I recently received a Cakewalk Sonar Platinum update that included some Demo songs. They contain pretty much raw tracks from artists, which I presume are also Cakewalk users. The content was distributed with the purpose of giving the User the opportunity to work with the software.
First of all, 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 pre-recorded, which accelerates the learning of the software, since a great deal of the time to mix and produce a song, is spent Tracking. I think this is a great concept.
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 two 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 maybe even 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 final mastered version of the song, nor do I know if it has been officially released for any other reason but as Demo tracks for Sonar Platinum. I have not talked to the Artist about the song, so whatever I might express here is based solely on only the tracks that were provided as a Demo and the tracks that you hear, are those and only those tracks.
So back to my point…from a production, or in this case Mastering viewpoint, given the tracks I had to work with, and without communication with the Artist, my approach 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 Artists consent. In this particular example, however, I think it would be okay to do a little bit of vocal processing, since as I mentioned, the focus of this song is about the lyrics and the performance or the Story. 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 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 remix I created, only contains lead vocal processing. Actually, this is also true for the second remix, however, the processing was different. 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. In that order.
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 sibilance 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 requantization 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 was the Waves Audio Vitamin plugin, which is a Harmonic Enhancer and Tone Shaper. I use it to make a track seem more live. It is one of those plugins that can be used in a variety of different ways, live or studio, track or bus. Waves describes it as comparable to what you would get from a parallel chain of EQ, compression and saturation processors, but without the hassle.
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 made to sound barely noticeable or like 2 separate voices. Or, somewhere in between. 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 and give the song some character. If your old enough to remember, Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and the Shondells, you should understand my point. Their is no absolute right or wrong way of doing things but their are proven successful guidelines that one may choose or not choose to follow.
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 Lead Vocal 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. By using a plate reverb, I am able to control the frequencies and amount of effect at those frequencies. My intent was to add some reverb but not too much, since as mentioned earlier the overall character of the entire mix was dry, possibly with the exception of the snare drum, in which I detected a gated reverb. By using a different reverb on the Lead Vocal, 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 is should be for this song. Thus, the rest of the mix, sharing the reverb bus, would be unaffected by the additional vocal processing.
My Second re-mix is primarily a more pronounced use of the latter two effects with a wider and more intense use of the Doubler and adding a little more depth with the reverb. Again, this is very subjective. I slightly emphasized the effect, so as to give the Artist a better idea of the possibilities. This can always be compromised later when all parties associated with the final mix can weigh in. In my opinion, given this song and the current arrangement, there is room for creativity in the vocal processing, but the final decision would be mad by the Artist(s). And, for those who for some reason think it’s cheating to apply vocal processing, I respectfully disagree. 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 and when performed correctly, does not diminish the obvious talent displayed by the vocalist. There are many, many, examples of this in the history of music, in 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.