10 March 2006

noises' first top five list

some of the things that recording at home has taught me about myself:

1. (and probably first and foremost):

nothing motivates me like a deadline.

i'm sure that i'm not the only person of which this could be said...knowing something absolutely, positively, has to be done on a certain day has a way of lighting a fire under all of us. i've seen this manifested twice here in just the past month or so, in terms of trying to finish things for people or for events. it's maddening, but it definitely gets results.

what exactly is it that i did, you might ask?

well, i had resigned myself to not having anything of substance to sell at the show last month...but i decided to do some actual detective work, and found that there are options out there that i hadn't considered that could actually put discs and t-shirts in my hands in time for the show.

pertinent to this particular discussion is dean sciarra of it's about music and his assistant, fern brodkin. one of the services they offer is called CD On Demand - since they do their own manufacturing, this allows you to upload artwork and completed masters and get finished, manufactured CD's back in, oh, twenty minutes or so.

alright...it's not that quick, but they're pretty damned fast.

to me, this is just phenomenal...when you consider how long this used to take. i don't know if i ever shared any of the horror stories related to the artwork on our mutual angels or not, but they were legion....hiring hacks to do it initially, who screwed it up so bad that i had to hire someone else after the fact to completely redesign the artwork from the ground up and drive the film to oasis in virginia in order to get the discs done in time for the CD release party.

this time, as fate would have it, it's the other way around...i'm actually finished with the artwork first, and i'm still working on getting the final master ready for the duplicator, and the discs will be ready less than 24 hours after he takes delivery of the master.

things sure have changed in the time since i went through this the last time.

but, to get back to my point - i could've had these songs finished, ready for mixing...i could've taken my time and gotten them closer to actual release quality...if i'd been as motivated a few months ago as i've been forced to be. and the reality of this situation is that the concept for noises was pretty vague up until quite recently. still, once the idea of having to be finished by thursday was implanted in my head, i worked like a friggin' madman to finish this thing.

so, to recap....for me, deadlines=flurry of feverish activity.

2. i have infinite patience for multiple takes, but no patience for comping.

...which is to say, i'll do it over and over again until i get it right, but i can't be bothered to keep any of the other takes and "comp" them later, except under very specific circumstances. i think this is the result of scar tissue that i accumulated working on my first album, which was comp central - but then steve had infinite patience for that stuff. he'd listen to the same line of a song eight times, sung the same way eight times, and would swear that he could tell a slight difference between one and the other. i don't know if it's that he truly heard things i didn't, or if he was just listening harder...or if perhaps some other factor might've crept in. but for my particular way of working, i just find that i'm much better off in the long run punching in and out if need be to get the one perfect take and leaving it at that. that way, i know that the track marked "vocal" is just that...not vocal one, vocal two, vocal with good chorus, vocal with mucous...none o' that. just one solid vocal and that's it.

every time i go to mix, i thank myself for that.

3. physical fatigue is the studio equivalent of beer goggles.

when i get tired, things start to sound good. reeeall good. so good, in fact, that i can't think of anything else that i could possibly do to this song to improve on it, so it's ok to go to bed now.

except it's never as "okay" as i remember it being when i come back to it with some energy and a fresh set of ears.

what that tells me is that my standards seem to be inextricably linked to my physical stamina. so that should be easy enough to avoid, if i only work when i've had sufficient rest and plenty of time to delve into whatever i'm working on, right?

well, if you know anything about my life, you know how often those conditions exist. which means that i'll just have to try and be as sensitive to the impending auditory beer goggles as i can and know when to call it a day.

4. do not EQ to taste during mixing.

when i finished assembling the songs for the first volume of noises, i took my burned CD to my bass player tony's house, and we put them up on his stereo and listened to the first track. tony listened intently for a minute or so, and then looked at me and said, "it's boomy."

now this was after i'd listened to it through two different sets of speakers in the studio, on two different boom boxes, and in the car. it sounded different everywhere i listened to it, but i had tried to mix it as neutrally as i could. i knew that i hated the way it sounded in the car, and i was already all set to go and make some improvements before i turned it in...and tony's observation sealed the deal. so i stayed up and remixed the full band arrangements and pulled up the solo acoustic songs in audition and compressed the mixed version of the song and used the same threshold for everything...and i have to say, it was a lot better than it had been the first pass.

so i took it to dean, the head of my label, so he could listen to it before we went to press with it.

"that's real boomy", he said.

well, after my eyes rolled back to their normal forward positions, i listened as he imported the audio into his computer and began working on it...and it wasn't long until i realized what my rookie mistake had been. the sad thing is that i totally know better and yet i did it anyway.

instead of aiming for a truly neutral EQ curve, i went for a truly neutral EQ curve that reflected my own personal preferences, in terms of balance. for instance, i'm a big fan of that stephen stills bass sound that you hear on the first CSN album, and that's ultimately what ends up on tape when i play bass on something. that's not, however, necessarily how it's represented in the mix. i played bass on "on a stone" on the blake allen record, and it doesn't sound like that in the final mix, although it sure as hell did in some of the preliminary mixes...

so i have to be a lot more diligent about making neutrality the focus of my EQ curves while i'm mixing. it'll save a lot of heartache later.

5. the more i learn, the less i know.


for every cool tip or trick that i figure out, i become aware that there a a few hundred that it opens the door for.

i don't think that syndrome ever goes away...and it's probably a good thing.

because - after all, what happens to you once you've got it all figured out?


At 3/11/2006 11:30 AM, Anonymous Blake Allen said...


I have several thoughts on this subject, but I just can’t tell which ones are the best, so I’ll just sort of put all of the best parts together to try to express my thoughts… You’re right about punching and making it right on one track, but if you happen to have an extra year to record, you can actually end up with some really cool stuff to use, especially in the age of Pro-Tools… Remember when I nagged you to do those extra High lap steel notes on Executioner so we could use them in the mix? I’ll bet you soil yourself every time you hear those little buggars But yes, in the spirit of actually finishing things, you are quite correct to fix and move on… Even if you comp, you probably use no more than 30% of all the extra tracks…. Robert Johnson did it right.



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