NOVEMBER 9, 2006 - THURSDAY
THE CD IS COMPLETED!! I shipped the CD master to the manufacturer this morning via FedEx and they will begin the manufacturing process tomorrow. The finished print for the CD booklets and tray cards are already completed and there at the factory, just waiting for my final master. I am thrilled with the finished CD - it is my most ambitious and mature work and I have never been prouder of my guitar playing and composing and the overall power and emotion this CD contains. I truly can't wait for it to be heard and I consider myself lucky to get to share so much of myself thru this music. And wait till you hear the incredible performances by legendary bassist Gary Grainger, the amazing Blues Webb on drums, Kevin Prince on percussion plus Jay Rowe's stunning solos and keyboard textures and Rob Holmes' hot and emotional saxophone work. Everyone involved stepped up to the plate and hit a home run on this one and I am so appreciative of their talents and efforts and their dedication to my music.
NOVEMBER 1, 2006 - WEDNESDAY
I am mastering the final CD now and have been doing so for the past 3 days. Mastering is basically the final part of the recording process, when all of the songs are assembled in their final running order and a final gloss is added to the sound. It's exciting to hear the new music this way and to make the final decisions about each song's sound, level and overall tone. It's safe to say that I have heard each of these songs well over a hundred times over the past months yet I have never been more excited or focused on a CD than I am with "The Meeting Place". From the new songs like "Lucky", "Did You Hear That", and "Language of Peace" to my version of Pat Metheny's "Lakes", I feel this is my finest work and and also takes many new steps forward.
I will contiunue mastering until the end of this Thursday, burning approximately 5-6 test CDs, listening to them in various environments from living rooms to cars to ipods, making sure that the music sounds great everywhere. Then I will travel to Charlotte, NC to play the national anthem at an NBA game and also do a private concert after. I will return home Sunday and then continue tweaking until shipping the final mastered CD to the manufacturer next Thursday.
By the way, thanks for all of your nice emails about my Podcast/Audio Preview #3 where I demonstrated mixing "I Wish I Knew". I'm really happy to hear how much people like and appreciate that!
OCTOBER 23, 2006 - MONDAY
Phase three of the mixing process has begun. The mixes of all 11 songs are very far along now, in fact some of the songs are virtually completed. This phase is basically the time for me to make final adjustments, decisions and tweaks to all of the songs. When I used to record my CDs with analog equipment - tape, mixing boards, outboard effects etc. - I would spend 3 straight days working on mixing one song at a time until each song was completely finished. But now that I work digitally, I am able to work on one song for a day and then put it away and move on to another song. This gives me a lot more perspective and so when I return to each song to move it forward into the next phase, I am able to hear it with fresh ears and a clear palette. Now that the songs are 90% done, when I return to each one for the final go around, I immediately hear which elements of the mix may need a little more attention. It's a much more efficient way to work and most importantly it keeps me in a creative frame of mind, focused on making the music better and better. I have to say that these songs and the mixes sound great to me and so this is a very enjoyable part of the process. It feels a bit like a reward for all of the hard work and time put into the making of the CD so far to get it to this nice place.
The final artwork went to the printer this past Friday. The CD booklets and inlay cards will arrive at the CD manufacturer a day or two before my master arrives. Our distributor must have their promos and re-sale stock well in advance of the retail street date (January 23, 2007) so we're right on schedule. Even though my mind is completely on the music, a part of me has to take care of the business side as well. But it well worth it to have total creative control over my music and after 16 years and 17 CDs, I am pretty good at wearing these different hats.
I have been working especially long hours - typically 14 hours a day, 7 days a week for the last 8 weeks. I took on some live concert work in September, something I don't usually do when I'm recording a CD. I also accepted an invitation to perform in Charlotte, NC on November 4, playing a solo guitar version of the national anthem at the NBA Charlotte Bobcats vs. Cleveland Cavaliers game. I have to send the final master to the CD manufacturer by November 8 so I am trying to really stay ahead so that I have the mastering finished more or less before going to Charlotte on the 4th. Then when I return on the 5th, I will still have 3 more days to tweak and finalize the master.
OCTOBER 16, 2006 - MONDAY
I'm about to head back into the studio to continue mixing a song called "No Other Way". I am now deep into the second phase of mixing and have completed 8 of the songs with 3 more to go. There is so much fantastic playing and group interaction on this new CD and it's a pleasure bringing out all of the special moments and capturing the excitement of the live musicians and the recording sessions. There's a funky feeling to a lot of the music and the grooves are so in the pocket. By the time I am done with phase two of the mixing process, all of the songs will be 90% done and phase three will be like a final polishing and refining of the sound. Well, back to work. Thanks again to the many people who have already pre-purchased "The Meeting Place" CD here at my "The Meeting Place" online store. Everything is right on schedule and we plan on shipping all of the pre-orders out to you by November 27.
OCTOBER 8, 2006 - SUNDAY
OK, I've now spent 10 straight days going through all 11 songs, creating a blueprint so to speak for capturing the best sonic quality for each song and creating a soundscape which makes each song unique to itself. Basically this begins with the rhythm section and how it blends and feels within itself. I'm referring to the drum set, the congas, the bass guitar, the main keyboard (usually an acoustic piano or a fender rhodes piano) and the acoustic and electric rhythm guitar tracks. Some of the equipment settings and choices I have made over the past 10 days work effectively on more than just one song but each composition presents it's own unique possibilities and challenges and the bottom line for me is to always do what is best for each song. So there may be a song like "I Wish I Knew" where the kick drum and the bass guitar really drive the rhythm section but another song like "The Challenge" where the congas and the acoustic rhythm guitar are the strongest rhythmic forces. And so I combine, blend and mix the different rhythm section instruments accordingly. It is very hard to explain all of the details and the literally thousands of choices that go into the mixing process for each song and I don't want to bore you by going on and on about it. But suffice it to say that it's analogous to having a great piece of marble to sculpt with and then you slowly but surely, carve and shape it to expose it's unique and special qualities. And though as the composer, I know how I originally wanted each song to sound, one must also be open minded and let the marble lead you to the place it wants to go. For example, I may have thought that the bass guitar should be the defining rhythm section element in a particular song but it turns out that the conga part is spectacular and really captures the essence of the groove. If the conga part is the special element, then you have to go with that strength. That's what makes the song work the best.
Tommorrow, I will begin the next phase of the mixing. I will go back to the first song and then song by song, go through every track - there are between 20-30 tracks for each song - and zero in on my choices for EQ (tone), volume, panning and many, many other choices regarding the blend and sound of each track. This will take me approximately a week so you may not hear from me for awhile. Though each song is already sounding very good, this next phase will take each song to a new level and prepare each song for the third and final stage of mixing, the sanding and polishing of each piece of marble.
OCTOBER 2, 2006 - MONDAY
The mixing has begun! This is actually my favorite part of the recording process. I always begin by spending a good deal of time getting a great drum sound. I am using a new digital "plug in" tool to obtain the best drum sound I've ever achieved on record so far. The plug in is called Neodynium and it's one of Elemental Audio/Roger Nichols' amazing plug ins. It is a graphic compressor and it is helping me to get a very crisp, precise and up close drum sound. So far I have taken my first pass on mixing "The Meeting Place" and "Lakes" and today I have been working on "I Wish I Knew". Things are going really well today and so I'm going to head back into the studio to continue. I will probably work well into the evening.
SEPTEMBER 23, 2006 - SATURDAY
Recording all of Rob Holmes' saxophone work yesterday went great. Rob played so many inspired and beautiful things on both the soprano and tenor sax and it was simply a pleasure to work with him again. He particularly shined on "Lucky", "The Challenge", "The Meeting Place" and "Lakes". All of the musicians have added so much to my new compositions - the rhythm section of Gary Grainger, Blues Webb and Kevin Prince simply groove up a storm on every track and Jay Rowe's multiple keyboard textures and "soundscapes" as well as his solos, particularly his retro synth solo "No Other Way" (wait till you hear this!") are stunning. We all took it up 3 notches on this CD and Rob's stellar sax work was no exception. It was a long day (9 hours) but well worth both of our efforts.
SEPTEMBER 21, 2006 - THURSDAY
Today I begin (and hopefully finish!) work on the last guitar track, the electric guitar solo for the last song on the CD "The Challenge". I had a pretty good solo already recorded on the demo but it was mistakenly erased and so I need to play a brand new solo. But that's OK because there were parts of the demo guitar solo which I wasn't totally sold on and it would have been virtually impossible to change the parts I didn't like and also have them sonically fit in with the parts of the solo I did like. I'm sure I'll play something better anyway now that Blues, Gary, Jay and Kevin have recorded their great playing for me to work with. My demo guitar solo was played with the relatively basic rhythm tracks I created on my computer and so I had to find all of the inspiration within myself. Yesterday I did the main guitars for "Language of Peace" and "Did You Hear That?". I have been playing the guitar almost non-stop now for 8 straight days. I just play and play and play and it feels very good. It's pretty intense but that's what it takes for me to capture my best guitar work for the CD.
SEPTEMBER 18, 2006 - MONDAY
I have now recorded all of the guitars for 7 of the songs - only 4 more to go. I am working very hard but also having a blast playing to all of the awesome rhythm section and keyboard tracks I recorded during the course of the last 2 weeks.
I just finished up "Lakes" this evening. That's the Pat Metheny composition which is extremely difficult to solo to. I'm glad I have been practicing it all summer because all that dedication made it a joy to play and improvise a solo on the beautiful but very challenging chord changes. Tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday, l will be working on the guitar parts for the remaining 4 songs and then on Friday, Rob Holmes comes into the studio to record all of his sax parts. You might recall that Rob came into the studio back in July to play sax on the demos. He played some nice things then but a musician always plays very differently once he/she has had a chance to really get to know the music and also has all of the other musicians' tracks to play with.
I get excited about each new project but I have to tell you, this CD just hops! There is so much excitment and joy in it and I can't wait to share it with you. And by the way, thank you to the many people who have already purchased the new CD via one of the two pre-release CD offers. I can't tell you how much it means to me to know that so many people want to own my new music without even hearing a note. Thank you.
SEPTEMBER 14, 2006 - THURSDAY
I just finished recording all of the guitar parts for "I Wish I Knew" today. I started at 10 am this morning and finished at 6 pm. It was a long day. Usually my first day of recording the guitar parts takes me some time to get into the groove. But that's cool because I couldn't be happier with the tracks I recorded today. Plus I am getting such a warm, round sound from my Takamine nylon string guitar and it is so nice to capture that sound on this CD. Tommorrow I will record the guitars for "My Beautiful Girls".
On Wednesday of this week, I recorded percussionist Kevin Prince. Though we had already recorded all of Kevin's conga and bongo parts when we recorded the drums, bass and keyboards, we still needed to record Kevin's other percussion instruments like the triangle, claves, cowbell, shakers, wind chimes, rain stick and many other wonderful sounds. Our session went very well and Kevin did his usual inventive and excellent job.
On Monday and Tuesday earlier this week, Jay Rowe and I recorded all of the keyboard parts for the other 5 songs. Upon returning to Baltimore from a show in Detroit this weekend, I met Jay at the airport and we drove straight to the studio and got right to work, finishing at midinight on Monday. On Tuesday, we worked another 12 hours and then I drove Jay to the airport in time for a 9 pm flight. Jay really out did himself on this CD. His playing and his parts are fantastic and he and I worked so well together. Plus his sounds are just so awesome and added a lot to the sonic quality of my new compositions. Wait till to you hear this!
SEPTEMBER 9, 2006 - SATURDAY
Well, it's been 4 days since my last entry. I wanted to write again here sooner but this last week has been so busy and packed with activity that this morning is my first opportunity to catch you up on the progress of the new recording. In a nutshell, here is what happened since I last wrote...
Tuesday - we recorded drums, bass, percussion and piano on 6 more songs - "Lucky", "My Beautiful Girls", "That Time of Evening", "The Challenge", "Language of Peace" and "The Meeting Place". We also took another go at the bass part for "Just Like That" but with only mixed success. With all of the incredible tracks we have been recording, I really can't fret about one song requiring more time than the others.
Wednesday - we recorded Gary Grainger's bass part again for "Just Like That" and came up with an alternate version that sounds good and felt more comfortable for Gary. Blues also added a new drum part for "Lucky". Jay Rowe and I spent the afternoon setting up all his keyboards and sound modules for our 4 days of working together on overdubs and orchestral parts and we recorded 7 new keyboard parts for "That Time of Evening".
Thursday - Jay and I recorded all of the keyboard parts for two more songs - "The Meeting Place" and "Language of Peace". We have so many new sounds and arrangement concepts happening on these songs and it will be a challenge for me to decide which sounds and parts work best for each section of each song. Believe me, it's a good problem to have.
Friday - Me and Jay recorded the keyboard parts for 3 more songs, starting in the morning with "Lakes" and his acoustic piano solo. This Pat Metheny classic is a huge challenge to improvise on and so Jay and I wanted to take our time getting a great solo from him, one which captured the compositional elements of the song but also sounded like Jay at his best. Jay played the heck out of this very difficult set of chord changes and I helped him by guiding and leading him to a concept which blended his high energy and chops with control and lyricism to create a truly compositional improvisation. In the afternoon, we moved on to "I Wish I Knew" and "My Beautiful Girls", adding everything from harps and strings to funky synths to both songs. I rushed Jay over to BWI airport (we both have out of town work over the weekend) and then I went to my daughter's football game (she's a cheerleader) and a well deserved evening with my wife and friends. Jay and I will be meeting at BWI on Monday morning and working 2 more days in the studio next week. On Wednesday, Kevin Prince will be back to do a variey of additional percussion overdubs. On Thursday and Friday, I begin to record the guitars for real. It's going to be another very busy week, just the way I like it!
SEPTEMBER 5, 2006 - TUESDAY
It's the morning of day #2 of the recording sessions. Yesterday, I recorded drums, bass, congas and piano on five of the new songs. We recorded "Did You Hear That", "I Wish I Knew", "No Other Way", "Lakes" and "Just Like That". The musicians, particularly drummer Blues Webb, did a spectacular job as I was confident they would. The rhythmic "feel" of the parts we recorded yesterday are extremely powerful and "Did You Hear That", a composition of mine which is central to the new CD, has a simply awesome groove now. And having percusionist Kevin Prince record simultaneously with the rest of the band proved a very wise move - Blues and Kevin played beautifully together. The only thing that I still need to record again is part of the bass line for "Just Like That". There is a section of the song which calls for a very fast and driving Jaco Pastorius style bass part. I just didn't quite get what I was looking for yesterday so we will begin today's recording session by re-recording just the bass part for that song. Gary Grainger can do virtually anything on the bass so I am confident that with a bit more time I will get the part that I need to make this composition complete.
Well, I promised Blues that I would make one of my "famous" banana cream pies for today's session so I need to get into the kitchen now and finish my baking. I will write another diary entry tomorrow.
SEPTEMBER 2, 2006 - SATURDAY
All of my different acoustic (nylon, steel string, 12 string, hi strung guitar) and electric guitars (strat and kramer) plus my mandolin and even my banjo (you never know!) are set up in my studio right now and since early Friday morning, I have been adding all kinds of different "orchestral" guitar sounds to the songs. These guitar parts are of a supportive nature and include everything from strumming steel strings to wah wah rhythm guitar to mandolins playing in harmony. I am trying a lot of new and different things and coming up with some very interesting parts, definitely exploring some new concepts and working very in sync with all of the pre-production keyboard parts which Jay and I came up with. I will continue working on this part of the pre-production until late Sunday when I will change my hat back over to producer and recording engineer and prepare the studio for the musicians' arrival Monday morning. Hey, I'm working on Labor Day!
AUGUST 31, 2006 - THURSDAY
Blues Webb, my first call drummer, just left my recording studio after setting up his drums and spending the morning working with me to get his drum sound. Even though we will not begin to record until Monday, Blues and I have a long standing practice of getting our drum sound happening a few days before the recording sessions begin. It gives us the chance to iron out any problems we might have and by recording some of Blues's playing, I can continue to work on the drum sound after he's left. Of course, the other nice thing about setting up now is that Blues (and I) can arrive on Monday morning and just sit down and play, knowing that everything is ready to go and thoroughly tweaked. Blues and I have been making records for so long together that we can get the set up done in 30 minutes and achieve a very good sound within another 30 minutes. Not only is Blues a top drawer drummer and musician, his instrument(s) also record exceptionally well. That's not always the case, even with very good drummers. Sometimes their drums and the way they play are more suited for live performance than the recording studio. Blues understands this difference and so both his playing and his drums take on a fine tuned quality when we're in the studio.
My adreneline is definitely pumping right now and Monday seems like way too long to have to wait to begin.
AUGUST 28, 2006 - MONDAY
I have posted the new CD cover on the main page for the making of the new CD. Jack Hovey has been coming up with great covers and designs for me for ten years and he has certainly come up with yet another winner. In the meantime, Jay and I are now in the last 3 intensive days of the keyboard pre-production work. He sent me multi-keyboard concepts for two more songs today and will be sending the final four songs in the next couple of days. The first day of recording is next Monday (Labor Day) and so I have been tweaking my recording studio and preparing everything for the first session with the drummer, bassist, percussionist and keyboards. Once the recording of the musicians has begun, I should have some new video and audio previews for you next week - so stay tuned!
AUGUST 22, 2006 - TUESDAY
We have a CD cover. After seeing a dozen different cover concepts for "The Meeting Place" (all of which were good by the way), I have settled on a gorgeous photo image which perfectly captures the feeling and meaning of "The Meeting Place" for me. I will post it on the main page for the new CD in a few days. Jack Hovey has been coming up with great covers and designs for my CDs since 1996 and he has really done it again. Can't wait to show it to you...
Keyboardist Jay Rowe and I continue to work through the 11 new songs, adding many keyboard colors and sounds and just generally trying new approaches which we think will serve to make each song a unique listening experience. Jay just sent me brand new keyboard parts for one of the songs I co-wrote with Roberto Vally called "Language of Peace". Jay has come up with five parts (acoustic piano, kalimba, bells, vox and arco strings) that join together to create a wonderful atmosphere which compliments the parts that are there on the demo already as well as my melody and guitar work. On September 4th when we record the real drums, bass, percussion and fender rhodes parts for this song, Jay's parts will be playing along with us as we lay down the tracks. Then, after the drummer, bassist and percussionist are finished, we will work more on these new keyboard parts, refining them and adjusting them to work smoothly with the real musicians. I must say, it is exciting to see the songs get this level of pre-production attention and I am very appreciate not only of Jay's expertise but also his committment to creating textures and moods that we have never recorded before.
AUGUST 16, 2006 - WEDNESDAY
I am practicing the guitar a great deal these days, not so much on my technique (although I am certainly constantly working on improving my guitar chops) but more on my improvising and expanding the vocabulary I have when I play solos and improvise in general. Great improvising is all about being able to call upon a large vocabulary of melodic and harmonic ideas which you can hear/"sing" in your head and then quickly being able to translate them onto your instrument and the song at hand. Lately, I have been working a lot on incorporating a number of new chromatic concepts into my playing. I am also spending some time working on the framework for the improvised solos I want to play when I record the distortion solos on my stratocaster guitar for a couple of the new songs for "The Meeting Place" CD, most notably "Did You Hear That" and "The Challenge". Speaking of "Did You Hear That"...
Keyboardist Jay Rowe sent me via email some new midi parts for "Did You Hear That" and though they were good, they just weren't adding enough to the song. Instead, they were filling up too much space and actually taking away something from the parts that were already there. So Jay and I put our heads together and decided that the first thing to do was for him to come up with a great rhodes part, replacing my rather functional one on the demo. And he has done that now, quite well I might add! So now we have a strong keyboard foundation for the song to build from and he is working on a B3 organ part, an acoustic piano part and possibly a marimba part to go with the strong rhodes part. Sometimes you just have to go down a dead end to figure out what the right path is.
AUGUST 5, 2006 - SATURDAY
Keyboardist Jay Rowe and I have established a method of working together on the songs for a new CD before the actual recording sessions begin. Some people refer to this phase of the process as "pre-production". We have been doing this for the last 4 CDs Jay's done with me and it has become fairly easy for us to accomplish a great deal between the time I finish the demos and before the musicians come into the studio and record their parts. Basically, I provide Jay with the midi and audio files from the demos and he begins to add new instruments and sounds to my demo parts in his home studio. Jay lives in Connecticut and I live in Maryland so this is all accomplished via emails and sendthisfile.com. Jay creates new parts at his keyboards and in his studio and sends me the files for a song. I then load the midi and/or audio files into my demo files for that song and begin to listen to what Jay has added. I pick and choose what I feel enhances the song and carefully edit his parts as well as the previous parts I created, continuing the process of fleshing out the arrangement. Sometimes these new parts end up on the final CD with only a minimum of change, other times we re-record them after the drummer, bassist and percussionist have recorded their parts, and still other new parts Jay has created are deemed not appropriate or worth pursing further. Sometimes an idea for one song doesn't quite work on the song it was intended for but we like the idea so much that we find another song for the concept and change it to fit that particular song. Jay and I are both determined to always try many new things with each CD and with each song, working hard to simultaneously invent new textures and sounds as well as create a unique soundscape or "orchestration" for each song which highlights the special qualties and emotions of the song.
If you listened to my first audio preview, then you heard me play some of the demo for "Lucky". Well, then you also heard some of Jay's early work as well. The sitar part on the right channel and the acoustic piano on the left channel are Jay. I am sure we will go with some version of these parts because they really enhance the feeling of the song for me and Jay played some very strong, beautiful stuff. I am also sure we will try some other possibilities and extend his initial ideas even further.
Yesterday, Jay sent me a number of new parts for the second song on the CD, "Did You Hear That?". Today, I will check them out and begin to work with them. In my next diary entry, I'll let you know what happens...
AUGUST 1, 2006 - TUESDAY
The demos are all finished now and the musicians - bassist Gary Grainger, keyboardist Jay Rowe, drummer Blues Webb, percussionist Kevin Prince and saxophonist Rob Holmes are busy learning my new songs. The first official recording date in the studio is Monday, September 4 and needless to say, I am really looking forward to it. In the meantime, I have been installing some new digital recording equipment in my studio and also a new monitoring system which will allow me to give each individual player their very own customized mix while they record. And all of this will be accomplished digitally, on my main computer screen! You gotta love technoloigy when it makes your life simplier and the music better.
The new CD is called "The Meeting Place" and it will contain 11 new songs including five songs I have written for the new CD ("Did You Hear That?", "No Other Way", "My Beautiful Girls", "The Challenge" and "Just Like That") as well as five new songs I have co-written with other composers ("Lucky", "I Wish I Knew", "Language of Peace", "That Time of Evening" and "The Meeting Place") and my version of the Pat Metheny classic "Lakes". It is a very up tempo CD with a lot of room for me and my musicians to strut our stuff and play off of each other.
My graphic art director for my last 10 CDs Jack Hovey is hard at work coming up with another great cover and design for the CD packaging. That's always cool to see the beautiful images he comes up with.
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