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Mixing Elton John for VR360 on Headphones

Mixing immersive audio for the announcement of Elton John’s farewell tour brought new technologies to bear.

Los Angeles, CA (May 23, 2018)— Helping kick off Elton John’s upcoming four-year farewell tour, effects company Spinifex was recently tasked with putting together Elton John—Farewell Yellow Brick Road: The Legacy (VR360), a career-retrospective 360/VR project. While the CGI brought to bear was impressive, understandably, getting the music element of the endeavor right was just as crucial.

“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,” said engineer Brian Yaskulka. “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.”

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Through a turn of events, Yaskulka wound up mixing most of the project on a pair of AKG K702 reference headphones with a Waves Nx Head Tracker attached, providing information to Nx Virtual Mix Room plug-in. While he was originally supposed to mix in the theater room at Spinifex, schedule conflicts meant he had to work in his own studio—which was in pieces at the time, as he’d just relocated the facility to Sound City in Van Nuys, CA, and hadn’t reassembled his 5.1 setup yet.

“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,” he said. “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.”

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Other Waves plug-ins came into play during the mix process, as Yaskulka used various emulation plugs to recreate the classic sounds of Elton John’s albums. “For example, on the vocal for ‘Your Song,’ I used the Waves C4 Multiband Compressor, the CLA-2A Compressor and the Waves DeEsser, while on the piano, I used the Waves MV2, the Scheps 73 EQ and the PS22 Stereo Maker,” he explained. “For the vocals on ‘Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting),’ I used the SSL G-Equalizer and the CLA-76 Compressor, but 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.”

Waves •