Reflection / Mixdown – Fact Or Fiction?

Project Overview

The primary aim of this project was be to highlight the inherent discourse behind our current level of media saturation and on-line content. This was achieved by delivering a a video essay that features a rapid succession of jarring and unexpected combinations of video segments that were edited in sync with the soundtrack. The soundtrack forms the basis of this reflection.

The reference track: Bad Romance

Written and produced by Lady Gaga and Red One

Mixdown engineer  –  Robert Orton 

Sound On Sound article – Robert Orton (Just Dance and Bad Romance)

Genre Perspective – Electro Pop

One of electro pop’s biggest stars who produces some of the most successful hits within this genre, is Lady Gaga. One of her most successful recordings: Bad Romance, has been referred to as one of the most important music tracks of ‘the digital download age’ and consequently, one of the most important recordings within the electro pop genre. Peter Robinson, writing a history of pop for The Guardian, refers to Bad Romance and suggests:

“Lady Gaga’s fourth top 10 single [Bad Romance], marked the coronation of the download era’s first pop superstar. It was also the song whose irresistible energy and success elevated Gaga to a level where Madonna comparisons became commonplace. Written by the then 23-year-old Gaga on her tour bus in Norway and produced by long-term collaborator, Morocco-born, Sweden-raised RedOne, Bad Romance is a song about being in love with your best friend, as well as being perpetually drawn to the wrong people in general.” (Robinson, 2017)

Simon Reynolds writing for the Guardian suggests that the term ‘electro pop’ now has a very broad usage than when the term was originally created in the early 1980s. For example

” in the actual 1980s and for whom “electro” meant something specific: that Roland 808bass-bumping sound purveyed by Afrika Bambaataa and Man Parrish, music for bodypopping and the electric boogaloo … [during the 1990s] ‘electro’ came to refer to something much more vague: basically, any form of danceable electronic pop that sounded deliberately dated, that avoided the infinite sound-morphing capacities of digital technology (ie the programs and platforms that underpinned most post-rave dance) and opted instead for a restricted palette of thin synth tones and inflexible drum machine beats. “Electro” meant yesterday’s futurism today.” (Reynolds, 2017)

Dale Kawashima writing for Songwriter universe, interviewed Lady Gaga’s producer Red One (Nadir Khayat) about the role he plays in producing hit songs with artists like Lady Gaga. His perspective on creating melodies was summed up below:

To me, melodies are the universal language. Whether you understand a specific language or not, you will feel something (when you hear the music). So the way I write my melodies and my music, is that my music always has that positive energy. It’s something that’s engaging—they can feel something special, that makes you want to either dance or scream or jump or sing along together with people. I think the world more than ever needs that, and it just fits to my personality . [I believe] the world needs to be together and feel good, and that’s what I love trying to do with my music.” (Kawashima, 2017)

Musical concepts

A musical element, recently described as ‘the millennial whoop’ was included in this project. This phrase explains a key musical factor that is contained within the main chorus melody of many commercially successful electro pop / dance recordings and utilises the interval between the third, fifth and root note of any major scale.

The ‘millennial whoop’ explained – Patrick Metzger

Choosing the samples – sound design

I set about creating and producing a retro sounding, electro pop dance track and I chose compose and arrange the song within Ableton.

The kick was chosen because of the massive top end ‘splat’ sound that is present in the Bad Romance reference track.

 

massive kick boom_compressor
House Meister Beatbox – kick (click to enlarge)

 

The snare that  was eventually chosen was from a sample pack called 16 snares and had a large amount of ‘white or pink noise … or both in the sample. Once again it sounded synthetic and reminded me of an 80s style house music sound, so it was ‘on the team!’

CHOOSING THE SNARE
House Meister Beatbox – Snare KW (click to enlarge)

Another element of the reference track that I noticed was the use of a triangle wave that complimented the bass part and gave the overall sound of the track a distinctive 1980s electro pop vibe. The synthesiser chosen within Ableton to do the job was Operator and adjustments that were made to the filter and envelope settings. These adjustments can be seen in the image below and are highlighted in red. This was programmed within the midi sequence to alternate with the bass pattern, in a syncopated manner. The bass pattern within the midi sequence was created with a standard root note and octave style of disco / electro pop manner.

TRI WAVE SETTINGS
Triangle Wave compliments and alternates with the bass line (click to enlarge)

The bass was chosen because it sounded closest to the bass sample used on the reference track: Bad Romance. The chorus FX that accompanied this sample give the bass sound an FM synthesis tone.

JX CHORUS BASS
Bass sample – JX Chorus Bass (click to enlarge)

For the melody in the chorus, I utilised a saw tooth lead that was found in one of the sample packs within Ableton. Any sample that had 80s or ‘House’ in the title, was also auditioned and usually added to the samples used in the creation of the soundtrack.

saw tooth lead_control+tone
Saw tooth lead with a swirling chorus FX added to emulate a FM synthesis sound (click to enlarge)

Compression

In a: Sound On Sound article about Robert Orton’s treatment of Just Dance, he mentions:

“In general, I would say that my main challenge in doing this mix was to make sure that I didn’t spoil what was good in the rough mix, particularly the kick and snare relationship, which was largely down to the SSL compression over the whole mix. I also added the Waves L2 over the stereo mix bus, which is a kind of brickwall limiter.” (Tingen 2017)

During the mixdown section of the soundtrack, my project partner, Chris Ware and myself, worked hard on applying Neve Custom 75 master bus compression on the final mix to enhance the relationship between the kick and snare that is referred to in the on-line article. For this we chose a release setting of about 400 ms to get a ‘snappy’ kick and snare sound, we also chose a compression ratio of about 4:1 to control any transients that might be causing problems.

Deliverables

The soundtrack

The video – Fact Or Fiction

 

 

Bibliography

Kawashima, Dale. (2017) Top Hitmaker RedOne Talks About His New Single, And How He Created Hits With Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez And Other ArtistsSongwriter Universe | Songwriting News, Articles & Song Contest. Retrieved 18 December 2017, from http://www.songwriteruniverse.com/redone-songwriter-interview-2016.htm

Metzger, Patrick. (2017). Why do so many pop songs sound the same?, TEDxKoçUniversityYouTube. Retrieved 18 December 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTvwM6S9vxI&feature=youtu.be&t=52s

Reynolds, S. (2017). The 1980s revival that lasted an entire decadethe Guardian. Retrieved 14 December 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2010/jan/22/eighties-revival-decade

Tingen, Paul. (2017). Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Robert Orton |Soundonsound.com. Retrieved 18 December 2017, from https://www.soundonsound.com/people/secrets-mix-engineers-robert-orton

 

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