Despite my traditional church upbringing, I was unfamiliar with the hymn The Love of God, by Frederick Lehman, when my dear friend Dena mentioned to me last summer that she had breathed new life into this hymn with an updated feel and a new bridge. When she played it for me I asked her if she would like to record it. We agreed to lay down the basics before she returned home to Atlanta. She mentioned that she really wanted to add hand percussion to it – a djembe or conga drums.
After recording her vocals and keyboard part, the song lay dormant until I could arrange for a percussionist. That came in the person of Wil Hanson, who plays percussion in my church. In an upcoming blog post I will detail our recording session in the same acoustically magnificent location where I recorded the handbell choir several years before.
After I had the vocals, piano and percussion all together, I decided that an upright bass would hit the spot. I turned to my old favorite, Acoustic Bass Full from Dimension Pro. The screenshot to the left shows the recorded tracks and the MIDI for the bass line I recorded. The percussion line represents about five different takes, the lead vocal 5 or 6.
By the time I had completed the mix, it looked like the second screenshot, to the right. This shows the rendered bass line as well as the automation on the various vocal lines. I also deleted out the various unused takes so they wouldn’t distract from the mixing process.
The next screenshot is the composite mixer window, showing the basic effects and EQ curves applied to each of the channels, as well as the ProChannel processing. The buses are to the right of the strip, with Reverb and the Master bus. None of the vocals have additional processing beyond the ProChannel modules. Dena’s singing is remarkably controlled and additional compression beyond the most basic leveling just wasn’t necessary. I did give her EQ just a little bump at about 360 Hz to help her vocal cut through the mix a little better. The percussion has two little bumps at the primary tones of the drums Wil used the most (about 225 Hz and 1125 Hz) to give them a little umph. There is also an instance of Izotope RX De-Noise to clean up some of the background hiss from the recording. Maybe not strictly necessary once the whole mix is playing but sometimes I can be a bit of a perfectionist.
The piano has a bit of processing, but it is pretty similar to what I’ve been doing a lot lately. The sampled piano didn’t require any corrective EQ, so after the ProChannel with just console emulator and saturation, I have the Waves H-Comp and BlueTubes BQ 25, a Pultec emulation. The HComp has become my favorite pop/rock piano compressor, and I really like how the Pultec can really brighten a piano without making it strident. This is a tip I originally learned from Bobby Owsinski’s Mixing Engineer’s Handbook. I’m also notching just a little bit of the mids out so as not to compete with the lead vocal. The differences are subtle, but if I remove the EQ from the mix it just sounds so much more congested.
The other area of significant processing is the reverb chain. The song is done in a calypso style (sans steel drums), so it didn’t call for an overwhelming reverb, just some natural-sounding space. I have to admit that I’m becoming quite infatuated with the Waves IR-1 reverb that I picked up last Christmas on sale. With the supplied Room-1 impulse response I got just a great result. Following the reverb is an instance of VOS Density Mk III set to mid-side mode. By using the compressor to emphasize the side signal a little bit it widens the stereo image of the reverb, which widens the stereo image of the entire mix a bit without making the instruments themselves feel super wide in headphones.
Finally, I’ll show a couple of the processors I used on the mix bus. The main chain is the following ProChannel modules: Tape Emulator -> Saturation -> Console Emulator. From there it’s into the NI Solid Bus Comp into the Unlimited Limiter into the Youlean Loudness Meter to check final levels before exporting. I’m not showing the interface above because it and the loudness meter have such huge UIs that I can’t show them both in the same screenshot. The Solid Bus Comp is set to fairly standard bus compression settings, using the slowest attack, quickest release and 4:1 ratio. Then I slowly increase the threshold until I’m getting 2-3 dB of gain reduction during the loudest parts of the song.
This was a lot of fun to record and mix. It’s the first time I had the opportunity to record Dena doing one of her songs – usually she’s helping me out on mine, which is most appreciated. Someday I hope we can record and mix some of her ambient piano/violin duets she’s put together. That would be a blast.
The final stage of the production was creating the music video. When I shot the tracking videos for Dena and Wil I purposefully shot them from opposite directions so they would be facing each other in the video. It’s amazing how easy it is to do these sort of composite shots in DaVinci Resolve, and I’m so happy that I have a computer powerful enough to run it now. I also spent a lot of time learning about color grading – let’s just say that when I began with the raw footage they looked like they were filmed in different universes, not just different buildings.
Anyway, if you missed it as the top, here’s the song. Please like and, if you do, please share with your friends.