This post covers the Creative Project I have undertaken as part of my BSc Audio engineering studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands, Perth.
I was given the opportunity to take songs which a friend had written and created demos of, to a more full production. This is a reflection on my experiences of doing this as part of my Creative Project for my BSc Audio Engineering at UHI Perth. I was sent the songs as demos in mp3 format and later as multitrack 24/44.1 wav recordings. The songs had been recorded in his home, over a long period of time, using a Boss BR800 multitrack digital recorder, so they existed as multi-track recordings. Drum parts on these recordings were the internal Boss BR800 drum machine which NM had programmed. All references to recording techniques, samples, images, description used in this report have been taken from the sessions for “The Day The World Turned” . The other songs followed similar, if not identical, processes and technology used.
This is a Soundcloud link to the three songs which constitute my Creative Project – https://soundcloud.com/user-824664017
Songs: The Day The World Turned;
The Goodbye Note (parts 1&2);
I would like to acknowledge and thank Neil Mackie for freely giving me these songs to mix and produce.
As outlined in the project brief there were three musicians involved with this recording. Neil Mackie – guitar, bass, vocals; Ian Wilson – drums; Andrew Sinclair – guitars, bass, keyboards
This project was vevry much an “In The Box” recording project. The DAW used to mix and master is PreSonus Studio One Pro 4.6 (S1Pro). My initial approach was to take the multi-track recordings from the Boss BR800 and extract them to individual tracks for use within S1Pro. Connecting the BR800 to a PC and using software from Boss this proved to be relatively simple, although lengthy process. The Boss unit records files in a proprietary format which needed to be converted to wav using a Boss convertor. A problem thrown up by doing this was a loss of time-alignment across the tracks. This became a serious challenge and took considerable time to resolve.
The image below illustrates the complete track view of “The Day The World Turned” in Studio One Pro 4
RECORDING THE DRUMS
Tracking live drums took place at IW’s drum room. This is his sound-proofed, custom built drum room. The three songs were tracked to permit the replacement of the programmed drums with live drums. These sessions were recorded using a Zoom L20 digital multitrack recorder. This device records directly to wav format and was set to be 24/48.
As the drum room is a 2.5m x 2.5m square there were challenges with spill between mics on the kit. The images alongside this text shows the drummer during the recording sessions and the Zoom L20 in use.
Below is a screenshot of the drum tracks in S1Pro in the song “Safe House”
Use of Samples for Kick and Snare
As mentioned, there were difficulties with the drum recordings in terms of getting a clean sound from any single drum mic. To address this I decided to use the live kick and snare tracks as triggers to allow me to blend in ‘clean’ sampled kick and snare drums. The sampled drum sounds came from the “Addictive Drums” vst instrument set. The process, in S1Pro, of doing this was as follows:
1) use the “Detect Transients” feature on the track being used to create the groove
2) Drag that sample to the ‘Quantize” toolbar
3) Set the “Quantize toolbar to “Groove”, not to “grid”
4) Create a new instrument track and drag the ‘groove’ to it
5) apply the vst instrument, Addictive Drums, to the track
6) Open Addictive Drums and audition and select the appropriate drums within it.
7) Mix and blend the sampled drums with the live recorded drums.
RECORDING THE BASS
This was recorded in my home studio using a combination of DI from a Palmer EINS valve amp and D.I. with vst plug-in amp sims.
RECORDING THE GUITARS
All guitar tracks were recorded in my home studio using a combination of DI from a Palmer EINS valve amp and D.I. with vst plug-in amp sims. The plugin amp sims used were a combination of Ampire from PreSonus, Amplitube from I.K. Multimedia and VStomp from Hotone.
All guitars tracks were given passive EQ with Fabilfilter Pro Q plugin. The image to the right shows the shape of the EQ filter applied. In essence a wide notch was created for each guitar track. The exact frequencies were not identical across all the tracks. The EQ was selective, based on the tone and frequencies being played in the guitar part.
All guitar tracks were sidechained during mixing to make them automatically ‘duck’ behind the lead vocals. Generally this was done using S1Pro’s internal compressor plugin. The exact settings used varied from track to track. The image illustrates the settings for one of the rhythm guitar tracks in “The Day The World Turned”
I used the feature of “Detect Transients” and “Bend” tool to allow me to nudge guitar notes where they were not as well time-aligned as I wanted them to be. The images below show the toolbas in S1Pro as used for this technique.
The pink/red coloured sections are where the notes on the guitar track have manually been nudged to improve time-alignment. They could, of course, have been re-recorded but making small adjustments in the DAW was quicker.
RECORDING THE KEYBOARDS
These were in my home studio using Arturia Analog Lab software as a vst plug-in instrument within S1Pro controlled by an Impact LX-49+ midi controller keyboard.
All vocals for these three songs have been taken from the original recordings to the Boss BR800. These have been brought into S1Pro for mixing and production. The following tequniques were applied:
Brauerizing: This process covers parallel compression for vocals. The single vocal track was sent to three bus tracks which were in turn sent to a fourth bus track. Each of the three bus tracks had a different type compressor plugin applied to it. The exact setting for each compressor changed from each bus. This technique was pioneered by Michael Brauer, hence it bears his name. There is a fast, a medium and a slower compressor setting used respectively. These are then routed to the fourth “Master Vocal” bus, which is in turn routed to the Main Out. To overcome potential gain difficlties none of the three ‘compressor bus’ channels are routed to the Main Out. Instead they are routed to a Dummy output and sent to the fourth bus.
Huartizing: The producer Warren Huart has developed a technique for thickening up thin vocals. This comprises of taking 8 copies of the vocal line and using alternating small delays, detunes and panning to create 2thick” sound. This was applied to the vocals in the songs after they had been Brauerized.
The image above shows the Vox1 and Vox 2 tracks (gold/brown tracks ) with the Huartized thickening tracks below them. (grey/yellow tracks. In this way, for the mix there were 18 tracks of vocals. To simplify mixing, these the “thickening” tracks were balanced against each other and routed to a bus for subsequent mixing against the Braurized lead vocals track.
The PROCESS (in reality)
Live Drums were recorded at IR’s drum room using a combination of mics (see separate panel). The size of the room meant that achieving a clean sound with minimal bleed for any single drum mic was impossible. This created a challenge when mixing the songs as it was difficult to make ‘clean’ kick and snare tracks.
The drum room used a Zoom Livetrack L-20 digital multitrack recorder. Rather than playing to a click track, the mp3 demo recordings were played to the drummers headphones and he hen played/drummed along with them. This gave me 10 tracks of drums to work with when re-recording other instruments and mixing the songs. Although there was no click track, the original demo recordings used the built-in drums from the Boss unit so, in effect there was a steady time beat.
A challenge which arose (and took far more time to overcome than I expected) was the difficulty in keeping all the tracks precisely time aligned as they were moved from Boss to S1Pro and from Zoom to S1Pro. This took considerable time (stretching into many hours in some instances) for each song. As a learning point there has to be a more efficient way of ensuring time alignment across entirely separate machines. Maybe recording an actual click track should have been done, as a reference track. For example, although the Boss and Zoom units were et to 130 bpm for one of the songs, getting the grid in S1 Pro to align with the recordings meant setting it at 129.5 bpm. It may seem like a small thing, but it became a significant barrier to making speedy progress. There were also challenges with individual tracks taken from the Boss multi-tracks as they couldn’t be fitted to the live drum tracks. The timing was just out. I spent considerable time attempting to get them time-aligned before deciding that it was going to be easier and quicker to simply re-record them.
As the principal contributors to this project have full-time jobs and family commitments it’s been necessary to balance this project against their other time commitments. Also, I spent more time on other coursework and assignments in the run up to December than I’d anticipated. The net impact being that this project didn’t move as fast as I’d planned for it to do so in the last quarter of 2019. The same became true during the first quarter of 2020.
” THE DAY THE WORLD TURNED” : Recording Session Notes
These are notes I captured as I was working on the song “THE DAY THE WORLD TURNED” . This was done using the notepad feature within S1Pro. I used these notes as a way of reminding myself what had been done and what needed to be done for this song. A track list is also included to show the tracks used in the song. The process of taking such notes was used for the other songs too. “The DAY THE WORLD TURNED” is being used as an example.
Analog Lab 4 4
UNUSED RAW GTR
Rtm Gtr 1(RAW)
Rtm Gtr 2(RAW)
Rtm Gtr3 (RAW)
Rhythm Gtr verse -Neil
Rhythm Gtr – octave down
Rtm Gtr1 (crunch reamped)
Rtm Gtr3 (clean reamped)
Ld Gt r – Intro 1
Led Gtr intor harmony
Ld Gtr MID solo
AGS lead 2nd mid
Ld Gt r – Int ro 1
Ld Gtr Outro HIGH
Ld Gtr (outro LOW
Neil 2 rhythm 1
Neil’s solo 1
Neil’s solo 2
Hammond 2 midi
Hammond 2 midi
Hammond 2 midi
Vox1 Thick 1
Vox1 Thick 2
Vox1 Thick 3
Vox1 Thick 4
Vox 1 Thick 5
Vox1 Thick 6
Vox 1 Thick 7
Vox1 Thick 8
Vox 2 Thick
VOX2 Thick 1
VOX2 Thick 2
VOX2 Thick 3
VOX2 Thick 4
VOX2 Thick 5
VOX2 Thick 6
VOX2 Thick 7
VOX2 Thick 8
Mic In 1
Mic In 2
Mic In 3
Mic In 4
Mic In 5
Mic tn 6
Mic In 7
Mic In 8
Guitar In 9
Guitar In 10
Line In 12
Line In 13
Line In 14
Digital in (L)
Digital In (R)
Rhythm Gtr RVB
“THE DAY THE WORLD TURNED” : SONG NOTES
– OK for rough mix
– tone and level OK for rough mix
– needs to have breakdown section re-recorded
– bounced to audio for mixing. +
Rtm Gtr 1 = got a dragging feel to it, rhythm riff, feeds to Rtm Gtr 1-1 & 1-2 Using Ampire AC30 with chorus.
Rtm Gtr 1-1 = panned hard left, first position chords with slight riff.
Rtm Gtr 1-2 = panned hard right, first position chords with slight riff.
Rtm Gtr 2 = input track : feeds to Rtm Gtr 2-1 & 2-2
Rtm Gtr 2-1 = Panned hard left, first positon chords, very dirty
Rtm Gtr 2-2 = Panned hard right, first positon chords, very dirty
Rtm Gtr 3 = input track : high register, feeds to Rtm Gtr 3-1 and 3-2 Using Ampire Twin Reverb with Chorus
Rtm Gtr 3-1 = panned hard left, very dirty 3rd position chords
Rtm Gtr 3-2 = panned hard right, very dirty 3rd position chords
Rtm NM = Neil’s rhythm track
Rtm Gtr Verse – Neil’s riff for the verse.
Ld Gtr 1 i/p = clean input for re-amping, feeds Ld Gtr 1-1
Ld Gtr 1-1 = reamped input
Ld Gtr 2 = Neil’s solo
Ld gtr 2-1 = harmony for Neil’s solo
Hammond midi = bounced to audio for mixing.
Arpeggiator midi – bounced to audio for mixing
– a big mess still.
– tracks built for Warren Huart style thickening when decent vocals exist.
– sort out Bridge and quiet bit
– add guide vocals
– add Taurus to “Quiet bit”
– balance out lead guitars and delays
– Rtm Gtr verse – Needs to be tightened up and perhaps harmonised?
– Turn down hi-hats on quiet bit.
– change bass on chorus to have the walk up the octave. (perhaps from my bass line? )
Ld Gtr intro – added new solo at the start.
New Hammond line to be added to break up the monotony of the existing one.
– New Hammond from Analog Lab played in ( some notes to fix.)
– Piano added for chorus
– Intro guitar solo sorted
– originals from Boss used. Huart thickening applied. Reverb levels tweaked
– time aligned Neils verse rythm
– Changed Verse rhythm to Ampire from VStomp for Neil’s guitar.
– re-recorded mid-song solo
– look up Will’s comments and back everything off!!
Is it really a month since I last opened this song? It seems so….. 🙁
Better listen to it all the way through …..
Observations – 1st listen through
– turn up the drus on the intro beats.
– lead guitars on the intro go out of time when playing the run up in harmony.
– first guitar solo at 1:30 is out of time.
– too much bass still on the rhythm guitar during the chorus
– Neil’s guitar solo is miising at 2:40
– no rhythm guitar parts during the missing Neil solo
– the whole thing is a mess at 3:50 the’re ssrong chords somewhere.
– playout solo is out of time and week on it’s intro.
Observations – 2nd listen through
– Intro bars with lead are good up tothe bends
– Go through every track and check subtractive EQ to carve spaces for each instrument/part.
– Hammond line rendered as audio from midi
– Hammond EQ’d with hi and low pass filters
– Arpeggio keys EQ’d to take them up freq spectrum
– Reverb applied to Arpegeio keys
– HAMMOND is too stuttery, it’s behind the beat, at times around 1:30.
– HAMMOND – wrong chord played at 2:30
– Sampled kick was wrong. Too many beats. Re-sample and redo.!!
– band pass filter applied to Taurus bass line to keep it away from the guitars and keyboards at the chorus’s
– too many rhythm guitar tracks it was getting too confused. Deleted the left for Rhtm Gtr 1 and the the right for Rhythm Gtr 2. Mix to be a clean rhythm gtr 1 on the right and dirty rhythm gtr 2 on the left.
– Deleted rhythm Gtr 3 (clean) from left channel.
– 1st observation is that it would be better in future to have the Song Notes the other way round. i.e. with the most recent edits at the top, not at the bottom. Then when the page opens in Studio One I can see my most recent edits without scrolling…..
– One of today’s jobs is to re-record or at lest edit all the Hammond keyboard line. The wrong notes and chords must be sorted!!
– at long last I might have got the Hammond to a place where it’s almost OK….
-back to this. Looking for some mojo or a spark.
– set for Hammond org from lead vocals (using PreSonus Comp)
– set for bass guitar from kick drum sample (using FabFilter ProC)
– Neil’s bass track advanced by 50mS as it just felt that it was dragging.
– take out an extra word “Those” which was sung in the harmony vocals at 3:39
– work done on all the guitar solos. re-recording some, setting levels on others.
– harmony line added to playout solo