Dissecting the Song: “Words ft. J Airi”

WORDS_img_01 In “Dissecting the Song” I try to explaing what’s behind the lyrics, what production techniques were used, and more…

“Words” is a track taken from the 2015 EP “Never Look Back / Words“, written by Yves Schelpe, vocals performed by jamaican artist J Aira (aka Aisha Ricketts), mixed by Mitia Wexler and mastered by Geert de Wilde.

Words, words, words…

The basic idea behind the lyrics was to portray how often words fall short to describe something. Sometimes one needs to really experience something, sometimes you need to feel it. A bit like the famous saying “a picture is worth a thousand words“. I guess you’re thinkg, duh, that’s quite obvious given the lyrics… There’s other motivations I had for writing on this topic, like the times you feel like it’s better to say nothing at all than to rattle out nonsense. The times a question’s asked and you experience a total blackout – not knowing what to say – time stands still and people wonder if you’re still on planet earth, while you yourself are just panicking and thinking, what the hell should I say? And then there’s also the moments your mind is filled with words, a lot of them, so many, but you just can’t form a sentence. It feels like you’re stumbling over them, they all want to get out in one go and this way choke you, leaving you speechless and the other people wondering, again, where the hell you are…

Production

Originally the track was more up tempo and electronic, as you can hear in an instrumental draft in the soundcloud player on this page, created for the upcoming 2016 album “Seven Sorrows, Seven Stars”. The reason it didn’t make the cut was because it didn’t fit the “tone” of the album, yet I didn’t want to let this track go to waste… So, putting it as an exclusive on the “Never Look Back / Words” EP was an ideal solution, but to make it fit I had to make a sort of triphop + motown/jazzy/retro/electro fusion remix to make it fit with the title track “Never Look Back ft. Ellia Bisker“.

Part of that was to make it more downtempo and give the drums and percussion a more acoustic feeling. (On a sidenote: I’ve always had a soft spot for acoustic drums with electronic elements fused in). Next I worked with the strings from the “Edirol Orchestral” plugin, layering a lot of parts – both filtered (as you can hear in the beginning of the track) and fully opened. To enhance a kind of triphop/retro feeling I split the bass into both a rolling bass (electronic) and a deep cello playing stackatto style most of the time, alternating with the strings that play a bit longer. (Sidenote: the stackatto style cello is from the base library of Native Instrument’s Kontakt 5 library).

Mixing process

As previously mentioned in another blog post, I work with a mixing engineer to maximize the potential of the music I write. I do make my own demo mixes ofcourse, so the engineer has an idea where the track is headed, and I can go all out creatively. Yet, when sending the stems to the mixing studio, I always provide dry versions (no fx, only creative fx) so that the engineer has the “source material” to work with when mixing the track. Below you can read how Mitia Wexler tackled the song “Words” in his wxlr.mx studio.

words-composite-screenshot
Words Mix Session Composite in Ableton – Click to enlarge

Words came as a B-side to Never Look Back, and as such, it naturally sought the similarly gritty modern-retro treatment.

Driven by the simple shuffling beat, the drums are punchy, in-your-face, but still tamed to keep with the laid-back downtempo feel of the song. Most of the work there was hitting that balance. The shaker loop on the left hand side in the choruses had to be quantised for its first appearance — its shuffle wasn’t going well with the groove.
Bass is the driving force and it had to be really big and imposing. Its low end is augmented by the bass amp sim blended in, with some EQ to keep it reasonable, treat an unpleasant resonant peak and further add more silky lows. The second bass voice present in the choruses went through an amp and cabinet sims with more EQ sculpting to get it out of the way of the main bass, and stereo enhancement to make its presence more enveloping and put the two basses on different planes.
The strings weren’t radically altered, mostly getting some EQ to better define each part’s space. Cellos got some light compression to prolong their sustain. Similarly, the synthesiser elements were mostly EQ’d to keep them out of each other’s way. Many were rich on low frequency components, which, while pleasant in isolation, weren’t contributing to the overall sound and were treading on bass’ toes.
The vocals, being the undisputed main attraction of the song, were a surprisingly easy job. After a few minor pitch corrections, gating the headphone bleed, and a touch of warm saturation, they just fell into place. J Airi is masterful in her delivery, so riding was minimal and a gentle compression on the vocal bus was sufficient to glue the whole thing together without flattening the natural dynamics.
 
There are four aux busses: a short homogenising recording space-like ambience; a long vast hall, mostly fed by strings and vocals; and two delays, used by the synths and vocals, and feeding back into the reverb busses. The mix buss is limited to a harmonic exciter adding just a little bit of high frequency spark to this song, sober yet totalling 48 tracks.” ~ this lowdown of the mixing process was written by Mitia Wexler.

Mastering process

After mixing the track went to the studio of Geert de Wilde (known of IC 434 and Skyshifter). His experience with mastering the track (and EP) is below:

Adobe Audition View, Beofre & After mastering - Click to Enlarge
Adobe Audition View, Beofre & After mastering – Click to Enlarge

A great composition and singing, and of course a well-balanced mixed song to start with made the job not too hard. This song although, being part of an EP that was mixed by different people with a different musical background in style, needed to fit in, keeping respect for its unique character while not standing out too much in one way or another.

The stereo balance of this song was already quite perfect and didn’t need any adjustment. A main EQ dip around 100 Hz was added because there seemed to be a lot of energy in that region in the original mix compared to the other songs in the EP. After this, I needed the subtle help of an automated EQ to get a bit more spectral balance throughout the song. This was accompanied with a long attack/very long release multibands dynamic treatment to get a more “compact” track, but in a way that this effect is almost inaudible when not paying specific attention to that aspect.

Finally, I added subtle multibands mid/side tube saturation, taking care of the main part of the “glueing together” of the different elements in the song, and also adding a bit of clearness.

Of course, all this went through my favourite wideband limiter to get rid of any unwanted peaks and to obtain the desired “commercial” loudness without losing too much punch and squashing the result – in respect to the other songs’ individual volumes.” ~ this lowdown was written by Geert de Wilde.

Video

Tight on budget, I always try to come up with a video that somehow relates with the subject matter. In the video I tried scraping together images of people staring at each other, in different situations… Awkwardly long moments, loving, scared, suspicious… – but no talking. I overlayed it with the title and added the lyrics to make a kind of “lyric video”, yet with a bit more context and visuals. All of this was done in Adobe After Effects, with the core plugin set.

You can watch the video on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHRSb6FuyNs.

Lyrics

no way, to let you know what I feel
to say, what I really want to say
words, where are the words?
what I really want you to know
waht I really want to say

time & time again, I rise, I fall
time & time again, I rise, I fall

these words are failing me again
these words are failing me again
these words are failing me again
I don’t know how to say
what I really want to say
what I really want to say now
what I really want to say
I don’t know how to say

mind, please give me some time
to find, no longer can I hide
why begin when I know how it ends
where should I go to find the strength

time & time again, I rise, I fall
time & time again, I rise, I fall

these words are failing me again
these words are failing me again
these words are failing me again
I don’t know how to say
what I really want to say
what I really want to say now
what I really want to say
I don’t know how to say

say, what I really want so say
words, where are the words
what I really want you to know
what I really want to say to you
these words are so damn difficult