Creating my final mix…

It took me a long time to get to a point where I was at the least, mildly happy with my final mix. I originally only had piano and vocals from the studio but knew I wanted to add more elements to my track.

I started by adding synth using midi and the XPand!2 plug in and I played with the tremolo effect as I wanted a real bassy modulating sound throughout my piece. Thats when I also began playing around with my harmonies I recorded and I tried to create some samples by chopping up my harmonies.

I thought perhaps if I created some kind of unique rhythm with the samples, it could be some alternative drum rhythm. I ended up duplicating a lot of the harmonies/now samples tracks so I would be able to get them to do different things. For example, I used the pitch shifter to create some lower samples; one set of samples was the octave below the original pitch, and I created an even lower one, two octaves below the original pitch. I felt quite free when working with my samples. I didn’t treat them as strictly as I usually would with a vocal as I wanted them to be more subtle and acting as instruments forming the main body of the song rather than part of the main vocal. I used decay a lot more on the higher range samples to create some eery echoing sounds and although I did still apply some reverb and delay to the lower samples, I left them to be more dry so they could be distinguished in the mix from the kick drum and the bass synth.

I felt like after this point I came to a stand still with my mix. I was still trying to work out if this arrangement was working well or if I was just trying to be too ambitious with all the different elements. I kept listening back to my track and I knew I needed something but I couldn’t quite work out what it needed. After a few listens and plenty of breaks to get a fresh perspective, I realised I wanted to add some kind of simple drum rhythm throughout as the chorus felt quite detached from the verses. I loved the feel of the verses and they felt very ambient and electro-pop, whereas the chorus still felt very singer-songwriter piano and vocals track. I ended up adding a kick with a lot of bass and a simple snare hit with a brush sound rhythm. I also cut out the upright piano in the chorus’s as I felt the kind of playing of the chords did not match the track.

As soon as I did this, I felt it completely transform the whole track. It stopped feeling as though it was dragging and felt like it had actual movement. It also felt a lot more coherent on the whole.

One thing that took me a lot of hours to work on with this track, was the balance of all the different elements. As soon as I thought I had one thing just right, another thing would sound completely off. It took me a real while to work out how I wanted the vocals. I left them unedited until quite close to the end as I didn’t want to do something just for the sake of it, I wanted to compliment the track. I ended up doubling the vocal channel and dragging the second channel a very small amount ahead of the first which created a subtle delay. With the first vocal I then added some reverb to create a really echoey effect along with adjusting the EQ and compression. With the EQ on my main vocal I pulled down some of the mid frequencies as there was a small amount of distortion and almost too much ‘noise’ around the mids. I did the same with the second duplicated main vocal, however, rather than adding the same amount of reverb, I left this one quite dry so it could still punch through all the ambience of the track and the reverb of the other vocal.

This became a bit of an issue later down the line in regards to similarities between the vocals. Although the main vocals sounded nice I needed to put them both through an EQ and Compression bus in an Aux track so I could apply some of the same to both and add some cohesion for my vocals which would make them sit in the mix better and become a bit more distinguished from the rest of the track.

After this, I did a similar thing with all the sample vocals as these started to become quite garishly sporadic in terms of volume and where they sat with the main vocals. I sent them all through the same EQ and compression bus, pulled the threshold down slightly and emphasised some of the more prominent sounds with the EQ which completely transformed them. It was like they were all related now, rather than all being strangers from different parts of the world.

I found a lot for this track was just patience. Because there is so much going on and it’s an unusual combination of elements I didn’t want to rush anything or get frustrated with it. I got very frustrated with it, especially towards the end, however, I feel I took a lot of time over EQing each channel strip, as well as compressing parts I felt needed it and finely tuning a lot of the sounds myself such as the bells, the kick and the modulating synth.

I enjoyed mastering it as one can always tell such a difference between the before and after of mastering. I struggled to not get too frustrated at this point, mainly because I was exhausted and had put so much effort into it so far I didn’t want to destroy all the hard work I’d done.

At first I had applied too much compression in mastering and it was working too hard around the bass compression which meant I went back into my mix to have a look at some of the individual channels and their values. After another work around particularly the kick’s EQ and compression, I think the mastering worked better.

I used a high pass filter to cut out anything below 20hz and I also created some shelving in my EQ bringing up some of the higher frequencies and bass frequencies a bit more. I then applied some compression pulling the threshold down slightly and increasing the gain whilst adjusting the knee a bit more to create a softer compression. I used the limiter to create a ceiling of -1 dBFS which would cut out any sound reaching beyond that.

I made sure there was no clipping and none of the levels were above 0 before listening through once more and bouncing down my finished track.

 

Practise Mix: End Is On

This is my final mix of our group studio project called ‘End Is On’.

This is the first time I’ve ever mixed or mastered anything but I learnt a lot about pro tools in the process.

It was really helpful doing this along side my final track project as it taught me about the importance of getting good first recordings and being organised. We came across a few problems with our ‘End Is On’ track particularly to do with the bass and the upright piano being in the wrong key so we had to use the midi recording. It opened my mind more about the importance of confidence when recording and knowing a part really well.

I learnt how to use Aux tracks and use buses to add a plug in across more than one track and I feel I got better at listening to a track on a whole in more detail. I’d never really worked with anything with full drums before so it was interesting to me learning the balance within a mix and listening out for specific punchy sounds which jumped out or sat too low in a mix. I was able to apply all of this to my final track.

Set Task 5: Production Statement

Over my time using the studio and preparing for the recording of my final track, I feel so much more confident with a lot of the technicalities of recording, mixing and mastering and feel more confident in the terminology used and in my ability.

 Having had a lot of time in the studio previous to my final track recording, I knew what mics I wanted to use to record the upright. I set up 6 different mics for the recording:

I tried AB, XY and Mid Side set ups with the following mics:

 -AB – Rode NT3

-XY – Neumann KM 184 x2

-Mid Side – AKG C414 x2 – one mic (omni or cardioid) facing front of sound source – one mic (figure-8) at 90degree angle to other mic facing sides of sound source

As I was mostly playing the piano in the middle, I made sure I positioned the mics over the middle range of the piano rather than the high and low octaves.

I learnt how to set up the Mid Side technique properly with 3 channels in my pro tools session. I created two tracks for my mid side mic set to figure 8 pattern. I added an EQ plug in to the first, turning on phase inversion and then copied the same EQ plug in to the other figure 8 track, but this time bypassing the phase inversion. I then panned the two channels – far left and far right.

I recorded a few takes of the piano and then listened back to them. I also made a midi recording using the Roland in the studio as a backup in case anything was wrong with the piano recordings. In my final recording I used the AB mics merged with the Mid Side as I felt they held nice detail but also a full bodied ambient sound of the upright.

I knew exactly what vocal mics I wanted to record on having had my time to experiment in the studio previously. I used a Shure SM58 mic to record my main vocals (see mic experimentation blog post for more detail) and the Electro-Voice RE20 to record my harmonies and improvisation as I was singing a lot of falsetto and gentle high vocals which I felt sounded nicer through the RE20 than the SM58.

Having listened back to the vocal and piano recordings I was very happy but wanted to create more depth to my track and so recorded some midi synth parts & other instrumentation such as bells. I used the BOOM plug ins to create some simple drum sounds and the Xpand!2 plug in to create some of my own sounds.

When mixing, I wanted to create a bubble of random patterns with samples but I also wanted to create a soft vocal with a lot of reverb. This was not to try and hide certain parts of my vocal or ‘just because’, as I was pleased with my final vocal recording. It was so I could create a scope of atmospheric layers that coherently intertwined with my instrumentation to engulf the listener into a certain state. I did however, need to make sure that my vocals punched through the mix enough to still stand out, rather than be overtaken by the rest going on. It took me a while to get this right but after applying a bus reverb for the two main vocals and a compression bus for all the samples, I feel I got a good balance. I’m really happy with my final track and how much I have progressed over this module, but I would love to spend some more time mastering my final track to get it to where I want it to be.

Mic Experimentation in the studio…

Over my time experimenting in the studio working up to my final recording, these are some of the mic set ups/mics I used and some of my findings..

Upright Piano:

 -AB – Rode NT3

-XY – Neumann KM 184 x2 (very ambient sound – too much ‘surrounding noise’ of piano – could make mix very muddy)

-Mid Side – AKG C414 x2 – one mic (omni or cardioid) facing front of sound source – one mic (figure-8) at 90degree angle to other mic facing sides of sound source

-AB – Shure Sm57 x2 – we tried these once, but preferred the sound of the other set ups for piano as they picked up a lot more detail of the piano

Vocals:

Electro-Voice RE20:

Used for some of the sample vocals and my harmonies (picked up a fuller sound of my harmonies compared to weaker vocal of my higher register in SM58) – when I recorded Beth’s vocals (some harmonies I didn’t end up using in my final track as our voices are very different and they didn’t sit right with each other), this mic worked particularly well with her high register and tone of voice.

Shure SM58 dynamic mic

Used for my main vocals

I’d looked up good vocal mics for a softer vocal/less confident singer as I fit into those categories, and the shore SM58 was a suggestion (although apparently very good for boomy vocals) I found it worked really well with my close soft vocals and also those moments where I gained a bit more confidence – I felt it kept it bright and intimate

 

Sennheiser MD 421 II 

Tried it out for main vocals

Although it said in my research that it’s not usually seen as a traditional vocal mic, it said t’s regarded as one of the best dynamic’s out there, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I felt it sounded too boxy and there wasn’t much brightness compared to the other mics.

 

Didn’t end up using for any takes apart from experimentation

These are some photo’s of different set ups (some of the vocal mics were yet to have the pop shield attached)…

 

 

Getting used to the studio…

At the beginning of this module I felt terrified at the idea of the final task of recording, mixing and mastering something by ourselves. It’s something I hadn’t really done before so I wanted to make sure I booked lots of time in the studio before recording my actual assignment piece. Rosie M and I ended up helping each other out in the studio with setting things up, pressing record when the other was performing and keeping each other company during a long day.IMG_0735

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Most of my uni emails became communication with Marcus about booking studio space, the mastering room (to practise using/recording the upright piano) and asking questions (quite a lot of questions).

I’m really glad that I used this time in the studio before recording my final track because a couple of issues arose that we were able to work round or get fixed before it actually mattered. For example, a lot of issues arose with the upright piano.

After recording some of Rosie’s piano part for a test recording, we noticed there was a constant underlying sound throughout the whole track. After listening more closely, we realised it was a problem with the sustain pedal (a squeak) and a sound occurring where the hammers meet the strings. We tried to put a jacket over the pedal to isolate that sound, however, it didn’t do much and the sound of the hammers was still a big issue.

We emailed Andrew asking if he could check it out and also listen to the recordings we’d done to see if it was a recognisable problem.

Screenshot 2017-05-16 16.36.43

He came down to help and we were then able to talk to Marcus about the problem which resulted in the piano getting looked at and fixed before we needed to record our final tracks for assessment.

We learnt a lot over the time from our very first studio session to our final session recording the remainders of our final tracks. I’ve learnt a huge amount about different mics, how they work, which mics may be best for which environment/recording & even how you set them up. For example, when we did one of our first piano recording sessions we came to realise later on that we had set up one of the mics for the Mid Side technique the wrong way round; it was facing the wrong way.

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We were able to learn from our mistakes and gradually got better at the placing of our mics.

We were also able to try out a lot of the different microphones for vocal recording – learning that you don’t sing into the Electro-Voice RE20 from the side, but from head on.

The time of experimentation and getting used to the studio was invaluable as it meant our confidence also increased as we went along, we were able to become familiar with pro tools before mixing our final track & as we had gotten so used to the studio, it meant we didn’t waste time when recording for our final track on working things out and spending most of our time asking questions.

 

The Writing Process for my final track ‘Undone’…

My original intent with this song was to write about someone who’s got a relationship with something that’s hurting them but a lot of the time they don’t have the clarity of how much it is hurting them. I also wanted to write alongside that about the effect that can have on other people involved. When I started writing, I particularly had in mind drugs/weed as it has become such a common thing in our age group and I know how it can impact people.

I wanted to use object writing and musemes as techniques for writing my lyrics. I tried to show progression through my lyrics in the verses introducing the idea of ‘you’, ‘it’s’ and ‘I’ in the chorus to hold a personal perspective and assist listeners to become participants in the song. Although the whole song is from my perspective, I wanted to make the chorus about my own thoughts as I believe too often the people who get caught in these cycles of dependence on things can become quite inward thinking/don’t necessarily realise their impacts on others and I wanted to highlight this. In the last verse I wanted to show reflective progression by asking a question and then subtly answering it with some phrases that could be associated with there not being a change in things and summing up the song in this way.

I ended up using some of the words from my object writing word map to imply a certain theme for example ‘smokey haze’, however, I didn’t want the lyrics to be completely obvious and wanted to leave them open to interpretation. I remembered some of the tools I’d learnt using the cut up technique and it meant I felt ok challenging my normal lyric structure in my songwriting.

In regards to the instrumentation for my track, I wanted to create quite an atmospheric, real, deep piece of music with lots of different layers, textures and colours i.e. engulfing you into a different world/haze when listening to the song. I initially wanted to record upright piano and vocals in the studio to capture the detail and ambience of the real piano and then create some layers through sampling and midi later on.

For the structure of my song I wanted to take people on a similar journey to the journey I felt I had been on. I tried to create an atmosphere from the off and gradually add in more layers to bring the listener further and further into this world. I wanted to repeat the chorus for a last time at the end with most of the instrumentation cut out and higher octave piano to represent the idea of just one person. Rather than the two people involved in the lyrics, it’s now just the one because of the distance that has been created through the dependence on the thing that’s hurting them.

 

Final Lyrics:

Verse 1:

It seemed you had an element of control

But it’s latched on, it’s latched on

A parasite of fantasy

detrimentally impacting your reality

 

Verse 2:

Not knowing what’s fake or truly you

I’m scared it’s all being morphed into one

Through that smokey haze

Manipulating the equisit days, within you

 

Chorus:

I feel undone, I’m so tired

My blinded mind comes alive when it’s not with you

I’m wide awake

Yet so asleep

An enslaving trap with steamed up mirrors

Blocking the view

 

Verse 3:

The drug of deception worps yet befriends you

I feel so invested yet so congested with all the craze

I’m so conflicted

 

Chorus

 

Verse 4:

What’s real and what’s for fun?

A playful juxtaposition with the serious dangers of reality that are

Picking up the dust

Untouched

 

Chorus x2