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Week 9 - Sound-A-Like Reflection

Finally, after weeks of preparation and working hard in the studios here at SAE, we are finished with our Sound-A-Like for “Betty Wright – Old Songs”. Overall, I’m very happy with the final mix because we achieved what we as a group were aiming for. We got really close to the original and I believe we were able to accurately emulate the groove and the vibe of the original. But there will always be that “something” missing from our mix because you could never get it a 100% same. Whenever we found ourselves in such a situation where we couldn’t get any closer to the original sound, we moved on. This was particularly because we were bound with time constraints and we had a deadline to finish the project. I believe that we did a great job as a team and delivered the best that we could in the time allotted and if we could have had a couple of more sessions in the studio, I think we would’ve made our mix sound even better.

Instrumentation wise, I think our musicians did a great job. Thanks to our research, we were able to find the right recording techniques, gear and instruments for this project. The drums sounded great, thanks to the drummer Bobby. He was able to bring the right kit (or maybe tuned his kit) to get the perfect sound. The bass sounded great as well. For this particular track, the bass and the vocals were the most prominent aspects. I’m glad we had great musicians and singer to deliver on that. The vocalist performed very good as well. Initially, I was a bit pessimist about how the vocalist would perform; this was because she was very young and her voice gave the impression that maybe she was not fit for this particular genre. But she turned out great and we were blown away when we saw her perform those crazy ad-libs and harmonies. She had great control over her voice and kudos to her for learning the lyrics and listening to betty Wright on the fly and performing.

Sonically, we did a great job emulating the original. Thanks to Darren for suggesting on how we should record the drums by bringing in those curtains to get that dry drum sound. Mix-wise, we were able to get the bass and kick to sound almost the same; with the bass sitting over the kick and at times overpowering it. Credit goes to Sergyi, to point out that the recorded Kick In and out were not in phase and so we inverted the phase on one to make the kick sound fatter and as Darren would say “whoofy”. We were able to recreate a very good guitar sound as well. I personally used the Audient EQs to bring out that High-Mid guitar sound.

The effects we used on our mix were very subtle. We were limited to using only the outboard effects available in the studio. This meant that we had to patch everything using the physical patchbay and cables; which was way more fun than simply ‘clicking Insert tab on a channel strip in Pro Tools’. We used delays and reverb on the vocals, which were physically automated for different sections of the song. We used reverb on the Wah Guitar to make it sit better in the mix.

This is how our patchbay looked by the end of the day

Mixing-wise, I think we were able to get everything sounding well balanced. Every instrument is sitting well with each other. We were physically automating on the desk to adjust the levels of the vocals and the harmonies for various sections of the song. One thing that could’ve been better was that we could have compressed the Backing vocals a bit more, especially in the first chorus. Compared to the original, to me, they sound too dynamic. I did bring this up in my group but the others were not convinced and so we didn’t go with the compression.

Dynamically, our mix is not master compressed because we would get a mastering engineer to do that. We used very mild compression on individual elements in the mix; like the Kick In and Out, Snare Top and Bottom, Overheads, Guitars, Bass and Vocals. We didn’t commit with very hard compression, 3-4 dB GR was enough to get what we wanted, and that is, to even out the dynamics, have more control over the transients (VOX and Guitars) and bring out more punch and body (for drums and bass). So, the overall dynamics of our mix is very well preserved.

I believe we’ve achieved the right vibe with our mix. It’s groovy, smooth and fun; just like the original. Our mix sounds like it was recorded in the 70s and that’s exactly what Betty Wright and we were aiming for.

Another thing that we could've done better was to make some time to edit the bass and kick. There were some parts where the bass and kick were a bit off and we could've easily fixed that with some editing (chopping and moving). Darren pointed this out during the mixing session but till then it was too late.

To summarise, keeping in mind the time restraints, I would say that I’m quite happy with what we achieved. I'm really thankful to Darren for always being there to help us out and for listening to us and being supportive of our decisions. I believe we worked well as a team and contributed equally to get the best out of ourselves and this project.

Listen to the original song by Betty Wright

This is our mix

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