I just finished up two days of mixing with engineer Ken Schubert. We were two guys sitting at a console staring at a screen of ProTools information with two very good speakers on either side – and not talking much for 8 hours a day. That is some guys’ idea of a great day. I guess it is mine. It reminds me of a story about the famous pilot, Chuck Yeager, flying in tandem with another pilot across the entire country, speaking only a dozen words during the whole trip and feeling like they had a hell of time at the end of the day. I’m not sure if this is a particularly male trait or not. But I have only had these experiences with guys. We sit and listen…. and listen again. then one guy says:” Do you think the guitar is a little wet? ” or “Let’s lose the piano until the bridge.” The other guy answers with ” Hmmm… we could try it?” This would be followed by another half hour of sitting, listening and staring. In two days we mixed three songs and ended up thinking we were flying right along on this project.
At the same time I had to listen to the masters of the new Chaise Lounge Christmas album, “A Very Chaise Lounge Christmas”. Mastering is a completely different level, a much deeper level of listening that I am not capable of. Greg Lukens and Bill Wolf are the two “master”minds ( pun intended) involved here. They also sit in a dark room surrounded by audio gear and mumble about “shelves” and say things like ” Is that getting a little tubby ?” In the end they took an album of 10 songs that were mixed over the course of nine months, and had a variety of instrumentations, and made them sound like they all truly belonged on the same record.
This is not my favorite part of my job, but it is one that is odd and peculiar to this craft of recording music. In some ways I owe my career to the various engineers who have looked at me and said in all sincerity ” for the love of God, can we pull some of the big room back… please?”
Chuck Brown passed away yesterday. He was immensely important to so many people. He has been a part of Washington DC’s musical character ever since I moved here and I can’t imagine this town without him.
I had a few chances to work with him and even hang out with him. I feel fortunate to have been in the room while he recorded “Mellow Saxophone” for Pete Ostle’s A La Carte Brass Band. I have a video of him singing Stormy Monday with just him singing and me on piano. I was lucky enough to spend some time at his house and eat a fried chicken dinner ( maybe the best ever) and drink Courvoisier Cognac with him. He was truly a man of the people. A terrific musician. An original. I am going to miss having him in our lives.
Last Friday I was part of the Q & A panel that followed the screening of “Follow Me”. I was with Dave Goulding, the cinematographer and David Grossbach, the editor. Thank God they were there. I always forget this… there are never any questions about the film making process. There are only questions about content. The two Dave’s were well equipped for all the questions. My advice for all composers thrust into such situations: be prepared to simply sit there and nod knowingly as better informed parties answer questions.
Just so you know: we had an orchestra of 25. I conducted. It took two days to record all the live tracks. And two days to mix. The synth tracks were already finished by the time tracking started. We recorded at Cue Recording in Falls Church in the “Red Room”. If you are truly curious, I can tell you some of the mics we used. Nothing exotic though, the usual collection of Neumans, Sennheisers, Royers etc. There, I feel better.
Chaise Lounge just came off two wonderful gigs. A concert at Black Rock Performing Arts Center. And then this Saturday at The Hamilton. The Hamilton was amazing. To use a sports analogy : we left it all on the field. It is an amazing feeling to know, and to know deeply, that you gave the crowd everything you had: every bit of skill, every bit of emotion, and the sum total of all the arranging, re-arranging and rehearsal that, over years, add up to a good song and a good performance. People say it all the time, but that makes it no less true, that what you get back from the audience, if you are tuned in, is more than you have given. We played for nearly 400 attentive ( meaning sometimes screaming and sometimes lost in a wash of emotion) fans. It feels funny to say “fans”. I just think of them as lots of folks I know,… even when I don’t know them at all. That’s the way it feels. There are only six of us in the band. We were hopelessly out-numbered. We put out only six people’s worth of music, but we got 400 peoples vibes coming back at us. The wave of musical joy and satisfaction that swept back over us after each song was palpable. Every gig is different. But I hope we can get somewhere close to this feeling every time.