A Holiday Miracle: 24 Hours To Write, Record, Produce, Mix A Commercial Track in SONAR X3

“Audio Production Jobs” come in all shapes and sizes these days;-)  Yes, the music industry in general has shrunken to an all-time low in terms of major label budget projects, but the flip side is that there are many nooks and crannies out there to stay creative while making money.  I think the key these days is getting into as many industry circles as possible, and then over-delivering.  If you’re handed a job for writing, mixing, producing or even recording, and you knock it out of the park the first time with low-no hassles to the client, you will certainly come to mind on the next round.  I would also be willing to bet that your name will be referred to other folks outside of that job’s “circle.”  You just never know to where things are going to lead.

Stemming from this theory, I have been fortunate enough to work on some pretty diverse projects ranging from title tracks for Pokémon DVD’s to Major Label artists and just about everything in between in one form or another.  For the work I do now, the one thing that gives me an edge using SONAR X3 Producer over other DAWs is the quickness of the workflow; which contributes to music creation diversity.  Sounds deep right? …well it kind of is.  Here’s a real-world example with italicized words in red representing why SONAR X3 features are crucial to me when facing tough audio jobs.

Just a few weeks ago I was contacted by NYC singer-songwriter Jodi Good’s music attorney Steven Beer on a Friday night to discuss an opportunity for a “Holiday Song” to be placed with a major publication [for Monday].  Now usually, “Holiday Songs” are recorded around August or September and we were already at the end of November, so I knew this was going to be a tough one to accomplish especially since the song had to be written, recorded and mixed fast.  The other strike against me was that this one was a bit out of my rock, and pop-rock comfort zones, but I knew the challenge would be a good experience on many different levels, so I decided to fire up the eggnog and go for it.  Plus I had the comfort of knowing that Jodi is a great songwriter especially in the lyric department, so it was “weekend on.”

Literally that night Jodi was sending me vocal-only words and melodies as text messages on my Samsung S4.  She doesn’t play an instrument and we didn’t have the benefit of time, so we had to start writing via virtual and digital means.  I instantly forwarded them via email to my HP Z400 main rig where I drag-and-dropped them into a session for reference where they automatically created audio tracks.  The next move was simply pulling them down to a midi track where Melodyne’s ARA technology kicked in instantly giving me the notes in Midi.  This helped me to figure out the best chord structures for the verses and pre-chorus and also allowed me to see where I could go writing the chorus melody.  After about a half hour on my trusty acoustic, I had the bones to send back to Jodi via text.

[I’m going out on a limb here for your laughing pleasure 😉 Here’s the actual writing file on my phone which is what I texted back to Jodi when we were writing the melody – so you can hear how the song started, and where it ended.] Continue reading A Holiday Miracle: 24 Hours To Write, Record, Produce, Mix A Commercial Track in SONAR X3

RECREATING PORTAL 2′S “WANT YOU GONE” WITH MUSIC CREATOR 6 TOUCH [PART 2: VOCAL TIPS]

Recently, Cakewalk worked with the great folks over at Valve to make our Music Creator 6 Touch software available to their community, and the onslaught of new “music creators” has been nothing short of amazing and inspiring.  To kick off our promotion, we thought it would be a fun experience to recreate Jonathan Coulton’s cult classic “Want You Gone” from Portal 2 all in Music Creator 6 Touch (MC6t) – but the kicker is that we had 24 hours to do it in order to make the deadline for launch.  In this case, not only was collaboration creatively beneficial, but it was also essential.

Getting the bed-tracks together was the first step, and you can read our previous blog here on how this all came together.  Cakewalk’s Bill Jackson and Seth Kellogg spent time programming some great drum tracks, keyboards and guitars, and then I was able to easily embellish and add to the programming with loops, sounds and mixing.  After the drums, bass, keys and guitars were in a good spot, it was time to figure out how we were going to capture the focal point of the song: THE VOCALS.

I had just finished a record with a great singer by the name of Jodi Good so she was my first logical phone call.   As timing and luck would have it, she had just finished her video shoot for her first single (Definitely Different) in NYC and she had a 2 hour window to help pitch in.  There were two hurdles: 1.) she could not make it out to my studio, and 2.) I had to get clearance for name, likeness and sound from her and her legal team for usage – not a problem 😉

Continue reading RECREATING PORTAL 2′S “WANT YOU GONE” WITH MUSIC CREATOR 6 TOUCH [PART 2: VOCAL TIPS]

Testing the CA-2A in the Real World: Three Reasons it’s a Must-Have Plugin for Mixing

I was recently hired to burn the ole midnight oil and produce, mix, co-write and play just about every instrument on an EP for an artist out of NYC.  The record is pretty cool, definitely fun to make, and it falls somewhere between Fiona Apple and Taylor Swift.  Considering the genre, I figured it was a great time to try out our new CA-2A T-Type Leveling Amplifier in the field and in a practical situation.

From testing the beta out briefly during development, I knew I was going to like the outcome of using the CA-2A, but what I didn’t expect was the versatility of the plugin.  I ended up using it on a lot more than what I expected.  From smoothing out vocals to arpeggiated guitars to piano tones, I really loved what I was getting from the CA-2A.  I also had the benefit of A/B’ing it with another branded Leveling Amplifier that I use, and I found the Cakewalk CA-2A thicker sounding in general and also more versatile due to the R37 screw [knob.]   Here are the reasons I found myself going to the CA-2A instead of my other comparable leveling amplifier.

1.)    R37 Adjuster on Vocals – This adjustable screw is interesting.  The physical appearance of the screw does not give off the importance of its usefulness.  Basically, this parameter allows you to adjust the compression on the high frequencies.  Since my other Leveling Amplifier does not have this adjustment, I always started out by keeping the screw all the way to the left (0%) and then dialing it in until I found the sweet spot.  The result was amazing especially on vocals.  I was able to always get a warm yet transparent sound but without the harshness on most of the “ess” words.  Since this project is with a female vocalist, I found it especially helpful.  I was also able to work the QuadCurve EQ into the mix and combine it with the CA-2A nicely.  By tweaking the hi-end frequencies on the EQ along with the R37 screw, I was able to get a more present vocals without any harshness.

2.)    “Limit” Mode on Bass Guitar – I’m not sure if it will be like this for every song, but for this track the CA-2A on the bass guitar in “Limit” mode was a magic bullet.  I always run the bass into its separate bus, so I ended up using the limiter on that stage.  I played the bass guitar (as you can hear from the track on this post) with a pick for this song.  The CA-2A in limiting mode on the bass bus really allowed me to fatten up the sound of the low end, but also kept the attack of the pick in focus.  It leveled out the attack of the pick hitting the string but also kept it present.  I had the EQ running on the bass track, and then the limiter on the bass hitting the peak reduction at about -3db.  I kept the R37 at 0% as you can see from the image.

3.)    “Compress” Mode on Piano and Whirlie – fortunately for this track I had the benefit of having David Cook (keyboardist and MD for Taylor Swift) play on the track – the guy is a genius.  I’m pretty much a hack at keyboards so my usual piano editing (to make myself sound decent enough) was not going to cut it.  As you can hear from the attached track, there is a lot going on in the song, so I had to figure out a creative mixing strategy to make room and carve frequencies.  To say that the CA-2A helped me achieve this on the track would be an understatement.  Using the plugin in compress mode on the piano enabled me to really place it in the mix correctly.  It also helped dial in the frequencies to get it out of the way of all the other things that were in the same frequency range.  To get the piano to sit correctly, I hit the compressor pretty hard, used the R37 at 50%, and then notched up the highs of the QuadCurve EQ.  I also used the Channel Tools plugin to give it some more width and depth and get it out of the way of the guitars.  The more I use this, the more I understand the importance of the R37 screw.  It’s almost an oxymoron, but by combining the R37 with the high-end frequencies on the QuadCurve EQ it seems like I am able to get a warm top end sound out of instruments.

On the rest of the track I also ended up using the CA-2A on some acoustic guitar tracks as well as one of the clean electric guitars.  I’m psyched about the performance and versatility of this plugin – instantly you can hear the difference wherever you use it.  I also think this is a plugin that would be a great benefit to folks who are just getting into mixing.  The simplicity of the unit basically makes it fool proof for obtaining professional results without a lot of technical worries – basically just use your ear and turn the knobs;)

Try the CA-2A T-Type Leveling Amplifier for free

Thanks for reading and be sure listen to the mix posted below.

The song on this post uses the CA-2A on exactly the following tracks:
Lead Vocal track (Compress Mode)
Bass bus (Limit mode)
Piano track (Compress Mode)
Whirlie track (Compress Mode)
B3 track (very lightly) (Compress Mode)
Left acoustic guitar track (both mics)  (Compress Mode)
Arpeggiated Electric Guitar track (Compress Mode)
1 of the backing vocal tracks (Compress Mode)
Tom drums bus (Limit mode)
Hi Hat (Compress Mode)
Mandolin track (Compress Mode) (doubled – CA-2A only on 1 of the tracks)