Project Blob – All 4 Season BGM’s (Mixing)

Project Blob was a game that I developed audio assets for – including sound effects and 4 music loops to be used within the games 4 levels.

The music I composed was inspired the Banjo-Kazooie level called “Click Clock Wood” where players can visit the level in 4 different seasons depending on which door they walk through in the level’s hub. I wanted to capture the feeling of each season in each of the seasonal variants of the song, which at its core, is basically the same song for each version, like the reference material.

The mixing for these tracks were pretty simple, as they were just meant to be simple and background. Unlike the other two mixes I’ve had to do for this trimester, this one was entirely done in FL Studio, and dealt a lot more with MIDI than actual audio files.

Here’s a look at the “Spring” track in particular:

  • Project was created with a template that loads every time I open FL Studio 11. This template has a drum submix already set up, with the kick and snare channel being sent to it, and another reverb submix.
  • Hihats and shakers are in the same track together, also sends to reverb submix.
  • Electronic kicks and snares were sent to a drum submix, which had a limiter on it with the input gain set to +12dB.
  • EQ – +5dB Low mid boosts on kick and snare with +3dB high shelf boost on the snare. Low pass filter on ‘dark piano’ at 3.8kHz with a Q of 0.27 to dampen the piano a bit. High pass on ‘ePiano ‘at around 450Hz, with slight boosts to the highs (wanted it to be noticeable but not overpower the lead synth). Bass synth had a +6dB boost to the low shelf to bring those subs up, with a lowpass filter at 16kHz to cut out the sibilence but still retain the crunchiness of the bass. Lead and pad synths has a low pass at 16kHz on them also.
  • With my usual productions in FL Studio, a lot of the synths I typically use have auto-panning capabilities, and most samples I use are in stereo, so it makes for a wide mix – this production was no exception. The lead synth, pad synth & bass synth slightly wide in terms of stereo field, which is somewhat better than just flat mono because it makes for a dynamic listening experience. The ‘ePiano’ channel however is just straight mono, which is fine because it’s more of a background sound. The hi-hats and shakers are a bit more on the left for the fact the samples are stereo and probably were originally like that, because I did not pan them to the left.
  • I used gross beat on the bass to side-chain the bass to every quarter beat.
  • A peak controller plugin on the kick controls the volume level on the reverb channel – in an attempt to emulate side-chain compression.
  • Other effects used included a bit-crusher plugin on the lead synth and pad synth, delay on the ePiano, and a bit of reverb on the pad synth as well. I put the reverb before the bitcrusher on the pad synth channel because I also wanted to bit-crush the reverb. I dunno, I just like bit-crushers.

Of course, the master channel had my template’s maximus preset on it, and I was happy with the levels of the low mid and high bands, and it’s post-gain setting on the master at +3dB.

The tracks I made for the other seasons were all pretty similar, considering I made all of the others using this one as a base, so they’re all similar as far as mixing goes. The winter one was kinda trap inspired so I had to make sure the 808s didn’t clash with the other kick  samples.

Looking back on it, the bass seems a little too overpowering, I probably would have knocked it down -1.2dB. I received some feedback from classmates and they were saying the same thing about the Spring one in particular, but overall overwhelmingly positive feedback to whoever I showed this to. The Blob Squad ended up using the Spring, Autumn and Winter ones I made, but they ended up not using my Summer one and just used the original piano composition I gave to them when they needed something as a placeholder for their playtesting day. But overall I’m pleased at how it all turned out in the final game. I think more communication with the games team probably would have fixed this issue and a couple others that I had with it.

Click here to check out the game and hear the audio in action for yourselves.

Project Blob – All 4 Season BGM’s (Mixing)

Mid/Side Processing – Production Technique

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As opposed to interpreting a stereo audio signal or track as just ‘left’ and ‘right’, there are also the ‘middle’ and ‘sides’. The ‘middle’ refers to the sum of both left and right channels of a stereo image, whereas the ‘side’ refers to the signal difference between the left and the right channels. Having control over the middle and sides of an audio signal will allow for an overall wider result in a mix.

Mid/Side Processing is a technique where effects to the middle and sides of an audio signal. This technique can be utilised with a number of different plugins such as reverbs, EQs & compressors.

In the above video, Graham Cochrane from TheRecordingRevolution.com details how to use mid/side processing to control volume in the mastering stage of producing a studio recording. He specifically uses Center by Waves to adjust the mid and side volume levels separately, which results in a subtle, yet wider overall stereo image. Cochrane described the technique as a “life saver” for a recent project he had worked on.

Rory Dow from Sound On Sound mentions that “low‑frequency instruments such as kick drums and bass should be kept in the centre of the stereo field” due to our human brains not being able to detect where these frequencies are coming from easily. So mid/side processing can be used to isolate the low frequencies and keep them in the centre of the stereo field.

mid side fl

Having looked at this technique and the things that it can do in DAWs such as ProTools and Ableton, I’m able to relate it to a feature in FL Studio 11’s channel mixer. Underneath the panning control on every channel strip on the mixer is a control for ‘stereo separation’ with the unity/default level being in the middle. Turning it to the left 100% will separate the audio into left and right, while turning it 100% to the right will completely merge the signal into what feels like a mono signal. This is one way you can split a signal into seperate mid and side channels.

Another way to achieve mid/side routing is by using a feature in FL Studio called “Patcher”. Patcher allows you to visually route your plugins as if you were running outboard gear through an actual patch bay. The following video by FLStudioGuru from Image-Line (creators of FL Studio) explains how to achieve mid-side EQ processing using Patcher, Stereo Shaper, and two instances of Fruity Parametric EQ 2.

What a legend.

So in conclusion, not only mid/side processing is a simple concept to understand, but it is also very useful in bringing a somewhat stale mix back to life.


References:

Cochrane, G. (2012, May, 22) Mid/Side Processing in Mastering [YouTube Video] Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sy84ctvSE8M

Dow, R. (2011, March) Creative Mid/Side Processing [Web Article] http://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/creative-midside-processing

Hillier, M. (2015, November, 23) Mastering Tutorial: Part Three – Mid-Side Processing Step-by-Step [Web Article] Retrieved from http://www.musictech.net/2015/11/mid-side-step-by-step/

Image-Line (2016, January, 7) FL Studio Guru | MID / SIDE EQ With Patcher [YouTube Video] Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEh-CQCNhCM

Stewart, R. (2015, August, 5) Mid/Side Stereo Explained: Part I [Web Article] Retrieved from http://www.justmastering.com/article-mid-side-stereo-explained-part1.php

Strongin, D. (2017, February, 3) 5 Mid/Side Processing Techniques To Improve Your Mix [Web Article] Retrieved from http://www.producerspot.com/best-tips-for-mid-side-processing-techniques

Tarr, E. (2015, July, 23) The Basics Of Mid-Side Processing [Web Article] Retrieved from, http://theproaudiofiles.com/mid-side-processing/

Mid/Side Processing – Production Technique

AUD210 (Studio 1) Narcissistic Cannibal (Case Study #1)

Introduction

This case study is a critical analysis of a song by Korn entitled “Narcissistic Cannibal”. It will aim to break down the song in terms of tempo, pitch, structure, instrumentation, interest, and the use of dynamic, spectral, and time domain processing to better understand how the song recording was constructed and produced.

Overview

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  • Song title: Narcissistic Cannibal
  • Artist: Korn (featuring Skrillex & Kill The Noise)
  • Release Date: October 24th 2011
  • From the album: The Path of Totality (December 6th 2011)

 

Lyrics

VERSE 1
Don’t wanna be sly and defile you

Desecrate my mind and rely on you
I just wanna break this crown
But it’s hard when I’m so run down
And you’re so cynical, Narcissistic Cannibal
Got to bring myself back from the dead

CHORUS
Sometimes, I hate, the life, I made

Everything’s wrong every time
Pushing on I can’t escape
Everything that comes my way
Is haunting me taking its sweet time

PRE-VERSE
Holding on I’m lost in a haze

Fighting life to the end of my days

VERSE 2
Don’t wanna be rude but I have to

Nothing’s good about the hell you put me through
I just need to look around
See that life that has come unbound
And you’re so cynical, Narcissistic Cannibal
Got to bring myself back from the dead

CHORUS
Sometimes, I hate, the life I made

Everything’s wrong every time
Pushing on I can’t escape
Everything that comes my way
Is haunting me taking its sweet time

(INSTRUMENTAL BRIDGE)

CHORUS
Sometimes, I hate, the life I made

Everything’s wrong every time
Pushing on I can’t escape
Everything that comes my way
Is haunting me taking its sweet time

OUTRO
Holding on I’m lost in a haze

Fighting life to the end of my days
Holding on I’m lost in a haze
Fighting life to the end of my days

Members of Korn:

  • Jonathan Davis – Lead Vocals
  • James “Munky” Shaffer – Rhythm Guitar, Backing Vocals
  • Brian “Head” Welch – Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
  • Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu – Bass
  • Ray Luzier – Drums, Percussion

Featuring Artists:

  • Sonny Moore (Skrillex)
  • Jake Stanczak (Kill The Noise)

Song Background & Inspirations

“A ‘Narcissistic Cannibal’ is someone that’s such an ego and is so into themselves, that you can watch them just eat themselves alive, you know, cannibalise themselves, just ’cause they’re so into themselves, and I see a lot of people like that.”
– Jonathan Davis (2011)

Narcissistic Cannibal‘ is the second single released from The Path Of Totality. The album started off as the band experimenting with dubstep DJ and producer Skrillex, and ended up becoming so much more. In an interview with BBC Radio host Zane Lowe, Moore explains that the band originally wanted to work with him for the whole album, but there were scheduling restraints, resulting in Moore connecting the band with with a myriad of other dubstep producers, including Kill The Noise (Jake Stanczak), whom also contributed to Narcissistic Cannibal.

Breaking It Down

This section will break down the song to highlight these fundamental composition elements.

KORN - NARC CAN STRUCTURE.pngStructural Map of Narcissistic Cannibal (using FL Studio 11)

narc can wave.png

Waveform of Narcissistic Cannibal (using FL Studio 11)

BPM & Time Signature

BPM: 174
Time Signature: 4/4

Scale & Key Signature

Key: B Minor

Structure

Duration: 3 Minutes, 14 seconds.
Amount of bars: 136

Arrangement:

  • Intro (16 bars) Bars 1-16
  • Pre-Verse (8 bars) Bars 17-24
  • Verse 1 (16 bars) Bars 25-40
  • Pre-Chorus (2 bars) Bars 41 & 42
  • Chorus (16 bars) Bars 43-58
  • Pre-Verse (4 bars) Bars 59-62
  • Verse (16 bars) Bars 63-78
  • Pre-Chorus (2 bars) Bars 79 & 80
  • Chorus (16 bars) Bars 81-96
  • Bridge (16 bars) Bars 97-112
  • Chorus (16 Bars) Bars 113-128
  • Outro (8 bars) 129-136
  • Fade/Ring Out

Instrumentation

I was able to identify 15 different sound sources/instruments in this recording. I have colour coded them into 7 different groups to highlight the variety of the sound sources.

1 – FX (pink)

The ‘FX’ sound source only appears in the Intro section of the recording. Four ambient sound effects could be identified:

  • A descending, rumbling impact effect at the very start of the recording that seems to completely drop out by the 3rd bar.
  • A crackling sound effect with automated panning from right to left starts on the 1st bar and ends on the 8th bar.
  • A blowing wind sound effect that starts on the 8th bar and continues until the end of the 16th bar.
  • A noise which sounds like a high-passed ‘growl’ synth occurs at the start of each two-bar phrase from the 8th bar until the end of the 16th bar.

This element of the recording helps make the intro as a whole feel very much ‘like’ an intro as it sets the tone of the song while remaining original as its own unique section. The rumbling impact helps steadily build the track up for a powerful drop into the next section.

2 – Synths (red)

These synth sound sources make up the :

  • A hammond organ which has been re-amped through a motorised cabinet, noticeable from the panning effect and the crackling (detailed in the FX sction). This synth only occurs in the intro and pre-chorus sections.
  • A stabby, screeching synth which is most likely wavetable based with some distortion added to make it feel fatter and therefore ‘stabbing’ clearly through the mix. This synth occurs mainly in the pre-verse, verse and outro sections, but is also in the intro as it fades into the pre-verse section, and also for a one time occurrence in the bridge (98th bar, 4th beat) to create interest.
  • A very quiet almost unnoticable ‘pad’ synth with an automated EQ sweep. The synth occurs in the pre-verse and outro sections.
  • A bright lead synth which is most likely subtractive and has some reverb. This also sounds like it has light distortion This synth occurs in all three of the chorus sections.

All of these synths except for the hammond organ sound like they are compressed via sidechain compression using the kick and bass from the drums as the key inputs.

3 – Synth Basses (orange)

An essential element of dubstep! These make up the:

  • Two dubstep ‘growls. To achieve the ‘wub’ or ‘growl’ sound, these wavetable patches would utilise automation linked to an LFO either externally or internally (within the synth plugin itself). Growl 1 appears mainly throughout the verse in a call and response fashion with Growl 2 but also appears in the pre-verse and outro sections.
  • A more subtle sub-bass synth used in the choruses – this also sounds like a wavetable patch.

Like the synths before them in the higher register, the basses are also sidechained to the kick and the bass. In the prechorus and the end of the bridge, the basses are faded in using automation on a low pass filter. The basses are mainly just single notes but in the verses, additional notes are added to create harmonies.

4 – Electric Guitars (yellow)

  • Rhythm Guitar – ‘Haas effect’ implemented to widen the stereo image of the guitar. Occurs in pre-verse, verse, chorus, bridge & outro. In the bridge the signal is mono due to being run through a glitch fx plugin implemented by Skrillex. Rhythm guitar has been sidechained to the kick and snare for reasons similar to the synths and basses.
  • Lead Guitar – lots of reverb is used to create an almost atmospheric feeling. Delay is also used on the signal before running through the distortion pedal which is activated during the chorus. The lead guitar appears in the verses, choruses & outro.

Both guitars have a low pass filter on them at around 5kHz – this was probably done to ensure that the guitar doesn’t drown out the electronic percussion as that element needs to sound brighter for this genre or at least the ‘dubstep’ half of the genre. According to UberProAudio.com, Korn use 7-string Ibanez electric guitars in their productions, which allows for a very deep tone, and their Mesa Boogie & Diezel guitar amplifiers help saturate the signal to add harmonics.

narc can guitar lowpass 5khz.png

Low Pass on the Guitars evident through use of Blue Cat’s FreqAnalyst.

5 – Electric Bass Guitar (green)

There is a bass guitar in this track, though it’s mainly used to supplement the synth basses to give a ‘performed’ feel to the track. Like the rhythm guitar it is also run through Skrillex’s glitch effects plugin. It is not sidechained to the kick or the bass however. The most strongest frequencies appear around 160Hz and 4.8kHz. The spectral balance is more of an “M” shape, with a low pass filter attenuating the signal below 47Hz, a band pass cut around 1.2kHz, and a high pass filter attenuating the signal above approximately 6kHz.

narc can bass eq freqanalyst.png

Spectral Balance of Bass Guitar evident through use of Blue Cat’s FreqAnalyst.

6 – Vocals (blue)

The vocals consist of:

  • Main Vocals – appearing in every pre-verse section except for the first one, the verses, and the choruses. The main vocals sound doubled in the choruses – combining ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ vocals for a husky sounding voice to capture that nu metal vibe. There is also some delay used on the main vocals in the verses.
  • Background Vocals – low and high pass filters are used to attenuate the signal to be focused on the mids only, so as to not drown out the main vocals. These vocals mainly occur in the chorus and bleed out into the pre-verse sections.

Halfway through the second verse, just before Davis sings the lines “You’re so cynical, Narcissistic Cannibal”, the vocals seem to start a bit abruptly, this could be due to either poor attention to detail or forgetting to clean up a copy & paste situation.

7 – Drums (indigo)

The drums consist of:

  • Electronic drum samples which include a kick, a snare, closed hi-hats, a crash cymbal, shakers.
  • A breakbeat style electronic drum loop which occurs only in the 2nd half of the intro.
  • A real drum kit but only the overheads and hi-hat mics are used due to the real kick and snare being replaced with electronic samples that capture the dubstep feel.

The drums occur all throughout the song except for the intro. In the mixing stage, the overheads were likely left in to give the song a ‘performed’ feel rather than a processed, robotic feel like in most electronic music, which is the same reason the spectral processing (mid and low attenuation) was applied to the bass guitar. In the bridge, the whole drum mix is sent through the glitch effects plugin – this is noticeable from the time-stretching effects heard in the bridge. Delay is used on the drums in the ‘fade out’ as the song dies out and introduces the next track on the album.

Korn – ‘The Path Of Totality’ – making of drums on Vimeo.

In this video, Luzier explains how the real drums in Narcissistic Cannibal & the other songs from The Path Of Totality were recorded, and how they play the electronic samples live using triggers.

Overall

Overall Dynamics

The dynamics of Narcissistic Cannibal are fairly similar throughout the track but with subtle changes throughout. Sidechain compression is used on elements such as the guitars and synths for the percussion to cut through the mix as it is an important element of electronic music. The most quiet parts of the song are the intro and pre-chorus sections where most of the elements pull away and fade in to create a build-up or ‘drop’ into the chorus.

Overall Spectral Balance

EQ filters are used to fade in elements, mainly to introduce a sound subtly to create a ‘drop’. It is noticeable in both the intro and pre-chorus sections. In the intro, the synth bass is filtered using a high pass to remove the low end of the synth completely to leave behind the high end which creates a subtle growling effect. In the prechoruses and at the end of the bridge, a low pass filter is automated to fade in either the synth bass or multiple elements at once.

Overall Panning

Narcissistic Cannibal‘s spatial balance as a whole tends to be fairly mono, with some elements such as the guitars (using the haas effect) and synths giving a bit more of a wider stereo image to the track, although in the bridge, the guitar goes mono as it is ran through the glitch effects plugin. The electronic drum samples are mono as usual in EDM and similar genres. The vocals are also mono – and all of these elements sounded the strongest once I merged the stereo separation of the track using FL Studio 11. This ultimately makes the more wider stereo elements quieter and the more stereo signals quieter. The delay on the drums in the fade out is a ping-pong delay, going from left to right on every 8th note.

Overall Interest

In conclusion, I believe that what makes Narcissistic Cannibal unique is first and foremost the combination of genres – Nu Metal and Dubstep. Secondly, I found the actual steps that Korn took to make the combination of the genres as seamless as possible very interesting and definitely a concept I can utilise in future productions of my own.

References

Billboard (2011, December, 5) Korn “The Path Of Totality” Track-By-Track [YouTube Video] Retrieved 16th November, 2016, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fupdnNuxxS8

NME.com (2012, April, 13) Korn’s Jonathan Davis: ‘Skrillex was like a little kid when he worked with us’ [Web Article] Retrieved 16th November, 2016, from http://www.nme.com/news/music/korn-18-1279530

Wikipedia (2016, November, 16) Korn – Wikipedia [Wiki Entry] Retrieved 16th November, 2016, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korn

AUD210 (Studio 1) Narcissistic Cannibal (Case Study #1)