Wedding Mixes: Moose

Moose “This River Never Will Run Dry” [marry in the morning mix]

In this mix:

  • More balanced volume across the song (you can hear the intro without having to turn it down several times later). This is a simple volume envelope, so it didn’t squash the dynamics any more that they were already.
  • Shortened outro without the screeching halt at the end. Yes, some will find this blasphemous. Judge away.

Less is More: Billie Davis 1969

“Nobody’s Home to Go Home To” was a 1969 B-side for Billie Davis that I have a weakness for. The bass playing is incredible and the song cleverly jumps between three keys, but the strings and backing vocals kind of take over the recording. I noticed this morning that they’re both panned hard right and the vocal is centered, so I got to work.

  • Dumped the right channel to make a mono track of the left, leaving all the essentials: drums, bass, piano, elec & acoustic guitars, a quiet organ, tambourine, and the vocal.
  • Made several surgical cuts to bass frequencies that took over the mix at points.
  • Mitigated some incidents of “breathing” and “pumping” in the breaks. This is where a compressor had turned up the gain while the band’s last note of a section was fading out. This can be done to great effect (after the snare hit at 0:21 in Elvis Costello’s “Busy Bodies”), but on this track it just sounded like a someone with coffee jitters was leaning on a fader, and it made the snare hits that preceded the following sections unnaturally loud.
  • Raised some high frequencies to bring some sparkle to the vocal
  • Added a tiny bit of stereo echo to widen the sound

In the result, you get a more interesting intro (IMO) and a tighter rhythm section, and you can actually hear the piano, the backbeat snaps of the electric guitar, what sounds like a low temple block on the snare hits, and Billie’s quiet falsettos at the end of the choruses.

Billie Davis – Nobody’s Home to Go Home To (mrclay.org mix)

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Here’s the original .

Five years later a “new” French Horns recording

In 2005 I wrote a vocal melody and lyrics on top of a blissy keyboard instrumental by Slavagoh. I really liked the repeating three chord progression and had planned to incorporate his recording into the French Horns demo, but decided to keep it minimal.

I kinda had always regretted that, so five years later I managed to glue those recordings together:

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screenshot of Audition mixing session Both recordings were almost the same tempo, but the Slavagoh recording was about a semitone lower in key. After nudging his recording into the same key and time-stretching (thankfully both were recorded to drum machines), there were still some beat mismatches on the ends to deal with. Eventually I ended up with three instances of “untitled bliss” spliced in because I really liked how its ending had this smoother sound and how that part mixed with earlier parts of the track.

My demo was also bass-heavy, too dark in the vocal range, and overly punchy on some beats, so I did a bunch of surgical volume cuts and EQ on my track before mixing.

Wins: Extended the end of the track a bit by having the “guitar solo” twice. Worked hard on the fades at the beginning and end so the track starts and finishes with just the Slavagoh track.

Losses: Not remixing my recording from scratch to remove that annoying click track. Not using some of the violin tracks laying around from an older mix session. Not saving the session used to master it.

If you’re not patient, it’s easy to mix down and then immediately start mastering the resulting WAV file without keeping track of the changes you’re making. When you do this, there’s no way to duplicate that process in case you need to change something in the mixing session. I kinda did this on purpose though; after 5 years of sitting around I wanted to get this recording to “good enough” and move on. There’s a lot more piled up that needs working on.

Polyphonic pitch adjustment is born

Aside from the horrors of Auto-tune, the tool changed the state-of-the-art dealing with monophonic sound. Well, competitor product Melodyne will soon be able to apply pitch adjustment to polyphonic sound. This is huge. Huge. The amazing video shows this advance and a taste of the amazing power this will bring to recordists. About 2/3rds way through, it effortlessly changes the whole scale of a piece of music from minor to major, then to “Spanish”. It’s freaking amazing. [Thanks, shek-e]

Please no more Red Book CDs

The Red Book standard defined how audio was to be encoded on a CD, and it was great for 1980, but it, well, kinda sucks now.

1. The error correction is too minimal to withstand real-world abuse (cars, friends, etc.).
2. Tracking is pretty loose, and a lot of players have trouble seeking to the exact beginning of a track. And, of course, skipping is a drag.
3. Uncompressed PCM isn’t space efficient for audio.
4. Ripping is painfully slow if you want it done well, thanks to the first two.

A better (if not ideal) solution is obvious: compressed files on CD-ROM. The CD-ROM standard has a lot more error correction and tracking data built-in, and the space eaten by that that data is minimal compared to what can be saved through modern compression.

For the audiophiles, start with FLACs, then fill the remaining half of the disc with a few grades of mp3s, or license-free formats. Order the folders by increasing compression ratio so that, when you pop it in a player, you get the highest quality your player will support.

Audacity failing the audition

As much I want to root for Audacity for being an open source and multi-platform multitrack recording solution, it’s just not there yet. I set it up for my coworker to record lectures and, even in this light-duty (mono 44.1 recording, nothing fancy), after about 10 min of material the program starts to sputter and exhibit delays in responding. This is on a machine with a GB of RAM! Occasionally the project file becomes corrupted and, although you can open it, see the waveforms, and export, you can’t play the project anymore without a long crash. This happened this morning; I was able to export what was there, but skips and glitches made the track unusable. Even when the entire recording and mixdown does work, at every other edit point in the mixdown is an audible pop.

For all its instability, there are two very nice Audacity features that I’d love to see in Adobe Audition:

Visible RMS levels on the waveform.
This gives you a decent visual clue of how “loud” a track is across time. While RMS doesn’t equate to “loudness” (unless it uses a reverse equal-loudness contour), it’s mostly proportional to it if the overall frequencies stay the same (as with speech).
View results of volume-adjustment curves in real time
When you draw a curve you see the waveform change to the result of the curve as it will be applied, making it possible to truly dial in the exact volume change you want rather than repeatedly guessing and listening.

The above features allow you to quickly visually shape your desired loudness curve out of the existing wave. Speakers tend to gradually gain/lose volume over several minutes, so this makes compensating for that cake. These two alone make it worth keeping Audactiy around just for situations needing sharp leveling.

Malmö Gearlust

I’m totally spoiled having a big back room dedicated to making and recording music, but sometimes you can still dream.

Check out this amazing pic of the “Mothership”[1] in Sweden’s Gula Studion. Gula was built as a sister studio to the perhaps more famous Tambourine Studios, birthplace of most Cardigans and Eggstone albums. More than the gear; the space, atmosphere, and natural lighting is wonderful. Two more pics of the great room from the Gula site.

Eggstone update! A bit of googling around just unearthed a copy of the ridiculously OOP last Eggstone album on Amazon UK for £7. The order is in, I hope this works out. At least one other seller out there is holding out for $70. I wonder what Josh paid…

[1] pic from an excellent article on the recording of the first Franz Ferdinand album.