So, first off, http://soundcloud.com/joshloughrey/the-way-things-are-mix-3m
Some description and background:
My girlfriend is a classically trained singer. Did Opera for a few years before deciding that wasn't what she wanted to do. After a few more years of doing no music, she and I had worked on some stuff (mostly my songs). Due to some health problems, she had to stop doing that.
To get her back into things, and also make our work more collaborative, she decided to start writing songs rather than just writing parts for my songs. This song is the first we did together; she wrote and sang and I did the arrangement (you can tell I've been doing mostly film score work in the past year!)
Anyway, if anyone has time and wants to give it a listen, we would definitely appreciate some feedback! As I'm sure all of you know; an outside perspective is really useful on any creative endeavor. Specifically, she'd like some feedback on her songwriting. Thanks for listening!
05-26-2011, 11:18 PM
This is subjective hell, Josh. She has a wonderful voice - great starting point, but you asked.
An operatic voice can work in the chorus of a song, but too much of a good thing is too much. Can she do a different voice and build toward the chorus? Just my thoughts which don't amount to much.
05-27-2011, 12:11 PM
Very much Broadway sounding. If thats what she went for, then bravo!
Its a beautiful lyric and melody. Did she write the accompaniment or is that all you?
Id prefer a more intimate performance, less vibrato on verses, more dynamics.
Going from an intimate breathy close mic sounding verse to a soaring operatic chorus will give me chills every time.
I bet shes a perfectionist huh... Its hard to explain to pros and perfectionists that an emotionally rich performance with less then perfect technique beats a emotionally dry yet perfect performance every time. If you can get emotion AND technique on the same take, thats magic in a can right there...
EDIT: Technote, its a bit harsh on the sibilance. Those trailing sss are hard on the ears... just a bit.
05-27-2011, 09:47 PM
Thanks for listening! And, CamVader, all thoughts are good to hear. There are no useless opinions (at least, that's MY opinion)!
It's funny; she and I were talking this evening. When she wrote the song, she pictured the choruses as being soft and quiet, with the verses being more up front. Thus, the chorus is in a range where she can't really "belt it out", full opera-style. But from the way she sang it, this arrangement just sorta popped in my head. Were we to do it again, I think I'd shift the chorus up a key or two, and encourage her to go all out. That would give more prominent contrast, as you guys both suggested. Years of classical training means this is the closest she gets to "pop singer".
So, yeah, wheatgrinder, the accompaniment is my contribution to this (including the borderline inappropriate layered guitar solo!); she gave me a scratch vocal take and a basic chord progression and I went from there. Thanks for the note on the sibilance; tried my best to tame it, but back to the de-esser ;-) Anyway, we both appreciate the feedback, and the listening!
05-31-2011, 07:56 PM
Thanks again for the feedback! While I'm at it, if anyone has a taste for harder electronic music, I'm working on an electro-industrial track for a compilation (trying to live somewhere between Die Form, Skinny Puppy and Laeather Strip). Current draft is here: http://soundcloud.com/joshloughrey/these-eyes-sketch-4 Definitely not as accessible as Virginia's song, and not for everyone's tastes, but if anyone likes that sort of music and has a bit of free time, any thoughts would be welcome and appreciated!
05-31-2011, 08:44 PM
I'm a semi-professional audio engineer.
I have a few pointers if you don't mind them. Let me know.
05-31-2011, 10:09 PM
Absolutely! Would love to hear them!
05-31-2011, 10:56 PM
Vocal is sharp and thin. There's a ring in the voice at about 800 Hz and 2.6-3 kHz that gets set off on those vowels. The reverb is also a bit too dated - sounds like a late 90s Celine Dion reverb. You mostly hear it on the sibilance and ends of words which have S sounds. It's got quite a plume of verb which makes it sound to me a bit too cheap-ish.
Overall I think the vocal can come down at least 2 dB.
Percussion needs a bit of help. You need a solid kick drum. Right now I'm not hearing anything below about 100 Hz and this worries me. Stick a good kick drum sample dead center. Right now it sounds like the kick is hard right? Wtf? You also have snares and sticks happening really wide stereo. Never heard something like this - was this an artistic choice or just the type of loops you have? I'd stick the snares and sticks up the center - maybe a tiny bit off center so as to not fight with the voice.
The piano in the beginning is slightly dark. Add a high shelf at about 3K and lift up that brilliance of the piano and add a room reverb (.7 to .9 seconds) on it with a fast predelay (about 60 ms)
I don't like the sound of de-essers. Especially the stock digital plug-ins you find in Logic or Pro Tools. They affect the rest of the voice too much for my taste. I'd manually bring down each S or use a dynamic EQ. Sounds to me like the problem area is 6K and 10K. Check those out and chill them out if you can. A warmer reverb on her might help it out, too. And how much high end are you adding to her voice?
The strings sound a bit fake - same with the horns (if there are any - can't really tell). Put the violins to the left a bit and cellos slightly to the right (traditional orchestral layout).
I'd place a much larger reverb on the crash cymbals throughout the song especially during the instrumental solo. Having lack of a space for those cymbals sounds really fake for me - adding space with a good reverb (possibly a hall or large space) would work well.
Bring the bass up about 2 dB as well.
Someone mentioned that the vox are a bit too much classical for him. This can be helped by adding in the groove with the percussion and drums as noted above.
As far as vox reverb, I'd try a plate at about 1.2 to 1.4 seconds to possibly 1.8? I would also ride the reverb return up when I wanted to make something dramatic - like when she says "The way the... Stops." at the end of the verse to add a bit more significance to it.
I would also experiment with delays on the piano.
It would also be cool to try adding analog compression/soft distortion to the piano like Coldplay and The Fray does.
I would reference The Fray's "You Found Me" for strings/drums/piano combination. I know the mixer - he did a wonderful job on it. I'd also check out BT's "The Force of Gravity".
Just a few thoughts.. :-)
06-01-2011, 12:14 AM
Heck, if you give me the original files I could do a quick mix for you if I've got the time.
06-01-2011, 09:56 AM
Thank you very much for the suggestions and for listening!
For the vocals, the real answer is, of course, she deserves a better mic than I have! I'm actually not adding any high end to her voice; I tend to cut with EQ rather than boost, though it's possible I cut around those frequencies that leap out as problems. I'll have to check the mix when I get home. Anyway, she's a high soprano singing pretty low in her range, so she does tend towards some pretty high end resonance. I'll try manually de-essing (hey, that's what DAW automation is all about) and a tighter reverb, watching the frequencies that you noticed.
With the drums, the weird spacing was intentional; trying to keep the rhythm "off center". While that may work in some of the weirder stuff we're doing, this arrangement (and her song writing, whether she intended it that way or not) was an attempt at something a little more pop, so obviously it did not work. I don't use drum loops, so re-panning should be easy enough, or maybe I'll try dropping a more solid kick in the center. I totally agree with you about the crashes. I never seem to know what to do with them to make them sound good, so I'll try some reverb as you suggested.
Good suggestion on the piano; I'll definitely try that. I'm not really a good pianist, so I always assume my piano parts are uninteresting and should blend themselves away ;-) However, that doesn't work when I ALSO decide to focus on a piano/voice intro. I'll check out the references you mentioned and try to make it a little brighter.
As far as the strings sounding fake-y, is it just the placement, or are there other things I could tweak? I understand traditional orchestral layout, and also that placement being what we are used to hearing, aside from the technical considerations. Again, attempting to break the rule with intent, but if there are other things that sound "off" about the strings, I can see that getting lost. There aren't a lot of horns; my concession to wanting the song big, but
Also thanks for the offer to mix it for me, though in this case, you've given me lots of good stuff to learn from and I'd like to learn to do it/hear it for myself. Seriously, this is great stuff; I can't thank you enough! As a self-trained DIY sort of guy, this is as close to an actual lesson that I've ever had and I REALLY appreciate it. Too often I feel like I'm doing this stuff in a vacuum and it's great to get some outside perspective!
I've also trying to get a sense of where she wants to go with her music. Again, most of it isn't nearly as pop, but I felt this song could maybe get her a wider audience. She's going for mellow electronica meets late 19th century art song, so not really music for everyone, but she does want SOME people to like it. I think if we get this song "right" it'll help her to find the audience that she's looking for.
Thanks again a thousand times!
06-01-2011, 12:04 PM
You're very welcome. I've been mixing music professionally in Los Angeles for about 9 years now and I've gotten a few awards for it so I'm happy to help you out with whatever questions you have. I've phased out my music production quite a bit because I love post audio so much.
What kind of mic did you use? Sounds kind of like a Rode large diaphragm or possibly some type of Sony?
Yeah - check that option out on the drums. Perhaps a shaker far left or right might work or maybe some other type of thing but almost always the kick/snare/sticks are up the center. Crashes almost always have reverb on them if only because the space they are recorded in is set off because they can be upwards to above 105 to 110 dB SPL in the studio so whenever I hear a dead cymbal, I get weirded out - unless that's what you were going for?
You're a fine pianist. Don't say that! Another great reference is Five for Fighting "Chances". Wonderful sound on the piano. Remember to spread the low keys to the left and high keys to the right.
Re: strings. Unless you record them yourself they will always have a slight amount of cheese factor unless you buy the "Hollywood Strings" library which I highly recommend. It's recorded by one of the top audio engineers here in L.A. and he recorded a great product with that sample library. So, unless you have those, my suggestions are really riding the volume, apply EQ (highs, mids, etc. to make them natural), add a chamber reverb or hall reverb to them to really get them swimming nicely in a space like a hall they would naturally be in.
Check it out and if you want to change things based off my critique, go for it and I'll take another listen to it. But, based on your explanations I see now what you were attempting to do and it's totally fine.
The thing about artistic choices in music is that there is NO wrong answer. There is only opinion from those who have mixed music for a long time. It's opinion - only that. Don't think that people didn't like what Michael Jackson was doing when he started his solo career and look at his legacy today. Also, the engineer who mixed all of Michael Jackson's music was almost fired when he applied stereo recording to orchestral music way back when... So, don't ever feel held back from trying something different or not "normal".. There is no limit in Art. K? Sorry if I didn't understand what you were trying to do in that piece - I thought you were shooting for a typical pop layout - your choices were not at all bad or wrong.
You're very welcome. Just trying to help! :)
P.S. some more good references for you are:
Parachute - "What I Know" - great combo of acoustic instruments and drum loops.
O.A.R. - "Shattered" - cool piano sound in the beginning. I like the reverb and delay on it. Good kick drum example, too.
06-01-2011, 03:50 PM
I'll post a new mix this evening, after I've had a chance to listen to the examples you gave me. As for the mic, nothing quite so fancy as that! It was a Studio Projects C1 large diaphragm, through the pre's on an EMU interface. Another thing I would have done differently would be run it through a differently colored preamp. I have an ART Tube MP which isn't anything really fancy (quite cheap, in fact), but the tube adds just enough harmonic excitement to really thicken up a voice nicely.
I have been drooling over the Hollywood Strings library since the release. I'm using the East/West Quantam Leap Gold right now, since that's what I can afford, but HS is DEFINITELY on my Christmas List! If I get one of the possible scoring gigs I'm trying to right now, I might be able to afford it.
My background is in noise, ambient and otherwise abstract music. I certainly agree about the "no wrong answer in art" stance. But on the other hand, there's a balancing act. If you do it right, you are pushing the paradigm and being reasonably edgy. If you do it wrong, it just sounds like you don't know what you are doing. What I'm trying to do, and the feedback I'm getting is helping me find that middle ground; so the unconventional stuff sounds as intentional as it was! So we'll see if a new mix with some of the changes you suggested might help with that.
Very cool that you have received some awards for your work, and doubly so that you've found the niche that you like best!
06-01-2011, 04:52 PM
It's also worth checking out LA Scoring Strings just in case you haven't. It's at a similar price point now that Hollywood Strings have dropped their price. There are lots of demos and tutorials on the LASS website. One of the advantages to LASS is they are split into divisi sections, giving you more sound control and they are Kontakt based so you don't have to use the clunky PLAY engine.
06-02-2011, 01:38 PM
I'll check that out, Michael. I don't mind PLAY, but I've used Kontakt enough in the past as well. I see they have a couple light options (first chair or full section). Depending on how much/if this paycheck comes through, it might be a good way start in on the library, upgradable if I like it. Either way, best to use what I have to the best of my abilities now, and upgrade when I can.
Didn't finish the mix of the song last night; hopefully tonight. I did, however, finish the industrial track and submitted it for the compilation (cancer benefit cd). There's a part of me that hopes they turn it down; while I'd love the exposure, they're looking for exclusive tracks and I'm *really* proud of it. I wouldn't mind being able to use it for other things.
06-16-2011, 12:41 PM
please redo this in hebrew instead of english. It's just a superior language, musically.