I’ll kick off first and foremost, this entire track was done on the MPC Live mk2. Not for any particular reason, but I started there, and just kept going. Being able to unplug the device while taking my daughter out to ballet, horseback riding, waiting for my wife to finish shopping… whatever it was, was certainly helpful. Besides auto sampling a few synths, everything was done in the box including fx, mixing, mastering, all that. I know a lot of folks know it is possible, but for those who doubt it, maybe this changes your mind? I actually expected a few times to want to be reaching for Ableton, Reason, or Melodyne to do a few things, but that was frequently when I was away from my computer and I just pushed my way through it.
For me… the interpolation part was all about finding what resonated with me in the song, and how I wanted to represent it in how I go about making music. You guys probably saw my early posts mentioning how hard this became. A lot of it is because reggae just sounds so simple, and the complex interaction of all the elements coming together in this crazy simple sounding yet amazingly complex rhythm. This lead me to thinking about what parts needed to be “on the grid” and which parts I would go about playing without TC on. You can hear it the most in my track with the hats, I did quite a few takes early on just playing the hats out by hand without TC. I liked how it put the track slightly off kilter, and also gave me a great template for seeing how things did or did not line up as I added in new parts.
I spent a *lot* of time just thinking about voicing and how the different parts came together. I was going crazy with harps, organs, flutes, guitar, piano, etc…. I mean I literally had everything and the kitchen sink in there, but it just wasn’t gluing together. So, I just decided to take a hatchet to a lot of the tracks, removing things that I liked, but really didn’t contribute, and figuring out which parts just needed more space to breath more life into the track.
The saddest part for me to remove was the guitar, first because I was taking it out because I was going to collaborate with DawgFather, and then later when I knew he wasn’t able to contribute I just kept making some of the other sounds richer and left very little room for a guitar to cut through without destabilizing the rest of the mix.
I’m usually the first person to throw everything in too, but I wanted to take this more seriously and put my old school production hat on. I easily spent eight to ten hours on this track, and I have not spent that much time on a track in at least ten, maybe fifteen years. I used to do a lot of collaborations back in the day, but never actually made a career out of it.
Another “trick” I pulled was to actually have two different drum tracks running at the same time. This helped give the impression of ghost notes, shore up some weaker drum hits, and give some more overall variation to the sound. Normally when I program out my drum patterns I try and get something “locked in”, and then think about another layer that can be a bit looser. Sometimes it works and let’s the listener feel their way through the track with some happy surprises, and sometimes it sounds like you have a drunk friend that you need to tell to stop playing in the background. Hopefully I nailed it, and didn’t sound too drunk 😀
The biggest part to nail for me though was the bass. I really struggled here, because the bass just takes up so much headroom to begin with, and I *really* wanted it to slam throughout this track. Seriously, the big bass sound, with some of the high end distortion in there is the biggest reason I needed to peel away so much from the original song. I don’t care what you guys might say… I dig it, even if it is a *bit* too in your face.
Otherwise, really pulling the track together required many many many repeat listens. I effectively had it locked in two weeks ago, but the extra time let me polish off some of the serious blemishes, like peaking too high in some section, fixing some of the areas that came in super loud due to mega chords, and all that. A good portion of it was throwing in subtle compression just to get the organ and other chords to play nice, sometimes reducing note velocity, all that fun stuff. It turned into a labor of love because editing velocity note by note requires a lot of replays to listen to across a verse to get it right, or dropping a compressor can make one part great and mess up the rest of the track. This is just bog standard mixing duties, I don’t find it terribly interesting, but it is worth the time investment in really wrapping a track up. Seriously, listening to the track on every freaking speaker I could find gave me as much information as I needed to mix it all by ear. And hey, you guys can make fun of it, but the Live mk2’s speaker allowed me to get at least 80% of the way through the mix. Course if you want to hate, I can use it as an excuse of why it sounds so bad!
Overall, this was a super fun exercise that had it all. A trip down memory lane, something to share with family and friends to get feedback, plenty of drama in the thread, and some great folks to chat about production with.