Chump Change

A few production notes on a favorite song

Memories, memories!

My randomizer is playing the track Chump Change from the album Too Big To Fail that I made almost ten years ago with my old band The Megatoids.

I played the WX-7 electronic wind instrument on this — and I have a particularly spacey solo about five minutes into this track that still raises the hackles on my neck — but I also did the mixing and mastering. I ended up being quite satisfied with the results, which is rare for me, so I thought I’d write a little about it.

My idea was to record and mix this rather loud spacepunk band — a five-piece where everyone was often playing at once — rather like it was a jazz band: with as little ER, reverb and compression as I could possibly manage, and to blend as much as possible while still being able to hear each instrument individually.

I attribute a considerable portion of the results to the musicians, who even though are all very noisy people, managed to mostly stay out of each other’s frequency spectrum. Just a little bit of compression and EQ to emphasize this helped.

I was also lucky to be able to use room mics in the very sweet room at Wombat Studios in Brooklyn in every track. If I recall correctly, I didn’t use artificial reverb at any point in the album.

Finally, Bonnie Kane has a setup with sax/flute and guitar amp that was very challenging because the amp is feeding back all the time — it sounds great, but it can also wash out everything else, because there’s stray audio energy in all frequencies.

I don’t believe in solving your problems through panning — but rules are made to be broken. In the final mix, Bonnie’s dry instrument signal (contact mic/acoustic mic on the flute) is panned all the way left and basically unprocessed, and her amp is panned all the way to the right and somewhat compressed, while the rest of the instruments appear in a fairly narrow band in the center.

I thought this might sound like mush in mono, but it came out surprisingly well. Yes, it’s hard to really separate the instruments in mono, but it sounds good — who cares who’s playing what?