Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Post-Production

August 31, 2010

So, why isn’t the CD out already, you may ask? Because there’s still some more stuff to do!

Although I left Toronto with a single CD of the recording burning a hole in my hand, it’s not quite finished yet. Since we got home, I’ve been listening to the songs we mixed, listening for things that stick out, or aren’t there enough. Listening for things in the mix that might be improved.  Paul has been doing that, too, and today he sent 5 remixes that he’s done, for my comments.  All of them sound better now.

We’ve also been working on the album artwork. Over the years, I’ve had emails from people who have the CDs, but don’t know that all the lyrics are inside.  They just think that bit of paper with the album cover on it is just the the cover!  But: if you slip the booklet out of the sleeve, you’ll find a lot of things inside! I put all my lyrics in there, so you can sing along with the CD.  I also include as much of the stories behind the songs as I can – there is limited space, but we can always fit some of the stories there.  We’re working on which images we’ll use to illustrate the songs – I’m thrilled that Esther Bryan has sent us a picture of the Quilt of Belonging for us to use.  I’m tracking down a picture (actually, a stereograph…) of the Coffee Tree Quilt for the song “Martha”.  And Claudia Crump in Panguitch Utah has made a lovely quilt illustrating the Panguitch Quilt Walk, which I hope we can use.

Paul has found a picture of a laundry chute with a piece of fabric sticking out (I’m not telling you which song that’s for – you’ll have to wait!).  He’s designing the booklet with a textured background for each page, like a piece of cloth. It’s looking beautiful.  When he’s finished laying everything out, we’ll proofread it to death (there’ll still be a typo or two – there ALWAYS are!), and decide on what we want on the CD itself, on the outside of the package, and on the inside.

I have already started the process to obtain permissions from the publishing companies to record the two songs I didn’t write: one by Frank Loesser (The Sewing Machine) and one by Hal David and Leon Carr (Little Crazy Quilt).  There’s a company here in Canada that handles that for us artists: CMRRA.  I’ve never dealt with them before, since I usually contact the writer of the songs directly, so that’s a bit new for me.

Last year John and I decided to re-do all the artwork for the quilting CDs so there is no plastic involved.  It’s our way of keeping our plastic consumption down – where will all that plastic go, in the end? We’re planning to do the same on this album.  There are other benefits of getting rid of the jewel cases: it’s a lot lighter to ship, and there are fewer breakages in the mail.  All good reasons to switch over.  We actually get one EXTRA panel to fill when we do this, and that means more photographs for you to enjoy.

Once we’ve checked everything eighteen times, decided on colours of borders and CD printing, laid out all the lyrics, thank yous, and credits on the CD booklet template (that’s Paul’s job), then we’ll send it off to be manufactured.  It’s usually about a 3-week process plus shipping before the boxes arrive on my doorstep.  They will be here in time for our October tour to California, but not in time for the quilting cruise to Alaska in a couple of weeks. 

Oh – I’d better start practicing the new songs for that, too.  Just because I’ve recorded them, it doesn’t mean that I KNOW them yet for performance! 

So, that’s what I’m doing these days!  And I’m cutting kits for the classes I’ll be teaching on the cruise to Alaska on September 11th.  I really want to get the CD in for manufacturing before we leave.

It’s feeling like autumn here in Victoria. That always gives me an extra bit of energy.

Do you want to see the album cover? Here it is!

Day thirteen, and it’s done!

August 26, 2010
Yesterday was day 13 in this wonderful process – the happiest and the saddest day all at once.  Happiest, because we got all the tracks mixed and they sound fantastic.  Saddest, because 5 minutes after Paul made me a CD of all our work, John and I left to drive to the airport to come home.  It’s over.  I love the process of making a CD, and wish I could do it more often. I love the camaraderie, the intense listening and learning, the performing, working with wonderful musicians, and hanging out with Santa Claus.

Oh, I didn’t tell you: Paul has been mistaken for Santa Claus on occasion! 

During the mixing, he gently mentioned that there is only one picture of him in this blog (and that is when he’s adjusting the microphone for Bob De Angelis). I am about to rectify this situation.  I sure don’t want him to feel left out, because, in his role as Producer,  he’s at the centre of this, and every one of the last 3 CDs. It’s his vision of what my music (and I) should sound like that creates what you hear.  To accomplish his vision, he helps me “massage” my songs (ie suggesting new chords, pointing out lyrics that don’t make sense, or don’t scan), adds guitar/banjo/mandolin/ukulele/percussion tracks, tells me to sing quieter, suggests to all the musicians what parts to play, writes the charts, arranges the string section, tells a joke, makes lunch, sets up the microphones and the recording console, hits the right buttons at the right time, gives a compliment, encourages, decides on whether there’s time to do one more track, creates solo tracks from many attempts, and figures out how to get everything mixed before we have to catch a plane.  And that’s not the half of it: we’re going to be listening to what we’ve done over the next few days to make sure the mixes are right. Then Paul will spend a day or two mastering the CD so it sounds just as good as any other CD in the world, at the same time as he will be designing the artwork for the project.  Yesterday he took pictures in the back garden of John and I (which you’ll see on the CD), plus a few of the finished crazy quilt I’ve been working on as we recorded. How would you like to have a job like this?

AND – once this project has been “put to bed”, we’re talking about continuing to work together on a songbook.  Oh, there are lots more things to do!

Okay, so who is this guy?  Here’ are some pictures of Paul (and his alias, Curly Boy Stubbs, when he’s playing an instrument) in action:

Curly Boy Stubbs on guitar

CBS on mandolin, playing on "Treat It Right"

Going a little crazy on banjo (that'll happen!)

Multi-tasking on percussion

Me and Santa - er, Paul - all finished!

Thanks, Paul, for the great time.  Looking forward to working with you again.

If you would like to learn more about The Millstream and their services, here’s the website:  http://www.themillstream.com/.

Day Eleven: Vocal harmonies and starting to Mix!

August 24, 2010

Harmonies are a delicate thing.  You’re asked to sing a part, maybe not the part you’ve been practicing for years, perfectly in tune and exactly in time with the lead singer, who might have a totally different style than you do. Then, the producer changes a note or two again, and expects you to sing it perfectly – in tune and in time, but with this new note (or two). The consonants have to happen together, the volume too.  Gruelling.  AND you don’t get any of the glory….  We added Mary Simpson this morning, a long-time friend of mine, with whom I used to sing in Ottawa.  In fact, she was on my very first recording, way back in 1985! She did a lovely job, adding some harmonies on Buzzing at the Bee, Panguitch and Quilt of Belonging.  She was done by 12:30.

Mary Simpson

Then it was John’s turn: just because he finished his lead vocal on “Two Peas in a Pod” on Friday, doesn’t mean he was finished.  He has harmonies on Panguitch, Duncan’s Cove, Dance Beneath the Moon and Treat it Right. I added a couple more things – kazoo on Buzzing at the Bee (of course!!) and another harmony on Treat it Right.

John having fun at the microphone.

At 3:30 we started mixing. If we didn’t, I think you’d get cross with us. There would be this cacophony of sound without focus, everybody playing at the same time at the same volume.  It would sound like a live show, without the visuals. You wouldn’t know who to look at!

I talked a bit about the mixing process last night, but I’ll tell you what Paul was doing today.  Each track (each separate microphone that we used to record) has a different instrument on it.  One, for example, is the snare drum.  Paul has an equalization capability on each track, and uses it to boost or diminish various parts of the sound to make it sound better, or fit the track.  For example, if the acoustic bass is too “growly” or “boomy” for one of the songs, Paul can go in and make it sound sweeter (to a point). We do this on stage too, when we use a sound system, but not nearly so precisely.  Then he decides what kind of echo or reverb that track should have, and how much.  Then he decides on where that track should be placed, if you were to listen to the music with your headphones on. Usually, the lead vocal is in the middle of your head (ie, equally out of both speakers), and the other instruments are variously panned to the left or right, either just a little bit, or a lot.  In this way, you can almost surround yourself with the music when it’s playing – it feels like you’re standing in the middle of the band!

We had to decide which saxophone/fiddle/clarinet tracks to use.  Usually, we asked the performers to give us three or so different tries on their parts, and we needed to choose which parts will be on the final.  We listen to all the choices in each part of the song, and decide which one we like the best, and put them together on one track.

The voice parts get put through “pitch correction”. (but not very much, really…..!!!) The pizzicatto violin/cello parts get lined up so they are all playing at exactly the same moment, with the guitar. Paul decides how to fade the song at the end. Then he records the mix on his console so he doesn’t have to do the moves himself.  That includes keeping the quiet notes I sang as part of my “interpretation” pushed up in volume so we can hear them, so he’s always riding the vocal volume during the mix.  Once it’s all put into the machine, the whole song is mixed and recorded onto the computer. 

At the end of an album, I often get two CDs: one with the music, and one with all the saved mixing moves, just in case we wish to revisit any of our decisions later.  That way, we don’t have to re-invent the wheel.

Today, from 3:30 to 6pm we mixed 2 songs: Martha (the African one) and Little Crazy Quilt (the title track).  That’s really quick.  There are two more days of this, and we may or may not get all the songs done in that time.  Tonight I’m to decide which songs I really need to be present for, and which ones I trust to Paul after I get home.

That’s all for tonight!  I’ve got some more embroidering to do!

Day nine: it’s the pitz, and wind

August 19, 2010

I am so impressed with the musicians we have on this CD.  They are universally lovely people, they play their instruments without faltering, despite the fact that they have never heard these songs before, and have less than half an hour per song to play their parts right. They are very nice people, too.

For me, the process shows in the final product.  If I have not enjoyed the people, or we’ve had problems of any kind, it puts a pall over the project in my mind. I’ve been very fortunate, over the years, in being a part of teams that work well together, for the most part. There is a bit of a letdown at the end of these projects, because the making of the CD has been so pleasurable.  Yes, we’re working hard, but it’s good work, and there’s something to show for it at the end of the day.

I had one difficult album (and I’m not going to tell you which one – nothing recently), and I found it very hard to get behind it to sell the copies.  The songs were good, as were the performances, but something about the process didn’t work as smoothly as I thought it should have.  It’s funny – and not very reasonable, since there’s a lot of money invested in these recordings, and I really should believe in them, since I’m the “artist”.  The thrill is gone, when there is tension in the studio.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m in Toronto, working with Paul.  We have developed a great working relationship over the years, and not only do I trust his judgment, but I also enjoy his company.  And his choice of musicians. He said today – if there are two very good players of the same instrument, but one is cranky, I’ll hire the nice one every time.  So: now to today’s musicians.

Anne Lindsay (http://www.anne-lindsay.com/) is a violin/fiddle player to the stars.  She has played with Blue Rodeo, Jim Cuddy, John McDermott, the Chieftains, Dionne Warwick and Led Zeppelin(!)  and is currently the resident fiddle player for the Toronto Maple Leafs (I didn’t know they had one!) This is the third time we’ve worked together, and I love her playing.  She is at ease playing classical string trios and quartets, then flipping over to do bluegrass, jazz and jigs. She reads like crazy (today she played the jigs for the first time, at speed – and they’re fast! – and got them right the first take) AND she improvises appropriately.  It makes her a perfect studio session player.

The “pitz” in the title of this blog makes reference to “pizzicato”, a technique where the string player plucks the strings to make the sound, rather than “arco”, using the bow. We are using the “pitz” sound on the title track, “Little Crazy Quilt”, and it was lovely.  I wish you could all hear these tracks with me, as they are being recorded.  Once they are mixed, they will not be as easy to hear.  When all the string section plays, it’s like being wrapped up in a snuggly quilt. You just want to stay there, and hear it again.  Paul said it sounds like liquid honey. His goal is to make the best version of Duncan’s Cove ever – and I think he’s done it, thanks to the string parts.

I was so blown away by the addition of fiddle on the six songs, that I totally forgot about taking a picture of Anne before she put her violin away.  So here she is, as if she was playing.  You’ll just have to fill in the fiddle yourself!

The lovely and talented Anne Lindsay

After Anne departed, Paul and I had an hour before Bob arrived for the afternoon.  He played me a couple of tracks of Anne’s singing.  She sounds like a high version of Bessie Smith on the couple of tunes she played.  Jazz, some traditional and some original.  She’s hugely talented, and I would recommend her own recordings to anyone.  She’s currently recording a new CD with her son sharing production duties.  I can’t wait!

Bob De Angelis (hear him play La Vie en Rose on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=St1KWXFq4qc) (http://www.bobdeangelis.com/pops/bobdeangelis.html) is a WONDERFUL wind player!  He excels at clarinet and saxophones. We had six songs we wanted him to play.  He arrived in the middle of a huge rainstorm, and we started with clarinet.  Oh my.  The texture of this instrument is like velvet. He gets the swing stuff – “You Just Might Be A Quilter” is where we started. Was it only one take? Maybe we took two, just in case we wanted some choice. Then some “noodles” on “Dance Beneath the Moon”. I was in a puddle by this point. To the “pitz” in “Little Crazy Quilt” he added some cool lines, with trills on the end. How charming! Then: The Test: “I Remember You”.  A song in the absolutely wrong key for him.

Usually instruments play in what’s called “concert” pitch.  So a “C” scale (no black keys on the piano) is a C scale for everybody.  But wind instruments are different, and when you write charts for them, you have to change the notes they play to another key so they play the right notes.  Most of them are Bb (B- flat) instruments, so they really, really like playing in FLAT keys.  “I Remember You” is in E, which means he was playing in something silly like F#. If I’d known we were going to have a clarinet on the piece, I guess I could have written it in a better key for him, but by the time we decided, I had already figured out the guitar part (which nobody else can play) and it was unchangeable.  Even Tom had a difficult time with it yesterday – and he can play anything! Bob listened to the song, then said it would have been better to have borrowed an “A” clarinet, but didn’t know.  So he tried it on his Bb clarinet.  What a pro!  It’s gorgeous!  I’m so impressed.

Bob De Angelis wailing on clarinet

We gave him a break after that, and he pulled out the tenor sax for “Two Peas in a Pod”, John’s solo. Oh, man – he’s GOOD.  I am so wanting to re-write the lyrics to this song entirely, so I get to sing to this track!!!!! I love tenor sax! I hope John appreciates my sacrifice.

Paul setting up the mic for tenor sax

The last song we had him play on today was “Martha”, the song about the freed slave in Liberia who made a quilt for Queen Victoria. When I wrote this, I was thinking of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album, as I’ve mentioned before, and the last track to be added was Bob on alto sax. It’s a higher sound than the tenor, a smaller instrument, and more in keeping with the happy quality of the song. He nailed it. I love the texture of this. You’ll be able to hear it clearly on the final mix of this song. 

Bob on alto sax

He didn’t have to bring as many instruments as Steafan did, but there are more than I have to lug around. Wouldn’t it be great one day to actually do a live show with all these people?  It’s going to be difficult now for me to do these songs with just me on guitar, and John on harmony! 

That’s it for adding other instruments.  We’ve completed all the tracks we need.  The songs sound wonderful and I’m very much looking forward to singing to these tracks tomorrow.  I realize I don’t have to sing 14 tomorrow:  I’ve written one for John, so I only have 13 to sing.  We checked our records today, and I have sung 13 finished vocal tracks in one day before.  Paul says: have a relaxing evening, and don’t fret about it.  There’s no need to do all of them tomorrow. But I take it as a personal challenge! 

Of course, once I’ve sung them, I won’t be singing again to these terrific tracks that everyone has done.  I’d better enjoy it while it lasts.

Tomorrow I’ll be singing in a basement room into a microphone, and I’ll be imagining the wire going into the mixing board, and out through your CD player (or iPod), and into the speakers or ear buds into your ears.  It helps me pretend there’s an audience out there – helps my vocal performance every time. I hope you enjoy it!

Day 8: tinkling the ivories

August 19, 2010

Any day that I see Tom Leighton is a good day.  It happens rarely – only when I’m recording, usually, so it’s been 4 years since I last enjoyed his company.  Tom is the kind of person who can light up a sunny day. He’s positive, fun, and oh, so capable. There’s info on him at http://www.haines-leighton.com/.  We had him in today to play piano, keyboards (not the same thing) and accordion (no accordion  jokes, please – I’ve heard ’em all!). It was an intense day for everyone. 

He played 12 tracks on 10 songs – that means, apart from the bass player Russ who is on almost all of them, that Tom knows the album as well as anyone except Paul and me.  He mostly played on a standup piano that Paul tells me used to be owned by Sylvia Tyson.  It sounds lovely.

It’s time to talk a bit about the “charts” that we use to record.  The first two days last week, you recall that I spoke about Paul and me fine tuning the songs, then charting them.  Usually  that means writing down the structure and chords, with additional rhythmic bits that we may have decided on in certain parts.  The bass player, drummer, guitarists (me and Paul), etc all use those to record, and they notate them with special things they need to do in their own shorthand.  When the string players come in, they have special charts that look like proper music sheets.  The parts are written out with all the notes we wish them to play.  Sometimes we change them, but not often – Paul is very good at writing string charts.  Instead of writing the whole song, though, he puts blank bars in with the number of bars we wish them to not play – in orchestras, they are used to counting the bars of the song until they come in.  And all the bars are numbered.  So instead of saying “I’ll come in at the second verse”, they say things like “Punch me in at bar 117”.  Today, Paul said to Tom “Bar 54, where are you?”  Who says we don’t have fun in the studio???

Before lunch, Tom played piano on 3 songs and accordion on 1.   Remember the Sewing Machine, that Steafan played on the pipes yesterday? Tom got to play both piano and accordion on that song.  It’s a huge bit of reading he had to do, and he did it beautifully – it zips by so quickly!

After lunch, we made Tom work through 4 piano songs, 3 accordion songs (yes, Jack, including Duncan’s Cove!), and 2 keyboard/synthesizer songs.  What a prodigious output!  And all very different feels.  He did two wonderful spooky synthesizer tracks to “The Oak Leaf” (the slow Celtic ballad) – it sounds like there is a choir behind me!

We all deserved a glass of wine after the day was over.  Paul, of course, was being both producer and engineer again, and it was intense for him too.  It’s so difficult to maintain concentration over so many hours, to continue to balance the time and the performance, as well as making sure the recording is technically clean and correct. Especially when he had a delayed birthday celebration with his family last night!

I have one more day before I have to produce something useful: Friday is vocal day, and my goal is to break my own record of 11 final vocals in a day. I’m going to try to sing the whole CD (14 songs) in one session!  Tomorrow we have Anne Lindsay (fiddle) coming in the morning, and Bob De Angelis (clarinet and saxophone) in the afternoon.  That’s all the additions, not counting my singing parts plus harmonies (Monday). 

I’m still embroidering up a storm while listening.  Here is how it looks as of today:

It's starting to fill in!

All the motifs I’m stitching make reference to the songs we’re recording.  Once the CD is out, I think I’ll have to have a contest to see if anyone can identify them all!

Week two: we start with rhythm

August 17, 2010

Someone who is following this blog sent me a message on Friday asking if I was almost done yet.  If it was just John and me on this recording, we probably would be, but because we like people to listen to the recordings more than once, we add other musicians to sweeten (and make more complex) the mix.  Sometimes this is called “ear candy”; remember I asked you to listen for 10 minutes over the weekend?  “Ear candy” is those little bits of birdsong, tree leaves rustling, or distant train whistles that make it interesting to be alive.  In the studio, we add those on purpose, so that when it’s late at night and you have the earphones on, you can hear cool bits you didn’t know were there.  I remember the first time I heard Graceland by Paul Simon on a really really good sound system.  I thought I knew the album well at that point, but I had never heard some of the stuff I was hearing then!

In a band or in a recording, every player has his or her own role to play.  The singer, of course, gets all the attention. Occasionally, the guy who plays the solo gets a bit of his own applause right afterwards, whether he’s the guitar player, the sax player or the pianist.  But what do they do the rest of the time?  And what does the rest of the band do?

Today was bass and drums day, and that means it’s all about rhythm.  Rhythm is what makes you tap your toes when you listen to music, want to dance, or throw your hip to the side when you’re walking to music. The drummer makes the rhythm.  What he chooses to play, with all those hittable things in front of him, will make or break a song.  If he hits things very hard with a hard drumstick, but the song is slow and all about softness and love, you won’t enjoy it very much.  A good drummer knows instinctively what to play. He’s listened to a lot of songs in his life, and he remembers the rhythms of them. He’ll pick one of them that he’s either heard or played before for each song. The producer (this time, Paul) will agree or disagree.  The producer knows what else is going on the track and wants to make sure the drummer doesn’t get in the way of that.  The producer has to hear what isn’t there yet! (Paul told me to say that!)

Our drummer today is an amazing musician, Al Cross.  Originally from Montreal, he’s been a staple of the recording scene here in Toronto for many years.  He loves to play with all kinds of musicians, and you’ll see him popping up on stages across the city and on recordings everywhere.  This is the third time we’ve worked together.  I love a drummer who listens to the words.  The good ones do, I think.  They know what the song is about, and that helps inform what he will play.  If he hears a little sarcasm or humour, he knows he can get away with lots more stuff than if it’s a serious love ballad.  Al has these great instincts, and he’s also worked often with Paul, so they have very little in the way of misunderstandings.  He’s a great guy too, very easy to work with.

Al Cross with brushes

The bass player we met on Friday: Russ Boswell. When he’s on a song by himself, he is a large part of the rhythm track as well as the bottom notes.  Those bottom notes are really important for harmony, for setting the key really strongly, and for setting the beat of the piece.  He also has to know how to approach each song.  One of the reasons we asked Russ to play with us is that he plays both electric bass, as well as acoustic (or standup) bass.  With these skills, he can fit into all the songs we asked him to play.  (You know I write in a quite wide range of styles!)

Russ Boswell on standup

These two musicians had all our attention today.  They breezed through seven songs in 5 hours, including setup.  It was great.  Now we know how these songs will sound on the record, for the most part.  You won’t hear their parts as loudly as we did today, of course – that’s going to be Paul’s magic in the mixing stage, next week – but now we can hang all the rest of the ear candy on top. 

Like the electric guitar. Paul is laying down extra guitar tracks on some of the songs on top of what I’ve done with my acoustic guitar.  Texture. He did two tracks on electric today, and all of a sudden what I’ve been hearing in my mind for as long as these songs have been there, is starting to sound like that out loud.  The guitar adds texture and rhythm to the mix, but it sits in a higher range for your ear to hear. 

Tomorrow morning we’ll have in the studio the lovely and talented cello player Wendy Solomon.  She’s going to be adding the cello parts to our two string trios that Paul arranged last week. She’s a very busy player, and we’re happy to have her back for her third quilting CD!  For more information about Wendy, check out the Bowfire website: http://www.bowfire.com/cast/17-wendy-solomon

The strings are all about texture, and what I’ve heard called “pads”. Their function is often to “pad” or smooth out the sound from all those percussive instruments (like drums, bass, guitar, piano, etc, etc).  You can hear them behind things, adding depth and emotion to songs.  If you cry at movies, I’ll bet you there are strings involved!  And the cello is the most wonderful of the strings.  Such a human sound to its voice, from low and growly to high and longing.

Tomorrow afternoon I’ll work with Steafan Hannigan (http://www.steafan.com/)  for the first time.  I’ve heard all about him from my friend Eileen McGann, but never had the chance to work with him before.  We have a Celtic ballad on this recording, and a fast jig, and we know he’s the expert in these matters.  He’s bringing his Uilleann pipes (an Irish version of bagpipes), penny whistle, and his kalimba for the song about Martha’s quilt for Queen Victoria!!! Thank goodness for multi-instrumentalists like Steafan – it saves us much time having separate people come in for each part.  I have never had pipes on any of my recordings – it’s about time!!!  The pipes will be a sort of pad, like the strings, but he’ll also be playing the melody lines on the jigs. I can’t wait to hear what he’ll do with “The Oak Leaf” ballad.  It’s a mysterious slow air, and I think pipes will add a real haunting quality to the mix. 

Rhythm. Texture. Emotion. These are the reasons we’re adding all these other instruments to this CD.  And there will be more to come.  That’s it for tonight – more tomorrow! 

Happy listening!  Today, try to hear the bass on your iPod or radio. It’s way down at the bottom. It’s usually doing a very simple line.  If you tap your toe to the music, likely the bass will be there, along with the drums, doing “dum dum DUM dum dum DUM” or something cool like that. If you still can’t hear it, turn the bass end of your tone button up to full.  THEN you’ll hear it!

Day 5 – bass is the thing

August 13, 2010

I’m writing this in the morning, before the day begins, because I’m going to be leaving right after the session this afternoon to go out of town for the weekend to attend my nephew’s wedding.  I’m so excited for them!

I want to talk about listening today.  Every single time I record an album of songs, I am amazed at how much more acutely I can hear by the end of the process than I do at the beginning.  Inevitably, I think I should start another record right away, because I could save time and be so much sharper in making decisions about the project.  For this reason alone, I would recommend anyone use a professional producer who does this all the time – they can hear what we cannot, because they practice all the time.

It’s like going for a walk in the woods.  At the beginning, we’re so used to not listening, that we don’t hear the snap of a branch beneath a raccoon’s foot, or the beautiful birdsong above.  We don’t hear the lap of waves on the shore until we extend our attention to it and listen. It’s the same when laying down music tracks. We’re listening for all kinds of things.  A distant lawnmower. An exhaled  breath that passes over the very sensitive microphones. A chord in the wrong place. An electronic buzz because a cable isn’t grounded, or isn’t properly plugged in. A flat note in the vocals. Each instrument requires slightly different listening.  Is that noise when I change chords okay, a natural part of playing the guitar, or should we get rid of it?

And the most amazing part of all of this — we can fix a lot of things without re-recording!  These days, we record onto computers.  In the old days, I recorded onto 2″ wide tape, which could handle 24 tracks.  If you made a mistake, you either had to start again (and wait for the tape to rewind. Every time.) or a guy with a razor blade would sit at the console, find the place the blooper happened, and cut it out by hand. I’m not making this up!  Remember the word processing term: “Cut and Paste”? When I first worked as a secretary we used to do that by hand, too!!!

So now, the recording process has come along just like word processors have.  From manual typewriters to laptop computers.  From recording the whole band at once, and (like Elvis did in Nashville) send the sound into an echo chamber and record it as it’s coming out — to having the ability to change the guitar part, beat by beat, so it’s actually with the click track (something Paul was doing yesterday afternoon to my blues guitar track).  You can also “pitch correct”, which means when the singer (we’ll say the singer, because it’s usually done on us – including Celine Dion) hits a note that isn’t exactly on the pitch (hardly ever happens with moi, of course…… lol) you can fix it!

I love recording onto computer.  We save so much time, not having to wait for the tape to rewind, for one thing.  We can make practice CDs from what we’ve recorded already (we sent John his bed tracks yesterday via email).  It has also made it possible for people to set up studios in their homes, like Paul. It’s more relaxed and comfortable.   But the other reason to work with Paul is that he has the ears.

So, here’s your challenge for the day:  go out somewhere and listen. Hard. For at least 10 minutes. See what you can hear.

Okay – time for me to meet the bass player, Russ Boswell. We have already recorded the foundation – the song on guitar, with my vocals. The bass player is going to be building the basement.  I’ll report on this on Sunday, when we get back from the wedding. Have a great weekend!

Day 4 – my guitar parts finished

August 13, 2010

I’ve just had a marvellous evening.  I set up a dinner at a Greek restaurant with about 7 friends who live here.  Most of them had a firm connection to the time I spent in Ottawa between 1973 and 1990, and it was amazing to revisit some of the memories. I shared an apartment with two of them (at separate times), sang with two of them, did theatre with a couple of them, wrote songs with one of them (in 1971!!!) and taught one of them singing (and she’s still singing, beautifully).  It was a great evening. I’m feeling a bit nostalgic tonight.  How interestingly we live our lives, and grow.  We are all much older than when we first met, and I’m delighted to see how the youngsters have become the adults.  Most of us have a few more lines in our faces, and use glasses to read the menus,and maybe we haven’t ended up where we thought we would be when we first met.  Surely this is the best stage of life: fairly sure of ourselves, established in our chosen areas, having dealt with most of our demons from our youth.  No longer trying to impress, just being with each other.  How wonderful to have had the chance to spend this time with all of them.

And a bit of celebration on my part for having finished recording my guitar tracks today.  I had left the hard ones to be done today, probably not such a good idea, but there you go.  The Celtic ballad, the very fast Irish jig, the bluesy vintage rock song, and the jazz standard style song.  I passed along some of the playing to Paul – who is a very good guitar player, and happy to help.  He did an absolutely spectacular part on the Oak Leaf (the Celtic ballad), which brought a tear to my eye.  I couldn’t have done anything like it, and it was what I had hoped for. The jig is lightning fast, and I can barely sing it, much less play at the same time.  I’ll have to practice it before I sing it on stage ….  By asking Paul to play the parts, we finished it all in time.   Thanks, Paul! (I have to watch what I say about him here, because he’s reading it too… 😉 )

So, now I’m off the hook for a little while.  I will put on my listening ears and help the production process.  Tomorrow morning I’ll meet Russ, the bass player.  He’ll be doing some songs that don’t involve drums, and so we are having him come in for a session on his own.  He’ll work for 3 hours in the morning. After lunch “Curly Boy Stubbs” (Paul’s guitar-playing alter-ego) will do his parts.  This will involve some banjo, some screaming electric guitar, and other guitar parts.  I KNOW he’s going to try to talk me into putting some ukulele on one of the tracks, too.  It’s his signature….  I wonder which one it’ll be?

Day 3 – Pre-production is over, the recording part begins

August 12, 2010

It was a good day.  We finished up pre-production on the last two songs this morning. One of them is a song I recorded in 1991, and it was played at our wedding.  A love song, called “Dance Beneath the Moon”. We’re planning to have the clarinetist do the solo on this one – I do love the sound of clarinet!

The last song will be sung by John (I don’t know if he’ll get the last word on the album yet, though!). He is going to be channeling Elvis, I think, on this one – it’s called “Two Peas in a Pod”, and it’s very like “Heartbreak Hotel”,  but in this case, the quilter’s husband is recognized in public by another QH.  I’m so jealous – John is going to get to sing with a sax on his track.  😦   (I love singing with sax!)

That was it for the pre-production.  All the songs are now charted, tidied up, and wearing their best outfits.  They’re ready to go!!!  All those months of writing, worrying and wearing out the Rhyming Dictionary are over.  Now I can concentrate on giving them the best performances I can.

After a quick lunch, we started recording my “bed” tracks.  (I know what you’re thinking, but “bed tracks” have nothing to do with quilts!!!) These are the tracks the other musicians are going to be listening to when they lay down their parts (that’s called an “overdub”) (Dub-a-Dub Dub, three men in a tub!)  The last three times I’ve worked with Paul, the way we do this is: I sit in front of a microphone and sing and play guitar. I’m listening to a metronome in my headphones which keeps me on the beat.  It’s a challenge, but possible, and the pressure is not as great as you might think, because neither my voice nor my guitar end up on the final product.

Today Paul suggested we do it a little differently, in the interest of time.  He played his guitar to the click track, while I sang downstairs. This is a  “scratch” vocal (no, my throat feels fine, thanks for asking: this is the first run at singing the song, and if I don’t like it, I can do it again for real. As many times as it takes. I love that about recording!). Then I played on top of  his guitar part, listening to myself singing.  I like accompanying, and hearing the vocal helped me stay with the song on guitar.  Remember, I’m a singer first? We will not use Paul’s guitar parts for most of the songs.

It worked like a charm, and we breezed through SIX songs this afternoon!  That’s a lot faster than I expected, and I felt fresh and not tired at the end of the day.  Amazing.  The last two days I’ve been exhausted when I came home. I guess it was the mixing and matching of instruments for me today that helped.  And I was being more physical, and not so mental. (did that come out right?)

I’ve done all the songs I thought were “easy” to play today.  Tomorrow, alas, I’ve saved myself all the hard songs.  (One bonus with working with Paul, though, is that if I don’t feel like I’m the best one to play the acoustic guitar parts, he can fill in.  Today, he did the heavy rock guitar on “Midnight Knitters” – it needed a bit of testosterone!

Tomorrow we’ll be finishing up the guitar parts, as long as my fingers can figure out what to do!  I always think I should be doing more after this point, but then my job changes again, and I get to listen to some of the best musicians in Toronto playing my songs. Life is tough!

I’d better get in some embroidery before I lose the light.  I’m working on a pink and purple stop sign (that’s a line from Midnight Knitters).

cathy

Day Two – more of the same, but different songs

August 10, 2010

I’ve just finished Day two of the pre-production.  We have now worked through almost all the songs – two left to do tomorrow.  We started this morning with the newest one – in fact, I finished the lyrics to the bridge section only on the plane.  I had not picked up the guitar to work out the music, but I was fairly clear on what I wanted to do with it.

Paul is a gentle collaborator, and encouraged me to work it out on my own. Then he had something to work with. We “tweaked” the chords to make them more interesting, cleaned up a couple of lyric lines that had too many words (that’s always the way with me – I try to fit too many words in), and wrote the chart.  I’m very happy with how it has turned out, and I must re-send the lyrics to Esther Bryan (the originator of the Quilt of Belonging project), so that she’s up to speed with it all.

We’re going to be recording an old Betty Hutton song called “The Sewing Machine”. Check out her version here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=999ph8iRT4o We have decided to intersperse the verses with a couple of Irish jigs.  We are going to have a wonderful Irish musician, Steafan Hannigan http://www.steafan.com/, come in to do some Uilleann pipes and penny whistle parts, and he suggested a couple we could use.  (email and the Internet are wonderful for this kind of research) We’ll add a tune called “Paidin O’Rafferty” and “Banish Misfortune”. It should really keep things moving, AND help me catch my breath between verses!!!

After lunch, we worked on Midnight Knitters, the rock song that will have screaming electric guitar on it.  This is the song about Stealth Knitters (aka Yarn Bombers) – Google either of those, and you’ll find out more.  Paul suggested a few rhythmic changes in my guitar part that make it sound more rocky (I’m a folk singer, after all!).

We changed the key on “You Just Might Be a Quilter”.  Paul said this could very well be the “hit” off this CD.  Very swingy.  Now – I just have to learn to play it in the new key before I record it.

There’s a story from the book “Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women Who Made Them” about an unfinished oak leaf block from the early 1800s.  She told about a young girl who fell in love with a whaling captain and her father disapproved of the match. He locked her inside until she agreed to marry a local lad instead.  But she was stolen away by the sailor and met a watery end on their honeymoon in the South China Sea.  I’ve written a slow Celtic air to this ballad, and Steafan, the pipes player, will add various spooky and atmospheric touches.  It’s going to be very cool to hear it.

The final song today is one I recorded on my first album, in 1985!!! It’s called Duncan’s Cove, and it’s been one of Paul’s favourites of mine for years. We are going to lower the key a tone, and do the instrumental a tone up.  Fiddle and guitar instrumental.  This song is almost like a second skin for me, after having sung it for the last 25 years, so we’re not messing with it too much.

I realize that making an album is like building a house.  You start with the foundation, and that’s the songs.  Once the charts are written, everybody is on the same page, and we build up from there.  After the last two songs are charted tomorrow morning, my job is to lay down the guitar parts, then some “scratch” vocals (which we may or may not replace later), so that the musicians can hear  the song as they record their parts. 

I’m a singer first, then a songwriter, then a guitar player.  Once the guitar parts are done, it’s easy for me.  Then I can sit back and enjoy (and opine about) the performances of everyone else.  I told Paul today that I prefer to record my final vocals when everything else is on – it’s far more fun for me, and I’m sure I’m influenced by what everyone else is playing. 

On the crazy quilt front: I embroidered two blocks last night.  The light isn’t good in the hotel, so I think I’d better do it when it’s still light outside.  It’s difficult to mark the lines to embroider on silk, satin and velvet so I can see them. Maybe I should shop for an Ott light while I’m here…..


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