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.

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