Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Slowly But Surely

OK. Now, I'm officially excited. I finally got a chance to listen to the recording from the scratch session we did and…how do I put this? I love it. Yes, I love the recording. Yes, we only did one live take of everything. Yes, it has mistakes. No, there isn't any production on it. But, with all humility, I still love it.

The studio is excellent. The sound is crisp and clean. The vocals are just where I want them - not singing-wise, but sound-wise; the placement of the vocal. Up front. In the room with you. Hard to explain if you are not familiar with recording. The guitar is clear and pretty. I don't consider myself much of a guitarist. Not like Rabbi Joe Black or Beth Schaffer. I'm very basic. But somehow my old Guild is sounding silvery and spry. And this is all just from a one-take-mistake-filled scratch session. I can't wait until we get in to production.

I feel like it's already halfway there; halfway to where Hallelujah Land ended up. I'm hoping to take it above and beyond. Troy Dexter (my HL producer) is a genius. I mean no disrespect. Without Troy, there would be no Hallelujah Land. He produced, engineered, and played every instrument (other than my guitar parts) you hear on the record. But, as I said elsewhere, much happens in ten years time.

Remember when the Beatles were playing ratty little clubs in England in 1961 and then they went to Hamburg for a couple of years? Neither do I. But when they came back, they came back polished and ready. OK, I'm not the Beatles. And instead of a year or two, it's taken me ten. But I'm not a novice now. I've had so much more experience - performing, writing, playing with other musicians. I felt comfortable in the studio. Like I knew what I was doing. And the proof was in the, er, resulting scratch session CD.

You'll never hear it. Nobody outside of the project ever needs to. It's full of mistakes and wrong notes and missed beats. But it energized and encouraged me, knowing what it can be.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Chart – This word has many meanings in the music industry. Here, we are referring to something the musician in the studio (or in performance) can read that indicates his or her part to play. A chart can be a complete piece of music written out on manuscript (staff paper) with all of the notes, time signature, key signature, etc., or it can be a set of lyrics with the chord names (A, C, Bb, etc.) written over the top of the words showing the changes. Or it can be the chord names with hash marks (/ / / /) underneath, divided into measures so the musician knows when and what to play.

Click Track - A recorded rhythm track (metronome, drums or simulated drums) that the musicians hear in their headphones to keep them in tempo and on the right beats, but which may or may not (usually not) be used in the final mix.

Compression - 1. The portion of a sound wave in which molecules are pushed together, forming a region with higher-than-normal atmospheric pressure. 2. In signal processing, the reduction in dynamic range or gain caused by a compressor. 3. In computing, data compression reduces the number of bytes in a file without losing essential information.

Engineer - A technician in charge of a recording session; Also called Recording Engineer. The engineer works the controls on all of the equipment in the control room and studio. He/she sets up the microphones, tests the levels, is responsible for achieving the desired sounds and effects, logs all of the tracks and cues and performs any and all tasks on the technical end that the artist and producer require. There may be more than one engineer on a recording, usually a head engineer and assistants.

Label -- The record company (or division of a record company) that overseas the entire production and manufacture of a recording. Record labels make, distribute and market sound recordings. The term "label" is derived from the actual sticker labels that were affixed to the center of vinyl record faces -- record companies use specific logos for the purpose of "branding" to build an audience loyal to a particular artist or genre of music. Therefore "the label" actually means "the name of the record company." Example: 1) Capitol is a major label. 2) Righteous Babe Records is an indie label and inherently tied to Ani DiFranco, her style of music and the quality of her recordings. (Click here for a good article about indie labels)

Mastering -- Mastering is the link between the production process and the manufacturing process. Your project will go from the recording studio, to the mastering studio, to the manufacturing facility where the copies will be made

In the mastering process, the overall level is set, as well as song-to-song or “relative” levels (this keeps folks from having to turn the volume up and down when listening to your CD!). The mastering engineer may also use compression and/or EQ to make your music sound as good as possible when played on a home or car stereo system.

The mastering process can be a little hard to understand at first. Many musicians think, “I’ve spent all this time on my project, I’ve come up with some great mixes, how can someone who’s never even heard my music make it sound better?

A good mastering engineer brings a new perspective to your album. When you are in the midst of recording your project, you and your producer will concentrate on one song at a time. The result is that your mixes will have subtle differences: the peak levels will be slightly different; the EQs for each song are different, etc. The mastering engineer will look at the album as a whole, and try to bring unity with the use of gain, EQ, and compression. His goal is to achieve a consistent sound, and to make it sound the way you want on any home stereo system. He will also be able to raise the overall level so that your CD is as “hot” as any major label release. If the CD of your final mixes doesn’t sound “loud” enough, or doesn’t sound quite the same as your “regular” CDs, don’t fret. After the mastering process, that problem is always solved!

For a really good article about mastering and recording in general, from which this text was pulled, click here.

MIDI - Short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface; a digital signal system (a system of number signals) used to communicate performance information to and from musical instruments making music. MIDI: Abbreviation for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, a specification for a connection between synthesizers, drum machines, and computers that allows them to communicate with and/or control each other. MIDI CHANNEL: A route for transmitting and receiving MIDI signals. Each channel controls a separate MIDI musical instrument or synth patch. Up to 16 channels can be sent on a single MIDI cable. MIDI CONTROLLER: A musical performance device (keyboard, drum pads, breath controller, etc.) that outputs a MIDI signal designating note numbers, note on, note off, and so on. MIDI IN: A connector in a MIDI device that receives MIDI messages. MIDI INTERFACE: A circuit that plugs into a computer, and converts MIDI data into computer data for storage in memory or on hard disk. The interface also converts computer data into MIDI data. MIDI OUT: A connector in a MIDI device that transmits MIDI messages. MIDI THRU: A connector in a MIDI device that duplicates the MIDI information at the MIDI-In connector: Used to connect another MIDI device in the series.

Producer - The "director" of an audio recording project responsible to get a final product of desired quality within a budget. The producer may be a liaison between the artist and the engineer and creates the overall sound of the recording by suggesting and/or dictating arrangements and instrumentation, recording techniques and effects.

Punching In and Out - Putting the recorder in record on a previously-recorded track while the tape is playing in sync playback and the singer or musician is singing or playing along is called Punching In. A feature in a multitrack recorder that lets you insert a recording of a corrected musical part into a previously recorded track by going into and out of record mode as the tape is rolling.

Session - A period of time reserved for the artist and musicians to record in the studio.

Synthesizer - A musical instrument that artificially (using oscillators) generates signals to simulate the sounds of real instruments or to create other sounds not possible with real instruments.

Take - The recording that is done between one start and the following stop of a recording device.

Track - 1) A path on magnetic tape containing a single channel of audio. A group of bytes in a digital signal (on tape, on hard disk, on compact disc, or in a data stream) that represents a single channel of audio or MIDI. Usually one track contains a performance of one musical instrument. 2) A specific song on a compiled recording (e.g. The first track of his CD opens with strings)

Or this alternate, more confusing definition:

Track - 1) One audio recording made on a portion of the width of a multitrack tape. 2) One set of control commands in a sequencer recorded in a similar manner to an audio track and often controlling one synthesizer over one MIDI channel. 3) A term with the same meaning as the term Band Track (the part of a song without the lead vocal or without the lead and background vocals). 4) A section of the magnetic surface of a disc consisting of a circular band at a fixed distance from the center.

Tracking - Recording the individual tracks of a multitrack recording.

Track Log (Track Assignment Sheet) - A sheet of paper kept with a multitrack tape which tells which instrument was recorded on each track. (Note: With the digital software sytem Pro Tools that we are using, the tracl log is kept automatically by the computer program.)

Track Signal - The signal sent to or coming back from one track of a multitrack tape recorder.

This glossary was compiled from these two sites and expanded upon by me. I'll add more terms as needed. If you want to read a complete glossary (and why would you?) check out these sites:



Monday, January 09, 2006

First Session

We had our first session on Monday, January 9th. It was really more of a production meeting. We sort of killed two birds with one stone.

I needed to make a recording of all the possible songs that will go on to the record, just me with my guitar. These are called scratch tracks, or reference tracks, so that everyone involved in this phase of the project can get familiar with the material and begin to formulate ideas - about musical arrangements, instrumentation, lyric changes, song order, and anything, any detail, that might make a difference in the overall quality and perfection of the final product (and everything does).

I was also anxious just to get into the studio and spend some time there. I wanted to get a feel for the room (where we'll be recording). I wanted to feel like I had really gotten started on the project. I wanted to get to know the engineer (who, in this case, is also the owner/operator of the studio) and wanted him to hear the songs.

So instead of singing into an old cassette recorder, I booked three hours in the studio to accomplish this first step. David came and played bass and guitar also, and the recording we got was pretty high quality, mistakes and all. Making a viable, saleable recording is all about perfection. But at this point, perfection ain't gonna happen. This is the first step toward the honing of a product as close to perfection as we can manage. No one will really ever hear this recording after we get going full steam in March. No one needs to.

The main people involved in a recording project, almost any recording project, at this stage are the producer(s), the artist(s), and the engineer(s). (If you don't know what these people do, click here for a glossary of recording terms.) Depending on, among other things, the size and scope of the project these three roles could all be filled by the same person or several people. In other words, one gifted individual (such as the Artist Who Was Formerly Known as Prince but is now called Prince again I think) could conceivably play all of the instruments, sing all of the vocal tracks, produce the record and engineer (Prince probably had an engineer). Or they could all be different people. In this case, the artist is me. I am also the co-producer with David at the helm. David is also one of the musicians. The engineer is Michael Seifert.

I've arranged to take two weeks off from work (my real job at Stone Gardens) during which we'll be in the studio pretty much every day for many hours a day. We should get the bulk of the recording done at that time. We'll start by putting down click tracks (see glossary) and then we'll do a set of reference tracks with guitar and vocals. Then we'll start laying down and layering most of the instrumental tracks, usually starting with percussion and bass. At some point closer to the end of the process we'll put down the keeper vocals. Backing vocals, overdubs and tweaks come next. Then we begin mixing. I don't know how much we'll get done in two weeks, but it should be a good chunk.

Recording is really a very tedious process. I much prefer performing. But recording is all about perfection and second (and third and fourth and fifth and sixth…) chances, neither of which occur in performance (for me). All I really want to do is share my music.