‘Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites’

Now that we’ve established a baseline, we can compare ‘Good Life’ to more modern dance mixes. Let’s start with the polar opposite:

Pic 6

It’s immediately apparent from the waveform above that Skrillex’s ‘Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites’ has been heavily limited, with the peak level approaching full scale throughout. There are quieter section visible here, during which the average signal level drops, but even then the signal still hits maximum peak level quite regularly.

Zooming in reveals the subtle differences between sections. The highlighted area in blue is the ‘quiet’ bit, while the unhighlighted green section on the right is the louder part after the drop.

Pic 7

Frequency analysis of ‘Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites’ is almost meaningless without taking into account this deliberate structural approach. If we just analyse one of the louder sections, we can see a bass-heavy frequency spread with a noticeable dip around 500 Hz (which separates the low end from the rest of the track and gives the bass more room to have a greater impact):

Pic 8

However, the use of the frequency range chances quite dramatically over the course of the track. If we use a spectrogram (which provides a way of detailing level and frequency over time) we can see the way the frequency balance changes with the loud-quiet structure (the brighter colours represent greater level). The arrangement and mix of ‘Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites’ are defined to a large extent by this contrast between the quieter and louder sections.

Pic 9

This structural technique provides contrast throughout, with the drops appearing to have even more impact since they follow quieter sections with a subtly different use of frequency and dynamic range.

13th April, 2015


  • Damn, what an article. Great stuff Attack.

    And now I really want to hear New for U mixed like a Skirllex track. I’ll whack it through Pro L later with +30 on the gain.

  • I would just like to say that Big Fun has greater floor impact than Look Right Through :p (played at same subjective volume of course..)

  • Excellent Article … useful.

  • I just want a spectrogram.

  • i think “scary monsters and nice sprites” would sound way better as a more dynamic mix, personally. *Shrugs

  • useful indepth article, well done to the author.

  • Two points –

    1) One thing that bugs me about the mix of the more synthetic side of dance music is how hot the highs are. Spend an afternoon with 70s vinyl: pop, rock, jazz…
    I know this is media-influenced but all the mixes roll the high ends off a lot – then you come to any more modern (90s+) techno or whatnot, and the closed hats are relatively screaming at you in the mix. Sometimes I wonder if this is because everyone’s lost their hearing.

    2) As a DJ primarily I’ve noticed that over the past 5 years or so, more and more dancefloor music is mastered just to be loud. This plays havoc when metering and mixing older and newer tunes, especially if you like to mix cross-genre – imagine mixing that skrillex track into Andres (just ignore the cognitive dissonance about that one). The house track’s fader will be at say 80-90% max and the other track will be at 20%. Visual metering as an aid fails. You can make it work by ear, but even then if you’re mixing kind of loud, when you relisten in a better environment, the disparity is huge.

    I’m very pro-mp3/digital audio, but at least when you’re vinyl only, the mastering variation among songs, wrt loudness is pretty constrained.

  • Great article!

    I remember New For U was released digitally on Derrick Mays cd of the We Love Detroit compilation. If I got a copy I’d like to compare the vinyl rip with the (probably processed) digital version like the author did with Good Life

  • Want to mix better and be able to pinpoint problem frequencies by heart? Then Train Your Ears! https://www.trainyourears.com/mixlikeapro


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