How to Produce and Mix a Rock Song From Scratch

Transcript:

Greetings, my name is Ian Vargo and I’m with theproaudiofiles.com and I’m gonna show you how to produce and mix a rock song from — literally from scratch. What I was given — this particular song is Ray Gun by Ugly Ugly Words, make sure to check it out on iTunes. In this case I was given a scratch vocal track and a scratch direct guitar track. Let’s listen to the guitar.

[scratch guitar]

Let me turn off these plugins to show you what it sounds like direct.

[DI guitar]

We’ve got this vocal track right here. I’m gonna turn off any plugins and mute the sends. It’s a great performance. Sounds like Motörhead Ace of Spades.

[vocal scratch track]

Add the guitar there. That’s what I was given. It was sort of my vision to take it and make it fuller and sound more like that Motörhead head song Ace of Spades. I’m gonna turn these plugins back on. What I started with was those tracks right there and added drums. I actually programmed the drums. They’re programmed to sound real. I guess at that time I couldn’t afford a drummer, didn’t have a drum set. Didn’t have a studio on that particular day I was working on this track.

So I created the drum performance using a combination of VSTs on this instrument track. I’m not gonna load Reason, but you can see this is actually my performance. Kick snare, kick snare. And we’ve got a bunch of hi-hats. Let’s see if we can load a virtual instrument like BFD2 which is a great one. Let’s load a drum kit.

[BFD 2 programmed drums]

That’s me playing drums on a MIDI keyboard. What I would do is get individuals sounds that I like, let’s go for a more direct sound, and print multiple layers of kick and snare until I was happy with the sound. We’ve got a kick drum right here.

[kick drum]

It’s more of a direct sound. Sort of a roomy snare. Straight forward snare. Overheads. Running out memory, awesome. Let’s get rid of BFD. We’ve got hi-hats, room, cymbals, direct — let’s just get all of these drums going you can hear what the final print sounds like. I do this because I want to be able to — even though they are created from virtual instruments — I want to have control and be able to mix them like I would a natural drum set. This is what they sound like after printed.

[BFD 2 drums]

Fortunately the tempo was 204 and this original guitar track and vocal was tracked to a click. And these guitars in. I actually recorded the bass next. We have the bass which was direct. I’m gonna mute all of these plugins on this bass. I wanted sort of a grainy aggressive picky bass sound. Here’s the original bass sound.

[bass guitar]

So we sorta have that very picky sound. Good for rock music. Let’s add in these drums. And does not quite cut through. Especially once we add the guitars later you’ll hear the bass was not able to cut through with the current setting. What I did was add some harmonic distortion with decapitator. I’m not gonna go through these settings. That’s for another tutorial. We’ve got some EQ, some drastic boost at 3k to bring out the pickiness. More EQ, drastic cut at 4k. Don’t always know why I do these things but here we go. We’ve got the CLA-76 compressor. More EQ, some multiband compression and limiting. Limiting on bass is something I do every so often.

[bass guitar with EQ and compression]

Cuts way better. Next step was the guitars. Let’s solo this guitar, change our output.

[guitars]

I actually recorded these guitars direct, not very rock and roll. Whatever. So this is the original sound. You’re gonna hear some clipping because I’m a bad engineer. What I was going for is a loud crunchy aggressive in your face sound, so what I did is I started with some compression, added this SansAmp plugin. I apologize if I’m going through these really quickly. Decapitator. Some more compression.

[guitar + compression + SansAmp + Decapitator]

And then what I did was print directly onto an audio track from this track. Let’s change this to no output and the final sound is this. Sounds like I did a little more distortion, maybe some decapitator. And the other guitar. Add in bass. Get those drums going. Bring in the lead vocal. A big part of this song I know we wanted to have a blistering guitar solo. I did the same technique where I have a direct sound. It’s gonna sound funny. Lead guitar direct.

[lead guitar solo]

Sort of a crazy distorted broken sounding guitar. Sounds like we have some cowbell created with BFD 2. Thrown in for good measure, I was able to capture the sound of — my cat makes this weird sound, you heard him make a cameo before — makes this weird sound before he throws up. He was actually about to throw up while I was working on the song. So I synched that up and looped it. The cat throwing up sound is really what made it all what it is.

Anyway, I hope you had a good time. I know I had a great time producing and mixing this track. It’s Ray Gun by Ugly, Ugly Words.

Ian Vargo

Ian Vargo

Ian Vargo is a Producer, Mixer and Audio Professor based in Los Angeles. He has worked on numerous major label and independent records. Learn more or get in touch on his website.
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