AUD210 Week 5: Sound-A-Like Reflection
So, after many hours of hard work and focus, I present to you our Sound-A-Like project, Tighten Up by The Black Keys.
I want to start by saying I am very proud of the result that my group has been able to achieve with this assessment, and that it has surpassed my personal expectations ten fold. Is it perfect? No. But given the dynamics of group work, our time restrictions, and the numerous hiccups experienced along the way, I am very pleased with what we have accomplished.
Recreating the instrumentation of this track was never going to be the hardest part, given that this band styles itself on a simple, minimalist, real sound. The band only has two members officially, for example. So we were able to source all the instruments used in the original quite easily. The drummer was supplied by SAE, Aman kindly enlisted the help of a guitarist and bassist, and Griffin’s Dad jumped in on vocals at the last minute, after our original vocalist disappeared off the face of the earth. All of our musicians performed well, especially our drummer, Ryan, and they were all able to mimic the performances of the band with precision.
More difficult than finding the right instruments, was making them sound right. We did a lot of discussing and research about the specific effects used on the track, and it was still fairly mysterious to us just how we would go about replicating them. Dan Auerbach, vocalist and guitarist for The Black Keys, uses a huge array of bespoke equipment to create his signature guitar sounds. Some of his equipment is so rare, that we soon realised we were going to have to think outside of the box while tracking our guitars to reach it. Fortunately, we were able to contact our guitarist ahead of time and request he brings in as many of his effects pedals as possible to give us a better chance of finding the right sound. Using a mix of reverb, delay, distortion and even flanging, he was able to get it pretty damn close. This was a good lesson, as it taught us the importance of sometimes trusting the player. It is their domain after all. Again, the effects aren’t perfect, but given the difficulty of sourcing the exact equipment used on the track, I think we did very well. We also spent a lot of time during the mixing process finding the right sound for the drums and vocals, both of which we had recorded clean. We mainly used outboard gear for our distortion; parallel compressing the bass, drums and vocals, and our reverb came from a mix of the effects units in the studio. We pushed most of the compresses hard, to create the same crunchy, fuzzy sound of the original. I feel we achieved this well, although more time would have given us the chance to tweak it and improve it somewhat.
The mixing process was very difficult because Tom, who we had done our tracking sessions with and planned out many ideas for the day was unfortunately unable to be there. This meant that we were largely left alone, and had to do a lot of trial and error to achieve our desired sounds. I think this shows in the final mix through the levels, some of the effects, and certain aspects of the sonic arrangement. The dynamics haven’t been as successfully replicated as they could've been, with some things seeming to be further back than they should, and there’s just an overall flatness to our version. It’s also missing some clarity that the original has, but again, I think under the circumstances, we got it really close. Working without Tom did have a negative effect on our mixing session, but we pulled through and got it pretty close. I think overall, the mixing is where we need the most improvement, but perhaps that’s unsurprising.
One thing I feel we did nail is the vibe, and the vibe of this song was so important to get right. It is such a signature sound for this band, and without that jamming, playful quality, it just wouldn’t stand up. We spent time acknowledging this and communicated the importance of it to our performers. I think they understood it and executed it very well. Our version has the same rough, loose, organic feel to it as The Black Keys'. It’s dirty, gritty, edgy, but pretty too.
Once again, I’m very proud of what we have achieved, and apart from some small areas of imperfection, I’m more than happy to put my name on it.
Late addition: It appears YouTube agrees with me