A couple of months ago I was randomly searching for artists and musicians located in the Denver metro area to see and hear what kind of music was being produced close to home. I came across the soundcloud site of Jessica Dye and started listening to her tracks. I came across one track that literally kept tugging at me since the first time I listened to it. Everything from the melody, to the haunting voice, to the simplicity of the track pulled me in and I was hooked. I listened to the track several times that day and from that moment forward, its haunting nature never let me forget about it; music that affects me like that is hard to come by these days it seems.
A few days ago I got up the courage to contact Jessica directly and threw out the idea of remixing this track that had been haunting me for several months. Jessica was not only quick to reply, but also very excited about the idea of having one of her songs remixed. Looking back on it, Jessica and I never spoke about our ‘vision’ for the remix. We never threw examples, concepts, or ideas back and forth what so ever. This obviously gave me complete artistic control of the remix, but not having a starting point almost made getting off the starting line near impossible. Looking back, diving in with my eyes closed was the best decision I could have made. If not for that, I probably would have never started and finished the remix.
Remixing for me has always been something I’ve been interested in, but I’ve always been on the fence about getting into it. Truth be told, most remixes are never as good as the original, that even that viewpoint is strongly based on what you (as an individual) consider to be ‘good’. Some might argue remixing is like spraying graffiti on the Mona Lisa – same painting…just horribly disfigured. Some musicians I think are frightened at having their music remixed to be quite honest, which is why I’ve never gone out and actively tried to propose a remix project in fear of rejection. Usually it’s the original artist contacting a remix artist to do the work, not the other way around. I’m glad it worked out and Jessica was willing to let me give it a shot, even though the artist in me wanted to leave this song completely alone in its original form since I already felt that it was perfect the way it is. I feared that by upping the track count, adding a catchy beat with lots of electronic sounds that it would somehow ‘ruin’ the original intended emotion that Jessica was trying to convey. So I knew I had to tread carefully and make the song unique from the original, but without barring the emotion and intended ‘brittleness’ that the original track carried so well.
Thinking back on it, there were two really big challenges I ran into during the recording and mixing phase. Creating the lead synth sound that fit ‘just right’ with the verse, and finding a beat that moved the song properly and could keep the listener engaged without making the song aggressive in any way. I’m pretty sure just those two items took an entire afternoon (and probably some of the evening) since the biggest hold up for me with song creating is simply being able to create sonically with what is being mentally conjured up in my head.
I never sat down with a pen and paper and methodically planned out how exactly this remix was going to sound, all of my music creation is impulsive and never planned out. I know I’ve landed safely on the moon when the right sonic pieces are in place. And somehow a track gets created from the experimentation with sounds, and then it’s a matter of arranging things so the human brain can still wrap itself around the song and enjoy it. The goal was to keep it catchy, simple and engaging, and in the world of music production, that’s harder than most people think.
This remix was more about the laying of sounds and adding color more than it was about completely re-vamping the track as I think most remixes do. Listening to the tracks side-by-side now, it is probably more appropriate that I say I simply added production to the original recording. Getting into the production, I thought Jessica’s original arrangement was brilliant and left that practically untouched on purpose. The haunting vocals and lyrics always called out to me that it would be brilliant to add some reverse reverb to them, to add to the atmosphere the lyrics were trying to create. And even though the vocal processing and mixing was done very last, it was most certainly the part of the remix that I was looking the most forward to.
This brings me to the last very challenging part of the remix, mixing Jessica’s vocals. I’ve never worked with a vocal range as dynamic as Jessica’s, keeping the vocal level and ‘under control’ with the use of volume automation and compression techniques (especially during the chorus) required almost a full day for only two verses and two choruses. The mixing of the verses wasn’t that bad, but getting the reverse reverb track to sit as perfect as possible with the unprocessed track was no easy task. But I solved the sonic mystery once I nudged the reverse vocal track about 5 ticks left of center from the unprocessed vocal track. I chose to make separate tracks of the processed and unprocessed vocals so I could control the amount of ‘tail’ heard from the reverse reverb. It was extremely important to me not to over-process the vocal tracks so the listener could clearly hear Jessica’s lyrics at any volume level. Jessica’s words are extremely poetic thus the most important part of all her songs, so it was important that I kept true to that in the remix. Using separate tracks for processed and unprocessed was the obvious choice so I could have the effect, without smudging and covering up the words with heavy processing.
As for the part of the remix that I am most proud of, was the idea to reverse a part of Jessica’s chorus lyrics, and use that as the haunting vocal melody you hear during the ending of the song. Listening to those words in reverse, is really does sound like the last word spoke is “love” and I will admit to getting the goose bumps when I made this discovery during the mixing process. Originally I ‘almost’ contacted Jessica to see if she would be willing to meet up just so I could record a new vocal melody for the ending just to be used in the remix. But then creativity got the best of me and I decided to use what I already had and create something through experimentation. Using reverse lyrics is a favorite sound design method of mine and I’ve used it in the past on one of my film tracks. It seemed like an appropriate thing to do with the ending of the track since the last thing I wanted to do was try to create a new synth patch for a lead melody to be played during the long ending. Originally I debated cutting a few bars from the ending of the track, but then decided in the end to leave it extended and lengthy since I felt the first half of the song was a big ‘build-up’ to this final scene. And it seemed appropriate to let the listener find themselves immersed in this heavy atmosphere long enough so it didn’t feel similar to waiting hours in line for a carnival ride…only for the ride to last a few short mins.
In closing, I am proud of how the remix turned out and I hope to work with Jessica a lot more. I hope you all enjoy it too, and hopefully this remix finds its way into the end of a film where the music and the atmosphere of the scene work in perfect unison together.