Dreams of a Distant Shore

While yesterday’s full-on song was a bit of a surprise for me, with lyrics and theme coming together rather quickly, today was closer to what I was expecting to run up against. I went into the studio around 8 or 9pm, but didn’t actually start writing anything until closer to 11. This was less about not having and idea, and more about just exploring lots of different sounds and noodling with no intent before deciding I needed to get my butt in gear and start.

The trigger sound that got me going is the choir. This particular patch uses multiple samples of the vocalists improvising syllables and sounds, which gives it a lot of motion instead of being just your standard AHHHH or OHHHHH. I was happy with the chord progression and thought it would be an interesting thing to write against, so I duplicated the chords out and started looking for sounds.

  1. Dreams of a Distant Shore Ray Toler 8:04

The beat was next to show up, and it had a wonderfully hypnotic quality to it. I thought the glitchy pops and clicks might be distracting, but they ended up providing character that moved things along and provided a bit of random spice. I also added a muted guitar pluck at the beginning of each chord under the choir to give it a percussive strike, but with a big, but relatively short reverb. 

The choir and beat together were nicely meditative, but boring for an eight-minute piece. I tried several synthy sounds, but they were typically too repetitive for what was in my head. I ended up adding the bass clarinets, clarinets, flutes, and strings. I improvised all of the parts, and only had to correct a few mistakes – not bad for around 30 minutes of pure improv – at least for me. Each time I was playing a new part in, I thought about stopping after a few minutes and doing a copy/paste, but I was enjoying playing and just kept going.

Once I’d gotten into “too many notes” territory, I decided to stop and listen to the entire piece and found that it was interesting, but a bit overwhelming. I’ve started applying some synth programming techniques to the mix process. I automated the faders on the woodwind parts with long sine wave patterns, each one with a different period, to provide even more variety on top of what the samples provided. These waves provided some lovely interactions and kept things moving and interesting, but without being distracting.

The only effect I used was some light compression on the beat to tame the really high peaks, and the ever-present Ozone 9 for mastering. I never use the Ozone presets, but instead have it go through its custom settings process, then make a few minor adjustments to things that I want to remove or emphasize.

I’m still mixing to a K-14 scale (using the excellent Klanghelm VUMT Pro meter), then using Ozone to bring the final level up to somewhere in the -16 to -14 LUFS range. This is what the major streaming services have standardized on, and I’ve found that if I can get the mix to behave at K-14 before mastering, Ozone doesn’t have to do very much at the end – normally just tame the low end and raise the highs a bit, then get it to the right final level.

Once again, I’m starting this year in the same mental place that I hit in week three my first year. I have no idea what’s going to happen, no backlog of song ideas or melodic snippets in my head. I am wanting to do some experimentation with effects, and make use of the excellent software I’ve picked up over the last two years, but I have a feeling that each day is going to be an independent struggle.


  • Beat: Omnisphere
  • Choir, Strings, Woodwinds, Guitar: Spitfire Audio sample libraries
  • Effects: Fab Filter PRO-C 2
  • Mastering: Ozone 9

Image Credit: Pixabay

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