March 18, 2007:

Worked on “Liberty.”

The process once the tracks are all imported into a mix session in Pro Tools, is to first go through every track one by one and check the timing and notes for each instrument.

The drums are first. I listen to the drums all the way through and tweak anything that may have been out of place or draggy. In “Liberty” the performance was spot on.

The next step is to get a drum sound up.  I add a kick sample to the existing kick to give it an extra punch. To do this I use a program called Drumagog. It works well, but like every single other sample replacer it does not place the sample exactly on top of the old sample. After I get it to trigger new kicks, I have to zoom into sample level for EVERY SINGLE KICK DRUM HIT and move it so that it falls exactly with the old kick. Then I have to check the phasing to make sure they resonate together. If the phasing of the two kicks is off then it takes the punch out of it.
Once that’s done I go back and listen to only the two kicks and make sure every one is right.

I recently purchased the TC Electronics 6000 reverb unit. It’s quite good. I’ve tried to use various plug-ins for reverb but they all sound grainy and fake.
I then print on another track a non-linear kick reverb.

I then do the same procedure for the snare.

The toms are next. I go in and find every tom-tom fill and raise the level of them. When tom-tom microphones are left open at their full normal volume, they pick up a lot of messy bottom end noise from the kit. In some situation this live open sound is good but with an orchestra I wanted to keep the drums as clean as possible as there is a lot of room needed for all the other instruments.

I then build a stereo non-linear reverb for the toms and print that. Then I balance and EQ. the rest of the kit and send it all through a stereo bus to the reverb unit to add a very little bit of reverb plate to it. These various reverbs are used very slightly, just enough to let the drums breath. The big drowning reverb comes from the room mics.

After the Drums are complete I move onto the bass. In this case I am extremely fortunate as Brian Beller (the bass player) is such a solid player that I can cut the rest of the orchestra around him if I wanted. In working on the bass, first I EQ. it and then go through each note and make sure it’s not only the right note but also that it grooves with the drums.

Preparing the drums and bass could take up to 3 solid days depending on the piece.
Then I move onto my guitar. I listen closely to the performance and either tweak a few things or whatever is necessary to make it sound good to my ear. This includes leaving some mistakes if they sound interesting, but most of the time they don’t.

Then I move to the second guitar, then piano, then harp, then second keyboard, then the three percussionists, then the brass, saxophones, woodwinds and strings.

Each section of the orchestra takes forensic work. I break out each instrument and check every single note. While doing this I also balance each section. For instance, I may take the first verse of “Liberty” and if I’m working on the brass, I will balance each instrument with one another in its section. The brass usually consists of French horns, trumpets, trombones, bass trombone, and tuba.

As I’m doing this, I’m only working with one instrument at a time – so up to this point I have not heard the performance with all the instruments because I have not worked on the actual mix yet.

The mix stage is relatively easier than the assortment stage.   For something like “Liberty,” I go one section of the song at a time and slowly add each section of the orchestra in to the mix making sure that they are all balanced around the drums. Any little melody or line that needs to come out is then automated in the mix stage.

When I’m mixing I’m listening with headphones very very very soft. For me it’s the best way to hear the blend of instrument. I occasionally check on various sized speakers.

I go from section to section and when I get to the end, I then turn the volume up and listen to the entire piece in it’s most mixed form for the first time. This is the exciting part. Nothing is like that first listen. That’s where the juice is. What a rush.

When I listened to “Liberty” for the first time I was amazed at how big it sounded.  It’s the way this piece should sound. It’s majestic and grand and made me feel as though I was on the top of a mountain eating a York Peppermint Patty and preaching beauty to the world.