Gye Greene's Thoughts

Gye Greene's Thoughts (w/ apologies to The Smithereens and their similarly-titled album!)

Friday, September 05, 2008

Recording an album is like writing a book

I've had this idea floating around in my head for a while: finally decided to lay out out on paper (well, virtual paper).

Most people don't understand the stages of the recording process -- but I figure most folks have a sense of what writing a book is about. Or, more correctly, most folks -- at least the ones reading this blog -- have written "stuff" with a word processor.

Of course, I've never written a novel -- so that side of my analogy may be incorrect. But, anyhow:

At the writing (recording) stage, you write a lot of words and sentences (record a lot of notes and melodies). Although you try to get them how you want them the first time around, mostly it's just getting the ideas on the page (sounds on tape or hard drive): you know you can rearrange things at a later stage. You might even write a few different versions of the same paragraph (record different ''takes'' of the same riff or melody), with the idea that you'll choose the best version later -- or even cannibalize different versions to produce one ''best'' version (in recording, this is called ''comp-ing'': short for ''making a composite'').

Once you've written the basic words (recorded the basic tracks), the editing (mixing) stage begins. This is where things get tightened up, and the basic raw materials (the written words//recorded tracks) get massaged into the final content. (Note that I said content -- not the exact form. That comes later.) Some bits that you spent a lot of time on, and seemed brilliant at the time, turn out to be a distraction from the main point you're trying to make. So, they get excluded -- edited out. But, that's o.k. -- if it makes a stronger whole.

You're also looking at the product as more of a whole: adjusting the relative emphasis on, for example, one character's description versus another (one instrument's loudness over another). And, you might change a few things in a subtle manner that most readers (listeners) wouldn't notice, but someone in the business might: strategically messing with the grammar (a music genre's stylistic conventions or expectations), or adding or subtracting a few adjectives and adverbs (playing with studio effects, such as echo, distortion, flanging, etc.).

Finally, you get to the formatting and layout (mastering) stage. This is where the content (the words//the musical notes) are already in place, but the presentation (font, layout; final EQ and compression) are applied. Among other things, each chapter (song) is made consistent in terms of font and layout (volume, compression, and over-all ''tone'') to all the other chapters (songs) in the book (album). Of course, sometimes you'll intentionally have some of the chapters (songs) presented in a clearly different style, in order to make it stand out from the others: but this is done intentionally, to serve the larger artistic vision (for example, when the chapters [songs] alternate between two different points of view).

And finally, you fix the final product into its physical form, by publishing the book (pressing the record or burning the CD). Although in this modern world, the final product won't necessarily reach a physical form, but instead end up as an e-book (downloadable music file), or perhaps a *.pdf file (*.mp3 or *.ogg-vorbis file).

Of course, even though writing (recording, laying down tracks), editing (mixing), and layout (mastering) are inter-related, they are nonetheless distinct skill-sets. Some people are really good at one stage, but not so good at another. For example, someone who's a really good writer (performer) may not be a good editor (engineer/producer); and a good writer (performer) may not be any good at formatting (mastering) the final product. And, that's o.k. :)



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