Category Archives: Jesse Lauter

Album Odor

I thought the record was nearly complete when I got a text from the Artist stating they wanted to change the album order as well as make a few mix revisions and one tracking addition. We had already gone through our first round of mastering for the record. Usually the way it works is once you submit your mixes to mastering, it’s done. Out of everyone’s hands. I had been working on this record on and off for over a year on Spec (def. for nothing, but the promise of something…hopefully) and had dedicated a majority of the past several months finalizing the record. You can say I was annoyed to say the least to receive these last minute requests.

Firstly, the content. I didn’t get the new album order. It was a simple switch of the first track and the fourth track. However, the track the Artist now wanted on top never even crossed my mind as being the opener. The Artist some months back had granted me the privilege of choosing the album order, a privilege I did not take lightly and spent a considerable amount of thought on. The track I had in the first slot was a no-brainer. It had been the opener all along. Not to mention, it kicked off an amazing flow, transitioning perfectly into the second track and so forth. This is to be the Artist’s debut LP, and the track I had on top I knew was our strongest. You might say that in the playlist era, album order doesn’t matter, but the Artist’s goal is to get signed, so when someone at a record label pops in your record, you want to lead off with a heavy hitter. The track the artist now wanted first is a great track, but slow, and I believed worked better within the album. I knew this was a risky choice.

As for the last minute post-mastering revisions, I was upset. Sure, it’s a matter of me going to my computer and opening things up again, but that window of time was already there. The band could rarely attend mixing sessions so I had to do most mixing on my own, but I would always send WIPS (works-in-progress) to the Artist and band for review and put their notes into effect to the best of my ability. When I had final mixes to share, the whole band had a substantial window to give me their final notes. So now we’re at mastering and I’ve been asked to make mix fixes, editing fixes, and retrack a guitar solo. These were all indeed minor requests, but all unnecessary in my opinion and could’ve been requested before mastering, causing me serious aggravation.

So I caused a fuss. And it didn’t end well.

Side-note: My situation with this particular band has changed throughout the course of producing this record. In the process, I became a quasi-member of the band filling in as a second guitar player. I’m also significantly younger than everyone in the group. This never seemed to be a problem while I was tracking the record, but the more time I spent with them as a bandmember (which began as I was finishing up tracking), the more this age difference became apparent and, I felt, interfered with the band viewing me as their producer. Also, when you go from producer to bandmember, your voice has to become more equal with everyones. Democracy is righteous, but I was brought into the life of this band to lead them through the album process. As a bandmember, your voice needs to be quieter. Boundaries became a little shadier.

There were a few back and forths on the phone where I pleaded not to change the album order, and the Artist agreed to keep the order intact, only to change his mind the next day, which led to an awful phone conversation where some ugly cats came out of the bag and caused me to write an email, stating more clearly as to why I thought the album order change was wrong and why I felt I had been disrespected as a professional by having to make these post-mastering revisions. At this point, I had agreed to make the revisions, but I felt the need to educate the Artist. As I said, there is a protocol. But I also understand that there’s a give and take. I had been given a serious amount of creative control on this record so I still felt obligated to honor the Artist’s requests. What was I to do? Refuse and sit on the Masters? Only scumbags do that…

The Artist didn’t like my email and told me “there’s a difference between disrespect and disagreeing” which told me that the Artist didn’t see the fact that I needed to do more work post-mastering as being the issue. Ultimately, I thought we had a finished record! Also, things had been going great up to this point, so it sucked to see that suddenly disrupted. I was seeing a lot of these changes as rash last-minute decisions. But sometimes you need to step back and tell yourself, it is not your record! You are in the service of the Artist. So I made the changes and that was that…almost…

A couple weeks had passed. Despite this record really beginning to feel like it would never end, we were actually near completion, awaiting a new master. But this meant that I needed to address my status as a band member in this particular act. Seeing that I had other producing gigs coming up, most out of town, I started to make it clear to the Artist that I could not be relied upon to play with the band. It should be known that I really have a great relationship with the Artist, so he was understanding, but feelings were still sore from our previous situation, so this didn’t make things better.

I also felt the urge to bring up the album order thing again. I felt passionately about this record and in my heart, I knew we were making a mistake, despite the Artist and band believing otherwise. So I pleaded my case one last time via email, with a couple industry opinions supporting my viewpoint. The Artist begrudgingly seemed to accept my request but asked for another mix revision to the track in question. I sucked it up and made the revision, but something in my heart didn’t feel right about the Artist’s response to my “final wish,” which led to this response to the band:

“Hope this doesn’t add to any stress levels, but despite my arguments, I want you to be happy with this record and with what I’ve done for y’all. So you decide on what you think is best and I won’t put up a fight anymore. There is still some time to rest on it. “

All was good after the fires settled. The Artist and I reflected upon all of this and realized our communication was just sloppy at the end of the process. No matter what, you have to keep your communication intact all the way to the last measure. Keep focused and your rhythm sharp always, no matter how sick you are with the record. Otherwise, people’s emotions seriously come into play.

You have problably been in a similar place before or certainly will somewhere down the line. When these sort of situations come up at the end of an album process, no matter how minor they are, there is hurt involved (way more hurt when money’s involved). What hurts the most is that you start thinking all of your efforts got compromised at the very end of the process because people are tired of it all. Insecurities over the record’s outcome and potential response really start to rise, and a lot of this pressure rides on your ass Mr./Ms. Producer. It hurts because you break your neck for someone, spending hours, days, weeks, months working on their music because you love it so much, and it doesn’t all end on the positive note you hoped it would. Your efforts aren’t recognized to your fullest satisfaction and sometimes they aren’t recognized even if the record is a success.

This was not the case with this album. Everyone involved has great respect for one another and each other’s convictions. And for all I know, this respect and admiration will last a long time. But I had been in a similar but much worse situation at the end of one of my previous productions, so similar feelings came back to haunt me. Money was involved in that situation. That situation was so hard for me that I couldn’t really stop these feelings from creeping up on me again, even over something as silly as album order and post-mastering mix revisions…

Remember this: you are not in this game to make friends. You are in it to make art…with many others. To put your convictions to tape and hope that someone… somewhere… near or far… picks it up (pays for it) and likes what they hear. And tells someone else about it…

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Word Clock

I mix in the box (ITB). Use a Digi 003. Have mixed in the box for practically all of my mixing career. Tracked on boards plenty and have mixed on boards but there is no doubt that mixing in the box is more in tune with the modern mindset, workflow, and wallet… Even when I have access to a board, I still use ITB concepts when mixing, such as automation and using various plugs…

There are items in my rig that get the audio “out of the box,” partcularly the Dangerous D-Box Summing Amp, which allows me to utilize all 8 outputs (actually 10 with SPDIF) from my 003 (this piece was brought in by my partner-in-crime, Mr. Sean O’Brien). When this got added to the rig, it opened my tracks in the way your body does post-Yoga…

Most recently, I’ve added a Black Lion Audio Micro Clock MK2 to my rig. This has taken my rig up a very large notch…

I can’t really explain what a good clock source does here without sounding like a nincampoop. There are plenty of articles and YouTube videos out there to peruse if you want specifics. But let me say (with all respect to Digidesign), if you’re using a 002 or 003 for mixing or tracking, get a good external clock. You’ll here the difference immediately. If you can’t, you might want to get your ears checked. This new clock has added an amazing sense of depth and clarity to my mixes that the factory clock could not provide. Vocals cut much nicer and my low-end has ten times more punch and warmth.

I know this is old news to many of you. For those that it’s not, invest in a good external word clock… Plenty to choose from…

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Go Rogue, Creative Locations

I’m leaving my studio this month.

Purely a financial decision. I went through my expenditures and realized I didn’t need to pay rent on my own studio in order to continue doing what I do. Amazing time to be in this field… to be able to make a decision like this…

Not to hold anything back, I do have a mixing rig in my living room. So I can crawl out of bed and get to work on mixing and editing. The space I’m leaving is my tracking room in Manhattan. When it came down to brass tax, I know how to (quickly) gather enough gear (and no, not just an M-Box) and go rogue. Set-up in peculiar spaces. It makes things exciting for everyone, especially the musicians. “The Basement Tapes” by Bob Dylan and The Band are a great touchstone of this DIY style of recording. Dylan thought that recording in the country was the way to do it, “with a window open and a dog lying on the floor…”

However, I plan to support recording studios in every way I can and I ask all of you to do the same. My ideal situation is doing basic tracking in a professional studio and then doing overdubs in odd locations…

I wrapped up an EP  a couple months ago with my Sean O’Brien for one of my pet projects, THE WOES. The band plays an amazing blend of country-soul, big-band-jazz, and dirty-swamp rock, with all the diversity Brooklyn has to offer. We did this EP in a crazy amount of locations: basics in a professional studio with an API board and overdubs in apartments, multiple houses, practice spaces, abandoned warehouses, outdoors… But it came out sounding cohesive.

You can listen to one of the songs, “Let Me Ride,” here: www.magichat.net/opener/voting

(The above link is actually for a contest for The Woes to play the legendary Newport Folk Festival. I’d truly appreciate it if y’all would register and vote for The Woes. They need the gig).

Listening back to this track, I don’t here the amount of spaces it was recorded in, even though I oversaw the whole process. I only hear music. Sean and I labored to make it sound the way it does, but the song was already great, so it mixed itself (the EP called “The Bird & The Bear EP” comes out in September). But thinking on it, that’s why recording is so amazing, because you capture moments in several different spaces and time, and create a coherent piece of audial goodness… Location is a major aspect of the process and it’s easier now more than ever to make your records…“multi-regional”…

 

 

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Surrender To The Flow

I just had the most wonderful experience recording a band. They’re called Diamond Doves. We did a few tracks together for their myspace/demo….

You might know Diamond Doves as Elvis Perkins band “in Dearland.” These guys have been around the bend, touring the country with everyone from My Morning Jacket, as well as playing famed festivals such as Bonnaroo and New Orleans Jazz Fest. These guys are seriously pro but they’re creating this new side project sans Elvis (although Elvis Perkins in Dearland is still around), so they’re starting from scratch… I got to know these fine folks after they brought one of my bands, The Woes, on the road…

From an engineering perspective, I had a blast. We did basics to 1" tape and I would freewheel dump into ProTools LE, where we would proceed to go nuts with overdubs… Tracking the drums to tape definitely got us going on the right track. I actually set it up so that we were able to compare the drum sounds on PT vs. Tape. Tape won all three times. I would say these were the defining features of tracking to tape: less brittle, warmer on cymbals, snare prononced much more, and the kick just booming. Sorry PT (my gut tells me tape would have still won if we were using a better converter than a 003)… I also got turned on to the Beyer-Dynamic M160 for just about eveyrthing. This is a hyper-cardioid ribbon mic, so very different from Royer or Coles. Found out it was a favorite of Hendrix’s and also was the lone drum mic infamously used at the top of the stairwell for Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks.” I used it as a single drum OH, vocal mic, and right on the grill of our guitar amps… You can get them for $300-$700.. Seriously, bang for your buck…

But from a production standing, what a wonderful experience. This band (Brigham Brough, Wyndham Garrett, Nick Kinsey, Mike Irwin, and the lovely Odetta) are such wonderful souls. Rightly intense about their creative ideas and egos checked at the door… Brigham, Wyndham, and Nick each had a song to track… and everyone was super supportive of each other’s track. I wish recording was always like this…

The best part was there was zero passive-aggresiveness in the studio. This is extrememly rare. A lot of people come into the creative process with agendas and the like, but the only agenda this bunch had was to make music and have fun doing so.

I tell you all this because this is something we should all strive toward. I was very lucky to have this experience but you can too. If you let your guard down, surrender to the flow of music and creativity, then all sorts of thrilling possibilites can come about in the recording process..


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Walter Sear

Walter Sear died earlier this month:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/07/arts/music/07sear.html

I first got to know Walter through a class trip to his famed studio, Sear Sound, on 48th St in Manhattan. I would later go on to visit my mentor, Nick Sansano, as he’d mix in Studio A. In a couple years time, I got to do sessions in what I still consider the greatest recording facility in the country.

Sear Sound is great because it takes the artist and recording crew out of the hustle of New York City, and it makes you feel like your recording in the country…or at your grandparent’s house…a pretty amazing feat seeing that it is located a block away from Times Square (and an incredibly necessary “vibe” if you want to get anything done in this town)… Much of this feeling was due to Walter’s prescence, a pioneer in audio engineering and a truly kind human being.

Straight up, Walter was a genius. There was this one time he took me down into the basement, where he was just finishing an invention. Something to do with creating energy from salt water. He had been commissioned by the City of New York to make this contraption. At one point, he had me hold on to and eventually let go of this uber-powerful magnet that would shoot off and hit the closest source of metal. When I let go of the magnet, it hit a pipe 15 ft away. Oddly thrilling.

I had a hard time following Walter sometimes, because I am not the most scientifically inclined fellow, but he did teach me a few very important things about production:

1) If you’re operating a studio or producing a session, always make the artist feel like they’re at home. No matter what, there was always cake in the lobby and a pot of coffee on the hot plate… Essential!! He also had an amazing staff, headed by Chris Allen. Only one intern (or maybe two), but if you wanted to intern at Sear, you had to know your shit. I would get butterflies on my way to sessions at Sear because it is such a pleasure to be in there…

2) In studio mythology, it’s a “bad thing” to smoke tobacco around your gear. Walter showed us the opposite. The man was a chimney. I believe he used to be at a pack a day and then he eventually cut back. Now I’m not promoting smoking cigarettes. I myself am not a smoker. But arguably one of the most brilliant sound engineers smoked around some of the greatest gear in the world everyday!! I took this to mean one thing:  DON’T BE TOO PRECIOUS ABOUT YOUR CRAP! It’s only stuff…

3) Analog is better. On our first class trip to Sear, Walter A-B’ed us the CD and Vinyl versions of a record that was just cut at his studio. The band was Wilco and the record was “A Ghost Is Born.” Hearing that record on the large Studio C speakers (that Walter, I believe, built), in the studio where that record was actually concieved (one of my favorite Wilco albums too) was an amazing experience. And there was no comparison. The vocal breathed so much more on Vinyl and the snare just popped out of the speakers. I’ve done many A-Bs of this sort before, but this one still stands out to me. Digital is convenient. Analog sounds better. No questions asked. Walter has written much on the subject…

 

Everyone that had the pleasure of working at this wonderful man’s studio will sorely miss him…


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