Updated: May 2, 2019
Dear Doonan are getting back into the studio. This time to record their long-awaited debut album. Inspired by the psychedelic sounds from the East, and fusing together their string swindling Westernised elements, Dear Doonan are bringing their powerhouse live show performances to conceptualise an East vs West LP. Working alongside studio veteran Adrian Carroll, and with the superior ear of Guy Gray, this album is set to be a doosy. So hold on to your seats, this will be a wild ride.
Months ago, Adrian and I met to chat about this recording idea. We discussed the logistics of a project this size; the idea of a live stereo recording, complete with a live stereo mix, which will be set in stone on the day of tracking. I then pitched a short, two track (with interlude), 15 minute set of eastern doom, and psychedelic jive to Adrian, and he became very interested.
The two track jams consisted of sitar solos, heavy percussive beats, psychedelic funk guitar licks, doom bass, and god like vocal melodies. All blended into an eastern tale of anti-political values, societal optimism and diverse musicianship.
This took place in December 2018. It worked so well that we (the band) decided to continue on and record the entire album.
The project plan is as follows:
Live Stereo Recording - Production Plan
Client: Dear Doonan
Date: Wednesday the 20th, to Saturday the 23rd of March, 2019
This project aims to achieve a 14 song, live recorded album in the Audient Studios. The band being recorded is Sunshine Coast psychedelic outfit, Dear Doonan. Multiple live rooms will be linked to the Audient 8024 control room, to create separation between the various instruments played by the six piece band. The session will be recorded live, bounced into stems, then mixed at a later date. It will be mastered by an outside source, and eventually printed on 12 inch vinyl, and released as Dear Doonan’s debut album across all digital music platforms.
About The Band:
Formed in May 2017, six piece psych-groovers, Dear Doonan, are known for their good-time, charismatic, and vast, psychedelic sound stylings. They fuse psych-rock, blues, funk, folk, and have a heavy middle eastern influence throughout their multi-instrumentalist creations. Dear Doonan have played a bunch of shows throughout SE QLD, among the release of their first single ‘Soultana (High on a Cool Wave), in April 2018. Approaching the release of their next single (aimed to be released in December), and after holding a few of their own shows, the band are planning to host a festival called ‘Farmed’, on the Sunshine Coast early next year. Dear Doonan have a dire commitment to their music, and it shines in their live performances.
Members: Zachariah Norton, Julian Homewood, Scott Montoya, Jamie Devers, Jim Smith, Steve Summers
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/deardoonan/
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/deardoonan/
CD Baby - https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/deardoonan
Bandcamp - https://deardoonan.bandcamp.com/
Producer/Engineer/Mix Engineer: Steve Summers - www.stonewaxproductions.com
Senior Engineer: Adrian Carroll - killerguitarcarroll.wordpress.com
Senior Mix Engineer: Guy Gray - https://studios301.com/recording-mixing/guy-gray/
Engineer/Mix Engineer: Joao Paulo Pereira
Assistant Engineer: Ash Saron (1013761) - https://perceptionaudio.wixsite.com/perceptionaudiosite
Assistant Engineer: Bhavya Sudhir Menon (1007781)
Assistant Engineer: Daniel Littman (1010733)
Songs & Instrumentation:
EAST SIDE (A)
Song 1 - Druids Raga
Song 2 - Hiradomaree
Song 3 - How Do You See?
Song 4 - Mountain Man
Song 5 - Brian Ferry's to Jonestown
Song 6 - Skull Shine
WEST SIDE (B)
Song 7 - Hey Lady
Song 8 - Tad Insane
Song 9 - Demons
Song 10 - Vegan
Song 11 - She'll Be Back
Song 12 - Puff Puff Give
Song 13 - Soultana (HOACW) LIVE
song 14 - Balthazar (Bonus Track)
Country Joe and the Fish - Grace https://open.spotify.com/track/14ktIU4NIECCqGZXXh6isi?si=jIUaeIdsTtuUciGUmxbYCg
The Doors - LA Woman https://open.spotify.com/track/6DmfWj5kOa1fX8AwN9byOn?si=j_WcVR5pRbGQciQe4u5msw
Pink Floyd - Another Brick In The Wall https://open.spotify.com/track/7K6xMPtAjTuLPNlJMLf5bS?si=xOJLCSXeQzmJv2FSUj_UHA
Kikagaku Moyo - Smoke and Mirrors https://open.spotify.com/search/results/kika
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Doom City https://open.spotify.com/album/4VgiURFXN6UsS6AshIsnmu
Funkadelic - Can You Get To That https://open.spotify.com/track/6QUngYwZ65et2ye7Bj85EK?si=GZ1hi9KcTga6rHm1fkDySg
Wednesday, 20th of March - Setup Schedule:
Thursday 21st/Friday 22nd/Saturday 23rd of March - Tracking Schedule:
Band Budget: $15,000
Production Cost Breakdown:
All recorded stems bounced as .wav (24 Bit, 44.1 KHz), organised into a separate stem folder to suit each individual song.
4 - 6 individual songs, mixed by Steve Summers in S6 studio, external to the recording sessions, to be delivered for submission in Week 13.
4 - 6 song masters.
NOTE: Continuation of this project will spill into Trimester 6, as we now have 14 tracks to mix and master, rather than the originally scoped 10. The scope has been minimised for the purpose of reaching a quality result ready for submission.
One Massive Setup
For a six piece band, with an abundance of instrumentation, Dear Doonan's musical ideas were really put into perspective once we began to tackle this setup, which took us about 8 hours to complete. Very few adjustments were made to the original plan, in terms of mic choice and placement, as well as signal flow and the effects chains. Thankfully, we were able to make an earlier start on this setup, which allowed us to finish with plenty of time to check the sounds.
Drums and Bass setup in Live Room A. Taking up a healthy 12 Channels of the Audient 8024.
We had three Overheads for the Drum mic setup. Two pencils over each tom, and a shotgun over the drummers shoulder.
Julian's Bass Rig. Complete with M88 cab mic, DI, and some yoga positions.
One room, four guitar amps. All our electric sounds were setup in the Audient A control room, with an added 16 channel multicore, linking this room to the control room.
In the initial sessions, we spent the first few hours on the Saturday morning completing our setup. Checking every instrument and source, and gain staging as we went. The headphone mix alone took about 2 hours. Though worth every second, as it made for a comfortable vibe, and well balanced mix for each of the band members. Before our lunch break, we played the songs, and were able to create a test mix from the recording. We had a listen, added some EQ and compression, then started tracking.
The first few takes were rough. The pressure was on, and the band members were getting frustrated with some of their efforts. It's not easy to perform live in an environment like this. All members worked super hard and really put their all into this session. 5 Takes later, the first song was down. We took a break, listened, and worked on the first live mix. We EQ'd and Compressed some more, Panned each source, and did some slight-of-hand fader automation, creating viable space among all the noisey instrumentation.
So much face touching going on...
Although, after a month of listening back to both tracks, we all agreed that we wanted to re-do the mixes, as some of the elements were a little buried in the mix. From here, the planning for the next mammoth session begins.
Let the Sessions Begin!
Continuing on with this mammoth setup, we ran with our new goal of tracking another 12 tunes for the album. Working again alongside some talented engineers, we made this gigantic project our bitch! This can be summed up into one word... Planning!
...And to make sure things flowed a lot easier, I added a breakdown of each song, depending on its instrumentation, to the production plan. This easy adjustment helped us efficiently change over between songs without the headache of trying to figure out who's where, when and how... It was a simple as this:
This 2 page sheet hung proudly in every room for each band member and team member to refer to.
We had the pleasure of working again with veteran Adrian Carroll (killerguitarcarroll.wordpress.com). This guy knows how to position a mic. And the way he captures a drum sound is second to none. Utilising the mics listed in the plan, and some tweaks to the kit, our drum sound was a 70s psych-rock gut buster. The perfect aesthetic for our sound. Pressure was on for us to perform... well!
“Getting the takes right was the most challenging thing. Better preparation and practice would have been helpful, but it’s always going to be different when recording. In recording sessions, you’re concentrating on every last tiny detail. Whereas a typical band practice, or live performance, doesn’t necessarily matter if you make a mistake or not, its improv! Especially if you’re focusing on the vibe and flavour of the show, then the odd mistake almost works. That’s the challenge with recording. We’re a live band. So trying to relax a little, and play with style tends to make you pull on the reigns. Making sure that every drum hit is precise and every horn note is in tune. It’s a balancing act of perfection and groove. Too perfect becomes too rigid, too relaxed becomes too loose.” - Jim Smith
Snare Doubles and Adding Some Crack — We toyed with the snare sound for a while. Our Gretsch Catalina Snare wasn’t holding its tune as well as we wanted. I think it might be time for some new skins. We ending up swapping out the Gretsch for a Ludwig Steel Snare. Even though it had more “pop” in its tone then I would have liked, it gave use a tighter tune than the Gretsch, allowing for an easier adjustment later in the mix.
After our mammoth session, and some edits, I found that the snare sound wasn’t as full in some of the heavier songs as I would have liked. The slower, more blues driven songs sounded great with the Ludwig, and the snare as it was helped carry the groove forward. Though for songs like Hey Lady, and Skull Shine, where the energy is far more rabid, I felt that the snare lacked a lot of crunch. So, with the wonderful virtual world of in-the-box mixing, and a little help from my friend and mixing/master legend, Joao Paulo Pereira, I was able to make a small adjustment to the snare to help it “crack!”
Again, we duplicated the Snare Top track. Added a gate purely to knock off the Attack and Release of the snare, leaving us with the middle of the transient (more focused on the harmonic).
We then pushed some of the low end through using an EQ, purely to fill out the harmonic range some more.
We inserted a Limiter, which helped push some of those worthy harmonics through. We then blended the duplicate with the Snare Top and Bottom mixes and found the sweet spot.
The result is a more harmonic snare. More crack, without an overkill distortion.
Julian's bass sound was again a driving force. I got him to focused on tonal choice for each different track, which gave him a lot of room to play with the tonality of his 1960s Greco P-Bass.
Bass Time Continuum (Phase Issues) —Julian Homewood, (aka Jewlion Bass Jesus) is undoubtedly the groovy glue that helps this free-flowing, click-avoiding band to keep time. His bass tones are implemented by feel, more so than dialed using amps or pedals. He uses a Greco P-Bass. Warm in its mids and diverse in its voicing.
Julian talks about his tone — “I play a hollow body (Greco) bass, which has a really warm mid range tone. It’s really responsive. I try to let the body’s tone come through and not rely on the amplifier too much. I always try to feel and hear the tone coming from the instrument itself, before adjusting anything else. This particular bass has a wide tonal range, allowing me to jam acoustically or add sub bass when needed.”
After everything was recorded and I was in the editing phase, I found that majority of the mixes was lacking something, and I couldn’t figure out what. And being unmixed, I thought that the bass was fighting with the kick drum and it might just needed some complimentary EQ. Though, after digging a bit of a hole for myself, and finally getting another set of ears on it (Thank you Ash Sharon you legend!), I found that the bass was out of phase on every track. Then, with a little flip of the Polarity switch on the Bass DI channel strip, all my low end came back and slapped me right in the face. There it was, hiding out of phase this whole time. Just goes to show that the simplest of things can be missed. Lesson learnt… Always check the Phase!
Mic Blends for Vocal Aesthetic —Knowing our lead singers vocal qualities and how he tends to perform as a vocalist is something I’ve learnt playing beside him for the last few years. Zachariah Norton doesn’t sing like a normal vocalist. He’s a jaw dropping songwriter and delivers in a way that compliments his character. Think Jim Morrison and Nick Cave meeting for a drink at Country Joe’s tavern.
Being familiar with Zachariah’s unique vocal style, we decided to double majority of his vocal tracks, emphasising his articulate, story-telling traits. So depending on the song style, we used a combination of a RE20 broadcast mic (Main vocal), and an AKG D190 as the vocal double. Then we overdubbed another double using an old Copperphone radio mic. This was the secret weapon. When blended, this combination gave us a grittier vocal tone that really helped glue Zachariah’s vocal delivery, allowing it to give each track (Demons, Vegan, Soultana) some viable aesthetic.
“Dear Doonan swirls between the East and the West. Folk simplicity mixes with psychedelic blues rock for transient grooves and colourful instrumentation. But most importantly, you’ll feel a little sad, mostly happy, and will almost certainly have a little chuckle whilst your body grooves around the dance floor!” - Zachariah Norton (2019)
Editing each of these sessions was luckily a walk in the park. Because every song was tracked live, there were only a few minor edits that needed to be made. Some in the performances (for example, a mis-hit, or bung note), others were as simple as topping and tailing each track, and adding crossfades. And for the first time ever… I’m using Pro Tools… Gasp!
I’m a very comfortable Logic Pro X user, and have been using Logic as my main DAW for the last 5 years of producing, mixing and editing, and the thought of editing and mixing in a different DAW can seem a little counter-productive in a project of this size. Though, I feel it is time to learn some of the ins-and-outs of this diabolical DAW and learn how to swim in the deep end of the audio pool. Pro Tools look out, I’m taking you over! All the sessions were recorded using a Pro Tools rig, so it was easy for me to begin the edits, and tackle each of the tracks quickly, without the headache of consolidation and inter-DAW-transfer, whilst learning a few keyboard shortcuts along the way.
In the box guitar reamping — With having such a dynamic guitar tone, (from heavy fuzz to sparkling blues tones) I almost always use a mic combination of an Shure SM57 and a Royer 121. This gives me a fuller frequency to work with. It’s better to have more than not enough. And by having two mics on the same source, it also acts as a safety net. Meaning, if one mic cuts out, and your take is awesome, then you don’t lose the magic. This is what happened in our tracking session. The Royer had a fault, causing it to cut in and out throughout the recording. Though, because I had the SM57 tracking as well, I didn’t lose my awesome guitar take.
Even though my take sounded a little thin, I was able to work with what I had to get the tonal balance I desired. A simple virtual reamping will do the trick.
Firstly, I duplicated the SM57 track onto another track. Called it reamp, and began searching for a suitable amplifier plugin. UAD has an astounding range of virtual amps and instruments, and I found a Fender 1955 Tweed Deluxe to layer my already recorded SM57 with. These plugins also allow you to chose and position different mics to find different tonal qualities. I dialed in a desirable tone and blended by pushing up the fader. It worked like a charm with no retracting needed. A 2 minute fix for something that would have taken 2 hours, 10 years ago. Use today’s software to your advantage.
After each song was cleaned up, I began a WIP (work in progress) mix for each, to then bring home to the band for a listening/note taking session. Luckily for me, we recorded everything so well, that the WIP mixes are sounding hot as is, so not much work will be needed to get them to a radio ready level. The band and I met up at my place to review our songs together. Here’s the edit and mix notes we all agreed on:
“The opportunity to record our album live was amazing! It’s enabled us to harness clarity amongst the chaotic tempo changes and utter disrespect we have for the word genre!” - Jamie Devers
Automation and Fader Riding - Automation can be your best friend when it comes to blending the levels of a very dynamic instrument. For this project, my lead guitar, being saturated with pedals, it can become quite the task trying to get the level to sit nicely in the mix. Some of the parts worked when blended, but there was always a few moments where the guitar cut right through the mix, creating harshness and a spike in the upper mid frequencies. So, we did what all good mix engineers would do, and “rode them faders”.
A very popular technique for mixing vocals and lead instruments. If you know the song, and can predict when these spikes will occur, you can intuitively push or pull the fader to compensate for a better blend. Here’s how you can do it ‘in-the-box’:
Assign WRITE mode to your desired channel. This can be found below the OUTPUT selection at the end of your channel. WRITE mode allows you to record your adjustment for any parameter whilst playback occurs.
Then, with playback happening (In this case, for the lead guitar, we started before the lead section comes in), you can freely and intuitively adjust the level of the fader in real time. Notice the automated level trim being written to your selected track in the edit window.
Then, tweak any irregular levels where needed. And if you’re not happen with that take, you can re-write over the last written automation just by starting again. Once happy with the adjustment, be sure to deactivate WRITE mode, and change it back to READ, otherwise you will be at risk of changing all your hard work.
Vocal Vs Lead Guitar Surround Panning Automation ie. The Cat and Mouse Technique
The same technique goes for automated panning. With some of the mixes being in 5.1 surround sound, Joao Paulo Pereira and I wrote the automated panning effect to the selected tracks using the panning pots and surround joy-sticks, giving us heaps of movement wherever needed. And also with our effects. We automated Phasers to fly around the room, a vocal and guitar effect that chased each other like cat and mouse around the 5.1 field and delays that would enter a void like the Doppler effect. So much fun and especially effective in an immersive surround sound environment.
Mono Drum Delay Trick - A subtle but effective technique to get your drums grooving. We created a new auxiliary track and added a mono delay. We dialed in a quarter note slap back delay, with a very subtle feedback at about 15%. This creates a sudden echo which gives the impression that the drummer is adding ghost notes, which in turn gets the whole rhythm grooving so much more. A very effective technique to liven up your drums if you’re using MIDI drums or a drum machine, or if your drums seem a little straight, which was the case for our track Tad Insane. We sent our Kick, Snare, and Tamborine to this auxiliary. Thank you Guy Gray for the oldie, but goodie.
Approaching these mixes, I've found that i've had to focus on some of the stronger sounding tracks first, seeing as i've had to down scope massively to adhere to a quality submission. So for now, alongside Joao Paulo Pereira, we decided to focus on Skull Shine, Hey Lady, Tad Insane, Puff Puff Give, She'll Be Back, and Balthazar. These tracks will also be up-mixed to 5.1 surround sound for the purpose of delivering a Live Session Documentary DVD.
Mastering for Delivery
I ain’t no Mastering Engineer, but what’s the harm in giving it a good ol’ fashion crack! I mean it’s kinda fun making something that already sounds really good… better. So here’s my attempt at Mastering four of the Dear Doonan bangers that Joao Paulo Pereira and I have been mixing over the last few weeks.
I imported all four bounced .wav files into a new DAW (Logic Pro X) session. I imported them in sequence onto one audio track, and that one audio track is where I will begin my processing. I compared the waveforms of each of the tracks and found that one of the songs (Balthazar) was far louder than the others, and being a live performance on only two microphones, so my options were a little limited in terms of processing. I honed in on the problem frequency, which in this case was around the 5 - 6 kHz mark (the low end of the lead vocal), and added a Multipressor to the source track. Focussing on the problem frequency, I was able to grab the peak with the compression and control it when it occurs. This plugin was Bypassed for all the songs except Balthazar, it engages when the song starts.
I then created a MASTER BUS auxiliary, where the majority of my processing chain will lie. See below how I’ve laid out my Mastering chains.
I then added a transparent EQ plugin to control some of the heavy low end information as it was really punching through, and I didn’t want it to be too heavy once I started adding more processing. Starting with a HPF at 20Hz, as well as a subtle HP shelf from 64 Hz at -3.0dB.
Then, at the very last insert in my MASTER BUS, I added a UAD Precision Limiter, with a ceiling of -0.3dB. I left it as a default Input level, this will change towards the end of the session, as I’ll push that level to make everything louder. By having the Limiter in place early allows me to work with a set ceiling level, which I can then mix into, making sure my music isn’t being squashed too much that it starts distorting.
NOTE: Below shows the end result of the Limiter, after dialing in the Input to make everything louder as a whole, after all processing has been carried out.
Next in my chain, after the transparent EQ, I added a much more colourful EQ, known as the UAD Pultec-Pro Legacy. This allowed me to added some shimmering colour to the overall mix. I chose a preset called Master - Full & bright, which is exactly what it says. However, it enhanced the mix a little too much, causing the OUTPUT to clip. Not good in the digital world. So I dialled back each amplitude, and with some subtle tweaks, I got the brightness I wanted to achieve. This was especially apparent in the stereo information.
Now, for some M/S (Mid and Side) processing. And I’ve cheated a little bit here, to save myself some headache routing. I used one of my favourite plugins from Waves called the Abbey Road TG Mastering Plugin. This plugin has it all, Tonal EQ, Compression, Limiting, and Filter, all with the option to process in Stereo, Mono, M/S, or the L or R sides individually. I used the M/S processing as my primary use, which adds uncanny analogue colour all in one place.
I started again with selecting a preset called Warm and Wide Modern Master, which gave me a starting point. I then EQ’d the Mid and Sides separately, allowing me to push more desired frequencies through the Mid (Focusing on the Lead Vocal, Lead Guitar, Bass, Kick and Snare), and adding some brightness to the Sides (Cymbals, Rhythm Guitars, Backing Vocals, and Time Based Effects). This really opened up the tracks creating a wide spread of pleasurable information.
Then, in the same plugin, I utilised the Limiter to get some extra loudness (leading up to the final Limiter). Again, focusing on M/S processing, I pulled back the MAKE UP GAIN on each, as there was a little too much Limited going on which was causing the mix to pump slightly, and honed in on the high frequencies, which resulted in a better balance between the highs and lows. I then pulled back my output level slightly to allow some more head room for the next piece of the processing puzzle.
One of my most used plugins in my tool kit, the J37 Tape Machine from Waves. This bad boy is the glue that has helped me tie all my processing together, whilst added some beautiful tape saturation to the overall mix. Again, starting with a preset, I adjusted the INPUT and OUTPUT levels to achieve a nice balance of glue and saturation. By pushing the INPUT too much your dynamics become at risk of distortion, so there was some fine tuning needed to achieve the right balance.
NOTE: Some adjustments were made to OUTPUTS on previous plugins to get the right feel and balance.
After this processing, I found that the mids and high end sounded a little thin compared to the low end. So I took a send from my source track, and called the auxiliary P LIM (Parallel Limiter & EQ). Then I inserted the Abbey Road TG12345, which gave me some dynamic EQ to blend into the overall mix. With some subtle presence added at 2.8kHz, and a wide spread over the stereo field, I pushed up the fader to give my tracks a huge amount of clarity, particularly in my stereo information.
Then, with an EQ inserted on my STEREO OUTPUT, I pushed the INPUT on my UAD Precision Limiter, monitoring the overall output and frequency response.
I’m pretty happy with my results. Still kind of heavy in the low end, though balanced across the board. I bounced out each track individually, and tested on a few different systems. They have continuity, they’re balanced, they shimmer, they punch, and they just sound bloody great!
So how do my masters compare to the industry standard?
To compare my masters to that of a real Mastering Engineer, I imported a couple reference masters:
A version of an earlier Dear Doonan track called Soultana (High on a Cool Wave). It was set to Chris Graham Mastering based in Ohio, in the US. His master was punchy, bright, and loud.
And a CD Master of the debut single from Dorah Jacson called Away. This was mastered by Archive Audio, which was a very dynamic and loud master as well. In particular, the vocal presence and stereo width were the attributes that I referred to the most.
I imported both into my session, and used them as a reference for the loudness and overall balance. I used the UAD Precision Limiter, which was last in my MASTER BUS chain, to match the loudness levels of my tracks to that of the references. Though, some aesthetics were very different in terms of genre and musical style, the level and balance was what I was focusing on, and therefore these references were a perfect fit for my comparison.
Even though the my mastering worked, I still feel I won’t keep it. We want this album to be release on vinyl, so the mastering process will change to suit that process. I feel that someone will do a far better job than I‘ve done. Someone who does Mastering for a living. Some who has a controlled monitoring environment that can surgically go in a process our music so that I works on all levels. And someone who has a real tape machine. I will cross that bridge when it comes.
“If we can get through 5 years without killing each other, it will be an accomplishment in itself. We are learning more and more about each other each time we play, and we are very critical of each together too. So as long as we have direction, the sky’s the limit for Dear Doonan.” - Scott Montoya
After a few changes to the scope, and some project aspects being prioritised, I was able to deliver 4 Mastered tracks for now. I can't be happier with the work we have produced, and I owe the world to Joao Paulo Pereira. I couldn't have gotten the quality we have achieved without him.
I will continue to work through the mixes in the hope to have them ready for release towards the end of the year. Stay tuned for more progress on the mixing stage.