Re:Making Tracks

June 27, 2008 by Tony Barthel

DJs discuss taking your tunes to the custom shop, and other audio endeavorsIt must have looked funny to the neighborhood to see so many people hanging out on my front porch, but they were all out there for a reason. You see, like many other DJs who have watched Randy Bartlett’s DVDs, I had decided that pre-recording sentiments for a wedding celebration would be a good idea.

The problem with turning me loose on an idea is that a combination of hair-brained thinking and an overactive imagination can take control. It resulted in this scene: The entire wedding party was at my home office at once, making some recordings, and the wedding couple had chosen eight attendants on each side. When you combine their significant others and offspring, this made the crowd at my little beach shack rather significant.

Our purpose was to create a customized grand entrance where the wedding party would actually introduce themselves along with a nice sentiment or funny story about the bride and groom. The result was quite successful. It also got me wondering how many other people were using audio editing capabilities to enhance their performances.

It turns out the field of customized recordings is quite encompassing, with people using all sorts of visions and methods to craft custom recordings for their clients.

Subtraction and Addition
Some DJs take existing songs and make tweaks to suit their own purposes. An example of that was spelled out by Randy Waters, who is both a radio and mobile DJ entertainer in Colorado. What Waters likes to do is simply make the music more audience friendly.

An example he gave was the song “In Da Club” by 50 Cent. While we’ve all heard that tune, he’s modified the song so that it’s not obvious where the explicit lyrics were removed. In his example, rather than just “bleep” the expletives, he’s taken the music from another part of the song and replaced the area where the offensive words are.

To accomplish this, Waters recommends using a multi-track audio editing program and acquiring some basic knowledge about how music works. He prefers Adobe Audition® as an editing tool. This program (formerly known as CoolEdit Pro, now owned and updated by Adobe Systems, Inc.) allows for multi-track editing and can use waveform or spectral editing.

Waters also talked about combing through iTunes and finding some gems to use when editing a song, including karaoke versions that provide instrumental tracks. These help if you’re laying spoken word over a song, for example, having the bride give some nice compliments to her husband during a pre-recorded section of the first dance.

What Waters is doing in Colorado isn’t too different from what’s happening at Ed Spencer’s office in Pensacola, Florida. Spencer also appreciates using the karaoke version of any song to bolster the amount of instrumental content on any track.

Musical Enhancement
Cap Capello of ImaDJ in Albany, New York said he likes to edit all his music so that it has a consistent audio quality. He also prepares the songs for playback by editing intros, outros and fixing other items.

“By editing my songs in advance, instead of on the fly, I can spend more time watching my audience and less time watching the sound board. Yes, there’s a lot of work up front, but the rewards on site are phenomenal,” says Capello. A particular example he gives is Marc Cohn’s “True Companion.” On this one, he bolstered the instrumental ending and now typically plays the song to end the night. “It’s a beautiful ending that most people miss.”

There are many ways to manipulate songs. For example, Ed Spencer uses a variety of methods to arrive at different results or his clients. Spencer has used MixMeister Fusion, a performance program, to create loops on the fly over which he’ll play some of the pre-recorded spoken audio, so that he’s better able to gauge audience response. He’s also a big fan of M-Audio’s Torq for the same purpose.

Adrian Cavlan of Sound in Motion in Santa Cruz, California might have been the biggest proponent of Ableton Live, a highly regarded recording/performance program, but maybe it’s because of the clients he performs for. Along with his partner “King” Raffi Nalvarian they do a great deal of work for organizations like the San Francisco 49ers and San Jose Sharks. Most of the remixes and edits they do are made live, using either Tractor or Ableton Live.

“Ableton can launch a bunch of sequences and sets all set in sync and in key with one another. It’s also a great production studio,” notes Cavlan.

Speaking of the Words
When recording vocals, several DJs indicated that they like to use a good quality microphone attached via USB to the computer, and then make sure to apply compression to the voices to make them stand out much better. A basic, free tool like Audacity is fine if all you’re doing is fixing vocals. Spencer says this simple program is decent for minor editing tasks: “There will be a lot of audio that you don’t want, like ‘ums’ or pregnant pauses or mouth noises. All this has to go. From there you can take the message and change the speed to make it fit into the space you have, if it’s close,”

So how do you get those touching quotes out of people? Several of the DJs we spoke with said the best way is simply to let the tape roll, er, I mean the computer record, and simply interview the people. A standard software feature is the ability to leave markers along the way. We spoke to a few DJs who indicated that they use those markers to easily go back and find quotes that stood out.

Once your recording process is done, it can take from just a few minutes to a few hours to finish the process of turning a combination of spoken word and beautiful music into something that’s presentable to an audience. Other considerations for achieving the best sound quality are the pieces of studio gear that capture and reproduce the sound.

“If a DJ is looking to get into this, they should purchase the absolute best quality (studio) monitors they can afford. There’s nothing like a nasty surprise when you’re performing live,” advises Cavlan. “Also, buy the best large-diaphragm condenser mic. Once it’s in the software, apply compression and equalization-that’ll give the voice-overs presence.”

Mixing in More Gigs
But can all this work net you more work? According to several of the respondents, the answer is yes.

“I haven’t found a more powerful way to express the impact of what we do at a wedding. I’ve had brides laughing or crying at a meeting and when that happens, it’s virtually guaranteed that they will go with me,” said Jimmie Malone of Astonishing Sound in Binghamton, New York.

Malone likes Sony Vegas as an editing tool. While this is commonly thought of as a movie editor, Malone and others have praised its audio editing capabilities as well.
Another example of editing given by Malone is the case where a couple wanted two songs for their first dance, but didn’t want to hear each in its entirety. His solution was to mix the two songs together to create one new version that made them happy.

In my own example at the beginning of this article, each member of the wedding party did their own introductions in their own style, along with a message to the bride and groom. These vocals were then chopped up and laid over instrumental tracks that fit the personalities of the individual. The grand entrance in this event could not have gone better and the audience absolutely loved it.

The vocals were recorded with an inexpensive Logitech USB headset mic and then processed with Sound Studio, an inexpensive multi-track software find with plenty of features. I also used royalty-free music for the instrumental beds utilizing Apple’s Garage Band, so I was able to make a legal CD of the grand entrance and mail it to the bride and groom as a thank you gift. Talk about a lot of referrals!

Besides owning SoCal’s Sounds Like Fun Entertainment, and serving as Mobile Beat’s Editor-at-Large for over a decade now, he has written the book Wedding Horror Stories and How To Avoid Them (ProDJ Publishing), which has gained a widespread positive response from in the wedding industry. His automotive column, Curbside has been syndicated since 1995, appearing in over 70 newspapers nationwide.

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Tony Barthel Tony Barthel (40 Posts)

Anthony (Tony) Barthel has been a DJ since 1986 with a unique take on marketing that has resulted in over 1,000 events personally performed. In that time Tony’s weird sense of humor and unique perspective on the world got him started collecting these stories and sharing them with friends and other wedding professionals. Born in Baden, Switzerland Tony celebrates the unusual and outlandish as part of his lifestyle. He was married to Peggy Sue in 2005 in what his friends describe as the most unusual wedding ceremony and reception they’ve ever been to. The ceremony was in a 1928 movie theater complete with giant Wurlitzer Theater Pipe Organ and the reception lasted for two days including a gathering in an ocean side lagoon with 400 of their closest friends.


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