Grammy-winning mix engineer Brian Yaskulka (Lisa Loeb, Andy Summers) was recently tasked with mixing “Elton John – Farewell Yellow Brick Road: The Legacy (VR360),” a career-retrospective 360/VR project for music legend Sir Elton John and part of the artist’s ongoing career-farewell endeavors.
Finding himself temporarily without a traditional 360-degree mix environment but nonetheless working within tight deadlines, Yaskulka found the right mixing solution with Waves Nx – Virtual Mix Room over Headphones.
Yaskulka comments, “The original plan was for me to do all the mixing for the Elton John project in the theater room at Spinifex. But due to some scheduling conflicts and timeline acceleration, it became necessary to work on the production at my own studio; however, I had just recently relocated my studio to the iconic Sound City facility in Van Nuys, California, and I was waiting for the new studio to be completed, so I was basically working out of boxes, and I didn’t have my usual 5.1 setup available.”
He notes, “I had heard good things about Waves Nx technology for 3D audio on headphones, so I thought I’d give it a try – nothing to lose. I had no viable monitoring facility, so I went ahead and used a pair of AKG K702 reference headphones, with the Nx Virtual Mix Room plugin and the Nx Head Tracker attached to the headphones. I ended up mixing 90% of the project on headphones. The remaining 10% was done in the Spinifex theater, and I was amazed, as it sounded almost exactly the same in that acoustically magnificent theater as it did on my headphones with Nx. Everything – the localization, the spaciousness – matched, and I ended up just making a few tweaks here and there, mainly to be able to work with the producers, in order to dial in sound design elements.”
Yaskulka adds, about the uniqueness of mixing this project: “The idea was for the viewer to experience inside, pivotal moments in Elton John’s career – his first show at Hollywood’s Troubadour Club in 1970 and the famous 1975 Dodgers Stadium concert – and place you right there on stage alongside Elton. The creators at Spinifex Group recreated digital versions of a younger Elton using CGI, motion-capture technology tracking Elton’s face, and even a professional Elton impersonator to reproduce his ‘70s dance moves. The point of the audio mix was to put you right there with Elton and feel the excitement of these events, as well as to create some moments of pure fantasy. So, for some scenes, I needed to create a feeling of total immersion in a live concert; for others, I needed an extra sense of space and depth.”
On using Waves plugins, he remarks, “This was a project aimed at celebrating Elton John’s music, not reinventing it, so I researched the original recording process of all these songs and what technology was used at that time, and I applied the right plugins to recreate the sounds I was looking for. For example, on the vocal for ‘Your Song’ I used the Waves C4 Multiband Compressor, the CLA-2A Compressor and the Waves DeEsser. On the piano, I used the Waves MV2, the Scheps 73 EQ and the PS22 Stereo Maker. For the vocals on ‘Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting)’ I used the SSL G-Equalizer and the CLA-76 Compressor. On the vocals of ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ I used the F6 Dynamic EQ to dynamically control the vocal track, and again the CLA-2A.
“Also, when we matched the audio and the visuals in the theater room, everything worked flawlessly. But once the tech team did a run-through test with some of the VR headsets, they found they were having sync issues. That’s where the Waves SoundShifter plugin came in. It was a split-second fix that needed to be made on the spot: we had to time-stretch the first scene by 100 ms. SoundShifter did it perfectly, no glitches, no artifacts. I used a set of Waves 5.1 surround plugins to pull off the balance and the spread in the surround sound design – the R360 Surround Reverb, the C360 Surround Compressor, the L360 Surround Limiter and the M360 Surround Manager & Mixdown.“
He sums up his experience: “Basically, I’m just glad Waves Nx was there to help me solve this particular one.”