Finishing "No Memory" by Merisan

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Lunkhead
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Finishing "No Memory" by Merisan

Post by Lunkhead » Sun Jun 23, 2019 10:55 am

I've been working a bunch more on our entry for the "No Memory" chiptunes round of Nur Ein. I'm trying to address some of the feedback we got:
vowlvom wrote:
Tue May 28, 2019 10:13 am
My only critique is that I don't really understand why the guitar comes in for the solo / breakdown bit - it feels really out of place to me.
owl wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 11:03 pm
the guitar part was different, I guess, but it also felt sort of out of place

The guitar is gone. I put in a pad with tremolo to try to fill the same role but in a way that kept more with the overall vibe.
Spintown wrote:
Wed May 29, 2019 1:47 pm
the only negative I can come up with here is that it’s a bit too repetitive coming in around 4 minutes. Only 2 verses, and even though the chorus is catchy, you nearly ran it out of gas.
Instead of a double chorus at the end, it's a single chorus, then a repeat of just the last line of the chorus. That shaved like 25 seconds off the song. I extended the outro a tiny bit, which put back on maybe 5 seconds but I think it still feels tighter over all now.
Ryan wrote:I'm gonna say that the verses are pretty dull and simple
There's a little bit more going on in the verses in terms of the instruments in the background but otherwise I didn't personally really agree with this so didn't change anything majorly.
Ryan wrote:I kinda wish there was less chiptunes in this song ... I know that's not a legitimate criticism
This is pretty infuriating feedback in a round where the challenge was to use chiptunes. I doubled down on the chiptunes here removing the only thing in it other than the vocals that wasn't chiptunes-y. Maybe that's my way of saying "Go f$#@ yourself"/"I agree with you that your criticism is not legitimate". No hard feelings though, Nur Ein judges gonna judge. :P
Ryan wrote:those fuzzy synths start to bug my ears after a while
glennny wrote:
Fri May 31, 2019 2:46 am
My only criticism is I wish there was space somewhere in the music. There are no rests whatsoever. Just a small tweak would make this stronger and the clear winner I think.
theSundayColors wrote:
Fri May 31, 2019 4:14 pm
Only caveat with this song, the droning of the chiptune is almost constant and it gets old after a few minutes.
owl wrote:
Sun Jun 02, 2019 11:03 pm
It did start to feel pretty repetitive to me--there's a nonstop crunchy kind of synth going through the whole song nonstop that was kind of tiring to listen to
I'm hoping some/most of those issues were just due to length of the song and lack of time spent mixing. The lo-fi chiptunes sounds all had a lot of crispy crunchy high end in them and I didn't spend a lot of time trying to tame that. I also did a couple little instrumental things to try to address this and provide some more movement and dynamics and less constant drone. (The main whole note chord pad synth switches to an arpeggio in the choruses, there is a supplementary pad but it has some decay on it that comes in quickly so provide some dynamics.)

Anyway, I'd love to hear some follow up from folks if they have time to give this new version a listen to see if any of those things are better for them now, or from first time listeners.
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Re: Finishing "No Memory" by Merisan

Post by vowlvom » Sun Jun 23, 2019 11:35 am

I listened to the new mix, then went back to the old one, now listening to the new one again. Definitely feels like a solid improvement to me, everything feels a little punchier but very much keeps that killer video game synthpop vibe. Definitely prefer the updated instrumental section without the guitar, and I feel like like I'm picking up on lots of little instrumental tweaks but I can't figure out which ones are new and which are just more audible in this mix. I'm kind of undecided about whether the vocal could be a bit louder maybe, in the first verse especially, but that's my only real suggestion, and it's very much a maybe.
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Re: Finishing "No Memory" by Merisan

Post by jb » Sun Jun 23, 2019 12:28 pm

I didn't listen to the original, so this is feedback only about the new version with no history. In my headphones (Sennheiser 650 open backs):

* The song-- is GREAT.
* Erin's performance-- is GREAT.
* The chiptunes kick sound is too loud, definitely takes over a bit. It sounds like it's mixed like a regular kick sound, but it's got too much pitch and length for that approach to sit correctly.
* And I'd add some sparkle, maybe an exciter, to the vocals to make them stand out a bit more. They sound just a hair dull compared to the bright chiptunes sounds.

I love this! I just don't love that chiptunes kick.

JB
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Re: Finishing "No Memory" by Merisan

Post by Lunkhead » Sun Jun 23, 2019 12:50 pm

jb wrote:
Sun Jun 23, 2019 12:28 pm
* And I'd add some sparkle, maybe an exciter, to the vocals to make them stand out a bit more. They sound just a hair dull compared to the bright chiptunes sounds.
Thanks, glad you liked it. I agree about the song and Erin's vocals, she knocked her part of it out of the park this time around 100%. That's the main thing motivating me to put more effort into my side, to try to hold up my end of the bargain! :)

I in fact do have an exciter on the vocals already. I had it cranked up more before but felt like they sounded too brittle that way, but in addition to turning down the mix on the exciter I also separately wound up pulling the frequency of the high-pass on the vocals down to restore some more of their low end. So maybe I can tweak the exciter up a bit again now without things sounding too brittle.
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Re: Finishing "No Memory" by Merisan

Post by Lunkhead » Sun Jun 23, 2019 12:51 pm

vowlvom wrote:
Sun Jun 23, 2019 11:35 am
I listened to the new mix, then went back to the old one, now listening to the new one again. Definitely feels like a solid improvement to me, everything feels a little punchier but very much keeps that killer video game synthpop vibe. Definitely prefer the updated instrumental section without the guitar, and I feel like like I'm picking up on lots of little instrumental tweaks but I can't figure out which ones are new and which are just more audible in this mix. I'm kind of undecided about whether the vocal could be a bit louder maybe, in the first verse especially, but that's my only real suggestion, and it's very much a maybe.
Thanks for taking another listen and letting me know, much appreciated!
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Re: Finishing "No Memory" by Merisan

Post by Spintown » Sun Jun 23, 2019 1:13 pm

I do like the ending better now, and overall doesn't seem like it overstayed it's welcome as much.
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Re: Finishing "No Memory" by Merisan

Post by Lunkhead » Sun Jun 23, 2019 1:58 pm

Spintown wrote:
Sun Jun 23, 2019 1:13 pm
I do like the ending better now, and overall doesn't seem like it overstayed it's welcome as much.
Great! Thanks.
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Re: Finishing "No Memory" by Merisan

Post by fluffy » Sun Jun 23, 2019 6:36 pm

I didn't listen to the original either so this is a fresh listen.

I agree with JB that the kick drum is a bit too loud. I'd also recommend boosting Erin a little and also notching the EQ of the instruments around her voice a bit more. I think the vocal tone matches the instrumentation pretty well, otherwise.

Something to keep in mind with chiptunes is that less is more - most of the systems that made this style natively only had 3-4 oscillators total, and that limitation is a big part of what made the sound work, since fewer things were fighting with each other. Arpeggios were of course to reduce the oscillator count, and usually you'd never hear the kick drum at the same time as the bassline, since those tend to conflict naturally anyway. Often you'd actually have one oscillator shared between kick, snare, and bassline! (At least on things like the SID chip. Obviously that doesn't apply to systems like the NES/6A02 where the separate channels had fixed oscillators. But this song very much has a SID sound to it.)

To my ears there's something like 7-8 oscillators playing at once in some places in this and while stretching things is totally fine (it's not like you're playing this on an actual NES!) it's good to keep those limitations in mind to keep the sound from getting too muddled.

The ending feels a bit abrupt to me.
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Re: Finishing "No Memory" by Merisan

Post by Lunkhead » Sun Jun 23, 2019 8:31 pm

Thanks for listening, and for the feedback about the mix. I'm not at all trying to make it sound like it was actually playing on an old console. I explained in the Nur Ein threads that I used the Pocket Operator PO-20 Arcade and sampled all its sounds and sequenced them in Cubase, and I used a Moog virtual synth for the pads. I know about the limitations of the old consoles, primarily the NES, from watching a whole lotta YouTube videos. (I thought this series about the NES was particularly informative: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=la3coK5pq5w )
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Re: Finishing "No Memory" by Merisan

Post by fluffy » Sun Jun 23, 2019 9:40 pm

Ah yeah the PO-20 Arcade is pretty neat. I've purposefully avoided ever going to the local Teenage Engineering-affiliated synth shop because I don't think my wallet would survive the journey.
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Re: Finishing "No Memory" by Merisan

Post by owl » Sun Jun 23, 2019 10:29 pm

Excellent!
I kind of forgot how catchy this song was, now it's going to be stuck in my head, damn it. It already really sounds great overall, but you asked for feedback, so here are my thoughts after A/Bing the two versions. Let me add that I know some of the things I'm complaining about below are 100% genre things so may be as annoying as Ryan's "too much chiptune" comment but I'm gonna say them anyway...
  • I would like the vocals to be a bit louder in the mix and have a bit more reverb (not just the lead, but the harmony/backing vox--the "whoa-ohs" sound a bit anticlimactic, they could really ring out a bit more...)
  • If it were me I would also add a lot more vocal layers/doubles, especially in the first chorus--you have some really gorgeous and prominent harmonies on top of the verse melody, so then it ends up feeling more empty, vocal-wise, once it hits the first chorus, which feels slightly disappointing since the chorus otherwise feels like it kicks everything up a notch
  • I liked the way the harmonies sat in the last mix slightly more than this one. The harmony vocals sound more distinct to me in this mix, but I felt like they blended with the lead better before (subtle difference though)
  • I agree with some of the other comments on the kick, it is certainly punchier but it feels a bit distractingly loud/aggressive to me
  • It still kind of has that ongoing nonstop crunchiness that feels a bit fatiguing, but I don't know if you're really going to be able to get away from it with this instrumentation. I think it does sound like you opened up more space in general though, especially in the choruses, which is nice
  • Sounds like you added some delay on the arpeggios that come in halfway in the 2nd verse?--I preferred the version from the old mix without the delay, but that's my personal taste. The delay version feels a bit too... late-90's dance pop? to me. I suspect I might be in the minority on this.
  • I like the removal of the guitar from the instrumental part, but there was also a nice little detail in the last mix where the kind of wobbly hits (sorry I have no idea what to call them...) at the end of the instrumental felt like they were just starting to interfere with each other and go out of control, which was really cool--I liked that element of the old mix
  • Maybe it would sound good without the tremolo pad in the instrumental either, just to open up some space and really let it drop back for a bit before returning triumphantly into a big chorus?
  • This is a writing comment more than a mix comment, but I don't love that descending three-note transition riff out of the choruses, it feels a little simple and cheesy to me (can't remember if I commented on that in my review earlier). I really like the high climb up of the synth that you've added at the ending, so I like the 5-3-1 version at the ending there better than the version that comes at the end of the other choruses, but I think it would still sound nicer in both places if you just held that first note and didn't put the riff there.
  • likewise: the length/structure is better, but to be honest, it still feels long to me, I think because the choruses feel like they're all exactly the same--nearly the same arrangement, energy level, delivery, etc. It would be awesome for some new vocal layers or countermelodies or new instrumental parts or something to come in on that last chorus to spice it up.
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Re: Finishing "No Memory" by Merisan

Post by Lunkhead » Sat Jun 29, 2019 10:59 am

Wow, that is a lot of great feedback, thanks for taking the time to listen critically and write all that.

I confess we only had time to record one set of chorus vocals. So it is the same performance every time. In the mix we're bringing in additional harmonies every chorus though so every chorus technically IS different already, but not with different countermelodies/parts. We recorded the vocals in a hotel room while we were out of town so if we're going to open that whole can of worms I would want to redo all the vocals so they are all recorded with the same setup. That's a big undertaking that I'm not sure we're game for at this point.

I tried out a bunch of instrumental countermelody ideas in the final chorus but I felt like they just cluttered things up. I haven't yet figured out a way to add in another melodic line without it just feeling to my tastes like things are getting too crowde.

Some things in the song (like the three-note transition riff thing) are corny, cheesy, and pat to fit the Abba inspired dance pop vibe. I get how some/all of that could be a turn off for a lot of people (usually myself included though probably since I helped make this I'm biased to give it a pass!).

It took me a long time to reply because I was grappling with going from feeling like I was almost done to feeling like the finish line was far off in the distance. I lost steam on working on it and had to put it down for a few days. In general I have been hesitant to go back and rework past songs at all because without the deadlines imposed by the contests/competitions, I have no idea how to know when something is done or good enough. I could easily spiral into never ending tweaking. It's great to have this community of people here to poll for help but on the other hand we'll all have ideas about how songs could be different/better. That's probably a topic for another thread: How do folks know when a song is "done" when there is no deadline...?

Anyway, I really do appreciate your thoughtful feedback and I'm sorry if I don't wind up making a lot of the changes based on it.
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Re: Finishing "No Memory" by Merisan

Post by Lunkhead » Sat Jun 29, 2019 11:00 am

fluffy wrote:
Sun Jun 23, 2019 9:40 pm
Ah yeah the PO-20 Arcade is pretty neat. I've purposefully avoided ever going to the local Teenage Engineering-affiliated synth shop because I don't think my wallet would survive the journey.
This place looks amazing! Next time I'm in Seattle maybe we can make a "no-wallets" visit and make a pact to not actually buy anything? ;)
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Re: Finishing "No Memory" by Merisan

Post by Lunkhead » Sat Jun 29, 2019 11:30 am

I wound up feeling like I needed to cut myself off on this so I posted the song here. Thanks for everybody's input.

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Re: Finishing "No Memory" by Merisan

Post by fluffy » Sat Jun 29, 2019 11:06 pm

That sounds a lot better! So much easier to hear all the parts now.
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Re: Finishing "No Memory" by Merisan

Post by owl » Mon Jul 01, 2019 5:52 pm

Nice! It sounds great. Congrats on being done with it.

Also, sorry to have given more feedback than you wanted! This was definitely Picky Mode since you asked for input and I was comparing the two versions listening for the changes, definitely would not have bothered mentioning most of these things otherwise and also certainly not if I thought it would discourage you from getting it done. It was totally fine to start with! I think the opinions you get (and the amount of time you can spend recording/mixing/mastering) will expand more or less infinitely to fill whatever space you give them. I'm not an A&R rep, or a Nur Ein judge, or even someone who's any good at production, just some random schmo on the Internet that you asked to give some thoughts. Whatever you're ultimately happy with is what matters :)
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