Before I knew it, it was back to Asheville, NC, in late June for the last two days with engineer and co-producer Chris, this time for mixing. This is the process where we check the volume and quality of sound for each instrument. Is the guitar too loud? Does the bass drum need more “thump?” Lots of decisions needed to be made.
Chris Rosser, engineer and co-producer, at the computer where we mixed.
Each track on each song required a careful listen. Some instruments had more than one track. There were nine tracks for drums on “Dare” – two on the bass drum, two on the snare, etc.
Here, we’re mixing the acoustic bass on “Holy Place.” First, the bass is isolated:
(I have a video where you can hear the bass in the mix, but WordPress won’t let me post it. Hey, I’m a musician, not a programer.)
Another thing that’s done during this process is to place the instruments. When you hear a band live, you’d hear the bass coming from the side where the bass player’s amp is located. The singer’s voice comes out of the middle since they are often standing there and also, because they need to be more prominent. In mixing, we sometimes try to replicate that live sound, so if you’re wearing headphones, you might hear an instrument a little better on one side while the lead vocals will be heard equally on both sides. Chris and I joked about how on some songs, the musicians must’ve been standing on each other’s shoulders, since all of the sound came from the center.
Then there’s reverb – that cool sound that can make a voice sound like it’s recorded in a big cathedral or a small intimate club. It’s one of the reasons we sound so good singing in the shower – all of that tile and glass makes your vocals sound more full. Chris had a million reverb settings, from “large room wood” to “small room tiled.” Not only did we add a touch of reverb to the vocals, but also to the drums and a few other instruments. It can really enhance the blend of instruments and voices.
We took a lunch break outside in the yard. A couple of rabbits showed up, probably because they had an opinion about the mix:
After we got a satisfying mix, we listened to it on two sets of speakers. The three-thousand dollar set gives a sound that will make you sigh with pleasure. However, most of my fans don’t have that kind of equipment. So, we also listened to it on a cheap speaker that Chris joked came from a 1979 Camaro. Suddenly, the bass couldn’t be heard and the higher sounds, like my voice and the upper notes on the guitar, sounded like they were miles in front of the rest of the band. We had to shoot for the middle so it would sound good on a variety of devices, from MP3 players to ten-thousand-dollar stereos.
The electric bass on “Yoga Teacher” was mixed toward the end of one day. Chris and I were just a teeny bit fried:
Finally, twelve songs were done. All of that intense listening had left me with numb ears. Chris was exhausted, too. After working a long day, we decided to call it quits with two more songs to go. Chris would mix the last couple without me. Meanwhile, I needed to listen to the mixes on other speakers several more times over the next few days, in case there was anything else that needed to change.
It was a bittersweet moment as I stepped out into the cool summer evening dotted with dancing fireflies. I was happy to have the recording almost done, but sad to be leaving the studio. I’d gotten used to the satisfying routine of going to work in a studio with all those wonderful musicians.
The next day, I made my way back to Durham, NC. That night, I taught a bellydance class. Because of a big storm, only one student showed up. I took her through some moves, and then asked if she wanted to hear my new album. She brightened and said, “Yes.” I put on “Bellydancer” and watched her face light up as she followed the rhythm with her body, shaking her hips for the drum rolls and doing a playful step during the verses, using the moves I’d taught her and making up some of her own. I also had an ulterior motive and that was to listen to it on yet another system, this time in a huge dance studio. When the vocals started, she asked, “Who is this?” “Me,” I proudly replied. After she left, I listened to the rest of the album. I wasn’t crazy about how some of the songs sounded, but then, I doubt that many of them will get played through tiny speakers mounted in the ceiling of a big room lined with enormous mirrors. (Do you think there’s a reverb setting called “huge room with mirrors?”)
The next night, I took the CD to some musician friends’ and we listened to it on their stereo. They gave me great feedback, often confirming changes that I wanted to make. Also, they’re rock musicians and listened to the songs differently than I, advising me to turn up the electric guitar solo in one song and the drums in another.
The following day, I emailed the suggestions to Chris and he made the adjustments. He also sent me the final mixes for those two remaining songs.
A few days later, the album was mastered. This is the process where a few more technical changes are made, plus the songs are put in order. The sound files were then uploaded to the duplicator (the people who make the actual discs).
After five weeks in North Carolina, it was time to head home.
Later, in July, the graphic design was finalized and uploaded to the duplicator, giving them everything they needed. The album should arrive at the palatial Tsunami Recordings offices in late August, god willin’ and the crik don’t rise.
My work isn’t done. In the last couple of weeks I’ve written liner notes and lyrics that will go on my website. Soon, I’ll start organizing promotion. Then, there’s an album release tour that starts in September. It’s a lot to do, but definitely worth it, even if I have to use a speaker from a 1979 Camaro.
An edited version of this post will appear as part of a chapter in my upcoming book, Drive All Night, to be released by Bella Books in 2014.