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Mix Rescue: Dance Track

Dave Rogers By Paul White
Published August 2006

One of Paul's more obvious tweaks to Dave's production sound was his replacement of the original bass patch with a layered sound combining a main Access Virus bass and an sub-bass sound from Logic's ES M synth.One of Paul's more obvious tweaks to Dave's production sound was his replacement of the original bass patch with a layered sound combining a main Access Virus bass and an sub-bass sound from Logic's ES M synth.

This month, Dave Rogers' dance track gets a dose of production 'fairy dust'.

Regular readers may recognise Dave Rogers, as we paid him a Studio SOS visit back in SOS December 2005. A couple of weeks ago he gave me a call and asked if he could bring a mix up for me to listen to. Dave's background is primarily in DJ'ing rather than live musical performance, though he's made progress with the keyboard since he started composing. The mix he played me was an 11-minute dance epic with a nicely chilled feel constructed with a DJ's ear for club play, but Dave felt the mix could use some tidying up and he was also keen to see what kind of production tricks might be used to add interest.

On first playing, the intro, which was based around a rhythm loop, went on rather too long for my taste with nothing really happening, and then when the beat did kick in with the sampled vocal phrases over the top, it soon reached another plateau that left me wanting to hear something new. Dave had treated the vocal samples with echo, which suited the style of song very well and he had also underpinned the arrangement with a well-chosen club-style kick drum played back from Logic 's EXS24 sampler. All his mix really needed was some fine-tuning and a bit of ear candy.

Adding Ear Candy

Rather than try to rework the entire track, I edited it down to around 2.5 minutes and then decided to try to bring something new to each of the sections — a slightly different tactic to the usual Mix Rescue approach of treating what is already there. For the intro section I kept Dave's original drum loop, but halved the length of the intro to stop it becoming monotonous — if a longer version were needed to satisfy the dynamic of a club audience, Dave could always remix my remix. In addition to the drum loop, the elements Dave had available for the intro were limited to a repeated tinkly analogue piano phrase, which worked fine, but that was about all until the main beat kicked in and the sampled lyrics started up. To give the intro some dynamics, I recorded a lot of distorted guitar effects such as harmonics with tremolo bends, short riffs, clicks, and scrapes, and then cut these up to create interesting musical punctuations. I also added a very sweepy string-synth melody line over the intro to set the mood for the piece.

My final addition, some whimsical, breathy vocals, were taken from a sample CD and were arranged one phrase per note for easy triggering. They followed the style of, as Terry Pratchett might have it, ladies of negotiable affection going about their business! On their own these seemed just a bit too overt, but by adding tempo-sync'ed echo via a send and then chopping the dry sound up into eight slices per bar using Logic 's tremolo/panner set to square-wave modulation, the entire part took on a much more textural role. Only the first phrase was left unchopped, as it seemed a nice way to lead into the song. I also added tempo delay to a tortured guitar harmonic that comes in beneath the intro. What started out as a rather long and stark intro now only had two bars of completely exposed rhythm loop before the other parts started to sneak in, which for me helps create an atmosphere of tension and anticipation prior to the main rhythm part coming in.

Dave had brought in the main part with a cymbal crash, but I replaced this with a reversed cymbal. Although far from original, this does create the right kind of rush as the main section breaks in. I also took the liberty of replacing the bass sound Dave had originally chosen (using an Access Virus bass underpinned by an analogue sub-bass sound from the ES M synth), and I tidied up the timing of a few of the notes where the quantising seemed to have gone awry. Some serendipitous guitar clunks were chopped out, copied (four to the bar) and then reversed (with added echo) to provide a short rhythmic distraction beneath the intro, and this was repeated during the second measure of the main song. Dave had also played a soft organ-like pad beneath the body of the tune, and this worked perfectly well as it was.

Rescued This Month...

In 1996 Dave Rogers got his first taste of the rave scene, and has been passionate about DJ'ing ever since. Resident DJ at the Vertigo club in Boston from 2000 to 2003, he has since made appearances in clubs and on radio stations across the USA, playing alongside DJs such as Josh The Funkyone, Tym Ryan Macguyver, Ashley Cassell, and Manolo. In 2004 he made a move to Bristol in the UK, where he now lives, and he's been with Globaldancefloor agency since then. In addition to DJ'ing, Dave has been producing his own music for the last six years, and his influences include DJ Macguyver, Venom, Josh The Funkyone, Badboy Bill, Junior Jack, and Armand Van Helden.

Creating Reverse Reverb

As soon as the main section of the song starts, there's a repeated sampled vocal phrase 'Letting go of all your pain', with added delay, which sounded fine. However, I wanted to make it sound more dramatic to get the song off to a powerful start. Dave had asked me how you create the reverse reverb effect where the reverb seems to start before the word that triggers it, so I explained the old analogue method and then set about doing a digital recreation.

In the days of analogue multitrack tape, you'd turn the tape over so it played backwards, feed the track in question through a reverb device (often a plate), then record the 100 percent wet reverb onto a spare tape track. Having done this, you'd put the tape back onto the machine the right way around, play it and there would be your reverse reverb, swelling in before each vocal section. Using Logic 's Space Designer digital reverb, I set about recreating the same effect, and if you're interested in trying it yourself, these are the steps I followed.

A reverse reverb effect was created by reversing a four-second plate impulse response in Logic's Space Designer convolution plug-in. A flanger was then applied to the reverb to make its entry more dramatic, and the pan control of the reverb return was also automated.A reverse reverb effect was created by reversing a four-second plate impulse response in Logic's Space Designer convolution plug-in. A flanger was then applied to the reverb to make its entry more dramatic, and the pan control of the reverb return was also automated.

The first job is to copy the original vocal audio onto a new track, then insert a suitable reverb processor into that track. I say suitable, because the ideal choice is a convolution reverb with the option to reverse the direction of the Impulse Response, though a synthetic reverb with a fake reverse reverb envelope can also give satisfactory results. In Space Designer I simply loaded a plate reverb of around four seconds long and then hit the Reverse button. Your reverb should be set to 100 percent wet, and if you solo it and then hit play, you should hear the familiar reverse reverb effect. All that's left to do now is slide your new audio track to the left so that it is two or three seconds ahead of the original dry audio part, then play both parts together. Once you can hear both parts, it is easy to fine-tune the position of the reverb track so that it swells in naturally just before the dry vocal track comes in. This only took a few minutes to do and it worked perfectly.

I could have used the reverse reverb effect just as it was, but to make the entry even more dramatic, I passed the reverb track through a slow, deep flanger and then drew in some panning automation data so that the reverse reverb would whoosh from one speaker to the other. The other thing I did was shorten the audio parts triggering the reverse reverb so that the effect wouldn't go on too long and swamp the main vocals — I wanted it to whoosh in and then fade away each time. A couple of guitar improvisations were mixed underneath this section at a fairly low level just to add some variation.

Vocal Processing

After going around the vocal phrase four times, I cut to Dave's first breakdown section, which was based on a longer sampled phrase taken from the same library and clearly treated with Auto-Tune (or similar device) turned up to 'Stun' so as to reproduce the old warbly cliché. Dave had already passed this through the eight-to-the-bar chopper as I'd showed him how to do during our Studio SOS visit, and in all it worked well for the part. To give this a little rhythmic underpinning, I took a very breathy sample and triggered this from 16th notes, which produced a kind of human hi-hat. In the second half of the section I also copied in the rhythmic guitar clonks again, which helped lead into the next full-on section, and I also dropped in another of those reverse-reverb vocal snippets to give a suitable build up, culminating in the first downbeat of the next part. Rather than throw everything back in at once, I left it eight bars before the drums came back in, giving the bass the chance to carry the rhythm. As the drums come in, there's also a perfectly suited, sparse analogue 'plinky' riff that Dave came up with, which really helps the track build.

Again there are vocal samples over this section, which eventually leads up to a new drop-down section heralded by the same vocal and reverse reverb part we heard right at the start of the song. Dave had also placed a crash of thunder here which I left so that it would roll on when the vocals faded. This time a bass part and a rhythm part carry on through the break with the reintroduction of some wailing guitars in a supporting role. After four bars this brings us back into the drastically shortened end section which has more variations on the sampled vocal phrases to carry it along, plus the introduction of my repeated siren-like guitar tremolo bend for the final eight bars. The song then comes to a fairly abrupt end with a low, echoed guitar note carrying on for a while to produce a low 'D' drone that simply echoes into the distance and dies.

To beef up the overall mix I used the PSP Audioware Vintage Warmer, but other than the tempo tremolo chopper and the reverse reverb, there were no really unusual effects. Noveltech's Character was used to add a bit of bite to an FXpansion BFD drum line, and only two send effects were used — a basic reverb on send one and a tempo-locked delay/echo on send two. Some of the distorted guitar parts were compressed to keep the level even, and I rolled off some low end from a funky wah guitar part Dave had brought in somewhere in the middle of the song. Dave had used a couple of Logic 's low-horsepower Silver Reverb plug-ins inserted on certain of his parts and I left them as he'd set them.

Final Thoughts

My final mix is obviously far too short for this type of track, but I hope it serves to demonstrate the little production touches I've talked about and also underlines the benefits of adding 'real' performance sounds where possible (in this case the electric guitar) to counter the sterility that so often comes from working entirely with samples, loops, and soft synths. The beauty of dance tracks like this one is that there are countless right ways to produce and mix them, and they provide a great playground for experimenting with new production ideas. 

Remix Reactions

Mix Rescue "I'd like to say thanks to Paul and the SOS team again for a great job. When I went to see Paul I felt the mix was not right — it needed something. Paul had some fresh and great ideas to implement in the mix, as well as new sounds and techniques. I was amazed how just the right sounds put in the proper spots made such a difference.

Paul also showed me some really useful setup tips for Logic, for example organising my mixer so I could see all the tracks in one go. Now the mix sounds full of body and life. Paul also explained to me that with the proper compression I could get a lot out of my drums. Thanks again!"

Need Help With Your Mix?

If you're having trouble with a mix, then you can submit your track for the Mix Rescue treatment. Contact us via the email address below. Please include a daytime contact telephone number, some information about how you recorded and mixed your version of the track, and your views about what aspects of your mix are causing you most concern.