Music Theory—Arrangement 4 “Finishing Touches, part 2”

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   Dynamics 101




     Then I started with the bass and drum tracks. The idea here is to get them approximately the same level with the kick and the bass working together not against each other. Sometimes it’s not as much as level as eq that makes everything click. I didn’t have to do much other than boosting the bass a bit in the sub 100 cycle area. Click here for a short sample of what that sounds like.


     Next, it was time to add the vocal (in this case the Ondes Martenot stem). Getting the level right against the bass and drums was fairly straightforward but as you’ll see later, getting the vocal to cut through the mix took some fine tuning. I nudged the eq up on this a bit around 4000 hz and cut it around 85 to put it in the range for a human voice. Listen here.


     After that came the guitars. I had blended both guitar tracks into one since they don’t play together at one time. The idea was that it was one guitarist changing sounds and playing style to fit the sections of the song. I don’t think I mentioned this before but the guitar was recorded clean and then run through an amp simulator plug-in to get the 2 different sounds. Click here to listen.


     With the bass and drums providing the foundation, the Ondes Martenot the melody and the guitars outlining the chordal structure, it was time to start bringing in the other keyboard parts. I started with the electric piano. I had changed the patch on this one to be a cleaner sound since the distorted one was getting to be annoying. This prompted another change in the arrangement since it didn’t work in the intro and the first verse (or so I thought at the time). Listen here


     Next came the synth sound that underlies the later verses. Prior to mixing it down to an audio track, I played around with the register for this one because at points it would disappear and was competing with the bass because it was too low. I took the whole track and raised by an octave and then took the highest notes and raised them another octave as well. Here’s what adding it to the mix did.


    Finally came the “choir” mellotron track. It’s pretty straightforward and I was able to add it in without a lot of fuss. I mixed down the whole track and transferred an mp3 of it to my player so I could listen to it in my car. Listen here. If you’ve done any mixing, you’ll pick up on a couple of issues right away after listening to the whole thing. One, the bass and drums are too loud and two, the Ondes Martenot and mellotron track are not cutting through the mix. So it was back to the mixing desk.


Another thing that was bugging me was that the first verse with the Ondes Martenot against the percussion section sounded just a bit empty so I pulled the electric piano part back in during that part. I also lowered the bass and drums by 1db and nudged the OM and mellotron tracks up by about the same. At this point in the game, small adjustments are what is necessary. Here’s the track after those adjustments.  Next month—Mastering the song



    Now we’re at the point of really smoothing the rough edges to make everything work together. By this I mean mixing. I took each instrument and created wave files (some in stereo, some in mono) called stems for each. They consisted of bass, right and left drum tracks, Ondes Martenot, electric piano, guitars, pad keyboard and mellotron. In the process of doing this, I changed some of the sounds I had been using because the overall sound was too distorted and the quality of some of the plug-ins wasn’t quite as good as I could get from Cakewalk’s TTS-1 synth.