Hey guys! I’m starting a series of articles called “Mix Breakdown” where I listen to some of the most relevant mixes of the day and write about what I find. I’ll do my best to put it in the simplest terms possible, but basically this series will be geared toward amateur or pro mixers and producers.
Today, I’m going to be critically listening to Bruno Mars’ newest single, “24K Magic,” and doing my best to analyze the mix.
“24K Magic” was mixed by Serban Ghanea, someone I can’t believe I didn’t know about until now! Ghanea is from Romania and has also mixed for Ariana Grande, Adele, The Weeknd, Fifth Harmony, and Justin Timberlake. That’s quite a reputation!
If you want to watch my video for it, here it is! But if you’re content to just read, here’s a link to the song so you can listen along.
I slapped a multi-band compressor onto the song and solo-ed different frequency ranges. I definitely found some interesting things! I will also be listening for how Ghanea defines the height, width, and depth of the mix. So let’s get started with the width.
Width and Stereo Image
The Static Panning Decisions
Let’s take a look at where Ghanea has placed his elements. As usual, the kick, snare, and lead vocal take center stage. Other supportive elements such as gang vocals, riffy synths, and ambience get panned to either side. Where the real magic happens is the movement that is created to give this track a good stereo image.
The Movement/Automation Aspect
As in almost every mix, some technique is used to give our brains the illusion that something is wider than it actually is. This is achieved by creating automated panning moves or doubling effects, both of which Ghanea has used.
Ghanea chose to create a lot of movement around the synths. This makes a lot of sense because this is a pop/dance track, and the hard hitting parts need to be heard in both speakers. There are two featured synth parts, a moving, arpeggiated synth that happens during the chorus, and another syncopated synth during both verse and chorus.
During the bridge, there’s a breakdown of the beat, and one of the snyths gets louder, grabbing the attention. What really grabs me is that it’s swinging back and forth across the spectrum.
Depth is your front-to-back perception of the song. Songs that are really deep have a stark contrast between far and close sounding elements. “24K Magic” happens to be very close and punchy. It’s got a level of depth, but that depth is almost fabricated to make the punchy stuff sound even closer to your ears.
Let’s construct the image from front to back. Ghanea mixed the vocals out in front with the kick and snare closely behind them. That’s pretty normal for a pop mix. Next are the synths and bass, which are tucked in closely behind the vocals. A lot of the ambience is created by a reverb on the vocals, but it’s done in a way that doesn’t add much thickness to the dry signal of the vocal. The drums sound relatively dry compared to the other instruments, but I can’t tell for sure. There’s a really bright reverb that gets added to the snare on the bridge, and this helps switch it up a little.
This song is IN YOUR FACE pretty much the whole time. It seems as though the song just jumps right out of the speakers at you and makes you want to dance!
Height is represented by the range of frequencies in the song (from low to high) and how they’re balanced between each other.
To examine the height, I wanted to put the song through a multi-band compressor and solo each frequency band. That way, I can really dig into the frequency content without having to question myself.
Low End: 0-150hz
Here’s what I hear when I solo everything except the really low stuff up. There’s only bass and kick drum 70hz and lower, and it seems that the kick drum has a sub-frequency thing going on that is deeper than the bass. Actually, the bass sound is very complex in this song and ranges well into the 800s to 1.2khz. But we’ll get to that later. At around 75hz I begin to hear the lowest parts of the vocal and backing vocals. At about 80hz I begin to hear the lowest part of the snare drum. When I get to 150hz, I can hear the oomph of the toms as well as the lows of the pads and synths.
But what’s more interesting is that there is frequency content down here that I didn’t expect the hear. The snare for example, is almost just as loud as the kick when listening to everything 150hz and lower. This tells me that there’s a lot of meat to both the kick and snare. And rightfully so… this one’s a banger that’ll probably be played on the dancefloor for years to come.
Low Mids: 150hz-500hz
This is the woofy-area of the song, that place where amateur mixers don’t quite understand yet, myself included at times. So in this area, the bass is still the loudest instrument, followed by more snare meat. It also contains a lot of the lower “filler” frequencies of higher sounds like moving synths, organ, the vocals and backing vocals. This area is home to the lower frequencies of that main staccato synth, as well as that fluttering synth in the chorus right after the word “moon.”
This is where a lot of the “buzz” in the bass is. It gives the sound a laser-like cutting sound, really really cool. Remember that fluttering synth I mentioned in the chorus? This is where a lot of that content lives. Of course, it’s gonna have content in the upper ranges too, but this is where its fundamental frequencies are. Same goes with the reverb, lower synth parts, and vocals.
High Mids: 1.6khz-6.5khz
Ahh, the high mids…this is where the lead vocal usually sits in most mixes. Bruno is no exception, but when I listen to this range it’s hardly the vocal I’m drawn to first… I’m amazed with how much snap there is in both the kick and snare! I knew there was going to be some snap in this range, but I didn’t know that there was so much! Especially in the kick drum.
I also can’t really hear the bass anymore, it’s there but really subtle and quiet. That high staccato synth lives in this area as well. But really, this area of the mix is usually reserved for the lead vocal, and your 2-3 other most important high frequency elements. In this case, it’s the snap of the kick and snare and the synth parts.
Highs *sparkle sparkle*: 6.5khz-20khz
When I was listening to the high-mids, I barely heard any cymbals or high hat. That just proves that they’re all way up here, partying in the clouds! These cymbals are really crispy, airy, and sparkly. And low in the mix! They DO NOT jump out at you, and really just support the other parts of the song. I don’t think they even get down to 4.5k. This makes for an extremely bright and exciting sounding mix. Honestly, this allows the cymbals to add energy without adding much weight at all. This means that the drums, snare, and vocals can all be a little heavier. Fantastic.
This is also where the air in Mars’ vocals sit, as well as the air and sparkle of the synths, and these synths are sparkly! It’s not super squashed, but it’s not crazy dynamic either. It sounds tamed.
After listening extensively, I can honestly say that this song has been shaped masterfully. There’s not a single instrument that bleeds into another and competes for space in this mix. And that’s just EQ-wise, it’s also quite impressive dynamically. It’s loud, but not thick. It’s more of a precise loudness that has an almost laser-like quality. It’s so precise, yet it’s got so much energy that it’s not like a life-less robot of a song.
As always, I welcome everyone’s thoughts as to what they hear. Mixing is subjective, listening is subjective. So what do you hear first?