Obviously, quite a bit has happened since my last update. I had resolved to put all other duties aside and devote every moment of my free time to finishing the album. Duties put aside included keeping you filled in on the recording process. I figured I’d update everybody after I got everything ready to mix. So allow me to backtrack and fill in the blanks. Most people know by now through word of mouth, MySpace and our mailing list that mega-platinum producer Beau Hill is mixing our album in Los Angeles. I was only too glad to relinquish mixing duties to somebody who has mixed a hundred or so hit records!
Going back a few months for a little background, I had recorded most of the tracks on a Roland VS-2480, with the exception of a few backup vocals, all the sample loops, orchestra and some sound effects, which I recorded in Sonar. I had planned to mix using Sonar on my computer after transferring all the raw tracks from the 2480 since bouncing tracks down on the 2480 degraded the sound noticeably and it’s only 24 track mixing. Sonar has like a 256 track limit or something rediculous like that so that would have suited me just fine. However I quickly quickly realized when running a 52 track mix with a number of plugins and effects that my computer was slightly underpowered for handling the load of the massive amount of music we had tracked. The track count added up quickly from all the backup vocal tracks we did and three mics for each primary guitar rhythm track and whatnot. Although Sonar worked fairly well and I could have gotten the job done, something fortunate happened to us that made me switch over to Pro Tools HD.
As I said in my last blog, a guy named Scott Spelbring happened to see my Backing Vocals II blog entry and dropped me a note on MySpace saying he liked my tracking writeups and offered to help with anything if we needed any. Scott runs a big studio not far from my house called Dragonfly Studios and he extended an invitation to have us bring a song or two down and mix it there. I’m sure you’ve heard Scott’s work before – Dave Matthews, SR-71, Bowling for Soup, Nikki Barr and of course he engineered and produced Plunge’s Hometown Hero – a great sounding record through and through. Jimmy and I decided we’d go down there together and bring two songs to mix, “Crush” and “Hot on Your Heels” and if we liked what we heard, we’d hire Scott to mix it for us which Scott was totally in to. Rob couldn’t make it that particular Sunday and the only way to get Steve to a mix session is to shoot him, throw him in the back of the truck, take him down there and prop him in a chair – Weekend at Bernie’s style! I exported all the tracks to broadcast wav files, burned them to a data disc and Jimmy and I drove down to Dragonfly one Sunday about 30 mins south of my house to a real, kickass professional recording studio.
Scott gave us a nice tour of the facility – top notch in every respect. Lot’s of great outboard gear, a Digidesign Pro Control fully automated desk and a killer live room. We spent all day there, most of the time was spent importing tracks into Pro Tools, explaining to Scott my mad methods on what was what, and setting up the mix, way more time than actual mixing. Regardless, at the end of the day we did get a mix and we really liked what we heard, Scott did an outstanding job on “Heels.” Scott is a freaking Jedi Master with Pro Tools and being in the software/computer business, I’ve been around computers long enough to have a keen sense of when somebody really knows what they are doing on a piece of software. Scott knows how to leverage all the nuances of Pro Tools, he moved about with ease and knew exactly what he was doing at all times. His wizardry was most impressive! Not only that, he has to be the world’s nicest most genuine guy too and he loves to talk tech so all three of us really hit it off. And above all else – he’s a dog person! Anyhow, when I compared Scott’s mix to my roughs from Sonar, levels, effects and EQ aside, there was something that was just better about the general sound and basic quality of Scott’s mix. It was difficult to explain. We didn’t do a whole lot of EQ at Scott’s – it just plain sounded better coming off Scott’s gear. I did a little research and found some white papers on Digidesign’s web site about the Pro Tools 48-bit mix bus and that helped explain why the Pro Tools mix was elementally much fatter and pro-sounding that the Sonar mixes. Sonar does not use a 48 bit mix bus and the difference was audible to me.
Jimmy and I decided we’d talk to the other guys and see what they thought about Scott mixing our record. We still had some tracking to do and Scott was going away for a month in May to do a USO tour running front of house for Plunge. So we agreed to talk when Scott got back and made a plan to have everything done ready to bring to Scott to mix by June 1st. I had a ton of work to do to export all our tracks and get them ready to be mixed in Pro Tools. I was ecstatic at the prospect of having Scott mix our record and so were the other guys.
In the mean time, as most everybody knows, Dean had put in his notice that he was leaving the band. He still had some rhythm tracks to do and all of his solos. Steve, Jimmy, Rob and I, while we regret Deans decision to leave, decided we would not release a new CD with guitar tracks played by a person who was no longer in the band. So all Dean’s tracks were scrapped. Luckily though, when Rob and I recorded all his rhythm tracks, we had to sort out all our guitar parts from the demos and right after Rob would finish his tracks for any song we were working on, we immediately recorded Dean’s parts as guide track so Dean could learn all the guitar parts he was supposed to play. Then we would run mixes of Rob playing the parts intended for Dean without Rob’s main tracks so Dean could come in prepared and there would be no question about what parts he was supposed to play. It worked out great for two reasons, Dean always came in prepared, and when he decided to leave, much by accident we already had good, well-engineered, produced guitar guide tracks that Rob had tracked for Dean. So I just flipped the virtual tracks labeled ‘Dean’ over to the ones labeled ‘Rob’ and we were done! Almost. Rob had to redo a few tracks as we did some of them slopplily because we thought Dean would be playing them anyhow so there was not much point in punching in and tightening things up here and there. So we left some stuff a little sloppy, one pass tracking style, thinking the only purpose they would serve was for Dean to learn his parts. Those rhythm tracks were retracked.
Turns out we needed those guide tracks after all and we only had to redo like three rhythm ‘Dean guide tracks’ of Rob’s, and Rob had to do all the solos that were earmarked for Dean. We knocked that stuff out in about two weeks of hard work and we were very happy with the result.
I also decided that since we spent the bulk of our time at Scott’s importing raw tracks and organizing data, and since I had witnessed the brilliance and amazing workflow of Pro Tools first hand, that I would get the software and get the projects ready in Pro Tools so all Scott would have to do was EQ and mix rather than organize my mess! It’s really tough to explain the difference a well engineered workflow makes in a software program – when you see it, it seems like everything just makes sense and everything is done so easily and intuitively. (The MIDI implmentation in Pro Tools has a long way to go but that’s a whole other story) So since I was way overdue for a new PC anyhow, I went and built myself a dual core Athlon 64 for about $1000 (tax deductable of course!) and got my new Pro Tools HD up and running in no time. I was importing raw wav files from Sonar and the VS-2480 like a mad scientist, finishing up bass parts here and there, reading the 750 page Pro Tools manual front to back and generally working like Edward Scissorhands trimming the hedges, every single night, every free moment – except for during Soprano’s and 24! I really wanted to be ready for when Scott came back to go right in and mix.
Then something quite remarkable and unexpected happened out of the blue one day – Beau Hill called!