My mastering specialty is salvage jobs, which has become easier to do with Studio One. But this gig was something else.
Martha Davis’s last solo album (I Have My Standards, whose mastering challenges were covered in this blog post) has done really well. Since the pandemic has sidelined her from touring as Martha Davis and the Motels or going into the studio, she’s releasing a new song every month online. These involve excellent, but unreleased, material.
That’s THE good news. The bad news is that her latest song choice, “In the Meantime,” had the drum machine kick mixed so loud the song should have been credited as “Solo Kick Drum with Vocal Accompaniment.” With a vocalist like Martha (listen to any of her many hits from the 80s), that’s a crime. She was hoping I could fix it.
Don’t tune out, EDM/hip-hop fans. What about those TR-808 “toms” that are always mixed way too high? When I was given a Boy George song to remix, those toms were like sonic kryptonite before I figured out how to deal with them. And let’s not get into those clichéd 808 claps, okay? But we have a solution.
I tried everything to deal with the kick, including EQ, iZotope RX7 spectral reduction, mid-side processing using the Mixtool, and more. The mix was mostly mono, and the kick was full-frequency—from low-frequency boom to a nasty click that was louder than the lead vocal. Multiband dynamics didn’t work because the kick covered too wide a frequency range.
In desperation, I thought maybe I could find an isolated kick sound, throw it out of phase, and cancel the kick wherever it appeared in the song. Very fortunately, the song intro had a kick sound that could be isolated as an individual sample. So instead of going directly to Studio One’s mastering page, I went into the Song page, imported the stereo mix into one track, created a second track for only the kick, and dragged the copied kick to match up with every kick instance in the song (yes, this did take some time…). It wasn’t difficult to line up the copied kicks with sample- (or at least near-sample) accuracy (Fig. 1).
Figure 1: The top track is from the original song, while the lower track is an isolated kick. After lining the sounds up with respect to timing, flipping the kick track phase removed the kick sound from the mixed tracks.
The payoff was inserting Mixtool in the kicks-only track and flipping its phase 180 degrees. It canceled the kick! Wow—this physics stuff actually works.
But now there was no kick. So, I added the Waves LinEQ Broadband linear-phase equalizer (a non-linear-phase EQ can’t work in this context) in the kick drum track. This filtered out some of the kick drum’s lower frequencies so there was less cancellation while leaving the highs intact so they would still cancel as much as possible. Adjusting the shelving frequency and attenuation let in just enough of the original kick, without overwhelming the track. Even better, because the kick level was lower, I could bring up the low end to resurrect the bass part that had been overshadowed by the kick.
The mix traveled to the mastering page for a little more processing (Studio One’s Pro EQ and Binaural Pan, IK Multimedia’s Stealth maximizer, and Studio One’s metering). After hitting the desired readings of -13.0 LUFS with -0.2 True Peak readings, the mastering was done. Sure, I would much rather have had the individual tracks to do a remix, but it was what it was—a 28-year-old two-track mix.
To hear how this ended up, the audio example first plays an excerpt from the mastered version. Then there’s a brief pause, followed by the same section with the original file. I’m sure you’ll hear the difference in the kick drum.
Listen to an audio example from In the Meantime here: