January, '14

If you're a musician who's been in a recording studio over the last ten years or so, nothing here will come as a revelation , but I thought it time to elaborate on the making of "Feast of Fiddles" 'Rise Above It" CD - & also to throw in some pointers about the aesthetics of contemporary recording. To start with the latter, for those of you reading this who don't know, it's {arguably} unfortunate that these days, getting a group of musicians/singers in a recording studio all at the same time & then pressing the 'record' button are very few & far between. 

Once multi-tracking entered the arena in the  '60's, Producers, Artists & Musicians realized they not only could have more control over the/their sound, they could also record { on top of } a piece of music at a later / different time. "Sergeant Pepper" arguably took this to a previously un-reached height, although amazingly it was done on four-track machines.  
Photo by Mike Barry

Just as it required a set of skills to be able to play a piece of music from top-to-bottom without making a mistake - & in the rhythm sections' case also adjust one's playing level so as not to 'swamp' quieter instruments - it later became necessary to acquire the skill to know how to play to a 'click track' { or a consistent pulse }, stay in time with it & also - to the best of one's ability - 'second guess' what is to happen musically & sonically after you've done 'your bit' . Whilst I genuinely miss the days of everyone recording together { fortunately not gone completely }, one learns to deal with changes in the industry & use the recording facilities available in the most positive & musical way.  Technical considerations of recording aside, there's always been a lot of bad & good music - I simply do my best to lean towards the good stuff - then & now.

So to 'Rise Above It' . Given the nature of our band - twelve musicians spread throughout Europe, yours truly in the US - it's readily apparent that getting us into a studio is not easy. Organizing the tour is difficult enough { ask 'our glorious leader' Hugh Crabtree! }, but finding recording dates that suit everyone ?  And then the cost of a studio big enough with the right facilities ?  We'd never get our investment back !  

One of the many technical advancements after multi-tracking has been the ability to send digital files { for 'files', read recorded tracks of music } over the internet. This simply means that - for example - two singers can be literally oceans apart & record their performances as & when they like.  For those of you that think this 'trickery' only goes on in 'pop' music , I refer you [ just one example ] to some of the Tony Bennett  "Duets" recordings.  I rest my case. 

At this point in this article, the non-musicians reading this may want to sign-off. The band was fortunate in that most of the material we were planning to record for " Rise .. " was already 'played-in'- ie, everyone knew their parts & had a 'feel' for each song/tune.  What we also had was a good 'live' recording { from the sound-mixing desk } from one of the shows on the April '12 tour. 

Using those live tracks as reference, I set up in the studio of my good friend Mike Barry {"Super Genius"} located near me in Boston, & we recorded my drums to a click track . Said 'click' was a drum machine programmed by me with grooves / patterns containing shakers & tambourines, etc - more 'listener-friendly' than the ubiquitous 4-to-the-bar cowbell - something i personally dislike . 

Sound Mirror Mastering Suite, Jamaica Plain, MA
Once the drums were done, we then sent them over to England { via the 'interweb' ! } ; Hugh Crabtree had organized initial recording sessions in an Oxfordshire studio for {first} the rest of the rhythm section - & then a second batch of recording sessions for all the fiddlers & singers. What they would listen to was my {recorded in Boston} drums ; the drum machine was there for when there were sections of music when i did not play.  Again, not a long way removed from playing along with one's self to a piece of music. 

Once all THAT was completed, those performances were sent BACK to Mike & myself in Boston.  Mike {pre-dominantly} & I then did some 'tweaking' here & there ; everything was then sent off { again - 'interweb' } to our 'mix-master' Huck Bennert in Maine.  Huck would send me mixes, I'd make suggestions for slight changes / improvements - we went back & forth quite a lot. Then when satisfaction was reached { relatively speaking - time & the budget being taken into consideration }, those mixes went to "Sound Mirror", a mastering suite in Jamaica Plain , MA. 

I spent a day attending that final session ;  those {final/finished} files were then sent back to the UK { " pay attention at the back, there ! " } where the CD"s were manufactured - just in time for the '13 FOF April tour.

To summarize , I really don't think we could have made that CD { of the quality it is } by doing it 'old-school' without spending a small fortune.  Although some purists deride this 'click-track / one-at-a-time approach, the fact that the band is truly a band - & not merely a collection of good musicians - & that we'd played this material on the April '12 tour elevates the performances from all involved.

I'm curious to know YOUR take on this whole scenario - however, only if you've heard the band 'live' - & heard the CD . Let me know, eh ?  Thanks for being interested & reading this -  DM