“Naivete” – track breakdown #5 of 12 from YOU HAD TO LEAVE YOUR MARK

Above: “Naivete” project file screenshot (click to fullsize)

As with “Spray Vandalism”, the basic tracks for “Naivete” were recorded by Mark Haemmerle at Haemmerle Productions with Ryan Tully-Doyle playing drums and Dean Blandton playing bass. Unlike “Spray Vandalism”, “Naivete” required a bit more editing to the basic tracks –  a fact I ascribe entirely to the fact I didn’t have the song fully written at the time of recording.

Where audio is concerned, it’s always a more direct path between two points when you know where you’re going, and while working new material out in the studio is a creative luxury it’s more difficult to pull off when you have four people working in the same space for a limited amount of time. At the time the instrumentation on this track was recorded, I had no lyrics and only the vaguest idea of how the vocal line might go but we’d played the music enough to at least give it a go in the studio and see how it worked out. If nothing else, I figured having the music recorded would give me something to write to, and with a rough mix of the basic tracks on hand I had about 90% of the lyrics written before too long — enough to get by when we played the song live, if not quite to the point where I felt satisfied enough with them to go back and record the vocals.

By the time the vocal lines were worked out, I found the original recorded music didn’t quite line up 100% with the direction the song had taken in the interim — unsurprisingly, as any piece of music is bound to evolve and change subtly as it’s played.  In this case it was nothing too drastic, but it meant I definitely had to go back into the multitrack guitar-bass-drums recordings to edit and resequence the verses in order to make the recorded tracks line up with the written song structure. To be honest, I put this task off and let “Naivete” sit for a long time because I was really dreading this editing process, picturing a nightmare of imperfect crossfades, micro-edit audio surgery, and jolting nonmusical glitches that could easily consume an entire day. Plus, I still had the lyrics to finish, so what was the rush?

Above: “Naivete” version history screenshot (click to fullsize)

Eventually I geared myself up for the task, blocking out a whole evening and giving myself plenty of time to allow for mistakes, frustration, and hair-pulling stumbling blocks — but once I finally got started, I found that Studio One made the process so easy I completed resequencing the song seamlessly in less than an hour. All I had to do was identify the exact drumbeats before which I to place my cuts and by selecting multiple audio tracks before cutting the edit would propagate in the exact same place across all selected tracks. This allowed me to move and duplicate sections of the song at will, with final rendered edits so smooth that without looking at the screen I could hardly tell where the cut was placed.

With the proper structure finally in place, I crunched down and finally finished off the lyrics — the last bit that was giving me trouble was the ‘bridge’ section in the middle, where I wanted the vocals to follow a different melody but I’d previously had a really hard time coming up with something I could play and sing simultaneously — and laid down the vocals.  Because of the extreme dynamics shifts in vocal level I had to record multiple vocal lines and edit them together: at the tracking level for the vocals in the first part of the song the loud vocals towards the end would overpower the preamp, and at the louder tracking level the quiet vocals would be inaudible. I could have tracked with a compressor in the signal chain to artificially force the levels to equalize, but given the live-in-a-room feel of the original instrumentation I wanted a similarly live-sounding vocal to make everything gel together as much as possible. To that end, I think I used the Shure SM58 dynamic mic for vocal tracking rather than a condenser, as more often than not the SM58 is the default ‘live rock vocal’ mic. (Seriously, if you know what an SM58 looks like and you start noting when you see them used in live performance you will never stop seeing them.)

Once I was satisfied with the vocal takes, I edited them together and proceeded to mix the song. The instrumentation from the original tracking session was solid enough to stand alone if a bit sparse, but overdubbing additional guitars or keyboards seemed like overkill. To help overcome this I doubled the guitar line, processed the two channels of guitar differently and panned them to the extreme left and right of the stereo spread; this helped give the guitar more heft and presence while allowing me to bring the bass and drums up as high as possible to hold down the center. The vocal line was similarly doubled (though not panned) to add some grit and texture and fit it to the sound of the instruments as much as possible, and that was pretty much it.

After that, it was mostly a matter of minor mix tweaks until I had a track I was happy with putting on the album. I went back and forth a few times — mostly boosting the drums, which sounded fine in the studio but seemed slightly diminished when I listened to the mix on headphones or in the car, and adjusting the levels of the various comped vocal sections for recorded dynamics — but having started with the instruments played together in the same room, the instrument tracks will generally tend to fit together better than if recorded separately, and I found that to be the case here: once the vocal sounded right with the instruments, the rest clicked into place fairly readily.

Check out the video for “Naivete” to hear the results of our efforts, or listen to the album via the links below.

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Buy YOU HAD TO LEAVE YOUR MARK at iTunes, Amazon, and Bandcamp

Stream YOU HAD TO LEAVE YOUR MARK at Spotify and Bandcamp

 

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