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This week we put all the finishing touches on the 11 remaining tracks (down from the original 13 we were working on) and last night we finalized mixes to review over the weekend. We’ll all listen to the tracks in their (likely) final order and make sure everything sounds like it’s at the right level and tonally correct, make some final adjustments if necessary on Monday afternoon, then move on to the mastering stage on Wednesday. Mastering is the last audio step, and really sets the overall EQ and tone for the recording, as well as little details like the spaces between the songs and relative volume of each track. It’s a fairly mysterious process, really, but all I know is it always sounds a lot better after the mastering. It’s awfully easy to tell when someone has opted to skip that last step, too.
I was thrilled to have fiddle virtuoso Casey Driessen come in a record on a couple tunes on Thursday, and his parts add a whole new dimension to those songs. That dude is an amazing musician, and nice guy on top of that. I actually didn’t realize it until later that evening, but back in 2003 when Tim O’Brien’s Traveler CD came out, I must have listened to the song “Turn the Page Again” about a thousand times, and particularly the fiddle solos, thinking they were the most exquisite things I’d ever heard. And that was Casey! Crazy how things work out sometimes!
Will also came in on Friday and recorded some harmonies on a song that he had been singing in our live shows, and we sort of talked through song order and other final details. Will’s not not been in the studio for every part of the process, but I’ve been sending him versions as they progress for his feedback. He’s been a great collaborator for me. It’s nice to have someone who knows me and my music and potential who can push me and make suggestions now and then. Whether or not I act on those suggestions is another story, but I always appreciate the perspective!
I dropped review CD’s to both Will and Billy last night, and Chris has one he’s listening to over the weekend, as well. It’s turned out to be a really strong project, if I do say so myself. There’s some newgrass, there’s some electric blues/rock and some singer-songwriter stuff on there, and unless I’m mistaken that’s precisely what we play in our live shows.
The CD artwork is about finished, and we should be ready to send both the artwork and the audio files to the duplicator soon and get this thing finished up! Looks like a mid September release is more likely than late August, but that’s fine. We’re still setting up regional shows for that time frame, and we’ll just see what happens after that. Could be big!
Earlier this week I spent a couple days recording all my guitar solos, both acoustic and electric, and singing some harmony parts on a few of the songs. And although it’s frustrating at times, at least the duration of each take is only 30-40 seconds. I will admit I was surprised when Chris told me I had done 39 takes for one particular solo, though. It turned out well, but it took some doing, that’s for sure. I’m relatively new to electric guitar playing, and while I’m totally comfortable with my rhythm playing I still find the electric solo to be a daunting task at times. In a live setting you have the luxury of the energy in the room and the ability to fool around some, but in the studio it’s more like a 30 second composition that has to have body and flow and melody and direction. I’m not saying that acoustic solos don’t have to have that same recipe, but in my particular style you can just throw a lot of notes at it and usually come out on top. With the acoustic it’s generally a lot of staccato notes, too, whereas the electric has the added quality of sustain that can be used (or abused). At any rate, I put my best into it, and I think it came out fairly well. I have a long way to go, but I’m on the path. And the solos are recorded.
The vocal harmonies were no problem, really, except that some of the parts you think will be great sound like barbershop when you hear them recorded. And that’s not quite what I’m going for. Will is going to come in and record one of the harmonies he has been singing live on “The Simplest Things” in the next couple weeks. And we also have a guest artist coming in to play on 2 or 3 of the songs in a couple weeks. I’m not going to disclose any details, I assure you it will be worth the wait!
So unless something goes awry, all my parts are completely recorded for the new disc. Everything it’s going to have from me is down in the bits and the bytes. I did make the decision to stop working on one of the songs that was lagging behind a bit. I have certainly put out a few songs in the past that I wish I hadn’t. And in hindsight I had a funny feeling all along that I wasn’t comfortable with the tune or lyrics of each of those in one way or another, but left it in and forced the song onto the CD. So I decided to go ahead and honor that feeling this time and act on it. At least that way I get the opportunity to fix it and keep it for a later project and road test it live. There are also a couple more that I think will be cut just because there’s too much material and they might not fit in with the others well, but we’ll go ahead and mix and finish those and stash them away for some later use. The songs are sound, in those cases, but they just don’t seem at home on this album. As my friend Mr. Rosser says, “too many songs is a good problem to have”.
I got the first four final mixes yesterday, and Chris will be mixing the other 8 or 9 late next week. By next weekend I should be able to start putting it all together and thinking about song order and final cuts and all, in addition to the dozens of little tweaks to the sound we’ll be making before the final audio mastering is done. It’s like each song is a chapter in a book that you can’t put into perspective properly until it’s printed. I know that was the case with the last CD, and I’m sure it will be with this one, as well. As much time as you put into crafting something in minute detail, it’s true significance and nature is often only apparent when you can step back from it and look objectively, or as objectively as any artist can view their own work, and take in the bigger picture. And even though I am reaching that part where I can sort or turn a corner in my mind as far as the intense creative work is concerned, I’m still very much immersed in the details and unable to step back too far. But the glimpses I do get from time to time bode well for the final product. I think this will be the most representative recording I’ve made to date, and one I can proudly hand to anyone, anywhere and say “here’s what I do”.
That’s the real goal as far as I’m concerned, to put out a quality product that I can be proud of and stand behind. There are bajillions of details and tasks that need to be attended to in order to make a living of making music or any kind of art (and even to release this CD), but the biggest and first task is to create a quality product, with your whole heart in it. I am told that all the other stuff will line up behind that of its own accord and in just the right time. I’m looking into lots of those details now, leaning forward into the CD release time frame later this summer, but doing everything I can to stay here in the moment with the music I’m creating and producing. There’s a lot of work to be done yet, but it’s starting to come together, and take on its own life. My job, as always, is to do my part, do my homework, believe in my abilities, but also let things happen as they will and trust in the process and the outcome.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll check back in soon.
After 7 full days in the studio, today it has been time to get back to work on the day job. I’m not really too excited about it, but I’m not sure how much more of that studio time I could stand without a break either. It’s best taken in smallish bites for me.
Will and Billy finished all their parts on Monday, and although there’s a lot of work to be done on the tracks, some if it is already sounding way better than I had anticipated. That’s the good kind of surprise! Chris Rosser did a great job of directing and guiding us when we needed it, and staying out of it when we didn’t. He’ll be doing some editing and rough mixing later in the week, and then we can start working on the guest musicians and my guitar solos and harmonies and that sort of stuff. I am not sure if one or two of the tracks might get cut for various reasons yet, but we’ll see how they play out. No pun intended. One step at time.
But I can say already that this is going to be the best recording I’ve made so far. The songs are better, my performance is better, and the band sounds great. That’s what you always want, for things to improve steadily, but it’s reassuring to just do your thing like you do it without any judgement and then find that the results were not only as good as you anticipated, but a couple notches above that. I can’t wait to get it finished and share it with all of you.
My Uncle Bill is fond of saying that “it’s all about balance”, and I tend to agree with him on that. I continue to work on that balance, and finding what works for me. I think the main reason I started this blog was to work out my own feelings about work and creative endeavors and finding balance between them. I can definitively say that I’m not there yet, but I’m still trying. I have this dream of playing music for a comfortable living, but not only am I not sure how to get there from here, I’m not sure exactly what it will look like when I get there or whether I’ll like all that goes along with that, either. Time will tell, and I am sure about that. I don’t know why I feel like it’s already a done deal that I’m going to get the chance to see what that kind of success with my music will feel like, but I do, and I have for a while. I don’t know when that will be, but I will do my best to be ready when it is.
So like I always do when I get overwhelmed with how to forge ahead on an unseen path, I break it down to the simplicity of the “next right thing”. Do the thing that’s right in front of you, I say. It’s usually something very simple. Tonight my list included doing some bookwork for the business, emailing a couple prospective venues about booking me and the band, sitting down and writing a post to keep in touch with you folks, get some exercise, and rest up so I can work another long day tomorrow. I’m only about 80% done with that list, but I feel a lot better already.
As I sit here in my beautiful office this evening with Doc Watson on shuffle, I am reminded of how blessed I am. Not that long ago things were quite different, and I am truly grateful for the life I have today. I joke a lot about the “first world problems” meme, but it’s fairly accurate for the majority of my complaints (and the ones I hear around me). I have a roof over my head, a family to share my life with, good health, food in the fridge, a job that pays the bills, and the opportunity to play music for my friends from time to time. I think there are a lot of people who would love to have that list apply to them. And I’m one of them.
So let’s all have a grateful rest of the week, why don’t we?