Back to Bass-ics, Tuning and Mixing
On Saturday night, I headed down to Spartanburg to catch the Amtrak back to D.C., and, well… here’s to the trains I missed. (ba-dum-bum-tschhh)
The good news about being here in Asheville for a couple of extra days is that the weather was incredible yesterday, and I was able to take a drive through Pisgah National Forest and mosey around Brevard, NC before heading back to Asheville and catching some live music at MoDaddy’s – Travers Chandler and Avery County along with Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen! Oh, and I get to hang out in the studio another day – also good!!
We’re back at Crossroads today for the first day of tuning and mixing. Van Atkins, the Chief Engineer here, is doing the mixing and mastering for the record. The morning started off with the final vocal tracking session. Robert Greer, the lead singer from Town Mountain, came in to sing baritone vocals for Lookout Mountain, written by his bandmate Phil Barker and Steep Canyon’s Charles Humphrey III. Once the vocals were done this morning, Van imported all of the audio files into a program called Melodyne, a vocal polishing editor. It allows Van to correct any imperfections, reduce or enhance vibrato, make notes shorter or longer, etc. The tuning process has gone quite quickly thus far. Sav’s approach to the tuning process today has been only to fix what’s totally ‘out’, which hasn’t been a whole lot. He wants the vocals to sound as close to what came out of the singers’ mouths as possible (I really wanted Van to take a long lunch break so I could get creative with the software’s autotune functions… haha. An eventual Back to Bass-ics dance remix? Yes, please.).
Generally, today would be focusing on vocal phrasing as well as vocal tuning – making sure that all of the harmony and lead vocals match up with each other, coming in and cutting off at the same time. We’ve only needed to look at phrasing on Robert’s vocals today – Scott was very cognizant of phrasing while we were tracking vocals and Van hasn’t needed to tweak things much, if at all, today. Once the vocal tuning portion is done, Van will go through each of the instrumental tracks and clean up any mistakes. After being present for vocal tuning today, I’m thinking that Sav will likely want to make minimal changes there, as well. Just take out any unnecessary noises that can be isolated such as breaths or string squeaks. Then the actual mixing process will start, and they’ll EQ each of the audio tracks so that each instrument has the sound they want – adjusting the volume of certain frequencies within each instrument so that the instrument sounds its best. They’ll also adjust the volume levels on each of the instruments and vocal parts so that the overall sound is balanced. They’ll add in any effects they’d like (such as reverb), and manipulate the panoramic position of the sounds. While it sounds easy (it’s just pushing buttons, right?), it’s a tedious process. I’ve seen firsthand over the last week that there’s not a single millisecond of an album that isn’t carefully listened to at least 20 or thirty times. That may sound hyperbolic, but I think I’m probably underestimating. Between listening and re-listening to different takes during the instrumental tracking, and again in the vocal tracking, and listening to rough mixes each day after leaving the studio, I feel as though we’ve heard each note of this album a few hundred times. There are a few hundred listens left before they’re done mixing. There’s certainly a creative and a technical aspect to each step of the process of making an album, and while the mixing process seems intensely technical, it has a hugely creative component – it’s definitely an art form in and of itself.
Once mixing is done, the album will then be mastered. The ‘master’ is the copy of the recordings from which all of the duplications will be made. The songs will go through a final edit (more listening!), the songs will be put in order with the proper spaces between the tracks, any track metadata will be added (publishing information such as the ISRCs, track numbers, artist, album and song title information) and the songs will go through another EQ process. The EQ process in mastering, however, isn’t looking at the specific audio components of each song, but looking at the whole song itself and adjusting the EQ of the entire segment (much like you can adjust the treble and bass on your car stereo). They’ll process the sound so that it sounds the best for its medium (for example, audio going to vinyl would have a different EQ than audio going to digital format) and the audio files will be compressed (so that each song is around the same overall volume level as the others). The audio is then transferred to its final format. SHA-BAM! Album.
Oohhhh, if only. There’s still more! Making sure all of the legalities of publishing are squared away, shopping the album to a label (if it hasn’t been recorded under a label contract and the artist doesn’t want to self release), album artwork, photos, radio, web and media promotion, manufacturing. And the liner notes. My favorite part.
Previous posts about Back to Bass-ics:
Full gallery of photos from the trip: Go Here