Saturday, May 28, 2011

Finishing up...

So, right around July 7th, I had finished my end of the project.  I had written, arranged, recorded and mixed everything.  I had re-mixed everything, and re-recorded several parts.  I had fine-toothed-combed everything.  I might as well make it just as good as I can stand to make it.  So I did.

Then I took it to have it mastered.

I've heard it said that having a separate person master a recording is a time honored, industry revered practice.  In a nutshell, four ears are better than two.

The problem is that mastering is expensive.  $75 to $200 per hour expensive.  I didn't want to spend $1500 on mastering this project if I'm only going to be able to sell 200-300 copies.  I decided to test my social media market at this point.

I offered up pre-sale CDs and advertised on Facebook.  For awhile.  For annoyingly awhile.  I got about eight sales.  That's about $80.  I decided to master on the cheap.

I had contacted Mayfield Mastering, a Nashville mastering studio boasting clients like Dave Matthews, Britney Spears, Cece Winans, Gypsy Hombres, Laura Story, Point of Grace and Willie Nelson.  They were willing to do a one song demo, just to show what they could do.

I met with John Mayfield on July 7th.  I had sent over 'costa del alma' for them to take a listen to.  John sat down to talk to me about the song, and about their process.  He was very impressed with the recording, and was somewhat incredulous when I told him the equipment I'd used to record it (Mackie 1202 VLZ-PRO mic preamps, M-Audio D/A converters, Shure KSM 27 mic).  "Yes, it's kind of ghetto," I said, "but I've figured out how to make it work."

Studio A of Mayfield Mastering
Many studios feature $7000-9000 microphones, $2500 preamps, $3000 D/A converters.  My whole signal chain setup is $1648.  That includes the computer.  Ghetto.

John invited me into Studio A to work on the song.  It's kind of like audio heaven.  We listened to it, and discussed possible 'references,' pro-recordings that have a similar sound.  We listened to some Bela Fleck, some Earl Klugh (for the bass, i.e. Jeff Cox) and John suggested Sarah Jarosz.  I hadn't heard of her before, but now I know her.  She's a bluegrass wunderkind, an amazing musician/singer/songwriter, and a friend of Chris Thile from Nickel Creek (who I happened to meet when I was a coffee roaster, and actually roasted coffee for his wedding.  Weird.  It's a small Nashville.)  Her CD 'Follow Me Down' is an impressive work of art.  We used that quite a bit for reference.

Unfortunately, I could only afford to do the one song with Mayfield Mastering, for $150.  Fortunately, I'm friends with some pretty amazing people, among them, Rob Still.  Rob invited me over to his studio to master the rest of the project.  Using the track mastered by John, we were able to match levels with the rest of the songs, and come up with a professional sounding final product.  And I was able to bless Rob a bit on his passion and calling, as a music minister to Eastern Europe.

So at that point I had a master CD and a basic design idea.  My good friend Linda Bourdeaux, graphic designer extraordinaire, was able to turn my idea into a sharp, focused end product. After pricing digipak short runs, I realized I wouldn't be able to afford to go that route.  As much as I hated to do it, I had to go with just about the cheapest option out there, cardboard jackets.  Oh, well, the CDs sound just as good.  My wife suggested that I create this blog for extended credits and virtual liner notes.  Thanks, Julie!

I've always loved reading liner notes, and if you're still with me at this point, you do too.  I hope you've enjoyed the stories and insights.  I'd love to hear from you, too,  Just comment and I'll see what you have to say.  Hope to hear from you soon!

Rob Higginbotham