When it comes to the job description of producers in today’s recording studio, the phrase “the more things change, the more they stay the same” comes to mind. While technological advances have made the studio a significantly more streamlined and efficient place to work, the principles of what makes a good producer have stood the test of time. That said, let’s take a look at what the producer’s role is when it comes to songwriters and their demos in the current climate.
Originally published in the BMI Weekly by Cliff Goldmacher
Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, music producer and educator with recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Through his studios, Cliff provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual, live access to Nashville’s best session musicians and demo singers for their songwriting demos.
(Read More) to learn more about Cliff Goldmacher and sign up for the BMI Weekly.
I recently received a Cakewalk Sonar Platinum update that included some Demo songs. They contain pretty much raw tracks from artists, I presume other Cakewalk users, which I also presume were distributed with the purpose of giving the User the opportunity to work with the software.
First, credit must be given to those involved because having these tools does give the user the opportunity to quickly digest the meat and potatoes of the software. This is in no way intended to diminish the importance of micing or otherwise Tracking the original instruments used in creating the tracks. What it does, is allow the DAW User the opportunity to work with the software, using tracks that have been recorded, which saves a lot of time, since a great deal of the time to mix and produce a song, is spent Tracking.
So, in this demonstration, I used a song written and performed by a young artist named Sophia Jane (Applause), which I think is perfect for my purpose. When I listen to this song, from a production standpoint, I am hearing some very, powerful lyrics, along with a very, impressive vocal performance (Applause). The supporting instruments and tracks all seem to cater to those too things, the lyrics and the vocal performance. Without those two things, the music itself would be rather undramatic and plain. Now please do not misconstrue what I am trying to illustrate. I am not downplaying the music or the musicians. If you disassemble a full blown, symphonic recording, you will also find that individual tracks sound undramatic and boring. The song must be absorbed in its entirety. That’s what, “All about the song” means and in my opinion, is what experienced, talented, musicians and performers understand.
I must also point out that the tracks that were offered, to the best of my knowledge are exactly what I described earlier, raw. I do not believe this is the Mastered version of the song, nor have I talked to the Artist about the song so, whatever I might express here is based upon only the tracks that were provided and the tracks that you hear.
Back to my point…from a production viewpoint, given the tracks I had to work with and without communication with the Artist, my approach would be to focus on the aforementioned elements, the vocals and the delivery of the vocals. When I listen to the lyrics, and the way in which they are delivered, along with the musical accompaniment, this Artist is telling a story, in the best way she knows how. As a Producer, I want to bring that up front, without changing the overall intent of the Artist. What I mean by that is that the tracks are recorded rather dry, so I wouldn’t want to change them too drastically, without the Artist’s consent. In this particular example, however, I think it would be okay to do a little bit of vocal processing, since as I mentioned, nothing else is up front and I believe a bit of color would add some character to the vocals and the song as a whole. There are no solos or other musical highlights so I believe going forward a bit with the vocals would be appropriate. I would probably present a couple of different perspectives to the Artist and wait for feedback as to how to proceed.
So, with that in mind, here is the original version of the song and two additional mixes I would submit for approval. The original mix is, in its own respect, is well balanced, and of very good quality. It is indeed already mastered, from the perspective of whoever put them together, well enough to be heard, understood, and enjoyed.
The first mix I created, only contains lead vocal processing. The instruments, backup vocals, are all unprocessed from the original recordings. Very light compression was used on each individual track just to tame the levels, since I processed the lead vocals and do not want to overload the master bus. In the lead vocal track, I used a Waves Studio FX rack, consisting of a DeEsser, an L1 Ultramaximizer, Vitamin, Doubler 2, and Renaissance Reverb.
At this point, it is time for an additional disclaimer, in that similar or different results, depending on one’s intention, could be achieved using plugins from any number of different manufacturers. The disclaimer is, that though this is a Sonar Platinum demo, I probably should have used FX plugins supplied with the DAW software but for my purpose, this is a Production Technique perspective and for me, it is all about using what is comfortable. Once you become familiar with whatever plugins you have access to, you will develop more technical reasons for using one over another. In this case, I just wanted to experiment with this rack, for those exact reasons… Again, it is all about the song.
I used the DeEsser because I detected some unwanted sibilance. It is important to know that when tracking vocals, it is not uncommon for a microphone to pick up even the slightest amount of breathing or unwanted air movement when enunciating. You can reduce some of it with a Pop Filter. I don’t know if one was used when Sophia laid down this track. Regardless, you don’t necessarily want to remove all sibilance when tracking because it may change the overall character of the track. You can use DeEssers discriminately, when processing the vocal track later, so that it can be controlled more.
The L1 UltraMaximizer is a combination Limiter and High Resolution Re-Quantizer. I primarily wanted to limit the level of the lead vocals and maximize the signal prior to the processing by the next 2 plugins so that the results would be more controllable. I wasn’t concerned with the Re-quantization element, which allows for the re-quantization of bit depths. All of the tracks were of 48KHz 24 Bit resolution. Which is good enough… Could I have used a different Limiter? Of course.
These first two plugins were set identically in both my first and second remix.
The next plugin in the rack was a Doubler. What a Doubler does, is it splits the vocals and depending on how it is set can be barely noticeable or sound like 2 separate voices. The use of this plugin is very subjective, as far as how or if, you want to apply it. In the first remix, I used it very sparingly, primarily to thicken the vocals and add some left-right dimension. I altered the tuning slightly so that the two voices would have some definition and wouldn’t sound like two voices, one on top of the other. For the same reason, I retarded and advanced the delay on each element. Again, my goal was to bring the vocals to the forefront.
Finally, the last plugin in the rack, the Renaissance Reverb, was used. In the original mix, a common bus reverb was used. I removed the track send to this bus and inserted the Renaissance Reverb because I wanted the lead vocals to have a plate reverb, primarily to get it out of the wash from the reverb of the other tracks, though, as mentioned, despite its presence, the mix was dry overall. By using the plate reverb, I could set it to work primarily on the upper mid-range of Sophia’s voice and by controlling the time and depth, bring her upfront, where I thought it should be for this song.
My second re-mix is primarily a more pronounced use of the latter two effects with a wider, more and more intense use of the Doubler. I also used added more depth to the reverb in the lead vocal mix. Again, very subjective but maybe slightly emphasized, so as to give the Artist a better idea of the possibilities. And for those who for some reason think it’s cheating to apply vocal processing, I disagree because as the mix is being processed, so must the vocals. Another reason for doing so, is if you want to create a certain effect to the song, as a whole. Processing the vocals can be very effective. There are many, many, examples of this in the musical history of any genre.
Sysop, Mad Musicians for Hire It’s about the music…
As a final note, the re-mixes are not the Artist’s mixes. The Sound Recording of these remixes, were created to be used in this tutorial, which is the property of Mad Musicians’s for Hire. They are not meant for re-distribution or publication independently, or for any other purpose. Sonar Platinum and the Waves Audio plugins referred to and used in creating the remixes, is also licensed for use by Mad Musicians for Hire.
The content and the song, “Living for Now,” are the work of the Artist(s) and should be respected for all rights and privileges reserved. Please contact the original Artist for any reuse or other permissions granted or if you are interested in learning more about her work.
Thank you to Cakewalk, Gibson for suppying the original tracks and to the Original Artist for making these available. More information about Sonar Platinum can be found at http://www.cakewalk.com/.
For more information about the Waves Audio plugins used in this demonstration and other Waves Audio products, please contact: https://www.waves.com/
DeEsser, L1Ultramaximizer, Vitamin, Doubler, and Renaissance (RVerb) are Waves Products
Please leave a private message for the Sysop, if you are interested about Mastering or other Production Services offered.
There is always something to learn… Regardless of the genre, listening to other people talk about how they approach their art is always inspiring… It doesn’t hurt that they are award winners and up and coming personalities in the Entertainment Industry. Or, that the mediator is a hot, up and coming Puerto Rican singer, actress, and dancer, who has worked with A-Grade talent. Really, anyone involved in creating and producing music has something to say, which will be of benefit to someone else. This all took place at the How I Wrote That Song, Career Development workshop on April 4, 2014/
Personally, I would say I’m 50/50 when it comes to text book learning and hands-on experience. The reason these things help me so much is because they are always inspiring, which is the fuel I need to keep churning. If I start to burn out on books and articles, I lean more towards the hands-on aspect and vice-verse. For me, that works better than pounding it into the dirt.
Thanks to BMI for the meet-up and to all those that participated, including the local New Yorkers, who were in attendance.
Thank you to the Apollo Theater and the staff there for giving me a tour of this wonderful, historic, place.
A special thanks to: 24 Horas, El Dusty, A&X’s Xtassy, David Escobar, and Pinto “Wahin”, and Ana Isabelle.
Sysop, Mad Musicians for Hire
So, I’m vacationing in Mexico, last March. It had just rained heavily and was now just lightly drizzling. I’m sitting on a bench in El Centro, enjoying an Oxxo cup of café (coffee)and watching all the people running around doing whatever they’re doing. I do that sometimes…
So, along comes this local Mexican Shoe-Shine dude, carrying a shoe-shine box. I assume he was Mexican, because he looked like it. I also assume he was a Shoe-Shine dude, because he was carrying a shoe-shine box. Well, I won’t keep you in suspense. He was a shoe-shine dude, because he asked me if I wanted my shoes shined.
Well, first off, I was wearing sneakers… And the ground was all wet and muddy. Asking me if I wanted my shoes shined would be like asking me if I wanted my car washed… in the rain???
So, I replied, “No. gracias.” I try to be polite, though “Mi, Espenol es crap!” Anyway, he apparently was not so offended as to not want to sit down beside me on the bench. I wasn’t offended either because his Ingles wasn’t much better than my Espanol, though if I had to judge, it was definitely a notch above my bilingual-ness.
So, in an attempt to make small talk, I asked him how business was doing. I presumed it couldn’t be that good, since it was rainy and muddy! I won’t keep you in suspense any longer, as he confirmed, business was , “No Bueno (No good).
However, he jubilantly responded, next week would be better. So we chit-chatted some more. I asked him, “Quanta cuesta, para shoe-shine (How much does a shoe-shine cost),” showing off my Española. He said, “Venti pesos,” which for you Gringos, means $20 pesos, which at the time, was about $1.25. This is the kind of invaluable stuff you really should know, when visiting a foreign country, just in case you need an emergency shoe-shine.
So anyway, we talked about his family. He told me he had a wife and 2 ninos (kids) and he pointed out a place where I could get a Litre-sized vaso of cerveza (About a pint of beer) for $ 25 pesos… and then I curiously reverted back to what he said earlier about business being better next week. I appreciate an optimist. It is also, in my personal opinion, good diplomatic relations.
So, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. His reply was, because next week was the “Cheese’s festival.” Now, this is where I always find it difficult… because not being very fluent in the language, I couldn’t be sure if I heard him wrong, or I just don’t understand, but hey, I’m always up for a good Fiesta.
So, hesitantly, I inquired further, “Cheese festival?” I happen to like cheese and I know it’s a pretty popular thing, south of the border, so I was genuinely interested. “No,” he asserted, “Cheese’s Festival.”
Perplexed, I politely replied, “Lo siento, no comprende,” which means, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” I know that phrase, real well because I usually use it right after I say my other favorite phrase, “Buenas Dias,” which means, “Good Day” or Good Morning, I’m still not sure. “Cheese Festival,” I repeated? I do that a lot when I don’t understand.
He patiently replied, “No, Cheezus, Festival.” I found phonetics is very important when speaking Espanol, as most of the time, even when I know the word, I’m misunderstood because my pronunciation is also “No bueno…”
In his eagerness to help me with my perplexity, My new amigo’s only response was to stick both of his arms out to the side, like a Boeing 727 about to take-off.
Now, I really feel like an idiot, but I couldn’t resist. I asked, “I’m sorry, could you spell that?” reverting to English now, my second language … I do that a lot when I speak Espanol.
He thought for a second, because I guess spelling in Ingles is a lot harder than speaking Ingles. After a short pause, he replied.
To which, I tossed my cup and said, Mucho Gracias, and left to get that beer!