Some thoughts on my cd project

photo by Mike Losier

Well, everything is done with my cd except for the artwork.  I have the final master ready to be sent off to the manufacturing house, liner notes are typed, and everything is in place.  I am hoping to get it all sent off after the New Year, dont wanna rush the artwork.

I have been thinking about the whole process of this project, and wrote some of my thoughts down.  Perhaps some folks will find it useful if they pursue recording a cd.

I have been playing guitar about 15 years, and arranging celtic music for about 7 years or so i think. In that time i have compiled a handful of tunes that i like, and started to seriously think about doing a cd a few years ago. But i kept putting it off, wasnt the right time, etc. Then i moved out to Portland, OR three years ago, which put me closer to two friends in California, Steve Baughman and Doug Young. I had met them both at the Swannonoa Gathering and saw them pretty regularly over the years at camp. When i first brought up recording a cd Steve offered to produce it, and Doug offered the use of his home studio. I knew i had a good team here, as Steve has been a teacher of mine over the past few years and knows my playing quite well. Doug is well established in the acoustic guitar scene, has top notch gear, and knows how to use it. So i knew i would be able to get a good sound, and had two other folks i trusted to give me good feedback on my decisions.

Before all this i had toyed with the idea of recording at home. Alot of solo guitarists record at home in very modest studios. I would have to drop a bit of money on gear, but afterwards it would be mine and i could do future albums at home for free. However in the end i decided against this approach. I was not really in the position to modify my room with acoustic treatment, my house is on a fairly busy street, and i just didnt feel i knew enough at that point to get a reliable sound i trusted. I wanted this first cd to be as good as possible, and did not want to have to second guess sound quality or mic placement. Flying down to California was an added cost, but i feel in the end it will have been worth it. Now that i have a good baseline for what a professional cd should sound like i may try to record future albums at home, if i can assemble the right gear and acoustically treat my room.

Working with a producer was also something i had to think about. Its a dynamic i had never experienced before, plus is also an added cost. In the end having Steve there was well worth it, and i would reccomend a producer to other folks if you can afford and know someone who fits the role. Being able to just go in the studio and play, while Steve noted down which takes and parts were keepers was a big load of my mind. Doug worried about setting up the mics, running the computer, and editing. Both of them offered up their thoughts when i was wondering about a take or certain part. Steve was very good about getting the best playing out of me, and encouraging me to play louder.

I managed to record all twelve tracks in two seperate sessions, one in April and another in Sept of 2009. The first time was 8 tracks over the course of 2 days i think, and the second time i did the remaining 4 tracks in one day. Overall i would say things went smoothly, and part of that i attribute to being fairly well prepared. Being that i had to pay to fly down there, plus other expenses, i wanted to get the most out of each trip as possible. I would reccomend this to anyone going into a studio, whether its local or out of town. Practice up, do some demo recordings at home on a simple recorder to get used to the red light and the microphone. Its funny how much ones playing goes down hill once the record button is hit. I would say each track took about an hour to an hour and half, though some were definitely more. Thats recording and editing the takes into a final master take. Some of the stuff Doug accomplished with digital editing was pretty cool. Its certainly more effecient than hoping for one magical perfect take.

After all the recording was done the cd was mixed by Doug at his place. Mastering was done Cass Anawaty at Sunbreak Music up here in Portland. I wanted to work with someone local so i could pop in and talk about music and the sound i wanted, and Doug mentioned that Cass mastered Larry Pattis’s latest cd. Cass is also a Michael Hedges fan and has studied guitar with Alex De Grassi, so i knew i would be getting someone familiar with the acoustic guitar genre. We met up, had coffee, and talked about music. Cass is a really nice guy, listened to what i had to say about my sound, made some suggestions of his own, and off we went.

I felt the mixed version straight from Doug’s sounded good, and would probably stand up fine as a cd on its own. But i want this to be a professional cd as possible, and to me the mastered result is smoother, more spacious in places, and of course louder.

What type of manufacutring to get also involved a bit of decision making. The standard run is a 1000 real cds for about a $1000. Any less and they are usually CD-R’s. Which would be fine, but again, i want this to be a professional release as possible. Kind of like printing your resume on regular paper vs something nice. But i don’t really want to spend a $1000 at the moment. Asking around Doug (LittleBrother) over on the Acoustic Player Magazine forum referred me to Copycat Media, as he had just used them for a project with good results. I sent off for a quote, and was able to get 500 real cds, full color 4 panel artwork, 3 color on disc printing, plus a barcode for about $600. I will most likely go with them, though i want to check out Doug’s CD. 500 units seems like a good first run to start with. Hopefully i will sell a bunch, and will end up giving alot away for promotional and gigging purposes, as well as gifts.

There were also some extranous expenses that i didnt think about. Three of the songs on the cd are not public domain, so i had contact the authors and pay them mechanical rights, which are about a $100 each. Not a ton of money but it adds up on a personally financed project like this. I also decided to register for ISRC codes (i think thats what they are called). Basically its a code for each track that the mastering guy can embed on the final disc. They are unique for each track, and are used to track statistics for digital downloads, which is neccessary these days. So that will probably end up running $150 or so in total.

I am happy with the course i took, and now i know how a professional cd sounds, should i ever decide to record one at home.  I am glad i met Cass, its good to know a mastering engineer who is local and being able to talk to him in person really helped.  I hope folks enjoy the music as much as i enjoyed recording it.

Any questions or thoughts on the process?  Let me know in the comments.

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