Starting this project we wanted to try making the product as professional as possible. This would give us a great portfolio piece as well as giving us the opportunity to learn out publishing and meeting with other people ,outside of audio, that can help develop our product further.
As we started finishing up the pre-production and skeletons we agreed that we needed an album over for the EP. Jordan had a friend, Kim Hopper, in graphic design that was eager to make some drafts for us. After some more consolidation and refinement we all agreed up the main album cover as well as individual song covers.
These covers were used on our publishing platforms (Soundcloud, Bandcamp) to visually legitimise the music that our audience would be listening to rather than having nothing to show as a visual representation of the band. The artwork also acts as a visual representation of the aesthetic of the EP. For example each landscape shown in the song covers fits perfectly with the timbre and aesthetic of the song itself.
As well as having artwork to legitimise our music we also published them, of course. We used Soundcloud first as it is one of the easiest ways for any indie artist to make their music heard. We also put the EP up on Bandcamp for $7. Having put it up on this platform in particular and asking for a sale is another crucial point in establishing this music. Bandcamp is usually used for music that is meant to get released, you won’t find a demo or work in progress there. The fact that we decided to charge money for it shows how seriously we take the product and how we perceive the standard of it meeting our expectations.
Even though we did not have any sort of budget, we did submit it to the submissions drive by the date we agreed on and it was all published on the date we agreed on, as well. Keeping to a certain release date put extra pressure on us and was immensely stressful but it gave us an idea of how to work with deadlines in the professional industry.
Aesthetic of the Product
Meeting the aesthetic that we originally had in mind was another vital part of the project. All of the reference tracks mentioned here: https://saeaudiostudio1grahamj.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/lo16-19/ were taken into consideration as I worked on th tracks and offered input based on these references. It was hard to find a specific reference that we entirely based a track off but rather we took elements and the aesthetic from them and used that as a reference. For example I used the light keys in the Beach Weather track (the first track in that blog above) as a guide when we were mixing our track Axiom. I wanted those big crescendos but also light intimate elements to give the track some more character. The main references weren’t actually musical, more the landscapes in the cover art.
The main EP cover itself is used as a representation of the journey, concept that the EP is based on. The cover for Sleepy has snow and trees but also a road signifying that some sort of travelling is occurring. The warm sunlight also shows that the day is starting, a good time to start travelling. The colours of the artwork also helped influence us on sculpting the dynamics of each track. For example, Holiday’s cover is bright blue which helped influence the more upbeat track and still uses the imagery of the road as a constant that the EP is progressing.
The concept of this album was “driving songs” though more technically each track represented a different stage of a journey. We aimed for light, upbeat tracks that weren’t distracting or hard to listen to but were still catchy. Again, listening back to some of the reference tracks the ones that really stood out when we listened to them while driving were the ones without lyrics. This had a huge impact on our production and we used harmonies in some tracks instead. I feel like we met the main aesthetic that we were trying to achieve and then some as we used visuals to further emphasise it.
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.
For CIU we teamed up with some game students and needed to create audio assets for their games. One of the games was a third-person online multiplayer shooter that also required dialogue as well as sound effects and the soundtrack. The dialogue they needed was for an announcer that spoke during the start of the match and whenever a player picked up a weapon. They gave us a couple of references including Fallout, Smash Bros. and Halo which we decided to try first.
I decided to give it a shot while Jordan and Sam recorded me in the live room next to the Audient. They game developers stressed that they wanted a lot of enthusiasm and force put into the announcers dialogue so I tried my best. The combination of extra breath in my voice, more plosives, a fairly reverberant live room and recording it with a U87 resulted in the recordings sounding pretty airy with some occasional lip smacks. To clean up the recordings we used a de-esser as well as a de-breather and tweaking the settings until they cut out enough of the breath but didn’t negatively affect the pronunciation of the dialogue or cut words off.
Here is a comparison of before we cleaned the recordings up and after. Keep in mind these are still drafts, we are waiting for feedback to see if this is what the game team wants.
Planning Project Aesthetic and Establishing a Target Market
To first start the project we had to decide on what type of genre we wanted to aim to recreate. What feeling exact sound we wanted to make- the aesthetic of the music. Having recently listened to bands such as Last Dinosaurs and Japanese Wallpaper we decided to try and recreate that type of indie rock/ slow-core sound that would fit into that genre.
However, before we even started to plan the composition we had to determine how successful the outcome of the project would be in this area (Brisbane) when we release it. To establish if this type of music already had a fanbase we had to examine the music scene in Brisbane, specifically the city and West End. Fortunately we didn’t need to do too much research. On the 28th of August Adib, Jordan and I happened to be in Brisbane city during the album release of Wellness, Last Dinosaurs latest album. We went to Rocking Horse Records to pick the album up and were surprised to see how many people were also there. The store was full of at least 150 people waiting to buy the album and get it signed. Most of the people waiting in line were aged from 15 to around 25 years old. This fanbase was further confirmed due to the indie and local music scene in the suburb of West End.
When it came to planning the composition of the tracks we were constantly coming back to reference tracks such as The Rain by Oh Wonder, Wellness by Last Dinosaurs, Ghosts by Beach Weather and LSD and the Search for God by the band of the same name. All of these references contained the type of aesthetic we were aiming for in one way or another. We wanted the guitars to be reminiscent of the shoe-gaze aesthetic, with guitars washed in reverb and distortion. For the vocals we were thinking of something light and dreamy, again heavily processed with reverb an focusing more on harmonies than actual lyrics. We wanted to have the percussions sort of sitting in the back just barely reenforcing the rest of the elements. As time has gone on we have made a lot of changes and refinements to our tracks which will be shown later on in more blogs.
As a class project we had to record a 4 track EP for an artist that from here on out will be referred to as “The Cave”. They wanted to create the EP by hiring temporary band members (a guitarist and bassist) and directing them and getting them to play the instruments needed for the EP. Building up to the recording stage we had met them once as a class, listened to some demos and obtained a few of the stems. Jackson had also programmed some drums in to help speed up the recording stage when it came to recording drums. He did a great job and his enthusiasm and effort were greatly appreciated by the class.
15 October- Recording Drums
When it came to recording we had created a schedule and had set roles for everyone. Jackson and Rikki were in charge of creating and monitoring the headphone sends and even brushed up on the process the night before. Ayden and Dan were in charge of the desk and talkback. Alex and Sam were in control of protools and setting up and recording every take. While the rest of us did have specific roles, we were also there to document and observe everything happening.
Setting up the session prior to the artist getting there began at 9, with them getting to the studio just after 10. The drummer set up his kit in no time and was extremely professional and courteous. The artist directing the whole project however, informed us that we were meant to be recording a 5th track (which was not agreed upon previously) and that we had to make sure to get the drums finished for every track by the end of the day. This was a massive set back as we spent a good 15-20 minutes to clarify that there was indeed a 5th track and that each track was correctly named and set up to be recorded. The director of the project spent almost the whole day downloading the stems for the 5th track which caused a huge delay and resulted in even more stress as some people began to doubt how organised they were granted how easily it could have been solved.
For most of the recording I sat silently, constantly observing the recording flow and the communication between the DAW operators, Guy Gray, the drummer and the director. I noticed some students glued to their phones the whole time which I saw as being completely unprofessional and rude towards the talent which is shame.
However as everyone that has worked with an artist before knows, problems and tension will almost always arise and this was no exception. The director of the project was providing useful input to begin with. After all it is their project and any suggestions they have must be taken into consideration. Though as time went on they started demanding strange requests from the drummer such as: “play to the vocals” and “Stop sounding like a metronome”. The drummer was extremely confused by this as he is a drummer after all and should be playing to the programmed guide drum tracks. He repeatedly tried to clarify what they meant by “playing to the vocals” but never raised his voice and always stayed calm. Pretty impressive for a drummer, eh?
More tension arose while Alex began asking Guy questions on what to do next and the director told them to shush because they wanted to talk to the drummer. They also began pushing people aside so that they could use the talkback themselves, rather than just asking. By the end up the day it had started to grind on some of the other student with some of them even choosing to leave.
After the constant retakes, many of which were spot on, the director was happy with it and it was time to pack up. Backing up the files was extremely time consuming and should have definitely been taken into account when writing up the schedule. All in all it took about an hour to back up the sessions onto 3 different hard drives. And with that we were ready to record bass guitar and vocals the next day.
16 October- Pre Mixing
Originally we had planned to record bass and vocals today but that never happened due to some sort of miscommunication with the artist even though we had gone over the planning for it just the night before. Some of the dedicated students had arrived at 10 to set up the microphones and the live room ready to record. They set up a U87 and an AKG 414 next to each other with a pop filter in front. The director of the project (also the singer and bassist) arrived around 11:30. They were reluctant to sing which meant the set up and waiting for them to arrive was just a waste of time.
While we were waiting for the artist to arrive, Guy decided to use the session to do a premix on the tracks and to show how effective the technique of parallel compression can be when used correctly. Guy used the Distressor Compressor on the snare and kick to show this technique. It was extremely effective and made the drums way more presence and impact. It was great to watch this technique being used on a professional recording and to hear how much of a difference it made.
When the artist showed up they started demanding changes to the mix and started to take over the session. i watched how Guy handled himself and how professional he reacted. He remained calm and reassured them that he was taking their input into consideration. After about half an hour of this I had had enough and went to work on my project- something that had a schedule that we actually wanted to stay to.
I learned more that day about how professional talent and engineers should both act in a studio environment, how easily conflicts and tension can arise and to resolve the conflicts even if it takes up critical time. If Guy hadn’t been so professional and had just left I’m sure even less work would have been completed and the project would have fallen apart.
22 October- Recording at Tall Poppy Studios
The week after we went to Tall Poppy Studios to record bass and vocals for the artist. Before we began Akshay (the head lecturer) asked us to read a contract he had written up with the artist. The contract explained that we (the students) and SAE maintain educational rights to the recordings and that we had artistic merit when mixing the recordings for the project. I had no idea how important writing up contract was even in the recording stage. Needless to say this was definitely one of the most important steps in working with any artist. Some weeks later some students speculated that The Cave was not comfortable with us having copies of the recordings and Akshay reminded us of the contract that everyone had signed including the artist.
The studio had been set up to record vocals extremely efficiently thanks to the help of one of the engineers of the studio, Stewie. I left before the recording had started due to lack of room in the studio. I decided to make the time productive and work on my project. 2 hours later I checked in to see how much progress was made. Barely anything had been recorded apparently. The artist was again being problematic and focusing on editing the recordings rather than put down any sort of new recordings. I decided that it would be better to just work on the EP project.
23 October- Recording Guitars
This is where it got really interesting. We had planned to record the guitars in the Neve at SAE on this day. The guitarist had recently been in a car accident and was severely injured. He was extremely dedicated and showed up on time with all of his gear. I don’t think i’ve personally seen any band member so dedicated for their band before. The director of the project didn’t arrive for over an hour afterwards. Everyone present during the recording was constantly providing positive reinforcement and feedback to the guitarist. As soon as the director of the project arrived they were immediately unhappy with what we had recorded and didn’t even commend the guitarist for trying. At this point my group and I asked Guy for direction on what to do as could see this becoming another waste of time. He agreed that it would definitely be more productive to work on our project.
This was another recording at Tall Poppy for guitars and backing vocals. I decided to stay at SAE and work on the project. As I didn’t go I won’t explain what apparently happened but it was the worst session by far. No vocals or bass ended up being recorded.
A few weeks later we had received the edits of the recordings for one of the tracks. From the start of this tri Guy and Akshay had made it clear to The Cave that we would only mix, master and deliver one track by the end of this tri. Once we had compiled it all Guy began to mix in front of us. He also told us that the original files they had sent to him still contained playlists and bad takes. The bass track that they had given contained some harsh, audible clicks every time the strings were plucked. So much for being “edited”. Guy made it clear that usually the mix engineer would not accept this unless he also agreed to edit it.
To fix the clicks Guy showed us a couple of different techniques. He showed us the “lazy” way which most mix engineers use. They simply cut the click out and add a crossfade to the edit. he then showed us how to write a whole new waveform using the pencil tool and smoothing out the edit. The correction was so effective and completely removed the click while still making the edit subtle and impossible to hear.
The next day Guy mixed it and the result was outstanding. His years of professional work in the industry could definitely be heard in the mix. The way he had made it fit according to what The Cave had wanted and referenced but still stand out and not sound generic at all was something that completely blew me away. He then bounced it out and sent it to The Cave and waited for feedback. A couple of days passed but eventually they got back to him saying that they were happy with the mix and the track overall. They also thanked him for giving it to them no later than they had specified.
When working on this track I didn’t really have a firm idea of where to start. I didn’t know what type of setting and scene I was composing for, let alone the type of horror movie. I wanted to experiment with the different types of instruments and samples I was going to use but I also wanted to meet the cliches of classic horror soundtracks. I also felt that using some bare bones instrumentals as a guide would help identify which sounds would be appropriate and where to actually start in terms of sound design.
I started looking up soundtracks from some of my favourite horror movies for inspiration. I went straight to the classics first: Friday the 13th, Halloween and The Thing. One element that I noticed was in almost all of the soundtracks was a predictable formula- all of the instruments build up, suddenly stop and are replaced with silence, then there’s a loud bang (or something of that effect) and a long, high pitched, droning chord. I definitely wanted to include that into my track.
Another movie that came to mind was the recent release, It Follows. The soundtrack was fantastic and incorporated the aesthetic of 80’s horror soundtracks with tense percussions and low subtle synths. The opening track of the movie proved by far to be the best reference for what I wanted to compose.
I thought it would be interesting to mix the cheesy and predictable composition of 80’s horror with the percussion and synth elements of It Follows. At first I wanted to experiment with having a low rumbling sub bass constantly playing behind everything else. That way when the track builds up to the scare and every element starts dropping out, the bass would be the last to fade out and would make the incorporation of silence a lot more effective and unsettling. I created the low rumble with Massive, using an oscillator to make sure it was just a simple low hum.
I then decided to add a percussion of some sort but wasn’t sure what would be fitting. While deciding (procrastinating) I noticed my bass guitar leaning up against my wall. I plucked one of the strings and the next of the guitar vibrated against my wall and resulted in a brilliant rumbling sound. So of course I had to record and use it. After I processed it with a large reverb and messed around with the EQ it ended up sounding like an old church bell. I pushed it back into the mix so it wouldn’t be confused with the actual sound design of the setting. This constant ring and hum served as the drive for the first half of the track.
I then created a synth with Sculpture to serve as eerie keys to further set the atmosphere. I looped the first progression once then moved the midi data to lower keys which made the synth sound like it was deteriorating and getting more sinister. Then I put some string samples into a sampler and played some low droning notes which I then pitched down.
I faded each individual element out one by one, leaving the low rumbling synth for last. I left a couple of seconds of silence then triggered a loud bang to indicate the “scare” of the movie. Before the reverb of the bang had decayed I had 2 different high pitched synths both play at once to replicate the high screech that has become a cliche of 80’s horror films. I also noticed that some movies, as time went on, tried to change up this cliche by having a second scare straight after the first. So I used the same synths and pitched them down 2 octaves to indicate this second scare.
I took inspiration from It Follows for the second half of the track and tried to signal the resolution of the scene. I put another 2 different low synths and had them occasionally drop in pitch while banging noises played in the background. This mix of low eerie droning and imagery of a struggle of some sort in the background was pretty effective. I then faded out the synths as they started lowering in pitch.
Most of my sound design was recorded breaths that were reversed, or slowed down. I also had a sample of crickets that loaded into a sampler. I reversed the data then dropped it down in pitch and added a huge reverb. This resulted in the “banging” that is heard towards the end of the track. Another thing that I experimented with was using a stereo spreader. I started processing all of the sound design with it and it gave them a surreal type of attribute. I wanted the sounds to really play up the setting but still make enough room for the music without sort of muddying it up and blurring the separation of the music and the background sounds.
In this blog I will evaluate how the aesthetic tone of a finished production, as well as its technical process, can evoke a specific desired emotion from the listener. One of the projects for this trimester requires us to work with an industrial artist called The Cave. The first track I’m going to be analysing is an electronic-industrial track which is much like the demo of one of The Cave’s tracks that we listened to in class. They used a fair bit of electronic elements in the demo track which made me think that starting with this track would help put me in the right mindset to envision what she wanted to sound like, as well as to further my understanding of the industrial genre.
The first track is titled Salvia from the band Health.
The intro to the song relies heavily on the electronic instruments with some low pads being processed through a tremolo effect for a couple of seconds. The intro also has a high pass filter present which is quickly automated out within 5 seconds. The low bass of the pads is fully present just before the drums start. The snares come into the mix and sit right up front. At first they seem fairly deep though a high almost metallic ring resonates at the end of every hit which makes it seem like they layered 3 different type of drums with different processing on each snare. This results in an extremely metallic snare with enough bass that it not only drives the track but becomes the focus of it too. A slight delay can be heard which helps thicken up the snare also while giving the illusion that there could be even another snare layered into the mix. A slight reverb can also be heard which increases the snares stereo presence.
The jarring change of tempo straight after the intro shocks the listener at first granted how faster the percussion is compared to the pads as well as the change in gain, no other elements come close to the level of the snares. The rhythm of the percussions is constant for most of the track and at first seems to set the tempo for the whole track, many other elements sick back in the mix and play out almost irrespectively to the snares. This part of the track evokes urgency, escape and the presence of danger (the horn just after the intro could be a signal of it). The constant use of the kick and a separate snare pushed to the far back of the mix seems to validate the concept of escape/ running with its own constant 4/4 tempo.
As the track moves into the bridge, all of the percussions are dropped out and aside from a slower kick sitting right at the bottom of the mix due to being processed through a high pass filter. A heavily reverb processed guitar chord is played throughout the bridge, signalling its start. Most of the low elements have been dropped out and the higher elements become easily to hear, giving the bridge a whole different aesthetic and tone. The huge reverb brings out the space of the track and makes it suddenly relaxing, though slightly eerie. This whole change of pace really mixes up the song and gives it a slow/fast/slow/fast feel.
All of a sudden the snares kick back in and you find yourself back in the chorus. The mechanical and industrial timbre of the elements are still slightly off-putting. Then it moves onto a different bridge again.
This bridge has no snare at all, but a low end kick is slowly automated into the mix via its gain. There are no guitars, aside from the very start. Instead of guitars synths take the place, one light subtractive synth now drives the track while a harsher FM synth signals the outro.
The slow outro (about 10 seconds) really slows the whole track down and assures the listener that it has concluded rather than just going back into the chorus. This calms the listener and signals whatever conflict or event that had just happened is now over (they are no longer being chased, there is no reason to panic etc).
Zia could use the track as an extreme example on how to pace her tracks and to make sure the pacing is present so that the listener can identify where they are in the song, in regards to song structure.
The second track I’m going to analyse is titled Blood Bag from the artist Junkie XL. This track is part of the soundtrack from Mad Max : Fury Road. Damn good movie.
While this soundtrack constantly plays through the film, some scenes show a guitarist and drummers playing some of the tracks during the chase scenes which gives the track even more context and becomes a visual representation of the tone of the track.
The track has a longer intro compared to the last one but is still a perfect example of great pacing and song structure. The track starts with some Taiko drums siting at the bottom of the mix. Suddenly the gain is increased and the drums become the driving force of the track. The drums are processed through a huge reverb though it’s not 100% wet, the drums still have a huge presence and the reverb is used to fatten them up. The rhythm is fast and constant, like a war drum with cymbal crashes and low strings to emphasise the intensity and tension of the track.
The drums drop back again then return with some more, louder strings. The drums drop out again but the strings remain. The tension of the song rises again the drops, including the strings. Keys are hit once just before the drums are automated back to their original gain level. The drums get faster and louder while a guitar can be heard playing a high chord in the back of the mix, processed with a tremolo effect.
The drums get softer and rise again, this time with an electric guitar following behind it. The guitar is processed with a low pass filter that is slowly automated off. Once the guitar stops increasing, the drums stop the usual tempo and follow the rhythm of the guitar- only being hit when the guitar plays the start of the riff. The guitar sits right up front in the mix and becomes the focal point of the track. The guitar is slightly grainy and fairly distorted like something you would hear from a typical metal song. The drums start playing the original tempo again but still sit at the back of the mix. The track ends with a second guitar playing a higher, faster riff underneath the first guitar while the drums play at the original volume again. Then suddenly it stops with only the reverb ringing out.
The constant drive of the drums is similar to that of a war drum which many people are familiar with though general media or subjective perception. Because we hear the drums as a war drum that already evokes certain reactions- danger, aggression, conflict, tension. The way the drums constantly drop in and out acts as a slow lead up to the point of when those emotions build up and finally reach the extremes as the guitar comes in. The guitar, having more high end presence, evokes excitement and even more tension as the drums drop back in the mix. As it too drops back a bit and all of the elements start increasing together this would evoke a more adrenaline and intense reaction as the listener knows what they will hear next but at a louder volume. This also work perfectly in the movie which is shown below.
In comparison to the previous track, This pacing and dropping key elements in and out of the track gives the listener time to anticipate what they might hear next, which is satisfying when they’re right though there are still elements they didn’t predict coming through.
Here’s some of the making of the soundtrack which I found very interesting. I hadn’t realized each main character had their own themes and how effective it was in portraying their characteristics without the need for them to even do or say something significant.