Thursday, August 28, 2008

Session 9: Beginnings, Endings, Mileposts

Tuesday, August 19, was our last in-studio work with Mandala Music. We had already gone through multiple listenings, tightenings, and revisings. This was to be our last night to get out the ratchet-head wrenches and screwdrivers and tighten everything down – or would that be “tighten everything up?” We started the session an hour later than scheduled, and with a bit of trepidation. Our mini-drought was over and the rains were upon us. Bearing in mind the difficulties of recording during adverse weather conditions, we were more than aware that August 30th – our target date to have acquired the much-sought-after Gold Master – was fast approaching. We were comforted by Bett telling us that the leaks are in the recording portion, but not the engineering portion of the studio.

There were two notable changes on the evening. First was the temperature. At 79 degrees, it was 20 degrees cooler than our usual drive-time temperature for these sessions. The other change was that we brought no musical instruments with us. Recording was essentially over. It was mixing and mastering time now. Our job in the studio was to listen, discuss, and communicate suggestions to Joël in an effort to get just the sound we wanted. Over the next 2½ hours, we reviewed the most recent versions of all 13 of the songs we worked on at Mandala. Concerned as we are with all things vocal, most of our comments dealt with the mix of voices with voices, and voices with guitars. For each song it was, “Can you bring up this track here?” and “Can you adjust this vocal track so that it blends better with this one?” By this time, though, most of the major stuff was over. As usual, the notes that we took on previous versions and that we had communicated to Joël in advance, kept our studio time down. By 9:30 we had all done our best, and were heading out the door into San Antonio’s latest light show.

Joël and Bett had said they’d provide a pre-master mix for us to peruse early the next week. For those of you who haven’t been through this process, “mixing” is the art of taking all the individual tracks of a particular song, and putting them together with the right blend of instruments and voices. A well-mixed song won’t have any instrument buried under a vocalist, nor will it have a vocal harmony track over-driving a vocal melody track. In addition to his technical skills, the producer needs to use his ear to detect any flaws. Being a jazz musician by trade, Joël’s ear is excellent. Being married to a singer, Joël’s concern about vocal quality is also second nature. This makes mixing an art and a science. Joël preferred that he do this without an audience, and we concurred.

Mastering a song is a different matter. The process is far too technical for me to even pretend to keep track of, but the result is that the pointy bits get smoother, the extreme highs and lows get mellowed, and the instrumentation and vocals each get emphasized but not at the expense of the other. The two modifiers I heard most were “sweetening” and “fattening” – as in “the guitars will be fatter” and “we’ll sweeten the vocal mix.”

As it turned out, Joël went ahead and provided us a mastered copy on Wednesday the 27th. I made copies and we all listened. We agreed with Joël that there needed to be one final tweaking of “Crazy Love,” and we did this over the phone from Steve and Kathy’s house, just before we familiarized ourselves with the songs we’ll be playing at Beto’s on Friday evening. Once we get a call from Bett that the “Gold Master” is ready, we’ll pick it up in the usual “kidnap ransom” manner, and that will mark the end of our association with Bett and Joël and Mandala Music. It’s been quite a ride, and we’ve really gotten to like and admire the talents of these two folks. What next?

Well, Core Media Inc. begins their contribution to our CD. They get the final master from Mandala, press it, and put it together with the cover and insert art and verbiage package … . Um … er … what? You mean I’ve been doing this diary all this time and I never mentioned the LOOK of the CD? Well, if that’s the case, it is beyond time to introduce Nikki Young and PrimaDonna Productions.

Kathy, Mary Lou, and I know Nikki from our theatrical exploits and, most recently, through her association with the Texas Music Coalition (TMC). Nikki has been helpful to us almost from the start of the group – from making friendly suggestions to developing our promotional packaging. We decided early on that PrimaDonna was the best company to handle not only the look of our CD, but also the promotion of it. While all of the recording was going on over at Mandala, Chadd and Lee worked on graphics, art, and content, while Nikki made connections through TMC to find us a venue for our CD release party, and avenues for us to promote the CD. As is the case with Mandala, we’re down to the last few details with PrimaDonna. Once we’ve got everything properly attributed, once all the lyrics are correct and the thank-you section is to our liking, once the art is exactly right, they also pass along their product to Core Media.

As for Core Media, we were pleased to discover that we had a production company right here in San Antonio. This allows us to pick up product at the source rather than having stuff shipped to us. These are also local guys and gals who, like us, are TMC members. We’re very pleased that every individual who contributed to this CD belong to this organization.

Meanwhile? Well, we keep playing. We need to. Cutting a CD to our exacting standards is expensive. It has basically taken every penny we’ve earned as a group – that hadn’t already been spent on equipment upgrades – to finance this endeavor. While Core Media combine the contributions of Mandala Music, PrimaDonna Productions and, of course, The Tim and Bob Show, we keep doing what we do. We can’t announce the date and venue of the CD release party – not all t’s have been crossed – but we’re looking at mid-October. I can tell you that the party will also be a fundraiser for Pet Pals of Texas, one of our favorite charities, and that people who attend that function will get a two-dollar [never-to-be-repeated] discount on CDs purchased. I can also tell you that the CD will go on general release the next day. All the band members will provide their mailing lists the link to order the CD on line, as well as the iTunes information for those of you who don’t care how beautiful our cover is!

So, the “beginning” in the title refers to the work Core Media will do over the next month or so. The “ending” deals with the culmination of the much-appreciated efforts of Mandala Music and PrimaDonna Productions. The “milepost?” Well, Wednesday, August 27, is the third anniversary of our first paid gig as The Tim and Bob Show, at Fralo’s Art of Pizza in Leon Springs. We had barely 30 songs in what we laughingly called “our repertoire” – we’ve over 160 songs now – and Steve and I hadn’t even discussed the possibility of writing a song together. We only got the gig because Kathy decided that we needed to stop TALKING about playing in public and actually DOING IT. Since that time, we’ve played over 100 gigs all over South Texas and, venues and audiences willing, we’ll be doing it for a long time to come.

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