In the studio

July 23, 2011

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but—we’ve been in the studio!! I’m working with the divine Lara Weaver and the living GOD Chip Reardin on take after take of Kaia’s forthcoming CD. At this point, it looks like we’ll have 22 tracks. And I am loving it. I feel like I finally know why I have ears!

It has long been a joke in Kaia that I have dog hearing, since I have a really good ear and can ferret out all kinds of tuning issues. Now I feel like I finally get it. This sound engineering is great stuff.

We start with rough takes—from 1 to 16—of a single song. Those are painful to listen to because the sound is absolutely naked. There’s no mixing going on, so I can hear each individual voice without any blend. We sound awful. 🙂

I listen to each take multiple times to pick the best one overall. Then I go back in and start dissecting the chosen take. If we have a sloppy entrance or exit (we have lots of sloppy exits, it’s embarrassing), I note that. If there’s a note that’s not quite in tune, another note. Notes for people who take breaths when they’re not supposed to or who forget the words. (I actually sang the wrong word in a piece that I wrote! How pathetic is that?) Suffice it to say, my notes are extensive. (They are also very small. I don’t know why, but I’m allocating very little space for them and my handwriting is cramped and teeny. But for the most part I can decipher it.)

We often have the option of grabbing a section from another take and punching it into the main take, but there’s also a lot of bleed-through on the sound. Since we all recorded in the same room (with a couple exceptions), the mikes picked up ambient sound as well as each voice. So sometimes we can’t punch something in because the ambient sound doesn’t match.

Lara is celebrating her tenth wedding anniversary in Kauai, so I’ve been working a lot with Chip directly. My goal is to get all the songs to a “penultimate mix” stage by the time she’s ready. Then she’ll just be focused on hopefully minor notes so the polishing phase can be quick.

Mixing: We go through my notes and Chip does absolute magic to make us sound fabulous. He adds reverb so our sound fills out and gets warmer. He mixes the voices so the melody comes forward and the harmony goes back. Then I take that home and dissect it some more. I run through each song about 4 times before declaring it ready for Lara.

We’re also sharing tracks with other creative directors, like with Angela for Kaiababies and Jane for Ergen Deda. It’s great to get their input, since they have a whole different set of expectations and they hear things very differently.

It is so much fun to go through all this stuff, even if it is super time-intensive. We’re heading towards 4 hours per track, and I’m sure that will go higher once Lara’s back. One good thing: I’m certainly learning the road back and forth to Airtime Studios (Krista Detor’s and Dave Weber’s house)! It’s north of the city and requires some quick reflexes for the twisty turns. But if I ever go back for parties, I will at least know how to get there this time!

The downside of all of this for Kaia is that I’m taking extensive performance notes for us and I will be even more nit-picky than ever when we return to our regular rehearsal schedule! But I know everyone will be up for the challenge. We want to do more performing this fall and we want everything to be taken up a notch.

So—that’s my life right now. Time for me to go listen to the latest set of mixes!