Friday, February 23, 2007

It's a Buy!

So let it be mastered, so let it be done. And done it least the audio part of it. Yesterday, Erik Wolf at Wolf Mastering midwifed a compact disc containing the finished, mastered tracks for the first Donna Beasley album, "Good Samaritan".

Long-time readers and short-time grazers of this blog may have seen mention of this phantom project for the past 18 months or so. Finally, after many delays, setbacks, sabbaticals, work, vacations, working vacations, laryngitis, nasal surgeries, outside experts, inside soul-searchings, hard-earned money, soft-earned money, prayers and is done.

Well, as done as it is going to get. They say you never really finish a mix (or an album) just give up on it. And so I did. There are things I really like and things that will always bug me, but the time had run out. I know the contents of every track on every song. I can never listen to it with an un-biased ear. I can never enjoy it like I hope all of you (and everyone you know!) will enjoy it. I suppose that is the same for any creator of music, painting, novels, etc. Underneath the beautiful exterior are flesh and bone and blood. Not necessarily unsightly things, being the very substance of the whole, but things that are not meant to be observed or noticed.

The next phase is getting all of the artwork and packaging tidied up. Donna has been working on all of that with Heather Dryden of Studio Plush, an excellent graphics design firm in Nashville. It's a tricky business making the package fit the product. Not that any artifices are being employed to make darkness light or fluff be substantial. It's just difficult balancing reality with what passes for commercially acceptable.

Does the cover photo show the artist smiling? Does that give the true representation of the music inside? Frowning? Somewhere in between? Does using a photo taken in the Fall look weird to shoppers in the middle of June? Does it color their first impression of what they are buying?

I don't know the answers to those questions, and the many others that must be answered or ignored when it comes to marketing the album. I set out to make a solid representation of the music that Donna wrote, in the time that she wrote it. I am a different person than the one who started this project. I have learned what to do and even more what not to do. My skills and abilities have grown, my experience in using a digital audio workstation has increased to the point where I almost wish we could start all over again. But we will not, because an album is a record - a snapshot of a certain time and place, and cannot be the same ever again. It would be a different record no matter how expert I get. The best thing to do is send this one out into the world, let it make friends and fans, and get picked on by critics and bullies. It speaks for itself, I hope, and it certainly speaks for me.

Funny how "bedroom recording" has come full circle. Les Paul started multi-tracking in his garage, studios grew and became giant industries, advancing technology made those "Temples of Sound" available directly to the artist again, and now we have our first effort heading to the duplication factory, and soon 1000 clones will arrive at our door when the stork/FedEx guy drops a few boxes on the porch.

Pop the champagne and light me a fine cigar.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Reflex

Well, the Reflexion Filter to be exact. The Studio Electronics Reflexion Filter is a new studio apparatus that solves or minimizes a huge problem with home studios: lack of acoustically treated space.

I have the obligatory slabs of Auralex foam on the walls of my bedroom/den/studio and I'm sure it helps keep the room under control a little, but I have basically spent the past year learning how to mix around the flaws in the room, as any glance at one of my recording-related posts would attest. Tracking vocals in the control room is not possible due to a noisy computer, so I have been hanging blankets and feather beds from mic stands in an effort to create a reflection-free zone to record vocals.

The Reflexion Filter tries a different approach. Instead of treating the walls to be less reflective (bounced-back sound waves make the recording sound boxy or distant), SE decided to make a portable treatment that goes wherever the microphone does. Instead of spending several hundred dollars to get a room under control, for $299 you can go portable.

The Reflexion filter is mainly intended for use in cutting vocals, but can be used and adapted to meet any recording demands where less room noise is desired. By adjusting the distance between the mic and the Filter, you can get varying degrees of "room", making whatever space you record in go seem larger or smaller.

I used it tonight for fiddle overdubs and backing vocals for Elizabeth Cook's new demos. Compared to an earlier session on the same song - recorded without the Reflexion Filter - you can readily notice the improvement to the vocal, both in isolation and tone. Just speaking into the center of the Filter mimics the sound of an anechoic chamber. All of your words seem to stop immediately once they leave your lips, a rather spooky and unnatural sound.

It's generally considered preferable to get the vocal recorded as "dry" as possible and then add reverb to taste. With modern digital reverb plug-ins, I can use the sampled room sounds of Abbey Road, Notre Dame or a parking garage. The latest technology of impulse response (IR) reverbs like Audioease's Altiverb allow designers to sample the characteristics of any room, space or mechanical reverb, including the legendary EMT 140 plate reverb, a sound you have heard countless times on classic recordings of the past few decades.

The unit is constructed of several strata of acoustical filters including perforated aluminum, foam, and simply air, layered in such a manner that the sound waves emanating from the source at the mic are manipulated so they reach the back wall greatly diminished and therefore are kept out of the recording.

I was fortunate to be reading a discussion of the merits of the Reflexion Filter on an audio engineering forum a couple of days ago. One guy wrote that he was selling his for $175 because he decided to treat his room instead. He lives in Brentwood, just outside of Nashville, so a few messages and a phone call later, we met in the parking lot of a local music store (!), and I became the new owner. It was still in the original box.

I'm sure to experiment more with the Relexion Filter in the future, since doing overdubs at home is something I intend to continue... you can't beat going to work in your pajamas!

Del McCoury's bobblehead approves.