Foreign Exchange producer Nicolay has been running a great series Inside The Producers Studio on his site, Nicolaymusic.com. Among several great posts he provides a detailed account of how he produced and mixed, “Daykeeper” from Leave It All Behind. Here is just a sampling of part 1 and I encourage you to visit his site to check out the full Monty.
Words By Nicolay
I came up with the basic track in november of ’06, after coming back from my visit to Tokyo. Japan had made a huge impression on me and I was still in that state of mind, calling the track idea “Shibuya” before sending it over to Phonte to check out. I knew that it was very different from what we had done before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it and whether or not it would “fit”, but when Phonte heard it, he knew that this was the direction that we were looking for and started to write to it. Not too long after, he recorded the hooks and verses together with Muhsinah and sent them back to me. I was so inspired by the song that I came up with the 3/4 section in the middle almost right away. In turn, Phonte and Muhsinah recorded their additional vocals to the middle section and with that, the song was complete.
The mixing process of this song specifically took well over a year, and if I remember correctly we went through at least a dozen different mixes before we had the final one. There’s about 70 (!) tracks of vocals and about 40 more tracks of instruments in the session, so you can imagine that it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get everything balanced just right.
I’d like to acknowledge Khrysis for his stellar engineering of the vocal recordings as he does time and time again, to Soiree Records for the fine job mastering the album and a special thanks to my partner Phonte and to Muhsinah, who’s duet on ‘Daykeeper’ will undoubtedly go into history as one of the great vocal performances of our generation. By now I must have heard the song hundreds of times, but it still gives me chills each time.
DISCLAIMER 1: I do not claim to be an authority on mixing and this blog is not meant to be read as a roadmap to instant good results. It should however give you a pretty good idea of my general approach to mixing, as well as of what tools I use and how I use them to get the sound that I am looking for.
DISCLAIMER 2: All software that I use was purchased legally and officially. I’m not mentioning that to be preachy, btw. Just sayin’.
The main drums consist of a kick, snare, ride and crash, all samples from my personal collection that I have built up over the years. Because the song is so haunting, we wanted the drums to sound punchy but “cold”. I used the Duy DaD Valve plugin with the “snare” preset on both the kick and the snare to beef them up, and the Waves SSL E-Channel with the “Kick Drum” preset on the kick for some extra punch. On the ride track, I did a considerable cut at around 170 kHz because the original sound was resonating a bit too much in that range. I normally also cut the ultra-low frequencies (under 32 Hz or so, depending on the track) on the kick, so that it leaves enough room in the low-end spectrum for the bass. Nowadays the EQ plug-in that I come back to every time is the Sonnox Oxford EQ because its interface is the most intuitive out of all EQ plugins that I have.
The main drums are sent to subgroup with a Sonnox Oxford Dynamics compressor (also highly recommended) set to the “Sony Buss” preset. This subgroup itself is sent to a second subgroup with a Sonitus compressor set to a more extreme setting to create that sense of movement in the drums, as the ride ducks with every kick or snare hit. In terms of percussion, there’s a shaker track with the Waves SSL E-Channel set to “Hi Hat” to add some high end and compression.