Mixing It Up

I’m really bad at taking responsibility for my creative work. Nothing ever gets thrown away, but sometimes it sort of drifts sideways when I’m not looking.

Yesterday I realized I have enough music on my hard drive to release a new CD. It’s been about 18 years since my first CD, Light’s Broken Speech Revived, which Kit Watkins released on his now-defunct Linden Music label. I still have some copies of that (though the original master DAT tapes are long gone — hey, remember DAT?), so I can re-release it with new cover art. Then I’ll have two CDs of synthesizer music that I can … oh, maybe I’ll make coasters out of them, who knows?

As I’m gathering the audio files for the new CD, I’m discovering a few things about my mixing. Like, the bass is usually too loud, and the upper midrange tends to have a tight feel, like it’s not quite breathing. The bass I can fix. The other … I guess I could try feeding the mids through a slight bit of reverb with about 35ms of pre-delay, but it probably won’t work.

This is a sharp lesson in why it’s useful to have a music production platform that remains stable over an extended period of time. If you need to load up a five-year-old mix and dial in some changes, you should be able to do it! Well, good luck with that. Five years from now you’ll be using a different computer, and the company that made that terrific plug-in that you used to rely on will be out of business. The only way to finesse the problem is to lock down your system. Disconnect it from the Internet, if at all possible. Of course, you’ll still be vulnerable to hardware failure — but hey, your whole body is vulnerable to hardware failure. Why should your computer be immune?

I found that I have one tune in which the bass drops out in spots. This is because I was being clever about sound design. I ran it through a flanger during one section, if memory serves. Never run your bass through a flanger! In order to patch the stereo mix, I had to import it into FL Studio as an audio file. (I don’t even know if I still have the sequencer data, and it would be useless, for various reasons having to do with digital rot.)

I figured out the precise tempo, which fortunately was easy, since it was steady. Then I loaded u-he ACE, a great modeled analog softsynth, pulled the filter cutoff most of the way down to turn a sawtooth wave into a sort of fat sine, and doubled the existing bass line during the passage where it was fading out. Then I created a volume envelope for ACE that was the inverse of the volume changes in the original bass line, so that ACE rose up to fill the mix where needed. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better now.

In one of the pieces I played the melody throughout on electric cello. I didn’t use Melodyne on the cello track, so the pitch is not consistently flawless. But I like the tune, so I guess I”ll keep it. Maybe I’ll tell people it’s a theremin.

I slapped together a CD master using PreSonus Studio One, a new DAW that I reviewed a few months ago. Studio One makes the process utterly painless — its user interface is terrific. While looking for a good order to put the tunes in, I stumbled into a couple of really nice transitions, one track fading away as the next one rises. This may actually turn out to be a good CD. As soon as I load the mixes into FL Studio and tame the boomy bass.

The new pieces I did this winter are perhaps not quite as clever as some of the older ones. I hope I’m not getting stodgy in my old age. I probably just need to loosen up. Jazz chords, Jim. Polyrhythms. Change time signatures more. FL Studio doesn’t switch time signatures gracefully. Maybe I’ll use Reason. Yeah, that would work. Choices, choices.

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