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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A New Way of Listening

So yes, we are coming down the home stretch on our new record.  Not done yet, but getting there.  The mixing is done, and we are mastering tracks now.  11 new songs from Whitewolfsonicprincess recorded in a real deal Chicago recording studio.  We actually started this project last November.  So it's almost a year of work.

And that doesn't count the time to write and rehearse the songs with the band before we even set foot in the studio.  Why so long?  This has been a weird process, but one that has worked out really well.

We originally tracked 14 songs in one intense afternoon, and then tracked vocals, extra guitars, violin and sax in a handful of other sessions afterwards.  Then it was the long slog of mixing the songs.  We did that in weekly sessions, a couple hours here and there, week by week.  This allowed us to mix and then to live with the results, to listen to the mixes on different stereo systems - iPod, car stereo, home stereo, friend's home stereo and then make adjustments and tweaks as needed.

By the way, I now think of the mixing process as "sculpting the sound."  It is so much more than setting levels.  I guess it's similar to the editing process in film.  It is where what you hear (or see) is realized.  And everything counts. 

As they say, "the more you listen, the more you hear."  We really stuck to the task.  It tried our patience sometimes, but I think the results will be worth it.  Which means what?  The most fully realized creative project I have ever participated in.  We wanted to give these songs a chance.  We wanted to have a record of our superb band, and we lucked into working with a few outstanding guest musicians who added some remarkable performances.

Turns out some of the songs that we didn't think would make the final cut, actually turned out to be some of our favorites, and some that we were sure needed to be on the album, didn't actually make it.  Two songs that I that were "toss offs" turned out to be stunningly good; free and swinging.  Somehow our band just caught the vibe.

I had no idea the level of commitment all this would take.  Going in we had no clue how intense and all consuming the mixing process would be; the million little decisions that would turn out to be critical to what we ended up with.  We lucked out to be able to work with a Recording Engineer with over 40 years of experience tracking music. 

The Recording Engineer really served as another "Producer" on the project.  So there were three sets of ears making millions of little tiny decisions in the moment.  And all those little decisions added up to big things.  There is a science of sound, and we relied on the Engineer to understand the science, but then, how that knowledge is applied is certainly an "art." We never had any major disagreements.  We all learned to trust each other.  We all listened and heard different things.  We all made critical "catches" that certainly improved the final versions. 

This thing probably won't be released until 2012. Once we finish mastering, we need to work on the packaging.  Hope the Mayans were wrong about the end-times.  Hope people still buy and listen to music in 2012!

I have recently been reading books about recording sessions.  Two of my favorites are part of the 33 1/3 series: Exile on Main Street and Loveless.  These albums are legendary, and the stories of how they were recorded, and all that that entailed is extraordinary.  We haven't had the drama of trauma of those sessions, but we have paid our dues trying to create something beautiful, powerful and extraordinary.

Not sure if we got there, I'm certainly too close to it all.  But like I said, it is certainly the most fully realized project I've ever had the chance to work on.  It has been an amazing journey and I think it's it's made me a better musician and a better listener.  I don't hear music the same way.  My ear has been sensitized!  I hear more.  Music for me is more articulated, more detailed, more dynamic and alive.  

It's a new way of listening and hearing for me.  I like it.

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