Making the Cut: Remastering “Mean” in the Big Ole City

BY Joe Spradley

Of all the stories and topics we work with at Anode, music history and interpretation has a special place in our hearts. Perhaps it is our long history of working with music museums, perhaps it is our upbringing in Music City, or perhaps it is the number of Anodians who have some sort of musical talent. Whatever the cause, the end result is that we are obsessed with producing the perfect audio track for every music-based project we take on.

Over the years, we have worked closely with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to create an experience for people of all ages to go behind the scenes and discover how their favorite songs on the radio are created.  The “Studio Session” interactive provides a real life experience of what it is like to be a recording artist. Patrons are faced with both challenges of singing on key and staying on tempo as they record one of four popular songs in the studio. The roles are reversed as visitors move on to the “Mix It Up” interactive where they become their own producer and mix their recorded track. This lets patrons see what it’s like to mix each vocal and instrumental track individually to influence the story they want the song to tell. All of this resides in a life-sized replica of Taylor Swift’s tour bus.

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Recently, our friends at the Country Music Hall of Fame approached us to update one of the tracks in both the “Studio Session” and “Mix It Up” interactive exhibits, which are both part of the ACM/Dinah and Fred Gretsch Family Gallery

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To complete the update, we headed across town to a local music studio to specially record a sound-alike track of T-Swift’s 2011 hit. The first step was to modify the tempo, key, and arrangement of “Mean” to match the other tracks used in the singing booth and mixing station exhibits. By regulating these aspects across all four songs in the final interactive experience, we focus the visitor’s learning on the basic concept of recording music and mixing tracks—without overwhelming them with too many variables.

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With the arrangement set, we then recorded each instrument to a separate audio file. After the first pass, we had four instrumental tracks (banjo, fiddle/mandolin, drum, and bass) plus one additional track for lead vocals. During the “Studio Session”, lead vocals are still present as a guide and motivator for visitors to belt out the lyrics.

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We then produced additional versions of each track with special sound compression to simplify the CPU processing and audio latency in the interactive mixing station experience. This is applied to the “Mix It Up” experience as visitors use on-screen buttons to switch between these pre-produced settings to mix their recording into their own creation.

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As you can see, it takes a lot of work and careful planning to produce an integrated recording and mixing experience like the one in the exhibit. As audiophiles and interactive storytellers, we enjoy the entire process of creating behind the scenes experiences for visitors of all ages. The most satisfying part of our work is watching them huddle around a microphone as they take a shot at lead vocals and get a feel for how sound engineers and music producers influence the sounds we hear on the radio (…or streaming music service of course).

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