Monday, October 30, 2006

Are We There Yet?

We’re almost there. As I’ve been saying from the beginning, this is a tedious, detail oriented process, albeit a labor of love. The mastering is done, so now it’s on to artwork and graphic design.

I’m disappointed to say that the artist who offered to do some ceramic artwork for possible use in the design did not work out. His work just wasn’t getting what I was after. Not that I knew what I was after. It just wasn’t right. I’ll take responsibility for that. I must have completely not communicated to him any conceptual thoughts I had. So we were back to nothing in the artwork department.

Fortunately, I have a very talented artist/graphic designer, Monica Silver, on board. Monica and I went to High School and college together. She is the Creative/Art Director for GE Consumer and Industrial – Lighting here in Cleveland. We’re working with some digital photos that my daughter Mariah took of me at and around the studio one day.

I don’t know if other people get this nuts about the details of things, but when it’s my product, and the product is me, and I’ve waited ten years since putting out my last product, I tend to pay attention to every detail. I’ll just share with you here some of the emails that I’ve sent regarding the artwork.

Date: Fri, 13 Oct 2006 07:26:05 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Noah Budin"
Subject: Re: Hello, From Monica!
To: "Silver, Monica (GE Indust, ConsInd)"

Thanks Monica,
Here's the web site with the specs:
click on the button on the right that says Music (Audio)
on the menu on the left click on Graphics Templates under the heading Forms & More
surf on down to see all of the different options.
We're looking at conventional CD packaging in a standard jewel case.
We're probably looking at an 8 or 12 page booklet. Let me know if you have other ideas once you see the different options and my design concept.
I don't think we want top spine.
Also, the first link in the text on that page is for the Graphics Information Form. That will need to be filled out eventually.
Also, we want to do the on disk imprint or the "label," and the tray card. Do you have a copy of my first CD Hallelujah Land? My favorite part of that design is the on disk imprint.
I'm sure you'll know how to surf the web site and more about the various finer points of the whole process than I. Which is why I want you to do it.
I'll send the text as we have it so far a little later. Little things are likely to change, but for the most part, it is what it is.

Date: Sat, 14 Oct 2006 13:23:28 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Noah Budin"
Random design thoughts and pics
To: "Monica (GE Indust ConsInd) Silver"

Here are some digital photos that Mariah took that we might be able to use somewhere in the design. You might even want to put some kind of "effect" (for lack of a better word) on them -- I don't know...sepia, blurry, line drawing...?
I want the overall design to be kind of edgy, contemporary, atypical. Jagged or blurred lines. I'd like some element to be present throughout -- like a line or design or pattern "traveling" from page to page "connecting" everything. Things can be off center, crooked, "out of frame."
Just some random thoughts to get the conversation going. Any of this making sense?
There are 17 photos in all. I'm going to send them in three separate emails. This is batch one.

RE: simpler?
Date: Fri, 27 Oct 2006 19:08:07 -0400
From: "Silver, Monica"
To: "Noah Budin"

Hey Guys -

I had some time over the last few days to put together what I feel is a pretty comprehensive first pass of all of your CD art. I never heard back from Oasis regarding the templates, so I measured a CD cover, back, tray graphics and booklet that I had and used those measurements to create your graphics. I even found and downloaded the "Chonker" font you wanted.

Please take a good look at the artwork, layout and design and let me know what you think. I tried desperately to keep the font sizes as large as I could, but due to the length of the lyrics, most of them ended up being 7 point or less. I'll tell you this, it certainly gave my bifocals a workout!

Talk to you soon!

Best Regards -
Monica SilverGE Consumer & Industrial - Lighting Creative/Art Director

Date: Sun, 29 Oct 2006 08:20:55 -0800 (PST)
From: "Noah Budin"
Subject: Ideas re: your first draft design
To: "Silver, Monica "

Were getting there! Really, really nice job!

(What follows is very long, but please read carefully because I've given lots of very general and very specific ideas I'd like you to work with.) (put smiley face emoticon here).

I like the cover. The photo is at an unusual angle and a little out of focus so you can't immediately tell what you're looking at. That's good. Also, the _expression and attitude is not immediately identifiable. Could be angry, could be in prayer or meditation. (Actually, the sun was in my eyes.)

The font is good, inside and out.

I like the tray card -- the effect will be good...when you open the CD case and take out the CD, you'll see the same picture that's on the front, only in it's original form (color, clear), except that it'll still be obscured by the tray a little bit. And it may take a little time to connect the two pictures. All good.

I like it better when the musician credits after each song are listed vertically rather than stretched like a sentence. For instance, look at page 3: On Haruach, you can list the players to the right, the same way you did with Blessing. Also, add "guitar" to David's credit on Blessing. (I will have some other small text changes for you soon).

Overall, I like the design. Here's what I think we can alter:
I like the look of the credits page. I like the use of that photo, but I think it's too clear. I think it should be slightly "off" in some way. Not a lot. Not as much as the front, say. Maybe the edges should not be so crisp? And/or the color muted a little. Or just a little crooked, or a tiny motion blur...or something. No, not crooked. I just looked at it again. Try a kind of "torn" edges look, maybe.

All of that being said, we should probably treat the rest of the pictures similarly. I like the color of the water pictures under the lyrics to Metaphor and Edge of the Ocean, and the inset is a cool idea...but I don't want to be able to tell exactly what it is at first glance. I think I'd like the whole thing to be a little more "abstract" if you will.

Some of the shots are a little too "Hallmark." Too stock, or cute. Like on the Blessing page (3). Doesn't work for me. Page 4 is good. I like the cropped photo of me. Again, the edges are too clean or something. And I like the look of the fire opposite and of the water on page 5.

But, and here's the BIG BUT (no offense)...When the album is all about Metaphors, and we've got songs with titles like Fire, Let it Burn and Edge of the Ocean, do we want very literal photos behind them? I guess that goes for the whole design. Keep thinking "metaphor."

I like the picture of me with my eyes closed, but not where it is, not with that song.

Here are some general thoughts about overall design (what, those weren't enough?)...and I hope I can communicate this in writing. It may take a conversation, at the very least, or a face-to-face-to-computer meeting. On the other hand, you may just "get it."

OK...I like the pages with a full photo behind the lyrics (but note what I said earlier about the photos). Maybe there should be some color or image on every page. I also like some pages black with white text. But maybe the photos or images, instead of insets, can be -- I don't know what you call it. Is it watermark? -- sort of translucent in the background. Or maybe it can just be a pale color with some sort of unifying element running through, like a jagged line or something, and insets (in stlye previously mentioned) at angles, with text wrapped around? Am I making any sense?

Take it from here. I anxiously await draft 2!
Thank you for all of your thought, attention and hard work on this project.

I don’t know if other people get this nuts about the details of things, but when it’s my product, and the product is me, and it’s been ten years since I put out my last product, and I have complete artistic control (sometimes one doesn’t, and sometime’s that’s good), I’m going to make sure that this product represents me in the way that I want to be represented.


I’m not typically a detail oriented person. But this consumes me.

When everything on this end is done, we ship it off to be duplicated and packaged. Still aiming for that "before Chanukah" release. Get your checkbooks out.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Yes, Master

I got the mastered CD today. Either this guy (mastering engineer) is really good, or I just don’t have the ears to hear where I’ve lost any quality to compression and whatnot. I’m betting on a combination of both.

Here’s what I can tell about the mastered version: The songs have a nice flow from one to the other, and all the levels are good. Mastering is the part where you take into consideration how much time you want between songs. Sometimes it’s one second, sometimes a second and a half, maybe two, maybe more. Sometimes you go right from one song to the next without a discernable pause. It depends on the order of the songs and the feel of each song. There’s a rhythm to the whole album – when it’s done well. (Just listen to Abbey Road.) Also, and this is hard to explain, the overall level (for simplicity we’ll say that’s the loudness and softness, or dynamics) from song to song is consistent while retaining the individual character of each song. In other words, there is no dramatic drop or rise in volume from one song to the next making you want to grab for the volume control for a manual adjustment. This is one of those little unnoticed, “behind-the-scenes” things about a professional recording. You don’t notice it, because (when done well) it just sounds like it’s the way it should be.

But, consider two different songs – for instance “Fire” and “Let It Burn,” which are back to back on my CD. “Fire” is a “quiet” song – just acoustic guitar, vocal, piano and cello. It’s intimate, moody and mellow. I could be sitting in your living room playing for you. “Let It Burn” is all-out angry rock and roll. Think Bachman Turner Overdrive. It’s got the acoustic guitar in there, along with a searing electric guitar, driving percussion, a horn section, bass and organ. Live in your living room it would shatter your windows. So, here they are, these two songs, back to back. You’d think one would be louder than the other. Well, a good mastering job (which this is) gives the perception that one is louder and the other is softer by keeping the integrity and the nuance and the spirit and the soul of the songs intact, while making the overall level about the same. Got it?

There is one change we want to make. After weeks, maybe months, of playing with the song order, I finally had to give in to what had been bugging me since we wrapped the recording phase. I didn’t want to. I had been fighting it. But there was one song that just disturbed the rhythm, the pace, the general flow of the record. I just didn’t want to lose another song (remember “Light?”) even though I knew it would improve the quality as a whole. The song is “Every Step a Prayer” and it runs about eight minutes long. And it’s kind of tedious. In a good way. And our arrangement of the song is good. It’s got a cool synthesizer part by Ed, nice backing vocals by Celia and a Flugelhorn part by Mark. Thematically, it’s an important song. The message is pertinent. It’s not badly written…it just takes a little patience to listen to. I’ve done it live many times, especially for MLK events (I wrote it for an MLK event), and it works in that context. But it just disrupted the flow of the CD. I found myself skipping over it during listen-throughs.

I finally came up with a solution. We decided to take it out of the mix but leave it on the album as a “bonus track.” It’ll be at the end of the record with a long space (5-10 seconds) between the “last” song and it. The track list will read eleven songs plus one bonus track. I think that will solve the problem. Only, I thought of this after we sent it off to get mastered and somewhere this communication got missed. But it’s not that big a deal (I think). Nothing about the mix or the master really has to change except song order, and that’s nothing these days since everything is digital (see: Where Are We Now?).

It won’t be long now. Depending on your definition of “long.”