Dec 302012
 

Here we have a song called Noise Inside My Head by the band Assemblage 23 remixed by yours truly.  This is a project I’ve wanted to do for some time and just recently decided to shoehorn it in to the schedule as a fun diversion.  Tom Shear is the man behind A23′s music (see an exclusive interview here) and has generously posted stem files from a few of his songs on the band website to allow fellow producers and fans alike to take a stab at creating their own remix.

For those interested in the production process that went into the remix there’s more info below.

 

Original Song:

 

 

Studio Wormbone Remix:

 

 

Production notes about the making of the remix:

After downloading and quickly studying the song’s stem files (individual instrument tracks) I decided to approach the remix by rebuilding each separate instrument line from scratch.  The song structure is a pretty straightforward verse/chorus/bridge pop tune, which is a tried-and-true formula.  I elected to maintain the song’s existing shape for this project and concentrate on reverse engineering the notes and textures rather than re-molding the whole.   I figured this would be a good learning experience since I’ve been enjoying A23′s music for some time, and dissecting and putting one of Tom’s songs under a microscope like this allowed for a deeper understanding of the music’s style.

After nearing completion on the remix I listened to the album version of the song as a comparison and realized that the original has a few more secondary synth melody lines that weren’t included with the stems.  However I had already filled up the real estate that those synths would have occupied with additional tracks.  There’s of course no reason for the remix to be a carbon copy of the original unless this version was meant purely as an academic exercise (which it wasn’t!).

The track breakdown in a nutshell:

 

Drums

These ended up being a combination of analog sounds from the Vermona DRM and Native Instruments’ Battery.

The kick is a multilayer of two analog sources to give it punch and a mid high acoustic sample for a sharper attack and some high end detail.

The snare is a layer of analog clap and two different versions of an acoustic snare with different processing on each (saturation, bit crush, reverb, etc).  There’s also a randomly modulating Twisted Tools S-Layer hit that doubles the snare in a few sections.  This was intended to help keep the drums organic sounding but the ‘humanize’ function in Battery did a nice job of providing subtle doses of this already.

The hi hat is a blend of two analog layers and one acoustic sample.  There are subtly changing performance differences in each layer adding to the liveliness.

The deep reverb tom in the intro and bridge are from NI’s Kore 2 and run through UAD reverb and 1176 compression.

Cymbals are from Battery.

The entire kit also has some parallel compression via UAD’s Fairchild comp.  This controls errant transients but more importantly in this application helps with overall color and glues all the parts together.

 

Bass

This is the Future Retro XS analog semi modular synth.  I intended to get wild with modulation and experimented at length with different settings but ended up resolving to a simple single oscillator patch with a tight envelope.  It was the most ballsy option in the context of the song.  The third verse being only drums/bass/vox was wanting more variety so the bass patch there has a slight variation with more bite.

I was pleased to use this synth for a bass line for once – it’s so damned fun and easy to tweak that I usually can’t contain myself enough to limit it to bass’s supporting role.  This saucy mistress loves nothing more than to take the spotlight!

 

Synths

These were surprisingly relegated to one plugin, NI FM8.  It’s glassy gritty leads seemed perfectly suited to a song with this name.  The main line got some different voicings and effect variations.  In particular, the verses have a multiband distortion with hideous feedback via Ohmforce’s Ohmicide.  When notes are sounding they’re politely distorted but in between notes the feedback screams.

The crunchy mallet solo sound was also FM8 but EQ’d with a sharp surgical spike at about 3Khz to make it cut to the front of the mix.  This was rounded out and made a little friendlier with the Fairchild comp again.

 

Vox

Tom’s vocals are spot on when it comes to emotional delivery so I wasn’t inclined to muck about with them this time around.  The stems were dry so I did wet them up a bit with a slight stereo delay and open their spacial dimension with some dark room reverb.  The vox stems also seemed a tad dark and I heard a hint of clipping once or twice when solo’d.  I don’t know if this was their true nature or if it was a byproduct of being translated into stem files.  Either way the murkiness was easily remedied with a little UAD Pultec EQ shelving boost at 10K, and the clipping was unnoticeable in the context of the mix.

 

Effects

I’m partial to sound design, ain’t no two ways about it.  Therefor I thoroughly enjoy this step in the production process.  A project like this is ripe for integrating elements from the ever growing catalog of Studio Wormbone sound packs (*shameless plug*).  This song got a few electro percussion loops and fills, a fair amount of transition FX, and some rhythmic atonal synth lines.  Also, the crowning jewel of the remix in my humble opinion is the heinous sheet metal ripping torture sound at the end of the bridge.  Noise inside my head indeed!

 

Nov 212012
 

These are two screenshot time lapse videos of part of the production process for a Euro Pop song I’ve been working on called ‘Feels So Good’ by Jay Pinto and Ilana Harkavy.  It shows a condensed glimpse of adding synth parts to the project layout, editing midi and audio, balancing levels, applying and automating effects, auditioning and importing audio parts to the project layout, pitch and time stretching, etc.

 

 

Aug 222012
 

The following is a recent remix of the song Fire Curtain by the electro pop band Jupe Jupe.  The original song (from their second album Reduction In Drag) is presented first, followed by the newly re-imagined version.  Below the remix are some explanatory notes on the production process for this particular remix.

Original song:

 

New Version:

 

Notes:

- To begin with, one of the motivations for this project was to make it an exercise in dubstep production so that drove the decision to set the new tempo at 140.  As can be heard, the original song is about 15BPM slower.  If the tempo difference had been any greater the guitar and vocal tracks would have been noticeably warped.

- Almost all of the synth lines were re-voiced in the new version for variety’s sake.  I’d been wanting for some time to do a song arrangement using the fantastic sounding fretless basses and chapman stick in Spectrasonic’s Trilian softsynth, so this finally seemed to be a good opportunity to utilize them.  The sub bass track is a mellow fretless and there’s also some doubling in a few sections with a more active mid-rangey, slightly over driven fretless voice.  The second fretless also covers the chords during the bridge.  The percussiveness of the chapman stick was a good fit for the main staccato melody line and I switched things up a bit by having it change octaves around the other instruments in some sections.  The octave changes also helped give the overall song more forward momentum.

- The vocal effect in the verse is a layered submix of about six tracks of Sonic Charge’s Bitspeek effect.  Each of these effect tracks used different settings and sounded great when solo’d, but due to the nature of the plugin each also had some momentary pitch irregularities.  So stacking six slightly different versions strengthened the overall pitch so as not to distract from the original vocal performance.  It also thickened the effect texture.  Reverb and delay were kept minimal on the verse vocal to maintain an intimate feel.

- Drums were performed on the Alternate Mode Trapkat in a typical dubstep reggae beat and the timing of the performance was slightly tightened (about 40%) using Cubase’s iterative quantizing.  This gave it the accuracy of a pro drummer while still maintaining it’s humanness.  The midi file was then edited to move embellishments and fills around the song to taste.  The sounds were a stacked combination of Native Instruments’ Battery and Kore, and probably given some parallel compression to glue it all together and add kidney punching impact.

- The wobble bass in the first instrumental section of the verse was done by running the mellow fretless track through the Fabfilter Volcano plugin with a steep sloped lowpass and assigning the cutoff to an LFO.  Then the LFO frequency was automated to change speed roughly every two beats.  These speed settings were somewhat random at first and then refined manually after repeated listening passes.  Next the bass was sent through Cubase’s stock bit crushing plugin and both the bit depth and frequency were automated independently using the same technique as the filter’s cutoff LFO, but with more varied ramps and sweeps as opposed to the square stepped ‘downbeat only’ LFO changes.  After refining the effects on this track over the course of a few days it was then given a drastic low cut filter at about 200Hz with UA’s Cambridge EQ (my go-to surgical EQ) to remove all sub bass.  Then it was bounced as audio (printed to disk) and mixed back in on it’s own track on top of the existing mellow fretless sub bass track.  The Cambridge low cut filter ensured these two bass tracks wouldn’t phase cancel each other at the bottom end of the spectrum or ‘mud-ify’ the mix.

- Because of the faster tempo of this new version the overall song felt a little rushed.  Several of the song’s sections passed by too quickly and some breathing room was needed.  So the first instrumental verse and the bridge got extended.  This also opened up some real estate so that the two guitar parts in the instrumental verse could each have their own four bar section (to rock out with the wobble bass) instead of being on top of each other.

- The original song had a Roland Jupiter 6 playing the chords in the chorus.  I wanted to substitute that patch and lately I’ve been wild over the vocoder in Native Instruments’ Razor synth.  (Yes I’m aware at this point that I sound like a product rep for NI!  What can I say – their stuff just tickles my fancy.)  It has an uber future sheen that is very present but takes up very little bandwidth.  So using the main vocal track as the carrier and the midi chords for pitch, Razor it was for stating the chorus chords.  It ended up being more subtle than I envisioned but provides some background ‘outer space’ character to the choruses.

- After the first chorus there’s another instrumental verse break but instead of repeating the guitar parts as in the original, I stumbled on a new lead part for this section.  This was done using the original melody line carved apart by a high threshold noise gate to reduce the amount and duration of the notes for a rhythmic variation emphasizing the accents.  This also pulls the timbre of the original ‘dulcitone’ voice (which I really liked a lot) into the remix as a featured instrument.

- As mentioned before, the bridge felt too fast at the new tempo.  So this whole section got extended in length and the chords were held longer.  Doing that opened up the need for a new lead sound.  This seemed like a good time to try a technique for programming jazzy style flourish runs that I recently stumbled across.  Doing this in Cubase ended up using different methods and tools than the video tutorial I picked it up from but the result was similar.  If anything the method I discovered was easier: set up a midi track with a ‘force to scale’ filter set to the song section’s key and mode.  (in this case there were two chords so I set up a different midi track for each.)  Then use the line draw tool in the piano roll of the midi editor to layout some semi-randomized steep zigzagging peaks and valleys of notes, adjusting the quantized note length for speed/density.  Do some trial and error until finding some workable lines.  Then refine them manually by nudging notes around in time, duration, and pitch.  Cut and paste these together into a cohesive ‘solo’ whole.  I also found that layering several of these note runs to collide with each other simultaneously using a synth in monophonic mode forced the machine to decide which note it would play if the notes happened to fall as chords.  Some interesting random results came out of that and were also refined by hand.  A bell/harp type sound in NI’s FM8 fit the bill for timbre.  I felt that simplicity with a hint of spookiness was called for here.  And FM8 always cuts to the front of a mix nicely.  As with most of my synth programming the sound was chosen as a ballpark preset of what I was looking for and then tweaked to suit the context and my liking.

- The acoustic rhythm guitar in the bridge was the only instrument in the song that didn’t sound natural when time compressed to the new tempo.  So I took the liberty of glitching the bejeezus out of it using the plugin called . . . well . . . Glitch of course.  The gritty drop at the end of the bridge was a gratuitous use of a sample from the latest Studio Wormbone sound pack – a decrescendo slide of layered synths.

- The oh-my-god-the-song-sounds-like-it-just-got-momentarily-deconstructed fill at the end of the bridge was done by running the entire song through the Twisted Tools Buffeater plugin for about half a beat.  I also experimented a lot with glitching longer durations of the full track using Buffeater but only this tiny embellishment slice seemed appropriate.  I toyed with many other vocal effects throughout the song too but they all just ended up detracting and ended up on the cutting room floor.

- Toward the end of the tune I inserted a bar of lone chapman stick in a low octave to provide some breathing space before the final big push of the last chorus.  The wobble bass layer gets slyly reintroduced at low volume in the second half of the last chorus and continues to the end of the song.  The gated dulcitone melody lead also gets restated in the outro, and the drums switch to a ‘grand finale’ beat.

- Reverb and compression were applied judiciously throughout.  I shan’t bore you with those details here.

- Overall this remix was a pleasure to undertake.  I wasn’t watching the clock at the time but I’m guessing I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 hours diddling and tweaking on it, including lots of exploratory tangents.  The strength of the song writing is evident so the challenge was to give it a new direction without tweaking the structure too much.  *Big thanks to Jupe Jupe for letting me steal your intellec-chal property!*

Jul 242012
 

This is a video tutorial on how to make dubstep.  Even if you’re not into this genre per se, these techniques can be applied to other electronic music as well.  It’s a long video packed with excellent production tips and tricks.  Making a bass sound ‘wobble’ using synced rhythmic automation on the filter cutoff isn’t new at this point, but I liked the notion of using the same automation idea in other ways.  For instance varying the parameters in a bitcrushing plugin.  I also liked the idea of using a stutter effect routed to an effect send for stuttering multiple instruments simultaneously.  Nice!

Jun 222012
 

Here’s a look at how REX files can make it easy to sync loops of different tempos within your song.  This is a wonderful way to get great sounding loop layers without risking audible time stretch artifacts.  It works particularly well with percussive loops like drums because of their sharp attack and quick decay.  This tutorial shows the set up in Pro Tools but almost all major DAWs these days have similar functionality.  Many sound pack sample libraries in the Studio Wormbone catalog include REX versions of the loop files.

Jun 212012
 

This video will most likely appeal to electronic musicians as much as guitarists since it sounds similar to an effect you might achieve using an LFO.  It doesn’t have a description but appears to be a Fender Telecaster guitar physically swinging (oscillating) between two PA loudspeakers with different flavors of feedback interacting with the guitar’s pickups.  Each speaker probably has it’s own amplifier with a different signal chain/settings to achieve the separate timbres of heinous feedback.  The guitar’s proximity to each speaker intensifies that speaker’s feedback.  Merzbow never sounded this good!

May 302012
 

This is a short documentary of the German duo Mouse On Mars in their studio.  I had to laugh when I saw their Ekdahl Moisturizer since that particular piece of gear seems to continually crop up in the studios of people whose music I like.  I’ve been tempted for a long time to grab one for Studio Wormbone, however just recently I scored a large spring reverb tank which may provide similar results when playing the springs percussively.  It lacks the filter that the Moisturizer has, but then if you’ve read this article then you know I’m not for want of analog filters around here!

May 232012
 

I just stumbled across this trick for quickly programming keyboard flourishes.  It’s done here in FL Studio (or ‘Fruity Loops’ as we old schoolers still call it on occasion) but a similar technique should be applicable to whatever DAW you’re using since the tools required are fairly basic.  Simply open up piano roll, add some chords, copy/paste, and slice away.  Nice!

May 202012
 

When it comes to sample packs, many people I talk to (non-musicians and musicians alike) don’t seem to be familiar with the incredible amount of power that programs like Ableton Live, FL Studio, and Sony Acid Pro, as well as hardware like the Elektron Octatrack have gained with regard to manipulation of samples and loops.  This is understandable because since it’s inception the world of sampling has primarily been a static one.  Playback of samples used to only mean reproducing the original source sound as closely as possible and with very little variation.  This resulted in repetitiveness and a machine-like feel.  But after working with any of the newer tools for a bit it becomes apparent that audio files like samples and loops are now totally elastic.  This is not only in the critical playback attributes of pitch and tempo but also any number of other means of warping the original sound into something entirely new and unrecognizably fantastic.  So sound packs (also known as sample libraries) are gaining momentum as not only pools of professionally prepared source material that can trigger inspiration as-is for new songs, but also as raw starting points for entirely new re-imagined instruments or tracks, using samples/loops like sculpting clay as fodder for playfulness.  With some practice this can not only be accomplished in the studio but on stage!

 

For more programs designed to be used specifically with loops, see this Loop Tool Comparison Chart.

And don’t forget the bevy of new iOS apps like Loop Twister and Glitchbreaks.