The song and this blog post (like a lot of others) only happened because of Synchronicity.
It’s fair to say I’m not a big fan of dubstep. Until, that is, I heard a Sunday Sessions mix that Elephunk Ghost made. This introduced me to Phaeleh who produces future garage, or liquid dubstep or chillstep depending on who you talk to. Whatever label you want to apply, it is best described as the softer side of dubstep, kind of dubstep with an ambient feel. So this naturally appealed to my ambient side.
Phaeleh has made some brilliant tracks, I really got into that sound straight away. So I started looking for more. I found other artists such as Maribou State and Tune-In radio was permanently tuned to the DI chillstep channel. They played a lot of the chillstep works series by Ideal Noise (who has a lot of those and other mixes available for download on Soundcloud). Then one day I heard a really beautiful piano track that I wished I’d recorded so when I heard it the next time I recorded it. Unfortunately I forgot that I had used the rewind function so when I listened back it didn’t start at the beginning. Even worse, when I cleared the temporary files off my phone I lost the recording so to this day don’t know what it was and have heard not it since. I also watched a bunch of tutorials on youtube and also started listening more and more to the DI liquid dubstep channel. I wanted to try and make songs in that style.
In glorious synchronicity, at about the same time I was also having a catch up on Soundcloud. I listened to some Maya Wolff tracks that I’d been meaning to listen to for ages. One of these was a beautiful piano track called Summer Dreams which just happened to be available for download.
So I thought I’d have a go at remixing it. Now remixing is not the easiest task even when you have the individual instrument, vocal samples etc so considering this track was an mp3 I wasn’t sure how it would go. The first job was to resample the track for use in Caustic 3, also known as chopping it up and saving it as wav files in Audacity. Because the piano sounded so beautiful and I wanted that type of sound anyway, I knew I needed to be sympathetic to the original and decided to leave the glitchy mangling effects for another day. I didn’t want to use the whole of Maya’s track and just add a bassline and percussion either so selected certain parts of the song that I could use to remain true to the original but add my own twist.
Luckily the track was pretty much piano only with a few ‘twinkly’ effects in places which meant that editing was fairly straightforward and I didn’t need to isolate vocals or remove other elements. I say fairly, I needed smallish samples so I could use parts of the song but also had to be careful to make sure that they would all fit back together as seamlessly as possible to make the sequences sound right.
The other really important things to bear in mind when remixing are the tempo and key of the original track. The tempo was stated on the track properties as 120 – I left it as it was. The key wasn’t specified. Someone had put me onto Chordify, which is a website which lets you upload songs and it works outs the chords for you. I normally do this for myself and wasn’t convinced that Chordify would be very accurate but I gave it a try anyway. It suggested the key of Ab and associated chords. To be fair to Chordify, it was pretty accurate. Keeping the same key and tempo meant that I didn’t have to change the pitch or tempo of the chopped up samples I had created.
So now I had to think how I was going to progress this. I knew that I needed drums, a bassline and strings to begin with. I’d recently downloaded a set of Tapetonic drum samples from Goldbaby which I thought would be good so used those for the main drum patterns. I had an orchestral ensemble preset I’d made from some samples that I thought would be great and used a plucked bass preset from the FM Synth in Caustic.
To my surprise, the orchestral ensemble didn’t really fit in no matter how I tried to EQ or filter the sound. So I was a bit stuck. I knew I wanted a strings type sound and remembered that I had made a preset on Caustic’s FM synth so gave that a go and it sounded sort of ok.
I also wanted to use a sound from the subsynth but didn’t want to take anything away from Maya’s piano playing so didn’t want to introduce more lead lines. I had a simplish lead sound with an LFO that I’d created and that worked really well to provide some atmosphere to the track.
I’d downloaded the sample packs ‘Prism House vol 1′ and ‘Prism House vol 2’ from Rekkerd’s website and used these for the introduction and an extra percussive layer.
I started with a basic string and bass pattern using notes from the chords. Initially I’d used Maya’s piano without any effects but I wanted the opening to build up gradually so loaded a second instance so I could add a fairly large amount of delay and hint of reverb although this took me quite a while to figure out loading 2 instances was the best option.
The song was taking shape but didn’t sound that great to be honest. The intro was sorted fairly quickly along with the opening but I was stuck there for quite a while. I kept coming back but struggled to make any real progress. I started playing with layering percussive sounds. I had a couple of repeating patterns and developed the percussive sounds fairly minimally to allow space in the track. The drums were kept very similar throughout the track.
It needed some effects. Compression was added to most of the instruments, a low shelf filter and bitcrusher had been used on the second instance of the Prism House samples. The strings really took shape when I added a high shelf filter.
I got to the point where I was about 2/3 the way through but still thought I was going to chalk it up to experience and unable to finish it. I had tried and made no progress on several further occasions. I tweaked the layering a bit and added a choir sound I’d made in Serenity using it fairly sparsely and it really added to the atmosphere. This helped me to realise I needed to completely rewrite the middle section to make it sound better with the new choir sound and after about a week of leaving it alone picked it up again and came up with the ending. I added some Ehru sampIes I’d previously made for another extra layer. I love that sound but try and use it sparingly so I don’t overuse it. This was the point I didn’t think I’d reach – a finished track that I was happy with. I made sure that I saved a copy of the file which I don’t normally do but really should. This was so that I could do the final mastering and if it all went completely wrong I’d still have all the original settings to fall back on. The mastering involved a lot and I mean a lot of tweaking of different effect and volume levels and adding some automation listening through 2 sets of headphones to compare the difference. It happened a lot because there was a noticeable difference between the 2 sets of headphones for each of the changes I made.
For instance, when I listened through my Sennheiser HD202IIs I realised that the bitcrusher effect on the Prism House samples wasn’t really working – it sounded ok through the other set. So I switched it off and it sounded much better. The mastered song even sounded ok in the car so I decided that it was finished. Otherwise I could be tweaking it for ever. I exported from Caustic to wav file, loaded into Audacity to amplify and then exported to mp3.
I was a bit nervous what Maya would think to it but she’d asked for any remixes to be sent to her prior to release. I did this so she was the first to hear it. The moment of truth… she quite liked it! She did point out a timing issue which was a clash between the Tapetonic percussion and piano sample, presumably because I’d chopped it up into smaller parts. I removed the percussion at this point and also altered the timing of the samples at the end to make it flow a bit better.
She was happy with the result and offered to put it on her Soundcloud as a free download when she reached 1000 followers which was a brilliant gesture. The only problem was that I sent a dropbox download link which she couldn’t get the file from. So I ended up downloading it and sending it via email.
That was Thursday afternoon and I didn’t have to wait long, the song was uploaded in the early hours of Friday (10th Jan 2014) and as I write this a day later it has had 177 views, several retweets and some very favourable comments. Hopefully this will continue over time.
And there is another favourable outcome. I’ve been playing around with the alpha and beta versions of Caustic since September with a number of projects on the go, none of which I’ve been able to finish. Having persevered with this track, they are now all of a sudden starting to take shape.
The Soundcloud page for the remix is: https://t.co/adasDDcTzI
Maya Wolff: Twitter @missmayawolff http://www.soundcloud.com/mayawolff
Tapetonic samples from http://www.goldbaby.co.nz/freestuff.html
Ideal Noise: http://www.soundcloud.com/ideal_noise
Prism House samples from Rekkerd: http://rekkerd.org/loops/#contributors
Caustic website: http://www.singlecellsoftware.com
Chordify Website http://www.chordify.net