Scratch and Dent Sale: Twas the night before recording
Well now... here we are: the night before Day one of recording. My band, Blinding Flashes of Light, and I are about to start making a new record. We're loading in tonight to get tones and levels, and then we'll start recording songs tomorrow morning... recording basic tracks (drums, bass, rhythm guitar, keys). There's a cold front moving into the area, after a strangely warm, mid-November fluke. I don't see this as a coincidence. We're getting back to what I like to call "band weather" -- crisp fall days and windy, cold nights. Late fall is the perfect time for making a new record. Yup. The timing is impeccable.
Records are funny things. When you go to a music store or a show and buy a CD, (or a download) that little plastic disc (or MP3) you hold in your hands is the end result of an appalling amount of thought, work, stress, tears, booze, fights, beauty, ugly moments, inexplicably blissful moments.
In some ways, it's a shame that people don't get a chance to see the process behind a record (or at least, the more interesting parts of the process). It mostly contains long periods of boredom, wondering and waiting, which get interrupted occasionally by actual work. And the work is occasionally interrupted and guided by mysterious things that you usually don't fully understand at the time. I think that's one of the secrets to making a record: learning how to survive the logistics while staying open and ready for inspiration at each step. And there are a lot of steps. Here's a partial list:
- 1. Write a bunch of songs. Indulge in your fantasy to create a new and different sound.
2. Fall in love with each song as you write it.
3. Start doubting the songs... Grow ambivalent. Fall out of love.
4. Work on making the songs better... edit.
5. Play some shows.
6. Write more.
7. Start thinking "Maybe there's a record in this pile somewhere?".
8. Play some shows.
9. Write more.
10. Edit more.
11. Start to hate your voice. Then start to hate your lyrics. Then think about moving to a little town in Maine to learn furniture making. Then play a show and fall back in love with the whole process again.
12. Start rehearsing the songs with your band who are hopefully amazing musicians, and good people. (Getting a great band together is another topic ENTIRELY... It's tricky work.)
13. Work on the arrangement for each song. Try different approaches.
14. Start picking sounds and instruments for each song.
15. Edit more.
16. Start getting a sense for an overall sound for the project, for the record. Start thinking about what the whole record might mean... might sound like.
17. Start a list of ridiculously bad names for the record. Examples: The Forkling, Good To Be Bored, The Solenoid Canticles and Greatest Hits: Volume None
18. Choose the musicians to play on the record... Hopefully, these are people in your band. If not, I'm sorry.
19. Start talking to a lot of people about studios, gear, engineers, producers, producing, the recording process...
20. Realize that this is going to cost more money than you have.
21. Renew your subscription to TapeOp.
22. Start falling in love with that $6,000 preamp and that $7,000 mic. Seriously consider putting them both on a credit card.
23. Remember that great albums come mostly from great songs played by great musicians having a great conversation with each other.
24. Make an actual plan for recording the record... Pick a studio. Pick an engineer. Figure out how much it's going to cost. Haggle, borrow, beg, steal and make promises you will likely never keep.
25. Write some more. Edit some more. Arrange some more. Orchestrate some more. Rehearse some more. Argue some more. Lose your drummer. Find a new drummer.
26. Play some shows.
27. Finally get to the studio. It's actually time to record!
28. Get tones.
29. Tune the drums. Tune your guitar. Tune it again. Realize the neck of the bass will never have the right intonation.
30. Check the vibe in the room -- hopefully it doesn't feel like self-surgery. Hopefully it feels like rehearsal. If not, I'm sorry.
31. Try to turn your brain off and just play the music. Hopefully, you'll capture great performances of your (hopefully) great songs. Hopefully the tones are incredible. Hopefully the engineer knows what he's doing. Hopefully it feels good. Hopefully you're backing up the hard drive.
32. Do overdubs.
33. Begin doubting the entire project, the songs, the lyrics, the tones, the performances, your value as a human being and the future of the human race.
34. Write a bad song. Play a great show.
35. Pick someone and some place to mix your new record. Hopefully they're really, really good. If not, I'm sorry.
36. Mix the record. Torture your mixing engineer with "your process". Turn the mixing engineer into a therapist. You will both secretly hate each other. This is normal.
37. Try and remember that even the best mixing engineer will never, ever, ever save a bad song.
38. Pay an appalling amount of money for the dark art of "mastering". Yes. I said pay it. Hopefully they'll do a good job. Try to get out of the way. You don't know anything about this. Try not to ask "Can it be louder?" more than 17 times.
39. Dick around with cover art. Agonize over the album name. Pay your graphic design friend to design the record and figure out those inscrutable templates that the CD manufacturing company uses.
40. Pick a CD manufacturer. Realize that you will now have to sell these fucking plastic discs... for the rest of your life. Try and ignore the fact that your basement is filled with copies of your last record.
41. Schedule your whiz bang CD release show. Indulge in delusions of grandeur and rock stardom. Congratulations. You made a record.
42. Release the record.
43. Go through an embarrassingly deep case of postpartum depression.
44. Secretly listen to your new record 13 times a day for two weeks solid while acting like "that phase of my art is done".
45. Begin to hate your record.
46. Go back to Step 1 and start all over again.
I've often wished there was some way to convey the story behind a record. Or at least try to. So that's what this is: my attempt to document *some* of the energy and work and inspiration and love that goes in to making a record. I'm can't promise it's going to be exciting to read... but it'll be honest and hopefully a little interesting to some.