INITIAL SET UP
The initial set up process involved creating an Ableton project for each disc, and then within each project having the corresponding track folder containing the music for that particular disc available in the Ableton browser.
Due to the comprehensive warping described previously and the track order being prepared earlier from the ‘live sessions’ it was just a simple case of dragging and dropping the tracks onto the arrangement page and working out where to place the mix points and how to edit the tracks.
Note: The track editing and mix point discussions can be found in the track editing chapter
CHOOSING THE EQ
Linking back to the method mixing and the discussion on anniversary editions, you may recall I spoke a little about only wanting to use the bare minimum of production techniques and technical wizardry due to preferring to keep the mix as respectful as possible.
This decision was what led me to only use an EQ plug in on each channel to replicate what Moussa Clarke would have used on the original back in 1998, as back then it would have been the tried and tested pair of turntables and DJ mixer set up.
The EQ plug in I decided upon using for the project was the Sonnox Oxford EQ which is based upon Sony’s flagship OXF-R3 digital mixing console.
The choice of using the Sonnox EQ over others, was mainly for the reputation the plug in had gained from it’s reviews in the press to the broad range of users including Tony Maserati, Trent Reznor, Neil Davidge & Steve Levine to name a few.
The sound quality of the EQ in my opinion came across as very clean and unobtrusive, something I was actually aiming for as I wanted the tracks included to sound as ‘original’ as possible and the Sonnox EQ enabled me to produce studio style DJ filtering with very little colouration of the sound.
An important factor in the production of the studio mix was the overall sound levels of the tracks, and for the sound to be consistent across the 2 discs, I analysed the RMS of each of the tracks included on the compilation with a free plug called the ‘TT Dynamic Range Meter’ which can be found here:
RMS (root mean square) describes the operation of analysing audio levels over a set length of time as opposed to a snapshot like alternative algorithms such as ‘peak’.
RMS is useful for analysing the audio levels of full tracks as you get an overall idea of how loud the track is over time, which is how our ears perceive loudness, and also how the principals of sound levelling meters work.
Once I had analysed the overall RMS of each track using the plug in, I made a note of the quietest track on both of the discs and then used this level as a baseline for reducing the volume of the remaining pieces.
Obviously I’m aware that RMS matching is not an exact art, and it is always best to use your ears in all cases, but by using my knowledge of RMS levels I was able to get all the tracks into a suitable ballpark range that could then be tweaked much easier as the mix progressed.
Once the clips were imported into Ableton, I reduced the volume settings to correspond with the RMS mentioned earlier, and then changed the colour of each of the clips to match the artwork on the CD or vinyl.
Many of you may be wondering why on earth I would take the time to change the colours of the tracks, particularly as it’s a task that has no effect on sound, but on a personal level it linked in with the method mixing and took me back to the days of slanting your 12″ records in your box whilst mixing – the physical aspect of DJ’ing which sadly is lost when mixing digitally – so changing the colours of the clips made the mix “look” more physical to me.
You can see the clip colour matching in detail during the chapter on track editing
As with anything in life, if something can go wrong it most often always will, and arranging the mix had it’s fair share of headaches.
The worst problem I came across was during disc 2, where although I had a fairly solid track arrangement building up, I hit a point 3/4 of the way through where something just did not sit right with me, and after spending the best part of an evening tweaking and reordering things, I gave up and went to bed.
The next day on the way to uni on the train, I had a brainwave and wrote out all the names of the tracks and their keys on scraps of paper, and actually sat there and physically swapped and moved them around visually, coming up with ideas for the track order and this act is what broke the creative block for me, I managed to come up with a foundation for the rest of the mix that I then tweaked and refined when I returned to the studio.
Another useful tip I gathered whilst producing the mix was the use of creating empty midi clips in 16 bar and 32 bar durations, that I then placed on the time line as a guide. This helped me stick to a tight structure and brought attention to any tracks that were not edited correctly.
Finally the most important aspect of this whole process was the case of using my ears and listening.
Each time a new track was added to the mix, I went back and listened to the set from the beginning, making sure that not only the transitions were spot on and the mix was flowing adequately, but also that the added track complimented the vibe of it’s transition and the evolution of the set to that point.