CALABASAS, CA—A unique collaboration enabled concertgoers at each show on the recent North American tour by Imagine Dragons to immerse themselves in artwork inspired by the band’s new album presented in tandem with DTS Headphone:X mixes of each song. Nathaniel Kunkel mixed the tracks into the virtualized 11.1 presentation format from multitrack assets delivered directly from Manny Marroquin, who mixed this latest album, the band’s second, which is entitled Smoke + Mirrors.
According to Jordan Miller, global communications director for DTS, “The band are true audiophiles and know DTS technology well; that was what made this current collaboration so great. The mutual respect and appreciation between DTS and Imagine Dragons was the key to the success of this project.
The Las Vegas-based pop-rockers had final approval of all the DTS Headphone:X mixes and were reportedly pleased with the outcome. “We delivered the songs to the band for review as soon as they were internally approved, and the guys gave their thumbs up to each one. They were impressed right away and had minimal notes,” Miller reports.
Smoke + Mirrors went straight to the top of the Billboard 200 chart upon release in mid-February, moving 195,000 units in its first week, more than doubling the best week of sales for Night Visions, the band’s debut release. Sales of Night Visions have been steady, totaling 2.5 million copies to date, enough to keep it in the Billboard 200 for 129 straight weeks—all but two of those in the top 100.
In 2014, during pre-production for the new album, the band reportedly invited San Diego-based visual artist Tim Cantor into the studio to hear some demo tracks. Inspired, Cantor apparently came up with a few hundred sketches that were subsequently whittled down to 14, one for each track on the album, as well as the album cover.
At each stop on the 40-date North American leg of the band’s 10-month-long Smoke + Mirrors world tour, which currently extends through late February 2016, Cantor set up a pop-up art gallery at which attendees could listen on DTS headphones to each track while studying the artwork it inspired. In a video available online, DTS captured the reaction of Dan Reynolds, the band’s front man, to what he describes as the “3D landscape.” “You’re hearing the guitars floating around from behind you and above you; especially for us, it was exciting,” he says.
While the Headphone:X mixes stay true to the album’s stereo versions, the immersive format offers a platform for some dynamic panning of elements such as drums and bass on “I’m So Sorry” and guitar at the end of “Hopeless Opus.” Miller comments, “The original production on all the tracks on Smoke + Mirrors is very intricate and wonderfully mixed in stereo, so we had an amazing album to begin with. By design, the benefit of DTS Headphone:X is that it allows the auditory canvas to expand for the artist. Instead of having to fit and mask all of the musical elements in two channels, the mixes can breathe in 360 degrees of space.”
DTS Headphone:X virtualizes 12 speaker positions—7.1 plus left and right front and rear height—into a mix that will reproduce in immersive sound on any pair of headphones. Man of Steel, featuring music for the film composed by Hans Zimmer, was the first soundtrack album to be released using the Headphone:X codec, in 2013.
Miller continues, “Certain tracks allowed for more creative freedom in the immersive field, so our engineer took advantage of that, but he also referenced the original mixes to make sure the intended emotion and integrity remained intact. Maintaining the integrity and intent of the music is always a very important part of the process for us.”
Cantor has reportedly been invited by the band to also tag along for the Asian and European legs of the tour, but for those unable to attend an Imagine Dragons concert, DTS has made “Shots,” the lead-off track from the album, available online as a Headphone:X presentation. “We’re currently working on the next steps in collaboration with the band and their management to potentially deliver the full album experience to fans beyond the tour stop venues,” says Miller.
It appears that this was more than a one-off experiment. “As far as collaborating on future projects, that is the expectation from both sides,” says Miller. “One of our core objectives is to build a long-term relationship with the artists we work with. We want to support artists with our tools that allow them with the freedom to create, explore new possibilities and continue to progress in their work and how they connect to their fans and audiences.”