16 Jun

Evergreen Fiction

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Listen: Evergreen Fiction

I had forgotten where this came from. I did a quick google search and found: Adesign Evergreen Fiction by Dom Liberati. It’s a nice song and it was fun to do some work on it. It’s not particularly notable.

Except that I had made a change to my hardware setup between starting and finishing this track. I didn’t do an A/B comparison between the old setup and the new one, so this song gave me some insight.

In order to record the Mad City Jug Band, I had to add some input channels. Because we were recording live, I chose the Focusrite Octopre MkII Dynamic.  This is the first piece with the new equipment.

Categories: Mixing
03 May

The Little Black Egg

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Listen: The Little Black Egg

I found this song when I discovered the Nuggets collection had been re-released in the late 90’s. I loved that collection in high school and the later CD edition had twice as many “Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era”. I liked the idea of garage bands creating music for their friends and gaining some popularity. In those days, you could still have a regional hit.

I am not completely happy with the way this one turned out. My goal was to do a more psychedelic/Pink Floyd arrangement. It ended up as a chunky Whiter Shade Of Pale. Not bad, but not what I wanted.

The biggest problem is I am not the right guy to be singing this song. I tried a couple of different ways of singing this one, but I couldn’t quite capture that anxious-teenager-clinging-to-his-insecurities attitude. 35 years ago it would have been a natural.

The reason I share this one- it is the first time I have literally played every instrument. No sequencing, no computer generated parts, no pre-recorded tracks, no loops.  I had to use some tricks and make some adjustments after the fact, but I got it all to work.

Keyboards were the most tricky. I know how to play keys, but I am not good at it. For this song, I played the main organ sound into 3 separate tracks. Left hand chords, right hand chords and melody stuff. This worked out well because when the melody got buried, I was able to double the track with a little distortion to give it a better place in the mix. The clav part was played on one track, but I split it while mixing so I could eq the chords and the double of the bass riff separately.

Drums were tough. I had started with a guitar/voice version, played to a click track, which is not in the final. I had built up the keyboards and bass tracks and had a good sound going. Now I had to play drums along with the pre-existing track.

I don’t have enough i/o to record my drum kit, so I used my electronic kit, stereo out of a Roland TD-8 (borrowed from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church). I played many takes to get the final, and then I had to adjust a couple of notes that didn’t quite line up properly. If you listen to the hi hat, you can hear it pop out of and disappear into the mix. I need to work on my consistency.

I didn’t use the main guitar riff from the original (I didn’t use anything from the record), but the guitar parts are pretty straight forward. I set the guitar solo with some stereo delay to give it some depth.

I tried a bunch of different things with the background vocals. Phasing, flanging, doubling, all of which I rejected. I was trying to get a more psychedelic sound, but the end of the song has so much going on that any vocal tricks seemed to get in the way. A little delay and some reverb worked best.

I am not completely unhappy with the way this one turned out. While I had a clear goal, it took a Connie Willis turn on me, where outside forces start acting, in spite of your best intentions. The ending may not be what you expected, but it turns out to be a happy ending in it’s own way.

Categories: Recordings
16 Apr

Another Contest- Flattery And Lies

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Listen: Flattery And Lies

Mixnotes is a blog I like to follow, with a YouTube channel for reviews and how-to kinds of things. Occasionally, they run a mixing contest. They supply a group of pre-recorded tracks and offer prizes like new plugins and training materials.

I can tell you how hard it is to record myself all the time. I have to deal with my own inadequacies. And mistakes. Many, many mistakes. A contest like this is a lot of fun for me. A change in perspective and a chance to challenge my skills.

This contest featured a song by a singer songwriter named Caitlin Eadie. I enjoy her unique voice, she sounds a little like Blossom Dearie (also Blossom). That girlish voice is backed by an emotional maturity that gives real strength to her songwriting. It was a pleasure to work on this song.

My organizing idea on this song was to have the beginning closed off and have the song open up as it progressed. I started with the stereo field restricted at abut 50%. I opened it up a little at the chorus (70%), back down for the second verse, and didn’t open up fully until the bridge. I left the full stereo field under the outro to reinforce the resolution of the song.

I think this approach may be too subtle. It’s hard to hear changes in the stereo field. It may have been more effective in surround sound, because i  there I could make the difference obvious. While I love the spot where it opens up, the effect doesn’t really speak unless you are wearing headphones. Even there, it is hard to notice until you get to the bridge.

The only really fancy thing I added was the echo at the end. I liked the concept, but found the actuality distracting. I patched the delay through the reverb instead of the main output. This makes the echo an ethereal whisper, off in the distance- which is what I was going for. Ethereal whisper.

I am happy with my mix. I don’t plan on winning any prizes. My system is old enough now that the new plugins won’t load. I’d love some training materials, though. More new projects to mix.

I am adding a new “Mixing” category to my site. Songs like this one- I didn’t write, arrange, play any instrument or even record any tracks. I just realized the mix. It’s the perfect label for the technical work I did and do.

Categories: Mixing
09 Apr


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Listen: Vehicle

I used to sing this song. Some may remember that I sang it at my wedding with the Dust Bunnies.  At that time, I was singing it in D minor. This version is in Eb minor, like the original recording (by the Ides Of March.) It’s harder to sing a half-step higher. But before I get to that , let me tell you the story.

I took a music production class at Berklee online.  As a midi project, the professor split us into groups to produce a song. I got paired up with a drummer and a keyboard player. I’m sure this was by intention, letting us all work at our strength musically.

The drummer did all the percussion parts, the keyboard player did organ and horn parts. I got the bass, guitar and solo. Neither of them wanted to do the vocals, so I took that as well. After all, I used to sing this song.

It may look like I got off easy, from a midi point of view. First off, I have a midi guitar rig. I was able to do the bass line on guitar as a midi file, which went to our drummer for quantizing. Second, we learned the real point of this group exercise was sharing files. Each had to have the midi setup correctly so we could work together; then there was synchronizing files, especially between midi files and audio files. It took many emails back and forth to get the details right.

So it was as a group that we decided to stick to the original key. I may have been trying to challenge myself, but we all know voices do not get higher as we get older. It was difficult to get an adequate take. Let me rephrase that. I did not get an adequate take. I had to use some creative tuning to make my singing track adequate.

At that time (2008) I did not have auto tune. Pro Tools had utility that allowed you to change pitch of audio. I had to separate the in-tune parts of the bad notes and adjust the out-of-tune parts. Manually.

I had one issue I had to leave in. In the last verse, listen to the word “star”. I call that an audible occlusion. A bit of digital weirdness that you can hear. It is very short, and if I didn’t point it out, most people wouldn’t notice. Still, it bugs me.

I enjoyed the guitar solo. I improvised a bunch of tracks, then created a composite. I learned that composite track and re-recorded it, playing it in one take. I kept the last part of the solo from the original. It has a hook element that sticks in my mind, and it didn’t sound right without it. I like that way it turned out.

I don’t know what happened to the background vocals. They are supposed to echo the words on the choruses. I’m sure they were on the class project, but I no longer have a copy of that bounce. I hate to think I deleted them from the master, but it’s odd that I kept backgrounds on the first chorus, but not on the rest. This isn’t going to be released anywhere, so it wasn’t worth the time to re-record them.

I remixed the old files to add some of my more recent production techniques. The track is pretty good. The vocals are adequate.

I’m not a great singer. I can do a pretty good job on some material, especially it I don’t try to push the high notes. Luckily, this project was about midi setup, sharing files and synchronization.


Categories: Recordings
28 Aug

Spite- A Mixing Contest

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listen: Spite

A blog I follow, Mixnotes, is having a mixing contest. (Mixnotes/Softube Mixing Contest) They supplied the tracks, I supplied the mix. First prize is a high-end reverb plug-in.

This song is heavier than I usually work with. The distortion levels are in the track, not adjustable. So this was a challenge.

They sent me lots of drum tracks. 3 kick drum tracks, 4 snare tracks (top, bottom and 2 midi tracks, bounced to audio), hi hat, ride cymbal, 2 tom tracks, overheads in stereo and room mics in stereo.

My first approach was to eq the multiple snare tracks, keeping the levels equal, to create a composite sound. This didn’t work. I had some success, but I realized I was changing he level with the eq plug-in. So sliced and boosted the tracks, then set levels to get a composite snare sound. I did similar with the kick drum.

I set up a couple of busses for all the drum tracks. I wanted to get some pump out of my compressor on the drums, but I couldn’t get it to behave the way I wanted. So I created a separate bus for the kick drum and sent the ambience tracks (overheads and room mics) directly to the Sub Master. I set the threshold on the compressor so the snare got a good squish, but the hi hat barely registered. This gave me a little thickness on the snare which fit better in the aggressive arrangement.

Guitars needed to be eq’d and compressed, each track individually. I set up a bus for the guitars and put some compression on the bus as well. The guitar part at the end was a separate track. I added a distortion plug-in with some automation to brighten it up at the end and added some panning to give it some movement.

There were 2 bass tracks. The first was the main track. It was thick and distorted and needed some serious eq. The second track was an ultra low sub bass track. This was hard for me to mix. I don’t have a sub woofer and it is tricky hearing those low frequencies on my monitors. I thought this track was a little one dimensional, so I added automation to bring it in and out. These tracks were sent directly to the Sub Master bus.

There were three keyboard tracks. One was the sparkly pad running through the song. One was an explosion sound effect at the beginning of each chorus, and the third was a “ch ch ch” rhythm sound during the last chorus. I set up a synth bus, but it doesn’t really work to unify the parts. It does add a little compression to help keep them sitting properly in the mix.

I did a lot of volume automation with the sparkly pad, bringing it up and down to give some dimension to the track. I also added an expander, keyed to the snare track. This gives a nice pulse to the rhythm.

The vocals tracks were pretty straightforward. The main vocal, a doubling vocal on the chorus and an effect track. I eq’d and compressed these tracks and sent them to a vocal bus.

I didn’t add any reverb or delay. All this was provided in the tracks I downloaded. With one exception. I wanted some more depth on the snare, so I added a gated reverb- this is where you send the snare track through a reverb channel and add a gate to close off the reverb effect, lengthening the snare hits.

I tried to push things to get a more aggressive sound. I am not that familiar with this style, so it is hard for me to judge how successful this mix will be. I don’t think I will win any prizes. But it was a lot of fun.

Overall, I like the sound of the drums. I enjoyed the process and I’m glad I found something challenging to mix. Thanks to Mixnotes and Softube for setting up the contest.

Wish me luck.

Categories: Mixing
17 Aug

The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald

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listen: The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald

original: Original Wreck

This week I found a song I had recorded in 2009. It was a pretty good performance, but it didn’t sound good. I decided to try to rescue the track by exporting from GarageBand and using Pro Tools to get a professional sound.

I made my first mistake exporting. I forgot to turn off the reverb and delay effects on each individual channel. I took this as a challenge. After all, I often hear guitar tracks with chorus/reverb/delay, sometimes effects not appropriate to the song. As an engineer, my job is to make it work.

So I started with the processed tracks. I imported to Pro Tools and added some eq and compression. I set up sub groups to get the instruments working together.

I was having trouble getting the slide part to sit right in the mix. The problem: settings that helped the melody stand out were too much for the backing parts on the verses. I split the slide track into two, so I could use separate settings on the bold lead and the more subtle background.

The vocal needed a lot of help. The vocal didn’t stand out enough, it just blended into the mix. I tried boost some eq settings, but the result was either boxy or hissy. I had read an article about using distortion to add some presence to a vocal line and decided to try that technique.

I pulled out my SansAmp plugin and patched it into the vocal channel. It worked. Listening back, it may be too much. I may go in and lighten up the distortion someday.

Next I needed to fix some tuning issue. I am not a fan of Autotune. Here I had a handful of bad notes in a good performance, so my tuning plugin was the right tool.

The track was in pretty good tune, but I had 5-6 notes that were more than a half step off. These I mended.

I wanted to look at the high notes, the B. Not too high for me, but in a bad spot for my voice. They sounded harsh, especially with added distortion (a compromise, I know). And they were mostly within 10 cents of pitch. Thinking I didn’t need little pitch issues compounding the harshness, I put them in perfect tune. I think it helps.

Lastly for pitch, I was surprised to find that noises like breath and consonants registered as pitched events. Sometimes on weird pitches, unrelated to the key of the song. I pulled these up/down to pitches appropriate to the key signature and zeroed them out. This helped to clean up the overall presentation.

I finished by adding some automation. Bringing out little lines and lightening backing tracks where it was needed. I especially needed to tame my Darth Vader breathing. Muting my breathing sounded creepy, so I went in and isolated each breath and pulled it down 10 db’s. It sounds more natural this way.

I think I ended up with a pretty good track. Of course, i could have gone in and re-played parts or re-sung the entire song. That wasn’t the point. The point was to fix this one. And it sounds much better.

Categories: Arrangements