*Side note. I used to have a very good command over punctuation and grammar but it’s been so long since I was in school that I can’t remember the rules. Sorry.*
Well, as the title implies I did work on the song a little bit this week but not much. I think I re-tracked the vocals about a week ago but I didn’t get around to listening to them or chopping and lining them up until this week. All in all, not a whole lot has changed about the song. Ignore how bright and airy it sounds. I’ve struggled a lot with that in the overall mix with every song I’ve made so far. I plan to bounce down each track and strip out most of the FX I’ve thrown in along the way so I can get more of a clean slate and work without taxing my processor with the double duty of running the synths/samplers along with the FX at the same time. I didn’t even set up the buses as I went along this time or write out and color my labels properly, so it’s a big mess that’s gonna take some time to clean up.
I auditioned several different drum kits looking for something with a bit more… snap to them; Something a bit crisper. I did the same with the bass, looking for something with just a bit more attack and… eh… something with a little more in the high mids to cut through the mix just enough but not too much. I’m not a 100% sure how I feel about either change.
I like the cymbals better on this kit but I don’t know how I feel about the snare. There are two kicks in the arrangement, and I set it up that way from the start. One kick is a part of the acoustic sampled kit that’s triggered by a complex midi pattern that’s been tracked by a live drummer. (I use a rather complicated drum sampling system, but the tradeoff is that it’s very flexible, allowing extensive manipulation of patterns, kits, and individual drum sounds. The system offers 100s of patterns, fills, and accents that you can assemble into whatever arrangement your heart desires. You just have to know some basic terms to search for things that will fit with what you’re working on.) The second kick is electronic and plays on the 1st and 3rd beat, to give the song more of an electronic anchor, if you will; A steady, but subtle pump throughout the song. I switched out that second kick for one with a bit higher timbre. For this song, I’d rather the bass take up the low-end room and the kick accentuate it a bit without too much BOOM! when they sync up. I felt like the original one was fighting with the bass for space rather than complimenting it and thought I’d try to minimize that by changing the instruments rather than rely on EQ later.
I kind of think of this music as analogous to fake meat. I don’t want to try to make it sound too much like real live music because like with fake meat if it tries too hard to mimic the real thing, it’s probably going to taste gross. Fake meat that’s just sort of inspired by real meat is often pretty good though. I love me some morning star chick burgers and I love black bean patties, but those Boca burgers that try to taste like real burgers are too weird. So, yeah – I want to play off the mechanical nature of making music this way and accentuate that aspect in some places.
I don’t know how well I’m pulling it off, but I’m kinda trying to coax out a happy marriage between all the organic kinds of music that live in my subconscious with the electronic and pop music that lives there – along with some decent songwriting. I’m inspired by a lot of blues, country, jazz, and rock, but I also love stuff like those three minute Brittany Spears pop songs from throughout the 2000s. I love all the hyper-detailed work her producers have done with the vocals, the unexpected drops, the little accent sounds that pop out of nowhere and only make an appearance once in the song. It’s deceptively simple and complicated all at once. At the same time I love stuff like live Doc Watson recordings from the 70’s where a bunch of guys are sitting around a couple microphones with some kind of stringed instrument and throughout a lot of the song the instruments all gel so well it’s kinda difficult to identify their individual sounds, but then one will pop out here and there and then melt back into it. I don’t know. Maybe that sounds stupid or those are bad examples. I don’t claim to actually know what I’m doing here.
The bass didn’t change too much. I switched out the upright for another and layered it with a fretless in Trillian bass sampler. I still think it needs more punch and I’m probably being too timid with my choices to get it there. I’ll try some things with it this week. Maybe at the mixing stage. I might try a multi-band compressor to tame the low end because it’s a bit too thick there which I think is forcing me to lower the gain so it doesn’t take up too much room… But again, I’m not really mixing yet, so that’s not extremely important yet. Despite the fact that I started roughing out this song a month ago it’s still in a pre-mixing stage, as far as how I define it. Maybe a regular compressor in manual mode to clamp down after the initial attack and just lower the tail so that it’s still there but not overwhelming would help. Or maybe take out the upright altogether. If I don’t want a booming bass, it’s probably not a great choice. Then again, I think I’ve ramped up the brightness on the vocals and the acoustic guitar too much just playing around with it as I go along which has got to be throwing off my perception of the lower frequencies. Ugh… The bass is the part of every song that my insecurities shout the loudest at me for, both in the arranging phase and in the mixing phase. It’s unpleasant, but I’m pretty sure I’ll kick that inner dialogue in the pants eventually. (I doubt I’ll ever lose my childlike, naive belief that I can learn anything if I just keep trying. It’s a double edged sword.)
There’s an awful lot to think about with a project like this and it’s all too easy to fall into an overthinking trap when there are this many factors to consider. I kind of go with my gut and then analyze later. Writing these blog posts is turning out fantastic for my creativity because it helps me compartmentalize and clarify the inspiration and analysis aspects of the process, bringing a bit more balance to the experience. I’m a note taker anyway, but this is more organized than my usual scribbles and I’m enjoying keeping a log quite a lot.
Speaking of keeping a log, I love the Star Trek TNG sound that leads into and out of the break. You’d have to be a fan of the show to recognize it, but I was so stoked when I found it while playing around with an FM synthesizer. It’s super similar to the sound that plays in the TNG intro when Patrick Stewart begins to recite the opening monologue.
Lastly, the vocals… What about the vocals? I like the doubling thing. I sort of wish I’d done it in triple though so I could center one and hard pan the other two at a lower level for a thick, but clearer sound. The vocals are where my love for pop music processing really comes into play. I chop those vocals up like some kinda audio surgeon wannabe. I like to line them up so the rhythmic quality borders on robotic… Bleh. I don’t really feel like tracking these vocals one more time, but maybe I will, just so I can do the panned chorus thing. There are some points in the song where they sound distorted as they are now, but I can’t figure out why. It’s not clipping anywhere. I’m pretty sure I checked every point where they could be. It almost sounds to me like a compressor pumping real fast, but that’s not what it is. Computers are so weird though, sometimes I’ll put an effect on a track and it’ll screw up another track that’s not even connected to the first. Sometimes it’ll even cause another track to play out of sync! It’s very annoying. I’m sure there’s some kind of digital sorcery I could learn to fix that phenomenon, but I haven’t got that far yet.
Anyway – Jebus! That’s a LOT of rambling this week! Holy cow! At any rate, despite all the rambling, I haven’t actually put as much work into the whole thing as all of this makes it sound. I’m curious to see how it all turns out…
Oh! That reminds me… Funny thing. When I finished “Echo” a couple months ago I just hated it. I tried not to hate it, but I just couldn’t help myself. At any rate, I finally worked up the courage to listen to it again and I really liked it. Yes, there are definitely things about it that could use some improvement, but overall I’m much more pleased with it than I thought. So, that’s kinda inspiring. (I should really already have the truth of the thing ingrained in me by now. I’ve been making all kinds of shit from clothes to music, to paintings for so long I know full well that sometimes I’m gonna hate something I made and turn out to like it later, or make something I don’t like but other people love, or make something no one likes including myself but learn things from it that makes the next thing awesome. It’s just kinda how these things go.)