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Compression & Dynamics Master Class

Lesson 5 of 13

That Upfront Vocal Sound

Graham Cochrane

Compression & Dynamics Master Class

Graham Cochrane

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Lesson Info

5. That Upfront Vocal Sound


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Why We Compress Duration:24:08
2 Compressor Controls Duration:29:15
3 Vocal Compression Duration:30:35
4 Glue Your Mix Together Duration:36:58
5 That Upfront Vocal Sound Duration:33:12
9 Louder Mix Questions Duration:31:27
10 Parallel Compression Duration:28:48
11 Popular Compressor Plugins Duration:25:06
12 The Loudness War Duration:07:59

Lesson Info

That Upfront Vocal Sound

Let's move on to, um, second favorite mixed move in this session. And that's what I call vocal stacking. Okay, um, and a lot of sort of my mixing heroes do this, you know, from new guys. Biggest like Chris Lord Alge E is mixed. Switch foot. Dave Matthews Band. Daughtry Green Day Did all the Green Day records really rock record focused? He does a lot of this. Some guys like Kevin Ward, a great friend of mine. A national does this? When I learned this concept, it really helped me get my vocals to sit right in front of the mix. You know, a little bit of compression was helping like we did in the last session. But this for me helps get the vocal really out in front and sound What? I would call radio ready. So let's take, um, see, what was my setting here? Let's get this mixed bus compressor back to where it waas. We'll turn on all the plug ins here. 7.8. Thank you, sir. Whatever. That means seven point, um, makeup game was about there, so if we bring in all the eq and compression So I've g...

ot my mix sound and good. This kind of mixed move is later in the mix. So if the mixed bus compression was maybe the first thing I do this could be one of the last mixed moves. Ideo I'm showing you these in random order but, um I think my lead vocal sounding good in the mix Kana wanted to stick out. If you visualize it in three dimensional space, I want to be even closer to the audience. So for me, I want to be closer to my face for someone you listening to be closer to you. And so what I like to do is on this channel, my vox's channel. This is a lead vocal sticks and stones already have any que and I've got a compressor. Let's see how much compression is doing. Sticks and stones minus three D minus 40 b. It's doing enough compression. It's tightening it up. I've got sort of a makeup gain to make it a little bit louder if you find that you listen to your favorite records and their vocals just sound, but they're jumping out of the speakers yet they're not taking over the mitts. You think do any is Atmore Compression. How can I get more compression to make that vocal do that? But the more compression you add, it starts to just squeeze the life out of your vocal like I would, you know, turn it down to minus 60 V minus 10 db of gain reduction and make up the gain instead of doing that. Once I saw people doing this, I realized how hopeless was. I literally take this slightly compressed vocal and compress it again with a separate separate compressor. So two compressors. Okay, a great way to do this is if you already have a bias three db of gain reduction happenings like that's some nice, gentle compression sticks and just grab drag a copy of that right below it, you know, So I just literally now this is the exact same settings as the previous compressor. This compressor, if this makes sense, is going to listen to my already compressed vocal and then do some light compression to it. That makes sense. So let's see what this looks like. Now there's the second compressing the chain. Let's see what the game reduction looks like. Sticks and stones. So it's doing similar compression to the already compressed track. So if the first compressor gets a little philosophical, the first compressor did About three db of gain reduction. The second compressor does three db of gain reduction. Really, we're doing about 60 b of gain reduction, simple math, and both are turning up about the same to try to match the volume. This is almost the same as me doing 60 B and one compressor and turning up by six, but it sounds different. No house to describe it accomplishes this in a unique way that doesn't seem to squeeze the life out of my vocals, but at the same time gives me more gains. So, um, let's bypass one of the compresses. Here's the 1st 1 Here's the 2nd 1 A by pass, one of them sticks and stones are tearing means soon until you start breaking me the to my bones and fill me with spirit. Here I jumped out a little bit more. Um, it's obviously giving us. It feels like it's giving us more game, but it still turning it down and just level matching it again. But it takes an already contained vocal and then contains it a little bit and pushes it out further in the mix. So, really, where you here this is in the mix. Um, so here's the whole chorus and I'll by pass one of the compressors jumps out a little bit. Let's go to a verse where there's only one vocal, um, show a little further back, right? This pushes it forward. Um, show. It just sounds louder to our ears, but it's it's really contained. It's never gonna jump out too much. It's more present Mawr in front of us. And like if you take away both compressors down now, now it sounds right, right at the front of speakers. It's that means they're supposed to be the prominent thing. It's the vocal, but it's not jumping all over the place. So this concept and I don't really I'm get I'm not smart smart enough to really explain the psycho acoustic of what's happening. But it makes the vocal Seymour president louder without being louder without taking over the mix. And I've sometimes stacked as many as three compressors. I can stack different types of compressors if they sound different, but a lot of times I'll just grab a compressor, get the setting the way I want and literally drag a copy of the same settings below it. You might have to tweak those settings because it might do too much compression. On the 2nd 1 you'll see the gain reduction meter, and you can back it off. But this subtle thing makes a huge difference in a mix. When you have a vocal, that man, it's it's sounding better, but it's still one. I feel like I want to turn it up even after compressing it, but when I do, it's a little too loud. In certain points. Bring it back to the original volume stack another vocal compressor right on it to do a little bit of compression with a little bit of compression. And I'm telling you, made it makes the vocal sit at the front of your mix right on top of everything else. It's a wonderful thing. Would you say that applies to anything, Not just the vocal. You do that to anything else besides the vocal. I don't do it in this way. Anything else? Um, because I don't feel like I need something else to jump out. But look, in your case, you're working in a lot of experimental instrumental music, so you'll have vocals. So let's take whatever is your lead instrument so it could be lead guitar. So I mixed a record of, like, progressive Rock, where it's a lead guitar solo. That's that's the whole thing. That's the melody, like like Steve Vai or something like that. There's no singing is that type of stuff. That was the vocal that was the main instrument being supported. That and, um, that was a guitar. And I did a double stacking on that as well, to make that guitar feel like it's always up front, always in front of you, yet never jumping out of the speaker. Too much words. Well, that's too loud. It's always contained. Yet it sounds like it's pushing the edge of the speaker and wanting to be in front of your face in a musical way. So absolutely, totally could. We'll touch on a few of whom this one comes from smoking moose in the chat room. Who says using a tape saturation or warming plug in on the mix bus? Would you put it before or after compression in the signal chain? Either one. Yeah, yeah, either one. So the tape saturation plug in Is it plug? And it's trying to emulate the characteristics that audiotape used to give. We also used to record to tape, and we didn't realize what it was doing until we stopped recording to tape. We started recording to a computer and what happened to our music? Turns out there was something happening with the tape that was really, really cool, a little bit of compression. Naturally, it would always kind of absorb transience. So symbols never really sounded harsh, snare drums and sound too harsh. But always with kind of absorb some of this transience. And now in the computer, it doesn't absorb anything. It's exactly what it sounds like. And we actually don't like that sometimes people, if you're used to tape saturation, afraid of Wow, it sounds weird. So it compresses a little bit and add some harmonics a little bit. People call it warmth, so it could be really cool. You can slap that anywhere. You could put that as your first plug in before the compressor. You could put it afterwards. You could do it at the end of a mix. You could do it the beginning of a mix. That's more of just a sonic tonal palette thing. Um, where's the compressor that if you do it first or last, the volume of other tracks is really gonna change the compression setting? That's why I like to do it first and leave it. How about Ah stereo whitener? I tend to put that very last before the again. Like if compression and EQ you are 85 90% of your mix. I would focus on all that first Excuse me and then, if you want. If you felt like you needed to widen the track, you could do something like that. The very end after all of that, exactly. That's what I would do. We have a couple more here. Here's one from a user says, Do you start compressing from buses to individual tracks or the opposite? A great question. OK, so this is something that I started playing with a couple years ago, and I call it top down mixing. Here's a bonus. A bonus move for you guys, not the notes. I call it top down mixing, and the concept is really simple. We're doing a little bit of that with the mixed bus compressor. If I'm saying that's my first compressed, my first plug in is, I'm actually starting at the top of the mix change. So let's visualize this if kick snare your high time your guitar one. You know the organ. Track the vocals. If these are one layer of the audio, these air the individuals that I consider that the bottom layer. If I affect something on the vocal, it doesn't affect anything above it. It affects the vocal. On another layer up would be a vocal bus. I've got all of my vocal tracks. So this guy box box, double box double to harmony gang ones, easier vocal tracks. All of those tracks were funneling into this track here. That's another layer, because if I do something like put a plug in on this box, track is going affect everything underneath it. Everything that's coming into it could affect all of those local checks. Work tracks, right? And then this top layer is the master fader or the mixed bus. So I do something on that. It affects everything below it. So if you visualize it up and down, top down, mixing new I call it is starting at the top, because anything you do at the top layer affects everything below it. So if I put a compressor on the top layer a k a. My mics bus, it affects the vocal champ tax and everything below the inside the vocal tracks. It affects the drum bus and everything inside the drum bus, which are individual drum tracks themselves. That makes sense. So the theory goes, if I can get my drums to sound a little more compressed with a mixed bus compressor with only one plug in. Great if I can get my drums even more compressed with one compressor on my drum bus. Great, I'm by the time I get to the actual kick track or the sneer track. I may not even need any compression on those tracks because, in theory they're all getting compressed a little bit in the drum track and then a layer above that in the actual mixed bus. So to answer the question, a lot of times I like to start that way. I like to start in the most global level possible. The mixed bus of the Master Fader with a little bit of compression, maybe even some e Q and then move down to us, say the drums and listen to the drums as one track like here, I'll show you. I've got all the drums going through one e que, which will have in the acute sessions on one compressor so you can see the whole all the drums. This is my kick snare Tom's overhead. All of that is getting compressed a little bit. Give a lot of punch just with one plug in. I view it as more bang for your bucks. If you're at home or you're working on a home studio set up, let's say you're in a laptop. And what is the problem we all run into in home studios? Well, there's lots of problems we run into. One problem is processing power. Man are computers. These things are amazing, but these plug ins take up so much CPU power because we're doing so many amazing things that all of a sudden you're throwing all these plug ins around and then your computer tells you stop. I've got no more juice, you know, and that's a frustrating thing. So top down, mixing most the time lends itself to you using fewer plug INS because if I can get everything son and great with a mixed bus compressor and then maybe a little bit of compression on the drum bus by the time we get to the drum tracks, I don't need any compressors there. Fewer compressors air needed to get almost the same result You get end up getting the same type of mix with fewer plug ins, which means you can save computer power, which is great when you're stuck on a native system like most of us are. So that's one result of this top down mixing. But it's it's not hard and fast, so, like you can see even with mixed bus compression. Even with compression of my drum bus, I still have three compressors in my drums. I've got one of my snare. I'll show you that in the next session what I'm doing there and war in each of my toms but have nothing on my kick drum, nothing on my overheads or the fat mike or my tangerine. I have no plug ins of my team green. If you're putting plug ins on your tambourines, you got a problem. Um, and I'm getting a lot of that nice compressed sound from compression on on a drum track. So saves me some plug in power and makes things a little bit easier to. I think I hope I answered the question. People are in the chat room, are loving That took a special bonus tip that we got there. Yeah, a couple more. Kim came in here. Would you ever stack more than two compressors to make it sound bigger or in general is to compressors your Max. Like I said, I've definitely done three. Yeah, Um, I love vocals, compressor stacking so much that I would tell you to experiment with with it. See what happens The more you add them, I mean, you're gonna go crazy. All of a sudden, you're gonna really have squashed your track because you're just compressing, compressing, compressing. The trick is to compress without the tracks sounding like it's compressed. And so I say, do it until you get the desired effect. So if you've a very dense mix, let's say it's it's a lot of guitars or a lot of strings or a lot of sense and samples. And it's hard fear of vocal to cut through. Ah, lot of that will be EQ. You look at that in tomorrow's session, but stacking compressors might help that track stick out, so you'll have to just decide in the mix. You don't do it in solo, okay? You don't make these decisions completely and solely. You listen to him in the mix. You do it as you're hearing, is the vocal starting to stick out where you need it to be? If that's five compressors, who cares? You know the listener doesn't care. The listener doesn't know what software we used to mix. The listener doesn't know what plug ins we used or what settings, and you shouldn't care, either. All you should care about is what it sounds like. In the end, you want to think more like a musician and a listener, why you make these technical decisions and you'll get better results. And it is definitely true with stacking compressors. So I would say there's no right or wrong. I tend to do, too. But that's because if it's something I've recorded or worked with people that have recorded well, it's all the vocals already compressed a little bit. So in this case, this is really compressed four times I compressed it on recording day. My vocal have two compressors in the track, and that's going through a mix bus compressor on the massive technical. There's four compressors or stages of compression on that vocal, but I just do until it sounds right. And if I do it too much, then you know that's the point of no return. That's OK, then back off a little bit and it might be that sweet spot. All right, we have a question here. What do you think about vocal Fader on riders either manual or by plug in like the Like the Waves vocal rider? That's one of this plug ins. Yeah, I believe that's what they're talking about here. Yes, yeah, I bought that when I was on sale for like, $10 1 of the crazy sales that plug in scares me because I don't really understand what it's do. It's it's like it's taking the automated volume controller person concept to a real literal level, and so it's It's a look ahead plug in that can see it uses processing power to analyze the audio wave before it happens, and look at what's coming down the pipeline and say OK about to be really loud here. And then it preps itself and it literally turns its volume up or down. And you see a fader riding itself. Um, I have a friend who swears by it, and then I've used it before, and the settings confused me so I don't use it regularly, So it's not a bad plug in if you get the settings right. In essence, what it will do for you is what I do manually. I compress first and then after my mixes, great, I'll probably like the actual version of this mix that's on the record. If you were to look at, it's not in this session. If you look at this volume, this is the static line here, going across. That's like one static volume, Atle Fader said at minus 2.8 for the whole song. The rial mix of this doesn't look like that for me like I've got. You know, maybe this phrase is up a little bit, you know, and maybe this phrase part of it is up a little bit, and then it fades down a little bit. I will go through. And even after stacking at the vocal will be nice and in front there might be like I said in last session, a word or syllable or phrase. I'll still manually. I'll write it with a volume fader thing. Or am I? Draw it in with the pencil tool here. In an essence, the automatic volume fader plug in does that for you. I don't think it's a substitute for compression. I think it could potentially replace that final step of a little bit of manual riding. Um, the best. The best mix is out there, the ones that you love, the ones that, especially in popular music today, where vocals are really important. If you go listen to your favorite record, you can hear every single constant and syllable perfectly. That person has got the right compression settings, and they have meticulously done a final fader rider to on the vocal to make sure that they don't lose anything because the label or the people listening, they care about the lyrics being hurt. And so they're gonna. They may not even notice how great the mixes they'll say. I can't hear Taylor swifts vocal here. I can't hear this person's vocal here on this one. Word is trailing off, and they don't want that. They want every syllable heard, so it's inevitable. If you want to get a great sounding vocal mix, make sure you ride just whatever needs to be rid. It's real simple thing to do at the end of your mix. Don't do it at the beginning because your compression settings would ruin your volume. You might still feel around the fader, but I definitely do it. I like to do it manually, Thean, because I have complete control over. I don't trust the plug in to do it. Take a look at some more. Here we have a question from Jordan Ren, and they want to know. Do you think that you should d s before or after compression? Okay, so great question. So a de Esser is a plus. A de Esser is a compressor that is keyed or second, almost side, chained to a specific frequency, so it's mostly used to turn down the sibilant for the S is of a track. So it's it's great for vocals. So depending on how bright the person's voice is or how bright the vocal is, they might have a really harsh F sound. And microphones are not that smart. As great of a piece of technology the microphone is most microphones really struggle with capturing the s sound doesn't sound natural. So a d s trick just for those of you that are familiar, it is a really helpful tool that can be a compressor turned down the volume But on Lee of certain frequencies, like six K or seven K, which is generally where an s sounded. So it's like a multi band compressors, like a simplified version of a multi band compressor it on. Lee listens to the sound when it hears that it turns it down in theory. So to answer the question, I typically like the DS last, Um just the way my brain works. So I don't think of DS Thing is like my go to effect. I think of e que compression isn't working. And then if I notice a really annoying s sound, then I'll add a de Esser at the end of that and I'll try to clean up just the SS. I'll do it last, But you could do it first as well, because if you got rid of it early on in theory than as you compress you wouldn't be. Bringing out this s is even more either there's no real right or wrong there. But I've even have you been stacked DS years. I've had two or three d I didn't mix last month where I had three ds er's on the track because there was three different frequencies on this female vocal that triggered that s sound. They're all harsh. So one was key to one frequency one to another. It's crazy. But all I was trying to do was get rid of the S sound. That's just distracting. If you go listen, your favorite records, you can hear them singing and s but it sounds natural the way our ears tune out that siblings. And if we're having a conversation, we don't zero in on. That s but a microphone and s looks massive to it. So it sounds very loud. And so you got a kind of fake the listener to not hear the s too much. We had nine people vote on this question here would love to get your take. But they say I have heard people put two of the same compressors in the first just to remove the peaks and the other to compress. How is that good for a mix rather than just using one compressor one to control the peaks and the other to compress? Um, that's I sounds like too much work for me. I think you can do all that with one compressor. Unless I'm missing understanding the question, the compressor can reduce the peaks, and then it can then bring up the overall volume of everything, which is all you're trying to do. So I thank you for using two compressors to do that, so you'll have pretty much the same effect as the compressor. Yeah, I would just use one over complicating things in here, and I'm not sure why. Excellent. All right, well, another one here. 10 people voted on this. When doing subtle compression, it's hard to hear the changes. Do you rely on your meters or are you Are you really hearing the subtle changes with your years? Now? That's a great question. Um, that's a great observation. So all of these compression moves, as much as we would yearn to hear a drastic results because we want to instantly make are mixed better, whatever that means. It's great to think of this a subtle moves. Don't expect a drastic means that you're already who ever ask that question. You're already is on the right track are realizing that we're making subtle moves here. That, as we saw the very beginning of the session, will do this year at the end to remind people in case you were in the first session. What subtle compression across the board makes a massive result. When you bypass all of them, I use the meters to Onley know how much gain reduction I'm doing because I know that, like on a vocal or a snare drum, if I'm taking off more than three db of gain reduction, I want to be careful because anything above that you're really starting to turn down a lot of the track. I mean, that may not be a bad thing, but I should want to see what I'm doing visually. But then I make my final decisions with my ears. So a lot of times I try not to look at the meters. I try to close my eyes or look away. It's hard because you can't you know on analog console back in the day, there is nothing visually to look at. You are literally turning up in just hearing and and Frank Philip Petty, who is a fantastic Grammy Award winning mixer he's done. She's done everybody, Um, he's done. What's that record he did out on Martha's Vineyard? James Taylor. He did want a Grammy for record. They did all in 16 bit. By the way, if you're a technical person, it wasn't done in 24 bit. It was done with stuff they brought into a person's house with dad machines and hardly any equipment. And they tracked a Grammy Award winning record in one room with headphones like no control room anyway. Side note. Frank Philip Eddie did a a talk a couple years ago, where he talked about the study they done on brain waves. When you have your your listening to music and your eyes were open, you have a certain amount of brain activity, and they do like a memory or scan to see your brain activity. And if you listen to the same music with your eyes closed, there's way more brain activity happening, and he showed the picture of the scans. And the point is, is that when you close your eyes, you have no visual stimuli. Your ears, your brain works harder to to hear what you're hearing. And so you actually hear more accurately, actually, more brainpower going on when your eyes are closed or when you don't have visual stimuli. So that's harder for us. If you working on the laptop and you've got, you have to see the screen to control the not right. That's almost a disadvantage we have. So I try to close my eyes. I'll make an adjustment, like with a mixed bus compressor and so subtle closed. I'll get the mouse right on the pipe ass button on the plug in, and I close my eyes and clicking on Click it off and I really can hear better with my eyes closed. And I try to ask myself questions like, What is this doing to the low end? What is this doing to the high? It is this doing anything to the kick drum? And you know, if I can't hear anything, then it's probably not doing enough for what I needed to do. And then I'll keep tweaking from there, So it is hard to hear, but it should be enough to go. I do hear that. And if it's anything more drastic than that's probably too much because look, over the course of a mix, it's all gonna add up and make a big difference. Okay, Yeah, We have a couple more here. We're gonna, uh we have about 10 minutes or so before we wrap up this segment. But we have two people voting on this question. Is there a compressor or e que trick to remove guitar string noise? Yeah, I get that one. Um, you can use a de Esser. I've done that. No, it's meant for s is on a vocal. But that slide of your finger on those, like brass strings or whatever you've got like it sounds like a similar frequency as like a human s o a. De Esser can hear that. That's a great trick. Is tryto you set the DS or to hear that frequency, it will turn down the guitar. Only when that's happening, that can work. And then, honestly, the best thing is to manually go in there with the all the volume fader and write some automation and you'll see it on the way form. I don't I do have acoustic guitar on this track we're gonna look at in the next section. I don't know if it's got a major string buzz on C. Yeah, because I got all the groups meted way Have a problem with this song made by my hands and have to go to different places. But you could literally drag, get some volume automation and take your pencil tool. But whatever you've got in your doll and if you see a big spike, if this right here happened to be where it's squeaks, you could literally draw, you know, draw down the volume just for for that part, drop back up or whatever. I literally have to do that sometime on acoustic guitar again. It's stuff that nobody applauds you for. It's the stuff that nobody knows you're doing, but it's it's removing distractions, so I don't try to do as little as possible to the song. But if there's something like that that distracts you from the song itself, then I'll take some time to get rid of it just so that I don't hear that I focus on the music. Great question. All right, well, we will get one more in here from Mary in Santiago, and they want to know when using two compressors. Do you set different attack and release settings? It's a great question. Um, you nine times out of 10 I don't even have to mess with the second compressor settings. If it's that vocal like we said, I just drag a copy of it down and move on with my life. Um, Onley if I hear it like how it's really squeezing that vocal. I'm losing some of my nice transit. Then I might open up the compressor and back off on the attacks. I'm not squashing it too much, so yeah, it's it depends. It depends Some of those answers that it depends if you hear a problem. If you don't like what it's doing to your vocal, that loses the the trans here, then yeah, you might want to mess with the attack settings. All right. Excellent. Any any questions from you guys? I see a lot of note taking here to get some good notes there. All right? Yes, definitely. I'm going into much arena right now. Thank you. All right? I mean, anything else from you guys? Um, not yet. I see you thinking over there were absorbing. Let's do a real quick before we wrap in the Maybe another question. I just want to do another round of bypassing all the compressors in this mix. So we again can hear what's happening when we get rid of all these little moves. And I know you haven't seen me set up all these moves, but like they're all doing 3 to 4 db of gain reduction on a base on a snare drum which will look at the next session the slide guitars, um, the vocals and in the mix bus compressor. And then when you take it all away, it's just that that's where you get the massive payoff. And I love globally bypassing all the compressors and hearing what it's doing. Some take a listen here in a chorus at the very end where everything's back in you go. Yeah, the kind of energy comes back, right? Like it sounds OK that the compressors because the tone is a different thing. But it's like that the energy that punch comes back. If you imagine that we're just a switch being flipped. It's really a bunch of switches being flipped. It's like better, worse, better. Or so you know it's that that tightness, that energy, which sounds exciting. But it's not like the louder sounds in your face F things up front. So that's kind of the whole, you know, as we go through this session, these next couple sessions, it's the subtle little moves that add up. So don't focus too much on the all about mixed bus compression. Or it's all about vocal stacking or try some of these an experiment with them if they're newer. But you can't hang your hat on one of those techniques, as if that's gonna give you a great mix that's giving too much credit to one move, as opposed to. They're all part of your tool bag of tricks that little things add up and you take everything away you go. Wow! We've made a big change from Okays tracks, too. I'm ready to put this on the radio kind of thing,

Class Description

Use compression and dynamics to their fullest potential.

In the Compression & Dynamics Master Class with Graham Cochrane you’ll learn basic compression concepts and how to apply them. Graham will teach you all about threshold, attack, release, ratio, makeup gain, peak, and RMS and how to control them in your mix. You’ll also learn how to use compression to control levels or use it as an effect.

You already know that compression matters to your mix, learn how to manage it with precision.


Bruno Motta

BIG FAN of Graham ... BIG FAN of The Recording Revolution ... Great classes of the most important studio effect of all times ... Tks to Graham, people like me (not a pro engineering, but extremely enthusiastic with recording, mixing and mastering) can work and deliver great materials !!! Seriously, i can't thank you enough !!!

a Creativelive Student


Kevin Thomas

I don't usually write reviews, but these lessons are an amazing course for people who want to know more about compression. I feel that I have more confidence in my mixing abilities. Thank you very much Graham!