Producing and Mixing a Rock Song From Scratch

Ugly, Ugly Words: https://itunes.apple.com/album/id877672933
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Ear training: http://quiztones.com
Drum samples: http://weissdrums.com
Mix tips: http://theproaudiofiles.com

Learn how Ian Vargo produced and mixed a track just from a scratch guitar and vocal in Pro Tools for his band Ugly, Ugly Words.

My name is Ian Vargo and I’m with theproaudiofiles.com. I’m gonna show you how to produce and mix a rock song literally from scratch. This song is Ray Gun by Ugly Ugly Words. I was given a scratch vocal track and direct guitar track. Let’s listen to the guitar.

[scratch guitar]

I’ll turn off these plugins to show you what it sounds like direct.

[DI guitar]

Got this vocal right here. I’m gonna turn off any plugins and mute the sends.

[vocal scratch track]

Add guitar there. It was sort of my vision to take it and make it fuller and sound more like Motörhead Ace of Spades. I’ll turn these plugins back on. What I started with was those tracks and added drums. I actually programmed the drums 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.

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 drumming on a MIDI keyboard. I’d get the individuals sounds 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 right here.

[kick drum]

It’s more of a direct sound. A roomy 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.


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. 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.

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