Don’t Look Back— A technical look at one of my recently produced tracks.
Here is the technical break down for my latest Movie/TV Theme track called: “Don’t Look Back”:
If you haven’t heard it yet, here is a link: https://soundcloud.com/suhails/dont-look-back
Please do go check it out.
Note: All the plugins that I use are my personal choice and I’m in no way affiliated with any of the companies mentioned below for marketing or promotions.
In total the theme has 20 tracks in it, with a BPM of 120, and composed in the key of G minor.
Two tracks: A kick and a Snare. It is all about selecting quality sounds. These two samples were provided by an IMF member StripedMcCoy, They were the cornerstones in starting the idea of this track. Heavy hitting Kicks and Snares and he called the pack Big Boi samples, and of course they are :)
No special FX on top of the Kick, Just standard EQ:
I’m using my favorite EQ plugin: Fabfilter Pro Q 3, Can be achieved with any stock EQ:
Basic EQ as well, and sidechained it to Kick and the Sub FX track to get it out of the way of Low frequencies.
I use Trackspacer to do sidechaining of required frequencies, can be achieved with stock plugins as well,I find this speeds up my workflow pretty fast.
On the drum bus, I’m applying a mild compression using H-Comp plugin by waves (my go to for drums compression) using a preset called drums heavy and tweaking it on how I wanted the drums to sound like (And once again can be achieved with any stock compressor).
Synths (Omnisphere Patches):
All 4 tracks are Omnisphere presets EQed to fit in the bus.
Compression to glue the tracks together using H-Comp with the Strings preset and tweaking it to my liking to fit the track and then the bus is sidechained to drum bus and Sub FX to not interfere with the Lows.
Strings (Low Cello):
One track processed as follows:
I’m using the strings also to fill up some low frequencies so I compress it like a Bass track using CLA-76 compressor Bass preset and tweaking to my liking:
Is an Audio Effect Rack in Ableton, where I Layer the wet delay layer with the dry signal by duplicating the track and sidechaining the wet signal to the dry signal using Trackspacer.
So the delay FX would fill up the space when the dry signal fades out thus getting itself out of the way and filling up the remaining spectrum.
I use a plugin called LittlePrimalTap by Soundtoys with a Boing Preset for the effect I was going for:
Strings are just one track, but with this duplication of the dry signal in an effect rack, I’m eventually duplicating the strings into two tracks.
Basic sidechaining the strings to the Drums bus to get them out of the sub frequencies.
One actual track and another a duplicated layer of the wet keys + FX.
Simple high pass:
Simple compression with added reverb using CLA-76(can be achieved by adding a reverb after EQ and then compressing the reverb signal along with the dry signal using stock plugins):
Mild Ping Pong Delay:
Sidechain to the drums bus. Please note that this is a Movie/TV theme soundtrack, so I’m not going for any pumping effects, so all the side chains are very very mild,3 to 15% depending on what the track needs.
All of the above FX (It’s a duplicated layer) + the below ones:
This effect can also be achieved using a Distortion and Bitcrush Plugins in combination.
It’s a Swell preset on the waves — brauer motion plugin. This effect can be achieved using panning, reverb and volume automation in combination.
And then sidechaining it to the drums bus of course :)
Sidechaining the keys to Bass layer to avoid clashing in the low frequency spectrum.
Using the spectrum I need:
I’m doing it with a soundtoys plugin FilterFreak, can be achieved with automation of stock filter plugins or EQ:
Cutting out Lows.
Giving it some swell with LFO:
Panning Effects to fill up the stereo field.
A mild reverb:
Sweeping across with a bell shaped curve with a dip and sweeping across the frequency spectrum.
Panning automation to expand the stereo width.
Sidechaining the tracks to Synths as they clash on the low-mid frequencies.
No sidechain to the drums or bass as I already cut out all the lows.
Similar to the Pads filter automation.
Similar to the pads.
Duplication of Layer-1, just for stacking to make it sound a bit thicker.
Cleaning up frequencies after the fx processing.
Mild compression to glue the two layers together (Whenever I state mild compression, it means the Gain reduction is not more than -2 to -3db):
To add some grit to the reverse snare, I’m using Kilohearts plugin.
To pinch the signal on a certain frequency to give that swoop up:
(Can be achieved with EQ automation on certain frequency ranges using stock plugins).
I’m using a Kilohearts plugin.
Panning automation to move the reverse snare slowly from left to right using a plugin called Pancake-2 by cable guys, it is a free plugin. Can also be achieved using simple panning automation.
Also I have stacked another layer of FX bus within this panning rack to also have the signal without panning to play through the center channel.
My preference is to always have the Sub bass in Mono.
Use what you need and get rid of the rest is and always will be my EQ policy :)
A little aggressive compression using the CLA-76 blue patch:
Used a plugin called Bass rider by Waves, just speeds up the workflow for volume automating the bass. They have one for Vocals as well called vocal rider, but ofcourse you can just do standard volume automation. Im doing a very subtle automation here, to bring it out whenever it is necessary for the track.
And a heavy sidechain on the low end to ensure the bass fills up only when the Kicks sub bass is not active.
I’m not going to dig too deep into the Mastering process, My Mastering Chain is always pretty standard, Main focus is always to achieve the arrangement and a good mix for me.
Once the mix is good, mastering will basically enhance an already good track to work and sound better in all the devices.
Here is my mastering chain for this track:
Always get rid of any unwanted low and high frequencies that the human ear cant hear or feel.
I usually cut everything below 20HZ and everything above 20k HZ.
Final EQ tweaks to balance the Mix if needed. I’m using Air EQ, can be achieved with any EQ.
3 layers of mild compression to glue the whole mix together and to enhance the transients.
I always go by the ear to tweak the settings of each compressor after starting with a preset. I’m using a Slate Digital VBC rack for this and of course this can be done with any compressor.:
No Gain Reduction(GR) more than -3db and no gain increase more that 1 to 2 db in each of the compressors with relevant attacks and releases on each.
Saturation to bring out the transients and other aspects of the mix into limelight, I use mostly tape and harmonics saturators. Use what you feel is best for the track you are making. I’m using the Slate Digital tape machine and the Mix rack with needed plugins. I prefer Slate Digital plugins because they are quite transparent. But nonetheless It is a personal choice.
Mostly I focus on enhancing the lower and the higher end harmonics. They bring out the life of a track.
Then limiters to increase the overall volume level of the mix to match to whichever platform you are going to publish.
I usually Master my volumes at -14 LUFS and -0.5 to -1 db celing.
Here I use one kilohearts plugin and then a slate digital one. Can be done with any limiter plugins.
Kilohearts is to basically catch those peaks that are missed in individual busses and then slate digital FG-X is to bringup the overall volume.
I use the following to monitor volume level and tonal balance.
Level Monitor: Youlean loudness meter — free plugin
Tonal balance — iZotope Tonal balance plugin.
Tonal balance of a track is really dependent on the genre of music you are going for.
But in the end what we hear matters, there are just helper tools. Trust your ears and your musical abilities.
Note: The track is not playing during the screenshot, so don’t get confused with the graphs :D)
Sonarworks plugin is to ensure my studio monitors and headphones have a flatter response, it is bypassed during the track export:
As you can see I have a pretty basic pair of budget studio monitors :)
Well, that’s about it. I hope this breakdown gives an insight into what effort went in making this track. Please just don’t copy the settings and implement, always listen. A/B testing is really really important, I can’t stress that enough.
And the most important thing, Have fun making music :) Peace V.
S ^ 2