Marmalade: The How and What

(Originally posted on February 2nd, 2021 on the old blog)

This is the second and final post in the Marmalade series, this one being a technical post about how and what I used to get the sounds I got. You’ll see here I admit some serious shortcomings (I’m a good composer, a mediocre mix engineer, and had never even once tried mastering anything before this record).

Used everwhere

ToTape5 is used on every master bus on this record to give the whole album that analog fatness. EQ10Q plugins are used as my primary EQ, which also is used in every track. Helm by Matt Tytel is my default synth, and if you haven’t heard if it, you should go check out Vital, which is a lot like Helm but way more configurable – it’s not open source, but it is free (unless you really NEED that speech-to-wavetable function, at which point you’re paying for him to maintain an AWS EC2 instance to do that for you). I used x42 autotune on every vocal line in the album because I am a terrible singer. DrumGizmo with the CroecelKit features heavily across the entire album – unless otherwise noted, this is how I did all the drums on the album.

What else? Calf studio plugins are in various places, all over the album – ranging from the vintage delay plugin being used for every delay on the album to the multiband compression, enhancer, and limiter on almost every master bus to fake that I know how to master. All reverbs are Dragonfly Reverb, which was used on almost every track to create ambient washes by using it as an aux, with room verb -> delay -> hall verb (great hall preset, slightly tweaked) with an EQ that had a low pass, high shelf, and a notch around 2.5-3khz depending on the song. Thanks to the group over on Unfa’s Discord server for the inspiration for that.

Opening Night

I gotta give a special shoutout to Jacob Collier, whose idea of negative harmony is the basis for that verse groove. In addition to that, the one and only time I used NoizeMaker. In addition to this, I want to note this song received the second most revisions of all of the songs on the album.

Wall of Cogs

This song features the above X42-autotune but used in the forced MIDI mode ala Unfa’s video here. This literally broke my brain when I saw it, and I am so happy with how it came out.

Drums are using DrMr Sampler. Cool plugin to play Hydrogen kits, but had its tempermental moments that made me throw my hands in the air a few times.

Outside

Outside features the first full fledged use of Guitarix plugins, and my custom built guitar I made in high school that features a coiltap. Guitarix handled both the bass and guitar amps.

The Power of Faith

I could have copied that paragraph above, except for the ‘first’ part. Again, all Guitarix amp sim here to get me that guitar tone (a tone that although I had come to accept, also accept I could use improvement with).

Discordia

This features the Aasimonster drum kit from Drumgizmo, but otherwise is identical to all the above tracks.

Fallout

This track features Rich Staats’ reamping of my guitars through his Diezel Einstein and Bogner Uberschall (the only thing not FOSS on this album is this – he uses Logic as his DAW), and Katherine Mazoyer as the ‘assistant’ in the beginning. This is the track that received the most revisiions, took the longest to record, and was generally the most arduous – I believe I was up to 64 tracks in Ardour by the time this was done.

Mein Schmerz

This featured an upright piano soundfont I found on Soundfonts 4U, and uses Helm for all the bass lines that made your car stereo cry. The creepy vocals are still all me.

This deserves a story though. While I was writing the album, I found an upright piano on the side of the road. I begged a friend with a truck to help me take it into the Shithole, where we spent 2 hours muscling it into my bedroom, which left me exactly 12″ of clearance between my bed and the piano, with no way to easily access the closet, and limited clearance for the door.

I later disassembled the piano when I couldn’t get it into my next apartment, and learned a ton about how pianos work. Initially I had myself of the mind to re-engineer it as a MIDI controller since the keys were all worn and beat up and had so much character, but the disassembly process did not lend itself kindly to that so I simply tossed it all, piece by piece. Then I learned that it had been made with a pale variation of mahogany, and had I not simply tossed those pieces of wood I could have probably sold them for several months worth of rent.

Architect of the Past

This song featured Rich soloing through his Diezel, and antogmusic on Fiverr who made my fucking year with that piano solo. Not a note was touched. The piano was the Steinway grand that’s in the above Soundfonts 4U link.

Nightmares

This features Guitarix again, and some autotune, but otherwise has no special plugins used.

The Torchbearer

This was the only track to use the Calf Bass Enhancer on the bass vocal line.

Lowdown Showdown

There wasn’t anything particularly special about this track – mixing wise, it mirrors Outside as far as setup.

Conclusion

I learned so much by doing this from top to bottom by myself. I learned for instance

  • I am prone to fits of mania when I am not in a good place mentally. The entire album came out of one of those
  • This was the most dedicated I’ve ever been to a project in my life, which in turn taught me how to follow through on other random shit
  • Dear fucking god I never, ever want to hear any of these songs again and yet somehow every few weeks I go put one on in Spotify to remind myself of what I did
  • Mein Schmerz was my favorite song through most of the process.
  • In spite of writing it on that upright piano, fuck upright pianos. No seriously, fuck em.
  • Mixing is a science – mastering is an art form. I did okay in science classes, and although I’m a composer, I am not a mastering engineer and am leaving the door open for, when I am making much better money than I do now, to pay someone to remaster the entire album.

It’s going to be a couple weeks before my next post. I need to do some back-end engineering on the site to be able to make it so I can host 3-4gb drum libraries easily, and of course, need to start getting those libraries polished for all your pleasure.