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!


a deeper look into a billboard chart hit...

I found this sometime ago while lurking the webz and felt this could never get shared enough... of course you don't have 87 different melodies and rhythms playing at the same time, however the beauty in this art lies in the ability to layer sound and craft "moments in time" that were once impossible to do before the advent of our digital age. Enjoy


Artist: Pink

Title: Raise Your Glass

Songwriters: Max Martin/Shellback/Pink

Studio: Maratone

Production: Max Martin/Shellback

Recording: Martin/Shellback/Michael Ilbert(guitars)/Sal Ojeda(Vocals in LA)

Mix: Serban Ghenea

Mastering: Tom Coyne, Sterling Sound

Publisher: LaFace/Jive


Track 1  Side Chain-Kick

- Here lies a kick on fourths, just used for side chain.


Track 2-4 High Livekick

- Three livekicks from some sound library. Plenty of real room on. These are the most bass cut. They have the most room.


Track 5-8 Hip-Hop Kicks

- Four steady kicks with bottom and punch which stands for the body.


Track 9-10 Hip-Hop Kicks with room

- Two kicks with a little more length that are cut in the bass. All nine kicks lies through the record.


Track 11 Hard Hihat

- This comes in at the pre chorus. There’s no snare here but we have a hard closed hihat and the 2nd and 4th beat instead. 


Track 12-15 Snare

- Sampled snare in the chorus.

Comes as all other sounds from our sound library. Four tracks that doubles the same thing.


Track 16-17 Clap

- One clap on 2 and 4. The other just on 4. Only in the chorus.


Track 18-19 Tambourines

- Comes in at the pre.


Track 20 Tambourine

- Clap tambourine on 2 and 4. In pre and chorus.


Track 21 Shaker

- Lies off beat. As some how like a house hihat,.


Track 22-25 Hihat

- Four channels open hihats on 4ths. 808 and cut live hihats to get a dirty sound. Just in the chorus.


Track 26-27 Tambourines

- 16ths tambourines that lies left-right. They are a bit side chained so they won’t feel so static. 


Track 28 Cyms

- Cymbal panting. Comes from a live recording of a another song where we have borrowed it.

Sliced hard in the bottom. Only in the chorus.


Track 29-31 Lasers

- Three laser sounds on the first beat in the chorus. Like house laser. Quite low but never the less makes a great sublte sshhh that leads into the chorus. Three different sounds that plays on the same beat. 


Track 32-33 Crash

- 909 - crash. Static. Sounds euro. Plays on 1st in every 4th bar.


Track 34 - Machine hihat

- Plays on 4ths in the break to get a modern twist against the acoustic guitars. Changes to 16ths in the end chorus. 


Track 35 - Livedrums

- Sampled. Helps the snare in the last chorus. All bass has been turned down.


Track 36-38 Bass

- The first is a synth bass, Yamaha cs-01 which is turned all the down below 200 hertz to get that twisted sound. Then comes a Studio Electronics SE01. Ilbert usually complains about it: “Use a real Moog instead”. It has the right bass. As I understand it’s a heritage from Denniz Pop. He always used the SE01’en as bass. Then it’s a live bass, Rickenbacker 4001, played through AmpFarm. All bass tracks doubles each other. 


Track 39-40 Guitar

- This is the riff you hear most clearly in the intro. A low octave and a high. The guitar is a Fender Jaguar through Waves GTR and it was the first time we tested any thing else than AmpFarm, but Martin fixed a nice sound while I played like crazy.


Track 41 Organ

- This organ is from a studio in Los Angeles. I think we have it in the plug. B3 it’s called. Lies only on one note in the chorus and a little later in the bridge.


Track 42-43 Guitar

- Two crunchy Telecasters who also just playing open chords in the chorus. AmpFarm. A Tele that was in the studio in Los Angeles and was really great. 


Track 44-45 Guitar

- Gibson Les Paul that plays loops, sustained, in the chorus. Side chained in every other bar so the last note in loop hangs and pumps. Everything side chained is controlled by the kick. One low octave and one high. AmpFarm.


Track 46-47 Guitar

- Two rock guitars just playing fifths in the chorus. Les Paul/AmpFarm. Left-right.


Track 48-49 Acoustic Guitar

- Two lovely Michael Ilbert guitars, left-right, acoustic, that play open singer-songwriter chords in the chorus. Shit tight. Recorded with AKG 451EB.




Track 50-53 Acoustic Guitar

- Acoustic guitar, bridge, left-right. These were recorded in Los Angeles since we didn’t had the bridge in Stockholm. Plays on the lowest strings . When the drums come in two guitars come as well that doubles the first with full chords.


Track 54-55 Solina

- The string machine. Lies panned left-right in the chorus. Plays really straight. Gives a little atmosphere. 


Track 56 Punk punches.

- These are sampled punches in the chorus: dooooonnggg, with cymbals and everything. And then we just pitched it so they match the chord. Also side chained with every second bar. Gives a nice rock band feeling.


Track 57 Guitar

- Fender Thinline that also plays the loop in the chorus. Also side chained in every second bar. Has an octave pitch upon it that gives a nasty frequency that blows your eardrum. 


Track 58 Synth

- Yamaha CS01 again that makes a double in the loop in the chorus. Also side chained every second bar.


Track 59 Synth

- Side chained Roland Juno 106. Comes in at the B-hook in the chorus and sparkles. Really low in the mix.


Track 60-61 Guitar

-Is called “Crazy Guitar”. Simple principle where you play as fast as you can on one string and one note and then it’s pitched after the chord. Sound a bit like the guitar pick has been but on an air fan. Has delay and reverb and comes in in second pre and lies a little in the bridge and end chorus. On the next channel it’s the same guitar fixed pitched to another note. Comes in in the end chorus. Fender Jazzmaster. That’s how indie it can be. 


Track 62 Solina

- Another solina. Doubles the melody in the B-hook and end chorus. Also side chained every second bar. 


Track 63 Guitar

- Is called “Sad Guitar”. Also Libert that has recorded it. A Jazzmaster recorded with a real spring reverb in real amps and after that we have bit crushed it and side chained it every second bar. In the B-hook and end chorus.


Track 64-66 Piano

- Two sampled pianos and one Nord Piano. Puts a beat on the first beat in every 4th bar. Is heard really clear. 


Track 67 Vocal

- Ad lib-channel. Pinks vocal ad libs. From second chorus. All vocals are recorded in Los Angeles and the vocal-chain is Telefunken ELA M 251 to a Nece 1073 DPA, Urei 1176 Black and Teletronix LA2A.


Track 68 Vocal

- Lead in verse and pre. A little distorded in EchoFarm to make it a little more vintage.



Track 69-70 Vocal

- Two channels that double the end word in every A-verse, “What’s the deli-o”, “Where’s the rock ‘n roll” and so on. Panned right-left.


Track 71 Vocal

- Doubles every other sentence in the pre. 


Track 72 Vocal

-Lies the vocal in second pre.


Track 73-75 Vocal

-Lead in the chorus and doubles left-right.


Track 76-78 Vocal

-Three channels of a high harmony voice in chorus. Lies center, left and right.


Track 79 Vocal

- I, Martin, Pink and her boyfriend Carey Hart, who stand and sing “raise your glass”. “Hockey vocals”.


Track 80 Vocal

- This is named “talking shit” and is all the small comments in the song.


Track 81-83 Vocal

- Harmony in the chorus. Center, right, left. 


Track 84-86 Vocal

- Three channels where she sings the backing vocals in the chorus. That’s the loop with text. Just the last chorus, last 16 bars.


Track 87 Vocal

- Top harmony in the bridge with flanging effect. Sounds like that Led Zeppelin song...


The aux are 4: Number 1 is with a quarter note delay, EchoFarm, number 2 is with another type of quarter note delay, number 3 has a half note delay, and the last is a reverb. 


Shellbacks 3 favorite tools

- AmpFarm

This really saves time when you’re recording guitars or live bass. Most of the guitars I have recorded on songs are played with AmpFarm. Adam Lamberts Whatya Want From Me is even full pitched a whole tone up in AmpFarm. Sounds really bold and beautiful. 

thoughtz for 10.15.14

I got told last week when tracking a singer-songwriter about how he felt I really understood what he was going for - a challenge he has faced when working with other producer/engineers before. 

Having heard that several times over the past couple of months has made me feel like one character trait I've working hard to embody is finally showing, and that is "listening."  


I have a problem when people do things out of ego and find it very challenging when decisions are made just because, or in haste. It's natural that we all want to be listened to, and that's exactly what I've been working on providing the people around me when we're collabing. I love taking the role of Producer where I become more of a guide than a creator and simply allow the artist to navigate the sounds in their head while I simply provide them options. This technique has worked really well for me and has kept my sessions rolling for hours longer than they would have if they didn't feel comfortable. 

No amount of gear or money or clout can keep a person from being difficult to work with, and I've found it takes very little for creative types (like me) to tune out once they feel they aren't being listened to or respected. By writing this, I'm sure to set myself up for being called out! But I digress.... this craft is most beautiful when it is a team of people working toward a goal.


 * I can't stress enough how much I really love that book Mixing with your mind... I dug up some notes I had written on it about 4 years ago and was so thankful about how they present a wonderful reminder of what's important in various steps of the process... 


* There are Gotye's "somebody I used to know" multitracks floating around the universe and I suggest if you really want to better understand arguably one of the best pop tracks of the past decade, that you then check it out along with the Sound on Sound article where they break it out in detail  


* It sems that in the past 2 months there haven't been many mix competitions... remix competitions are one thing, but it would really be sweet for people to put out a prize for the best mix. It seems like one of those things where everyone wins /rant


* things get panned to center get louder in mono... jeez is this ever true  

 * My dream recording session would take place over the course of a month with said band/group and would entail equipment being setup and active the entire time. Whenever the feeling came up to cut a section, we'd go for it... no time pressure. I'd be booked for the entire month and we'd be in a really remote location. Apparently I'm an old sould - as i was told - for feeling this way about the recording process...  
I just wanna catch a vibe, and sometimes I don't feel it's possible when people are fighting traffic/life and all that to get to a session for 10-12 hours or so... I can also see how a month long lockout can be a bad thing, too.... but I got the time if you got the energy! 


* I talk to everyone about everything because you never know... never know what you might discover, or where that rendevous may lead. Life is like an RPG (video game) for me, and all I wanna do is go up to people and press the talk button. 
Doing this last Sunday lead me to using a new technique when mastering my tracks; a technique im ever thankful for. 


* One day i'll find out what Im going to do with the 400+ pages i've hand typed about everything music...  I think I'll hire someone to go through it all and tell me whats relevant... haha  

 * One day I'd hope to be able to accomplish all of my tracking via a tablet that hooks up to an interface... seriously.  

 * I really can drop a ton of thoughts out... I'm thinking all day. Ask me anything. 


/Thought 10.15.14

my personal game changer


These monitors are truly game changing for me... I'll be brief: 
- enhanced soundstage and depth (probably the most important factor)

- extremely flat response and color

- "perfect bass" (for a 5" speaker) 

- confidence what you're getting ALL the details 

- enhanced response of plugins and toggle switches for a/b on anything 

- probably the last pair I'll ever need to buy 


if there was one book to buy on the topic...

just ONE book 


Michael "Stav" Pavrou has changed my life and perspective with respect to all things mixing, music, and recording. His techniques challenge 'science' and 'common sense' approaches taught in "recording schools." This is the kind of book that isn't meant to be read in a sitting, or over time, but rather carried as a reference and used before any project that one is about to take on. He really does cover it all... 

As you'll start to understand, I don't like to hype up things or talk bad about them. When I share something, it has already made it through my filter and is something I believe anyone else would benefit from. Of course, to get to books like this, I had to sift through many, many, of them. However, books like this come across my radar in some magical kind of way, and this one was no different. Enjoy 



- I don't turn any knob to 100... 99 is fine, but never 100; No absolutes. 50, is fun, 65-80 feels great. never 100. 

- when working with wet/dry, 50 is fully wet, 25 is half wet, 12.5/13 is quarter wet, etc... 

- kick, bass, vocal, and snare are all you really ever need center panned

- templates are a necessity to get anywhere. have a template for editing, mixing, and songwriting.

- buss to a buss to a buss.... (i'll unpack that later) 



Read More