Week 8: Audio Mixing and Music

6 04 2010

Writing the Next Episode

Well, once an episode is released you have to at least begin to consider what will be included in the next one.  When I began collaborating with Johnny Hoelting and Nick Miller to write the next episode, I think we discovered all over again just how easy it is to write your episode – or at least to brainstorm the ideas you’d like to include.  The hard part is actually executing those ideas.  Particularly in comedy or other light-hearted genres, lots of things seem like they will work.  In fact, too many ideas appear to be ripe for the shooting and ready for inclusion.  Choosing the right things to spend time on is the hard part.

For the next episode, one sequence we’ve decided to pursue is a sort of Broadway musical-style scene including a somewhat tasteful reworking of Jackie Wilson’s “Your Love (Is Lifting Me Higher),” The Mamas and The Papas’ “California Dreamin’,” and Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom.”  Obviously that idea was set in stone after hours of deliberation and compromise, and obviously I’m being sarcastic.  It’s an excuse to record ourselves singing some completely unrelated songs for a completely ridiculous sequence that will require a tremendous amount of editing work.  That’s alright, though, because I’m relatively happy with the recording of the song we’ve churned out.  Laying down each of the instruments was a lengthy process, as were vocals and mixing.  Johnny and Nick were generous enough to lend their voices to this aural treat and I think you’ll find their duet as delightful as I do.  Take a listen… (last.fm is behaving differently, so you’ll have to download the mp3).

Your Love (Is Lifting Me Higher) / Philadelphia Freedom

I recorded individual instrument tracks on a Boss BR-864 8-track digital mixer which I’ve had for years.  It’s really quite out-of-date compared to the machines on the market now (and it lacks the key functionality of being able to record multiple live tracks simultaneously), but it gets the job done on projects like these when nothing else is available.  For my drums, I used a Yamaha live mixer similar to this one that I ran directly into my Boss mixer as an audio sub-mix.  I have every part of my trap set mic’d, although I don’t have a condenser mic in front of the set – which you really should if you’re mic’ing drums.  Unfortunately, I had to return to Columbia as my spring break was coming to a close, so I only got to do two run-throughs of the drum track for this song.  As a result, the kick and the snare ended up being too low in the mix, giving the song a less “stompy” feel since the drums are less prominent.  I played bass, rhythm guitar, lead guitar, a bit of piano, and the drums for the song, and everything  else I created synthetically during the mixing process.

Mixcraft 5 … meh…

To create additional tracks that I wouldn’t be able to capture naturally, I use a program called Mixcraft 5 that does a decent job.  Instead of creating loops (which is probably its most popular use), though, I use it to write music for string, choir, and other instrument parts.

The Mixcraft additions include about 11 more instruments, although the process of creating these parts takes quite a bit of time.  Each note has to be created individually and with an infinite range of note-length possibilities, so copy/paste comes in handy anytime you need to repeat a phrase.  I took the original rough-mixed recordings of each half of the song and matched each part with it (you can set the program’s tempo to match whatever you’re working with).  I added things like a french horn solo, a tympani part, an orchestral part centered around violins, and a choir/organ combo.  I even made use of obscure sounds from eastern instruments and percussion trinkets.

Each instrument can be played in a separate time signature, key, and tempo whenever necessary.  The toughest part was the string section, which begins during the first verse of Philadelphia Freedom.  It meanders to B flat major for a while, which I never quite figured out.  I may actually go back to rewrite those string parts because they ended up being rather atrocious.

After exporting each instrument created in Mixcraft, I imported every track into Adobe Audition 3.0 and started adjusting the levels.  This didn’t take terribly long, except at this point I realized just how much harder it would be to transition between the songs.  After a bit of recording, we had eliminated the “California Dreamin'” section of the song, to make things easier, but “Your Love” and “Philadelphia Freedom” were still in different keys.  “Your Love” is in D major and “Philadelphia Freedom” is in Bb major.  I figured that if I could get “Your Love” to transition into Eb major (just a half-step away), it could then easily transition to Bb.  The problem was that shifting pitches in post-production will destroy the quality of your recording.  I was not aware of that since I am still not a master of Audition by any means.

I decided to shift the pitch of “Your Love” during the final “Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah!” at the end of the second verse, which comes right before the second chorus.  I changed up the whole feel of the second chorus to add a completely different dimension to “Your Love” and transitioned directly from that to “Philadelphia Freedom,” which was at the current tempo and in a related key.  Nick’s vocal part there drops from D major down twelve half steps to D major again before falling out of the mix as the new chorus begins.  The key shift is an interesting break-down-style solution to a problem I should have seen ahead of time.  We really should have just recorded all of “Your Love” in Eb, but you live and learn, I guess.

Now we’re planning out the music video for the song, which will involve Nick and Johnny auditioning to be in a band and dancing across the state of Missouri.  It doesn’t make any sense to sing “Philadelphia Freedom” while dancing across Missouri, but what the hell, right?  Take a listen to the song and let me know what you think we should put in the video!

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