AUD210 - Blog 7 - Studio Roles

When I read the description for the seventh blog I have to admit that my reaction was that of discombobulation. Not because it was confusing, but because for the drums recording session I took the role of Pro Tools operator. 'How am I going to write a blog about being the Pro Tools operator?' I asked myself. 'Why, I just sat down on a chair, looked at the screen, clicked some buttons and voilà!' 

A representation of myself panicking for having forgotten how to use Pro Tools.

A representation of myself panicking for having forgotten how to use Pro Tools.

Jokes aside, it was both a fun and challenging experience. Let me begin with the challenging part. Before the team and I presented the project alongside the powerpoint presentation, I prepared a Pro Tools session for the drums recording day. That was the first time I used Pro Tools in a hiatus of 2 months; I was learning Ableton as well as Reaper and many other audio editing tools at work, and when I had to use Pro Tools I felt as if my cognitive and motor skills needed a reboot. I had forgotten most of Pro Tools features! It took me a few minutes to get used to the keyboard shortcuts and workflow all over again. Eventually, however, I managed to tempo-map it and organise the tracks and its playlists. 

On the recording day, Pro Tools surprised me with an unprecedented bug: it wouldn't allow me to switch playlists automatically, even though all of the tracks were grouped. Actually, I didn't know it was a bug until Clarky helped us sort it out. At the time it felt like a big problem since we were recording the drummer and we needed to be productive and fast. Maybe I should've prepared myself a little more intensively to account for any inconveniences such as this one, but everything worked out well in the end. 

One mistake I've made, however, was that of not assisting Bonny with the notes. I remember that in the last trimester whoever was responsible for note-taking was assigned to work closely with the Pro Tools operator. Honestly, I didn't even think of doing that until later that day. Fortunately, despite that small hiccup, my teammates were actively assisting Bonny throughout the process. 

On the technical side, there wasn't anything new to learn. In spite of being quite rusty with Pro Tools, I feel very comfortable with DAW operation. On the artistic side of things, I did learn a lot. For example, although not directly related to operating Pro Tools, I had never thought of bypassing the console by patching the signal into an outboard preamp and compressor and routing it directly into the Pro Tools. I know it seems obvious, but it really didn't occur to me at the time. 

I did some research on examples of DAW operation during a recording session, but didn't find anything relevant... except for a work ethic guideline for recording vocals. 


Relating to the blog's guidelines, below are a couple of pictures of the recording session, as well as a SoundCloud link to the recording and a convenient Youtube link to the original drum stem. What you'll hear is a dry mix, exactly as it was recorded. 

AUD210 - Blog 6 - Song Structure

This AUD210 series belongs to an assessment from college.

The song to be analysed is called 'R U Mine?', from Arctic Monkeys. 


The image above was taken from an audio analysis software called Variations Audio Timeliner. 

Intro:

  • The key signature is F# minor, and the tempo is 97 bpm at a 4/4 measure. However, when I mapped the click track in Pro Tools, I noticed that the tempo fluctuates up and down by just a tiny bit. The lowest value I got was 96 and the highest 98. It gets a bit faster in the chorus and returns to its original tempo during the verses. 
  • The song begins with a what it seems to be a quick tremolo guitar and a punchy and over the top drums. 
  • It seems like the powerful drums sound was achieved by sampling and compressing some elements in particular, such as the kick, the snare and the toms. 

Verse 1:

  • The lead vocal sound a bit distorted;
  • The backing vocal enters by accentuating "strings" and it sounds like it's doubled, being one on the right and the other on the left, or maybe it's only one with a delay effect;
  • The lead guitar and bass enters on the downbeat of the first phrase;
  • The bass is artistically distorted;
  • The guitar is scratchy but not 'airy' -- it allows space for the cymbals in the high end.

Chorus 1:

  • The guitars change to a different harmony, more agitated;
  • The backing vocals support most of the downbeats up until the end of the chorus.

Verse 2:

  • At 1:07 in the video above, it sounds like there's a disk scratch. As I'm not familiar with guitars, I'm not sure it's a sound it can reproduce;
  • The backing vocals are more present this time;
  • There's a guitar tremolo panned to the right, as soon as the backing vocal enters.

Chorus 2:

  • Maintains the same characteristics as chorus 1, with one clear and interesting exception: the backing vocals take over as if they stop being secondary when the singers say 'are you mine tomorrow?' at 1:43. Mixing wise, it sound like the mixer would ride the faders during that line and then they would lower them down once all the instruments came back;
  • The drums become more intense.

Bridge:

  • We hear the toms loud and clear. They sound full and punchy;
  • The guitars and bass change the harmony;
  • The backing vocal are present at the end of the bridge.

Solo:

  • An interesting guitar solo begins; one guitar on the left, then one on the right and the last one in the middle;
  • There's a hi-hat opening and closing that keeps on marking the beats alongside the guitar solo.

Verse 3:

  • Following the guitar and drums, we hear a small portion of the verse being sung in acapella by both the lead and backing vocals until the last chorus.

Chorus 3:

  • Maintains similar characteristics from the previous choruses--there's a delay set closely to 250ms present applied in the backing vocals. They're also more agitated than before;
  • Close to the end, the 'hidden' drum elements, such as the ride and the toms are increased to provide an urgent feel to the song's climax;
  • There's also a different and quite subtle guitar panned to the right, giving a different tonality to the mix.

Instrumentation:

Guitars: 

  • Gibson Les Paul for the main riff, and amplified by a Selmer Zodiac amplifier model;
  • Gibson SG for the rhythm through a Magnate amplifier.

Bass:

  • Fender Precision amplified using an Ampeg Portaflex.

Drums:

  • Ludwig Drumkit

Effects:

  • There is a bit of distortion applied to the lead vocals and a subtle telephone effect on the EQ;
  • The reverb seems quite long. In fact, there are some moments where I could count up to 1,5 seconds;
  • As mentioned a couple of times above, the backing vocals are processed with a fast-to-intermediate delay time;
  • There are two moments where the guitar presents a tremolo effect: one is the intro and the other one in the second verse, at 1:13s;
  •  Vocal delay was produced using soundtoy echoboy for a smoother R&B style;

Production Techniques: 

  • Vocals were recorded with the Bock 251 but uses the SM57 for the crunchier vocal part;
  • Backing vocals were recorded on a Neumann U67 through Neve and a UA 1176 compressor;
  • Drums and bass were recorded together to get a good rhythm-section feel with a guide vocal;
  • The kick drum was recorded alone for a take followed by the snare drum to get an isolated sound.

AUD210 - Blog 5 - EMP Remix

This AUD210 series belongs to an assessment from college.

Introduction

When I received the song to remix, I opened the Pro Tools session and without thinking of listening to the stems individually, I hit play. As the song progressed, the first reference that came to mind was a song called Long to Live, by Metric and Howard Shore. Since the initial idea was to do a soundscape-y remix, I thought the reference would be perfect.

However, to my surprise, I was presented with a big challenge; when I ran through the vocal stem on its own, I found that there was a reverberant electric guitar bleed--or maybe it was simply recorded together with the vocal. I tried separating one instrument from another in iZotope RX but got nowhere as the harmonics of the electric guitar would clash against that of the vocal.

Nevertheless, I decided to go with it and create the remix around the vocal track. Since reverb was already present, there wasn't much I could do rather than warping it to fit a faster tempo. 

Production

Because music is my biggest weakness in the audio universe, I wanted to challenge myself in creating the vast majority of the song from scratch--the only elements I took rom the original song was the vocal with the guitar and the bass section from the chorus. Once I had the vocal and the bass appropriately warped to 150 bpm, I moved to figuring out the melody. The song is in the key of B major. 

To help me with the harmony, I began by creating the rhythm. I took the advice of progressing in baby steps and began with only the kick and snare, then moved to hi hats. When the drums were in a decent stage, I looked for a groove that would fit well with the style. Suddenly, I realised I moving toward a blues genre rather than atmospheric, so to speak. Despite being different from what I had planned, I embraced the challenge.

As the drums and groove got roughly established, I began working on the bass. At first, I MIDI sliced the original bass and experimented with it for a while only to find out that it wouldn't work well in the rest of the song. For that matter, I took on a somewhat risky approach by applying a different bass to the rest of the remix. I came up with the bassline by experimenting until I found something that was cool to dance to. Figuring out the bassline made it easier to come up with the other elements as I soon realised I needed to spread out the frequency content. Even though I was working on a different genre, I kept on referencing to classical music for the harmony. 


Creating the sounds

  • Marimba: The idea for the marimba was born by an actual marimba sound. Before working with Operator, I searched for a marimba sample and played it in the remix to get a feel of what it would sound like. In Operator, I started by modifying the fundamental envelope to have a sharp attack, a short decay, no sustain and fast release. Next, I applied a second oscillator with a coarse of 4 and a third one with a coarse of 8 with the same sustain and release values but with varying short decay times. 
     
  • Analog Pluck: The analog pluck was a product of the original bass slice created to harmonise the violin solo. At first, the bass slice sounded quite good but as I kept on listening to it in context, I felt like it sounded muddy and as if it didn't really belong there. Eventually, when I was listening to the Assassin's Creed 2 soundtrack, the track 'Home in Florence' caught my attention. What if I could create a pluck in Analog and position in somewhere in the remix? In order to create the sound in Analog, I referenced the section in the video above and watched some tutorials in both Youtube and Lynda.com. And as practically every element in the remix began in the downbeat, I decided to perform the pluck in syncopation to provide a better swing to it. 

    Two oscillators were used, being one with a filter cutoff at 1.1 kHz and the other at 522Hz. To have a better control over the overall brightness of the sound, I assigned the cutoff frequency, decay and envelope amount of both oscillators to a macro.
     
  • Pad: The pad was created by sampling a "boing" sound I sourced from Freesound.org. I had used the same sound in class but in an entirely different way, and as I like the original sound I wanted to challenge myself in creating a pad out of it. In order to do so, I watched plenty of tutorials on youtube on how to create pads using Sampler. I applied the 'Note Length' MIDI effect to make the note last for 4 seconds, as well as reverb, delay, a bit of compression and EQ filtered at 520 Hz and experimented with other MIDI effects such as 'Random' and 'Chord' to my taste. Along with the sample, I instantiated Analog with two oscillators slightly detuned at an octave lower with a cutoff at 1.4 kHz and a slow attack. That gave an ethereal feel to the sound, so to speak.

Operator Picture

Analog Picture

Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 17.29.59.png

Sampler Picture


Mixing

When I had all the elements ready, it was time to add expression to some instruments and effects. The most noticeable of all is the violin. Although not electronic, my reference for the violin expression was the Schindler's List soundtrack. While modest in comparison, I wanted the violin to pop out in the mix while leaving the other elements secondary.  In terms of insert and send effects, I set specific tracks for certain instruments, such as drums. For the drums, I wanted to apply reverb to the snare, toms and hi hat only, as well as enhance the kick with other samples and compression. To do that, I inserted an instrument rack in the C1 slot and added 3 different kick drum samples. The first sample was meant accentuate the crack, the second was for the body and the third just to sweeten the overall sound a little bit, and each sample contains its own effect inside the instrument rack. For the reverb, I created a Drums Room return track and routed it to the drums rack and then I sent only the elements I wanted.

Conclusion & Feedback

First and foremost, I wanted to understand the DAW and what the available tools do. There is still a lot more to discover, but I managed to learn more than what I needed to complete the song in a reasonable amount of time. The session view is, however, quite confusing to me and therefore I didn't make use of it. Rather, I'd create the loops and work them out in arrangement view.  

Prior to start mixing I met with Gabriel and asked him for feedback. He advised me to polish the piano chords as they sounded somewhat dissonant, though his overall impression was positive. He really liked the end result and didn't have any other comments aside from the ones mentioned above.

All in all, I'm very satisfied with the result I was able to achieve while taking into account my lack of musical knowledge. The assignment was both challenging and rewarding and I'm now feeling much more comfortable with Ableton and mesmerised with the possibilities it opens for sound design.