I recently had the opportunity to remix a previously unreleased Scatman Crother’s song, “Scoot On Over To Scat’s” (produced by Andrew Melzer in 1979).  It was a lot of fun to work on a track from such an icon of the 70s.  It was also a serious challenge because all I had to work with was an unmastered, stereo mix.  The multitrack tapes had been lost long ago.  But, as the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  Or, at the very least gave me a serious work out using the Pro Tools Elastic Audio’s warp markers, and writing my own music on top of a preexisting disco groove. Whew!

Here’s a video tour of my Pro Tools session explaining how I pulled off this remixing magic.

You can hear the original “Scoot On Over To Scat’s” song here, http://youtu.be/jsXxRFxATaU.  And this is my remix. Enjoy!

Scatman’s Background

Benjamin Sherman Crothers, born May 23rd 1910 in Terre Haute, Indiana (passed away November 22nd, 1986 in Van Nuys, California), started performing in the speak-easy circuit of Chicago in the latter part of the 20s.  In 1931, he got his own radio show on WFMK Dayton, Ohio, billing himself as “Scat Man”. In 1935, he made his first appearance in a film, a short called “Symphony In Black” with Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday. He would go on to act in 45 more motion pictures including “The Shining”, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”, “Bronco Billy”, “Aristocats”, “The Shootist”, “Silver Streak”, “The Lady Sings The Blues”, “Scavenger Hunt”, “Twilight Zone: The Movie”, and “Transformers: The Movie”.

In 1943, Scatman moved to Hollywood, California and hired an agent. In 1948 he was one of the first African-Americans to land a recurring role on a network TV show, “Dixie Showboat”. Over the next three decades, Scatman appeared in hundreds of TV programs including 65 episodes of NBC’s sitcom “Chico and the Man” as Louis the garbage-man, 18 guest appearances on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show”, and “Colgate Comedy Hour”, “The Jack Benny Show”, “Nat King Cole Show”, “The Steve Allen Show”, “Casablanca”, “Hong Kong Phooey”, “Roots”, “The Super Globetrotters”, and “Sanford and Son”. Scatman Crothers received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in front of the Egyptian Theatre.

After returning from summer vacation in Hawaii I needed a little remixing exercise to get me back into a music production mood. The Kerli’s “Army of Love” remix opportunity on www.indabamusic.com looked like just the ticket. I signed up and downloaded the vocal stems. Technically speaking, they weren’t the best vocal stems I’ve ever heard. They downloaded as WAV files but sounded like they had been converted from MP3 files. And, there was some type of parallel effect or headphone bleed mixed in with the backing vocals. You could hear the original music in the backing vocals stem. But this is what everybody had to work with, so I got busy.

I timed the vocals into my Pro Tools session, made a slight tempo change, a few beats per minute faster, and found one of my tracks that sort of matched Kerli’s performance. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on this so using one of my already produced tracks made the most sense. With a key and tempo change, a few new chords, and a couple of structural modifications to the drums I was able to get a tight sounding mashup.

Then, I spent a lot of time making the vocal stems pop in the mix. The magic bullet for this job was iZotop’s Nectar, the “complete vocal suite” plug-in, and the always fun Stutter Edit plug-in (which I’ve blogged about previously, Stutter Edit by BT). I also did a lot of automation on the vocals to remove breaths, background noise, and bleed from the original tracks.

Whew, a lot of work, but I think it came out sounding pretty cool. It was definitely a good warm up before getting back into my busy composing and production schedule. Plus, I got to play with Nectar and Stutter Edit. All the synth and drum sounds are being produced by Reason 5, rewired into Pro Tools 9. Here’s the video tour of my remix session.

I also threw together a cool video montage to go with the remix. You can find it on my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/erikhawkmusic. (Like me on Facebook please.) And, if you feel inspired to do so, you can listen to and vote for my remix on the indaba music site.  Thanks!

Stutter Edit by BT

Jan 23 2011

The new Stutter Edit plug-in, conceived and developed over the past fifteen years by pioneering electronic music artist and composer, BT, is pretty amazing. Upon installing this plug-in on my system I feel like I’ve got BT in the studio with me helping to produce stutter edits and breaks in my song. Really, it’s like I hired him as a technical consultant just for his stutter edit production techniques. It used to take me hours, even days to cook up these sound effects, through intricate slicing and dicing of waveforms and automating stacks of effects. Now, I can simply play a key on my keyboard and get the same, if not better, results! I can’t restrain myself from exclaiming, “It’s BT in a plug-in!”

How It W-w-w-works

Here’s how it works, simply insert Stutter Edit on the audio track that you want to stutter. Then, set up a MIDI track to send MIDI note and controller data to the Stutter Edit plug-in. Now, play your song and whenever you want to hear a stutter effect press a note on your keyboard to trigger one of the preset stutter effects. It’s that simple, and the presets sound great! Plus, to add more dynamics and enhance your ability to really play the effects, Pitch Bend is assigned to the plug-in’s global, resonant filter effect, and the Mod Wheel let’s you control different real-time dimensions of a preset. For example, moving the Mod Wheel could alter the speed of a preset’s stutters. You can record your MIDI performance and automate Stutter Edit directly from the MIDI track.

Sutter Edit comes with a ton of ready-made stutter effects spread out across the entire keyboard, right when you open it, so you can get to stuttering immediately. It also includes banks of stutter effect presets from BT himself, and a other electronic music luminaries, such as Richard Devine. If you’re not into the presets, you can certainly program your own stutter effects, from a simple eighth note stutter to crazy lo-fi distortion with delays and noise sweeps. Its many controls—Quantize, Delay, Gate, Filters, Buffer Position, Bit Reduction, Pan, Lo-Fi, Stutter Matrix, and Arpeggiator—combined with its Generator noise synthesis section gives you the ability to cook up just about any cutting edge stutter effect that you can dream of. Way too much fun!

Imagine the Possibilities

Sutter Edit is incredibly useful in the studio, but what I’m equally impressed by is its live performance potential. For example, stutter effecting loops in Ableton Live, in real-time right from your MIDI keyboard. Obviously, BT is deep into such things. He didn’t just dream up this plug-in in the studio, he wanted to take his stutter effects to the stage for live performances. And, clearly, he’s done exactly this, giving Stutter Edit plenty of beta testing during his Laptop Symphony shows. So, even though this is just version 1.0, it’s reassuring to know that it’s been out on the road and thoroughly tested by a pro, in high-profile, real life gigs. We know it works for live shows, not just in how it’s designed, but that it’s reasonably stable as well. How many software companies can say this about their newest software?

I’m already seeing and hearing grumblings on discussion threads saying, “I’ll never use Stutter Edit. I take pride in programming my own stutter effects one edit at a time.” Well, fine, I’ll have an entire track of stutter effects produced in the time it took you to do just one. And, besides, given a little time and patience—I know stutter edit producers have plenty of this—you can program your own unique stutter effects in this plug-in, assign them to keys on your keyboard, and save them in your own bank of presets. You don’t have to sound like the factory presets, you can develop your own unique stutter effect sound. Then, you can perform your stutter edits live, whether in the studio or on stage. This most certainly isn’t something you can do with that one stutter edit you just spent all day programming in your DAW. OK, enough said.

In the coming years, I predict that Stutter Edit will be massively overused, not unlike the AutoTune vocal sound (you know, Cher and T-Pain). Hopefully, the effect will be used tastefully, artfully, and without going completely overboard with it. Though, admittedly, I’ve probably already failed in this department—it’s just too much fun to play with. In fact, after about six instances of Stutter Edit in my Pro Tools session I managed to crash hard, several times, eventually completely freezing my Mac. Fortunately, after a quick reboot I was back in business and everything was running smoothly again. I also had problems controlling clipping at the plug-in’s output, because some of the effects pumped out serious amplitude spikes. A soft clip limiter section in the next build of Stutter Edit would be greatly appreciated.

Stutter Edit is distributed and supported by Izotope. There’s a lot of wonderful information about Stutter Edit on their Web site,
http://www.izotope.com/products/audio/stutteredit/index.asp
But, the best way to really appreciate Stutter Edit is download the trial version and take it for a test drive yourself. Also, check out this video tour of how I used Stutter Edit in a remix of my song “Delicious People”, for which the remix stems are available on my CD, Erik Hawk & The 12-Bit Justice League.
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/erikhawk

Sidechain compression is a wonderful production trick. Originally, it was used to duck music behind an announcer’s voice on the radio. Each time the announcer would speak the music’s volume would be automatically lowered. Today, it’s widely used in dance music to create that “pumping” sound in the mix.

Sidechain compression works by using another sound to trigger, or key, a compressor rather than the signal on which the compressor itself is inserted. For example, you could set up a bass line to be compressed each time the kick drum plays. The compressor is inserted on the bass channel, but the kick drum keys the bass compression. This is how you create that ubiquitous pumping bass sound heard in dance music, where each time the kick plays the bass is automatically ducked so that the kick drum isn’t drowned out by the bass tone. It’s a great effect that sounds like the bass line is breathing with the kick drum.

You can also set up sidechain compression using a key sound that won’t be heard in your actual mix. For example, if your kick drum pattern isn’t four-on-the-floor (all quarter notes), but you still want the bass line to have that pumping four-on-the-floor feel. To accomplish this, set up a MIDI track that plays a drum sound (such as a kick drum sample) playing only quarter notes. Then, use this signal as the audio that keys the bass compression, but don’t send this audio to your main mix. In Reason, it’s a snap to set this up using Redrum’s step sequencer to loop a four-on-the-floor pattern, and then send Redrum’s audio directly to an MClass Compressor’s Sidechain Input. I’m attaching a Reason 5 song file for you to check out how this is set up. (You must have Reason 5 or higher to open this song file.)

Most professional DAW programs feature at least one compressor that has a sidechain input. For example, Pro Tools has its Compressor/Limiter Dyn 3 plug-in, Logic has its Compressor plug-in, and Record features the MClass Compressor. While setting up a keyed compressor will vary a bit from one DAW program to the next, the basic operating concept is always the same. You want to send an audio signal to the compressor’s sidechain input, and you may need to enable this input function. Often, you’ll use a bus to send signal to the compressor’s sidechain input. And, you’ll want to set the compressor’s parameters for heavy compression to achieve the most dramatic effect possible. For example, a high Ratio with lots of gain reduction. Here’s a video of how to set up sidechain compression in Pro Tools using its Compressor/Limiter Dyn 3 plug-in.

Click to hear sidechain compression on synth bass.

Reason_Sidechain.zip

Contests are a cool way to promote your songs and get your name out there. Here’s a good one that I’m in right now, the www.indabamusic.com Nightclub City Original Song Contest. The song I entered, “Super Star”, is a killer track from my new album that has already been heard on Ugly Betty (ABC), in a great scene with Vera Wang and Posh Spice.

Here’s it is in Ugly Betty, along with a montage of a couple of my other songs in popular television shows.

But, back to the contest at hand. This contest is for some potential airplay that could really help get my song out to a wider audience. Please take a moment and vote for me, it would mean a lot. I would love to finish in the top 25, right now I’m hanging out around number 60, out of over 1,000 entries. Please vote before October 7th, because that’s when the contest ends. Thank you!

If you like the song, and as a special thank you for your support, “Super Star” is available as a free download on my facebook page,
http://www.facebook.com/erikhawkmusic

Peter Gabriel Remix

Jul 02 2010

Please vote for my remix at indabamusic by clicking on the widget below, and ask all of your friends to vote for me too. Voting goes until July 15, 2010. And, if you send me to London I promise to bug Gabriel for all of his best production tricks so that I can bring them back here and share them with all of you.

As a rule, I don’t generally have time to enter the many amazing remix contests offered on indbamusic.com. But, this time, I couldn’t pass up a chance to remix a classic Peter Gabriel song, “Games Without Frontiers”. And, more importantly, a chance to have Gabriel listen to my work and maybe even meet him in London! That’s just to cool of an opportunity to pass up. With everything that Gabriel has done in his life, both musically and as a philanthropist, he’s definitely a hero of mine. So, I went for it.

Remixing is a form of music production. Just like producing a song for an artist, the object shouldn’t be about imposing your musical ideas on another musician’s composition and performance. Instead, it’s about helping the artist and their material to be the best that they can be. To this end, I think it’s important to respect the songwriter’s original message and the vocalist’s performance when remixing, especially when the vocalist is the songwriter. Ideally, the recognizable elements of the song, such as vocal phrases and guitar lines, should be audible in your remix. With this in mind, I felt “Games Without Frontiers” could benefit from a more guitar-driven, pop rock arrangement, with a full kit played over an updated Roland CR-78 drum loop, and a touch of orchestral elements for added texture and movement.

In these videos, I take you on a mini tour of my “Games Without Frontiers” remix session using Pro Tools and Reason. There’s a lot to explain in this session, so I broke the tour into two videos. The first focuses on drums and rhythm section instruments (bass, guitars, piano, etc.). And, the second focuses on orchestral elements, voice parts (lead and backing vocals), and mastering. I’m also attaching the Pro tools session file, without its audio files, to this blog so that you can look through the session and see how it’s all set up.

Peter Gabriel Remix Session Video Tour (Part 1)

Peter Gabriel Remix Session Video Tour (Part 2)

*Remember, you can double click on these videos and watch them directly on YouTube to see them in HD.</em

The session file as a Zip.
PG REMIX VIDEO TOUR
Download directions:
Right-click PC and from the pop-up menu choose, “Save Link as…”
Control-click Mac and from the pop-up menu choose, “Save Link as…”

I always sequence my drum beats in real-time, using a MIDI controller, such as my keyboard or drum pads. But, I understand that not everybody feels confident enough to knock out their beats in this manner. And, if you don’t feel confident about playing a drum beat it makes perfect sense to gravitate towards a drum pattern sequencer (such as the one found on Redrum). Feeling out drum beats using step keys, as the pattern loops over and over, is a great way to get your feet wet. Plus, there’s definitely something positive to be said about the pattern sequencer “feel” and what it can add to dance, hop-hop, and other styles of electronic influenced music.

That said, I’m here to tell you that there’s a better way to pattern sequence. Using your DAW program’s snap to grid mode, Pencil Tool, and MIDI editing tools you can knock out superior sounding pattern sequences and arrange your patterns into a song in a fraction of the time that it would take you to automate all of your patterns using a traditional pattern sequencer. Students often ask me how to program beats in their DAW, and this is the secret. So, drop your virtual drum instrument’s built-in pattern sequencer and start using your DAW program’s Pencil Tool and snap to grid function instead. If you’re going to program beats, and you’re already using a pro DAW (such as Pro Tools, Digital Performer, Record, and Logic), this is a great way to drop your beats. Have fun! :-)

Oops, I hit the maximum allotted time for a video on YouTube. Here’s the second half.

PS — Remember, if you double click on these videos you can watch them in HD on the YouTube site.

Wondering how much compression you should use in the mix? Maybe you’re skeptical that compression really makes a difference? It’s a difficult effect to get a handle on and to really use effectively. It starts by being able to hear the difference between a mix that has compression and one that does not. To this end, I’ve cooked up a phat drum beat and given it a mix with lots of compression. In this video, I switch all of the compressors on and off while the beat is playing, so you can seriously hear the difference. And, at the same time I flip through the compressors on each channel so you can peep my settings. Enjoy!

PS — This video can be seen in full screen HD if you go to YouTube. Double click on the video above to jump directly to the full screen version.

When to Solo

Jun 27 2009

Every term, without fail, I get a few assignments handed in with all of a mixer’s solo buttons enabled. The usual problem seems go something like this, “I turned a solo button on and it muted all of the other channels on the mixer. I’m not sure what happened but in order to hear my mix again I had to turn all of the solo buttons on.” As ridiculous as this might sound to a pro, it’s a common mistake for beginners. If you don’t know what the purpose of the solo button is you’re not going to understand what’s going on when you press it. So, let’s clear this up once and for all.

At its core, the solo button on a mixer channel allows you to quickly audition a signal all by itself, or with a group of other solo enabled channels, without needing to mute all of the channels that you don’t want to hear. For example, if you see a signal on Channel 10 but you’re not sure what it is because you haven’t labeled that channel yet, press the channel’s solo button. Or, if you need to have a closer listen to the blend on a three part vocal harmony, press the solo buttons on all three harmony channels and instantly mute all of the other tracks in your mix. Then, to return your mixer to its normal monitoring mode, turn off all the solo buttons. Pro mix engineers are constantly switching back and forth between listening to soloed signals and the whole mix as they’re working.

The obvious reason why you don’t want to leave mixer channels in solo mode is because you might have a channel muted somewhere on your mixer that’s supposed to be in your mix. It’s easy to hear if you’re missing something really obvious like a guitar or vocal part, but you might not so easily realize that you’re missing an aux effect return channel. For example, if you’ve soloed a bunch of tracks your reverb return channel might be muted, and, consequently, you’d be missing much of the depth and space in your mix that was being created by your group reverb effect. (If you’re not sure about how a group reverb effect works, check out my earlier blog titled, “Let’s Talk Reverb“.)

At this juncture, it’s worth noting that there will be channels you never want muted when you press a solo button. For example, if you always want to hear a soloed track with its group reverb effect intact. Or, when you have a MIDI control track that always needs to be running in the background (such as a drum track or controller data). In these situations, you never want the tracks muted when you solo a mixer channel. So, to safeguard these tracks the best designed mixers have a function called solo-safe which allows you to disable the track mute action for those channels in solo-safe mode. For example, in Digidesign’s Pro Tools you press Command (Mac), or Control (PC) and click on a solo button to enable a channel’s solo-safe mode.

It’s also worth noting that there are several different types of solo modes, dependent on the level of mixer (hardware or software) that you’re using. Top of the line pro mixers may have three or four different solo modes that you can switch between, while a basic home studio mixer usually just has one set solo mode. The two most common modes that you need to understand are latching and canceling. They may have different names dependent on the mixer’s manufacturer, but they will always operate in the same basic fashion. On a mixer with latching solo the solo button stays on until you turn it off. You can keep pressing solo buttons and they will all stay on until you turn each one off. On a mixer with canceling solo pressing a solo button turns it on and pressing another solo button turns the last solo button off. Consequently, in canceling mode you can only have one channel soloed at a time unless you hold down a modifier key while pressing additional solo buttons (such as the Shift key in Pro Tools).

I wish every mixer had, at the very least, these two basic solo modes. However, more often than not most mixers only feature the latching solo mode. And, those mixers that do have both modes are usually set by default to latching. Though, I can’t help but think that having the default solo mode set, instead, to canceling would help beginners avoid a lot of confusion. This, and Mackie’s brilliant feature on their hardware mixers, the Rude Solo Light. It’s a big red indicator that let’s you know whether you have a solo button engaged somewhere on your mixer. Indeed, novices and pros alike can use this feature because when a mixer contains a ton of channels and a solo button is accidentally left on somewhere on the mixer, especially on a channel that has little or no audio, trying to figure out where all of your sound went can leave even the best producer scratching his (or, her) head for a minute.

Mackie Rude Solo 420
photo credit: inweaknessbe’s photostream

In lesson 2 of my Remixing with Pro Tools and Reason course I ask students to cook up a comprehensive rewire session that will work as a template for remixing. Needless to say, we go over all the details and really get deep into it. But, often, because there are so many possible ways to build your environment (the Reason rack and the Pro Tools tracks) students are often left questioning whether their setup is really the best. Well, the only way to know for sure if your rewire session setup will work well for you is to jump in and start using it. This way, you’re actually working with your setup instead of just thinking about it. No doubt, you’ll be making changes and improvements over time.

In the spirit of sharing and knowing that a really good example is worth a thousand words (or more), I’ve cooked up a rewire session template based on what works well for me when I’m composing and mixing. I’m attaching it here as a Zip containing the Pro Tools 8 session file, the Reason 4 song file, and a Word document listing my suggested rewire inputs. The rewire session is for all of you to study, use, and modify. There’s a short demo in the Pro Tools session that’s just there as a sound check. Erase the demo before you start writing your own music so that you can start with a clean slate.

Have fun and keep finishing your productions!

ReWire Session Template

ReWire Session Template Zip

Download directions:
Right-click PC and from the pop-up menu choose, “Save Link as…”
Control-click Mac and from the pop-up menu choose, “Save Link as…”