Stories From The Studio: Printing FX

I recently signed a deal for a song that I co-wrote with my buddy Joel for our Big Blue Shoes project. It's more of a Pop-Rock/Indie Pop/Rock kind of "band" and a definite departure from my Crushing Gray project and the "typical" Big Blue Barry metal tracks. But I digress... so, the library that is signing the track wants an instrumental version of the track as well as the full version with vocals. No problem. So I thought...

Though it feels like I've been doing this a LOT longer, the truth is, I've only been at this film/TV/production library and songwriting "career" for about two and a half years now. Granted, I've been playing music for a long time, and I did write my first song YEARS ago. It wasn't until January of 2008 that I truly became serious about it.

During these last two and a half years, I've had to learn quite a bit. Some of it was about songwriting. A LOT of it was about song production. I can pick things up pretty quick when it comes to "techie" stuff, but I didn't have the formal background or training that a lot of my peers, colleagues, and competition had. I've pretty much taught myself every step of the way. That's been a very fulfilling process, but I know that I've missed out on some things here and there. Which brings me to the topic of this post... printing FX.

I needed to export two copies of the song for the library, one version with vocals and the other just a simple instrumental mix with no vocals at all. I had already made both versions of the mix back when we first worked on the track but since I had to export them in a different format than I already had them in, I was going to have to open up the session. When I opened up my Pro Tools session and gave both versions a listen, I quickly realized that something was wrong.

We had made some changes to the song for a theme song pitch about a year ago. When I finished with the remix after re-doing the vocals, I didn't bother to make a new instrumental version. When I listened back I realized that I must have made more changes than just some new vocal parts. No big deal I figured. I'll just remix the entire track again. Shouldn't take too long, 30 minutes tops. Oh how I wish that were the case :-)

When I listened back to the "non-rendered" version of the session I could tell something was off. For my non-musician friends, here's an analogy to explain what I mean by "non-rendered" version. Think of an empty room in a house, let's pretend it's a living room. In this scenario, the living room represents the "song". Now imagine you have 2 couches, a love seat, a coffee table, and an entertainment center. Those pieces would represent the individual instruments. For example, the 2 couches would be the 2 guitar tracks (one for each side), the entertainment center would be the drum set, the coffee table would be the bass guitar, and the love seat would be the vocals.

So when I say I'm working with the "non-rendered" version of the session, that would be akin to an interior decorator working in the living room with those pieces of furniture, trying to arrange them in such a way as to get the maximum appeal for the room as well as make it appealing to you. Each piece can be moved around and placed in a variety of positions. Some will work and some won't. While I don't know this for certain (I'm not even close to being an interior decorator) I would imagine that there are probably some rules, or guidelines, that have been developed over the years that an I. D. would use when setting up a room. And of course, some rules will be broken depending on the situation. Same thing applies to mixing. Sorry to get off track so much but I wanted to make sure that my non-musician friends weren't totally lost.

OK, so back to the song. As I listened back to the song, I knew something was wrong. Specifically, the vocals sounded off. I noticed that I had a Melodyne plug-in (this is similar to AutoTune) on each of the tracks. For some reason, I didn't actually "print" the FX on the vocal tracks. For my non-musician friends, a similar concept would be buying an article of clothing at the store but leaving the tag on it because you're not sure if you're going to keep it or not, so you want the ability to exchange it for something else if you decide not to keep it. It's a commitment issue :-) lol

I opened up the Melodyne plug-in that was associated with the lead vocal track and a little box appeared, one that I had never seen before. And then it hit me. This track was done over a year ago. Since that time, I upgraded my Melodyne plug-in. And this was no ordinary upgrade. So after a few minutes of trying to figure out what was going on, I was able to get a grasp on the situation. I had to locate the "temporary work" files that the old Melodyne plug-in used so that this new version could import those values. Fortunately, I was able to do that.

And as soon as I had all of those values imported, I IMMEDIATELY printed the FX

So at the end of the day, something that I thought would only take about 30 minutes tops, ended up taking closer to 3 hours. Lesson learned.

Until next time...
- Big Blue


Cody @ Captive Records said...

I bet that was a frustrating time. I've had situations similar where something that I've worked on a while back, upon reopening, seems a bit off. You always have that feeling in your stomach that however it had been or was supposed to be was just gone and you going to have to start over.

Glad to hear it all worked out though!

Big Blue Barry said...

It was SOOOOO frustrating! But a good learning experience.