Anatomy of a Grammy-Award Nominated Country Song
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – DECEMBER 2016: Chris Young and Cassadee Pope’s smash #1 hit duet “Think of You” was recently nominated for a 2017 Grammy Award in the Best Country Duo/Group Performance. The song soared to the top of the Billboard Country Airplay chart in May and earned a nomination for Musical Event of the Year at the 2016 Country Music Awards. Clearly, clever songwriting and heartfelt performances made the song the wonder that it is, but credit must also be given to famed mix engineer Billy Decker, whose efforts have earned him eleven number one songs and sales of over 25 million RIAA-certified albums. Like every song Decker mixes, Metric Halo plug-ins featured prominently in “Think of You” and allowed the artistry of the creation to shine to its fullest potential.
One entirely new trick that Decker employed on “Think of You” was to put Metric Halo Character on the main output of the entire mix. He used the “Transformer” setting with default drive and gain. “It gave the entire mix a hint of that analog console ‘smeary thing’ that results from that warm analog harmonic distortion,” he said. “Metric Halo Character is awesome for that, and I’ve used it plenty on individual tracks. Where other modeling plug-ins break up and fall to ugly-sounding pieces when I drive them, Character maintains its integrity and sounds awesome! In truth, I probably drive it harder than I should, but the sound is right, and that’s what really matters. However, this was the first time I used Character on the entire mix. I liked it at the time, but I really liked it when I heard it on the radio.”
Decker takes pride in the speed with which he mixes, and “Think of You” was no exception. From first opening the project to printing the draft he sent the producers, Decker only took 60-75 minutes. Of course, experience breeds that kind of self-confidence, but so also does a disciplined habit of making templates out of successful mixes and sounds. “I’ll use another successful song as the starting point for a new mix,” he said. “I always keep my favorite mixes and sounds as templates that I can grab as needed. It’s a great way to work. I also credit the plug-ins I use, chief among them Metric Halo ChannelStrip. Every single song I’ve mixed in the past decade (at least!) has had ChannelStrip on it.”
Decker almost always employs ChannelStrip’s transparent limiter to bring levels up to a workable range. He also almost always uses ChannelStrip’s EQ section, which he finds does an excellent job of sculpting sound without adding color to it (“If I want color, I’ll throw Metric Halo Character on it… LOL,” he said). He does a lot of high-pass filtering and builds steep filters by stacking multiple high pass bands at the same cutoff frequency on top of each other. In addition, he uses the integrated “SpectraFoo” spectrum analysis to visualize the equalization work he needs to do (“It really helps to use my eyes as well as my ears,” he said).
As per usual, Decker used ChannelStrip on the all-important vocal tracks of Young and Pope. In addition, he used two instances of Metric Halo Precision De-Esser on Pope’s vocal track. “The first instance was a standard de-ess, centered near 9kHz to tame the track’s sibilance,” he explained. “The second instance came in series and pulled out any nasal sound out of her voice, which tends to rise up after compression and other processing gets applied. That band centered near 2kHz. Her performance and recording were great to begin with, and that additional processing made it sound like butter. So smooth! Cassadee’s vocals on ‘Think of You’ are probably the happiest I’ve ever been with a female vocal track. It sounded amazing!”
Finally, Decker used Metric Halo TransientControl on the snare samples he added to the track. “TransientControl is an absolute go-to for me,” he said. “I call it the ‘make-your-snare-crack-tool’. I usually add my personal snare samples to emphasize the twos and fours, and TransientControl helps them achieve their intended purpose. I crank up the attack and the snare starts smacking me in the face. It’s an absolute must-have in my arsenal!”
As seen in ProSoundWeb and MixOnline, "The Wire".