On Faith's "I'll Be There" Project
What would you different?
- I would probably do more editing throughout the process so that when I reached the mix stage, it doesn't become one big editing session, followed by mixing. This, I think, is key to having a rocking track and solid groove from beginning to end. It all starts with that first scratch guitar being in time, followed by all the other parts that are in place. When the first scratch instruments are laid down, it is essential (for me) that the musician has some kind of idea of the groove instead of a bleeping click track in their ear. In this case, reggae, it was important to have that kick and snare in place already with the high hat playing the groove through. It was bass that we laid down first and helped us build the song from there.
- probably not much, the process was fun and smooth. I would likely want to find new ways to 'shop' for sounds and tones. I really believe tone is king when it comes to music, especially recorded music, because it lives on forever.... but perhaps having the time frame to get the song down in a skeletal form and then being able to explore more tonal options would be nice. However, given the time frame to complete the project, as well as budget, I feel I'm very pleased with what we got down.
I believe in doing whatever it takes to fulfill the vision of the artist, and the artist wanted horn tracks. We had some midi samples to start, but it was key to have real horns there because of the tonal qualities that would give. Enter me picking up my trumpet that I've only been playing for 2 years or so as a novelty instrument and adding trumpet, while my buddy Diego donated his trombone recording. This, blended with a midi barry sax and another trumpet gave us the vibe we were looking for.
what did you learn?
- I learned a wealth of things that I’ll list and maybe expound on:
- artist interfacing and understanding their vision -
- a deeper understanding of reggae production values and form
- how important it is to have things playing in time... the slightest flub though... you know?
- how crucial sound design is in realism and the limitations of electronic sound design
- how to blend electronic and 'human' elements to create a cohesion
- how to listen really, really deep to the reference recordings I was given
- the importance of keeping the 'traffic lane' clear when working with so many instruments and moving parts. One guy swerving around or overplaying too much can really put a damper on the vibe (it was actually me an my parts that did this for a time...)
- how to use the artist to co-produce the record together. I can't take sole credit for every decision that was made, but rather for being as self-less as possible and merely providing guidance as we moved and progressed through the process
- how many different ways you can change a piano sound...
- the importance of a 'flow' throughout every aspect of the process
- the importance of moving forward at every step and, as producer, being in control of this. It was this flow that kept us enthusiastic about the project and allowed us to finish in the time we had available for it (which wasn't always ideal)
- importance of 'sweeteners' and their role in the production
- importance of keeping the music interesting from beginning to end and what that entails
- how to better stack vocals for a choir-like sound, but not exactly choir. Pro tools edits for note onset and finish were key to getting the voices really tight... makes me wonder how they were doing it back in the day before digital...
- about stretching the perspective high (with the hi hat) and low (with the bass) as well as wide with the guitars and voices... this was really made possible through crafty eq'ing and balancing
- how to use my meters to my advantage when balancing all the voices that were involved in the process
- the importance of subdivision grooves in music... some things need to exist in certain 'grooves' to satisfy the style of music involve... for example, metal wouldn't be metal without the 32nd notes and double bass pedals... reggae needed it's 16th notes to really shine through in order to flow right
- the importance of a foundation for the singer to sing on... I noticed that the better the mix I provided her, the better she sang and vibed with the track. this is key. I really wouldn't let her sing on anything less than what I thought was perfect
- how to transition sections in songs and how important the simplest form could be. My one fear when I was programming drums was having to come up with a 'drum fill' to get me in and out of the sections. Since having a drummer wasn't in the budget, I had to come up with ways to create a 'realistic' sound. So, instead of fills, I opted to create pauses and simple flows for the drummer to get through and allow the other parts to speak a little more clearly (hence the traffic flow)
[This was achieved by use of laying the essential hits down, later nudging them back for a 'relaxed feel,' and finally doing some sound shopping to get a timbre on the snare and kick that was close to the references we had our ears on. Snare was a snare sample, mixed with a sidestick sample eq'd to taste and blended. Kick was the same with one sample providing the low end and the other the click.]
- I learned about how important the first listen is for the artist. Every time she would come in to listen to the progress, i would get nervous because I felt I'd be missing something. Instead, I learned to use this precious moment by giving the artist a paper and pen, space, and freedom to share their initial thoughts on what they heard. it was several of these listens that allowed us to move forward and really achieve something we both were satisfied with.
- how key having a 'noise floor' is for the overall feel of a song... if you listen closely to the intro and between the two gaps of silence, you'll hear what I’m talking about. This is all over the place in analog recordings and can really be heard in the "marry that girl" pop song during the intro
- I learned how to take a busy part and cut it up in the editing/mixing process to keep it in the song, but not have it stepping all over every ones parts. I had help from the artist on this one so that we both could find something we agreed on. I really enjoyed this process. - duplicating tracks is key to creating all the effects and parts that I wanted. sometimes it saves a lot of time to just copy and have the part you want to hear playing and put fx on it (instead of automating and drawing in bypass switches and all that). The bass was duplicated as well and a distortion track was placed on it. This really helped it pop through.
- The important of 'press play' and what that means for the listener... I find the first 10 seconds of the song to be where people decide if they are going to let it run or not... sorry, but if your intro is lame or uninviting, I just won't have the energy to sit through and get to your 'exciting bridge part.' The idea for our intro was to keep the Jackson 5 intro and somehow segway into a reggae feel
- i learned that you really can cheat 'the eye' and cut and boost much more than what is drawn in your eq. To explain... certain sounds were LPF or HPF in order for them to be present in the mix, but not stick out in front of the things that needed to be up front. Sounds like the crashes, intro ride, certain guitars and other things were aggressively cut like this. In solo, they sounded weak, but within the context, they fit perfect.
- I learned how to make sounds pop out with simple flanging effects and other 'ear grabbers' so that the element that they were placed on didn't need to be raised in volume, but rather made more perceptible with these effects.
- I learned that when I had the vocal sitting nicely in stereo in my room, in mono, it popped out really hard and sounded like a karaoke track. it was then that I realized that If i can make it sound clear from one headphone in mono, then I would be fine in stereo.
- I learned how importance it was to have certain levels on my monitor marked out as well as a well matched reference to hear bass on.
- I learned that once I establish bass and kick relationship, that I don't have to go 'down there' anymore and that I can focus on the other lead elements.
- I learned how fun it was to side-chain many elements together (reducing only about -3db) in order to get a cool flowing sound. Bass was chained to kick, upbeat stroke was chained to clav parts, lead was chained to drum subgroup... it was everywhere I could put it
- I learned how to successfully duck my verbs from my lead vocal.
- I learned I have to be selfless and ego free in order to get the sound that I truly want, and be prepared to give honest critique and opinion when asked for.
- I learned how to get what I needed out of a vocalist and what was needed for the part at hand. working with Faith was great because she knew what she wanted to accomplish and trusted me to listen to make sure that we got the detail and the part we were looking for. I learned that I have to be 'invisible' in the tracking process and simply follow the musicians flow in order to keep them in the music.
- I learned how important it is to have the proper lead in time when overdubbing a part... too long and its not fun, too little and it can disorient
- I learned a painful one that I'd hate to admit... but we did do some tracking with the KSM32 facing backwards... I know, I know... but they have this stupid swirl logo on the back that I thought meant the front... it was after intense eq'ing for low end mud that I realized what was wrong.
- I learned that I need to learn how to better manage my files so that things don't bloat up to 10+ GB sessions... this isn't that big a deal for me, but it kind of is when you are trying to do backups to a cloud, thumbdrive, and external hard drive. My backups happen in four points at a time.
how did the idea form?
- Faith came to me with the idea and, I honestly had never heard the song. After the first listen, I felt she was onto something. I believe that a strong cover song can really get people places and this was one that I thought had potential and already a solid following. People were really open to this happening.
What limitations did you encounter?
- Other than time constraints and budget (go figure), I'd say the only limits we had were imposed on ourselves... a fancy way of saying none. I had all the sounds I wanted and all the resources necessary to get them. It was all there for the taking and we took it.
What were the references?
- Chronixx - here comes trouble (mainly groove, and mix)
- Marley - Could you be loved (the flow of the instruments and interplay between them was so beautiful and so key to try to emulate. I added a 16th note guitar part and clav part just to try and match the sound on this record)
what are you pleased with?
- Damn near everything. I loved that it was a learning experience for both Faith and I and it was something that I’m sure we'd never forget. My favorite part of it was all her enthusiasm to leave no stone left unturned and to really dig deep into all the details. we really tried our best to make sure that there were no flubs (especially in the vocals) and that we had something that people would genuinely want to sing to and dance to.
what software and equipment was used?
- Pro tools X (mixing and editing)
- Ableton 9 (songwriting and production)
- Maschine 2.1.2 (sounds and sequencing)
- Waves plugins
- Sapphire PRO 16 interface
- KSM32 and M-audio condensers
- my bedroom
- Live: congas, trombone, trumpet, bass, and guitars
What was your role in the music?
- To stay the hell out of the way and go with the flow. Foster the flow. Create the most authentic reggae sound that we can with our limited resources. Have things prepared so that when musicians walked in, all I had to do was allow them to get ready and push record. I was producer, mixer, and performer.
Below are screenshots from the entire session!