 9 part live.
     
    I ended up with a full stereo mix that contained 9 parts.  Those mixes to this day sound seriously good and perfectly balanced etc.. And noiseless as well.  They do not sound like a 4 track machine.  They sound big and wide and quite spectacular in fact) I was forced to do it this way then before I moved to 8 track.  It proved that you can actually do it.  Limiting yourself to get all your ideas down to 9 parts is also a challenge.   If I really needed it I could do it one more time back and forth and get 13 parts which I did for the much bigger tracks. 
     

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    cboshuizen
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2017/12/21 18:58:42 (permalink)
    Sometimes I think the creative effect chain is essential to your creativity and playing. Like I don't know many people who would record an electric guitar DI clean without at least monitoring the amp/distortion. So if you wouldn't do that for any other instrument or synth either. And so if reverb or aggressive compression or distortion is essential to the mojo of what you are playing, keep it there. If you need to hear your side chaining effect or delays to record your next part, keep them. As others have mentioned, make sure you can make changes (fx can be bypassed, DI was recorded too, etc).

    To reconcile some of the other feedback above, I split Fx into two categories in my mind: essential contributions to the soundscape, and mix "adjustments". I don't bother with the latter really, as any balancing eq or compression I do too early usually isn't contextually appropriate any more when i am finished tracking and i have to redo it once I have the full track count in front of me. On the other hand, prominent delay effects, or saturation, distortion, etc, to get my desired tone are so essential to the artistic direction of the song that I absolutely keep those on, and meddle with them endlessly while recording other parts, as I drive towards my vision for the track.

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    msmcleod
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2017/12/23 04:43:14 (permalink)
    cboshuizen
    Sometimes I think the creative effect chain is essential to your creativity and playing. Like I don't know many people who would record an electric guitar DI clean without at least monitoring the amp/distortion. So if you wouldn't do that for any other instrument or synth either. And so if reverb or aggressive compression or distortion is essential to the mojo of what you are playing, keep it there. If you need to hear your side chaining effect or delays to record your next part, keep them. As others have mentioned, make sure you can make changes (fx can be bypassed, DI was recorded too, etc).

    To reconcile some of the other feedback above, I split Fx into two categories in my mind: essential contributions to the soundscape, and mix "adjustments". I don't bother with the latter really, as any balancing eq or compression I do too early usually isn't contextually appropriate any more when i am finished tracking and i have to redo it once I have the full track count in front of me. On the other hand, prominent delay effects, or saturation, distortion, etc, to get my desired tone are so essential to the artistic direction of the song that I absolutely keep those on, and meddle with them endlessly while recording other parts, as I drive towards my vision for the track.



    I agree with this, although sometimes I find doing the mix adjustments as I go along can serve as a sanity check to what I've written.
     
    Sometimes I get 2 or 3 parts that musically work together, but in the mix they just hog each others frequency space. I might try EQ to thin things out, different guitar/synth sounds, or play pads in a different inversion or octave, but if the parts are causing me mixing issues early on it's time to rewrite some parts.
     
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    Slugbaby
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2017/12/27 15:18:02 (permalink)
    Why not provide both the dry and affected tracks to the mixing engineer?
     
    If I love a guitar sound, i'll make a dry backup and then hard-code the sound I want.  USUALLY my mixing engineer has used the sound I wanted, but once or twice it hasn't sounded "right" in his/our mix.  Then I'll give him the dry track and we can affect it to match the full mix.

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    Jeff Evans
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2017/12/27 19:32:33 (permalink)
    The same applies to synth sounds.  Sometimes the effects are just so bedded into the overall sound it would be silly to remove the effects.  They can be obvious and overdone, but they can also be subtle and baked in such a way that they are hard to hear.  Until you switch off the effects then the whole sound can change.  If the total sound is inspiring you in a way then leave them in.
     
    Some synths have multiple outputs too and you can route dry sounds to say the main stereo pair and the effects to an auxiliary stereo pair hence allowing you to track both things at once.  Giving you options after on. 
     
    I find with recording guitarists a good thing to do is to record the sound coming directly out the guitar. e.g. using a DI.  Plus the sound at the end of the effects line e.g. a second DI and the total sound coming from the speaker.  Then you have all three options.  The speaker sound is often used as they say but having the original guitar sound can also be a saviour at times especially with all the amazing effects and amp/speaker sims that are out there now.  Some guitarist can overdo the reverbs and distortion and it is nice to be able to rebuild this sound in a more controlled way.
     
     

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    #17
    dwardzala
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2017/12/30 12:09:50 (permalink)
    If you are using effects as part of sound design (i.e. reverb or slapback to get a certain guitar tone, or any type of effect for a synth) they should be printed to the track.  But record it into the track and commit to it.  Most of the time if I see FX tracks delivered as part of the stems, I discard them, unless there is a good reason to keep them.

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    #18
    batsbrew
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2018/01/02 19:58:35 (permalink)
    the only thing you really need to remember about tracking......
     
    THAT is where the magic happens.
     
    not during mixing.

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    #19
    DannyDee
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2018/01/03 23:16:35 (permalink)
    yeah, effects can affect your performance
    for instance, reverbs while laying down vocal trax can change phrasing
    read that lennon was obsessed with that
     
    #20
    msmcleod
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    Re: Tracking Vs. Mixing 2018/01/03 23:37:44 (permalink)
    dwardzala
    If you are using effects as part of sound design (i.e. reverb or slapback to get a certain guitar tone, or any type of effect for a synth) they should be printed to the track.  But record it into the track and commit to it.  Most of the time if I see FX tracks delivered as part of the stems, I discard them, unless there is a good reason to keep them.




    I used to do this, however I found that quite often the sound that sounded perfect in isolation did not fit in the mix well... and because it was already effected, it was more difficult to work with and get it to fit/
     
    What I do now is clone the track and the FX and use the original track + FX as a reference, but use only the cloned track in the mix, where I can tweak the FX to make it fit better.
     
    Beyond the obvious like EQ, things like delay volume, reverb time etc can drastically alter how a track is perceived in the mix. Soloing the cloned track would sound thin and lifeless, but in the mix it would sound just like the original.
     
    M.
    #21
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