In April, I was invited back to Mexico. This time there was no band or artist to produce, but I conducted two teaching events and both were sweet!
First stop was Cuernavaca, and I was honored to cut the ribbon of Technilogico De Monterrey‘s new on campus recording studio. The staff had been up until 3AM doing last minute wiring and integration, and the studio was almost ready. I don’t think there has ever been a studio construction project that has been completed on time, and this was no exception. I arrived about 15 minutes before the ribbon cutting, and dug right in to help troubleshoot some last minute issues.
We managed to get up and running, though, and the last class of the day turned into an impromptu recording and mix session of James Brown’s “I Feel Good”. The new facility was inaugurated with Soul Power, Cuernavaca style.
The next stop was SAE Institute in Mexico City, and the event was a two day intensive which we titled “Music Creation – from concept to master”.
The plan was to write a song, record it, mix it, and even do a quick and dirty mastering job. My goal for the course was to give the students a taste of the reality of music production in 2013. That in our job, whether it be as producer, recording engineer, or even as a studio musician, we end up wearing many hats. The more skills that we can bring to session, the greater the chance of a successful and long lasting career.
The course was limited to 12 students, but there were 15 bodies in the control room when we began, and it turned out to be a perfect number.
We all discussed the game plan. The students were about to complete their second full year of study, and expressed the desire to focus on the creative end of music production. They had been immersed in studying the technical side of audio engineering for a full two years, and were hungry to create. I was immediately impressed by their skill level in the studio, and happily agreed to refocus our goals for the course.
And so we began… Three teams were formed, and each team began writing a song. The teams decided to write the lyrics in English, and I attempted to make each team as musically diverse as possible. The majority of the first day found me moving from room to room, team to team, and providing input on songwriting, as well as dealing with the conflicts that are part of the creative process, as well as being part of life in general.
The day produced three diverse, and excellent, songs. One latin flavored, cleverly upbeat tune. The second song was influenced by Bob Dylan, and the third, a well crafted John Mayer-like pop song. All 3 songs stood on their own as impressive compositions, as well as being an affirmation of the power of teamwork.
I can’t remember what time day 2 was to begin, but we had a very aggressive schedule ahead, so we agreed to meet early. We put together a microphone list before the end of day one, and spent the morning doing our best to mic the tracking room for a session that would essentially accomodate 3 different bands.
The plan for day 2? Our session players would be from among us, as would the engineers, and producers. Whoever was not tracking, was in the control room where we produced and engineered the 3 master recordings. We were successful in getting the basic tracks done, and we got a great deal of the lead vocals complete. We were not going to finish all the overdubs, nor would we be able to mix.
The thing that amazed me about the 2 days was that we encountered the same issues that I deal with in real life record production. We had conflict, meltdowns, insecurity, and even band members quitting (we lost a student between day one and day 2). We also had amazing teamwork, mutual support, bursts of creative genius, and fun. We truly immersed ourselves in the 2013 version of Music Production Reality. We made a record.
We all gathered to decompress, and discuss the experience. I asked each student for their most empowering experience, as well as their most frustrating. The most frustrating was overwhelmingly the limitation of only 2 days. We all felt that 3 days would have been ideal to truly reach the goal. I invited everyone to send me updates, and committed to giving feedback on the mix. As of today, I’ve heard that the songs are nearing completion, and I am eagerly awaiting the version 1 mixes (hint, hint, you guys).
I have no hesitation in stating that the Mexico City immersion was a powerful experience for me. I’ve corresponded with some of the students, and have high hopes for their future careers in music. There was definitely some bright and shining talent in the room.
My heartfelt gratitude to SAE Institute Mexico City, as well as Alphonso, Alex, and Alastair for making it possible.
I think that the most important thing I have learned about the music business in the past couple of years is that change is not only inevitable, it is happening right now! We are constantly negotiating, and re-negotiating, as we move into an unprecedented new age where none of the old rules apply.
On the bright side:
This is Cubasis! A recording studio on your iPad? Well, not yet. But this is no joke, and I take the shrinking of technology seriously. You should, too.
You know what I love? I love plugging in some headphones, and sketching out a song idea on my iPad with my 2 year old daughter asleep and laying next to me undisturbed. I love having a reliable recording rig that I can take on a hike in Joshua Tree, and capture inspiration when it knocks.
…and the scary side
The independent artist could be in a difficult position with major labels once again controlling the music business. No, they no longer control the distribution network, but they might become the only entities with enough clout to demand fair payment from the new distribution network.
And so, honoring the wisdom of the sages of old, I plan to “pick up my guitar and play”.
I’ll be writing more, later, but for now here’s the condensed version:
I posted news of our new label Luxury Wafers Fresh yesterday. To elaborate on the re-invention theme, I decided that the best way I could support the record releases of two young and super talented artists, was to take them on the road. A new brilliant model for DIY? Nah, probably not. A one-off quirk? I hope not.
Luxury Wafers Fresh is the home for artists that I’ve produced and/or mixed. That is, those artists who are looking for a home:-)
July 16th, 2013 is the official label launch. Featured full length releases include Courtney Jones – All The Things That Fall, and Spencer Livingston – Grow. In addition a great record that I produced in 2007 Josh Blackburn – Starting Ground, will be released digitally for the first time.
EP releases include Mexican rockers Volagio, and Mexican Psychedelic Rockers The Risin Sun. The Risin Sun EP was produced by my friend, MC5 founder, and certified legend, Wayne Kramer.
The second release wave on Luxury Wafers Fresh features Soul Rocker Valerie Winters, and Samba Saturated Singer Songwriter JOYA. More info with links coming soon.
A few months ago we decided to wade back into the record label waters. Hosted by our blog LuxuryWafers, we are launching Luxury Wafers Fresh, a boutique label that will feature some really special projects that I’ve produced and/or mixed.
Launch is set for July 16th. I’ll be posting more info almost immediately. The one bit of news that I want to share right now, is that I will be headed home to Boston, and the east to take part in a ToUr that begins JuLy 20tH in nEw HaMpShIrE.
Joining me will be Courtney Jones
and bassist Jeff Eyrich
Right now we have Massachusetts dates, New Hampshire, Maine, and NYC. If you have or know of the perfect venue somewhere else in the neighborhood, send me an email. We have 2 more tour stops to book.
Synopses: Casino magnate Steve Wynn bought Le Reve by Picasso for $15 million. He stuck his elbow through it, had it repaired, and sold it to hedge fund Quadzullianaire Steve Cohen for $155 million. Hey, we live in the land of opportunity.
But wait, there’s more. Steve Cohen’s company, SAC Capital, just settled with the federal government for $616,000,000.00 (yup, 616 million dollars), for doing something funky, so Steve, I guess, just thought he’d go out and buy himself something nice to celebrate.
Which got me to thinking, it’s a great thing to support the arts.
It’s also a “thing” to support the ego, and buying a famous piece of artwork for $155 mil, and putting it in your private collection… well, a person could make a case for claiming that was ego driven.
My little corner of the arts revolves mainly around independent musicians. These musicians, not unlike a young Pablo Picasso, struggle to create beautiful work, and hopefully get paid for that work.
I thought about how that $155 million might support the arts in my neighborhood, so I took a look at a very generous budget of $20,000.00 for a young band’s first EP, promotion, and tour. Here’s how the dream budget might break down:
Record, produce, mix, and master a 4-6 song EP $10,000.00
20 grand, right? And there’s plenty of bands and solo artists who could do it in style for a lot less.
Seven Thousand Seven Hundred Fifty endowments of $20,000.00 in that $155 mil. Yup.
Something like that would support the arts in a substantial, ground breaking. paradigm shifting way. Maybe hire back a few laid off music teachers, too… just thinking out loud here.
You know, Mr. Cohen can do whatever he wants with his money (and evidently does just that), that’s his choice to make. Still I’d like to dream about a world where we help each other out, which is truly the ultimate selfish act, because… we’ll all be the better for it.
He was known as The Wolf. Chester Burnett, aka The Howlin Wolf, was a giant of a man. At 6 foot 3″ and 300 pounds, his physical presence was, well, substantial. However, it was his music, and the impact that his music has had on everything that followed that makes him a true giant.
The last time I saw Wolf live was not long before his death in 1976. He was unashamed of the tubes embedded in his arm that were needed to hook up to the kidney dialysis machine that was keeping him alive. He still gave an outrageous, and energetic show at The Shaboo Inn in Willimantic, Connecticut.
Man, I love his music to this day. I spend a lot of time listening to the songs I’m currently working on, and a lot of time checking out new music, new artists, and new production. Honestly, I don’t do a lot of listening purely for the joy of it.
Every once in a while, though, I’ll put the work aside, and like visiting a dear friend, put some Wolf on the studio nearfields.
So here’s what this post is really about. I get chills listening to The Howlin Wolf. I get chills when I hear John Lee Hooker’s voice in the night. Those voices, and the voices of some of their peers came from a powerful and hard life experience. Their music came from a truly American experience. A life that was all too real and challenging, a life experience that does not exist today.
There are still really cool blues records being made. There are virtuoso blues musicians that I have the utmost respect for, but for me the chill is gone. I don’t get the chills when I listen to the recreation of that style. I just don’t.
And so, when I’m faced with the prospect of producing a blues record in 2013 and beyond, I want to make sure it doesn’t become a tribute to the past. I want it to stand on its own and reflect the American Experience of the second decade of the 21st century. There’s more than enough real life to reflect on, and shout about. I’m betting there’s a future record out there that might give you the chills.
Billy Preston live in 1971. You think maybe he was a bit ahead of his time? 3 keyboard players, including bass on the original synth (the mighty Hammond B-3). Four piece horn section, no guitar to be seen or heard anywhere.
Every once in a while I’ll get an email about a project that was released in 1999. Known affectionately as “The greatest album you’ve never heard” by friends, it sold about 100 CD copies, and has never been released digitally. The album was Sons of the Jet Age, and the band was a collaboration between Detroit soul rocker Amyl Justin and myself. To be fair, by the time the album was pressed and released, the band had pretty much broken up. I’d already made plans to move to New York City, which turned out to be a pretty solid decision.
The fact that hardly anyone has ever heard this thing has continued to bug me. If you’ve ever visited my studio, this is old news, because you’ve probably had me force a copy on you from the cartons stacked in my garage. Sorry.
This is all headed somewhere… and the where is that we’re in the process of finalizing a digital distribution deal that will allow us to release many of my new productions, as well as some cool archival stuff. Lots of music that’s never been heard beyond the walls of my studio.
More news soon, but meanwhile, surf over to Soundcloud for a listen to a Sons of The Jet Age track, You Are My Sunshine.
Update: I forgot to credit the talented Tom Hambridge, who not only produced the album, but played drums on many tracks, and wrote a couple of the songs. Ducky Carlisle was the recording engineer, as well as Mixing Engineer.
I’m in the process of creating a YouTube series on my style of vocal production. Part 1 was shot with my iPhone from inside the Pie and Tart Shop vocal booth. Part 2 is in process, and it would be done if I had more video tutorial making skills, but alas. Luckily I’m pretty sure that I’m better at producing vocals than I am at making tutorials about it.
Here’s my take on the technical side:
1. Understanding the instrument :: Although I no longer consider myself a singer, I did study voice with Mark Baxter, Elizabeth Sabine, Rosemary Butler, and eccentric Boston legend Dante Pavone. I have a solid understanding of the mechanics of the voice. The human voice is a complex and mysterious ‘musical instrument’ and in the studio a vocalist needs someone who understands the care and nurturing of that instrument. Higher budget projects may employ a dedicated vocal therapist or specialist, but every lead singer needs informed feedback in the studio regardless of budget.
2. Having an ear :: A producer must have perfect pitch, or relative perfect pitch. With a talented vocalist, real time accurate feedback from an engaged producer can lessen the need for tuning in the mix.
3. Flow :: There are times to push for that additional take, and there are times to stop. There are also times when the performance just isn’t going to happen, and the best plan is to come back tomorrow. When a project has a set budget, it’s important to have a plan B, just in case the vocal session is not going to happen. Physical issues, emotional issues all play into the vocal performance. Capturing a compelling performance is the elephant in the room. If we can’t capture a magical performance at today’s session, we will tomorrow.
4. Support :: I know that the worst thing a vocalist can hear on her headphones at the end of a challenging take is nothing! Feedback is key.
And there I go… I started out talking about the technical and quickly veered off into the more esoteric. Which reminds me of a job I once had.
Quite a few years ago, I played Texas Hold Em poker for a living. It was long before the poker TV shows. Let me categorically state that it was not a very fulfilling job.
That said, I learned a lot about life at the poker table. I learned that thinking is the enemy. If I could get out of my head, and step back from the hand I was betting on, I could intuit exactly what my opponent had. Then, if I continued to stay in the flow, I could act accordingly: Raise, check, bet, fold. It was all pretty straight forward, because the goal was to get the chips (like the one above).
Recording and Producing Vocals is not quite as straight forward as a Texas HoldEm game, but the principal is the same. The goal is to shut off all internal conversations. Immerse yourself in the music, and let the river flow. Stand at the bank, close your eyes, and let the water take you away.