Sunday, 2 February 2014

Mixing metal!

Anyone who has read this blog before or checked out the things posted on the SoundCloud page will know that while here at Square Spiral I like to work across many genres, never before have I ventured deep into the dark woods that are heavy metal!

Well I can now say that I have.

Stone the Hydra

So how, you ask did I end up in such a place? Let me explain. Over the past years I have done several tracks and productions for singer/songwriter James White. Recently James became the lead singer with the metal band 'Stone the Hydra' and they recorded a demo of their brand new song 'Dead men tell no tales'

And that is where I got involved..

They contacted me and asked if I was interesting in mixing the demo for them, and of course I said "yes!" because I love mixing, and to get a chance to mix a style of music which I have never worked with before it was a no-brainer.

James (Microphone Assassin) White - Vocals
Joe Howe - Guitar/ vocals
Liam Underdown - Guitar/ vocals
Steve Clark - Drums / Percussion
Jim Wilkinson - Bass

Reviewing the multi-track

So the guys sent over the mix they had done of their track 'Dead men tell no tales' along with a raw audio session file of the multi-track so I could import it into my DAW ready for mixing.

I have to admit that on first listen the mix they had done themselves was pretty good. The music was well played and had been cleanly multi-tracked by the band. The session was well labelled and laid out logically across around 18 tracks - Vocals were split out over different tracks for each section of the song and for the two different vocalists. Guitars were split over 4 tracks - 2 for each guitarist (playing doubles of their parts with different amp settings) and a fifth track reserved purely for the amazing solo. Finally there was a track each for the bass and drums.

I spent some time working up a static balance of all the tracks before starting to focus in on the individual tracks. 

Drums first

Which brings me to the drums - Fortunately the actual performance by drummer Steve Clark was excellent. The many and varied intricate rhythms were played with considerable skill, but unfortunately the recording in the multi-track consisted of only a single mono mixed track of the kit as a whole - Not the best place to start when you need to build a drum sound big enough to compete with 4 tracks of guitars, bass and a screaming lead vocal!!

Ok, so without access to a multi-mic'ed drum recording I would have to get creative with the eq and compression to give it some weight and cut.

First though, I ran the mono track through a stereo delay with the left at 16ms and right at 12ms, mixed in low this added a little 'fake' stereo width to the mono source. Next I added a little splash of room reverb to add a little space around the kit and further enhance the stereo image.

Now it was the turn of eq and compression to bring some bite to the sound to help it cut. It took quite a bit of juggling as the part was quite ride and cymbal heavy in places which all started to sound a bit 'splashy' if I overdid either the compression or eq. In the end I ended up boosting the low end at approx 80Hz by around 2dB dipping the mids a touch and boosting the top around 2kHz by 1.4 dB. I also added a gentle roll of of the highs above 16kHz to help tame the cymbals a little.

It took a couple of passes to hone these setting, but eventually I was happy with the way they sat in the mix, and started to craft the rest of the tracks.


The four main guitar tracks consisted of doubles of each players parts with differing amp settings. The original mix they had done had the guitars panned with each player slightly left and right, and with the two parts fairly close in level. I spent some time trying different balances of the parts and eventually settled on one from each player that I felt had a tone which carried the part best and then panned these (almost) hard left and right. This gave the track plenty of width and also made space for the drums, bass and vocals up the middle. With these parts in place I then brought up the level of the doubles but at a level below the main parts to fill out the sound. These were panned left and right but far narrower than the other parts.

The guitar amp tones chosen required very little in the way of eq - mostly just some high pass filtering to remove the low mud and not a lot else.

And last but not least..

The vocals came last for me in this mix. After adding some low cut and a little high end boost I dialed in plenty of compression to provide enough 'thickness' to the sound to let it complete against the rest of the mix. Normally I wouldn't use as much compression as this on a lead vocal, but this style of singing isn't really known for its dynamics so I didn't feel too bad!

In the original mix, the band had added quite a lot of delay to the lead vocal, but to my ears this wasn't working well and I felt it better to go for more of an 'in the room' sound. I added a splash of reverb to the lead which the main effect you can hear, but there is a short delay mixed in very low to add a little spread to the sound. This remains pretty constant throughout the song apart from in a few selected spot locations (like the final vocal scream) where I pushed up both the reverb and delays for effect. The vocals had been doubled which helped them to sit better against the backing track - the original mix had these about level with one another on the mix, but I opted to chose the strongest take and lead with that and just add support from the double track.

By now the track was sounding really strong, and by A-B'ing againt the original mix I was able to tell I had added real improvement to the clarity and power of the song.

Finishing touches

With the mix really happening I added some basic mastering to it to give the band a finished track ready to share out and promote themselves with. This consisted of some very gentle compression in the master bus. I added this in in my normal way, in stages but stacking two compressors in series. The first was only at a 1.4:1 ratio but low threshold to provide a little overall squeeze and the second a little more aggressive at 2:1 but with a higher threshold just to thicken the sound. Final touches were added with a gentle 'smile eq' curve and a small amount of overall limiting.

During the process I had sent some work in progress draft mixes to the band and we had also discussed a few small timing fixes they wanted me to address - With these sorted all that was left was for me to deliver the final master to them.

Here's the track on their SoundCloud page

 They loved it, I was happy - Job done!

Friday, 3 January 2014

Welcome to the (Audio) Jungle!

A new year, a new website (SquareSpiral) and one more final property for the you to check out.

As of yesterday a limited number of Square Spiral productions are available for license at very reasonable cost at my AudioJungle marketplace page. Watch this space closely over the coming months as I plan to populate it with more high quality tracks just waiting to be incorporated into your media productions.

For now though, here's wishing you all a very happy and productive new year!


Friday, 27 December 2013

A new home for 2014

The Square Spiral blog has been running for around a year and a half now, and I admit to being guilty of not being very prolific on the posting front! I intend to keep the blog running and will try to give it more attention in 2014.

However, the purpose of this short post is simply to promote the new home of Square Spiral on the web at

The commercial work that Square Spiral has been doing over the past 12 months has been slowly gathering pace and I am hoping for big things in 2014 for the studio, and so the website is born. Initially it will be a simple affair providing what amounts to essentially an on-line business card, but over the coming months I will expand the scope of what is there.

So take a quick look there to see what things are coming out on my commercial side - And of course, check back here for updates on everything else coming out of Square Spiral's studio.

Wishing everyone a happy new year!


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Liberty ship - Martin Barlow

This is one I forgot to mention in my recent updates, but it is well worth a mention as its a truly beautiful song. Martin approached me with his acoustic demo of the song recorded with his former bandmates Dan Tucker and Monique Houraghan and asked if there was anything I could add.

After taking a listen to the really well recorded and performed demo I could hear space for a little extra instrumentation, so I set about with some additional production work.

The original demo came to me as a finished stereo track consisting of all the acoustic guitar parts and the vocals. To this I added bass, drums, piano and some synth textures. I also added some electric guitar to the chorus. The result very successfully enhanced an already excellent demo by adding a touch more power and drive to the arrangement.

Martin loved the new version - maybe you will too....



Monday, 25 November 2013

Autumn update

Just another quick update from Square Spiral for you all..

More video scoring work live on the web

In my last post I mentioned that I had a project in the pipeline for ZoneOne studios, and while the final web site for Greysons Restaurants is yet to be finished by the creative teams, the promo video is now live on the landing page. Why not go take a look and hear my track 'Busy work' in context with the video it was written for here.

The final site redesign for The Orangery is also now complete and features my track 'One Beautiful Day' alongside ZoneOnes fantastic promo video - You can find it here

Beck Songreader - remixed

After the recent mix and mastering session I did for the artist Rich Thomsen to finalise his creations from the Beck Songreader project I decided to do a little remix of my own.

Working with Rich's great vocal track I remixed 'Eyes That Say I love You' giving it a modern EDM spin complete with dubstep basses and a rock solid rhythm track. I was a little unsure how it would be received, but Rich was pleased with this new version and even commented that he liked it more than his original! Praise indeed.

Here's the track for you to take a listen to.

Suffice to say, Rich an I are currently working on some new material so watch this space!!


Friday, 18 October 2013

A Quick update!

Have to confess to not keeping up to date with the blog in recent months, but needless to say I have been busy musically none the less.

Scored another short film

Back I april I once again took part in the SciFi London 24hour film challenge, where you have exactly 24 hours to write, shoot, edit and submit a 5 minute short film based around a title and some other critera given to you on the day of the challenge.

This year we upped the stakes with a bigger team, a more full on story and even a spaceship set we had created!

We shot for about 10 hours straight on the first day and got most of what we needed in the can. The following day myself and the director Steve Hayes locked ourselves away for a marathon 22 hour edit session. Steve handled all the video editing and visual effects work while I got busy with dialogue editing, foley creation and mixing and finally music scoring.

I was an incredibly tough 2 days but also massive fun as well. Here's our final film - "Robot"

Music Production

I love working on music productions whenever I can. Earlier in the year I was able to get James White into my studio to record a couple of tracks over the course of a weekend. This was a great opportunity as we normally only get to work remotely transferring files over the internet as the song progresses. Being in the same room for once really enabled us to work much more quickly and explore new ideas for the songs we were working on. Here's one of the tracks form those sessions - "Stranded"

Mixed an album

Had my first commission to mix an album last month when Rich Thomson came to me to mix and master the 8 songs he had recorded in response to the Beck Song Reader project. You can here the final mixes on Rich Thomsons Soundcloud page.

One of personal faves from the sessions was this number:

More work for Zoneone Studios

I continue to work closely with Zoneone, providing bespoke music tracks for the high quality video promotions they produce. Currently we have one in the pipeline, but here's one we finished earlier this year for a beautiful wedding venue in Kent called The Orangery

A very brief review of some of this years activities, but if any of the above has sparked your interest then why not get in touch? Perhaps I can bring your next project to life with music or sound?

Also why not check out my Soundcloud page for more examples of my work


Wednesday, 9 January 2013

2013 Off to a good start

So with Christmas and New Years celebrations now firmly behind us we set out into a brand new year ahead. I have resolved to focus really hard this year on getting more music done, and doing it better than ever before. Learning new skills along the way and honing existing ones too.

The downtime I get over the holiday season always spurs me on to make some music and this year was no exception. There was a track by James White I had been sent the demo of many months ago which had peaked my interest but I not found time to put any work into it and create a full production of the song. So as I relaxed into holiday mode I decided to crack on and get something done.

In Grey

The demo was a simple piece consisting of some vocals, rhythm and lead guitar parts and a simple programmed drum loop. No real style was suggested by any of the parts so I decided to just let things flow and see what came. I originally started by recording a rhythm guitar part to improve upon the original part. With this down I added in some drums and a bass line and got the track off the ground.

Although the original track was at 126bpm it played heavily on the half beat tempo which interested my as that is very current in a lot of dance productions. This led me to start adding in some synth parts, moving me away from a rock sound into more interesting territories. Soon I had an intro, first verse and chorus all happening, but sounding very different for the original demo - Time to get James involved and check he is cool with this I think!

First Draft - check

By now the synths had completely taken over, with the guitar part I recorded moved into the second verse to give it a new sound after the first chorus. So I sent James a quick first draft mix of what I had, with his guide vocals laid in to get a go/ no-go seeing as it was his song and all!

Luckily James was pretty excited by what I had and after making a few suggestions gave me a thumbs up to carry on, which I did. One of these was to up the tempo from 126 to 130bpm which added a much better energy to the track. This btw was one full day session - from lining up the demo to a late night finish for a completed end to end draft. When the juices are flowing you just need get your head in the game and get it done!

The final thing I did that day was render off a mix of the new backing track to send to James so he could work on some new vocal tracks.

Vocals in a jiffy

To my surprise, when I checked my inbox next morning I had a message form James saying he had uploaded a new set of vocals already - Swift work indeed! So it was now back on me. I'd had a few listens to the track now and identified a few areas of the arrangement that I knew needed more work, so that's where I started.

The end of the song featured a double chorus to finish which comes straight after a build out of the dropped middle section. I'd had this as 2 full chorus's back to back but could see it was struggling to hold the power over such a long duration and still provide a powerful finish. I decided to do a double drop where the build out of the bridge leads to a stripped back chorus which allows the lift into the final chorus the build it needs.

I also spent some time tightening the interaction between the kick, bass and bottom synth sound to lock the groove more tightly. While doing this I also stripped back some of the kick hits from each verse to allow a little more room for the verses to breath. I was pretty much there now.

The mix

In Grey arrange page
One of my music related resolutions this year is to give more direct focus to my mix sessions and deal with them separately to the tracking / production stage of creating a song.  As part of this I will be getting back into the habit of rendering each final track as an audio file in Sonar before I even start mixing. This process can be quite time consuming but ultimately will pay dividends down the line. 

Recently I have gotten lazy and had even been leaving soft synths running live at mixdown which is a bad habit for many reasons - 2 of which are:

  1. Eats up valuable CPU cycles  which could be used to better polish you mix
  2. If you remove, upgrade or otherwise lose that plugin down the line your mix will be knackered!
James had provided some new vocals to replace the existing guide parts, but had also introduced some additional backing parts and even a short rap over the intro. After picking through the best bits of the new and existing material I was able to comp together a final vocal arrangement which used the best of both to good effect.
So with my bouncing and rendering and comping done I was left with a 36 track mix page to deal with. 

This was quite a tricky mix as I wanted to get the bass really strong with a good defined kick drum, and I went through a couple of versions before I was happy. The result? Take a listen for yourself

So first week of 2013 and one new track under my belt - Happy New Year indeed!