Floating 'AWAY' with DORAH JACSON
Updated: Feb 20, 2019
Natural talent can be hard to find, but when I heard this young gem, I knew straight 'away' that Dorah Jacson could be the next big name in the indie scene.
I got in touch with her for a small show I had put together in Noosa. She played her set, and completely stole the hearts of all the punters, including mine. So without coming across creepy or over-inviting, I insisted that we should work together... this conversation happened months ago... Now... I'm extremely proud to announce... we have been working very hard on Dorah Jacson's debut single, 'Away'.
Kayla Smart, 19 (a.k.a. Dorah Jacson), is quite the mellifluous soul, and a talented song writer to add. Her writing style is heartfelt, yet whimsical. She delivers song-bird like vocals, accompanied by driving guitar licks, all forming her own stylings of indie, pop, and alt-rock. The Sunshine Coaster performs weekly around the region, captivating her audiences, and has gained an admirable following. She's a respectable, hard-working song-smith, that radiates love for her art form, so keep a close eye on her. Her debut release, 'Away', will be unstoppable!
Check out her Profiles:
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/DorahJacson/
Instagram - @dorah.jacson
SCRATCHING IT OUT
I met with Dorah Jacson for coffee to discuss her goals. We spoke music, industry, and brainstormed a plan for getting the production of her tracks underway. She sent me a handful of sweet, and well-thought-out demos. All of which were quite catchy. It was hard for me to decide on one specific track, so I let her make the call. Her track 'Away' was definitely a stand-out, and we immediately scheduled in some time for scratching out a track.
We demoed a bunch of ideas, toying with structure and tones. We tracked about eight vocal takes, as well as different harmonies and backing vocal layers. Building up some creative layers, so when it came time to record, we'd have a lot of the structural decisions already in place.
Her guitar tracks were doubled, layering a stargaze delay on the left, and a dreamy verb on the right. Giving her that sought-after stereo surf vibe. Her demo had prominent pad like synth layers, and a progressive drumming style to accompany the righteous surf guitars. She plays the prominent riff; a driving finger picking layer throughout the track, which cements the alt-rock feel. Whilst responding with a dry strum patterns, lifting the progression further. Her vintage, surf-green Maton MS500, a hand-me-down from her father, really inspired the tonal quality for the tracks. Dorah Jacson not only writes an amazing lyric, but she also knows her way around this beautiful machine.
LET THE SESSIONS BEGIN
I got in touch with two legendary locals, who have a unique love for what they do. These two brothers have not only built their studio from the ground up, but have literally built their own sound! I'm talking manufacturing their own preamps, compressors, microphones, you name it. They're silent achieving geniuses. Both not only, can perform at a professional level, and play among some of the areas most talented bands, but also, have the ear to make anything sound as quality as most of the big name, 'million dollar' studios! Let me introduce Mark and Rohan Tredinnick of Archive Audio.
Want to get in touch with these guys?
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/archiveaudio1/
Instagram - @archive_audio
These two have the expertise I needed to make sure Dorah Jacson's debut is an undeniable success. We took the stems from the scratch session, along with Dorah's original demo ideas, and began building a foundation.
Starting with... you guessed it... Drums! The guys suggested a program called Superior Drummer to create the drum tracks. I'm very familiar with Midi drums, but this program is a step up in the MIDI drum game. A really cool bit of software. Though, after a 6 hour session of trying to get the right feel, even though the musicality was there, it didn't quite have the real feel we were going for. So Mark took the throne and played the beat as close to the scratch as he could. Dorah's original drum scratch is a hard one to replicate, for any drummer. She goes from a straight forward, break style beat in the first half of the track, to a very rapid, frantic, jazzy and somewhat alternative rock style drumming, that ends up tying together the power and emotion of the last chorus. I nice challenge for her producers.
After many takes, and a fight with the Click Track, Mark got it. Mark and Rohan have built a quality live room that completely blocks out external, unwanted noise. They used a simple 3 mic technique, that pretty much stays put (set perfectly to suit their room sound). They run their signal through some, self-built, Neve 1290 Mic Pre replicas, then through a Neve 1176 Compressor replica (also made by the boys), which had a split signal; one send going to a Lexicon Reverb Unit (to gave some roominess back to their almost dead live room), and the other send through an Neve styled EQ (mainly for colour), and then finally into an Apogee interface connected to Protools. They edited the drum tracks and did a little quantisation to fix those little mistakes (they're only human), and then began the Bass tracks.
I left the "THUM... BAP... BLAPs" to Rohan. A quality Bass player, among his many other talents. He learnt the song, wrote, and recorded a bunch of takes that night. I swear these two don't sleep... Among their many other equipment builds, Rohan used his much loved Line Tube Pre-amp, which is in the similar likes to an additional amp head. The thing colours the bass tone like nothing else. Just another one of the Archive Audio's unique sounds.
We then scheduled another session with the girl herself. This time, focussing on some new vocal takes and aiming for a better guitar sound. Of course, we had to do a quick (4 hour) mic shoot-out to get the perfect tone for Dorah's vocal. We tried the Microtech Gefell UMT 70S (both with Cardioid and Omni directional functions, neither of which had the detail we needed. This mic sounded a bit too harsh of Dorah's vocal range). We tested the Sontronics Sigma ribbon mic, in a figure 8 pattern (this one was nice, though it smoothed out the transients way too much. It would have been nice to use this on her back vocals, which we decided far later than we should have). We finally tried out the Microtech Gefell MV692, with an M70 Capsule (shown below).
This one had a very even frequency response, and gave Dorah's vocal a beautifully warm, yet detailed tone. Compared to the UMT 70S and the Sigma Ribbon, it was almost perfect, but we were having some issues with sibilance, even with a pop filter in place. So I suggested that we use a wind sock, as well as the pop filter, to dampen the blow of the "Ps" and "Bs" that Dorah was delivering in the articulation of her vocal.
We ran her vocal through a single channel of the Neve Pre Amp. Then through the 1179. Again, with a parallel split. Sending one side to the Neve EQ (only for colour. No adjustments were made here.), and the other to the Lexicon reverb unit. Thus, colouring her vocal in a complimenting modus. [Below you can just see the talented Dorah Jacson giving us some song-bird vocals in the live room monitor, whilst Rohan, in the upstairs control room, structures the gain].
We tracked a bunch of takes. My focus was ultimately, trying to achieve that original emotion behind Dorah writing style. One of her strengths, like many true artists, is the ability to make her audience feel the emotion behind her lyrics, and I really wanted to capture this. After a few pep-talks, she delivered, as we knew she would. During her takes, I would shut my eyes, and try imagine myself standing in her shoes, communicating the pain, frustration, and the emotion towards whom she was speaking to. There was something that provoked her to write this song, and that emotion is what I was trying to get her back to. And without any further hesitation, she fucking nailed it! Like a true artist. Like a true performer. After that take, Rohan, Mark and myself applauded her with full hearts and hair standing on end.
After her miraculous vocal takes, we spent then next hour piecing together a final draft take for Dorah to then double some backing vocals over. In a similar manner, she doubled the choruses, sang a low octave take, and did some high harmonies, which will help push the final chorus to a strong, wall-of-sound, ending.
We then began re-tracking her guitars. One of the upsides to having your own, dead to the outside world, live room, is that you can push guitar amps to a nose-bleed level, without being in the room. We ran a feed from the amp head, to a cab situated in Mark and Rohan's downstairs live room, whilst Dorah sat comfortably in the control room with us and her guitar.
We trailed a bunch of pedals, making tonal choices on the way into the head. Then taking a split feed from the head into the cab positioned in the live room, as well as through a DI, for a cleaner, backup signal. Then an SM57 positioned just off-axis on the cab, was then run back into the control room, through the Neve Pre, through the Compressor and EQ, then into Protools via the Apogee Symphony. Two channels for each guitar take. The only differentiating factor was the pedal selection, separating each of Dorah's guitar parts.
We went for some dirt with the Blackstone Mosfet Overdrive for some dirt between the arrangement. Then a slight midrange boost in from the ThorpyFX Peacekeeper, a low-gain overdrive, which we found to be a nice push for the solo towards the ending of the track. We tracked a handful of guitar takes, from her driving, finger-picking rhythm, that ultimately carries the entire song, to her emotive strumming patterns, forcibly emphasising the other instrumentals. The tune was coming together, and sounding great. We finished up here for the day, and gave ourselves a much needed rest. From here, we start editing and over dubbing.
Tracking done! Mark and Rohan spent a few days editing Dorah’s vocal tracks. They focused on a few different aspects of the vocals tracks:
The overall performance. Some takes were more sold than others, in terms of emotion and feel. They cut together the best bits from each take, so the performance really delivered a vital emotive throughout the track.
The pitch. Some vocalists, especially when bombarded by a producers suggestions (eg. myself attempting to coach the artist to deliver the best possibly take) can cause the artist to overthink and sometimes underdeliver in their pitch. Not a huge issue, and it happens to everyone. We just had to do some extra takes to compensate. Again, Mark and Rohan chopped up a final track out of the best bits.
Backing Vocals and Doubles. Some edits were made to the doubled vocal take to make sure the main vocal was emphasised correctly, without muddying up the vocal. And too, the backing vocals were edited in a way that they would only push the main vocal forward in certain sections of the song. For example, during the final chorus, Dorah would sing an octave lower, giving the chorus a drone layer, which worked in some areas, but conflicted in others. Again, the best bits were kept.
Mark and Rohan also edited aspects of the picked electric guitar track. Some of the moments were a little off-the-grid, and had to be looped to work with the rhythm section.
After they finished the edits, they began printing the stems, and their effects buses, ready for me to mix. As we had made a lot of our tonal, effects, and outboard processing choices early on in the tracking sessions, we were able to easily printed to each stem; limiting a lot of the in-the-box processing, which makes the mixing process 100 times more efficient. They even went to the trouble of doing a mix themselves, and writing out a unity list for me. Absolute legends. We communicated any further mix ideas and queries we all had, transferred the files, and I was off. Off to the magical land of mixing.
Isn't she beautiful... all the colours of a musical rainbow, and no editing required. A mix engineer's dream. And being so well produced, my mix didn't require much in terms of processing. But I did get a little creative in some aspects, because... why not?
Some EQing was applied to the vocal tracks, as I was getting a bit of room vibration coming through the vocals, creating a slight honk, at about 200Hz to 500 Hz. So I scooped that out of each vocal track, as well as cut out the lows below 100Hz. The main vocal track had some of the pretty bits boosted around 13KHz, with a small 2.5dB shelf assisting it.
The backing vocal tracks were cut more in the lows, and didn't have any highs boosted. This makes them sit nicely behind the main vocal.
I then did some Complimentary EQing (special thanks to Rose Parker for the tip, you absolute Gem!). A super basic move, but very effective when you need to make some room for a stand-out track. In this case, I had some interference between my guitar tracks and the main vocal; fighting for the spot light so to speak. I notched up the main vocal, around 3.6KHz, where I found the most clarity in Dorah's vocal, then subtracted that area out of my guitar tracks and ethereal pad track, allowing that space to be solely for the main vocal.
And for some extra spice, I added a nice subtle Tape Slap-Back Delay to my Vocal Double track. I created a duplicate of my double, so it the double vocal was still getting its full force. The copy had Side Chain Compression, which was triggered by the main vocal, leaving me with an epic tail of tape flutter.
With the intention of making this track pop a little more, a had some fun with the ethereal Dreamscape Pad Mark and Rohan had recorded for me. It's a super simple 2 note pad that plays out through the entirety of the song. Creating some atmospheric feels, I wanted more of it. But, it did cloud the mix if I just upped the volume. I tired a few things:
I tried scooping out the mids, so you would just feel the air around it, but I lost a lot of clarity.
I tried copying the track and panning each hard left and right. Too muddy.
I wasn't feeling it. So I went back to square one, and just worked the single track. I applied iZotope's Ozone, which completely spreads the sound into a wide stereo field. This filled the space nicely, but it was still a little distracting. So took a little tool from the electronic music toolbox, and applied a Side Chained it to the kick drum. This create a musical pump when the drums kicked in, and adds some beauty to the space in the mix. I then EQ'd the track and notched out the important spaces for the vocals and the guitars. A very nice aesthetic indeed.
Then, some Automation was applied. Ultimately to bring up some of the quieter bits in Dorah's vocal, but also to fade in the Pad a little more sensitively.
I few extra tweaks here and there, and the mix was sounding wondrous. Seriously getting right in the feels. Like I said, it's a mix engineer's dream when the recordings are done well right from the source. Well worth the hours spent doing mic shoot-outs and edits.
For some final touches, I added a UAD reverb to majority of the dry tracks, and added my favourite, Tape Saturation, J37, to the Master track.
After the mix, the tune went back into the hands of Mark and Rohan at Archive Audio for mastering. I'd be lying if I wasn't impressed with how this track has turned out. I reckon I've listen to it over a 100 times, and it still gives me goosebumps.
"Away" was released on the 16th of February, 2019 across all streaming platforms. It has found its way to Triple J Unearthed, and already getting a few promising reviews.
You can find her track on:
Special thanks to Archive Audio for all your amazing work, and to amazing Miss Jacson herself. Your a true talent. This project was an absolute pleasure, and I look forward to working with you again.
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