Nicolay breaks down the production and mix of Daykeeper by The Foreign Exchange (from Leave It All Behind).In his comment on the first part of Making 'Daykeeper', Eric Hirsh asked: "Any insight as to why both Connected and Leave It All Behind start with the same sound sequence (but both depart from it in different ways)?" Thanks for bringing that up, Eric; while discussing the origins of 'Daykeeper', I had unintentionally skipped over that intro sound, but it's an important element of both albums. I think it was Phonte's idea to bring back the sound that opens 'Connected' as a "sound logo" that would instantly identify the new album as a Foreign Exchange project. Since we were working with the "Leave It All Behind" concept, I wanted to take the original sounds, to let the listener know that The Foreign Exchange is "back", but develop them into a different, darker direction, to let the listener know that everything is not the same. At this point, the sound logo has begun leading a life of its own as we open all of our shows with it, and it always invokes quite a stir in the audience.
To get back on-topic, I wanted to mention that the mixing of a track isn't necessarily a separate process for me like it is for some others. Writing, arranging, playing and programming, recording and mixing are all part of the same simultaneous creative flow. And how do I know when a mix is done? When I have heard it over and over again and I no longer want to change or add anything. Sometimes it can take a week, sometimes it can take a month. And sometimes it can take a year. But eventually, there's always that moment of realizing that I'm there.
Last week I broke down the drums and bass parts of the track. When I focus on mixing specifically, I usually start with the drums and bass and then bring those in balance with the vocals.
One of the elements that makes 'Daykeeper' such a captivating song for me, is the vocal arrangement and its many layers. When it comes to The Foreign Exchange material, I normally receive the vocals mixed down as a two-track (stereo) file, engineered and mixed by Khrysis. He does such a fine job recording vocals that I don't have to do much to get them to sit well in the mix. In the case of 'Daykeeper', I did request the full multi-track vocal session, because I wanted to be able to take full advantage of the possibilities in the complicated vocal and instrumental arrangements. But all the same, any credit for the vocal sound as heard in 'Daykeeper' most definitely goes to Khrysis. The song itself, as I mentioned before, was written by Phonte and all of the vocals were arranged and performed by Phonte and Muhsinah.
I received the vocals as a Cool Edit Pro/Adobe Audition multi-track session. The session consisted of up to 80 different tracks, most of them layered harmonies. Since Pro Tools LE only allows a maximum of 48 stereo audio tracks per session, I decided not to convert the session to Pro Tools, but to work in the original platform and then bounce to a two-track file for import into the Pro Tools session with all of the instruments. I ended up maintaining most of Khrysis' decisions regarding volumes and panning intakt, and I only added some delay before bouncing, using the Sonitus:delay by Cakewalk. Once in Pro Tools, the vocals sounded good with the drums and bass tracks right away. I did add a Waves C4 Compressor with a very subtle setting based on the "Pop vocal" preset. I really like how the C4 can "open up" a vocal and can help it stand out in the mix, and I use it frequently. Lastly, I applied some of the Sonnox Oxford Reverb that I already had in use on some of the keyboard and other instrument tracks, to the vocals, as the final little bit of "glue".
Waves C4 Multiband Parametric Processor on Vocals | Uploaded by Nicolay Music.
There are two Rhodes (electric piano) parts, both done with the Motif. The first and more prominent part stays on the main key of the song, E minor, while the second part follows the main chord progression. On the first part, I used the Oxford EQ to cut some of the low-mid frequencies that made it sound a bit muddy, and the DuY Wide to widen the stereo field, enhancing the tremolo effect of the Rhodes patch. I normally set the Wide between 15% and 25%, which really adds some nice depth to either an individual track or an the entire mix. On the second part, I used the Duy DaD Valve to give it some muscle and the Waves SSL E-Channel with the "Acoustic Guitar" preset for brightness.
DuY Wide on Rhodes 01 | Uploaded by Nicolay Music.
I also played a nylon-string acoustic guitar part of arpeggios that comes in at the 00:54 mark and that I put through the T-Racks 24, significantly boosting the high frequencies to enhance the brightness. I duplicated this track including plug-in and settings and on this second track I put a Slap Delay II (included with Pro Tools) set to delay at a 1/16th note, panning the original track to the far right and the delayed track to the far left for a stereo effect.
Slap Delay II on Nylon.dup.1 | Uploaded by Nicolay Music.
As seen with the drums, the middle section has specifically different sounding instrumentation than the main part of the track. Most notably, there's three piano tracks done using the Motif that play simultaneously; two parts playing the same melodic line in a slightly different sounding patch and a third part playing a counter part and chords. I didn't use any plug-ins or specific EQ settings on those. The nylon-string guitar part continues in the middle section, and I added a counter part on the steel-string guitar to accompany it, with an Oxford EQ boosting the high frequencies for brightness. Lastly, there's a string arrangement of three parts (again, Motif) that are routed to an aux input, on which I used the Waves SSL E-Channel.
Waves SSL E-Channel on Strings | Uploaded by Nicolay Music.
I normally don't like to put any compression on the stereo buss, unless I'm going for a very specific sound. I like my mixes to be as dynamic and natural as possible and so I rather leave compression of the entire stereo mix to the mastering engineer. For 'Daykeeper', I ended up using three plug-ins on the stereo buss.
The first is an Oxford EQ set to roll off the ultra-low frequencies under 32Hz. I have always been told that if you roll off the ultra-low frequencies, it can add definition and overall tightness to the low end of a mix, and it does seem to work in most cases. The Oxford EQ also boosts the high frequencies to add some overall brightness to the mix. The DuY Wide, as mentioned above, simply enhances the stereo spectrum, making the mix wider and more spacious. At the very end of the chain, I have put the Sonnox Oxford Inflator. In a sense, the Inflator is a loudness maximizer like there are many others such as the L1 by Waves. The Inflator however doesn't use compression or limiting to boost the sound and preserves the dynamic integrity of the signal, making the result a highly transparent and dynamic sound while adding significant headroom. I use it on all of my mixes, because it makes the mixes louder but it doesn't alter the sound of the mix in a noticeable way, as some of the other loudness maximizers seem to do.
Sonnox Oxford Inflator on Master | Uploaded by Nicolay Music.
Thank you for listening,