Hey everyone – the record is done. Just waiting for mastering now, and well, I have to push a few more buttons to make everything ‘happen’. And then, that’s that. Summing in about 1.5 years of exploration and work; last years compositions, instrumentation, and inspiration coupled with this years engineering skill; Impedance is done.
I’m so glad too. I have to say, you should hate what you’re doing just a little bit by the time you’re done with it. “One more rep!” as we might say in the gym. Grueling toward then end but highly worth it.
Yes folks, Impedance is done. Okay, maybe I expect to have to do, you know, another bounce, but let’s not talk about that. It’s done. Done.
Album Cover and ‘Notes’
I wanted to share with you some aspects of the record I find interesting. First, let’s do the easy stuff. Here’s the album cover, and the description of the record I wrote for cd-baby, my ‘publisher’.
Impedance is my second record. Substantially departing from the first record, Strangle Quiet Sunset, Impedance is an electronic perspective composed exclusively without the use of a computer, laptop, or otherwise fancy-pants computing device. Sequencers, synthesizers, processors, mixers; principle components of electronic music creation in their original, albeit somewhat improved, existence. You see, I wanted away from the computer, very much so, but not from the fantastic depth available within an electron.
Departing further from desperate complexities of traditional edm, the engineering I’ve provided on the record is also very, ‘back to basics’. I wanted to express the instruments without a lot of manipulation. I find it interesting how well exceptional, and broken, synthesizers can pair together without the help of excessive processing. I find they really shine when you carve just enough out for their expressiveness but nothing more. I do hope you enjoy this record on a well crafted system.
Musically the record is focused around experiences I’ve had in both Berkeley and Oakland California in the late two-thousand-tens. Specifically written over the course of my experiences in 2017, this was a particularly introspective and deep period of my life surrounded by what has felt like substantial tragedy in my community. It has been particularly dark in some circles of this wonderful place I call home, though I think we’re finding our light once again.
While I’ve long departed from these sounds, I find it is always important to complete what you have started. The records are me and I need to complete my transitions. I needed to take these sounds, sounds I wrote so long ago, and I needed to polish and refine them; very much like I do in my own life.
I do hope you enjoy this slice of me and… I’ll see you again soon.
Now… for the nerdy stuff
Something to think about for a moment: I haven’t worked on one of these compositions or played one of these songs live since November or so. If you recall, while I was working on recording the final three (A Thought, Symbiosis, Eclipse) last fall is when the Juno died, I got the system 8, and everything started to really shift for me musically. If you listen to anything I’ve played this year, it’s a substantial departure from what I had been up to previously. Well, Eclipse is the underpinnings of the new style, but let’s just leave it at that. What is today? Brand fucking new.
So, if I haven’t worked on this music from a compositional stand point, what have I been doing? Working on music from a recording standpoint,or the perspective of creating recording instead of writing music. Making a record is a completely separate process from writing the song, at least you could argue this to be the case in ‘traditional’ recording.
Modern electronic musicians typically make the record as they compose – this is the nature of writing music using your favorite Digital Audio Workstation (we call them, ‘daw’ for short.) The engineering is part of the song writing – it’s all one giant lump of a thing. You program in, play, or whatever with your midi and samples, and mix as you go. Some producers do have a separate ‘engineering’ step where they reset, and mix from scratch using an alternative perspective to their composer ear.
When I say ‘traditional recording’ what I mean is that, song writing and recording are separate aspects to producing a record. First, you write some songs. You learn how to play them, perform them, add all the little bells, shakers, and cowbells your heart desires. Then, when you’re really good, you take a snapshot of that music you’ve created, record it, polish the shit out of it, get it mastered, and boom – you’ve got a new record at Tower Records. Oh baby, just watch that money roll in.
Making a record is different than writing a song, simple as that. Now that I’m writing music without the use of my computer at all, I had the songs written and I just needed to record them. Well, and edit, mix, slightly compositionally tweak through the magic of computers, and finally, get mastered and do paperwork.
These are a complete separate set of skills that I hone. And, as much as the music demonstrates my passion as a composer of music, this record demonstrates my artistry as a recording and mixing engineer. These two aspects comprise the whole of my art.
Mix – Becoming Basic
Leveling up on your mixing abilities is pretty tough. I think on Strangle I must have started over 3 times. I really struggled getting the mix right. I’ve done hundreds of tutorials, read articles, and practiced, and still much of what made recordings really shine eluded me. That said, I figured out a process to get that record where it needed to be, and that’s where I started mixing this record.
Heh, I can remember my first a/b comparison on Impedance. I mostly used Booka Shade’s Regenerate as my reference track, but a couple of times I used a bit of Bonobo as well. Everything sounded completely terrible when I stacked it up to a pro track.
Like bad. And I thought, it was going well. Heh. The low end was just a disaster, yet the mix sounded thin, and something complicated kinda just bugged me.
How did I end up in this mess? Pretty much trying to mix these instruments like I mixed Strangle, including me not really understanding what I’m doing (not entirely, anyway). I flailed in the same areas as prior, made a couple extra bad guesses, and wasn’t anywhere close to something I’d want to stack up against a pro track.
I decided I wanted to do some research. My EQ game has always been particularly weak; I decided I would see if I could find any tricks I hadn’t already ready about. Maybe, focusing on being a better eq’er was a big part of what’s missing. At least, I knew it was something that was missing, so I started there.
I picked up a couple really great tricks for managing low and low mids right away. They made a huge difference and I’m so glad I found them:
- Use a second mid-side setup eq on the master bus. Filter to 300hz on your side channel. Thank me later.
- Sweep a filter on your master, notice how some things become super loud or disappear. This technique can point out where you need to focus your efforts.
As I started to clean up the low end, understanding better how I could work with my eq’s, I still had a large number of problems. As I experimented, getting that tight low, clean but sturdy mid, and gentle expressive highs, I developed a few techniques that I ended up applying to each song. What I had discovered about these synths, physical hardware synths, was that they needed a lot less help than the soft synths on my prior record.
Go figure, and I suppose this is why so many people like the hardware synths. They’re just so much more alive. All the processing I was doing ‘by default’, techniques I had picked up after years of writing music on computers, it didn’t work here. It didn’t work at all.
I ended up stripping things down to almost no processors, using eq, reverb, panning, and levels exclusively for my blend. Compressors? Magic Sparkle Effects? Beautiful distortions? No, none of that would work here; the mix simply becomes too much, it hurts in a strange way; the music becomes some sort of strange brick wall.
I found this a very interesting departure from my prior, “thousands of plugins for the phat sound” approach. A little bit of compression on the buses, some eq and reverb, voila – a record that can punch you in the throat. I guess I’ve got better source material than in the past.
Removing almost all complexity from the mix, I further wanted the mix to be as authentic to a performance as possible. Balance was centered around not having to use automation techniques like gain riding, and instead finding a balance of instruments that may persist throughout the song.
The more I mixed these tracks, the simpler the mixes became. Eventually the eq slid into simple notches, just when it was necessary to keep two instruments from clashing in a displeasing way. So basic; an authentic representation of the instruments for who they are, as authentic as I could be, anyway.
And like the compositions themselves. Scaling back; exposing the core using less. It is possible to create such presentations and be quite professional sounding, at the same time. This record confirmed that on all fronts, leading me to where I am now in my musical expression.
I very much look forward to leveraging these techniques on the next record, I think this work will really pay off.
And I suppose that, is that, for my engineering retrospective. Thanks for reading.