Lady Gaga – Poker Face
The piece that I have been working on most recently is Poker Face by Lady Gaga. The track was originally recorded in first year as part of an introduction to recording methods and as a result the quality of the audio files and recording/mixing techniques are rough at best. I decided that this presented a great challenge for me to try and show not only the progress I have made over the last few months but also that of the last 4 years at University in terms of mixing and production.
Upon reopening the session after 3 years my first decision was to rename all of the tracks to something more familiar to me, as well as cutting and deleting all regions with silence. The tracks were put into groups depending on their instrumentation and also stemmed via stereo busses to separate ‘sub’ mix, stereo aux tracks – something which I have done religiously since the technique was made aware to me during my third year. The drum tracks featured kick, snare top and bottom, floor tom and overheads. All except the overheads were treated with subtle EQ to ‘warm them up’ as they were all sounding very thin and also had a few unwanted overtone frequencies removed. The kick drum was mildly compressed to level the transients making them more consistent, without overdoing it, as I had planned ahead to use some parallel compression later on. To do this the kick drum and snare top and bottom were bussed to separate aux channels and fed with heavy compression which was blended with the dry drum sub to create the parallel compression. This can be seen here on the left:
The snare drum required a lot of work to try and make it sound even reasonable a I set up another aux channel and bussed the snare top to it and gave it some very aggressive EQ to give it a very different texture. This was then blended with the dry track and the snare bottom track to help enhance the sound of the drum. This can be seen here to the right:
With the overall kit sounding much better I treated the drum sub with the Oxford Equaliser & Filter plug in to brighten the whole drum kit as it was beginning to sound a little muddy behind the other instruments with all of the alterations, as without them the whole kit was thin and ‘tinny’ despite cutting through.
I moved onto the bass guitar next. It required a little bit of elastic audio treatment to align one or two of the transients with the click as it played slightly out of time in sections. By placing the event markers and shifting the warp markers forward this issue was resolved. Both the bass, acoustic guitars were all mildly compressed and only required subtle warming with EQ and the AIR Enhancer as their audio quality was surprisingly good. I also found that the electric guitars responded extremely well to the same treatment, only this time I had to be very aggressive with the EQ, left, to completely reshape the sound and mellow it significantly. With this complete they were re-amped through a PSA-1 to create their final tone.
All of the female vocal tracks (melody, harmony rap and counter melody) were given moderate compression and EQ. The rap and counter melody were later given more surgical EQ to deliberately alter the sound for effect, right.
Reverb was later added to the female vocals to help it blend a little better with the rest of the track, but by doing so they also needed a De-Esser to remove the undesired frequencies.
The male vocals were heavily compressed as they were very quiet in the mix and had to be brought much further forward, as was the intention for effect. The three male vocal tracks were panned left, centre and right to provide a full stereo backing vocal, while also taking phasing into account should it be mono-tested. A gate was required on one of the male vocal tracks because it had two vocals on it, over-ran significantly and needed cut out without affecting both vocals.
Finally the track was mastered using the ‘layback’ technique taught in Recording Studio Theory & Practice 3. All of the sub stems were bussed to a separate aux and the mastering plug ins on the master fader were copied to the aux fader. Next the aux track output was sent to a new stereo audio track which was record enabled and by hitting record, the session was ‘laid back’ to this audio track in real time.
The main issues encountered with this song were the electric guitars battling with the vocals for space and similarly with the male vocals and bass guitar. These issues were solved by chopping space with surgical EQ and panning the male vocals away from the centre to allow the bass to sit in the middle of the stereo field. The tone of the guitars was horrible at best and this has been resolved with similar EQ and re-amping. In addition to these instruments, the drum kit needed completely reworked. I had looked into the possibility of using triggered midi samples to layer onto the existing live drums. However, because of the tone of the overall track and the instrumentation I decided that such triggering would potentially make the drums sound artificial and quite jaded alongside the rest of the instrumentation.
Having been presented with the session ahead of taking it on as the assessment it was decided that the production should follow a similar guise as the original non-produced version. Instead of potentially creating a dance track out of the raw audio files I have kept i more like a ‘Live Lounge’ version, something which its tongue-in-cheek’ nature is suited to. It is worth, however, exploring the possibilities of midi triggering with live sounds. A short example can be heard on Dave Pensado’s Video from one of my previous posts.
Over the past few weeks the Production & Professional Practice module has provided me with invaluable knowledge and experience with which to take forward to future recording and production sessions. Initially some of the techniques such as parallel compression and side-chain compression were great tools to play around with and experiment with how far I could take them to create different sounds. But as the module has progressed I have learned to use them more subtly and, through practice, how to really enhance the sound of an instrument tastefully. One thing I have completely taken on board and will continue to use in every session is stem mixing. I have found it to be a most useful way of organising my sessions and mixing more tastefully and have found a new appreciation for the sonic differences between minutely variable mixes.