Wednesday, August 24, 2011

When it's time to master, just cry Wolf!!

And now, it has been mastered. Yes, the recording is 100% complete. It is done. No more changes in anything. It even has it's "ISRC". What's an ISRC you ask? Well, it's the code that goes on all commercially releases CDs that links it to all the info on the disc. The code that helps track radio play and many other things. Sort of like a digital barcode on the CD. Now, of course, before I went to mastering I had no idea what in the heck that was.

Anyway, on July 31 I drove to Arlington, VA to meet a Mr Bill Wolf at his studio to master this baby. Bill is one of the absolute best in the DC area. He has several grammy winning CDs that he has been a part of and I was excited to have him working on this project. I also brought along my trusty sound engineer, Mack McLaughlin. There were definitely some times when I was very glad to have him there. Bill sometimes asked questions that were totally in "geek speak" and I needed to have Mack there to interpret for me. Plus, they have worked together before and have great admiration for one another's work.

So, about 3:00 we got started. It began with a tour of the complex. Bill's workspace is in the confines of a much larger production company. Large kitchen/dining/entertainment area. Free coffee, espresso, etc. All kinds of goodies. Also got a new slant on the competition of politics during out little tour. This company does lot's of TV work and come election time they are cranking out the ads for clients. Sometimes there are Republicans and Democrats in the building at the same time working on their spots. They actually have to hire security in order to keep the two sides from trying to spy on what the other is producing as far as ads. Don't you just love election time?

Anyway, Bill had already listened to the final mix and wanted to know a few things up front. Primarily, what kind of dynamic range was I looking for. The recording has a very large dynamic range. Most modern recordings, jazz included have little dynamic range. The jazz may be played with dynamics, but a lot of them are taken out with compression and a flattening of the levels. Pop music has about zero dynamic range. It's all one level. And there has been this alarming trend of recording CDs hotter and hotter. Bill had a few recording magazines laying around and I read an article call "The Volume Wars". Seems the average level on a CD has increased by about 14 db over the last 10 years. That's a lot. One engineer in that article even mentioned that he no longer wanted to be listed on certain CDs by certain big acts because of how bad the sound was getting due to increased volume.

Anyway, back to my project. We decided to keep that big, full dynamic range. We made some ever, ever, ever so slight tweeks on a few of the softest tunes. Bill had a device that he called "the bootstrapper". It is so titled because he says it pulls things up by the bootstraps. It was actually designed for classical music radio stations. For anyone that has listened to classical music in the car you know that there are times when you can't hear anything unless you crank the volume all the way up. Then of course you get crushed at the loud parts. Well, this device gives a slight boost to those soft parts and recognizes a gradual increase in volume and slowly goes back to the original setting. There is still a lot of dynamic range. And you would still have to turn things up in your car. But not as much. And it sounds very natural.

Bill was very conscientious about the spacing between the tunes and the length of the applause. The three of us listened countless times to each fade of applause and the amount of silence between each track. Details one never thinks about when just listening to a CD.

So, a mere ten hours later we were finished with the whole thing. I left the studio a little after 1 am and had a one hour drive to get home. I was exhausted, but a very happy camper. Bill had great ears, a great attitude and was totally into the music. And he had a musicians perspective on it. He wasn't concerned about make it commercial or "sellable", he's concerned about making it right and good.

So, now my good friend Brian Sacawa, curator of the Mobtown Modern Concert Series is in contact with a label that we believe will want the CD. I'll keep everyone informed about if and when someone picks it up and when it will be available for purchase. And if you ever have a recording that you need mastered, just cry Wolf.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Who's Your Mack Daddy

So, after countless sessions and missed sessions, hours of listening and tweaking, wrestling with a live performance, finding and stomping on bugs, trying to edit but being unable because of the close set-up inperformance, EQ-ing, you name it, we encounteredit, we are through mixing "The Re-(w)rite Of Spring". Could we spend more time? Sure. Would that make a difference? Certainly. Would it make it better. Maybe, maybe not. But for now, we have put a fork in the mixing.

Much, much credit and many, many thanks need to be given to Mack McLaughlin for his dedication to this project. He engineered the live show. He recorded the live show and did all the mixing hinself. Sure I was there most of the time and I had input. The kind an arranger might have. Like "I need a little more of that third voice in the chord. Boost that clarinet and muted trumpet just a bit". But it was really Mack's incredible ears and knowledge that made this recording come together. How loud should the solo be? How bright should this be? How much should the rhythm section be "present" in this tune? All those things Mack knew and handled with ease.

I've known Mack for a good while now. We put in a lot of miles together travelling all over the country in a van while serving in the Army and performing with the Army Jazz Ambassadors. Well, I was performing with them. Mack was mostly unnoticed. And that's a good thing, because he was running sound. If you notice the sound man it's probably because he's not doing a very good job. And people very seldom noticed Mack. And Mack has been at this a long,long time. Check out his Facebook page and see the pictures of him travelling and playing with the family band when he was a kid. He was gigging by age 6 or 7. Some of those home converted vans/tour buses and ancient pa/mixing equipment shots will really give you a chuckle. But man, he knows what he's doing. And he knows what to listen for in the process. Something I gained just a little insight into during the many hours in the studio.

For those that think mixing is easy, think otherwise. Heck, just listen to all the really bad home projects being put out these days by people who buy Cubase and a few mics and think they now know how to operate a studio. They record poorly. They mix poorly. They EQ poorly. (And it's usually bad music to start with.)There is a whole lot of crap out there. My project will not be one of those.

Also, a few more performances are in the making. It looks like The Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra will be performing it at the Intersections Festival in DC in the early part of next year. And their is a chance The US Marine Band (The President's Own) may do it as well.

So, for now we are on to mastering. On Sunday, July 31 at 3:00 we will beging the process. The amazing Bill Wolfe in Arlington, VA will be doing that. So in a little more than 72 hours we will have a final project. Then it will be on to finding a label. Perhaps ARC with my friend Chris Burnett in Kansas City. Or perhaps someone else. Who knows. I'll certainly keep everyone up to date on that.

And who's your Mack Daddy? Why, Mack McLaughlin, of course.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Of Bob Mintzer

Calvin and Hobbes, my absolute favorite comic strip ever. Sometimes I have the wisdom and smarts of Hobbes. Other times I'm more the idiot wrecking ball that Calvin can be. Read on and you'll see.

So, I'm sitting in my hotel room in New Orleans. The JEN (Jazz Education Network) Conference here has just wrapped up. Three days of fantastic clinics, presentations and performances. This is the organization that has arisen out of the ashes of IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education).This is the 2nd conference the organization has put on and they are doing a great job. Kudos to them.

On Friday I went to hear a clinic/performance by Jeff Coffin and his Mutet. Great sounding band. And their bassist is Felix Pastorius, son of the legendary electric bassist Jaco. When I walked in the hotel meeting room there was a lot of people in there. But I decided to look for a seat up front. Lo and behold, there was a spot in the front row. And who do I sit right next to? Bob Mintzer. He was doing what most 20 somethings would be doing while waiting in a room for something to start, texting and checking e-mail on his phone. After a few minutes he looked and me and said do I know you?" I told him we had spoke for a little bit at last year's conference and that I was the one that had given him some rehearsal recordings of Rite Of Spring arranged for big band.

Now, when I gave that disc to him, I really didn't expect him to listen to it. I know that lots of people give recordings to people as well established in the business as Bob Mintzer hoping for some help or validation. I'm sure he never gets around to listening to most of them. But when I mentioned Rite he said "Oh yeah, that was some interesting stuff. That was a great idea." That felt really good. Then I thought about how I had dissed him in one of my earlier blogs. Then I wondered, what if he had actually checked out the blog? I think the materials I gave him might even have had the address for the blog. Oh man, I'm an idiot.

Bob Mintzer is one of the best tenor saxophonists in all of jazz. And he really is a very accomplished composer and arranger. Just listen to the tunes that he has written and recorded with The Yellowjackets. He has a great sense of melody, harmony and groove. And he has accomplished more than I could ever hope to do. And I just go and write all this highly opinionated and probably insulting blather. What a dweeb. So here is my conclusion:

I want to formally apologize to Bob Mintzer for saying such things. And though I will always have opinions on art of any kind, I will try to keep my personal tastes and opinions out of such public statements and offer artists like Bob Mintzer the respect they deserve.

As for the recording, we get to, and hopefully finish, the mixing this month. Hopefully mastering very soon after. Stay tuned.