Beautiful Secrets, first song on new laptop and of 2021

My 8 year old Sony laptop had been doing bad things last year, mainly shutting down without warning in the middle of things. Then it decided to mess with my drums VST, so I felt I better have a backup system before the big crash. So my wife had an Acer she never used for years, and she has let me use it. Her expert hardware friend, Deb, volunteered to up its RAM from 4 to 8 GB and its 500 GB hard drive to a 1 TB SSD, putting it where my Sony was. Alas, it took longer than expected and ended up requiring a new used motherboard, but she finally came through last Monday!

So I have been trying to port all my VSTs over, get my Scarlet 2i2 1st generation to work etc., and by and large it all is going pretty well. This is both my first new song of 2021, written for Deb as “payment” for her work, and a test to see how well it handles Reaper and a half a dozen tracks. So far it seems up to the task, not too much lagging, except for the vocals. I am hearing a delay as I record and a warble on the playback for some reason, possibly the driver or some setting.

I used 3 Boz plugins to try to deal with it, and to my surprise it improved the vocals sound quite a lot. Now the warble almost passes for an effect!

2021 is hopefully going to be a lot better for all of us, and that includes our music making stuff. I want everyone here to know how grateful I am for the help I have gotten and continue to get here, and hope I can reciprocate fairly over time. Maybe even get around to bashing all the new songs before too much longer!

Lyrics are a bit serious, I haven’t heard from Deb yet, but next I’ll try something funner.

Beautiful Secrets by Steve Bancroft

I look at pictures I never asked for
Thousands of photos, hundreds of faces from the past
No one left to identify who they were
Tempting me to fabricate stories and connections

Scrutinizing noses and eyes for any similarity
So many smiling happily
Enjoying the day together as friends or family
The remnants, the fragments of my history

I wish I knew who they are
What mountains rise in the distance
What beach is this on which they frolic
Little children building castles in the sand

Whose house is that in the background
Whose swingset in the backyard
Whose living room sitting on a paisley sofa
Posing so patiently for a camera

Why are they so dressed up
Celebrating some unknown occasion
They don’t know they will be forgotten
Preserved in perfect anonymity forever

So many beautiful secrets
Handed down in unlabeled boxes
Aside for a few they are strangers
And I find it hard to care to even look at them anymore

I feel it is their own fault no one remembers them
Or the fault of those who have lost track
Part of me is resigned to just throw them away
In sheer hopelessness of ever knowing

But I hesitate as if to relegate them to a space in the attic
Elevates me to keeper of the secret history
A mystery to perhaps bequeath one day
To another distant curious relative

For the truth is family and ancestors are not all about wonderful times
And loving people who somehow just drifted apart
It is dashed with trials and tribulations and irreconcilable differences
And decisions to go their separate ways

For reasons good or bad or sad are the usual
To want to know is a little painful
For as secrets they are beautiful
Like a cat in a box never opened lives eternal


As usual, your songs are disappointing since it’s difficult to expect some kinda pattern from them or for your production.
And as usual, I found difficult to follow what the song has to say because of layers of tracks coming in and out, lyrics are helping that much either.

Comparing to other songs you posted here, I found this matching your regular work more or less. Maybe less spatial effects this time (delay, reverb).
Mixwise, I used to hear your voice more upfront: here the left rhythm guitar and right piano are fighting it a bit too much.

As usual, you propose a journey and it’s exactly that!

I would say that’s a pretty harsh bashing… Let me start with a compliment for an interesting song Steve! I quite like all the interfering guitars, piano’s and what not weaving in and out. It’s original. The rythms you make are in places quite complex together with the main beat, but the timing is very loose. I’m afraid the combination is not so effective. I think loose timing (and volume) - like in your vocal - can work if there is a strong steady beat holding it all up, but in your case most of the tracks are very loose and are just not in time in relation to each other. It’s is a bit too chaotic for me. You could tighten it up by editing, but it would be better to (re)record to a steady, tight bass and drums and do the loose thing with discretion, not all at once :wink: And then spend some more time on automating volume as well. The idea of a pianotune weaving in and out from a distance to the forefront is great. A tip maybe is to use a spacializer plugin or whatever it’s called. I use Proximity by TDR a free plugin that you can use to create a feeling of 3 D space by shifting the high frequencies, by panning and by using room verb. As usual an excellent TDR plugin. Automation of these parameters could give you a pretty realistic idea of a piano flying in and out of the room :sunglasses:

Thanks for listening, ncls. This is using some new instruments and some old, and I was caught up in the way it came out.

Timing is so funny. Midi makes timing almost perfect, and yet a voice can make everything seem off. As far as automating the volume etc, I can only hope to get my new laptop to do what it needs to do better, as this mix is like the Wild West. I don’t think it even has a bass! You’d probably freak out if you actually saw the midi. At first I didn’t think I could string together those rhythmic phrases at all, but it mostly worked out somehow, Evert.

I may try to fiddle with this again, but I will probably try something different next, as I have to figure out why my audio interface is so warbly.

I had heard this one earlier however, was too preoccupied for a detailed analysis so I did give it a like because I really liked the soundscape like sound, that could likely fit a title credit for a film or create a film festival-ish kind of vibe. I see a lot of song productions like this go through into some great films which would otherwise get ignored by the mainstream easy listening crowd that is expecting an otherwise polished and defined genre.
Quite frankly it isnt easy to get a production out like this. Instrumentation works, vocals could likely use some eq shaping and it should start to sound where the vision is taking it.

If I were to re-master this thing a bit closer to where my vision is taking this, it would be something like this (this is only after a very quick eq shaping and limiting of the entire track with some slap stereo. Only thing that is missing is some de-essing and taking the delay on the vocals down a notch but I cant do that in post).

I Post-eq’ed … brought the synth, organ up and opened up the drum frequencies to let em breathe a lil and its pretty cool actually @ncls .

Visualize it with an art movie scene and it works :slight_smile:

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I like what you have done here @FluteCafe and for me it works quite well as a stand alone piece although it certainly could be included in a film. I do appreciate that you see the value of what Steban has done here although I understand that we will be in the minority amongst music lovers.

The issue is what your expectation is. If you listen to main stream pop and rock music and you expect those predictable forms and repetitions this piece will disappoint you, I agree. And I do love those styles too, don’t get me wrong, they are beautiful.

But if you listen to some more adventurous forms and adjust your expectations a bit you can enjoy this; there are plenty of listeners who will.

Good work @steban ; keep 'em coming!

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I thought it was a very creative production. To test this out, I put the remastered song on a random irrelevant movie credit stock footage and the song works. As from a mixing standpoint, in a production like this it is key is to get those synth and organ parts to ring and for drums to be a bit open. Vocals could stay the way they are mostly, just tone down the delay a bit so the sibilance doesnt get delayed.

Well but it could use more strings though. :smile:

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Loving what you are going for here.
The Pink Floyd-esque vocals fit the feeling and lyrics very well.

I think all of the pieces are here, but I think there are some production/mixing questions you need to ask yourself.

  1. In each section, what do you want the focus to be? It’s fine if the vocal is not the main focus, but I found many parts fighting for the lead role, and sometimes (the first piano run) the lead role was screaming at me, making me only notice it at the cost of all else. I’d break each section down and decide what I’d like listener to focus on and direct them gently with subtle volume changes. This could be completely different things in each section, but I’d have it more (if I use a stage analogy) something taking a step forward with similar roles taking half a step back, before realigning for the next lead role.
  2. Does everything you recorded need to be in there/serve a purpose/be in there the whole time? I say this, as there is a good song here, it just to me seems to have not figured itself out yet. Case in point, I found the stuttering synth sound to be my favourite thing accompanying the vocal, yet there were times where I felt it just came in and stopped with no real reason. Sometimes it continued on when the music around it changed, other times it stopped when the music around it didn’t change all that much.

I think you have a bunch of great ideas here and with a little bit of trimming and rebalancing, there could be a very moving and soulful song waiting to be unleashed.

Lastly, I have heard enough of your songs now to know the vibes you dance between, but I think this is my favourite - something haunting and ethereal that I really like. I wouldn’t be rushing to do something more humorous if you have more desires to do something like this again.

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I appreciate immensely your work, Michelle, and even though you only did what you could post-eq, I really could discern a noticeable improvement in the mix. Perhaps my brain was influenced by the video, the woman was certainly dancing to the rhythms, but you make some great points for me to take into this and future mixing.

The lazier side of me just wishes I could give you the tracks and let you have at it, because I know you are far more advanced at re-mastering than I am or will be for a while, and secondly I have a theory that often we all are too close to our own work to do the best job at it. Not to imply anything negative to anyone here, as most of us are one person shows, and most of us are getting/have gotten pretty darn good at all aspects of song making. I personally feel like I’m improving on production, maybe even performance, and even on the song itself- the lyrics, melody, arrangement.

Very kind of you to say, Ingo! I think we all make the music we can in the styles we like, and we can’t just change what we like/look for in music we hear. I feel there is a lot of value in the truth, and every negative criticism is not without important merit. I wager everyone here and everywhere is often surprised when their music is not liked by everyone, maybe especially by certain people. It is a two-way street, the song maker and the song consumer. I was disheartened when the Bee Gees, Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones embraced disco, and only recently have I partially come to terms with that, although I will always like their earlier stuff far more.

What can I say, Dan, but thank you! I have a high regard for your talent and rock sensibilities as musician, producer and songwriter, and I take each point you make to heart. Even I, as uneven as I can be, recognized the inherent clashing problems in this song’s arrangement, and I actually did spread it out a bit and recombined parts differently at different points to try to combat the wall of sound it wanted to be at first. Frankly, it was not thoroughly planned, and I could easily make a few adjustments without destroying the vibe, but instead improving it.

Well, lucky for me not everyone will find my attempts at humor very funny!

But thanks to you all for your feedback. It seems to feed my creative spirit, and that is a wonderful feeling.

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Hi Steve, it wasnt just a visual trick, there were significant changes to the frequency balance and stereo in post , I was merely experimenting with some juicy parts of your song, like the drum and synths. The good news is that the song does have a lot of potential. My advice would be to go back to the track and turn down the vocal delay and reverb a bit. Try a smaller delay and then try a shorter reverb till you get more familiar with your reverb settings. Your voice has so much power that it can likely carry the song acapella…with nothin but El clappo lol.

as for the other instruments, they are fine.

Deffo different .i like it


I am new here to IRD, but not new to music production and mixing. With that said, this is very interesting, I find myself having to digest and take it apart, in a good way. I appreciate it, and understand the vibe.
Mixing is as much production as is changing faders and tones. Before I can properly mix this levels and tonally, I need to mix with the production. There are a few production items I would address.
You need a professional drummer who can drum or program drums to this song. The drum loop or program isn’t fitting, because it’s fighting against two time signatures already going on. I think the laying of time signatures very cool! BUT, you need a drummer who knows how to tastefully switch between time signatures at the right time, to properly service the song.
Tonally, things sound good, the levels are pretty good. I would do something different with the panning, BUT not until I know what the drummer is going to do. I am also missing bass, this could use a good base line. Let me know your thoughts.

This is not my first intention: @steban explained somewhere else he wrote songs that way, which isn’t wrong. It doesn’t have a regular (and rigid) verse/chorus pattern, it would work great as soundtrack for movies, to share @FluteCafe’s comment above.
I also used to listen to his voice with one reverb that reminds me of some Roger Waters songs: new laptop, new sounds and effects.
@ingolee explained all of these better than me in his comment.

Anyway, it’s still interesting to listen to that song with that in mind, it works well that way.

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Thanks for such good input, Kevin. I’m a mediocre drum programmer and bassist. Thanks bigtime to @FluteCafe for her mixing skills, which she should not downplay. I do feel I could improve the production based on everyone’s excellent feedback, even add a bass and fiddle with the drums and panning and vocal effects, but I would always wonder how much better it could be with some collaboration.

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