Reflection on major project postmoterm

Nick Holmes is an artist who is on a journey of self discovery. I loved his energy when we met and the more I got to know him, I realised he would be the perfect match for this project. He was new to the recording world, hyped up, hungry to get in, available and flexible. Honestly, he was a diamond in the rough. It is easier to work with and direct a person who accepts and understands that this is an experiment or assignment and it will have its quirks or may even be time consuming because I was a student. So I discussed the ideas with Roy and later on introduced him to Nick Holmes and that was the begin of this incredible journey of recording the LOCOVOX EP track.

I had everything all laid out, who, how, what when we were recording, however a global pandemic (COVID 19) hit and I was back on the drawing board reorganising and adapting to the new changes.

Due to social distancing, we were unable to make contact so we had to mentor Nick on how to setup and position his microphones via zoom which was our main line of communication. We were lucky that he was had basic equipment at home to achieve the recording.

We also trained him that during his recording to monitor his interface volume and maintain singing within range to ensure the volume does not clip and also its not too low which will be inaudible.

We had no choice in the mode of mixing the EP track at home. It was challenging but we quickly adapted to new methods to enable this project become a success.

We mixed everything in the home studio. Nick would sing at home, transfer the wave files through google drives. I would download the vocals share it with Roy before transferring them into protools. Roy and I listened to some reference tracks provided by Nick and this gave us ideas on what the artists vision was.

Since this was not a live recording and he was using a basic studio microphone, we had to boost his voice using an EQ. I used the de-esser plugin to remove the “s’s” and some of the background noise which would affect our mixing. We added reverb and delay to raise the vocals to a professional level as we found it to be too dry.

During mastering we added a limited to the master fader to make the music loud and achieved the minus 14 lufs with is a requirement for platforms such as sound cloud.

I used Midi for my keyboards as it is faster in terms of mixing and editing. Quantizing midi also enabled our instruments top align with the click track.

I learnt to work remotely which had its highs and lows. The highs were that I could work at anytime taking as many breaks however the lows were COVID 19 which meant the children were going to be home 24/7. I quickly adapted to the system and found a work life balance which helped me work on the EP.

I learnt skill application-transferring the classroom to the home studio. Mixing, editing, mastering and file management were the heartbeat of the project as everything depended on it.

I have gained confidence working with a client as I have practically worked with one. I have mentored and coached the artist on various things such as microphone position and expressive singing as opposed to shouting which affect the microphone distance. I discovered some professional plugins that were not provided by protools that enhanced the artists vocals to a professional standard.

I have learnt the value of open communication between peers, lecturers and artists. This contributed to an effective workflow between us and the artists and we could also troubleshoot by asking our lecturers whenever we were stuck. It was also less intimidating once everyone knew and understood their roles and realised we were all working towards the same goals.

There are some great things I felt I did in the making of the LOCOVOX EP. The vocals provided were dry and lifeless and using the plugins and instruments, these were rejuvinated. The artist agrees with this point and was open to ideas we contributed. Distance coaching was new to me and overtime I have become very confident.

Working in collaboration with other disciplines such as the student from graphic design (Samara) who graciously designed the logo and EP cover. I was also glad that working with my colleague Roy gave SAE a professional outlook when dealing with the artist. This emphasises the point that teamwork makes the dream work.

There are always challenging times in every task. I found with the limitations set due to to the COVID 19, the process was time consuming and tedious. The artist has a day job and was only available after hours and having a family, I had to wait until after bedtime to be able to review the files.

There were times the internet was very slow and protools kept on crushing right in the middle of mixing. This was not only disheartening but having to start all over again made it even harder to reboot the morale.

Lastly it was with great difficulty trying to align the vocals and the instruments because the artist found it difficult to use a click track. With more practice he would have become more confident but I doubt he had the time. We were not able to accomplish other ideas such as shooting a professional video which would have been a great boost to this project.

Reflection on side project

This was an interesting project. We had a visit at SAE from an Australian artist Alex Mills, born in Barbados. We had the pleasure of recording his live vocals and acoustic guitar in the Neve studio. This gave us an unforgettable hands on experience on what it will look and feel like working with a renowned artist. We also got to engage with the artist which was a ‘get out of my dreams and into my car’ type of feeling because we no longer had to imagine it. It was personal and we got to engage with the artist limitlessly, and he blew us away with what drives him to be Alex Mills. Alex was open to any suggestion for the success of the project and expressed his likes and dislikes.

The icing of the cake was when we’re provided with music stems a week later to mix, edit, master. I was excited however after listening to the music a few times, I felt the urge to experiment and place it in a different genre. I decided to recreate the instruments in reference to the Reggae genre, as I was confident that it would enhance the dynamics of the song.

Like I explained earlier, this was a beautiful piece but I felt it was lacking the shine or sparkle. Its like food without salt, it looks great but just needs a pinch of salt. For example I did not have to change the vocals I just changed the instrumentals. I also wanted to rejuvenate it and bring out a youthful exuberance which will leave an uplifting and positive tone. There were other genres that gave it an ok feel but the best suited one was reggae.

I practiced mixing, mastering and recording instruments. This took a lot of back and forth, adding and removing and I must say it came out better than expected.

I added plugins such as delay, reverb, compression and EQ to this song to enhance it. For example the reverb was to fill out the vocals nicely and the others were to ensure a balance between the vocals and the instruments so there is no competition and who is louder.

The song was to be a version of its original and I was very careful not to change it to an unrecognisable one which would be like a plastic surgery gone wrong. My intention was to challenge myself and also the artist and see what feedback I would get. This will either boost my confidence or turn me off from exploring and suggesting some ideas to the client.

I wanted to develop and explore my capacity to innovate music in sonic terms. Adding effects & experiments to bring excitement & making the mixing board a musical tool so that I can alter the sound.

I also aim to use and enhance mixing skills that will create a marketable product for artists and provide it as a service for my clients. I would like to maintain the endless fun skills on mixing & creating a catalogue of instrumentals or stems. These could intern be backing tracks for artists, jingles or just for sale.

First lesson I got from this experience is that fear is the enemy of progress. If I was to listen to my fears I would not be able to achieve this level of production. Boldness gave me the freedom to explore and get into the adventure.

This process was not easy, it was not ready made and I had to put in a lot of effort. I had to have an open mind to ask for criticism from family and peers. I received constructive criticism that helped me adjust a few areas in my production.

I have the confidence to propose ideas to clients as a song writer can have ideas but an audio engineer could have ideas birthed from previous experiences.

I have also learnt to revisit my work. Post creating, I don’t finalise a project. I walk away and its unbelievable what you hear a day later or even hours later. You become an editor, adding and removing thing.

I enjoyed mixing Alex Mills project. I believe I gave it my best shot, and was happy with the outcome. I have presented it to the teacher who believes it will be interesting too hear what the artist would say.

My highlights were recreating the instruments using midi , plugins & quantising midi. It was interesting using some high end plugins as opposed to basic sounds which come with protools. I learnt a lot about the Reggae genre & the importance of a solid bass-line in this genre. All I need is to grow some locks and I will fit in.

I got burnt by my lack of diligence. So I had worked for hours on end on this project and just when I was about to finalise it, protools crashed. I had not saved my work and I lost it all.

The bpm was irregular and I found it challenging to follow even though the artist had suggested during the session that he adapted this style from another Willie Nelson who always sings behind the beat.

Time management was highly impacted with the COVID 19. I know I could have done better but with a newborn, lack of sleep and my older kids on holiday this was highly affected.

Funk Vocal Processing Techniques

I have a strong desire to bring back that vintage style retro vocals in our funk project & achieving this milestone will require some research on how to do it. Bands like Motown , Bruno Mars, Amy Winehouse incorporate therapy recording methods & processing to give that old school vibe to a song.

Analog Processors

The old school vintage analog processors were full of colour & with limited number of selections with many having a distinct sound that is still used in most modern music productions. Fortunately there are many plugin that replicate these processors quite interestingly. Pre amps also play a significant role & so we will try and use analog console as this can be a good choice to emulate.

EQ & Compression

Colourful EQs have a district way they shape sound & finding those that replicate Neve 1073, Trident, Abbey Road & Helios would play safe on processing the vocal track. Using a combination of of different EQ’s matching their seperate strength especially the shelves & filters.

I may use analog compressors but also will consider using plugins but the trick is not over compressing but to just use enough so that that the feel on the compression may relate on the vocal. Using the digital de-esser will tame nay sibilance.

Tape & Effects

The vintage style went through tape machines & would often be used several times throughout the recording making process. Plugins such s slate VTM & Kramer may be used to experiment with different mixtures of saturations, flutter or even hiss. Using reverb effect on a vocal is a vintage style but you got to have the right setting or algorithms & types of reverb to achieve the outcome. A plate reverb can be an option as it adds some air & beauty to a vocal and may need to EQ the send so it filters out some highs & lows. A spring reverb adds cool on a vocal & has interesting depth to a vocal but needs more control.

Adding some delay can make creativity exciting with a bit of filtering & flutter to give a subtle live feeling. Vocal doubling also is a great way for saturating vocals bringing out the solid vocal performance & this can be done by double tracking or using a plugin like Waves ADT.

There are unlimited techniques & processes that can be used on funk style vintage vocal recording these are some of the techniques that I endeavour to partake.

References

Brooks, T., & Spottswood, R. K. (2004). Lost sounds : blacks and the birth of the recording industry, 1890-1919

Newell, P. R. (1998). Recording spaces. Focal Press.

Owsinski, B. (2014). The recording engineer’s handbook (Third). Cengage Learning

Touzeau, J. (2009). Artists on recording techniques. Course Technology.

Recording Funk synths

What is funk music? According to Encyclopaedia is a rhythm driven musical genre popular in the 1970s & early 1980s that linked soul & later other musical styles within the African American community. Our project with Roy is to record a funk EP but to do that I have to explore on how to record funk keyboards as I will be playings keys on the EP through research.

Funk is described to be unpredictable style or attitude & aggressive urban dance music driven hard by multiple synths involved in the rhythmic counter-play all working toward a groove. A few bands such as Parliament Funkadelic where known for using various keyboards, organs & electric pianos & more often synths are used for baselines & low sound effects. On other circumstances keyboards would be used like guitars to redevelop & displace with extended chords & at times adding percussive effects & rhythm.

Parliament Funkadelic and a few other bands are known for using a variety of keyboards, organs, and electric pianos. More often though synths are used for bass-lines and low sound effects. Bernie Worrell is a great inspiration to me as he was a very prominent keyboard player & composer & a founding member of Parliament Funkadelic.

 There is that notion of funk sounds come from either a Clavinet setting for Fender Rhodes keyboard setting. I would like to explore a little more about that idea so that I may able to understand it & then incorporate it.

Fender Rhodes

Many Jazz fusions artists or tracks use Fender Rhodes as back backing for s funky bass riff. The Rhodes sound is excellent for laying funk baseline in songs as it gives a deep bass & thick chords much indeed for funk. The treble end of the Rhodes can sound a little tiny & can be modified to sound different using an equaliser. The midrange chords are great for comping chords

Hohner Clavinet

The Clavinet has a less distinguished bass than the Rhodes but is unique for soloing & chord comping. Steve Wonders uses this in most of his tracks. The Clavinet setting is almost present in Morden keyboards even as a stock option. The setting also comes quite frequently in rock & it compliments a guitar well but may require more bass backing than Rhodes.

Once you have a particular setting preferred you may need to add an important ingredient on your rig to get a funk sound & that will be using a way pedal. Most softwares have tried to replicate this sound however using a pedal will empower more authentic sound & gives you the ability to articulate chords & solos much promptly.

By incorporating these ideas I hope to get some funky keyboards sound recorded on our EP project & I also will experiment more & see what other sound I might even accidentally create which may even revolutionise that notion.

References

Backbeat. (2011). Keyboard presents the evolution of electronic dance music

Play – beginner – bring the funk with a centuries-old classical technique. (2006). Keyboard38, 38

Funk – extended funk jams can challenge even the most creative and hard-grooving of keyboardists. here’s how to keep things interesting. (2009). Keyboard42, 42–42.

Vintage sounds channel the funk of herbie hancock’s r“ockit” lead. (2008). Keyboard -Lazaneo California-34(6), 70–70.

Recording 70s Funk Drums mic techniques

Recording 70s drums is a technique that I would like to spend time on researching & understand so that I can incorporate the techniques in our funk project as it is our inspiration.

70s drums were characterised with focus & tight sounding while sounding fat & full. The choice for the mic placement & EQ/ compression I would reference during our mic setup. The drum set that I have is a Tama Imperial kit 18×14.

Bass drum

The front resonant head of the drum will be removed to reduce overtones & it also allows for the microphones to be placed close to the batter head to have a focused & tight sound & a heavy blanket will be used to heavily dampen the drum

Tuning of the drum is very important so that we get the medium or high tuning rather than a low tuning. With the drum heavily muffled the medium/ high tuning gave the drum would give a nice thump in the low end as opposed to a low tuning which sounds dead. Inside the bass drum we will place an AKG D112 a few inches away from the batter head. The mic’s purpose is to capture the attack of the drum & the signal from the mic will have a hi-pass,EQ & compressed. A gate will also be used to isolate the signal.

The outer bass drum a Warm Audio wa-47jr Mic will be placed 14 inches away from the batter head. The purpose of the mic was to capture the low end of the drum as well as some air. The top frequency in the mic will sound good & will help thicken the attack sound of the inside mic. The signal will also have an EQ, compressor & gate.

Snare Drum

The snare drum will have heavy muffling with a plastic muffle ring & tuned low instead of high with a Shure SM57 mic for both top & bottom.

Rack Tom

The rack tom will have heavy muffling using a rag & tape, medium tuning is required with a Sennheiser e604 mic for choice.

Floor Tom

The floor tom will have a heavy muffling using rag & tape with medium or low tuning & a Sennheiser e604 mic too.

Overheads

The overhead mic choice would be two AKG C424XLii in an XY stereo pair. The mics will be in a cardioid pick up pattern & hi passed using the mics built in pass filter. Thmic placement will be above the snare & bass drum to pick up a strong snare & bass drum signal. The reason for the high pass is so that the low end would not conflict with the close drum mics.

Trash Mic

A Shure SM58 will be placed underneath the floor tom & directed towards the snare drum. The purpose for the this mic is to capture some extra tone, character & texture to fill out the drum sound. The signal for this mic will have a heavy EQ & compressor.

We intend to use the analog console to try & get the 70s sound effect & a tape plugin for an extreme saturation effect is possibly will give the vintage vibe on the drums. The drums will be compressed & glued together with a bus compressor.

We hope to use these mic techniques for our funk project so that we can achieve a 1970s funk feel vibe on our EP recording. The research will help us have an understanding what to do & how to achieve the outcome.

References

Eargle, J. (2004). The microphone book (2nd ed.). Elsevier/Focal Press.

Huber, D. M. (2017). Modern recording techniques (Ninth, Ser. Audio engineering society presents). Routledge.

Elmosnino, S. (2018). Audio production principles : practical studio applications. Oxford University Press.

5.1 Surround Sound

Introduction

The amazing world of the 5.1 surround sound. Even before I discovered my passion in Audio, my excitement every time I listened to music or watched a movie on surround sound left me with a sense of contentment. Let’s explore the 5.1 surround sound. It can be defined as basically 3 or more speakers surrounding a listener to create a realistic feeling. Why is it so important? With our ever evolving world, people have become more aware and want to touch, feel and taste things. They are looking for a sense of realness, for example look at the increasing number of viewers glued to the reality shows.

Above is a diagram setup for a 5.1 surround sound speaker placement

Speaker Calibration

  • Dialogues: 100% Center Monitor (sometimes 20% L/R)
  • Foley: 100% Front L/R (but usually panned to phantom center)
  • Impact and strong Effects: 100% Front L/R + 50% LFE
  • Backgrounds and Ambience: 50% Front L/R, 50% Sides/Rear
  • Music Stereo: 75% Front L/R, 25% Sides/RearMusic by Stems: 50% Front L/R, 25% Sides, 25% Rear

Calibaration is another important element in recording and all it is in summary is finding ‘the sweet spot’. This involves placing the speakers in angled positions to ensure they have equal Sound Pressure Level also known as (SPL). The SPL will vary depending on the room size and this will affect the calibration. The basic requirements for a 5.1 setup require the left (L) and right (R) speakers are to be placed at 60 degrees the listeners position and this is in the classic equilateral triangle formation. Lets talk about the centre speaker (C) which maintains the main dialogue aside from the other sounds. It works well with the (L) and (R) speakers and the (C) must be placed in between the two for an effective surround effect.


The surround would be incomplete if we did not include the subwoofer that gives us that bass. The bass frequencies have minimal directionality and this gives us the liberty to place it anywhere however I would suggest a great starting point is under the desk facing the mix position. There are a ton of speakers out there and the choice is up to the user. The only recommendation I can offer is consistency by buying the same speakers to ensure your mixing is uniform across the board. In saying this the sub can be the exception to the rule because it does not have to be from the same brand but has to be relatively equal to the rest of the other speakers in terms of size.

LCRLSRSSUB*
Movie Theatrical release85dB85dB85dB82dB82dB85dB
Movie DVD release85dB85dB85dB85dB85dB85dB
Broadcast / 85dBC or78dB78dB78dB78dB78dB78dB
Music( Stereo)85dB85dB85dB
Music ( 5.1)85dB85dB85dB85dB85dB85dB

Setup Pro tools I/O Settings

  • First step create a Pro tools session
  • Go to settings & open the I/O settings window
  • Select output panel & delete all the previous paths available
  • Create a new 5.1 path which will be the main output path going to the interface then to your monitor speakers.

Click create so it shows a new output path with a 5.1 path order on the bottom left of the I/O setting window . If it is in the S6 studio configuration will be as described on the diagram below (L C R Ls Rs LFE which is the C|24/Film)

I/O setup

On the bus page notice that Pro tools has created 5.1 output bus automatically & mapped to the monitor output. Once opened you can see all sub paths are created as well. You have the choice to use them or delete & recreate them. Click on the new path button 7 again select dropdown menu & name it 5.1 making sure the auto-create subpaths is checked so its easy to delete those that are not needed. Hit create section & it will come up with name (in this case 5.1) & the format will be 5.1 with channels L C R Ls Rs LFE as seen on image above. I/O setup is good to go

Assigning busses

5.1 Track Routing

Now let’s create routing for a 5.1 recorded track. Go to the output path sector on the channels strip & select 5.1 then it will route to the 5.1 output path & we should be able to listen to the surround content directly to the monitors.

Mono Tracks

For the mono track there are two types of routing that are commonly used. The first routing will be for lead vocals in a piece of music & the dialog in a film. The process is to route the track to the centre speaker only by going on to the output path selector on the track then select 5.1 C sub path which will separately route the vocal/ main dialog to the centre speaker.

You may notice the channel strip will not have a panning section reason being that the sound is routed separately to the centre channel only through the sub path created earlier as mentioned above.

Now for the second most commonly used mono track in a 5.1 session is routed to the L C R Sub Path this is used so that you can pan the sound across the 3 front speakers but don’t want any sound in the rear speakers.

Stereo Tracks

You may opt to have stereo tracks come out of the front speakers at the same time not wanting them coming out of the centre speaker by routing the stereo sub path then pan it hard left & right.

Second option maybe having the stereo coming out of the rear speakers by routing the LsRs sub path & pan them anyhow you like. You are able also to route them directly to 5.1 then place them anywhere in the mix & your channel strip would look like the diagram below.

These are some of the guidelines of setting up a 5.1 surround mix. There is more information required if there be need to go further to 7.1 or 10.2 surround. I would like to conclude & my thoughts on doing a 5.1 surround mix are very much excited to try it & will give it a go.

References

Savage, S. (2014). Mixing and mastering in the box : The guide to making great mixes and final masters on your computer. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (2014). Retrieved April 17, 2020

Holman, T. (2008). Surround sound : Up and running (2nd ed.). Amsterdam: Elsevier/Focal Press.

Holman, T. (2000). 5.1 surround sound : Up and running. Boston: Focal.

Tozzoli, R. (2005). Pro tools surround sound mixing. San Francisco: Backbeat Books.

An update & impact of virtual communication on the major project workflow

In the wake of Covid 19 and the restrictions set in place in the efforts to reduce its spread due to the mortality rate, has led the entire world’s lock down. This has changed the dynamics in terms of how we communicate and has hugely impacted the interpersonal relationships. Life must go on and so does learning and working which have turned our lounge rooms to classrooms and workspaces respectively. It has been a rather interesting and challenging journey overall in terms of our academics, long hours attending lectures on zoom and liaising with my colleague Roy as well as the artist Nick Holmes during the production of his 5 track EP.

One of the greatest things in this new development has been working in realtime. We have used an app called Zoom for all communication between Nick , Roy and myself. Roy and myself have had moments of trouble shooting, sending or receiving work and having meetings to plan way forward in our work. We mentored Nick via Zoom on things that will affect the post production especially due to the limitations where we rely on pre recorded vocals. We trained him on room choice, how to position his microphone, the importance of a pop filter and the volume gain to reduce external distortion. The importance of involving and empowering Nick to monitor his vocal power during recording is to ensure that he is actively present and involved in the entire project which have a huge impact on the outcome. This process has challenged me to work and respond promptly to set activities but has also made me greatly accountable because it is hard to slack off.

A great example is when I struggled with file transfer between Roy and myself. Roy discovered that he did not receive the files in order and were all over the place. Zoom allowed me to share my screen with Roy who patiently worked with me to find the root cause which was lack of rendering the files. This was identified and fixed due to the real time advantage. I have also checked on Nick’s progress of the project, giving him live updates and feedback as required making it an effective workflow.

We have also met challenges working virtually. I can no longer have a school/life balance. I am a father of three beautiful children, two school age and one newborn. Shorter nights due to the newborn and increased demands during the day by the older kids want time with their dad as the schools are closed. Multitasking is the latest fashion and is becoming the norm. Unlike the classroom which has set times and I could balance my two worlds, I am home and my family knows no different.

The other disadvantage is the frustration of the internet. During for example sending files to my peer, the internet would drop out. Before the lockdown I had never had a problem with my internet speed or connectivity however I have had multiple dropouts even during zoom. The uploading of files on google drive to share with Roy, I must say recently took over 7 hours. This caused interruption to the workflow and drew us back as opposed to the computers at SAE which do not have dropouts and are fast.

The other thing I noticed during sending of the rendered files was it not only took long but the process used a lot of space on my hard drive. I had to device a means to save the files transferring to an external hard drive then open protools sessions. Thats when I began rendering the files which took forever and a day.

On a brighter side, I am glad that the COVID-19 has pushed us into early futuristic preparations. The world is currently a global village, and working remotely is going to be the norm. I do not have to fly to a different city or town, I am building my confidence in communicating effectively, and know what and how to ask a client for what is required. It is also family friendly as I can be around the people who matter most to me in the world-I just have to fine tune work and home hours to get the best of both worlds.

Zoom meeting with artist (Nick Holmes)

A new season I would say for real with all that is happening with covid 19, & this has directly impacted on my major project which I am undertaking with Roy Fry. Our plan & intention was to record a 5 track Ep with artist musician Nick Holmes. My communication with Nick has been very effective through mobile, messenger & email.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1EEhQW1ScP0Ji4NOctIUZXmBlSrs99Hs8

After the Prime minister’s orders on social distances & isolation Roy & I resort to the use of zoom networking platform for the reasons of communication. Our communication was mainly to run through the new idea of home vocal recording which we intended for Nick to embrace as we were not able to use the studios at SAE & also considering the fact that he has very young kids, not worth the risk. Fortunately Nick did have an audio interface & a condenser microphone (forcusrite) despite the fact that is not the choice of mic. To get the best outcome from the mic output I asked Nick to at least purchase a pop filter for the microphone to avoid pops. We also directed him to use a blanket or a mattress as a reflector to absorbs sound waves bouncing from wall since he did not have acoustic treatment in the room. The next step we asked Nick to create a safe spot between him & the microphone to balance out less & too much gain from mic to the DAW. The reason being that we do not want gain clipping audio & low gain audio as our final product. We needed to ensure correct positioning so that we get a good recording which would ensure good mixing & mastering.

The inter disciplinary practises we intended with the film student has been put to halt as of now because of cover 19. However I asked Nick to just use 2 cameras on a stand placed in different angles recording whilst he recorded his vocals. We will try our best to come up with a musical video. Also engaged with a design design student to come up with a EP cover ideas & she will come up with a couple of them hopefully by the end of the week. Probably this isolation period will help me research on how to make musical videos. If I do nail on making the video I would definitely make use of it as part of my portfolio. I am looking forward to that though a bit nervous.

It was an exciting & nervous experience at the same time as I am used to be in the studio physical space guiding the artist, but rather doing the same thing through zoom. My thoughts on the future of this transformation are in-between. I think on the negative it does restrict the one on one experience with artist creating that trust & bond, limited to types of microphones. If we were to be at SAE there is a wide range of microphones & the right environment to record vocals. On the other hand it has been an interesting learning outcome to embrace online platforms such as zoom as a contingency plan. If the future of audio resorts to this, I am happy to say I have adapted to the change & hope to continue exploring the new techniques of sharing audio & video.

I hope to update the next blog on how the vocal recording went & share my views on it. I am glad that working with Roy & Nick has been very fruitful & encouraging. So far our project is going along with the project plan currently.

Alex Mills (remix)

I took the opportunity to work on Alex Mills song as a side project with instrumentals already done by him before whilst vocals were tracked in the S6 studio at SAE. Alex has a great voice and excellent skills on the acoustic guitar.

Now the idea I had was to redo the instrumentals for the song since its more of a ballad style genre & I felt to do a reggae style genre. Why I chose a reggae feel was that the song is soulfully sentimental & reggae shares the same values. I used this song as my reference track as I try to emulate the aesthetics in it to create that sentimental feel.

Now the challenge I faced was the stems for Alex’s song did not tag at all with the tempo within the DAW. The default is 120 for any Pro tools session. I even wondered how his music was recorded without a click track & therefore I had to create a new strategy of self mental click track (just a word I thought haha). Honestly that is a very brutal idea as I tried my best to recreate the drums particularly, drums do carry the rhythm for the song. I really did not like that idea why because I spend too much time trying to get the right take just the kick drum & still had more to do on the snare and hats since all instrumentals were programmed.

I left the guitars play along as I continued to create other instrumentals but I noticed that they were not befitting the genre. I am thinking to either automate them coming in at regular intervals or to remove them totally so we keep that reggae solid style. That would mean I need to add a reggae guitar in which is pretty much a major challenge to have one of my mates coming in to do the guitar with all this social distancing restrictions. If only my mate had a studio at home but unfortunately he does not have one. My only alternative is create a midi one though that is absolutely not easy to do.

All instrumentals I will create them in the DAW using Pro tools plugins & a midi keyboard. I also will will work with Roy to do guitar work & learning together has really challenged me to think outside my comfort zone. I hope to learn different workflow with this project on recreating instruments without a click track. I will decide later on whether to add female vocals depending with how things go in this current situation. I hope to edit & mix by the end of week 10.

Case study 2 Billie jean

The 80s music I grew up on did have so much influence in the way I interpret music to this day therefore I have chosen Michael Jackson to examine the aesthetics and production techniques explored. The knowledge I hope to explore it in the project I & Roy with artist Nick Holmes are producing a track called “Dreams”, and I will use “Billie Jean ” as my reference track for the mix.

Billie Jean is a single produced by Michael Jackson and blends with post-disco rhythm & blues & dance-pop from the 80s with the use of deep flat tones of the bass with a groovy melody.

The lyrics describe a woman Billie Jean who claims the narrator as the father of a her new born son which he denies & the they were inspired by Michael’s brothers who toured with him as the Jackson 5.

The song begins with a fast up-beat drum rhythm of kick drum, snare and hi hats starts off moderately at around 110-120 bpm for 2 bars at a 4/4 signature in F#m key , joined by a shaker which brings a contrast bringing colour and warm feel with the change to the high and sharp that excites the tempo then immediately a prominent synth bass line with a heavy influence which accompanies the kick drum which is upbeat but yet still relaxed.

The drum is probably a programmed drum machine on a range of Roland T808 or T909. But according to Bruce Swedien, Jones had earlier instructed engineer Bruce Swedien to create a drum sound no one had heard before”. What I found fascinating about this article is that the kick drum was indeed a live recorded one and then the rest snare, hats and toms recorded from the drum machine. Pairing both did produce a distinct product making the rhythm solid because of the drum cover with a draw string applied on the kick drum, isolating any spillage from any other microphones or sounds. This is an appealing aesthetic I would like to explore in on of my projects reason being it works effectively in producing the solid groove upbeat for a funky style of song. It does also encourage me to experiment further more on the use of different mic techniques just like the figure below which show the mic technique of inserting it right to the middle part inside the kick drum, which is deemed to be the sweet spot of a solid kick drum take. The bass drum cover was made out of furniture blanket with a zippered hole for the mic to go through & cinder blocks to hold the drum still. It is surely an unorthodox way of recording but it worked perfect and hence why the record made a huge hit.

A progression into the chorus is still loosened up and a stereo effect of either a whisper vocal or a high pitched shaker sweeps across from left to right which gives an interesting sonic element. The heavy influence of the bass gives room to swerve from the melody. The arrangement has a couple of counter melodies that compliment the bass along with the drums. However the synth bass feels like it was overdubbed with a bass guitar but then EQ is applied why, to take out as much the high frequency end in the bass to give that thick warm flat sound as mentioned before as an aesthetic tactic to keep the grooviness in the deep flat tones contrast to the high range of vocals in the chorus and back down in the verse. I would say playfulness of automation to balance the dynamics of the song.

The synth keyboard plays a nice smooth soft warmed like strings which plays within the centre of the mix picking g out underground notes in the song to help the listener poise into the song. There is quite a couple of vocal overdubs to make the song sound pretty thick with the bass (synth bass) sounds like it was given a deep EQ boost range. Why so, probably to eliminate high end in its sound. I hope to explore this technique of overdubbing vocals as it enriches the song. Why does it enrich the song one may ask, it solidifies the vocals and makes the mix sound fuller and accentuate the exisiting track which adds a new element which is the umm mph . And that is what I would like to achieve.

Amazingly the type of microphone Michael Jackson used to record main vocals was a Shure sm57 dynamic and a 6 foot cardboard tube for the backing vocals. That is out of the ordinary choice for me as I have learnt that it is more of a instrument mic but that I say it revolutionised pop music and removed all limitation. I would like to use this tech with a Royer mic together for the vocal with the sm57 to see if I manage to get some sort of unique sound emulating Billie Jean. It also takes the vocalist to have energy and excitement to get a great outcome especially using MJ as a point of reference in the way he sings in this particular song. I aim to ensure the vocalist/vocalists have the energy to grab a perfect take.

The drum track, laid down by session drummer Leon Ndugu Chancler in Westlake Audio’s Studio ‘A’, was in fact an overdub. The rest of the music including vocals had been already put down against a drum machine. This is of course a particularly unorthodox way of recording as the drums in most cases very much form the foundation on which other musicians build their parts and feel (ahead, on or behind the beat etc). This may in part explain the incredibly simple drum pattern, although producer Qunicy Jones suggests the live drums simply copied the drum machine pattern verbatim. The drums were recorded in a handful of takes (Jackson’s lead vocal was famously recorded in one on an SM57, with the BVs sung through a 6 foot cardboard tube)!

The reverb which could be a plate reverb was probably applied slightly to the backing vocals. The main vocal does have a reverb more like a plate reverb too but then there is a delay effect with a quick decay which balances the reverb and the delay to allow the next line as the song is such like swing feel adding a body rocking beat. Why using plate reverb one may ask? The reason is Plate reverbs add a distinguished brightness to a vocal making it superior presence in the track.

On the other hand the guitar is pretty nice and crisp, clean with a moderate reverb to hold on from sounding too dry. The cleanliness of the guitar would suggest it being put through a Di box avoiding it going through the amp. It also sounds like the EQ applied has more high end on it and low frequencies have been rolled out quite much to bring the cleanliness. At regular intervals the guitar gets surface melodies within the song in a call and response with the main vocal in one of the verses which I think is a very effect aesthetic making the song vary here and there but staying within the structure groove until the songs slowly fades to the finish. It is so amazing how the the guitar changes the shape and scope of pop music. Why I say so is that it communicates a feeling to me with that hook of ching ching style of play that is catchy combined with some highly fascinating sonic values that instantly catch my attention. And that is a great strategy of making a song great.

As for use of compression probably there was not too much of it, there is more automation playing through balancing out the dynamics of the song. Being an 80s style of song I am sure they did not think of future streaming platforms in future. Dynamic range is pretty impressive controlling the signal without over compression of audio. I find also the concept of stereo imaging in the track. When I export the mp3 file into the Daw it has the loudness of -13.9 LUFS and the short term loudness does not go higher in than -10.9LUFS and the dynamic range is never compressed than 9.1DR. The level of control of the signal is great without over-compressing the audio. I aim to use some of this idea of consistency and a balanced mix without squashing the transients in any of the songs for our project during mastering.

Overall it is a great song with an exclusive structure and excellent use of clean instrumentation, vocal overdubs & good use of reverb. I aim to explore these ideas during recording, mixing and mastering for my major project.

References

Michael Jackson, Billie Jean (1983) from the album Thriller. ( March 2020). Retrieved from https://www.thefutzbutler.com/news/the-20-best-drum-sounds-of-all-time/

Recording Michael Jackson’s Thriller. ( March 2020). Retrieved from http://btecsplthomas.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-recording-of-michael-jacksons.html

Billie Jean drum cover. (April 2020). Retrieved from https://www.acousticsciences.com/

Bruce Swedien: Recording Michael Jackson. March , 2020) Retrieved from https://www.soundonsound.com/people/bruce-swedien-recording-michael-jackson