Over the the past 10 weeks I have been chipping away at this side project, it has been a massive learning curve, I feel this is the closest I have come to reaching an Industry standard in all aspects, of recording, mixing, mastering and just producing an artist general. I’ve been sending mix after mix, after to Justine and Emma getting as much feedback as I can get. I believe that since the beginning of the trimesters, I have sent 6 or 7 different iterations of the song. Each with multiple changes and additions, this song has travelled an incredibly large way, as I have in my music production skills.
Emma is a very keen musician and has released multiple tracks of her own as well as toured with her own band. She came in to play guitar and help produce Justine’s song, it was very helpful having her on board as she had great vision for the what the tone and vibe of the song should be, without stealing Justine’s thunder. Emma always offered a plethora of feedback after I sent each mix. Here is an example from around the second or third mix…….
Her thorough feedback helped me consider more things in the mix that I may not have before and really encouraged me to tune everything to a finer taste, instead of just whacking a compressor or EQ on a track. We covered a lot in terms of the production in the song, things such as getting rid of the rim hits on the snare in the outro, getting more warmth out of the guitars, and lowering the reverb to the vocals in certain parts like the chorus. It was a big team effort between the two of us.
So I made a point of beginning with the vocals as I wanted them to be as good as possible and everything else to fit around them. During a mix session my lecturer, Steph, came in and handed me the wonderful tip of using a multiband compressor to compress and boost the high end, the result was a super crisp vocal. Having used a U87, the vocal sound was overall very bright and consequently this created a fair bit of sibilance, so I used the de esser on an Izotope Nectar plugin and reduces the sibilance region by about 10db as it was fairly intense. This cleaned up the vocal a lot and still kept it super crisp. For a reverb I got into our Neve studio at uni and ran the track through one of the multi effects units (can’t remember what it was called), and found a tasteful short hall reverb. It had an odd fluttery character, but it sounded cool blended in with the original. However I didn’t use this for the harmonies as I wanted the main vocal to stand out a little in it’s own way.
I ran into issue in post with the acoustic, as I didn’t realise at the time just how heavily Emma was strumming, her playing was incredibly dynamic and it was hard get the compression not to make it sound odd. So i used a lot of automation on my guitar signals to compensate. Another thing I discovered about my acoustic recording was that I had the microphones way to close to the guitar, as I assumed that if there was hard dynamics, that compression would take care of the issue. However it created a lot of mid and low mid resonances that would cut through. I ended up using multiple layers of EQ plugins to pull out the nasty resonances. There were multiple between 500 Hz and 4K, however 1K always held a plethora of resonance. As well as compression to smooth out the intense strums, however I struggled with making the compression less obvious as she was strumming incredibly hard in certain parts. I also had a fair bit of noise coming from the two acoustic mics, I used the Izotope RX denoise plugin to get rid of as much as possible without sacrificing and tone, I backed of the threshold just a little bit to be sure as I was fairly confident no one would notice a low level of noise beneath everything else going on at the same time.
The bass was recorded at my home during mixing, it was just an idea that later become apart of the track. I went direct in with my Fractal Axe FX 2 digital effects preamp, with an US Fender Bassman amp model. That tone was fairly dead and dry, partially due to my lacking in a high quality bass guitar. So I printed on a UAD Ampeg SVT head plugin to add a bit more character to the tone, it mainly added a bit more gain saturation to the low and mid range.
Throughout the mix I didn’t do much to the percussion other than fatten them up a bit with some compression. Slow attack and a 4:1 ratio, and I brought the the threshold down to a tasteful level. I also cleared out some of the mid range with the tom and snare which really helped beef them up. I also ran them through a natural studio reverb, the Revibe 2 plugin, to make up for the lack of roominess from the NEVE live room. I ran most of the tracks through this plugin, i felt like it would give the vibe of everything being in the same space, I even sent a bit of the bass and main vocals into it.
There were a number of these tracks in the mix. Some of which were from the scratch midi tracks that Emma sent to me, I figured I would keep some of them as they seemed to work fine when blended in lightly. The main Rhodes keys sound that continues throughout the song, was created with a mix between a Kontakt piano patch and Massive rhodes piano patch. These alone lacked some texture, so I added a bit of a dotted 8th note soft delay to give it some pulse, as well as adding an LFO in the rhodes patch in massive, with a slow rate and only a small amount mixed in so that it wasn’t very obvious.
For the master I used Mid Side processing, however there wasn’t a great deal that wanted to change about the middle or sides mix, processing wise, as I was fairly happy with how everything was sitting in the mix dynamically and spatially. My main ambition for this technique is to become more proficient with Mid Side in general, in both recording and mastering. To further compensate for the intense dynamics of the song, I automated the threshold of the limiter I was using, Pro Limiter. I hoped this would make the song more linear in terms of levels. However it just made the whole track suddenly get quieter and was quite distracting. I’ve since then calmed the automation right down. I also discovered how weird the song will sound if you boost the mid too much, every thing in the centre feels very separate from the rest of the mix. Finding a good blend of mid and sides is a very crucial part of MS mastering.
The processing I used was merely an EQ on both the mid and sides channels, there was still some ugly mid range from the acoustic pushing through, so I cut out just a bit of that which cleaned . On that submaster aux track I added an UAD LA2A compressor to smooth everything out, and Pro Limiter to get the track up to a solid level. I was monitoring the LUFS throughout the printing of the mastered track on Izotope Insight, I tried to keep the LUFS value at around -13.0 in the loudest parts of the song. At this point it was hitting the ceiling fairly regularly in the louder parts, particularly the the percussion hits and strums.
The distance I’ve travelled with this project was far greater than expected, I think Emma is largely responsible for really pushing me to do better and better. Like I said this is probably as close to “industry standard” as I have reached. However we will see how far I go with my major project.
Here is the link to the project, we will officially release it when artwork is finalised…