Following my previous blog, Sam, Adib, myself and Jordan agreed on the main aesthetic and concept of the EP. Jordan is a huge fan of slow indie rock such as Last Dinosaurs and refers to it as “driving music”. This evolved into an idea of creating a concept EP: music specifically composed to be listened to while driving as well as portraying a journey itself throughout the EP.
Seeing as how crucial pre-production is to any project, we wanted to establish a schedule and confirm roles. Adib was to be the project manager, Jordan the creative manager, myself the lead engineer and Sam the secondary engineer. These roles were not set in stone and as previous projects have shown- flexibility results in productivity.
Track 1: Sleepy
We started on the opening track titled “Sleepy” and wanted this track to show the concept of the EP and to give the audience a taste of what was to come. A part of the aesthetic we wanted to build this EP on was a contrast of freedom and and the claustrophobic feel of being inside a car. One of the key ways we wanted to convey this is through the use of foley.
We recorded some great sounds from Jordan’s car alone as well as layering ambient background noise and even some dialogue. We got some great recordings of Jordan shaking his car keys, closing and opening his doors, the beeping warning that the seatbelt wasn’t strapped on and the keys turning in the ignition and the car starting. The dialogue we recorded was very casual and was meant to be relatable to our audience. I said “Hey man, turn on the radio.” with Jordan replying “Sure thing.”. The idea of this intro was to convey the idea that the music in the EP is actually coming from the car radio that is in the intro. We panned the dialogue tracks according to the positions we were sitting in the car during the recording, Jordan in the driver seat and myself in the left backseat.
We used the constant beeping as a starting instrument that gradually faded out as the other instruments came in. At first the shaking keys worked well as percussions but as the other percussion tracks evolved and were refined we agreed that the keys started to no longer fit and in fact became slightly irritating. However we still needed a key element in the mix, something to add colour to the canvas. Adib pulled through and came back a few days later with some great guitar tracks that he had played and recorded.
Adib then instructed me to work on some percussion tracks to drive and solidify the track overall. A couple days later I came back with a couple of variations which we picked the best of. Adib and I further refined, with myself learning heaps in the process. Adib used ghost tracks to give swing to the hi hats and kick and to make them sound more organic. I layered a subtle high cracking snare on top of the kick to give it a stronger impact and to create a delay effect with the other snare that was playing just after each kick. Adib also layered 2 more snares on top of the main snare track, each eq’d differently and each slightly nudged further back from the first. This solidified the main snare and resulted in an effective delay effect that made the snare on top of the kick sound like the ringing of the first main snare. Some transitions were also added, mainly the reversed sound of a can of drink being opened.
Adib had recorded some guitar parts at home which we imported and started to push forward in the mix as we started to tweak things. We then added a synth that rang out similar to a bell. After a couple of listening sessions we removed it as it felt extremely out of place among the other elements.A couple days later we decided to add some more guitars and bass. Sam played the guitar and Jordan the bass, both were recorded using the DI rather than an amp. While it took a while until we were comfortable with what guitar parts fit perfect, We were constantly reinforcing each other with positive feedback and suggestions. The new guitars sounded fantastic and became the highlight of the song. We then added a couple more subtle synths and the track really came together.
Track 2: Holiday
For the second track we went all out. We wanted it to outdo the first track and to really express the joy and excitement of the journey. This track was essentially the “hook” of the whole EP and an example of the overall aesthetic that we were trying to create.
We recorded the guitars and bass first, again with Jordan playing the bass and Sam playing the electric guitar. We DI’d it all again but this time experimented with distortion pedals and finding the perfect balance between uneasy distortion and distortion that was pleasing to hear. We achieved this by extremely distorting the guitar track but pushing it bad in the mix and having it panned right. The bass guitar established the main bass line as well as occasionally adding a separate progression that was used in conjunction with the electric guitars “wahs” (again this was done in guitar rig). Having these two different guitar tracks panned to opposite sides made it seem like they were conflicting with each other and made the whole track feel more “alive”.
The percussions in this were mainly created by using samples and software instruments. Adib mainly worked on the percussions this time. They quickly became the main focus of the track even before we had mixed it. We used multiple percussion tracks that play in conjunction with each other. The signature light xylophone, a synth created using the modelling synth to make it sound organic as if it was a real instrument being struck, various drum samples of kicks, snares and crashes. The xylophone track was heavily processed with reverb as well as a tremolo to have it move from one side to the other per strike. The synth was also processed through a tremolo though not as extreme.
Track 3: Dreaming
Even though the whole EP is meant to establish a concept of a journey, this track is almost a direct follow up to Holiday by following the same tropical theme.
The first element that introduces the track is some water foley that we recorded at the river outside of campus for a CIU project. There is also a ukulele that was sampled from Kontakt. This instrument in particular establishes the aesthetic of this track and how it relates to the previous track.
The key elements of the mix were the bass guitar and the main synth that plays during the chorus. The synth was made using sculpture and is similar to the synth in the following track, Latenight. The bass guitar was recorded using a DI again and achieving the desired sound through Guitar Rig. The sound of Jordan’s fingers moving across the fretboard is a key element of the track itself. Usually these aren’t as audible though they add a new personal sound to the track as well as changing up the dynamics.
The percussions were made up of a kick, claps and timbales, sampled again from Kontakt. The fast upbeat variation in the percussions as well as the constant repetition further reinforces the main elements of the mix- the bass and synth.
Track 4: Latenight
This track is a lot calmer and soothing compared to the others and indicates that the EP is coming to a close as the journey starts to end. The light claps and reverb- saturated guitars add air into the track and makes it really easy to listen to despite the constant repetition and feedback.
The guitars were again played by Jordan and Sam and Adib did the percussions. The catchy bass line, kick and the claps are the main elements that drive the track with the the heavily delayed guitar being the key focus of the track.
The percussions are fairly simple, mainly made up of a kick, clap samples and a subtle kalimba. The rhythm is also fairly simplistic with the kick and claps alternating until the kick stops and the claps play alone and fade out the track. There is a subtle synth that plays in the back only coming through to signify the break ups in the chorus’s.
The main electric guitar establishes itself as the main focal point of the track by both being panned centre and having its delay keep playing over the top of the other elements and other guitar licks. A second guitar riff was processed with a Fuzz-Wah and plays during the verses. A third guitar track actually plays higher notes during the bridge and isn’t processed with the delay as heavily. The recording of it is quite dry and you can still hear Sam’s fingers scratching on the strings as he plays different notes.
A sweeping EQ was used on white noise at the end of the pre chorus as a fae into the chorus. Towards the end of the track the percussions begin to change up as the other elements fade out. The claps start to miss every second beat and then the kick drops out completely with the claps having a huge reverb ring out as the outro fades out and the track ends.
Track 5: Axiom
The fifth track is the epic conclusion to the whole EP and signifies reaching the end of the journey. The constant dynamic rise and fall of the elements and the progression of the song.
The use of foley in this track is jarring at first but it makes the whole track feel more personal and intimate. The background atmospheric recording of the ocean works with the the wooden creaks to paint a mental picture of an outside environment (a beach, a patio etc.). Forcing the listener to imagine a specific mental picture further emphasises the serenity and surrealism of the song.
The guitar is the first instrument to be introduced into the mix. It was heavily processed with a delay and reverb to give it more air and to make it not seem as harsh as it was when we recorded it. The distortion from plugging it was also recorded and subtly plays in the back of the mix.
The first guitars drop out to make way for the vocals, second guitars and the synths. While we ultimately decided not to record any vocals these harmonies fit perfectly into the track. Two of light synths were made in using Massive while the third was more defined and was made using sculpture. The second guitar track carries the drive for the first verse and can be heard panned to the left, though still sitting very low in the mix.
As the pre chorus moves into the chorus new elements are again introduced. Rolling timpani drums and cymbal crashes are the key elements of the chorus and arguably the key elements of the whole track. A sub bass, created in Massive, also gives the chorus more body makes it sound more prominent compared to the other segments of the track. During the chorus there are also double tracked guitars playing simultaneously, both fairly distorted and both heavily processed with reverb. Adding this distortion to the mix plays well amongst the other elements and brings some imperfection back into the clean, sharp chorus.
The lack of elements used in the bridge is to further emphasise the second chorus and to almost pull the listener back and make them wonder if the track is completely changing its aesthetic and theme halfway through. The repetitious guitars chords work great against the foley and the harmonies as it moves back into the chorus again.
The track begins to wind down as all of the guitars and percussions drop out. The synths play alone for 5 more bars and then stop as the reverb rings out. Personally, I feel that this track completes the whole concept and completely closes out the EP perfectly.
Mixing was fairly simple due to the combination of only using a few recorded elements and mixing as we composed. When we completely finished producing the first 2 tracks Jordan and I went into the Post Production Studio to mix them while Adib and Sam worked on the 3rd track. This way of working was effective as it not only saved us time but also let us critically listen to what we had in a different studio with different monitors. We made sure to try and mix in the same studio from then on.
Jordan and I started with the first track- Sleepy. Jordan had control of the DAW while I listened to the mix and offered suggestions on panning, levels as well as experimenting with stereo imaging. One of the main changes we made to Sleepy was to keep the kick centre, the snares stereo slightly pushed more to the sides, and make the cracking snare that was layered on top of the kick spread entirely to the sides to achieve an extremely subtle ripple effect with the percussions.
The mixing for every other track was fairly simple as well. We mainly tweaked the EQs that were already on the tracks to leave enough dynamic range in them so that every element had enough space. We also experimented with tremolo, mainly on the percussions and synths, to make these elements feel more organic and to make the tracks feel as if they were more energetic and “human”. As well as using panning and gain to give enough room in the mixes for every element to clearly be heard, we also used stereo spreaders on the key elements of the tracks to make them have a space of their own as well as making them sound more solid and intimate.
We had originally planned to include singing though after a long session of struggling to write lyrics we decided that it would be more personal to the listener if there were no lyrics. I noticed a couple of my references did not use vocals at all but the songs still felt intimate and conveyed emotion. We did however record jordan singing some harmonies for the track Latenight. We pitched them down and put them in the back of the mix to reinforce the other elements.
After we had mixed everything we decided that it would be a cool idea to have the end each song play at the start of the next. The idea of this is that every track blend together and this would put further emphasis on the “concept” side of this concept EP. We did this by adding extra reverb to the end of every track and making ring out extremely long. We then cut the reverb in half and exported the track so that the tail of the reverb could be heard at the start of the track that followed.
We when it came to mastering we knew that it would take a while to do so we booked the c24 studio weeks ahead. We had booked it for December the 1st for 4 hours and December the 8th for 9 hours. We were confident that this would be enough for us to master every single track to a satisfactory standard. However some very big problems arose. On the first session we had an impromptu meeting for CIU with our lecturer. This took up over 3 hours of the time we had scheduled for mastering.
During this meeting the Sups Office called and said that our whole booking for the following week would need to be change as they had the CEO coming in and the studio was going to be used to showcase student work (We found out on the day that they were late and only stopped in for about an hour). This really screwed us and I was getting concerned that we wouldn’t have enough time to master at all, the c24 was completely booked out from then on. After the meeting I told Adib and he came up with a solution: create a mastering chain and quickly master them all today in the Post Production Studio.
We didn’t really have any other option so we did it. The mastering chain composed of a compressor, a stereo spreader, a multiband limiter, an overall EQ, an enveloper inserted in each track and a slight overall reverb, all with the same settings. We then tweaked each plugin setting according to the individual tracks.
For example on the track Axiom the compressor was tweaked to have a slower attack, due to it being a slower track with most of the elements fading in, and a quick release, due to the changing dynamics of the elements in the track. We also used a multiband compressor to further emphasise the frequencies that were being used and to further tighten up the dynamic range of the track. The stereo spreader was used to thicken up the track overall and to make it sound even more immersive.
The sub bass was also brought up to further solidify bass in the tracks that mainly focused on elements that used higher frequencies. We also added an overall reverb with the same settings to every track. It was only 3% which means it was barely noticeable but having it on every track strengthened the relation between each track which was crucial as the whole point of doing a concept EP is to provide a narrative or theme of some sort while still making each track fit amongst each other. We then used a limiter to reach the clip gain and we managed to leave 0.3 db of headroom in every track, which some regard as the standard for mastering,.
I felt we worked well as a team on this project. Having never worked with Sam before I didn’t know what to expect but having another musician is always appreciated. His feedback and suggestions were valuable and he even took the initiative to record some demo guitar tracks at home. Having worked with Adib and Jordan before the three of us already knew our strengths and weaknesses and tried to work with them. Adib was the best at composing, Jordan at file structure and session management as well as playing bass and offering production suggestions, and myself with experimenting with different panning and gain in the mixes as well as offering compositional input and comparing other techniques used in other commercial productions.
The constant reinforcing feedback of each other as well as offering solutions and different ways of producing to fully meet the desired sound was a crucial part of this production. Without having somebody else to bounce ideas off, get feedback from and to correct any mistakes we would have definitely ended up with a sub par product.