Production Log: Waiting for Spring

Composition for this track started on my Ono baritone ukulele experimenting with chords using two fingers and two open strings. Here’s the simplified chord chart:
img_0657I threw in some more fingers later but that was the starting point. Ironically, this much was done in the spring and I posted a quick jam of it back in April.

But that was as far as it went until a rare snow storm in North Carolina got me thinking back to it, and the rest came together fairly quickly. Maybe it should have been called “Waiting for Winter”. 😉

As far as realizing the track, the guiding principle was that I wanted all the sounds to come from ukulele. (Full reason for that will come later, but for now, “why not?” is a good enough reason. 😉 ) I knew the biggest technical challenge would be drum sounds, so that’s where I started.

“Drum” recording – I wrote about all the technical details in a recent Using… article . To summarize, the drums were made in NanoStudio by recording uke body (mostly) thumps and rubs, editing the recorded audio, and “resampling” using pitch transpose and effects to form a collection of samples. Satisfied that the drum kit was going to work, this was set aside to arrange later.

Ukulele recording – I decided to use the Multitrack DAW app for recording. I could have done it directly in Cubasis, but I’ve used MD before and find it to be a great environment for recording and arranging audio. (I have also used it as a full production environment, though the mixing tools are rather limited.) The “recognizable as acoustic uke” part harkens back to that original jam and was done on the same Ono baritone using the iRig Acoustic mic played to a click track from I forget where (but not the iPad due to crosstalk issues I’ve written about before). A second acoustic uke part was done on the Iriguchi tenor using the same mic and also to a click track. This part was mostly sustained and simplified chords to be used as a “pad”. Before continuing, the Ono track was laid out in sections and aligned to the grid. This allowed this track and the click in MD to be used since the bass and lead tracks were done on the Konablaster baritone recorded with the Apogee Jam interface. After recording, all the bits were sliced and arranged into four tracks grouped into sections (intro, A1, B1, etc.) with gaps, leaving the final trimming and arranging for Cubasis. Here’s a look at the final session just before export:img_0658

FWIW, the export sequence was a bit convoluted: used WiFi in Multitrack to render tracks and save to Dropbox. Imported from Dropbox into AudioShare, then “Import into Cubasis”.

Ukulele Effecting – this was the real fun part – turning the two acoustic and two electric uke tracks into acoustic, bass, lead, and pad:

  • Acoustic – The easiest since it was the most natural. The Ono baritone just got gating and EQ from the built-in channel strip and a short plate reverb from Audio Reverb in AU mode. That’s it. (Other than Send effects but that will be discussed below.)
  • Bass – This is Konablaster electric baritone, run through JamUp Pro as an IAA effect. The key of course is the Octave pedal used to generate signal two octaves and one octave down from the dry signal (which was completely muted). I think the only hardware octave pedal I’ve ever tried was a Boss pedal back in 80s. It had a bad “warble” unless given a super clean and pitch-stable signal. This software version does the same thing! I left some of that in but had to splice over one really bad spot. Here’s the signal path in JamUp with noise gate and EQ before the octave pedal, then light tube distortion, amp, and compressor after: IMG_0648.PNGThe bass track was frozen and then added a short reverb from Cubasis to fill in some gaps between notes.
  • Lead – this is also Konablaster, but this time run through ToneStack:IMG_0659.PNG The signal path is fairly clean with just a little distortion followed by some shimmer effects ahead of a miked cabinet, no amp. A Cubasis Tape Delay was added after all this for a little more “shimmer”.
  • Pad – as mentioned above, this was the Iriguchi tenor mostly playing chords held for one or two bars. The hope was to create a synth-y, sustained pad sound, but even with the deep body, volume did not make it to the end of two bars. You can see the Tonestack signal chain features an echo unit as well as tremolo, vibrato, and chorus in effort to create the illusion of more sustain. Ahead of all that is another octave pedal to fill out part, this time using mostly one octave down and just a touch of the dry signal. This also helped fill in the sonic “low mid” hole between the low bass, “high mid” acoustic, and high lead parts.IMG_0660.PNG

Arrangement – I had an intro, two A, two B, and a short B section recorded. Ultimately, I threw out the short B opting for a simple intro-A-B-A-B-outro arrangement. This gave a solid target for the drums. Here’s the final Cubasis session:img_0661

Drum arrangement – I ended up recording over 30 samples, but the track was asking for a rather minimal rhythmic treatment, so I ended up using just 9 in the final arrangement. All three ukes did get representation though: Ono baritone (mid tom from back thump, hi-hat from sound hole rub, high and low congas from bridge thump, shaker from string rub, cowbell from side tap), Iriguchi Keystone tenor (kick from back thump, snare from top thump), Cocobolo super concert (ride from string squeak). A number of 4 and 8 bar loops were programmed in NanoStudio and exported as audio into Cubasis. The loops were laid out on the drum track, aligned on the bar but overlapping so the effect tail inside NanoStudio (just a bit of delay and reverb) didn’t get chopped off.

Mixing – the mix was a fairly straightforward affair with the typical EQ and pan moves. The main “room” reverb send effect came from AltiSpace using an impulse response from EchoThief called PurgatoryChasm (chosen in no small part just for the name 😉 ). The obviously odd part here was the use of Audio Reverb as a send effect to create an “unreal” space with long tail and super high frequency boosts that I named the “ice palace”. Send levels to this were automated so as not to overdo. It is most evident in the intro and outro but there are stabs to it from several tracks along the way.

Mastering – the usual EQ/stereo-widen/limit “awesome sauce” applied by Final Touch.

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