No Exit

August 20, 2008 7:15 PM

I wrote this song around 1992 or 1993, wanting it to be a guitar song even though I hadn't really picked up the instrument. I re-recorded it recently, using a lot of the original arrangement from my cassette demo, and it's not working for me. So I'd like some feedback.

I'm wondering if the guitar riff in the left channel is really strong enough to be repeated as much as it is. I'm also not really impressed with second riff in the right channel. I want the drum track to sound mechanical and new wave-ish, but it seems a bit too rigid. I think I've written myself into a corner with this song, or perhaps there's just not enough meat on the bones of this tune.

What can I do differently with this song? Or should I?

posted by NemesisVex (6 comments total)

The hi-hat is very up-front but the snare has lots of reverb, so to me it doesn't sound like the same unit. I'd dry out the snare and move it forward in the mix; maybe replace it with something that has more CRACK or CHANK to it. Also, try changing up the kick pattern, and make it different in different sections -- a more interesting kick pattern in the chorus will make it more exciting -- right now the kick is pretty dull. You might also try switching the hi-hat from "1-&-2-&-3-&-4-&" to just "&-&-&-&" and see if that breaks up the rigidity.

I think the chorus needs more to it to say "HEY CHORUS HERE!" -- vocal harmonies? Keyboard riff? Because the chorus is less catchy than the guitar riff (which I like).
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 9:52 PM on August 20, 2008

I could see the hi-hat being replaced by a cheesy synth bass type sound. To me, the biggest "complaint" here is the same one I had for your "Restraint" song -- the vocal doesn't sit well in the mix, in my unprofessional opinion. I think it's too up-front and dry compared to the other instruments. I like the guitar riffs quite a bit. I agree with Karlos the Jackal about finding a way to distinguish the chorus more, and his rhythmic ideas sound good too.

I do think there's a good song in there.
posted by edlundart at 10:16 PM on August 21, 2008

It's seems like it needs more starts at a pretty high intensity and then there's no where left to go. You tone it down after a while, in the middle, for the bridge, but I think you should do the opposite. Start quieter and then layer stuff on as you go.
I wonder if you got hung up on the arrangement and forgot what the lyrics are saying? Perhaps you could take your que from them? Just a suggestion. I know I always get stuck in one mindset of what a song should be and then ditch it when it doesn't work.
It's great that you can throw it up for discussion.
Maybe some time away from it will provide perspective.
posted by chococat at 12:02 AM on August 23, 2008

There's a lot that I really like about this song. Both the main guitar riff, and the "I don't think that..." part are really catchy.

I'm listening to it on my pretty precise new mixing headphones, and what jumps out at me is that the stereo separation of the parts feels lopsided and severe. The combination of the dry hi-hat way over in the left ear and the reverb-y snare way over in the right channel makes me imagine that instead of one guy (or robot, since it's a bit 80s-y) is playing a drumkit, several drummers have broken up the kit and gone to different parts of the stage. The snare drummer is like 40 feet away near the back righthand corner of the stage, while the hi hat is right next to you on your left. Also, the main guitar riff is also panned hard, in a way that separates it from the other parts.

I know that this kind of pop doesn't usually attempt to recreate the sense of space you would get from actual musicians playing in a room, but if you move some of the principal parts, at least, closer to the center of the mix, you'll mitigate the claustrophobic "I'm wearing the wrong prescription of glasses" sensation for the listener.

Let me say again, that I really like this tune--I hope that didn't come out too harsh. It could be a headphones-only issue.
posted by umbú at 10:13 AM on August 24, 2008

I agree with what folks have said about the dynamics of the arrangement. Looking at this critically, the first thing I wanted to do was strip a whole lot out of the verses—maybe even bring out everything but drums, bass and vocal for most of the sung portions of the verse, using a big dropoff coupled with the full, full mix of the chorus as it is to really create a less sonicly flat experience.

The pieces are all great; the guitar riffs are super catchy and they don't feel like Too Much as it stands, but if you use them less I'd be sitting there just fucking thrilled when they came back in. If you can make someone feel like that with your arrangment, you are in great goddam shape.

Take a listen to the Pixies' Where Is My Mind and see what they do there, dynamically. That quiet-LOUD-quiet-LOUD thing that's so trademark Pixies works really well, and every time the guitar riff comes back in on that song it kills me.
posted by cortex at 9:49 AM on August 26, 2008

Thanks for all the feedback, everyone!

I changed the hi-hat and shifted one of the beats in the kick drum, and that made a world of difference. I also finally invested in some fairly decent compression and EQ plugins, which hopefully addresses issues with trying to get my vocals to sit well in the mix.

One issue I noticed that wasn't mentioned was the muted guitar pulse buried in the background. It was masking the bass rhythm, so I made those two parts sync up.

And I put some reverb on the vocals and added backing vocals in the chorus.

For some reason, I'm feeling attached to the lack of dynamics in this song. chococat described it perfectly -- there's no where left to go, and I think that fits with a song called "No Exit".

Here's a newer version incorporating some of the feedback.
posted by NemesisVex at 12:23 PM on August 26, 2008

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