Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2 Days to an Album

Well, the holidays are over, and our deadline is approaching; 2014. The last week has been hard to find time to work on the masters, let alone, the original mixes. I spent an evening going over the EQ bands that Anthony had setup, and the overall compression of the master tracks, and found a few tweaks that I was happy with, but ultimately there was one thing in the mix that really keeps eluding me. The Snare.

Every mix down I do, I'm pretty happy with the result, but the snare drum still seems to slip back into the mix and get "stepped on". In metal, the kick / snare relationship are one of the most important things. They have to work together, much like any relationship, not be dysfunctional. Though in this case, I don't think it was the kick drum that was interfering. I used the track, Enticing the Tyrant as my test, mostly because it is under a minute thirty seconds. Once I have the settings down in this song, I can apply them globally.

I really spent time adjusting the EQ and transients of snare track. I used some subtractive EQ around 700Hz, and a narrow dip around 200Hz to get rid of some overtone, then a small High EQ shelf around 3KHz. Next was to add some saturation using the Steven Slate Virtual Console (VCC). This kind of rounds out the attack of the snare a bit, so to get that bite back, I used the UAD powered, SPL transient designer. This is a great tool that can add punch and sustain without over compression or clipping the track. After all of that, I made the decision to buss the snare to the same reverb as the toms instead of using one in the insert chain. I think this made the snare sound a bit more cohesive with the rest of the drums.

While I was in the mood of adjusting things. I also spent some time on the guitars. As with the snare, I really tried to find what frequencies were important, and what I needed to sculpt to make room for other instruments. The result was adjusting EQ and saturation on the individual tracks. Lastly, I made some minor adjustments to the EQ crossovers in the master track to accommodate the changes made to the snare and guitars. I present to you, the result. Still dialing it in.

After walking away for a bit, then taking a listen myself, I hear a few areas I still need to "clean up". One area is the low-mid. There is still some room for improvement and clarity to be gained. That is the goal for tomorrow - EQ cleanup.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

9 Days to an Album

I know it seems like we've been MIA for the last 10 days or so, but actually a lot has been going on behind the scenes. While I've been away, Anthony, our faithful producer / engineer, has been diligently working on the rough masters for the tracks. The plan was to set up a 5 band EQ / compression for each track, basically sub-dividing the audio spectrum into 5 ranges, a low, low-mid, mid, high-mid, and high. Sounds easy, but the difficult part is deciding which frequency range should make up each section. There is also an area of overlap where each section crosses over into the next, and that is really the critical decision. Much like the mixing, this step takes some trial and error, along with subtle tweaks to really focus in on what sounds you are trying to accentuate, and which you are trying to attenuate. So, instead of myself trying to explain what Anthony did, I'll let him explain in today's video blog. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

19 Days to an Album

Well it is Friday, and the focus of today was to get all the tracks mixed down. I applied all the current presets and vocal processing to each track, while keeping in mind that some songs will need a few tweaks of said vocal presets. For the most part though, they were a good starting point and offered the cohesion needed between tracks. It took a while to mix down everything to stereo. I probably spent a good 30-45 minutes on each track going through and removing silences and guitar noises, applying crossfades and fade outs where necessary, then getting a final overall mix.

I came back to the mixes hours later to take a final listen and jot down some notes for each song. I will go back once more and apply these minor fixes and then the tracks are in Anthony's hands. I'll have another sample up tomorrow. For now, enjoy the short, but sweet, Enticing the Tyrant.

Friday, December 13, 2013

20 Days to an Album

Most of today was spent going through more tracks. I have noticed that I've been more and more indecisive on how I want to do the vocal tracks. At first, I was dividing the heavy, clean, and FX tracks into separate groups and applying processing to the group and then sending those groups to a vocal buss for compression. Though, going through some later tracks I found it easier to just apply the any EQ, saturation, delay, reverb, etc., to the individual tracks, then just do the final buss compression on one group. THEN there was another track where I put compression on each track BEFORE the EQ, saturation and other processing. That sounded the best, but the compression was bringing out the worst in the plosives and "esss's". So, the result is I have 4 or 5 tracks now bounced down using different grouping and compression methods. The results are all very similar, but ultimately I need to decide on one method and stick with it. Right now I think I am just working out which is the best route to take. There are so many ways of getting to the same result, and if these were relatively simple vocal tracks, it would make it pretty easy, but the style differences between the screaming and singing make it almost impossible to use the same processing for both. The goal is to have both sound like the same source and most importantly, be cohesive. The goal tomorrow is to get the rest of the tracks bounced down to stereo mixes, and get the vocal situation sorted out. Tomorrow is the last full day I have before I need to get the tracks over to Anthony. Crunch time.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

21 Days to an Album

This is post is 12 hours late, but last night's rehearsal and subsequent production meeting ran a bit late. We needed to make important decisions regarding specific tracks. It was mostly deciding which vocal harmonies or layers to keep, moving some parts around and picking specific production elements. The tracks in question were Black Box, Tragedy of the Commons, and Gozer. So with that out of the way, I can continue with all the mix downs and getting the tracks prepped. I will hand the stereo mix downs over to Anthony this weekend and he will begin the preliminary mastering. Once he is done, we can go back and make any necessary changes and go on to the last step. FINAL mixes and masters.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

22 Days to an Album

Today was more productive than I expected it to be. I applied all the current presets to one more track, Ubiquitous Gaze. This song was a bit more complicated than the last few only because of the different vocal layers and FX. I ended up creating 3 vocal groups; Vocal Clean, Vocal Heavy and Vocal FX. The first two were almost identical except the Heavy one had some added elements to overdrive it a bit more. The FX group had extreme EQ to create the filter effect heard in the verse around 0:40. Then it was a matter of sorting which phrase needed to be sent to which group, which meant organizing track sends and then balancing it all out. There was even some automation necessary on the group for a long decay on a screaming part.

I also ended up re-tracking some guitars at the end to rearrange the outro. Before there were the two "groove" guitars panned left and right and one lead octave guitar in the center. So instead I put two rhythm tracks playing the chords panned left and right and the "groove" track in the center. I think it sounds much more balanced.

All in all, I think this track sounds the best so far. I even tweaked the EQ on the snare drum to be more surgical and corrective than musical. The result is a fuller sound bottom end on the snare which cuts through the mix better. Take a listen!


Tomorrow is a production meeting with the band and Anthony to go over some final changes that need to be made. If I have enough time, I'll get another track up.

Monday, December 9, 2013

23 Days to an Album

I discovered a few things today. One - I really like the way everything is sound when I mix down to stereo. For first run mixes, they are pretty good. Two - I think the snare drum is suffering from the same issues as the kick did. SO, back to the samples track. I really haven't taken a look at the snare sample since back in May when we recorded them. So I had three mic on each snare we recorded (we ultimately ended up liking the sound of the Tama snare the best), Top, bottom and middle of the shell. I bussed them all to a group and applied corrective EQ where necessary. You can see from the screenshot that there was only a slight dip in the low end and brightened up the top with a high shelf. Now from here on out, I messed around with all different variations of the samples. I did some with and without compression, adjusted the balance of top, bottom and mid mics, and readjusted the EQs. After each variation, I found myself liking the original the best. Listening back to some other metal records, I found that the most important characteristic is the impact, followed by the air and decay of the snare. Where I have the snare balance at now isn't bad, it just sometimes gets stepped on by the kick. I think what needs to be done is not just correcting the EQ for the drum itself, but also to play nice with the kick so the complement each other and don't fight for the same space. In the mean time, take a listen to where the track is at now with the original snare sample.

The goal for tomorrow? Get some more tracks ready with these presets and gain some more ground on this kick / snare issue.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

24 Days to an Album

If I can solidify the presets for one track, it should (in theory) make mixing the others very easy. So that is what I set out to do today. I have been working on making the kick and snare drum work more cohesively with each other, and getting all the vocal tracks together and leveled. I was having some trouble with the kick drum's attack being too short. The result was very punchy, but ultimately lacked depth. I went to the source to see if I could fix the problem... the samples.

We made the kick drum samples before we started tracking. The insert chain on the sample tracks had some extra compression and EQ, so I removed some inserts to give the kick more natural response. The result can be heard in the DEMO below. Also on the preset chopping block were the vocals. The biggest necessity was to get the levels balanced and give them a preset. I used an 1176LN compressor and LA-2A limiter on each vocal track, then on the vocal group, used a buss compressor and the Nectar 2 plugin for EQ, FX, saturation, De-ess, gate, and delay. I split the clean and heavy vocals into different groups and used a bit more saturation and FX on the heavier vocals. Take a listen.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

25 Days to an Album

The goal for today was to take another listen to all the tracks, and make sure all the current presets were loaded, all the guitars were bussed to the right tracks and the vocals were all assigned to groups. Also we had a few loose ends to tie up regarding guitars. Anthony and Ferdi were over to help me with those tasks. Most of the time was spent listening again to all the tracks and making small adjustments where needed. It didn't help that at the start of the session we lost power for about an hour and a half. Minor setback. It has been a challenge keeping all the presets straight between tracks, which is why we a combing through everything to there is continuity.

One big item we were checking for today was vocal timing. Sometimes when recording vocals, you are listening back to the performance, not necessarily the accuracy of the take. So we made some small corrections to the timing of a few parts.

My goal tomorrow? Get all the track presets locked in and mix down a sample for all to hear.

Friday, December 6, 2013

26 Days to an Album

Whenever I get the chance, I try and listen to the tracks on different types of speakers. The last iteration of the mixes, I noticed the snare drum disappearing into the background while listening on ear buds, even though on speakers it had a nice pop. I think the main issue on that was over compression, and some EQ issues. So I went back to the Insert chain to take a look at what plugins I had in there. Turns out I was using an envelope filter on top of the standard compressor, and it was taking the transient and basically compressing it twice, resulting in a very snappy attack, but very little body. Also the snare was using the same reverb send as the rest of the drums (toms and overheads), and while I want the snare to have a good amount of breath to it, I didn't want the overheads and toms to share that same preset. So I found it best to just dedicate a reverb solely to the snare drum. So my new preset chain looks like this (see above). Drumagog is what is triggering the snare drum sample that we made back in the preproduction phase of the Tama 7x14" maple snare. The UAD 1176LN is the compressor I'm using with a modest attack and release at a ratio of 8:1. Finally there is a nice reverb at the end of the insert chain. I just used a preset that fit the best. The result is a snare that has some good presence and body, but also isn't too dry. Take a listen to the sample below and you can hear the crack and breath of the snare. Keep in mind this isn't mastered or a final mix.
My goal tomorrow? Stay aggressive... It's Saturday. Thanks Pete Sabatini for that suggestion. But I'll be aggressive by sorting through the vocal tracks and assigning them all to groups.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

27 Days to an Album

The end of the year is approaching, winter is upon us. In my case, January doesn't just mean a new year, it also means the release of the new Dynamis! Album, "The Paradox of Commons". For the next 27 days, I will document (to the best of my ability) the final stages of this album all the way until it's release. Will we get it done by before years end? SPOILER ALERT: probably not, but here's to trying!
A quick synopsis. The recording process really began in January 2012, when we decided to just focus on writing songs for the album as a band. This started with making basic demos, practicing, and really laying out the blueprint for how we were going to accomplish all this.  Fast forward to May 2013. After most of the writing was done, and somewhat finalized, it was time to start recording. Drums first, then guitars, followed by bass and vocals. Sounds straight forward right? No. Now, throw in some scheduling conflicts, a handful of business trips, oh and don't forget vacations, and it made coordinating free time quite difficult. But all that aside, here we are, at the end of the road. We made it. Everything is recorded and ready for the next step of this seemingly endless process; mixing and mastering.
The time in between sessions I've spent meticulously working on things, all in preparation for this final step. Trimming audio, compression, presets, balancing, sub-groups, FX, reverb, all the necessary bits and pieces that glue everything together.
So where to start? How about the track lineup:
  1. Gozer
  2. The Gozerian
  3. Ubiquitous Gaze
  4. Anti-Life Equation
  5. Enticing the Tyrant
  6. Palaver
  7. Revolutionary Debris
  8. Wanderlust
  9. Black Box
  10. Venn Diagram
  11. Skullduggery
  12. Tragedy of the Commons
Last night Anthony, Ferdi and I went through every song making sure nothing was missing and really listening to everything as a whole. The goal now is to get all the tracks to sound the same - volumes, tone, compression, EQ, etc., AND sound good. Like (internet) radio good. The interesting thing about this album is we play in 2 different tunings, and while that might not sound that unique, it makes things a bit more difficult on the engineering end for keeping continuity between guitar and bass tones. In an Indie or Alternative album, this might not be an issue, but usually Metal records have a very cohesive sound throughout an album, and I've been hyper aware of this the entire time.

I think I have a good starting point for everything so far and the mixes that were auditioned last night were pretty close to being final, but mixing can be a bit like a video game; everything is easy in the beginning, but the closer you get to the end, the harder it gets. So to continue with my video game analogy, it's time for the final boss.

 Tomorrow's goal? Updated drums, with some audio samples to boot.