Mikeification wins again!

I’ve babbled before about what I call “Mikeification” – which is essentially audio restoration.  I use an audio editor to modify the music I listen to so that it sounds more pleasing to my ears.  I’m not talking about mashing it up with something else, or adding dope beats.  No, primarily I take my old rock and prog rock recordings and use noise reduction, EQing and a few other techniques on them to make them sound a lot better.

I would share some of my work with you, but the copyright cartels would no doubt send a fucking swat team to my house and haul me off to prison for decades if I did that.  Good to see we have our priorities straight as a society.  Anyway, before I get too grouchy, I only bring this up because I haven’t been able to play video games much lately due to my severe migraines.  And to fill some of the time while doing chores and going out for walks I’ve been really listening to a lot of albums I own.

I just finished listening to all of the Beatles stuff I have.  Since there really isn’t anything to say about that band that hasn’t been said before, I won’t say nuthin.  Except that when I loaded the songs onto my mp3 player, I sort-of recreated the “American albums” up to 1966 because I’d never heard them sequenced that way before.  I must say I prefer the song order and the flow of the British releases better.  Oh, and I much prefer “Let It Be… Naked” to the original.

Now I’ve moved on to another of my favourite bands – Genesis.  And when one mentions Genesis, that can bring up two very different bands.  The early 70s prog rock band with Peter Gabriel and the 80s hit-making trio fronted by Phil Collins.  I’m definitely a fan of the first version way more than I am the latter.

I have to take some time now to brag about the way that I’ve cleaned up the audio on their first album “From Genesis to Revelation“.  It’s known for sounding like shit and having strings and horns added to it by their sketchy producer at the time Jonathan King.  It’s never had a proper remaster or remix to fix that sound, as far as I know.  My version sounds almost crystal clear, has much improved bass and treble response and actually minimizes those corny strings and horns too.  I was able to do that because on most tracks they were isolated off to the right channel.  The version I ended up with is a huge improvement, and I can actually enjoy most of the songs on that album now.

I’ve also made a 38:12 batch of songs which I call “The Lost Second Album”.  This was compiled from the 1998 “Genesis Archive 1967-75” box set, and it’s also undergone a sonic makeover by me.  Again, I’d let you hear it but I don’t want to go to prison.  The track listing for that one is:

  1. Let Us Now Make Love
  2. Hidden in the World of Dawn
  3. The Magic of Time
  4. Going Out to Get You
  5. Build Me a Mountain
  6. Shepherd
  7. Image Blown Out
  8. The Mystery of the Flannan Isle Lighthouse
  9. Hair on the Arms and Legs
  10. Pacidy

That collects pretty much all the worthwhile rare, unreleased tracks and demo recordings from 1967 to 1970 and leaves out alternate versions and duds.  It also has a nice flow to it, the way it’s been sequenced.  It’s my preferred way of listening to these songs, and again, they sound surprisingly great after I’ve edited them.  You can actually hear each instrument and voice clearly, which is something you can’t say for the unedited versions on the box set.

Since I’m on an album-by-album journey, I next listened to “Trespass” and “Nursery Cryme“.  And since I’ve had the damned things for a half a decade without hearing them, I figured I’d finally listen to all of the albums as the remixed versions that came out in 2007:

Did I mention before how 70s Genesis is one of my favourite bands?  I actually tried to listen to “A Trick of the Tail” when I first got these box sets.  I couldn’t even make it through the first song, I couldn’t listen to it.  It was too different and I immediately disliked it.  I listened to these 70s albums so much that I have every note, every word, and every passage and every crescendo memorized.

Remixing an album is quite different than what I do to it.  What I do takes the two completed album stereo tracks – usually treating them as a single unit anyway – and manipulates the sound so as to try to minimize and eliminate what I consider noise and other undesirable sounds.  Then I accentuate parts of that completed album stereo track as a whole to clarify parts that aren’t being heard clearly enough.  The goal is to try to make it sound as close to the original band’s sound as possible.

When an album is remixed, as in the case of these Genesis albums, we start with a blank slate.  All of the individually recorded parts are then reassembled part by part, instrument by instrument, voice by voice, song by song.  It can and often does take months to do this for just one 40-minute album.  A single song can have hundreds of individually recorded parts that would have to all be assembled and balanced together in such a way as to not only resemble the original, but to be a more definitive version of what the band had tried to record in the first place.

There were band members present when those Genesis albums were remixed, so I know that they were satisfied with the results.  But I have mixed feelings about them.  I think it’s wonderful to be able to hear certain parts clearly for the first time.  It reminds me of the first time I edited the album “Wind & Wuthering” myself many years ago and heard a guitar part that I had never noticed before.  But the whole balance of the albums has been thrown off, I think.  There are some vocal harmonies that have been altered in volume.  Sometimes it’s hard to hear familiar parts because they’re lower in the mix than I expect.  There have also been some modern effects added to a vocal passage here and there.  I really don’t think that sounds good at all.

The worst part though is the inconsistency in volume.  This manifests itself in two ways.  The first is just a lazy way of mixing where volume of, say, a vocal line is increased suddenly upon the addition of other sounds.  It sounds jarring and amateur.  The second way this happens is when a quiet song plays too loud.  It seems that every song on at least the first two albums has been made to play at top volume, including the quiet songs which really shouldn’t.  The dynamics of the album are ruined.  “Dusk” and “Harlequin” are the worst examples.  This is a mistake I used to make when I first started my own music editing, so I can actually see why someone would fall into this trap.  But it still sounds bad.

I expect the next five albums I really care about will give me this impression.  The next three after that may not irk me as much if they’re so different.  Anything from 1983 on though will probably sound great to my ears as I never got attached to any of that stuff.  A lot of it is throwaway pop anyway.

But this has made me decide to re-mikeify all of my Genesis albums.  At least up to “Wind & Wuthering”.  Those albums were among the first I did, and my methods are far more effective now, so I’ll no doubt get me some way better sound.