Time to Party

Celebrate – give me more of that! I imagined¬†holding the release party would be stressful – it wasn’t at all. It was a pretty happy time, I enjoyed the fact the CD was done and done well, that glow of relief stayed around a long time ūüôā ¬†I was looking forward to sharing my music with others – I knew they would find something they liked in it.

March 1st – that 1st moment of delight when I logged on to CD Baby’s site, typed in my name and there was my new album… on to iTunes – the same… Amazon, Google, Shazam… there it was – me, published and available to buy on-line. Nice ! Then the unexpected emails – friends in Scotland, England, Australia, Netherlands had looked on-line, found and bought the CD – I’m sure that’s no big deal to seasoned artists who sell thousands on the 1st day – but to me this was such a blast – I was on top of the world!

Sunday, March 2nd, now really looking forward to the release party – so much so that Dorothy & I arrived uncharacteristically early, set up my gear (and fiddled around far too much trying to get the perfect stereo sound … sigh – sometimes that control freak in me need to take a day off… was I always like that ?). Gabrielle Maher and the Mahers family had the pub all ready and looking great. skOt, Steve and Cathi (67 Music and good friends) arrived with banners, balloons, merchandise – the scene was set… and people started to arrive (despite the fact that my party was clashing with the Oscars!)

I played songs from the Album, played tracks from the CD, told stories, supported by Steve, skOt drawing raffle tickets and keeping things going. Kevin Nettleingham was there enjoying the atmosphere and said nice things about working with me. It was great. How often do you have the perfect crowd? – the pub was full – a very nice¬†atmosphere – everyone there had come for the CD launch, to hear the music, buy my new CD… and enjoy a great afternoon – which it really was. I had a ball

Here is a video summary made by Steve Behrens

Home later that day – a good few beers and whiskies further on – and the happy feeling that goes with mission accomplished!

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It’s ready !!!

Kevin was off to Costa Rica, all artwork was done, the CD master was off to the manufacturer for printing,… now what? We needed to set a release date – ok, time for another Spanish coffee. Another fine Saturday afternoon with Steve and Cathi Behrens in Hubers and we had our release plan set – it would be in Mahers on Sunday March 2nd, we would need posters, web sites, emails, table tents … and agreement from Mahers that this was ok. Gabrielle Maher immediately agreed and couldn’t do enough to help, she recommended the marketing place down from the pub (www.gisimarketing.com)¬†for the posters and table tents as they already did all the Mahers printing work.

Great – we had a plan… but no material. My kelticbill.com website was obsolete ¬†Apple had abandoned iWeb (which I used ggrrrr). ¬†I would have to redo the website – so decided to use the theme and colors from my CD. All I needed was a web publishing package… shouldn’t be hard to get – ¬†there were quite a few out there and several web services. Aaaargh … after going cross-eyed looking through them all and trying evaluation copies for a day, I still couldn’t decide which one to use… ¬†they all did much the same as iWeb had done… but all had restrictions of some kind or other… off to bed dazed and befuddled by technology.

My (lovely) daughter ( ūüôā ) had given me Adobe creative suite as a present a few years ago (I love Adobe photoshop) – so I had the bright idea to investigate Dreamweaver – the professional¬†web design tool included in creative suite. Boy it looked complicated, but after following a couple of tutorials and youtube videos I had built a small test site and could see that this would take much longer to do that the other packages… but I could do whatever I wanted with my site as I would have total control (evil laughter!!!).

I got absolutely hooked… I spent days deep in the bowels of web-site design and html… and loved it! My inner geek had fully re-emerged and after a couple of weeks hard slog I had put together what I still¬†think¬†is a pretty nice web site ( www.bill-mullen.com) and learned a lot in the process.

On-line CD sales – you can’t go wrong with CD Baby, I signed up and put in all the details they needed to do digital music distribution. I loved their sign-up process – their 1st question was “how do you want to be paid?”… at last a website that doesn’t just take your money! I linked the services (iTunes etc) which CD Baby arranged for me to my website and set the release date to be the day before my release party – so I could be sure it was all available on the day.

The CD artwork was all I needed to put together my release poster and table tent notices, after some wrestling with¬†Photoshop files it all looked good – working with Tyler at Gisi was great – he really knew his stuff and did a great job of the posters and table tents… at a good¬†price!

A few late nights to complete the final touches and I was ready – 67 Music (Steve & skOt) ¬†Mahers, Posters & table tents, new web site, new email were all ready, the music was all set to be ready on 1st March on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon, Google and Shazam, the royalties were all paid and registered with Harry Fox Agency and the boxes of CDs had arrived… we were all set for the release.

bill proof

In the Studio – the final stretch

We (well, Kevin with me listening intently) mixed and mastered the whole CD over two separate sessions. Mixing is sort of done as you add tracks, but when you sweep through every song when its finished, you need to make sure the instruments are all balanced off against each other and you are hearing what you want to hear. Mastering is after you have finished mixing you then listen to the album as a whole, bringing volume levels etc on the different tracks up to match / compliment each other. The key to all this was finish recording before mixing, finish mixing before mastering as you listen for different things during each of these phases.

I had also given my outline ideas for the CD cover to Kevin and he had sent on to his artwork person. This came back wonderfully, he had added Celtic patterns, used great fonts and within a few iterations, the artwork was good, we had a final draft of the mastered CD, Kevin was due to fly to Costa Rica at the weekend РI had to give it a final, final listen and then we would print the CDs.

Then disaster‚Ķ (well it felt like that) ‚Ķ The more I listened, the more tormented I got, all tracks were good, apart from the one I really wanted to be spot-on, the 1st track, “Scots Wha Hae”. I had played the bodhran through the song‚Ķ but I had put too much expression / intonation in my playing, which was jumbling the rest of the instruments¬†‚Ķ if you listened carefully standing on one leg. Ok, maybe not the standing on one leg bit – Dorothy was having trouble hearing what I was hearing‚Ķ but I¬†knew that I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t fix it‚Ķ why hadn’t I heard this earlier ‚Ķ well I had, but I thought it would be ok – I now know that was wishful thinking‚Ķ I couldn’t listen to the track without hearing¬†the slight jumble the bodhran was causing. Decision made, I called Kevin‚Ķ I needed an hour. I knew this was a blow for Kevin as he was sure we were done (mainly because I had told him ‚Ķ. ooops! – just as well he wanted a final, final written ok before going further). Also, in his haste to get everything else he was doing done before leaving on 2-weeks vacation he had tripped and had wrenched his back‚Ķ despite all that, he agreed to slot me in.

When I arrived, Kevin was looking awful, his complexion was grey, eyes were dull, I could see he was in great pain – and here was me wanting to change something that possibly only I would hear. He set up the mics, got his system¬†set back to where it needed to be, I did one recording¬†of simple basic bodhran on my 20″ drum – which was deeper and more solid that the one I had used on the previous version. We listened, I gave a sigh of relief, it was perfect – just what I wanted. Kevin adjusted the master, burned a new one and I headed off to give it all the final final listen at home again (I just loved the way he would not shortcut the process, no matter how much we wanted¬†it to be done), Kevin¬†wanted me to be absolutely sure that I was happy with the music .

Driving home, I had tears in my eyes when I listened to the CD – I was so happy, I knew it was was good – the final listen at home, it also had to get the Dorothy seal of approval. She loved it – even the banjo (which,¬†as I mentioned before, ¬†she “disnae like”) – I sent the final go ahead email to Kevin, felt the weight lift off me. A¬†nice Glenfarclas 21 year old single malt whisky proved to be just the very thing to relax with!!

The process was now in the hands of Kevin and his CD manufacturers.

 

In the Studio – week 2

After a good sleep after my Friday gig, I rehearsed all Saturday, Sunday and Monday then was back in the studio on Tuesday for another 3 days. I had my ups (e.g. the added vocals on “Scots Wha Hae”, the harmony whistle solo on “fields of Athenry”) and downs (I was rustier on the bass than I thought) – there were times where I thought I would never get a track right, then as if by magic (usually a break and a cup of coffee did the trick) I’d nail the part which was stumping me¬†and we’d be off and running again.

As the songs built I really appreciated how Kevin listened to music. A lot of folk songs have people all jangling along playing the same thing on different (or sometimes the same) instruments. Kevin was pushing me to “keep mixing it up” so that each instrument was clear and each part complimented the one before. He was also placing the sound in the stereo mix so that if you closed your eyes you could hear where the bass player, 12 string guitarist, singer etc were standing in a semi-circle facing you. There were some things he said would crack me up – my favorite was on the banjo – “I love it when that stops”. I laughed as Dorothy (my wife) always loved it when the banjo stopped – or didn’t even start ūüôā (my daughter Valerie’s (cruel) comment was the best sound ever is the sound the bagpipe makes when a banjo hits it when it lands in a dumpster).
WEM_0812
Kevin actually quite liked the banjo – what he meant was the sound contrast it gave when instruments would come in, then go out, then come in again… adding color to the sound.

By the end of the 2nd week I had pretty much done every track, but I needed an extra day to finish loose ends and tidy up things which we said we would come back to.

One of those¬†things we came back to was trying to create a feeling of being more in a live setting – but without the background noise, chinking of glasses and uproarious laughter. So I invited people to come along to the audio one Saturday morning. They were my wife Dorothy, my son Kyle (who just arrived back from Japan that morning), daughter¬†Valerie, Valerie’s husband Shady, Shady’s mum, Christine, our good friends (and Irish music lovers) Fergus and Sarah with their daughters Niamh¬†and Siobhain, with me that made 10 “clappers and joiner-inners”. It was a lot of fun, everyone was very impressed by the studio, everyone got headphones (except Sarah – but she was good enough to manage without). I thought it was hilarious when the joking stopped and everyone realized (as we all do in that moment before recording) the “ooops, this is serious, it’s being recorded, immortalized!” I have never seen such concentration on people who would normally be laughing and clapping along casually at a gig. Shady and Kyle became extra animated as they stamped their feet and clapped intent on making maximum noise and being right on the beat. This wee clip that Fergus magically recorded (edited and produced) on his iPhone does a nice job of capturing the mood.

¬†The “Clappy Clappers”

In the Studio Week 1

You need to write up a matrix of songs and the instruments / tracks you want in them said Kevin. Oh my – and here’s me, king of the Excel model – that’s has been the¬†answer to many things in my life‚Ķ and¬†getting my act together for recording was going to need a plan.¬†I spent a good morning planning out each song ‚Ķ and when I counted up the tracks I would need to record (and get right) I opted for a more contained approach – I really didn’t need (and couldn’t afford) ¬†a “wall of sound” on each song.

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The picture above¬†is the finished result, I used color coding to let me know which instruments were ready to record and which needed more practice‚Ķ and blue meant done! I practiced and recorded each piece on my own on my iPad using a¬†USB recording interface once I could play a part fluently all the way through, I would record it then mark the cell on my excel model green = ready for the studio. I could of course play all the instruments, but you can never underestimate the pressure of recording, how your lips tense and your fingers stiffen when you stand in from of a microphone with a whistle‚Ķ how your voice changes as your vocal chords contract as you’re about to sing. You know that whatever you are about to do will be printed to CD, downloaded and listened to intently by people who paid money for it – that’s realization can (and does) freak you out – you want to be your absolute best‚Ķ and like most things, the harder you try, the more mistakes you make and worse it gets.

Relax. That’s the key. Deep breaths, loosen up, shake out those arms, warm up that voice, hear the song in your head and make it come out your fingers or vocal chords just as you imagine it should sound, put your heart into it and be confident, you’ve played these so many times in front of critical audiences and always leave people smiling and happy‚Ķ you just need to do that ‚Ķ alone in the studio.

Day 1, Tuesday 10th December 2013, we would start¬†recording at 10am, so I got up early packed up all my instruments into the car, had breakfast with Dorothy then headed of to Nettleingham audio with my “Broons” carrier bag (it’s a scottish thing) with soup, sandwiches and a flask of throat-coat tea which Dorothy had made up for me. It was a bit weird, I don’t know why, but I felt like a kid going to 1st day at school. I was nervous.

At 10am my instruments were in the band room and Kevin and I reviewed the excel model. Years ago when I was recording with Feargal, we would do all tracks on a song and finish that song, then move on to the next. Kevin’s technique was to get me to¬†play 12-string guitar on all songs which had 12-string guitar, then do all songs which needed 6-string guitar, layering each sound on each song and building them all up – but not finishing any of them until the very last track was recorded. This was incredibly effective. The consistency of sound and the balance of the finished product was spot-on. I told you before, Kevin is a craftsman – and he was ensuring quality from the very start.

When it was time to eat my soup, we had a click-track (tempo to keep me on the beat), 12-string guitar and a rough vocal on 5 songs, we were ploughing through them.

The day continued well , it was intense as you have to start right – whatever comes after the 1st track is building on what you have already done, so it needs a strong foundation. I did not use sheet music, I had made up a script for each song, this told me how many bars of introduction I would play, how many bars before the chorus, when was the solo, which¬†instruments¬†would start and stop – and when. When you’re on your own and playing a different instrument (e.g. fingerpicked 6-string guitar) over what you’ve already recorded on strummed 12-string guitar, you need to have the same “feel” of the song that you had when you did the 1st track. This was strange at first, but after a few tracks, which I now know Kevin was never intending to use, I settled down and got right into the music – Kevin heard this and the recordings really started to work. Having that independent musical brain¬†paying attention and matching with what you have done before was invaluable – and Kevin was the master of tact, when I was off the beat he would say (innocently) “can you hear the click track?” or ” you need to get this one right in the pocket” – I knew we meant “that was sloppy‚Ķ do it again” I would play the piece again paying more attention to the beat and hey presto – it worked!

We stopped at 5pm, I was¬†exhausted, drove home on a high, told Dorothy everything about what we’d done (it’s that 1st day of school thing again), ate my dinner, drifted off in a nap (boy I was tired), woke up with a “I can’t be napping, I’ve things to do!” sort of panic,¬†then headed up to my music room to practice and record on my iPad again, getting ready for the next day and working on my weaker (less played) instruments.

By the end of Thursday, I was really tired Рbut we were pretty much half way through and where we planned to be. I had a gig in Mahers, Lake Oswego on Friday evening Рand it felt good to just play, me, my guitar and a happy crowd singing along with me Рlet rip and relax… a nice end to the week.

Beginning of “The Beginning”

So, A wee while ago I mentioned that Steve and Cathi and Dorothy (and a few Spanish coffees) convinced me that I needed to make an album. Knowing how bad (read “Pernickety or even Persnickety”) ¬†I am when I do my own recording, I knew I needed to get help. Steve Behrens (67 Music) had given me a list of potential studios, so I checked out their websites then called the one I liked best which was also closest to my house in Washington, Nettleingham Audio

I drove the 15 mins to Kevin Nettleingham’s studio – which was an add-on to his house, It was a “Doctor-Who” type of experience, from the outside it was a fairly normal looking house and garage. You enter the garage and it turns into this large expansive music-zen wood and acoustic tile lined area that somehow managed to fit behind that humble garage frontage. Entering along the woody-smelling corridor with guitar on stand, sofa, nice coffee machine, nice pictures leading to massive space shuttle-worthy soundproof doors leading to a large control room or the vocal room which in turn (through another wonderful ¬†sealed door) leads to a large band recording room. Nice, Nice, Nice.

tardis

The next question was Kevin… would I like him, would he like me, did I think we could “make sweet music together”. After he had shown me round his audio palace, he fired up his computer system and let me hear some of the things we was working on with other artists. I heard maybe four different snippets of songs – enough to tell me that Kevin is a craftsman who believes in high quality and no messing! I loved what I heard – knowing that if mine turned out half as good, it would still be 1000 times better than anything I could do on my own. We got on very well, he was easy to work with and we felt comfortable with each other. We agreed prices, agreed to spend 2 x 3days recording with an extra day for mixing and mastering – ¬†we¬†shook hands, set the dates in December and off I went to get ready.

 

Recording… from humble beginnings

Everyone records themselves – unless you are the truly gifted 1%, it starts with the enthusiastic “I’m going to really show people what I can do” start and ends with the “… is that really what I sound like ?…” anticlimax.

anticlimax

Sessions in my bedroom at my mums house with my dad’s Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder were great times (once I¬†got used to what I¬†did sound like). No multi-track then, we (me and my pals) would all cluster round the microphone and play and sing our hearts out! No-one liked the sound of their own voice… but remember, our voices were breaking and unintentional yodels were frequent!

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Several years later, I thought I had hit the big-time, I got a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder, the world of multi-tracking opened up before me! On my own I could record and record until I sounded like a full band with a choir, as long as you didn’t mind uncorrected mistakes and the decrease in sound quality when you bounced 3 tracks onto the 4th track to free the 3 tracks up for more recording delight ūüôā

Time marches on again – living in the Netherlands now and working for Apple, Feargal and I (Keltic Fire) got serious about making a CD. Feargal had a pretty cool soundproofed room, mixer, digital sound board and a powerful Mac with recording software! By this time we both had money to spend – the equipment wasn’t the problem… our problem was time. We had started to record our CD, spending time we couldn’t afford to spend in his home studio mostly failing to produce anything we were happy with – the working title of the CD was “Stolen Minutes” We did have a lot of fun (mostly un-productive) and his wife Marjolijn made us a ton of ham and cheese toasties (with ketchup) – we we happy – but had no CD.

CD cover

While we were struggling with “Stolen Minutes” Feargal moved to Orleans (South of Paris) for a new job, set up another studio and we set a date for us to spend a week there at his old fashioned creaky French country house. I drove down and we worked round the clock for a whole week and I drove back to NL exhausted at the end of the week with a shiny self-mastered CD which had become “Almost Traditional”. When I knew I would be moving to the USA in 2007, we put in another mammoth effort and produced our 2nd CD, “The Bottom of the Road” just before I left.

Looking back at those recording days, we really worked hard and totally ineffectively, spending hours wrestling with software and hardware glitches and playing songs which we had never done before just¬†learning as we went… it was exhausting – but rewarding.