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Some recording for a friend

I did some recording last Thursday with my friend Jeffrey Fields; he had a couple new songs he wanted to demo, and we got one tune done during the course of the evening. He plays a loose, casual folk or “Americana” style with acoustic guitar and vocals, occasional harmonica, etc.

The session went fairly well, even though I was pretty unorganized; we recorded his vocals and guitar together to get an intimate, live feel – though that made it pretty tough to do any “punches” or re-tracks if we needed to. He nailed a great version after a couple takes, and it sounded quite good.

We then made a few small additions; a subtle tambourine and kick drum during the chorus, a small ride hit on the last chord – and he let me drop in a simple vocal harmony on the chorus as well.

When all was said and done, I think Jeffrey enjoyed the experience and liked the results. And I enjoyed working with someone new. I hope to get together with him again soon to track the other tune. This time around, we may try separate tracking, maybe even a metronome, just to leave options open. But ultimately, it’s his project, so we’ll do what he wants! ­čśë

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A Stupid CD Distribution Tip for Independent Musicians and Bands

I’m a progressive music lover and an independent prog musician, and I know that there are a lot of others like me. So, I figured this is a tip worth sharing with everyone, based on my experience. It might seem like a common sense move, or you might be averse to “partnering with the 800-lb. gorilla of the internet,” but I’m here to tell you that I found this to be a worthwhile “sell-out” if you want to call it that.

That’s right, I recommend that you sell your CD on Amazon.

On the surface, it kind of sucks, compared to the alternatives. Whereas CDBaby (an AWESOME company, sell your CD there too!) doesn’t charge a “service fee” and, for my CD (Din Within’s “Awaken the Man”, which sells at $12) pays $8 per CD – the “Amazon Advantage” Program, essentially a “consignment” program, charges an annual fee AND only pays $5.40 per CD. But here’s the thing, and again, it seems obvious: Amazon gets you out to such a incomparably HUGE audience – and more importantly, GROWS that audience with every sale (a feature that CDBaby can’t really match, as much as I love them.)

Amazon’s unique technology (Other customers who bought this also bought…) is the big sell here. Even though our album was released almost a year and a half ago (November, 2007) the sales have continued to INCREASE month-to-month, and lately, those increases have been exponential. More and more people are finding my music because other people who previously bought “Awaken the Man” also bought Spocks Beard, or Steve Wilson, or Phideaux, or Marillion, or… you get the idea – and now OUR album is being displayed on THEIR pages as a recommendation for “if you like this, you’ll also like…” And people clearly do, because our monthly sales have gone up ten-fold over the last 6 months. And the album is 1 ┬Ż years old!

When I considered signing up for the program, I really debated for some time on whether it would be worth it; in retrospect, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It seems a little corporate, especially for an “underground” music genre like Prog, but the distribution and legitimacy that it affords my little independent release is more than worth the reduced take we get on each copy.

Just my $.02.

Bonus tip: once your sales are consistently up a little bit, it pays to let them know you have a minimum number you’re willing to send as restock. I get Purchase Orders for 1 copy occasionally, and I send a “stock-up request” to up it to a minimum of 10, 20, etc. and they always oblige. It doesn’t make sense to pay shipping on one copy when I only get $5.40 per copy through them…

I’d also like to include a shout-out to Kinesis and Syn-Phonic, who are Progressive Rock Music Distributors; both have been extremely supportive by purchasing our CDs wholesale and selling them at the Prog festivals they go to!

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Second Story – You heard it here first

To be included on the Second Story release – our tribute version of Queensr├┐che’s “One and Only” that we recorded back in 2000 or so; the album it was to be on was never released, and we were quite proud of how it came out. If we do a full CD release, it will probably be on “Thin Twisting Line” as a “hidden” track, but we’ll get the licensing from Harry Fox so it’s legit.

Cool, the album isn’t even mixed yet and there’s already a BONUS TRACK! ­čśë

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Second Story – ‘The Silent Giants’

“The Silent Giants” is possibly Second Story’s most ambitiously “proggy” song. It’s one of the longest tunes we had in our set, and it features full instrumental solos from John, Tom and Scott. It has distorted chordal figures on the bass, about 12 different guitar tracks, contrapuntal vocals (think “Gentle Giant”), lyrics steeped in metaphor, Mellotron keyboards, and much much more. We loved playing it live, as it also rocked pretty hard.

As you can imagine, it was with trepidation that I began work on it. When we originally tracked in Indre Studios, we had a total of about 34 tracks available per song – I’m pretty sure that this tune used ALL of them.

What I found most curious, despite my worries – the song actually mixed quite easily! I was able to get a really good drum sound for the vibe of the tune, Danielle’s vocals sound really good, and with a little bit of judicious volume envelope swells, the vocal parts should also be great. I did a bit more fun stuff with the effects, particularly on some of the vocals. But again, you’ll just have to wait and see (hear, actually.) ­čśë

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Second Story – ”Dancing on the Hill"

This was a tune I was very worried about, based on how the other mixes of it had come out. It’s a complicated tune, even though it may not sound like it. The drum beat is somewhat disjunct, the bass line (distorted and played with Funk Fingers) is a bit “blurry” and some of the other parts of the song (keys, guitar) have some unusual rhythmic things going on. When it worked, the song had an undeniable groove and a very original sound. Unfortunately, the previous mixes we’ve had of this song sounded sloppy, uninspired and just plain bad.

I’ve long had the feeling that the success or failure of mixing this song might be the “make or break” moment of whether or not I took this project to completion. Meaning, if I couldn’t make this track sound good, there was probably no point in bothering with the rest of the album – it’d be too demoralizing.

Luckily, I think (and Scott agrees) that the song is sounding AMAZING. I was able to tweak the drum sound and really phatten it up. The bass tone, which the other engineers could NEVER seem to get right, is punchy and “gooey” – all at the same time. Some judicious audio track “nudging” helped fix some timing errors that I blame on the varied equipment used to dump the songs to digital, which may have caused some of that disjunctedness that we couldn’t seem to shake in the other studios. Danielle’s vocals just jump out at you and beg for attention. I’ve done some cool things with panning and effects – there’s a really cool bounceback delay that I used in several places that really adds to the tune. And I even added a sound effect sample (Extra points if you can guess what and where it is.)

So the project will go on. “Dancing” sounds really good, so I think there’s a good chance that everything can be mixed to our satisfaction. More to come!

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