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“Premonitions” Or: Remixing a Song When the Multitrack is Lost

Discussion in 'Recording In Progress' started by Ed Driscoll, Oct 21, 2020.

  1. Ed Driscoll

    Ed Driscoll Tele-Holic

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    In the Twanger Central Forum, I just posted a song I wrote in 2014, and updated recently with much better gear. I had the multitrack files, so it was relatively easy to load up the original tracks, and then decide what I wanted to replace. But what happens when you’ve lost the multitrack files due to a hard drive crash and want to remix/rework something?

    I wanted to update “Premonitions,” one of the better songs I wrote and recorded in 2004, a few years after learning how to use a DAW (digital audio workstation), but whose multitrack files were lost due to a hard drive crash, and one that contained a muddy, thumpy, bass-dominated mix, and was recorded on my beginner’s-level “stone knives and bearskins-era” PC recording technology. Fortunately, today’s much more advanced software offers a way to crack the problem.

    RX8, Izotope’s latest edition of their long-running RX audio restoration and repair software, includes an applet called Music Rebalance. Input a file of a mixed-down recording, and Music Rebalance will generate individual drum, bass, lead vocal tracks, and an “everything else” track with guitars and/or keyboards. However, these individual tracks contain plenty of digital artifacts; it’s still not a perfect science. Most of these artifacts are hidden when the individual stems are combined together, but with the gear that I now own, versus my humble tabletop setup over 16 years ago, I knew I could produce something with much better sonics than my 2004 efforts.

    Music Rebalance, combined with a program such as Celemony’s Melodyne Studio, which can detect tempos, the notes in melodies, and even the notes in polyphonic chords, makes it much easier for musicians to deconstruct songs they wants to cover, whether for live performance, or recording, rather than solely relying upon the ear to detect the notes. In my case, I was deconstructing one of my own songs, to reconstruct it from scratch. There are lots of YouTube videos of artists such as the Beatles with deconstructed tracks allowing listeners to hear the individual drum, bass, vocal and “everything else” tracks. Music Balance is one of the tools being used to deconstruct those tracks.

    So after splitting the (badly) mixed down recording of my April 2004 song “Premonitions” into the individual tracks that RX8 spits out, I imported those tracks into Bandlab’s Cakewalk DAW. In 2004, I was working with a rather limited palette of sounds, so this made rebuilding the song somewhat easier. I knew the drum loops came from Sony’s Drum Tools and Latin Percussion Acid Loops. While the drum track generated by Izotope’s RX8 had lots of artifacts, it was good enough for me to import into Celemony’s Melodyne Studio to work out the approximate tempo. I was able to track down the drum loops in Sony’s Drum Tools series of Acid loops and I quickly worked out the exact tempo of “Premonitions,” which was 87.50 beats per minute. I can’t recall another song I recorded where I drilled down to a half a beat per minute; I must have had a rhythm guitar tempo in mind in 2004, and was trying to get the DAW programmed to match it. At that slow a tempo, there weren’t too many loops in Sony’s Drum Tools series that wouldn’t sound mushy, which allowed me to eventually find the drum loops I used back in 2004. So with a bit of digging, I got my rebuilt song’s drum tracks eventually sorted out and programmed Bandlab’s Cakewalk, the updated version of the Cakewalk Sonar DAW I was using in 2004.

    The isolated bass track that Izotope’s RX8 extracted was rather muddy sounding, which isn’t all that surprising, since the higher frequencies of the bass are likely contained on the “everything else” track. However, they were good enough to load into Melodyne, which was able to (more or less) work out the notes of what I had played on bass in 2004. The patterns made it obvious that I recorded bass on a bass guitar, not on a keyboard synthesizer, so I grabbed my trusty old 1983 Fender Precision Bass and began to reproduce what I had recorded back in 2004. I plugged the bass into my Fireface UFX+ audio interface using a Radial Audio J-48 DI (direct injection) box to reproduce what I had recorded instinctively back in 2004.

    I then did the same for the rhythm guitar (originally recorded with Line6’s GuitarPort ¼” plug to USB interface) and keyboard parts, and then used the vocal track from 2004 as a scratch track to have something to sing to, when I redid the vocals. Once the track was done, it was run through Izotope’s Ozone for mastering.

    I’m sure in a few years, the ability to generate stems from an existing master recording will become cleaner and cleaner, with fewer and fewer artifacts. But in the meantime, it’s pretty cool to have something to work off, to dive into an existing track and deconstruct it.
     
    still_fiddlin and swervinbob like this.
  2. erratick

    erratick Tele-Holic

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    Spleeter will give you multi tracks in a limited sense from a master. It's a machine learning trained bot. It's surprisingly good, and works most of the time. Sometimes it's not right- because to your point- it's kind of recreating.

    Cool that you got your song back.
     
  3. EsquireBoy

    EsquireBoy Tele-Afflicted

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    I once witnessed a whole pro mastering session in one of the best mastering studios in Paris. The engineer had a very high end analog rack that allowed him to isolate the instruments because he needed to fix mistakes that was made during the mixing session. I remember it was relying on EQ filters but most of all it was playing with the phase of the stereo track, taking advantage of the left/right/center stereo image to isolate the tracks.
    Although it was far less practical than having the multitrack session, it was quite powerful and fascinating to watch.
     
  4. EsquireBoy

    EsquireBoy Tele-Afflicted

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    @Ed Driscoll Congrats on your remastered version, it sounds great. It kind of reminds me of old Television songs.
     
  5. Ed Driscoll

    Ed Driscoll Tele-Holic

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    EQ is powerful stuff. In order to relearn the bell parts at the end of the song, I was really notching everything just to isolate the bells as much as possible to figure out their notes.
     
    EsquireBoy likes this.
  6. woodman

    woodman Grand Wazoo @ The Woodshed Gold Supporter

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    Given the circumstances, that's a nice piece of work.
     
    Ed Driscoll likes this.
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