For regular updates on how the new CD is coming along just click to this site. New info will be added on a weekly/biweekly basis depending on how the recording is progressing.
The process of recording a new CD generally goes through a few stages. They usually are in the following order; pre-production, studio recording/production, mixing, mastering and pressing. Every project is different, but in our case we are looking at 3-6 months for pre-production, 2-3 months for studio recording/production, a month for mixing and a month or two for mastering and pressing. So the entire project could take anywhere from 7-11 months. We hope to have the project done by end of the summer and that you enjoy following our progress.
If you have any questions are feedback I would love to hear from you...just drop me an e-mail and I will respond with my next web-posting.
For the first part of the recording process we want to get all the bugs out of the songs so that they sound pretty close to CD quality prior to going into the recording studio, where time and dollars can easily go through the roof. Yikes!
At this stage, we are doing everything digitally with computers, midi files, and tracking analog sounds (such as acoustic guitar). By keeping things digital along the way, it is easy to go in and re-arrange sections of songs in the computer. We can do all kinds of experimenting with rhythms and sounds. It is a great way to try stuff out and see whether or not it adds something. We really want to focus on getting the rhythms right and want to make sure that all of the instruments are working together so they don't make too much work for the ears.
15/May/04 Since last writing, we've done some more recording of digital drums, a road trip tour of Alberta and I've written some new material. I had the good fortune of having Jamie Kaufmann come in and offer his creative drumming on two of the songs, "Give Yourself Away" and "Starburst". Jamie played all of the drums on Aluminum Sea. We were having a hard time getting the overall energy of these two songs to feel right, so his contribution and experience really helped the songs feel right. In music "less can be more", but knowing where and when to play less is an art. He managed to find some time and come in a few weeks before leaving town since he is also in the process of moving back to his home town of Lethbridge Alberta to raise his young family. I think that he will really be missed by all the Vancouver projects he's been involved in.
"Give Yourself Away" is the first collaborative song that I have written in a really long time. Ian co-wrote it with me. We were looking at getting an awesome dynamic/rhythmic "arc" to the song. What I mean is, starting at a comfortable lower energy then building on it until some determined high point in the song. This song also has an unusual bridge, because it is written in 13/8 as opposed to being in the more usual 4/4 time signature. This makes it harder to "groove" but at the same time gives a song a distinctive sound and interesting musical signature.
I went on a road trip to Alberta and did three shows with Chad MacQuarrie, Dave Spidel and Shawn Killaly. The four of us had never played together before, let alone rehearsed together so our first performance had some excitement associated with it! This lack of rehearsals seems to happen quite a bit, I really wish it could be different. Unfortunately at the independent level there isn't always the luxury of time, so I have to make the most of the times we can play together. We started the first night with a very quiet almost empty room. So I decided to make things interesting by handing out a chart of a new song to start the night off with! The new song is called "Look at the Rain". People seem to really respond to it. I think that this because it has a more straight-ahead Brit-Pop kind of sound and because the melody really seems to stand out. It was great that no one was there to hear it! But I liked the riskiness of it all. By the end of the night, the room filled and we had played it 3 more times, so it started to sound pretty good!
The really cool thing was that we played the song about 7 times over that tour and by the time we got back it was really well rehearsed. So Shawn and Dave were up to coming in and laying down their parts on to our Pro Tools set up a couple of days after we got back. I think that getting the fresh live sound recorded early adds a lot to the overall energy of the song. It looks like "Look at the Rain" is going to make it to the new CD. I am really pleased about that.
5/April/04 It's been an interesting couple of weeks. We've been taking advantage of some free recording time at a local music/recording school. I was able to contact some horn players through musician friends of mine and they kindly came in and played on Goodtown and Gone, Gone, Gone.
I am really looking forward to hearing how some of my songs sound with a horn section. This is a direction I had never thought of going since I have always tended to avoid anything that suggested a pre-conceived arrangement. I like the "jammy"/spontaneous parts of a smaller ensemble. Now I am like a person that has discovered something new and wants to spread the gospel of horn sections for everything! Ian, who is co-producing with me wrote out some great lines for the two songs. He has also been busy writing actual scores (notes on notation paper-awesome!!) for a lot of the songs.
I've been really lucky to have a few of the drummers that have played live with me in the past come in and lay down some digital drum tracks. I can't wait to lay down some guitar and scratch vocals to get a sense of how it is all going. We have had to divert some attention to other jobs and circumstances so progress is slower than I had hoped but probably to be expected. It is my experience that no matter how much you love music and getting something tangible happening it takes a lot of energy out of you. It is my hope that with this new CD it can open some doors for us and maybe do some of the work for me. So it would be fair to say that the pressure is on to make it sound great!
13/March/04 We finally got some one of our regular drummers to come in and checkout the digital drums. It was great to see if our plan to use them solely for the pre-production will work. Well, we could hardly get him away from the kit, so it looks like they are going to work out well. The sounds need a bit of tweaking and we will probably have to trigger some midi sounds from another sound source as well as adjust the sensitivity of the digital drums to the playing of the individual drummer.
I did some more reworking of "Goodtown". I came up with another simpler guitar riff/ostenato played higher on the neck to get the song going right after the weird intro riff. I am using a distorted sound as well which is a bit outside of the African sound, but works. I think it establishes the broader sound that I am going for and conveys a blurring of musical categories.
I got some free recording time in a local music recording studio which is awesome! It forces the process a bit and helps to get something ready for tape. It also offers a chance to "hear" some of our production ideas before going to the recording process. I am going to try and get a horn section in on some of our tunes. I think that they could offer a lot of energy and excitement to some of the high-energy songs.
I had an interesting discussion regarding my FACTOR rant in my last right up. Someone mentioned that it doesn't matter who gets the money as long as the best song wins. Well that sounds all well and good, but my problem is "who decides what a good song is"? When the Board of Directors is made up of the same individuals and groups that receive funding I am quite suspicious of their criteria for what a good song is. It seems to me that this Board would bias towards songs that suit their own particular tastes and investments.
22/February/04 We haven't gotten too much recording done in the past 4 weeks. I've been putting a lot time into other shows and being on the road with the band. March is looking wide open though. Ian (who is co-producing with me) has been wrapping his head around our ProTools music recording software...memorizing every keyboard letter that corresponds to a recording function. Talk about learning how to type all over again!
We got our letter back from FACTOR on whether or not we were approved for an Independent Loan and unfortunately we were not approved. The Loan would have really helped out with the crazy costs of recording, maybe next time.
We were not really all that surprised for a couple of reasons. One is that there is so much great talent in Canada that it would be almost impossible for FACTOR to help out everyone. The other reason is that based on last years' FACTOR Annual Financial Report, FACTOR only approves about 3% of all Independent Loan Applicants (25 out of 625 applicants per year) who basically split $450,000 between them.
This low approval rating is in direct contrast to the 88% (80 approvals out of 91 applicants) approval rating that Canadian record labels get when they apply for the same FACTOR funding (splitting a $2,700,000 pie!)....In addition, the board at FACTOR is made up of companies and individuals that also receive the same funding!
I think that if it is looks like a conflict of interest and acts like a conflict of interest, it probably is a conflict of interest. It is my current thinking that FACTOR is not really a Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent On Record at all, but rather a Fund to Assist Canadian Talent On Record labels. At the end of the day the Canadian taxpayer is footing the bill for this system that is not assisting the greatest demand for assistance such as the Independent Loan Program. Enough already....I love music too much to let anyone else keep me getting it recorded.
Last week we had a lengthy discussion as to how the music might sound on CD...I seem to be getting much more comfortable mixing and arranging the songs with a strong acoustic guitar flavour....but still with that driving rhythmic/drumming intensity from our live show...but maybe with less emphasis on Electric guitars to give it that tension or drive. That poses certain problems for the songs because I basically strum my guitar constantly like a flag in the wind, without changing it up too much.
I will need to come up with different parts or lines for the guitar for each song, or else they will all start to sound pretty monotonous. Definitely a challenge, but I think a more acoustic sound will give the music an instant honest appeal. "Africa on the beach" is what I am thinking for the overall "feel" of the CD.
I also came up with two 2 bar guitar riffs for "Goodtown", which will probably be the lead off song on the CD. One of the riffs is a pretty basic one, all built around a simple picking pattern and root note motion. The other line is a bit more complex since it involves guitar picking or phrasing both on the beat and off the beat (the stress of the first note of each phrase is on the "and of" 4)...I am pretty excited about the new lines. I've also chopped off 4 bars from each of the post-choruses which makes the song shorter and moves it along faster.
22/January/04 The songs are all written and we have performed them live with the band hundreds of times. These past few weeks have seen some significant events towards the production of the next CD. I had the good fortune of using recording facilities for free, during class time at the local music school where we laid down some tracks.
The opportunity to record the parts (ie. drums, bass, vocals, electric guitar, djembe, cello, etc.) separately in a studio allows us to hear what we've been doing so far. The studio records digitally. So, we can take these recorded tracks home and work on them independently on our own time. The students are also going to each do their own mixes of the songs. This way we will also hear what they are picking up on in the songs. I really like having lots of independent feedback, especially at this point of the recording.
Having recorded tracks separately for a number of songs, we are on for a fantastic starting point for the project. It gives us the basic outline of the songs, such as length, tempo, how the melody is working in the song, etc. So far, we have pre-recorded (demo'd) 8 of the 10/11 songs on the CD.
We've also assembled the basic home studio we will be using for pre-production. This is quite a big first step to take! It means a huge time and financial commitment has been made to see the project through to the end of pre-production. The journey begins here, and though we know the end point (a finished CD) I think that there will be a lot unforeseen bends and twists in the road ahead.
In addition to getting the overall rhythm for each song right, we are focusing on the arrangements. We have played the songs so much and there seems to be an abundance of instrument parts for each song. A big part of the pre-production process will be deductive and not additive with respect to these instrument parts. In other words, some of these awesome parts will have to go....maybe even acoustic guitar tracks....oh no, that means me?!?! It also seems that some things that work live don't work in recordings (like long groovy jams) and vice versa.
We made a simple recording of our gig at the Backstage Lounge last Saturday night. The band sounded great! There were also some cool dynamics in the live performance of the songs, which we can definitely draw from.
Feedback. Someone asked me if is wasn't kind of lame to be using digital drums for pre-production since they usually sound so obviously non-real. My response to that is yup, I think that digital drums are definitely another sonic universe from actual drum kits with real drummers playing them. But my purpose in using the digital drum kit is to approximate the sound and feel of the drums for each song as closely as possible. I think that digital drums kits are a big step up from keyboard triggered drum kits and a lot cheaper than using real drummers in studios and having to mic them all etc, each time in an effort to find the best groove for each part of the song. Pretty time and labour intensive. This way the drum sound can be manipulated in a computer for more fine tuning....hopefully it all works out for the finished song. Oh ya, I have had the good fortune of having worked with several fantastic drummers from Vancouver. With the digital drums they each can come in for an afternoon and lay down their distinct interpretation of a song.
Another question was what ia a midi file? Well, not that I am any technical guru with the exact answer, but basically it is means of communicating and storing information for digital sounds in computers. I got this definition of the web: MIDI file (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) file. A set of instructions for a computer or synthesizer to play a certain musical composition. The MIDI file does not include actual sounds, but information on how to make the sounds. The MIDI instructions include the notes played, length of notes, instruments, volume, rhythm, etc. MIDI files on the Internet can be played with the help of a media player application, such as Crescendo. For example, MIDI files can basically store all the information and instructions quite easily for instruments (using digital sounds) in a symphony.
The first CD Aluminum Sea, is available online from: