I´m packing up all my gear at work as we speak. Due to economical and whatever "re- structuring" reasons, the budget at work was cut so much that they laid off over half of the people. Me included.
Well, not actually laid off. I´m temporarily suspended like the other 37 people. Which means that -according to law, which is really hard to believe to be true, yet is is - we´re not getting fired, thus NOT getting our "layoff- salary"for now. (You know, that 1+ month money you will get when you´re laid off from work, at least in Finland). Instead, we´re kept as "suspended" for 200 days max, until the law will consider us officially laid off and we´ll get the money we are supposed to get. Needless to say, if you resign yourself within those 200 days, you won´t get anything. And you can guess how much money this company will save by that.
Now, who´s gonna just lay down at home for 200 days instead of getting a new job? Not many, which the company knows. For example, I´ve been told straight to my face that there will be no audio done at Helsinki anymore. "Just resign" they told. "Much easier for you and besides, you´ll get your holiday payments right away". It´s so much cheaper for them to keep me and the rest "suspended", waiting us to resign ourselves instead of paying us the union- decided fees instead.
It´s hard to believe this kind of shit is possible in Finland. Maybe in America or such, but here? I can´t believe how far we´ve drifted from the Nordic Welfare State we used to be. This country is starting to remind me of a mixture between Soviet Russia and United States. Whoever has the most money decides the rules. And we rest will fucking jump if we´re told to.
So, "resign yourself", they told me.
And lose my FOUR months of salary? Yes, fuck you too. Inhouse audio positions are so rare in Finland that there´s a fat chance I´ll be just doing freelance stuff for that time, manage somehow to pay the mortgage and collect my four months salary and holiday- payments when I´m considered fired in early December. And laugh my ass off. Besides, while being a pain in the ass on the company employee list I won´t be "unemployed" in paper (looks better, haha) and I can use the company private healthcare for free as long as I´m "working" here.
Then again, I knew this HAD to end at some point. Having a free parking space at Helsinki center during daytime, possibility to decide my own working times, doing my own projects all the time at the office, playing World of Warcraft at work and getting paid for it....I had the best job ever, and I had it for almost ten years. I had the possibility to learn every day something new, met tons of cool people and loved to come here almost every day. I´m not bitter at all at my boss who had to make this decision- I´m only bitter because of how the company handled this. And that was not his decision.
I have negotiated quite a good deal for getting the gear I didn´t pay
myself (roughly 85% of the gear I used was paid by myself during the
years), which means that I can basically continue working with my own
freelance stuff with the exactly same equipment right away at home. Even
though this timing was the worst ever, as I´ve just bought a house I´m
moving in this week. (!!), there´s a silver lining: we had one extra
room there, which I can now use as my work- room. Meanwhile, I try to
get all the possible freelance- composing jobs I can get while trying to
get a new job as an inhouse audio guy from somewhere. The problem is
that there are pretty much three positions available in Helsinki area
and they´re all filled up with my friends. :D So I have to convince
people that a) they need me with them or b) Your Growing Game Company would definitely have use for an in- house audio guy.
Now it´s time to move on and try my wings as a freelance game and TV composer for now. Am I disappointed? Not sure. Excited? A bit. Scared? YES. But mostly because I have just signed a sadistical mortgage and I have two kids to feed. And my wife is still on her maternal holiday. But I´m sure I´ll get something. With this experience and enthusiasm I have, it would be quite a small chance that I end up as a truck driver. Which, I have no problem to do meanwhile if I have to.
I´m built to survive. It´s all about perseverance and never stopping believing into your dreams. It doesn´t matter if you´re someone called Joe or someone who plays in a metal band called Finntroll. We all have the same dreams, same fears and same hopes at the end of the day.
I have all the skills, all the equipment and all the enthusiasm. And a driver´s licence if the Finnish post office will need a car driver to their ranks. :D But most of all- I have my family who has faith in me. Now let´s roll those sleeves up and show the world who the fuck is Trollhorn.
Ex- Lead Audio Designer for Digital Chocolate games LTD.
PS: And yes, you are extremely welcome to spread the word if you know someone who need audio design for their games. The semi- ready (work in progress) portal can be found from http://www.worldoftrollhorn.com/ which tells a bit more what I can do.
Yes, it was an advertisement. Sue me. :D
EDIT: Back in 2009 I glued sound dampening material to the walls. You know, that black foamy stuff used in studios, etc. Apparently I had thought it was funny idea (despite being over 30 years old) to draw a huge cock to the wall with that glue under one dampening piece. When I removed those dampenings half an hour ago, I realized that all the white glue had stuck on the wall permanently, but now having a black, foamy outer layer now from the dampening pieces.
So, now there´s accidentally a huge black cock in my office wall. What a fail.
tiistai 29. tammikuuta 2013
Like the stuff which you hear on movies´ end credits, combinging the themes while hopping through different keys, tempos and feelings.
Or....ehm, that stuff you hear in an online game´s login screen. I wonder what game we could possibly talk about here?
So, one day at work I actually decided to go all nuts and started to improvise a bit with the themes, riffs and melodies of our upcoming album. And suddenly, I was having a blast...I had so much fun to do whatever I wished, playing "Kyyppari"´s main guitar riff with staccato strings and whatever I could just imagine of.
One thing lead into another, and suddenly I was having a 6- minute classical arrangement of the album´s various themes. Using only basic strings, I could easily mimick everything roughly to make some guidelines what to do.
The fact that I still had my template left from the movie score I was doing last autumn helped me a lot. So I basically had all the instrument tracks and samples mapped already and was ready to start orchestrating right away. Which I did. Using EastWest Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra Gold (Seriously, I wonder if you could actually get a longer name for a piece of software? :D ) as the basic palette with some additional stuff from Native Instruments (Kontakt II library), Garritan (Personal Orchestra + Jazz& Big Band libraries) and Quantum Leap (RA library) it took me a couple of days to orchestrate the whole palette.
After I had carefully orchestrated the whole stuff with midi, I exported every instrument separately out from Cubase as wave file and opened my movie score´s mix template. As I was using the same sounds, I could just import the wave files to their own tracks and all the EQ´s, compressors and reverbs were right there.
Clearing all the previous automations, I was ready to start from scratch to give the volumes and pannings the treatment they should have. For you geeks out there, the final secret of creating real- sounding stuff is dynamics. In order to have room for compression for the sound in the final mix and master, you have to have dynamics so wide- ranged it sounds almost stupid. I´m using first a modulation wheel for articulating the sound to match the realism (as in, the sound changes depending on how hard you bow/ blow/ hit the instrument) and then I use volume automation as well to emphasize the crescendos and diminuendos even more. And then, when I import stuff to Cubase, I compress a bit each track separately and then do even MORE audio automation to the volumes. Then when the final master compression is set, it will even out nicely stuff without taking the dynamics away.
If you look closely, you may spot my mixing references on the last two tracks. :D Every track you see contains quite a load of "hidden" data, which is used for automating volumes, reverbs and even stereo panning, which is very important in mixing. On the top of this orchestral mix, there will be quite a load of more synthetic sounds, real percussion, real singing and some instruments as well, so we´re still quite far from the actual finalized product.
I was thinking of doubling all the choirs myself, using some clever technology even to do the female choirs (no, not harmonizer, thank you :D ) but then my good friend Jakke from Crimfall exploded my mind by hinting on this one new choir sample- package which is now out. And after listening the samples, I was already writing an email to my boss, giving him good reasons why we should definitely buy this package to my work tools arsenal.
Then I realized that it needs the newest version of Kontakt sampler, and I was lagging two versions behind. :( Luckily, I noticed that the upgrade from my version to the latest was only 100 € ("only" is really "only", as these things tend to cost close to 500 € normally...not very cheap hobby this is, hehe) so I bought it myself right away. Thank the Gods for Mastercard!
I should be getting my upgrade package next week (43 GB of samples, not bad ^^) and as the Gods were on my side, my boss just agreed on buying the choir package, which should arrive at that point as well. I can´tlet this one go finished without those MASSIVELY SUPER- SOUNDING choirs.
And no, I wasn´t paid for advertising. :D
I´ll keep you two readers updated on this little project. You WILL hear it at some point. If nothing else, I´ll upload it to Youtube or something. Even I have my ego to boost sometimes. :D
perjantai 18. tammikuuta 2013
So, I doubt no- one thought this album was finished when we got out of the studio? Quite on to contrary, to be honest. But what I did was that I didn´t listen to it for two weeks when it was ready. Why? Because I knew we have to tweak stuff, add stuff and better stuff before the mastering.
And the best way to actually judge what is actually needed is to give your brain a rest first. The more you "forget", the more clearer and realistic picture you will have later.
PART ONE: FINISHING THE MIX. AGAIN.
So, just before Xmas I dug the files up and gave them a spin.
While I liked what I heard, I could instantly say that we need definitely more keyboards and less guitars. And tons of more "punch", which was already known as we left much room for the mastering to have many options available. So I put them through a master compressor and limiter quickly in order to emulate the final master sound a bit more closer.
The reason is that the final compressing (which is always done to every single album in the world at the mastering) is changing the balances of the instruments a bit. For example, in metal music most likely guitars will rise a bit from the mix and the drums tend to lower as well. And - depending on the EQ- melodies tend to go lower and overall "pad keyboards" rise. The easiest way to think is that all the sound that has an "attack" will go down and everything else will rise. So, if I wanted to hear how the balance is in reality going to be after mastering, I needed to listen to the album compressed and a bit EQ´d instead of listening to the pure mixes.
After one listening, I gave another week thinking about the tracklist. Which was pretty much the hardest in any album I´ve done. I- or we- didn´t have any clue of it, you see. We had thought to open with "Nexro", followed with "Kyyppari". And then something, something, and finally ending the album with "Soutu".
But the more we listened, the more everything else didn´t fit to the album. Like "Piraatti"...in which the middle- part sounded so shitty right now that should we actually drop the song totally off from the album? So many question- marks with so little answers.
After a week, it suddenly struck me in the middle of the night. We´re having the wrong opener! After realizing that we should start with Blodsvett (like we were discussing at some point) everything kind of "snapped" to right places and I was really happy how it turned out to be. So I posted it to the other guys with a shy "Uhm...yes, it´s completely different song order we thought, but give it a spin without prejudices and I think you´ll be positively surprised".
You can probably imagine my surprise, as Tundra wrote back that "You gotta be kidding me, I´ve been trying the EXACTLY SAME tracklist here :D". For our excitement, everyone else bought the order as well with enthusiasm. So we were ready with that!
Enter a week more for me without listening it again, and I took one sunday evening with pen and paper and wrote all the things we needed to tweak and add. I used my trusty home hifi, which had been serving me for 15 years so I knew their sound completely. And then I wrote things down.
Main concerns were that the melodies weren´t partly audible enough, some rythm pianos and extra guitars were way too low and some little vocal extras would be needed. Add sound FX to this part, enhance that booming tom there...all little things that I felt were needed but didn´t now appear loud enough or were missing completely.
After writing this into an email and sending it to the guys, I got mostly feedback that "yeah, all these are needed and valid points". Which was good, because now I knew that those were actually justified and needed.
So, at monday I started to work with things. First I molded the 20- second intro for FOUR HOURS but it was totally worth it. :D I was a bit scared how the guys will take it, but for my relief, they absolutely loved it. You see, I had only told them about my idea, and if they wouldn´t liked the actual product, we had to go without one, because there would had been no time to start thinking of something else. It´s a bit different for what we´ve done before, but suits the album start perfectly in my opinion.
Then I spent some hours adding some extra rythm guitars to some places where there was only one guitar playing, giving Marilyn the extra pair of jazz- horns it needed, and doubling many melodies. Even actually adding a new one at one song! Tundra, Virta and Vreth got to my office at 5 PM and then we tweaked more stuff, added this and that and then finally started to have fun when all the "boring instrument shit" was done.
Marilyn got the kazoos again (which were in the demo but not in the studio version) and it started to sound incredible... Piraatti´s middle- part was treated by my boy choir and Tundra´s a- cappella jazz singing (!!!) and Vreth did some more backing vocals to double the old ones which had been left too quiet. Finally the album sounded like it was meant to be! Just look on the left of everything we added and tweaked after the mix. :)
Then it was time for the last sound FX. "Soutu" got the according dragons to the background with some wind, Piraatti got some squeaking, intro got tweaked a bit with more snorting (!!!) and everyone was really happy about the result when we left my office at 10:30 PM. Next day I took all the new versions out from Cubase, did backups and put everything on two different USB sticks and a cloud drive as well for Wednesday.
And because you can never be so sure about your decision, each song got basically three versions for the master:
This was because if we would had thought that "this one extra thing is now too loud" or something, we could had combined the original versions with the tweak- only track and adjust their balance to fit better. You can NEVER have too many backup plans, seriously. :D
PART TWO: MASTER THE MASTER.
One would think everything would be dancing on roses from this onwards, yet we´re talking about Finntroll here. So, as I mentioned briefly, I had been ping- ponging some files with World´s Best Masterer (TM) Mika Jussila who had done some excellent work already with some test files. Mika´s been my trusted mastering engineer for 10+ years and I simply cannot appraise his skills enough here. He´s a very professional, easy- going guy who always listens to the customer and has excellent ideas of his own as well. And the sound he makes is always incredible.
So, I wanted the mastering to bring out more of the keyboard pads and bass and less guitars, and his first master was exactly the vice versa ( :D ), as I hadn´t told him yet that I wanted something different this time. So I took his first version, tweaked it with EQ to go more into the direction I wished and bounced it back to him. It took him a couple of hours to do a goddamn excellent new version, and I posted both to the guys. And then it started.
"I like the first version better, it sounds like a real metal album"
"The other version was too muddy"
After a couple of days of discussing the matter via email, Facebook and phone, I convinced the doubtfyul guys that the album will sound terrible if we use the first version, as "then it´s basically all guitars and that´s it- this particular song is a bad reference for the whole album as there are not so much keyboards and melodies. A wonderful sound for a modern Thrash Metal album, but not for us." I asked Mika to put more hi- end back with a screenshot of my new EQ tweak, "but watch out the guitars while doing it". After the third version everyone was happy and we were ready to go to the actual mastering to lay down the overall sound, put the tracks to correct order and print the final master out of it.
Wednesday the 16th we tweaked it at Mika´s studio more, laid everything in right order and left the mastering session with a finalized product! Everyone was very pleased with the overall sound and we thought it´s the best album ever. I resisted the urge to listen it on my car, went straight home and gave the CD a spin. I loved it, but somehow it lacked...I don´t know, violence? I went to my computer and used different speaker system and then it struck me: we had still been too careful with the treble.
I called Tundra and he said that they had thought the same with Virta in his car but thought it was just because of the shitty car stereo.
After comparing the sound to Nifelvind and Nattfödd and then twiddling with the EQ I realized that the sound was indeed needing brightness. So I called Mika and explained the situation. He promised to do the new versions on thursday. Then I sent Jens, our chief at Century Media Records an email:
"The album is mastered and Mika should have sent you the files now.Next morning I fiddled with the hi- end at work and compared it to our other albums. Then I sent Mika a rather apologizing email that "yeah, we really need to do that hi- end tweak" and included once again a screenshot of the EQ setting I had used. We got the new versions and they were WAY better. Then I went home later and gave them a spin in my car. And I felt it´s grinding my teeth out now. FUUUUU.HOWEVER, DO NOT USE THEM YET OFFICIALLY.I noticed at home that there´s a chance the sound need a bit more "hi- end". Compared to the earlier albums, it´s now a bit darker, and might be too dark. I will check the files at my office tomorrow and compare them with proper speakers.
So I sent the band and Jens another email:
Jens and the band! I need your output here.Listen to the final versions which Mika sent us today and TAKE NOTE if there is too much treble. They sounded very good at my office, but at my car there was quite stinging hi end at the sound. Both of these versions have their positive and negative aspects, but I´d still rather go with the new ones UNLESS everyone is against it.So, let me put it this way: Listen to the new and final versions and IF they are too "treble"- ish, listen to the earlier ones and check if you like those better.This is very important, as I need more ears here than my own to know exactly which version we should use.Cheers,H
And what a fucking can of worms that was. :D At the end, everyone except for Beast Dominator from the band were voting for the new versions. But also, everyone was a bit doubtful if it´s too bright now. Emails and other online conversations combined, we had close to one hundred comments on the matter, so it was very hard to figure out the best way.
And then, as the last confusing element, Jens voted for the first version. He thought it´s more punk and vintage and liked it because of the "old school element". Fuck. We were tearing our hair off with confusion. However, being the awesome guy he is, he wrote last that "...I know it’s not an easy decision for you. We are not the kind of record label that is telling bands what to do. I believe in artist freedom because real art is coming from heart... [snipped by Trollhorn].....Let’s sleep it over for one night and listen to both version a few times more."
And this is what we did. And when I woke up today, I knew exactly what´s wrong. Everyone who had doubts was concerned about the "whistling" frequency in the cymbals and that´s it.
So, what if I....what if I....WHAT IF I.
[enter two hours]I figured it out last night. Gonna drill a sharp hole to the hi- end EQ of the second version. Two test songs coming up in an hour for you guys! That could nail it for everyone.
Ok, here´s the stabbed version of Blodsvett. I dug that certain frequency which is responsible for grinding your teeth out, and dropped it down.
This sound should have the hi- end of the Version 2 without that most irritating frequency from the drums.
Picture attached for audiophiles. Please let me know your opinion, would this be best of the both worlds?
game of ours, a familiar sound appears and the first email dropped in from Beast Dominator:
"This is much more gentle to my fragile ears I´d say. Thanks for the pic ;)".Two minutes later from Virta: The fixed one is the shit! :D Much better than the old new one." Then Vreth: "Ka-tsching! Henri for president." Skrymer: "YEEESSSS! Brighter without that shitty stuff....awesome :) " and finally, Jens. "Sounds great- perfect middle way of punchy and punk!".
"Punchy and punk". You heard it here first!
perjantai 11. tammikuuta 2013
...Still here? Let´s continue, aye. Part two of the Epic Saga Of Finntroll´s Mixing Adventures (tm) awaits! Grab your seats, ladies and gentlemen...and prepare to exhaust yourself with yours truly!
Friday, day 22.
My son was having holiday from school- I wasn´t. And after seeing him swallowing tears when I told him I´ll be again away tomorrow for the whole day, I decided to take him with me.
So I took him to my office to play games and hang around while I was playing all the missing guitar leads (if my boss asks, I was playing the guitar for an upcoming game trailer instead) in less than two hours. Making the sound, playing, editing, exporting, uploading the guitar leads, in less than two hours, that is, as I was supposed to be somewhere else at certain time. All this while answering ten times to questions like "dad, why can´t we go and buy some soda from the vending machine downstairs?" and "can I play games with your work computer instead of this laptop"? I decided to go with my demo guitar solo with "Mitävittua" instead of playing it again. It was actually rather good, so I didn´t see the point of just playing the same shit again.
I succeeded with the guitars in time, picked up my wife from the city, drove home with the family and continued straight to the studio. Came home to spend some time, continued buiding our snow-castle with my son and went again to the studio with the guys after everyone else had gone to sleep. We noticed that the kick drum, snare and bass tracks are having some problems with a thing called "being out of phase", so we had to check out all the songs again and fix those which had some issues.
Saturday, day 23.
Holy fuck, a day that started at 9:30 and ended at 17:00. With everything going on schedule, succeeding and me having a proper lunch. I had to do some more backing vocals for Piraatti and we played some extra keys with Virta for a couple of songs. It´s good to have a quick setup there in case you realize that "this keyboard sound isn´t working in this part when the vocals are on top", etc, so it´s easy to replace or double stuff if needed. Three more songs for tomorrow, fuck yeah.
Sunday, day 24.
Last proper day. Today we make the two songs into their "phase #1", tomorrow we polish them into finals and do all the backups/ possible last- minute tweaks. So we started in the morning tweaking yesterday´s songs into final. In the afternoon, it was time for Soutu. Fast- forward about three hours and we started to mix Lolbster.
If you ever listened to the demo preview which we posted online, Lolbster was that folky tune that ended that preview. So there´s quite a much layered stuff happening which gave me some proper trouble. The chorus of the song has 6 tracks of stringed acoustic instruments, the "basic band", keyboard melodies in three layers, pads, piano, and vocals. Making everything "sit" nicely in the mix while still audible seemed to be a living nightmare. Until I realized something.
Everyone always utilizes EQ to make room for other instruments. Well, if you´re having some heavy trouble still giving everything the room they need, how about thinking outside the box? You got more than one dimension in sound. Use that possibility! Spread the living bejesus out of stuff. If you only need acoustic rythm guitars to give that "sparkle", you don´t even want to them to be in the middle- you always hard pan them. Well, hard pan them MORE. With a spreader. There´s no information in the center anyway you´d want to be there to mess up the mix. So be creative, and when you can´t make anymore room with EQ, don´t be afraid to experiment with stereo windth settings with sounds that are meant to widen the sound anyway. The more you got stuff in the center, the more you want to pan stuff, right? But what it you can´t pan stuff like pads? OVERSPREAD THEM. And prepare to be amazed.
However, remember that just like in hammering shit down with limiters, also in this- with great power comes great responsibility. Be aware that too much stereo spreading WILL ruin your mix and you have to be very careful not to be "fooled" by the instant super- stereo sound to overuse it. Use phase meters with your ears and you should be all good. Also keep in mind that the more stuff is spreaded out, the more it will take sheer power away from the middle and your mix sounds like it´s coming from "back of your head" and totally ruined and weird. Use with extreme caution!
And that was to first EQ all the keyboard layers separately and using a "trick" to make them more wide instead of being in the center. A bit like that "stereo surround" everyone love to overuse when listening to music from a digital source. :D And THAT really hit the spot. Everyone was dropping their jaws basically- "what the hell....holy fuck the sound started to breathe". Remember me writing earlier that...
Apparently, there is. And apparently, judging from my and everyone other´s grin while checking them out in different stereos at the studio (there´s a fine line with this stereo windth experimenting -read the jargon if you want- so wanted to be sure we´re not overdoing anything) we realized that this was the last missing piece of the puzzle. The keyboard pads had to be spread out to the sides in the mix in order to give room for everything else, and now it finally sounded the way it was supposed to sound. Now there was just one little problem- there´s no way we would use the old versions if we could do THIS to every song. We´d have to start again from the beginning while having roughly 36 hours left. Hey, at least Kyyppari was still untouched so it´s not that everything had to be done again, right? :D"I could live with this, being 85% satisfied. After all, there´s no such a thing as "universally perfect mix"?
We finished Lolbster and used the same approach with Rivfader and Piraatti and went home 3 AM....dreading for tomorrow.
Monday, day 25. Studiotime left: 24 hrs. Songs to be mixed: 8.
I got to the studio with Virta and Vreth at 11 AM. Everyone´s good morning´s greetings were like "dude, I was listening the new mixes at home in the morning and holy fuck they sounded good" so we laughed that we´re definitely on the right track....better late than never. So, sleeves up and to work!
We did minor balance tweaks with those three songs we finished yesterday, and about 13 we started to give the facelift to the missing eight songs.
Some keyboard doubling was done (see earlier day) and overall we were very satisfied with the sound when applying the tweaks. It took roughly 2 hours per song so at 10 PM we were still lacking four. And this is where the FUN begins. If you haven´t read the blog earlier (or missed that part), I mentioned that my wife was heavily pregnant at this point with the estimated "delivery date" being only four days away. Well, you never guess how this story goes...
Long story short- at 22:30 with 12 hours and four songs left, my wife informed me that her water broke. Being the person who she is, she was laughing that this wasn´t probably something I wished to hear at this very moment, which I had to agree laughing. She told me that we have to go to the hospital in the morning if nothing happens before that, so "finish the stuff and come home but try to get some sleep if possible for tomorrow". So, there I was, mixing my ass off with a phone 20 centimeters from me in case it rings while my wife is getting ready to give birth.
(Disclaimer: This is a matter of trust here- my wife knows that the moment she says we have to go, we go. And I know that she will say it when that time comes, no earlier. She is a healthy and sensible woman, and I was only 10 kilometers away from home and I have a car. So we weren´t exactly risking anyone´s health here. Besides, there were no such symptoms which would indicate on going to the hospital yet. She also knew how important this particular studio day was, and showed me her support with this for which I am eternally grateful for her.)
"How the fuck can you manage continue mixing with attitude that calm", were the guys laughing. "Well, do I really have much choice here", I snickered. "I either start panicking and stressing and mix badly or then I go home, but in both options I am no use to anyone. So I guess I finish what I have to do, do it well and then go home. But of course I am in full alert-mode all the time, and if I need to go, I need to go. Let´s just hope I won´t have to go before we´re ready."
And we mixed. And mixed. And ran downstairs to smoke cigarettes, had coffee, pizza and more coffee, mixing, tweaking and editing. Every second my phone could ring that "we have to go now" so this was some serious race with time. I was in touch with my wife with calls and SMS´s, her providing me info she got from the hospital and me asking her condition, possible pains, etc. Then she went to sleep about midnight and I continued mixing like a madman. At 3:30 AM she called me that she woke up and "I guess you should start hurrying up with the mix if you have much of that left". Now this was getting interesting. Could we pull this off or not? The atmosphere started to get hysterical already, with everyone laughing and cracking up all the possible jokes concerning what will happen if our time runs out.
At 5 AM we had the final mixes ready. But we still had to spin them through in order to find any possible major fuck- ups, like "accidentally muted vocal lines" or "flanger in snare" and "rodents on left speaker"- kinda things. Because if something is fucked up at that point, it can technically never be fixed again. We´d have to mix the whole album basically again as we´re using that kind of setup which can´t be done again quite easily.
I called my wife that we´re technically finished, and she said that I can stay for the listening, but being prepared that we have to go soon and she calls me when... and then it´s a rush. At 5:50 AM while the album had just finished and the couple of things had been noted to be fixed, I got a phonecall that we have to go. Vreth and Virta stayed to make the final tweaks for those two songs that demanded attention, I dropped Tundra home and drove WAY over the speed limit to home and went to the hospital with my wife from there.
While the album got born technically 5:00 AM, our wrinkly, healthy and small baby girl got born only less than five hours later. This is something I´d call rather efficient timing, don´t you think?
I also want to make a special note here- not even mentioning the actual bravery of her tuesday- night at home here- this album would had never completed with the massive help of my wife, who was taking care of everything I couldn´t, while I was away doing the album. I love you.
More into grim and evil stuff again, I´ve been now bouncing the mastered takes back and forth with Mika from Finnvox in order to find the perfect sound. Thus far they sound incredible. We´re still doing some extra keyboards and some vocals to some of the songs, and the final mastering session is at next wednesday. Expect more info then.
This album will fucking kill. It tried it´s best with us, but we were tougher. Are you....prepared?
Signing out for now, it was a pleasure to spend this year with you.
Yes, I didn´t have time to update this blog while at the studio. And after that, I had some stuff to take care of. And then it was Yule. And then something. But here I am now, rocking like a hurricane. And I thought you´d like to hear how the rest of the studio went? Read on, then!
This is quite a story, so I suggest you have a good 15 minutes with you and a mug of something.
And tissues, if you´re sensitive sort.
Monday, day 18.
The process in the mixing phase is really simple.
1. You do a couple of songs per day.
2. Check them out at various stereo equipments when you think they´re ready.
3. Use your primary (which you´ve used to) sound setup to listen to the balances.
4. Make list what needs to be changed. E.g. "the second horn- part is too loud".
5. Next day you fix it, export a final version with the needed tweaks and start at #1 again.
But before that, you have to make the first one to get to phase #1. This means that the first one will be the song which defines how the sound will be on every song. After you´ve done that, the show gets much easier and faster and it´s then only balancing and polishing. (At least in a perfect world, hehe).
So, I got to the studio again at 13- ish to check out Marilyn´s vocals, which sounded nice indeed. The idea of doing the quick guidelines on one track really helped Vreth and the performance was top- of- the- notch. Thus we entered the mixing booth and started to lay the shit down together. Starting with Halkodisko, as it was the most "basic" song to start molding the overall sound- no weird surprises or blastbeats, enough of double- kickdrums and choppy beats, you know. Something that contains "everything" enough to start the overall mix with.
I wasn´t particularly worried about the sound, as it sounded very cool even without keys and vocals. Just what we were looking for- aggressive, distorted, pumpy, heavy and certainly black. We spent the day checking out vocal takes and compressors, replacing plugins and switching muted channels on one by one. It was some serious task to make the keyboads to be audible and "fit in" to the distorted black´n´roll mess but after hours I got it finally sound like it should with lots of EQ and other stuff. Then we unmuted the vocals and tweaked the sound quite a bit to be audible. And then we tweaked it some more. Then it "ate" all the keyboards so we had to raise them. Which made the vocals disappear again. After several hours, I had to leave the studio to pick up my son from school, but I thought I got the sound somehow ok- ish. We could at least hear everything, even though it was a bit messy.
Back home it didn´t sound good at all. A complete un- aggressive mess of distortion with demo- ish too loud and "outpopping" keyboard melodies, and vocals either too loud or too low, depending on the part. I thought it will get better later and went to sleep with a rather unfunny feeling in my stomach.
Tuesday, day 19.
I got to the studio 8:30 in the morning to tweak Halkodisko. Got a bit better version out of it, but I still wasn´t particularly jumping around with it. It still sounded like a mess...not like a bad balance but rather like.....unrepairable. You know, like problems lying so "deep" that no keyboard EQ would ever save it. I realized it must be because of the drum ambience is very loud and the guitars have quite much of very thick middle in them. So I polished the mix a bit, bounced it into harddisk and went to the office to do a couple of hours of work.
I took a listen of Halkodisko mix 2 at the office, and thought it even if it was better than the first one,"maybe mastering will fix it to be perfect". "Maybe it´s just in my head", I thought and went to pick up my son again while the guys were already starting to import channel settings for the next song which would be Rivfader.
I got to the studio with my son about 18 in the evening. While he was playing some soccer game with the studio´s XboX, I was continuing with Rivfader. The more I tweaked it, I started to realize that the problem with the sound is not in my head. This sound is bad to the core. Period. And the more I tried to mix the keyboards and other stuff in, every minute I got more desperate and nervously conscious that this is not going to sound good no matter how I tweak.
Something is FUBAR for good here, and I noticed myself actually thinking of canceling the mix and postponing it to February when the studio is free again. I felt so disappointed after months of hard work that I left the studio with the feeling I will either start crying or start some heavy solution- finding. And I´m so tired of finding solutions. The guys left to bounce Rivfader to hard disk and I could see from their faces that they weren´t happy with the sound either.
It´s a hard feeling to describe (after everything we´ve gone through lately) how bad I felt when I left the studio. Frustrated, disappointed and so tired.
Wednesday, day 20.
I didn´t sleep much the last night. At 2 AM it struck me and I SMS´d Vreth.
(And yes, this is one SMS. :D)
"Fuck, is it the guitar?" Maybe with that amount of keyboards we´re using too much of the Orange amp and the thickness of it? Maybe if that´s the main problem we could just mute the other Orange channel or fiddle some room for the synths with an EQ? The sound is just too thick and we can´t get any other synth out than the most hi-pitched melodies...We gotta test that tomorrow. Fuck I´m losing my sleep here. I was listening to Rivfader and even it was semi-ok, I still think the same- I gotta test that tomorrow for sure."
For my surprise he was awake, so we discussed more about the sound and what´s wrong with it. I used the example that we´re trying to "mix the first Anaal Nathrakh album with Nightwish"
(Seriously- that Anaal Nathrakh isn´t actually even that far from the truth!)
Of course then I realized that this is exactly the problem. How the HELL could I possibly think these could work together??? Our "basic" sound has been done so goddamn raw and distorted without thinking the rest of the palette at all. And guess who was to blame? Me, the self- proclaimed producer. My call, my bad. My mistake. And now it´s all coming back to me.
I called Nino right in the morning while driving to work. "Dude, I´ve made a fucking horrible misjudgement and we gotta start the mix again". We had a long talk and he understood my point. And promised to tweak the drums and guitar way more cleaner while I´m at work, as I couldn´t come to do it myself. He sent me a new version later in the afternoon, and I called him right after and said I could kiss him. At least I was now confirmed that even though "I broke it" I knew how to repair it. I went to the studio in the evening with my son, tweaked the sound a bit more and made another mix from Halkodisko. Drove home with my son, read him a while, tucked him into the bed and went back to the studio to mix Rivfader.
Next morning at home the mixes were sounding like a different band. I was extremely relieved. Not the best possible supersound I could imagine, but at least not that fucking horrible shit. I could live with this, being 85% satisfied. After all, there´s no such a thing as "universally perfect mix".
Thursday, day 21.
Finnish independence day = public vacation. For some, not for me.
I did some more polishing to the guitar and drum sound in the morning and made new versions out of Halkodisko and Rivfader. Mind you, I don´t want to hear Halkodisko ever in my life again.
Otherwise- more songs done, general tweaking, choosing the best keyboard sounds (We did a ton of layers in order to pick the best- serving ones in the mix) ....and I think we did three songs overall. Got home in the evening to go to sauna and having a nice evening with my family.
Not that I´ve seen them much lately, and "we have time now as the mix is good. Half of the songs are done already!" Yes, well....more on that later.
Read on to chapter two, if you will! Still four exitement- fulfilled days left.
What could possibly go wrong?
keskiviikko 5. joulukuuta 2012
Not, it´s not really an epilogue. Though I wish it kinda was.
The last week has been literally so busy, that as Virta put it, most of us have only had time for eating and sleeping besides the studio. Some not even that. So, let´s start from last week´s thursday.
Thursday, day 16
Virta and Vreth got to the studio at 10, and started to make Halkodisko better from what it was yesterday. It was top- notch, and after that they made all the choruses for Rivfader, as they were "screamed" while the actual verses are in a bit different style.
After getting to the studio from work at the afternoon, we continued with some keyboards. We got three songs ready, got something to eat and Tundra came as well. B.Dominator also visited us briefly. Then we unleashed Vreth, who sang Rivfader´s missing parts, did vocals for Soutu and....and...hmm. Something? I´m really sorry, but at this point- especially writing it down a bit later- it´s all a goddamn mess in my head.
Then we realized JUST IN TIME that one song´s keyboard/guitar- intro is going to be hell of a similar with another song we´ve done in the past, so we actually spent two hours for think- tanking how should we change it. We tried different sounds, ideas, arrangements and quite a few approaches until we found the exact way we wanted it to sound like. Everybody was very happy with it, and our "business meeting- lookalike" with papers and maps paid off big time. Now said corporate approach doesn´t work with producing metal music?
I dropped Tundra home at 1:30 AM and headed home.
Friday, day 17
It´s all groundhog day. Vreth and Virta were doing takes while I got to the studio, then I started to play keys again. Then Tundra got there. I saw one guitar player briefly on monday, and the other last week. Do we actually have guitarists in this band? We played keys with Virta, poisonized everything with such awesome sounds called as "kanala", "der alte", "munapää" and "pallinaama" and laughed our asses off. With all the keyboards now finally performed, Vreth continued filling his row of X´s with some great takes and we went finally home at 2AM.
Saturday, day 17
I left my car home today, because I swore I will start drinking beer 9AM today. What happened in reality, is that I started doing it seriously at 2AM. But before that happened quite a lot.
We started Beasty D´s Percussion Helvete at 9, and by the time the others got there, we already had recorded quite a load of them. Then I started running around the studio, picking up all the acoustic instruments and played them....a lot. So much different shit. Acoustic guitars, banjos, mandolin, bouzoki...and of course I forgot the guitar leads. >.<
It took a while for me to check out the drum sound Nino (the studio owner) had pre- produced and as I wasn´t prepared for starting producing and mixing at the same time we were supposed to sing, the singing took the hit. While most of the people were drinking beer at the lounge and listening to music and amusing themselves partying, we were at the studio booth trying the compress the snare with an old Urei squasher. So...much....distortion.
We started FINALLY recording the choirs and background shouts at 10PM and decided to only use three guys first in order to get the most "tight" result. Then we backed them up with the "football- choir" and saw it was perfect. The last takes were ready at 2AM and we finally got the chance to sit down after working 17 hours in a row. At 5:30AM I decided I´ve now relaxed enough and went home, leaving still some people drinking beer.
Sunday, day 18
The "some people drinking beer" were actually still there drinking more beer when I got back to the studio the next afternoon. "Cool", I thought, and decided to hit the control room after enjoying loud death metal, general droopyness and awesome drunken stories for half an hour. Gotta admit a spontaneous sunday- afternoon beer sessions would had been quite fun, but also finishing your tasks, preserving your marital status and eating something next week would be even more fun in the long run. Me so boring.
Vreth arrived a half an hour later with a pizza. Me so jealous! Then Virta came as well, the beer- drinkers went to a bar and we started doing the last vocals for Nexro and Marilyn. While I was editing Nexro´s final takes...
"Snap", said the electricity.
"Crackle", said the computer monitor.
"Pop", said my blood pressure.
We found out that a faulty laptop- charger had gone berserk, caused an overload and destroyed the fuse. Replacing that after some phonecalls and general twiddling, we switched on the computer with a drop of sweat. We still didn´t have backups from yesterday´s 17 hour sessions with "guest stars" so if the hard drive would had been FUBAR, we´d be screwed for good.
Luckily it ran smoothly, and we found out that everything was still there. Pheeeeeew.
After backing everything up, we continued with Nexro´s vocals. I had to leave before Marilyn got finished and we still had arrangements to do. What now? A wild brilliant idea appears!
We made the rhythmic arrangements and the phrasing together with Vreth and Virta, but I actually spoke them to the hard disk on the top of the music, so that Vreth could check out from there how we decided it to go. MUCH more faster to do these kind of "notes" instead of either...
a) writing rhythms down for him on paper for three verses and a bridge
b) him screaming everything two sentences at a time, while we´d also had to take care of the overall sound, performance and general "feeling" of the vocal takes which would be the final ones.
I called the guys 22:30 and they had just finished the rest of Marilyn. Hurray for them! Monday would be mixing the shit down. Let´s see how that´d turn out! So much to think still, and files and tracks to transfer between computers. More on that later.
torstai 29. marraskuuta 2012
Monday, day 13.
I´m not sharing any names, but one of the guitar players didn´t show up to play his missing parts this morning. Luckily, the other one performed those as well, so when I got to the studio everything was played just as asked, with some extra awesome stuff as well. So kudos for this other guy!
The rest of the day was spent by editing the bass. Playing some parts again, making it sound like it should and finally having MAJOR problems with the tuning, I used all my professionality I could possible have to tune the parts digitally. Then we realized that Tundra´s bass playing wasn´t actually that bad at all, but the autotune had actually fucked up the timing in most of the places, so the more we used it the more the timings went astray. The joys of digital signal processing, I guess.
At the end we had a perfectly pitched bass- track.... which was played like someone who just got his first bass guitar.
After hours, bugged Pro Tools and tons of "FUCK THIS, delete, start from scratch" we finally got it sounding right like it was performed in the first place. And before you ask, no, there was no fucking way we´d play those songs again from scratch. Using 4 hours for editing is less than using 12 hours for playing AND editing.
We got home at 1AM- No keyboards were done due to the bass editing,but at least we sound now like we should.
Tuesday, day 14.
So, with all the "band" now finally done, lagging behind for only three days, it was finally time for me to do something else than edit, repair, instruct, scream and cry. So, enter the keyboards! FINALLY.
We rigged my (t)rusty N364 with Virta´s two better hi- end Korgs and started to ruin all the songs. That was so fucking fun compared to that hell I´ve been through for the last two weeks.
We first layered the "basic" stuff from my N364- Analog Pad, Choir and Strings. Seriously, the strings just sound so good in that machine. It´s the exactly same sound that e.g. Nightwish, Bal- Sagoth and Dimmu Borgir have used, and afaik, Tuomas Holopainen still uses.
Fun trivia: If you got access to that machine (or X3/ X5), pick up Prog C07- "The Strings" and start playing "Mourning Palace". You´ll be surprised. Not to mention that one...whatever, "Festival!" or something, which is exactly this sound. Hailz for creativity.
My wild guess is that back in the mid 90´s when me and countless of other metal keyboard players had access only to one piece of equipment, we got the best overall synth with a reasonable price, thus ending up getting that particular piece which was very popular. However, the number one rule of keyboard players:
NEVER. USE. LAYERED. PRESETS. ALONE.
Get it? Seriously. Never use them. On the other hand, we found out that Jeremy Soule has a Korg as well. Shame on you for laziness, Jeremy. Then again, we used it for too. We also used some Nintendo- sounds just because it turned Lolbster into a platformer game from the late 80´s. And then it started to sound like Giana Sisters. Yet, even though we love to take the piss on everyone, we´re not actually putting them that audible, so fear not. We´ll still be sounding like Finntroll instead of playing some uninspiring Göteborg- metal with occasional C64- sounds glued on top. No names mentioned.
After playing keys for Blodsvett (using Shakuhachi as a "old school Finntroll tribute I could swear I´d see Somnium clapping his hands for this one"!), Kyyppari (ended up sounding like a Turkish scifi- movie from the 60´s at some parts. Black Metal, no compromise!) and Kylskåp (Ever thought what happens if Demented are Go, Darkthrone and Nightwish clashed together?) , I went to visit home quickly (I live only 12 kilometers from the studio), had dinner with my wife, went to sauna, shaved face and head, and got back to the studio where Vreth already had started to do the vocals. The joys of recording near home. :D
I wasn´t very fond of the vocal sound so we sat down and started to tweak it into more violent. In the end we went with a guitar distortion plugin (!!!) and a compressor so tight you could hear the guy fart in the next room as loud as Vreth screams. The result sounded so uncannily aggressive that we decided to go for it as a template. We did vocals for Blodsvett and Kylskåp as well and headed home at 1:30 AM.
Wednesday, day 15.
I got vacation from work for today, so I headed straight to the studio and started to edit the trumpet and trombone takes. Virta got there half an hour later, and Vreth followed soon. I brought the upright bass track for Piraatti which I had recorded at my office (!!), imported it in and started to lay keyboards for Piraatti with Virta. We had some akward ideas, tested many, and finally started arranging the keys more to suit the upcoming vocal lines. That was one helluva task, yet rather fun. You see, we just got the lyrics for it, and realized that they are not fitting the way we thought they´d do, so we started to think how to "fill the blanks" in the chorus with keyboards.
After finally getting Piraatti sounding like it should, we ruined Lolbster with all sorts of cheesy organs, 8- bit sounds and horns and whatnot. Then I ended up playing all cool shit into Halkodisko, including something so weird I´ll leave it as a surprise. Let ´s just say that our metal got even more black with this one.
After amusing ourselves with the keys, it was Vreth Tiem. We did vocals for Kyyppari and Lolbster and started to get rather hysteric at some point, after working for 13 hours in a row. We heard Vreth singing lines like "Vi skinka, vi gurka", "Penetratzioon" and whatnot, but finally got everything sounding perfect. Little whipping, little whiskey and he´s topping himself once again. Halkodisko started to sound a bit tired at some point (you try to scream 3 hours in a row at night and let´s see how your voice sounds like, hehe) so we decided that it´s 1:20AM and we should probably hit home after doing a 15+ hour workday.
When we got off from the studio, I realized it was freezing, extremely windy and there was snow everywhere. I dropped Tundra home and drove small roads back home, at max 40 km/h. Every turn was like bobsledding, and I certainly don´t need a smashed, unusable car at this moment. Some World of Warcraft soundtrack on the background, and we ended up chatting with Tundra about....yep, World of Warcraft for the whole trip. Hey, it´s very nice counterpart for doing metal for the whole day.
Got home at 2:10AM, remember pressing the snooze- button at 8AM.... woke up 9:20 with a phone on my hand. FUCK! Looked out of the window. More snow. FUUUUUUUUUUUUU.
Had to get tires changed and ended up being at the office at 11 instead of 9. Fuck yeah.