The Doctor of Mixology

I have written and recorded five tunes that are close to complete, and I have a bunch of improvs that are complete. In other words, in 2 months I have at least approached my goal of writing and recording an entire album. This is quite exciting. I have spent plenty of hours staring at the walls of my office, and many hours recording over and over to get things right.

I’ve made a few decisions. One is to bring in a drummer and a bass player. I’ve got some stuff I like in my “found objects” drum kit, but a real human playing the drums on top of that will definitely add a huge dose of “songness” to my tunes. Same goes for the bass. Some of the songs might not need it, but a bass player can embellish, bend, tweak, and add life to a song in the way a midi bass part can’t (listen to the bass part in your favorite song – the player probably almost never plays the same thing the same way twice). Usually, the drummer and the bass player in a band would interact to a high degree, so I’ll do the recording with both of them together, in the fall.

Another decision (well, it’s more of a necessity than a decision) is to hire a mixer, whom I think of as my personal Doctor of Mixology. Think of your favorite rock recordings. The drummer is probably beating the daylights out of the drums, with cymbals ringing and bass drum thumping. The bassist is pumping out low notes. The guitar is wailing, and the singer is screaming. Yet you can hear everything, clear as a bell, spread out before you left to right as if the band were right there. How do you get this? You get a mixer who knows how to produce this sound. He (not to be sexist here, but I’ve never met or heard of a woman who does this kind of work – Women of the World, please enter into this realm!) helps to find the right sound for each channel – in my case, a bunch of different horn parts, a midi drum part, a live drum part, a midi bass part, a live bass part, and a bunch of weird solo thingies. He creates a field of sound so that there is left, right, front and back. He balances everything in terms of volume and tone. He clarifies but unifies. He turns the agglomeration of tracks into a coherent and listenable recording.

His name is Mike.

We had our first session last night, more to see where we would be heading than to do any kind of final work. It’s great to hear a muddy mess get turned into a clear and ringing performance. Gives me hope for the future. Mike will also be working the controls when we go into the studio with bass and drums.

By the way, if you thought that rock recordings were made by bringing the band into a studio, placing a bunch of mics, and pushing record and play at the same time, I hate to disabuse you, but the process is much more collage-like than that. In the present case, to give one example, I would play in a line that’s the basis of the tune that is developing, then program in a bass part and a basic drum groove, then record some accompanying lines, then listen and not be satisfied with the quality of the original line, rerecord that, then rerecord the accompaniments, then diddle with the sound quality, splice in a phrase, and so on. Classical recordings use the same collage principal, but all the recording is done together by the whole group, with editing done through the manly art of splicing (all done digitally now instead of with scissors and Scotch tape). It takes 3 or 4 days to record the material for a classical disc, but months to splice it together.

Next steps for me: finish polishing up the incomplete tunes, then assess the amount of material I have (looking for 45-50 minutes, which feels not too long and not too short), create another tune or two if necessary, then record drums/bass, then heavy mixing and mastering (creating the “master disc” from which the CD is printed), then cover design, then to press, then release, then cover interview for Rolling Stone magazine.

Hopefully, the disc will come out by the end of 2014. But don’t hold me to it.

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