DISCLAIMER: The video clip for our version was posted here, but due to copyright grounds was taken down from Youtube (Yes it sounds THAT good). You can now find it here.
For our Trimester 3 Sound-a-like project we were lucky enough to get the opportunity to recreate the classic track from The Roots featuring Cody ChestnuTT - The Seed 2.0. We chose this song as it has a nice blend of hip-hop and rock, including a gritty rap and cleanly sung vocals giving us the opportunity to track various styles of performance. This offered a range of flexibility that would test our skills by challenging our critical listening and EQ abilities. We also chose this as it’s theme seemed to be suitable to where we each are in our current careers, as it is a commentary on the struggle between pure musical creativity and that of just fitting to the mainstream and/or needing popularity to be determined as successful.
This project was made more enjoyable as working as a team gave us each an opportunity to experience different roles in the studio without feeling too much individual pressure. We had a team that got on well, helped and complimented each other positively for 98% of the project (more on this later). We seemed to communicate effectively, and having
Patrick Fielding as group leader with his knowledge of equipment and organisational skills definitely eased some of the pressure we may otherwise have felt in the studio.
I could not speak more highly of Pat's attitude and abilities through this project. From coordinating and compiling the pro-tools session out of the studio, helping to arrange artists, bringing in his personal equipment (guitars, amps, pedals), his poise behind the desk (particularly in our vocal session with Josh and I as artists) these leadership qualities radiated through the group and fed a positive morale amongst the team, as if we encountered a technical problem Pat would no doubt have a solution.
This preparation and time management was crucial to this being a smooth project for us. The organisation of the Pro-Tools session and research we had done on the original tracks recording techniques and engineering methods was beneficial. We had tempo mapped the song, added markers, set the input list and came up with a job roles and delegations sheet to be as prepared as possible going into the Day 1 drum session. Doing this prior to our sessions, allowed more time in the studio for us to be more critical in perfecting the performance of our artists (particularly with vocals) and allowed us time to experiment with different outboard equipment we did not normally have such access to.
Comping on the fly during the vocal sessions saved us many hours comping and editing, as instead of having pages of playlists to sort through, we kept it simple by ensuring we had the right two or three takes to work with and quickly deleted anything that wasn’t up to par whilst still in the recording session.
I felt we communicated well as a group, and everyone was willing to help where necessary and put their hand up for a job they may not have even known how to do. An example was on the first day as we all helped to set-up mics and check line signals whilst waiting for our session drummer to arrive. I feel this attitude became contagious through the group at most sessions.
Our instrumentation and miking was very accurate except for one lead guitar and a rack mic. On our analysis of the original we didn’t believe there was a rack, but drummer Ryan advised there was a couple of small hits towards the end, enough for the rack to still be necessary. There was an easy solution to this, as we just opted to use the Overhead and Room Mics to capture this sound. As the two guitars essentially play the same throughout the entire track, we saved time in recording by being able to duplicate this sound in the box.
We miked each instrument as similarly as we could based on our research into the microphones The Roots use, their drum engineering philosophies and accompanying miking techniques. An example of this was knowing our rapper’s voice would not be quite as raw, deep or gritty as Philadelphian Black Thought, so we needed to replicate the bottom end as much as possible. Research showed Black thought used a Shure KSM9HS and the closest we had that possessed a similar frequency range was an AKG C414.
Labelling each instrument was a key part of the Pro Tools session, here is each instrument and the microphone used.
On first listen I felt our version feels a little bit slower than the original but this could be because the bass is slightly more prominent setting that pace. However, the more critically I analyse each instrument individually and as a whole I feel our cymbals actually keep the boppy-pace of the track. Our version seems to be a bit crashier with these cymbols whereas theirs seems to have a better crack on the snare which we managed to get quite close through boosting +9dB at ~192hz, dropping by 13dB at 802k, and applying a Low Pass Filter at 6.83kHz. Whilst we tried hard with various reverbs and patching, their room nose was hard to recreate.
For our bass session we close-miked the amp with a M88, C414, K2 and 421. We opted to go with a blend of the M88 and K2 to get our intended sound, keeping it clear and minimising room noise.
As each session went on we became more familiar and comfortable with the outboard gear which made us more efficient in later sessions. Taking notes on each session's patching and outboard setup, and commentary of takes/playlists, ensured we kept moving forward and didn't get too caught up in setup time or re-listening to poor/wasted takes as time became crucial in our mixing session.
Artistically we were lucky we had talented individuals within our group. As we were aware that we were to source artists from outside the group, we had planned accordingly with three guitarists and two vocalists, yet due to various circumstances (injuries, work, timetable clashes) and only limited studio availability that could fit each of our schedules, Pat stepped up playing lead guitar, I subbed in for the rap and Josh phenomenally performed the vocals.
To not over re-iterate our time managerment, but allowing extra studio time during recording meant we could be very meticulous when tracking vocals. This meant we were stringent on perfecting each line and comping on the fly savedus time in having to filter through useless takes after the session or during our allocated mixing time. This meant we could dive straight into mixing once back in the Audient during our scheduled mix session with tutor Michael Clarke. Comping during recording also enabled us to eliminate any unwanted noise or sonic effects, with the only occurrence of this popping up when we found a low-resonant hum coming through during our mixing session. This quickly was identified as feedback due to a minor error in patching.
As a group we each had an opportunity at different roles and for the most part we communicated very well both in and out of the studio sessions. Pat’s leadership and enthusiasm was infectious (as covered above), Josh’s knowledge of drums and bass guitar techniques was very impressive, particularly the way he helped coach our session guitarist Stephan through some of the more difficult transitions late in the track. I cannot speak more highly of not only his vocal abilities but attention to detail whilst in the booth, as his critical listening ability transferred over into an exceptional performance (My overuse of hyperbole for these two is intended and more than appropriate).
I also admired the way Jack and Will really listened and absorbed as much info as possible, willing to stick their hand up for any job from patching-to-miking-to-chucking the headphones on and being a runner in the studio. I felt in a similar boat as these guys, not overly confident with chords, or notes of the instruments and still very new to pro-tools and live recording, but loving and just taking in every aspect of it. Lisan also helped where possible and had some great in-the-box knowledge, but it’d be remiss for me to not acknowledge his absence in the afternoon of the mix session after what I believe was a disagreement or mis-communication on the application of EQ. I was in the bathroom when this happened so cannot comment on the intricacies and hope it was just a misunderstanding. I just felt it to be a shame that weeks of excellent teamwork and communication could be undone so late in the process. Whilst I’m not trying to throw him or any other team members under the bus, this is something we should all learn from.
Patience, poise and respect for one another's opinions are just as important as a great guitarist or microphone when it comes to group work in the studio. The management of one another's ego, the ability to self-reflect on our own behaviour, keeping a calm head and an open mind to each other’s opinions all contribute to a smooth workflow. Less tension helps ooze more positive thought, and in such helps make it easier to focus on creating greatness. (Fleetwood Mac's Rumours album proving an exception to the rule.)
My personal highlight was getting to the do the rap and also mixing the drums live. I’ll choose not to comment on my rap skills but the guys gave me positive feedback and I had a ball doing it. The live double tracking was a fun experience, rapping over myself is something I never thought I’d do. We used the futzbox plug-in on my vocals to bring the through more of the low end to get closer to Black Thought's vocal and added distortion as is on the original.
We also double tracked Joshs vocals, using a high-pass filter at 84hz to remove the low-end, and boosting at 4.4kHz at just over +5dB to highlight his heavenly innocent vocals.
Overall this was a fantastic experience. I feel we surpassed all aspects of the brief including capturing the vibe of the track and accuracy in the replication of the song, as evidenced by YouTube taking our version down on grounds of copyright just minutes after we posted it. I’m proud to show this to friends, family, colleagues, teachers and peers, as toggling from the original to our version sounds quite seamless.
Big thanks to drummer Ryan, Bass player Stephan, teacher Michael Clarke and the flexibility of group members Pat and Josh to be able to step up into the absent artist roles that provide perhaps a better performance than we may have got from our original.
Plus big thanks to The Roots, as my love and appreciation ?uestlove, Black Thought and the entire Legendary Roots Crew shows as even after these hundreds and hundreds of listens I still love this song.