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Adventure Awry - Pony Island - Keith Merrow-style 7 string metal remix


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7 string metal remix of Adventure Awry from the Pony Island OST, originally written by Jonah Senzel. Pony Island is an interesting, clever game that you should check out and that is also entirely unrelated to other pony-containing franchises (just in case you were wondering, because I was). Download provides 320 kbps audio to avoid nasty Soundcloud compression ruining your life. All Feedback is greatly appreciated! See below for my own thoughts.

Source track: https://soundcloud.com/jonah-senzel/06-adventure-awry

 

Some of my thoughts going into and coming out of this mix:

  • For better or worse, I didn't stray too far from the original source. I "transposed" it from D to A by which I mean my 7 string guitar is in drop A and I hit the open string really hard a lot of times (so sofisticated!). Also added an interlude that the main riff inspired me to and played around with the songs structure a bit, as well as with some weird glitchy effects.
     
  • My aim with this one was to create a mix in the style of Keith Merrow (example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3A2TeB9zikA) in terms of guitar tone and overall timbre. I admire his work greatly and I think his mixes are unique to say the least. I love to learn about artists by trying to emulate their style, and so far I've learned some interesting new tricks every time I tried that.
     
  • As usual, my biggest bugbear was the guitar tone. I recently upgraded to BIAS desktop and used the "Haunted S'mores" amp modell by Marc Holcomb (Periphery, Haunted Shores) for this project as it lends itself to a modern, mid-focussed guitar tone. However, during this mix I discovered by comparing my raw DI tracks to raws from Ola Englund's "Synder" album (he provides all raws and stems for his albums online for a few extra bucks, a great way to learn!) that my biggest issue is in the guitar itself (ESP LTD MH-417). It has both an outrageous overambundance of low mids and to top that off, there are three domniant resonant frequencies at 330, 440 (root note obvsl.) and 685 Hz that will make the guitar super honky when left in (which I decided to do in case of 330 and 440) or absolutely unintelligible / muffled when notched out even just a bit. For the longest time I thought my 7 string sounded that bad in mixes because the software amps I was using were just plain shit, but as it turns out, the problem seems to be inherent to the instrument. That's a real bummer for me - I'm thinking about changing the pick-ups from EMG 707's (known to be a honk-fest!) to something more round sounding, but I'm still shying away from it so far as I don't know for sure that this will fix the problem. Just hammers home ye old "garbage in, garbage out" rule  ...
     
  • I think I managed to get the best-sounding drums and bass going that I've ever had. Bass sits nicely in its pocket and doesn't cloud neither bass drum nor low mids; drums would sound absolutely huge if I didn't have to shrink them a bit to let the guitars have their honk-apocalypse in the low mids =/
     
  • All in all I think my EQing is definitely getting better and I'm starting to use saturation to greater effect, meaning that this mix is far less digital sounding than my last efforts. Sometimes you just gotta distort stuff to make it feel more organic!
     
  • I went all out on volume automation on this one. I don't think it's perfect and I'm still having a hard time actually stepping back from the mix and listening to "the song" as is to find what needs to be featured / phased back at any moment. But I'm aware of - and working on - it. Having bought studio-grade monitors (Yamaha HS7) definitely helps with judging space which I found almost undoable back when mixing on headphones. Btw. if you have tips to share regarding home-made accoustic treatment, I'd be glad to be at the receiving end of them!
     
  • Judging by the discussions and posts I read so far, some of you will disagree with my choice of mastering, which turned out to be around -7 LUFS. If it doesn't affect the mixes eligibility to be on OCR too much (which I'm sure you will tell me), I would kindly ask you to glance over this fact. As I said, I tried to emulate Keith Merrow's mixes which are super hot (-5 to -6 LUFS) and since it is my secret hope to make music at least a part time profession one day, I want to learn how to get a master to that volume. I don't feel like commenting on whether I like this or not, as my opinion is frankly irrelevant, but fact is that loudness is still part of the reality in audio production. I will say however that in the case of a metal track with overdriven (and therefore fairly compressed) guitars, super tightly compressed bass and sampled drums, there's obviously less dynamic range to lose than in, you know, an orchestral piece.

 

I would greatly appreciate any feedback on my mixing; I am willing to learn and objective opinions from people in the field are hard to find. I know metal is not a focus around these parts, but I'm hoping that one or two of you will have something to say to this. This is the fourth mix I post here but the first which I put up for debate to enter OCR's catalogue - and I gotta be honest, it's mainly to provoke feedback and not because I'm more confident in this one than in the others (okay yeah I am, it's an objective technical improvement without doubt, but you know what I mean).

Cheers!

Edited by BKM
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Quick update: I let everything sink in this afternoon and suddenly it just clicked. I get EQ now. The Soundcloud link above is already the new version, but here's a link to the old one, in case you want to compare (which you should, because it's like day and night): https://www.dropbox.com/s/kvm331pzbru1gbl/OLD_AdventureAwry_master.mp3?dl=0

So what's changed? Guitars are EQ'ed properly now (still not the best tone ever, but hey), everything has its own place in the mix and it feels much cleaner overall. Especially the honkyness I wrote about is.gone. I also was able to get rid of the multiband compressor in my mastering chain - the new mix was much more balanced from the get go and turned out louder with far less compression this time around. It's also much more bass-heavy because 1) that's how Keith rolls and so that's what I did and 2) because the guitars are not clouding the bass anymore. Also, I took the reverb off the Overheads ... I think it just sounded weird in the earlier version.

Let me know what you think, especially in comparison to the earlier one!

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  • 4 weeks later...

It's me again, cluttering this thread with yet another monologue. I went back to the mix, but took my time. In fact, I scrapped the earlier version completely and redid it from scratch since there were multiple issues during recording that I wanted to fix. And frankly, I just hated the old mix (like, a lot) and it felt good to delete it. The SoundCloud link in the first post is the new version already, download provides a 320 kbits MP3 and SoundCloud streaming sounds as aweful as it always does. Here's the old version for comparison: https://www.dropbox.com/s/5deup9nfj27fj8h/AdventureAwry_old.mp3?dl=0

I'd like to protocol some of the changes here in the hope that it might be interesting to some of you and because putting into words what I learned during this mix will hopefully prevent me from repeating these mistakes in the future.

  • I'm reading Mixing Secrets by Mike Senior at the moment and he states that the main difference between homerecordings and professional recordings is that the DIY guys don't get intonation properly. I'm fairly careful to tune my instruments between each take and keep them in good condition (new strings before recording etc), but then something hit me: I use EZDrummer and I never tuned the drums, even though a pitch knob is provided on kick, snare and toms. So this time, I tuned all the drums to the key of the song - suddenly the low end of the mix mysteriously cleaned up, like it never has before. I was able to mix both kick and bass with far less processing because being in the same key, they worked together much better right away. I guess this is even more important for those producing purely electronic music.
     
  • On the topic of EZDrummer: I developed the habit of keeping separate recording and mixing sessions so I can't go back to my amp sims etc. in the middle of a mix and mess everything up. When I'm done recording, I export everything as wave files and reimport it into the mix session. For the first time, I also did that with drums (exporting all separate drum tracks like kick, snare, overheads etc.) - in the past, lazy me just had the plugin running in the mixing project. This is simply good mixing practice and I'm an idiot for not adopting this earlier. So what I discovered when I looked at the waveforms is that EZDrummer actually prints the kick and the additional kick trigger track phase inverted, resulting in a pretty lifeless and muffled kick sound when both are combined. The room tracks were inverted as well. So far, I never used these since I thought they sounded aweful when blended into the kit - now I know why. Fixing this lead to a much fuller, more realistic drum sound. I'm rather shocked that EZDrummer prints these tracks with the wrong phase, that's sloppy programming imo and users will be completely unaware of it unless they don't go out of their way to export the files and actually look at the wave forms. Maybe with more experience you might hear it and react accordingly, but I doubt that John Doe has that instict.
     
  • I went back to using the Ignite Emissary amp sim in combination with some high quality cab impulses by Rosen Digital (taken from an EVH 5150 III) and ditched BIAS amp. For all the hype they generated for BIAS, it only produces passable tones at best and I'm really regretting that I spent money on it. Guitars still sound like bees in a blender, but at least slightly better than before.
     
  • I did my gain staging much more diligently this time, working at a very conservative -18 dBFS. I use Sonimus Britson to that end, which is not only a very nice sounding Neve console emulation, but at the same time forces you to do correct gain staging by making you adjust it's internal gain meter to 0 dBVU (= -18 dBFS). It comes as a channel and a bus variant and I used it across the whole mix. The combination of conservative levels and some nice vintage console flair lead to a much more open-sounding and mix-ready project right off the bat.
    (Can you see the pattern already? I'm literally collecting noob mistakes like other people collect trading cards.)
     
  • Another cheap-yet-invaluable purchase was AutoGain by HoRNet Plugins. It's a side-chain tool that will write volume automation for a track based on a signal fed to it via side-chain. In my case, I put it on the bass track and fed it a signal of white noise, which resulted in the individual notes being leveled in terms of volume (I'm not a very consistent bass player unfortunately). I was able to get a consistent low end that way using not even half the amount of compression that I needed before. Big shoutouts to that tool. It also works on vocals, you can feed it your whole mix to make the vocals always sit "on top" without compressing the living shit out of em. Makes me wonder why anyone would spend $200 for Waves Bass Rider and Vocal Rider.
     

The rest of the mix came together seamlessly. I've never had such a good and easy time mixing and it's my best sounding mix so far. Never used this few plugins. I was able to squeeze a lot of volume out during mastering (yeah, hate me for it, I explained myself already in the first post), rendering it on-par with commercial releases. And all of this not because of some crazy mixing tricks, just because I fucking learned how to set up a mix correctly and how to fix the worst problems BEFORE I even start to mix. Admittedly, finding out that EZDrummer spits out phase-borked samples was a bummer. But had I had good mixing practice before (i.e. always exporting all MIDI instruments and reimporting them as wave files), I would have found out about this much sooner.

 

I hope that one or two of you might take something away from this. I put the eval tag back up -  I'm confident that it is up to snuff now from a technical standpoint. With all the tech-talk, let's see if you guys enjoy the actual track! Cheers!

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This version is a big improvement over the previous version, it was interesting to compare them so thanks for linking them both.

I'm a little concerned about the main guitar levels, as they might be a little too loud, but it could just be my speakers hyping the highs. That main riff guitar is really dominant. It could probably stand to lose a dB or so. A more metal-oriented listener might be able to offer more insight into that and other technical details, but it's probably not necessary in order to get the remix passed and posted.

It's a very conservative take on the source. The first minute is pretty much verbatim. There's some nice changes to the track after that, where you've taken more liberties with it. Still, if anything's keeping this from being posted, it's source usage/interpretation. The source was already quite metal, so I don't think the genre adaptation would count much towards interpretation, but the dynamics and the stuff after the first minute could be enough to keep this from being too conservative. It's difficult to say. 

So if you're happy with it, sub it. The worst that can happen is that it gets rejected.

In any case, I think it's pretty badass. Nice work.

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Thanks man, appreciate your feedback a lot!

Concerning the guitars, it's probably not your speakers, it's the overwhelming fizz of the amp sim that I'm unable to get rid of (probably missing something obvious). I'll wait a couple of days in case someone else has suggestions, but I think I'll go back to the guitars once more before submitting.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Found the reason for all the fizz: it was a sub-par plugin in my guitar chain that I never considered before as the source (Tubescreamer emulation in front of the amp sim, I use that to tighten up the tone). Changing that removed lots of the annoying stuff from the tone, much more 3D and less paper-y now. I also ducked down the rythms a bit and brought up kick and snare to put more emphasis on the groove. Will be submitting this version now (https://www.dropbox.com/s/wgj79z3wjuo4t0n/AdventureAwry_MST_OCR.mp3?dl=0).

Once again, thanks for your feedback Rozovian.

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