Getting the macrodynamics of a song right while also nailing down the important rhythm can be a real challenge. We explore some techniques for tackling this and more on Moosmusic's 'Big Dummy Shake'.
The original bass part wasn't too bad raw, but because it needed to provide a consistent foundation for the song's, both tonally and harmonically, I wanted it to be more solid and consistent.
To thicken and even out the sound, I used about 5dB of soft-clipping from Stillwell Audio's Event Horizon combined with some tube-saturation and peak-limiting from Tin Brooke Tales' Tube Limit plug-in. Once the sound reached this point I started building the track around the bass part, starting with the drums.
Once the drums and vocal were in the mix, I started to add in the electric guitars, and found that both the warmth and presence of the bass sound began to suffer because of masking effects. To compensate for this, I applied some bass enhancement from Waves Renaissance Bass, generating new harmonics for the sub-70Hz components of the sound. Stillwell Audio's Vibe EQ then added some bite with peaking boosts of 4dB at 1.2kHz and 8dB at 3.2 kHz.
The original electronic kick drum part for the chorus, as it came directly out of Apple Logic's EXS24 sampler. The biggest problem was that the subbass content of the drum, which conflicted with the low end of the bass part and was also lagging significantly behind the beat.
Using Reaper's built-in ReaEQ plug-in, I high-pass filtered the kick drum at 40Hz and applied 4dB of low shelving cut at 145Hz to reduce the low-end problems. Further attack was then added through a combination of 3dB peaking boost at 750Hz and some transient processing (8dB on the Attack control) courtesy of Stillwell Audio's Transient Monster plug-in.
To help provide a bit of commonality between the chorus and verse kick sounds, some elements of the verse kick sound (outer kick mic and undersnare mic) were layered alongside the processed chorus kick. This is the combined sound, as in the final remix.
In the FXpansion BFD simulated acoustic kit that Duncan had used for the verses of 'Big Dummy Shake' there were close mics both inside and outside the kick drum. Of these, the tighter-sounding inside mic seemed to hold the most promise in terms of matching the verse sound more closely to the chorus sound. However, this inside mic was still very lightweight.
The first step towards matching up the verse and chorus sounds was to put much more low end into the inside kick mic, using Leftover Lasagne's 5+1A plug-in equaliser to apply 12dB of low-end boost at 60Hz. This was followed by a couple of further plug-ins just to keep the resultant sound under control: Reaper's ReaEQ acting as a 20Hz high-pass filter and GVST's GMax limiter delivering up to about 8dB of gain reduction on the loudest peaks.
Although the verse section's inside kick mic was providing most of the close-mic contribution, mixing in the outside mic at a low level helped give the sound a bit more of a sense of reality. As with any combination of multiple close mics, the phase-relationship between the mics needed to be adjusted for the best combination -- in this case Betabug's freeware Phase Bug served as the phase-alignment tool.
Here is the mix of the verse drum kit as it appears in the final remix, but with the snare close-mic muted. In order to bring the snare forward in the mix to batch the kick drum, I turned to the oversnare close mic.
In the light of the VerseSnareNoCloseMic audio file, it should hopefully be apparent why this close mic signal wasn't really any use for the remix -- where I was hoping for power and a good noisy rattle, I was only getting a super-slim opening transient followed by bundles of nasty undamped resonances.
Abandoning the original oversnare close mic entirely, I chose instead to trigger a more suitable replacement sample, a Ludwig 402 snare hit chosen from Sample Lab's Drum Fundamentals library.
Although the replacement sample was much more punchy and dense, it was rather dull tonally within the context of the kit as a whole, so I used Reaper's built-in ReaEQ to brighten it up. This involved high-pass filtering at 112Hz, 2.5dB of low peaking cut at 412Hz, and 3dB of high shelving boost at 3.7kHz. In addition, so Aphex-style psychoacoustic enhancement brightened the snare further above around 2kHz.
Although the tonality of the close mic was now suitable, it wasn't blending as well as I'd hoped, so I set up a gate on the room mics to help add a bit more snare ambience. This gate was triggered via its side-chain from the snare track, so that it opened only during snare hits, and between hits it only partially closed. That way it was possible to have more of the room mics in the snare sound than in the other kit-instrument sounds.
The original shaker part for 'Big Dummy Shake' was pretty thin and unattractive-sounding, so there was a clear case for trying to bulk it up through added sample layers.
Two new shaker layers from Equipped Music's Smokers Relight filled out the sound. Careful auditioning of numerous potential loops side-by-side meant that once the best loops had been found there was no EQ work to do at all to achieve the right tone for the mix. However, in the process of adding the layers for tonal purposes, the rhythmic groove of the original shaker had been lost.
A gate across the added layer tracks, triggered via its side-chain from the original shaker part, restored to them some of the rhythmic emphasis from the raw track, helping to maintain the song's original groove.
Listening to the sound of the ShakerLayersGate file within the context of the whole drum sound, I felt that the percussion sharp transients were taking away from the impact of the primary kick and snare beats, so I used a fair bit of George Yohng's W1 limiter to smooth these peaks off.
The final stage in the shakers processing was to add some very short reverb running in Christian Knufinke's SIR2. The impulse response I decided on in the end was a bright tiled room from the classic Lexicon PCM70 hardware reverb processor, which gave a nice high-frequency density, although I shortened its decay time using SIR2's envelope controls to prevent things getting too washed out.
A section of Kristen Bishop's original vocal, recorded with a Rode NT1000 mic through one of the preamps of a Mackie Onyx 1620 mixer. Although the sound wasn't bad to start with, I wanted something that was much more consistent in level.
Here's how my application of Michael Brauer's multi-compressor vocal technique affected the raw vocal -- there were other processes applied to the lead vocal in the final mix, but I've bypassed them here so that you can hear the effects of the compressors in isolation. Although this technique gives you a lot of tonal scope, you can also hear how successful it is at evening out the level in a comparatively unobtrusive and musical way.
This is the mix of their song 'Blind Dummy Shake' that Kristen Bishop and Duncan Eeles submitted to Mix Rescue.
My remix of the song, starting from the same original multitrack files.