1989 retro DAW music production technique
Whilst I master all types of music here with ease, like any good mastering engineer should be able to, I enjoy making some music in my spare time. So please do not consider me as a “one trick pony” allow me my spare time sonic indulgence ! This is a rather shorter entry on another retro inspired track above (please see my other blog entries for greater information on the techniques of making retro tracks in a modern DAW environment.) This time I turned the clock back to 1989 with a Tech Trance Proto Goa track. The track also has an electro / slightly synth wave feel to it.
For this track I used UVI Emulation II (non + version) a superb VST instrument of the E-mu Systems Emulator sampler which found its way onto many 100’s of 80’s (and beyond) hits. In addition I used period synths and a few others that fitted in well. Sequential Circuits “VST-a-like” u-He Repro-1 and Repro-5 and also G-Force software ImpOSCar 2. I used Psychic Modulation Phonec 2 and also TAL’s exceptionally good sampler TAL sampler. D16 group Phoscyon 303 and Lu-SH-101 also feature.
Drums came from various sources, including NI Battery and also some samples I had purchased historically – GoldBaby – Tape drums (I always knew they would come in handy, though it took 9 years). I always loved the sound of Linn drums which especially appeared in early electro music which I adored. As a little extra info I used the S1000 DAC emulation in TAL sampler for bass as this produced a more punchy / clear reproduction of the samples used, it was a very pleasant and noticeable difference.
There are 2 vocal samples in the track using English and German language. So very much of early Tech trance/proto Goa music had German language samples. There are some absolute classics that I could name.
What track from the 80’s would be complete without some choir pads? These were a big part of many genres of music so I felt they were important to include.
Mixing signal paths included Slate Virtual Console Collection opting for SSL E Series desk (1983 – though it was unlikely to be used as a desk for this early dance music production.) With the E Series I liked how the kick and bass interacted with a nice pillowy feel on what were rather thin sounding samples. I also used the bus plug in to emulate some crosstalk on non bus channels (the lead synths are examples, though the effect is very subtle small details add up). In addition I used some tape emulation which sounded very suitable and 1989 was probably on the cusp of DAT being used so some masters are likely to have been on tape. Some of the tracks of the time had a rather trashy top end and others much smoother so I guess at this stage people were either still analogue or moving into early digital master recording onto DAT. (though there is much more to a smooth top end than either analogue or digital choices)
In addition, I used a little spoken about technique based on historic hardware reality (my blog article is the first time I have ever seen it written about.) This is with regards differences between L and R eq settings across stereo sources using an analogue mixer’s 2 x mono channels panned hard left and right. There would be slight differences based on component tolerance (at best 5pct) and by eye. Look down this article page for “An important EQ difference” for more detail :
I added a little randomization to MIDI timing for some synths just to remove “soft synth” sample accurate timing. Perfect timing will also be reduced by wow and flutter from tape emulation.
The stereo image of tracks from this time are rather enigmatic (to be kind) so I had to work quite hard with trying to get this to have a degree of authenticity. In the end I was using some rather complex processing, a little bit of this and a little bit of that (my favourite tools of manipulation) and turned my ears to the sides of the mix. I used 3 different tools in the end for assisting the stereo image. Tape emulation also affected the image a little. In the end I tweaked it until it sounded right. I ‘stereo-ized‘ the bottom end of the track as I initially could hear something was not 100pct authentic in the bottom end. I have given it a little ‘mono to stereo’ spread in the lows, all the way down to the deep lows. Every reference I listened to and checked had this trait, quite subtle but it was there. I did start to wonder if analogue tape crosstalk could be so high that it produced a slight pseudo stereo bass (i.e. left channel entering right on record and playback with ambiguous phase relationships.) And of course if the track were lifted from vinyl this could come into play.
I did have to double check my sonic reasoning when listening to references and discount that which was arguably just not good mixing.
Another enjoyable track to make and also quite fast to produce. Produced in around 20 hours including mastering. For mastering I used careful EQ using Sontec Clone EQ (used in the 1980’s so it was correct period EQ) along with some digital EQ touches. The level was brought up a bit using mainly carefully chosen compressors and limiting was extremely minimal 1dB only touching the peaks. I applied very carefully chosen corrective EQ which is very much typical in mastering.
Music in this era was not look ahead limited during the mastering process. There may have been analogue limiters in use at this time and it was possible there was a digital limiter used called a Sony DAL-1000. This was very primative digital technology and would not have produced the loud flattened style of masters we sometimes hear in 2023. I do not have anything against loud masters and often create them but this was not appropriate for this track. There is a sense of refreshing freedom about creating a track that does not need to conform to the high volume norms of some of the modern dance music genres.
Afterall, look ahead digital limiting and maximizers did not even exist back then. It also allows you to make a warm, smooth, easy to listen to mix down without sculpting and engineering every detail “for loud”. All of this has its place and I am pleased to be across it all, as and when needed, as they say…. horses for courses.
The 24 bit mix was truncated directly to 16 bit depth. There are 2 reasons for this, many mixes would have been recorded to 16 Bit DAT machines and also there was more than enough noise in the mix to make dither somewhat meaningless.
So for this track the full dynamics are allowed to breathe. Being ultimately early electronic dance music the dynamics are not partcularly wide but they are not crushed either. There are transients and punch and yet the result is smooth, rounded and warm at the same time.
Initially I was hearing some punch in the reference tracks that was missing, which was important in dance music from its very origins. I needed to address that in the mastering stage which worked out well. I opted for multiple techniques to obtain this extra ‘oompfh’ but nothing that would have been especially out of character for the time. In addition judicious distortions were added to further push towards the sound of the masters I was hearing from back then as references.
I worked to get a nice spongey warm bottom end for the track without being muddy or over blown and am pleased at the authenticity of the results, it is made to be pleasant on the ears and for turning up !
I listened to lots of tracks from 1989 which would have fallen into the Tech Trance category. Of course all tracks sounded a litttle different from each other and I decide to roughly shoot down the middle for tonality and dynamics. Possibly aiming for a just a slightly warmer sounding result than some of the tracks. Some seemed a little dull and some rather bright. A few of them back then had quite a splashy and harsh top end which seemed to be mixing (and possibly mastering) related oversights rather than something to specifically aim for.
Feel free to like and share to those who may find it of interest.
I believe this demonstrates a fairly deep understanding of sound and production. I have similar knowledge for almost all music genres as my sound engineering experience is very wide. I solely master music for a living so take a look at my super competitive rates (1 Track is £30.00) and BIOG below:
Email : safeandsound123 at googlemail.com (‘at’ being @ with no gaps)