Sunday, December 26, 2010

Production Update

Here are some things I’ve accomplished over the last few weeks.

1. Updated the operating system and firmware on my iMac and installed Pro Tools 8 (in the meantime, I’ve been running Pro Tools on my MacBook). I’ve been putting off this iMac update for nearly a year, fearing that it might interfere with the function of all my software instruments, effect plug-ins, and Logic Pro. Surprisingly, the updates have caused no trouble at all! Both Pro Tools and Logic (and all plug-ins) run seamlessly together on the same machine. There are many benefits to having Pro Tools installed on my iMac – (1) I am able to more easily export sounds out of Logic and then pull them directly into Pro Tools. (2) I plan to record background vocals and lead vocals using Pro Tools on the iMac, as the iMac is much quieter than my laptop and takes less time to get up and running. Before updating the iMac, I had to put the laptop in a closet when I was tracking to Pro Tools (3) the 21” iMac screen is much larger and is better on my eyes!

2. Consolidated most of the edited drum tracks (took the chopped up edited audio files and converted them to continuous files – ie. one kick drum audio file, one snare drum audio file, etc.)

3. Created “no drum” mixes of all the songs for drummer Jim Davis who will be playing in my live band. Jim and guitarist Matt Meyer are already getting together to work through some of the new songs. These no drum mixes will help them as they practice. I hope to start playing out with these guys (and a few others) this next spring or early summer.

4. Exported “no string” mixes for composer Rich Barrett who is working on tweaking the string arrangements for two songs.

I am gearing up to begin recording background vocals in January. As far as signal chain goes, I am using a Shure SM7 mic which runs into an API A2D pre-amp and then feeds via SPDIF (a digital connection) into Pro Tools. I’m looking at picking up a FMR RNC compressor for background vocals and an Emiperical Labs Distressor for lead vocals (both of which will be inserted into the API, separately of course depending on whether I am tracking background or lead vocals).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Catching the Bug

The last weeks have been slow as far as album progress goes. I’ve been a bit under the weather with what seems to be either the cold or the flu, accompanied by sinus and sometimes migraine headaches. Not the most fun thing in the world. Nevertheless, the album continues to move along. I met with composer Robert Nugent on Monday to go over the string arrangements for a couple songs, and am meeting with composer Rich Barrett on Thursday to go over the string arrangements for a couple more songs. I am also “consolidating” my drum edits, which basically means I am committing to the edits by converting sliced up files in single continuous files (one kick drum audio file, one snare drum file, etc.).

I’m getting close to having the money for the next Nashville trip. It now looks like we will be going to Nashville in early February to record real strings and electric guitar overdubs. Feels like I’ve been waiting forever for this next step!

I haven’t gotten around to recording new background vocals yet. I’ve already recorded some background vocals, but have more to record. It’s looking like January may be a good month for tracking BGVs. My good friend Matt Stepp may be singing some back up on a couple tunes!

These projects always take longer than expected. Nevertheless, it is rewarding to slowly see the finished product come together!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Demographically Speaking

Over the last couple months, I’ve been subscribing to Jango.com, an online radio station. It’s been a very helpful service! I submitted “Hurricane” from my 2004 album Backstage Pass and so far it’s been played about 2000 times, and I’ve made 84 new fans (from all over the world)! Jango is really cool in that it shows stats about the demographic and listening habits of one’s fans. For example, many of my fans also listen to Casting Crowns, Steven Curtis Chapman, Jeremy Camp, Nickelback, 3 Doors Down, Lifehouse, Linkin Park, Kutless, Newsboys, Daughtry, MercyMe, Jars of Clay, and the David Crowder Band. This list of artists is constantly changing as I make new fans. Nevertheless, it helps to narrow down who might listen to my music. I don’t think I sound exactly like any of these artists, but people who listen to these artists may also like my music. It also appears that the strongest listening audience (at least according to Jango) are female age 25-34.

So I’m curious if you think I sound similar to any artists/bands? (If you do comment, I ask that you use my album Backstage Pass as a reference, not Dishes or anything previous to Dishes).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Production Update

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Hope you all have a wonderful time with your families over the holidays!

Just wanted to briefly share with you what’s going on with the new album. Here are some highlights.

Met with composer Rich Barrett last week. Rich is giving me some pointers on a string arrangement I am working on for one of the new tunes.

Recorded English horn with Karen Pfeifer this past Sunday night. Really adds a cool touch to one of the new songs!

Re-recorded a couple electric guitar parts with guitarist Matt Meyer Monday evening. Matt’s Mesa Boogie amp was miked up in his basement while we recorded into my laptop upstairs (Pro Tools). Fun!

I’ve also made a few lyric tweaks here and there, and actually totally rewrote the chorus melody of one of the tunes. The melody is so much stronger!

I’m still doing a little bit of editing here and there, but I’d say I’m about 95% finished with all the editing (for what we’ve tracked so far).

It’s looking like we’ll probably be tracking strings and guitar overdubs (with the David Davidson string group and Nashville guitarist Mike Payne) sometime the first month or two of the year, possibly the end of the January. Exciting times!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Progress of the Album: Strings (Ch. 15)

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been focusing heavily on finalizing string arrangements for two songs on the new album. Eight of the thirteen songs on Snapshots of the Shattered Soul have string parts. Rich Barrett has composed the strings for one song and Robert Nugent has composed strings for two songs, and I am writing the string parts for four songs (one being a song with a solo cello part only). I'm not nearly as experienced as Rich or Robert, but thankfully, they are giving me some feedback along the way. It’s definitely been a fun undertaking!

As far as the songs go, Rich has arranged strings for one of the key darker tunes on the new album (Rich arranged the strings for Hurricane, After Everything, A Thousand Gods, and By Now on my 2004 album Backstage Pass), while Robert has arranged the strings for two more positive sounding songs, one of which is a string/piano/vocal only piece. I really dig what both of these guys have brought to the project! I am working on the string arrangements for a couple heavier tunes (one faster, one slower), and two pop rock ballads (one louder, one quieter).

Writing Strings for Pop Music
Obviously, pop music and classical music are two completely opposite styles. With this, the string arranging process for each genre needs to be approached quite differently. Generally, classical music is made up of traditional orchestra instruments only –strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion, sometimes piano - while pop music is comprised of many other “modern” instruments – a drum kit, bass, electric and acoustic guitar, keyboards, piano, etc…. and of course, vocals. Both styles have their challenges when it comes to string arranging.

Classical music challenges the composer to carry the rhythmic energy of a song with orchestral instruments alone (there is no acoustic guitar strumming along to keep the song going). Pop music, on the other hand, may challenge the composer to squeeze string parts into an already full and busy mix of rhythm and lead instruments. As an example, string basses and cellos are a bit limited in what they can do in the lower octaves as there is usually already a bass guitar taking up much of the lower frequencies in a song. A bass guitar and a string bass would most likely clash if they were played at the same time in the same register (octave), especially if they were playing different notes. With this said, there aren’t many string bass parts on my album, although there is a lot of cello, as the cello has a much wider pitch range, and can potentially stay out of the way of the bass guitar. Violin or viola parts can also get in the way of guitar, piano, or synthesizer parts. As the rule goes with all arranging: every instrument/part should have its own sonic space.

Thinning the Parts
As Rich Barrett was working on his string arrangement, he spoke often of needing to “thin out the parts” which basically means that after his first draft, he had to go back and take out some of the more intricate inner parts (usually harmonies) as they would most likely be buried and unheard in the final mix with everything else going on (electric guitars, keyboards, etc.).

On Backstage Pass, Rich was limited in the number of parts he could write as we worked with the Nashville String Machine Orchestra and they would only allow us to record two passes for each song (a union thing, I think). We hired seven players, which means we walked away with what sounded like a fourteen-piece orchestra (7 players x 2 takes). If we wanted to have a bigger sound, we simply would have had to hire more players. Nevertheless, later in the mix stage, we did supplement these live strings with some string samples, which ultimately made the fourteen-piece orchestra sound even larger.

For Snapshots of the Shattered Soul, we are going a new route and are working with a Nashville-based quartet under the direction of David Davidson. One cool thing about this group is that they will let us record as many takes as we want – it’s just a matter of how much I want to spend as they bill per hour. This means that the string parts can be thicker than the number of players. In other words, we aren’t limited to four parts – that being cello, viola, 2nd violin, and 1st violin. Since we can record as many takes as we’d like, we can introduce a 2nd viola part if we want, or even a 3rd violin part. However, with this, we have to be conscious of the limitations that are presented when arranging strings for pop music – depending on the song and instrumentation, some string parts could be buried and unheard. Nevertheless, it’s nice to have the option of incorporating some thicker string harmonies into some of the tunes. As I mentioned before, Robert has arranged the strings for one song that is made up of piano, strings, and vocals only. He was able to take much more liberty with string intricacies, as the only other instrument besides the strings will be piano. In a sense, the strings act as the rhythm engine behind the piano and really help to carry the energy of the song from start to finish.

Recording the String Quartet
I explained this in my previous video blog, but will reiterate for those who missed the video. Although we are only hiring four players, we can easily make them sound like sixteen or more players. Why sixteen? Well, each player brings a 2nd instrument – that is, the cello player brings two cellos, the violist brings two violas, and each of the two violin players brings two violins. We will first record a pass of the quartet playing on their “first” instruments. We will next record a pass of the quartet playing on their “second” instruments. Then, each player will put a mute on his/her “first” instrument. We will record this as the third pass. Finally, each player will put a mute on his/her “second” instrument. We will record this as the forth pass. At this point, we would have created the sound of a sixteen-piece orchestra (4 players with 4 different instruments x 4 recording passes). However, if we wanted, we could record even more passes if there were more than four string parts in the song (like a 2nd viola part or a 3rd violin part, as mentioned above). The limitation is that we can only have four passes per string part. In other words, the 1st violin part could only be “four players thick” because the 1st violin player would only have four instruments (actually 2 instruments with and without a mute, giving the perception of 4 different violins). It is really not that beneficial to stack the exact same violin sound more than once. I can’t really explain why. I’ll just say that it’s similar to a choir made up of clones. Overdubbing the same voice(s) over and over wouldn’t create as large of a sound as a choir of many different voices. The same concept goes for string layering.

In a future blog, I will explain a little more about string samples and how they are selected, managed and integrated with the live strings.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Arranging The Strings

Marc talks about the process of arranging and recording the string parts for his new album.
(click on photo for video)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Progress of the Album: The Married Man (Ch.14)

Recently, I’ve had several friends ask me if “the way I go about writing and producing music has changed since I’ve been married.” Great question. In short, the answer is yes. For one, I’ve had to become more intentional about when I work on the album. When I was single, I could pretty much indulge in music whenever I wanted. There were times when my life was quite imbalanced. My social life really suffered when I was working on Backstage Pass. I would lock myself up for hours in my roommate’s basement trying to finalize an arrangement or a lead vocal. There were days and weeks when I was downright obsessive. Has marriage cured me of my obsessive tendencies? No, this focus on detail and perfection is part of who I am and is something I will fight to keep in balance for the rest of my life. However, now that I’m married, I’ve learned to better limit my studio time and try to break up the long production days with some healthy variety - a walk in the park, an evening with friends, or a trip to Graeter’s Ice Cream. Generally, I work on music Monday nights and all day Thursday (as Thursday is my day off from the church) and occasionally, I will be so wired that I’ll stay up all night only to pay for my lack of sleep the next day or two. A doctor once told me that I have an overactive brain, and I think he was right. Some nights, I’ll lay in bed with my iPod still listening to a mix I created earlier that day. I often listen to my own songs driving to work, either for the purpose of analyzing a mix or creating new parts (background vocals, etc.). I wish that my brain had an “off” switch, but since it doesn’t, I’m learning how to better put some space between myself and the things I obsess over. I am so thankful that Crystal is patient with and supportive of me as I work through this long musical and emotional journey.

Marriage has also been helpful in that Crystal has really inspired me to focus more attention on people and their needs. It’s funny that I once wrote a song called Look Like You that talks of Christ’s compassion towards people, yet I often struggle to really care about others like I should. My wife Crystal has such a beautiful heart and is always trying to help other people – whether it’s a card she sends to someone discouraged or a delicious dessert she makes for someone’s birthday. I have really been challenged and inspired with her love and concern for others. The lyrics to Snapshots of the Shattered Soul deal with a lot of issues, yet many of the themes are more outwardly focused (in that the songs are often inspired or supported by the experiences and struggles of other people) and I believe this subtle change in direction can in part be attributed to the compassionate example of my wife.

Finally, as most married people would say, marriage really acts as a mirror. I see problems with myself that I was completely unaware of when I was single. Issues I thought were fixed have often simply reinvented themselves. As the old kid’s song goes, He’s still working me! ("He" being God, of course) Since I’ve been married, I’ve been that much more challenged to confront my own immaturities face on. Looking in the mirror is good for growth, and on top of that, it gives a writer that much more writing material!

As the years go on, I’m sure I will have much more to write on as it relates to marriage, but for the time being, I am including a song of promise on Snapshots of the Shattered Soul which will be a reminder to me of what I’ve committed to Crystal. It has been a tough song to write as love songs are a dime a dozen, and I’ve struggled to find the words to communicate my love for my bride. This album would not have happened if it wasn’t for her encouragement and companionship. In conclusion, I’d have to say that making music is that much sweeter and meaningful now that I have a friend and teammate like Crystal with whom to share the journey.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Production Update 10-11-10

Sometimes producing an album is like watching paint dry. It can be quite a long road, and not every part of the production process is as exciting as the big recording day. There are some days when I feel burnt out and need a break. There are also moments of celebration as a new milestone is reached. I’m really looking forward to our next recording sessions in Nashville – however, there is still a fair amount of work to do before I take this next step, and there is still a good chunk of money yet to be raised. Some days, I get a little impatient, but I know the finished product will be worth the wait.

So where am I along the production time line? Well, I’m getting close to having all the editing completed (for what I’ve recorded so far), and I’ve finalized and transferred the majority of the MIDI sounds (synthesizers, organs, orchestral percussion, drum programming, etc.) from Logic Audio to Pro Tools (the songs were arranged in Logic Audio, but will be mixed in Pro Tools, thus the transfer). Many of the songs already have 50 audio tracks or more, and I haven’t even recorded the real strings yet, and have not imported any of the background vocals. When all is said and done, many songs will contain a good 100 audio tracks or more. As I’ve mentioned before, my friend Dave Bechtel will be mixing the album, and I’ve been busy preparing the Pro Tools sessions that I will eventually hand off to Dave for mixing. Some of this preparation includes setting up busses (for instrument groups – drums, guitars, etc.) and assigning colors to each audio track (according to each instrument’s group). Backstage Pass was arranged in Apple’s Logic, recorded with Pro Tools, but was then mixed in Steinberg’s Nuendo. With this album, Dave will be mixing the project in Pro Tools HD, and it will be nice to give him prepped Pro Tools sessions that are set up and ready to go. This will save both of us a lot of time.

Yesterday, I again recorded acoustic guitar with Matt Meyer (at 10x12 Productions). We have now officially tracked all acoustic guitar parts for the album. Thanks to Derek Hunt for letting us borrow his beautiful Taylor!

As far as preparation for Nashville trip #2 goes, I still have to finalize the string arrangements for three songs. Robert Nugent and Rich Barrett have given me their string arrangements; now I just need to wrap up my own arrangements (which includes preparing the sheet music). In addition, I have a small amount of audio editing left to do, and need to prep a number of Pro Tools sessions that I’ll use while tracking strings, guitar leads/textures, and piano during our next trip to Nashville. Financially, I’m continuing to save. It’s looking like I’ll have about 2/3 of what I need for the trip by the end of this year. I’m hoping that this next Nashville trip will happen sometime at the beginning of 2011. It’s tough to wait, but it feels good to pay as I go.

In other news, a couple weeks ago, Crystal and I took a long overdue vacation to Lakeside, OH and then to Chicago. It was so nice to get away from the daily grind and it felt very healthy to step away from the computer and the meticulous editing and exporting. I’ve returned to the project with a new excitement and a fresh perspective on the songs. It has indeed been a long haul, but little words of encouragement here and there have kept me going, all the while reminding me that this music is meant for something bigger than myself. I continue to pray that God will use Snapshots of the Shattered Soul for His glory.

“Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” Psalm 127:1

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Production Update 9-15-10

The new album continues to progress. I haven’t given many updates recently because I’ve been quite pre-occupied in the studio. Nevertheless, I wanted to stop and give you a quick rundown of some of what’s been happening this last month.

On August 15th, I tracked acoustic guitar with Matt Meyer for 2 songs and tracked acoustic guitar for 3 more songs this past Sunday. This coming Sunday afternoon, we will be recording acoustic guitar for 2 final songs. Matt and I will also be meeting over the next month or two to record some additional rhythm electric guitar parts which we were unable to record on June 18th in Nashville, due to time constraints.

I’ve also exported about 75% of the audio from Logic Pro – this includes keyboards, organ, drum programming, and orchestral percussion - just to name some of the instruments. All of these audio files will eventually be imported into Pro Tools as the album will be mixed in Pro Tools. My good friend Dave Bechtel will be mixing the project.

I’d also say I’m about 75% finished with editing the audio that I’ve recorded to date – this includes real drums, bass, and rhythm guitar which was recorded on June 18th at DarkHorse Recording in Nashville, as well as the acoustic guitar which Matt Meyer and I have tracked over the last month or so.

I hope to spend much of October recording additional background vocals and preparing for the next trip to Nashville (which may happen in November, December, or January depending on how quickly I can raise the money). Preparations for this trip include (1) finishing the string sheet music for two songs that I’ve arranged the strings for (2), solidifying/fine tuning all piano arrangements, and (3) creating new simplified Pro Tools sessions which will be used during the Nashville recording sessions. This next trip will include 3 recording sessions – one for strings (with the David Davidson string quartet), one for guitar overdubs (with studio guitarist Mike Payne), and one for piano (which will probably be recorded at pianist’s Blair Master’s studio).

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Snapshots of the Shattered Soul Synopsis

I wrote this last August as I began working on the new album...

"The over arching purpose of Snapshots of the Shattered Soul is to point the listener away from the lies of this world and toward the truth of Christ. Some songs seek to resolve a specified tension, while others simply define a tension, without resolving it (as sometimes, the awareness of a problem is what first sparks a desire for change). Scripturally, the lyrics are derived from a variety of passages, many from the books of Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. The album deals with a number of difficult issues, including depression, addiction, self-esteem, materialism, fractured relationships and poverty. It would be easy for the listener to assume that the majority of these songs are written about me, when in fact much of the content of this project has been inspired by others and their stories of struggle. Some songs may speak of places I’ve been, but more readily, many of the songs represent the brokenness I’ve seen in the world around me, sadly often within the church and the circle of Christianity. Ultimately, I pray that these lyrics will inspire and/or re-inspire the listener to live a life grounded on the foundation of Jesus Christ and His promises."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Production Update

The new album Snapshots of the Shattered Soul is coming along! On Sunday, August 15th, I tracked acoustic guitar for two songs with Matt Meyer at 10x12 Productions. We still have to record acoustic guitar for five more songs, and plan to do so mid September. I’ve also been very busy with editing recently. A couple weeks ago, I picked up DigiDesign’s Music Production Toolkit 2 that now allows me to use multi-track Beat Detective and run up to 64 audio tracks in Pro Tools (instead of 48 tracks, which I was limited to before the upgrade). In summary, multi-track Beat Detective is an incredibly useful tool that streamlines editing of drums and other instruments that span over multiple tracks (drums for example have multiple audio channels for kick, snare, high hat, etc.). So far, I’ve used Beat Detective on six of the thirteen songs on the new album.

I hope to have the majority of the editing (for the instruments I’ve recorded so far) finished by the end of September. I also hope to have all of the MIDI instruments exported from Logic by the end of September. Basically, each instrument that was birthed in Logic (synthesizers, organs, electronic drums & effects, etc.) needs to be exported as an individual stereo audio file, and then imported into Pro Tools, as the album will be mixed in Pro Tools.

Yesterday afternoon, I met with composer Robert Nugent to finalize one of the string arrangements. Robert has arranged the strings for two of the songs on the new album, and Rich Barrett has arranged the strings for one of the songs.

October will be spent recording new background vocals and supplementing some of the background vocals I recorded earlier this year for the demos (in other words, I may add some additional layers/parts to the already recorded background vocals.)

During my next trip to Nashville, I will be recording (1) live strings with the David Davidson string group, (2) guitar lead/texture overdubs with studio guitarist Mike Payne, and (3) real piano (which I will be playing). This trip is still not scheduled, but I’m hoping to take this trip sometime in November (depending on how quickly I can save the money). Upon returning from Nashville, I will repeat the clean-up/editing process for all newly recorded instruments (the strings, guitar overdubs, and piano), and will hopefully begin recording the final lead vocals early in the New Year.

I hope to release the new album by the first or second quarter of 2011.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Production Update

I’m really excited about how the songs for the new album are sounding! Over the last month and half or so, I’ve been focusing on two things: (1) editing the audio from the June 18th recording session at Dark Horse Recording in Nashville (drums, bass, rhythm guitar) and (2) tweaking and cleaning up the arrangements for any MIDI/programmed instruments. These programmed instruments fall into two categories: (1) electronic sounds which will be part of the final mix (synthesizer pads and leads, organ, drum loops, orchestral percussion, and various effects) and (2) sampled instruments that have yet to be replaced with real instruments (this includes strings, guitar leads, and piano).

Back to Nashville
I’m hoping to make a second trip to Nashville in the fall to record live strings, live guitar leads/textures, and live piano. At this point, there is no set date for this next session. It all depends how quickly I can raise the money as I’m paying for this project as I go.

In Other News
Composer Robert Nugent is currently working on the string arrangement sheet music for two songs on the new album, and composer Rich Barrett is finishing the string arrangement sheet music for one song. I’m also arranging the strings for several songs, and am finalizing these arrangements (which includes preparing the sheet music).

Next Sunday, August 15th, I will be recording acoustic guitar with Matt Meyer at 10x12 Productions (for seven of the thirteen songs on the album).

The new Marc Andre rock album “Snapshots of the Shattered Soul” is set to release early 2011.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Progress of the Album: Editing (Ch. 13)

The new album continues to come along! So far, I’ve completed rough Pro Tools edits on seven of the twelve songs we tracked at Dark Horse Recording in Nashville on June 18th. Editing is definitely not the flashiest part of the production process, but it is crucial. In this blog, I will try to de-mystify this important stage.

Slicing and Splicing
Years ago in the days of reel-to-reel recording, audio editing was accomplished with a razor blade. If an audio technician wanted to make an edit in a recording, he/she would literally cut the tape where desired and re-attach the tape with an adhesive (usually tape). Now a days, editing has become much more easy and precise with the release of digital audio systems (the software Pro Tools being the most widely used). Today, audio can be sliced into pieces and re-positioned with a few simple clicks of the mouse – no razor or tape necessary.

Editing Basics
As I mentioned in the previous blog, I prefer to edit in layers (at least when numerous live tracks have been recorded). The first layer of editing involves two elements: (1) replacing wrong notes by cutting right notes from another take or another portion of the song and replacing the wrong notes with the right notes, and (2) swapping out any bass/guitar notes, drums fills, etc. which I deem as misplaced or inappropriate to a given song (this is pretty rare given the players at the June 18th Nashville session).

When opening the Pro Tools session of a song, I begin by setting up a rough mix so I can hear all the instruments. I start by turning down all the audio channels and then I carefully bring up the drum mics, starting with the overhead mics, followed by the kick drum mics, and then the snare drums mics (in addition, I'll mix in some tom mics and room mics here and there). I also bus all the drum channels to a single stereo audio track so that I can control the overall drum mix with a single fader. I then slowly bring up the bass and guitar channels until they are well balanced with the drums.

After I have a rough mix, I solo out the drums and listen to them very carefully from start to finish to make sure there are no questionable hits or fills. I will also re-adjust any edits that were made the day of recording. During the recording session in Nashville, we would sometimes re-record a portion of the song – this is otherwise known as a “punch-in.” For example, if we had re-recorded the first chorus of a song, I will listen carefully to the start and end of the first chorus to make sure the edits both at the beginning and at the end of the chorus are clean (no clicks or pops) and natural (undetectable by the listener). Usually a punch-in begins a measure or two before and lasts a measure or two after the section that is being re-recorded. This allows for some “handles,” allowing the editor to re-align the actual place of the edit if necessary. For example, I may find that the first edit sounds awkward if it happens right before the downbeat of the first chorus. I may instead re-position the edit to beat four immediately before the downbeat of the chorus. It all depends on the section being edited. Every edit is going to be different.

In most cases, I will add a cross-fade everywhere where there is an edit. A cross-fade connects two adjacent audio files by overlapping them with a quick fade out and quick fade in. Cross-fades help to eliminate any pops or clicks, and aid in smoothing out an otherwise abrupt edit.

The Second Layer of Editing
During the first stage/layer of editing, I do most of my editing manually. By this, I mean I cut and move audio around by ear. I am always working on a visual grid which can be set anywhere from whole notes to 1/64th notes and beyond. This visual grid can be helpful when I am trying to figure out why an instrument sounds ahead or behind the beat. I may also synchronize instruments by visually lining them up next to each (as I can see the actual audio waveforms). An example of this would be two unison acoustic guitar takes - one panned to left and one to right.

During the second stage/layer of editing, I use a software tool called Beat Detective that allows me to quickly tighten things up by a percentage. For example, I may edit the drums to 92% instead of 100% (which might happen if I manually lined up every drum hit to a 16th note grid). It’s a pretty amazing technology. Within minutes, the program can (1) find all the drum hits (2) slice the drum audio at every drum hit (3) align the drums to a grid by percentage, (4) fill any gaps caused by the moved audio, and (5) add cross-fades where necessary. This is much easier understood if you actually see the program at work. I may post a video tutorial one of these days.

As far as editing order, I usually begin by doing some moderate Beat Detective editing on the drums and then I re-adjust the bass and guitar as necessary. I also always keep a backup of the original unedited audio in case my edits end up hurting the groove of the song.

A Delicate Cascade
Editing is both miraculous and dangerous. You can save a song with editing, but you can also destroy it. It’s important to understand that an edit made to one instrument can greatly affect the feel of the other instruments in a song, and can quickly upset the rhythmic equilibrium. No edit is an island. Moving the bass can mess up the groove of the drums and guitars, and locking the high hat to a 16th note grid can make the drums sound robotic (which may be intentional, depending on the style and song).

Some styles such as dance music imply a robotic feel, but most rock music calls for a human touch with some moderate rhythm inconsistency. Even the most accomplished musicians can’t play with the precision of a drum machine, but this rhythmic “imperfection” is one key ingredient to making music sound alive.

So why edit? Well, editing becomes a necessary evil especially when a musician is combining live and programmed elements (which much of my music incorporates). Live drums have to be a lot tighter than usual if they are being played along side programmed drum loops and synthesizers. At the end of the day, it’s really a matter of taste, and I prefer my music to be tight, but not mechanical.

Most of the songs you hear on the radio these days have undergone significant clean up and editing. The real test always becomes whether a band/musician can reproduce this sound from stage (although the stage is much more forgiving than recorded media).

Pictured is a classic 2" tape machine. These machines still record great audio, but make editing very difficult. Some musicians will actually record to tape and then transfer the tape audio into Pro Tools where they can more easily tweak and edit the audio.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Production Update July 19, 2010

As you may have noticed, I have not been writing in the blog recently. The reason? I’ve been very busy in the studio. I’m currently going through the album song by song and am doing a variety of clean up. What do I mean by clean up? Well, for one, I am editing some of the drum, bass, and guitar audio we tracked on June 18th at Dark Horse Recording in Nashville. I usually go about editing in “layers.” This first layer of editing includes simple copying and pasting of parts. For example, if there is a wrong guitar note in one of the choruses, I will simply grab the right note from another chorus and paste it in where the wrong note was. This editing “layer” also includes some swapping of drum fills and bass licks. Occasionally, there may be a drum fill or bass lick that I’m not happy with, and I’ll grab a drum fill or bass note from another section of the song and paste it in where needed. All of this editing is being done in Pro Tools. Along with this process, I am also creating rough mixes of the live instruments for each of the songs. Once I am happy with the rough mix and the rough edits (editing layer 1, which I’ve been calling it), I will export a stereo mix (or bounce) of the drums, bass, and guitar and will import this mix of live instruments back into Logic (where the songs were originally created). I next delete all of the fake MIDI drums, bass, and guitars in the Logic session and replace them with the live instrument mix.

After this, I begin cleaning up all the programmed MIDI parts (in Logic). These programmed parts include piano (which will be replaced with real piano in the Fall), synthesizer, organ, electronic drum programming and effects. From time to time, there may be a wrong note, or I also may find that I need to either simplify or embellish some MIDI parts to now compliment the live instruments. I also go through a process of labeling every channel and instrument set up so I can easily rebuild the session down the road if need be. After the MIDI parts have been tweaked, I will begin exporting each individual instrument as an audio file. All of these audio files will later be imported into Pro Tools, as the album will ultimately be mixed in Pro Tools (not Logic).

In the coming months, I will be recording more acoustic guitar parts for the album with Matt Meyer (at 10x12 Productions). I will also begin layer 2 of the editing process, which incorporates a program called Beat Detective – I am still saving up to buy this. More about this later…

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Production Update July 11, 2010

The last several weeks since Nashville have been very busy, so I haven't had much time to work on the album until recently. This past week, I've been pulling rough mixes of the drums, bass, and guitar (from the Nashville session on June 18th) into Logic (they were recorded in Pro Tools). I've been focusing a lot recently on cleaning up the programming parts I've created in Logic (piano, synths, percussion, etc.). Also, yesterday, I tracked acoustic guitar with my friend Patrick Skelton for one of the songs on the new album. Patrick is also working on a new project, and we were also recording some of his guitar parts for his songs at 10x12 Productions.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Big Day: Recording Snapshots of the Shattered Soul - 2010

Thursday afternoon (July 17th, 2010), Crystal and I arrived at our hotel in Brentwood, TN around 4:00pm. We had made surprisingly great time and had encountered very little traffic. It seemed quite unreal that in less than 24 hours, we’d be tracking at Dark Horse Recording about a half hour away in Nashville. The last time I had recorded at Dark Horse was in October of 2003. It felt like a dream to be back at it again.

‘Twas The Night Before Tracking…
We chilled out in our hotel for a little while, and then headed down to the local O’Charley’s for a bite to eat. I had a turkey burger with salad and sweet potato fries, and Crystal had cheesy potato soup and shrimp salad. Good stuff! After filling our bellies, we traveled north to Dark Horse to drop off the Pro Tools files that needed to be imported for the morning recording session. Unfortunately, our mapquest directions were quite inaccurate so we had to call co-producer Dave Bechtel for help. It took us a little while to find our way, but we eventually arrived at Dark Horse at around 8:00pm. We stepped out of the car into the still yet muggy Nashville night air and headed in to The Lodge (the largest room in Dark Horse) where we met co-producer Dave Bechtel and studio assistant Mike Carr. This is the first time I had ever met Mike, a bearded and friendly heavy rock bassist who shook my hand, and after a moment of awkward silence exclaimed, “So I hear you brought a hard drive?” “Why yes!” I said. I pulled my new firewire 500 gig hard drive out of its shiny black pouch, and handed it to Dave who took it to a back room and plugged it into Dark Horse’s Mac which sported the latest version of Pro Tools HD. After the drive was plugged in, Mike opened the very first Pro Tools session (for track #1) only to be met by an unwelcoming screen with a white box that read “DAE Error.” The air pulsed with tension as Dave and Mike scratched their heads. Fortunately, I had brought a back up drive as well as a stack of DVDs that contained copies of the Pro Tools sessions. Nevertheless, I was a bit concerned as this whole trip could be a loss if those Pro Tools sessions failed to open. After several minutes of discussion, Dave and Mike concluded that my firewire 800 drive must not be compatible with Pro Tools HD (Pro Tools LE seems to work fine with firewire 800, but apparently Pro Tools HD prefers the firewire 400 protocol). The solution was simple – copy all of my files onto one of Dark Horse’s hard drives. Dave, Mike, Crystal and I chatted for a good twenty minutes as the files copied, and after the files were transferred, Mike opened each Pro Tools session to ensure that everything was playing back correctly. I think we ended up leaving Dark Horse around 9:30pm.

Let The Recording Begin!
Crystal and I awoke around 8:00am Friday morning unexpectedly rested. I had figured I wouldn’t sleep with all the excitement of the big day, but I surprisingly passed out Thursday night. After getting ready, we sampled our hotel “continental” breakfast (which was rather lame with fruit loops, muffins, strange sausage, and egg beaters), packed the car, and stopped at Starbucks for an am pick-me-up. We arrived at the studio around 9:00am. Guitarist Matt Meyer (our friend from Hilliard, OH) had arrived about an hour before us, had set up his amp and pedals, and was practicing through his notebook of song charts. Drummer Miles McPherson was in the other room setting up his drum set. I took a moment to say hi to Miles and then sat down on one of the leather couches and began reviewing my recording notes. Crystal contently sipped her coffee in a big leather chair to my left.

Dave and Mike skipped from one room to the next, adjusting microphones and sound deadening material. Dustin, one of the interns, entered the room with a large stack of unnecessary chart copies (as I had brought 5 tabbed and colored-coded notebooks - one for each person involved). Bassist Joeie Canaday stepped into The Lodge around 9:45 and greeted me with a smile. Not long after this, Dave began setting recording levels starting with Mile’s kick drum. We began rolling as planned just around 10:01 am. With the first two bars of the first song, I knew this was going to be a great day.

You Know You’re a Professional When…
The goal was to track drums, bass, and electric rhythm guitar for twelve songs in six hours. We had a lot to accomplish. Basically, we had just about thirty minutes allotted for each tune (This was similar to our Backstage Pass recording session in 2003, although that session included two guitarists - Mark Baldwin and Jerry McPherson (drummer Mile’s McPherson dad), pianist Rich Barrett, and the Nashville String Machine orchestra). The first four songs went relatively smoothly although by noon, we were about 45 minutes behind the predicted schedule. The players nailed most of the songs in one take (with a punch in or two), yet additional time was required as Miles and Joeie had to re-write each of my number charts. Here is the typical order of events. First, studio assistant Mike would play back a song’s MIDI demo 1-2 times as Miles and Joeie stood at a table in the control room and feverishly transcribed their own simplified versions of my number charts. Moments later, Miles would grab his bottle of orange juice and slip into the drum room with a quirky comment and an energetic “Let’s do this!” (I think he must have drunk about four bottles of orange juice that Friday).

I still can’t believe the talent of these guys. I don’t think Miles or Joeie had listened to any of the demos, yet they played each song nearly perfectly in a single take. It was so amazing to hear the songs come to life! You can do a lot with MIDI these days, but there is nothing like a real drummer, bassist, and guitarist.

Tacos, Tours, and Technical Difficulties
We broke for lunch around 1:15pm. We had tracked six songs, and had six to go. One of the interns had made a run to Franklin’s Oscar’s Taco Shop and had returned with food for the band. Crystal, Matt, Dave, and I sat in Dark Horse’s dining area and chatted with Miles and Joeie about touring, recording, and music (Miles will soon be going on the road with Kelly Clarkson and Joeie will be touring with LeAnne Rimes). For dessert, Crystal shared a batch of her homemade chocolate chip peanut butter cookies – a definite hit.

Everyone trickled back into the studio, and after the last cookie was devoured, the recording re-insued around 1:45. We were still about forty-five minutes behind, but made up for lost time after lunch (despite the taco comas). The guys navigated the remaining six songs with ease, and hit the last note of the 12th song a little before 4:00pm (there is a 13th song on the album, but it is a piano/strings/vocal only song and will be recorded at a later date). While Miles and Joeie were packing up their instruments, studio assistant Mike Carr made copies of all the Pro Tools sessions as the recorded files had inadvertently ended up on multiple drives (a very bad thing). Basically, making a copy of a Pro Tools session consolidates all the media to one location (which in this case happened to be Dave’s personal drive as my drive did not play well with Pro Tools HD). It’s really important that all the files are in one location. Otherwise, it’s easy to loose/misplace valuable data.

Guitar Overdubs and File Transfers
In the meantime, Matt, Crystal, and I helped Miles carry his drum set pieces out to his SUV. He was on his way to pick up a birthday present for his wife, which was the next day. It was entertaining to watch Miles and Joeie shake, hug and say their farewells. I think they had a lot of fun. What great guys.

After all the Pro Tools files were copied, Dave and I spent a couple hours recording additional electric guitar parts with Matt Meyer. Our purpose for this day was to simply capture rhythm electric guitar, which means much of what we recorded were power chords and arpeggios (lead parts will be done at a later date, and acoustic guitar will be recorded here in Columbus at 10x12 Productions). Matt has done such a great job so far and I’m so thankful that he can be a part of this project! Thanks Matt!

We finished recording around 7:00pm. The final step was to copy all the files onto my personal drive. Dave would be keeping a copy and I would be keeping a copy. The total data count was about 32 gigs of 24-bit 48kHz audio (each song took up about 2-3 gigs).

The day had been a success! To celebrate, Dave, Matt, Crystal and I journeyed to downtown Nashville for a mouth-watering pizza at the Mellow Mushroom. We chatted about recording, the World Cup, and reminisced on what had turned out to be an unbelievable session. Crystal and I arrived back at our hotel around 11:00pm. This time, I found it difficult to sleep. I was still ramped up about the day, and felt that I should back up all the data to a second drive. I also began opening the Pro Tools sessions to ensure that everything was there and playing properly. I think we finally fell asleep about 1:30am.

The next day, I finished checking the Pro Tools sessions and discovered that one song was missing some guitar files! Fortunately, they were still on one of Dark Horse’s hard drives, and Dave was able to post the files on his site for me to download.

I returned to Columbus a happy camper. Thanks again to everyone who prayed for us! I’m looking forward to sharing this new music with you.

To hear some humorous audio out takes from our Dark Horse session, click here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Hints Unraveled

If you haven’t heard yet, the name of the new Marc Andre rock album is Snapshots of the Shattered Soul. Were you one of the many people trying to figure out the name? If so, click here for the answers to all the clues (given on the blog during the month of June).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The New Album Name Unveiled!!!

SNAPSHOTS OF THE SHATTERED SOUL - the name of the new Marc Andre rock album. Congrats to Amy Margraff who guessed the name!! Amy, you win a free download of the album when it is released!!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Recording FAQ

This Friday, we’ll be heading down to Dark Horse Recording in Nashville to record drums, bass, and rhythm guitar for the new Marc Andre rock album. All the Pro Tools sessions and chart notebooks are ready to go! Now I just have to pack my toothbrush and other essentials for the big trip!

Dispelling the Confusion
From time to time, I will talk to people who only skim the blog, but don’t know exactly what I’m working on or why I’m going to Nashville. Below are some questions I’ve been asked, and I thought I would clarify some details.

1. Why Are You Going to Nashville?
To record drums, bass, and guitar for the new Marc Andre rock album.

2. Who Is Playing On The Album?

So far, we have Miles McPherson on drums, Joey Canaday on bass, and Matt Meyer on electric guitar.

3. Will The Album Be Finished After This Week’s Recording Session?
No. When I return to Columbus, I will edit what we have recorded in Nashville and will return to Nashville (probably in the fall) to record guitar overdubs and live strings. I will make a final trip to Nashville for mastering (probably this winter).

4. When Will The Album Be Released?
Hopefully, the album will be released early 2011.

5. Who Will Be Promoting The Album?
I will be the one promoting the album.

6. Are You Trying To Get Signed With A Record Label?
No, that is not one of my goals.

7. Who Is Producing The Album?
My friend Dave Bechtel and I are co-producing the album, which means it is a combined effort.

8. Is This Another Rap Album?
No. This is a Christian rock album. I don’t rap anymore.

9. Do You Have Any Other CDs?
Yes. Both of my most recent CDs are on iTunes and CDbaby.com.

10. Who Is Marc Andre? I Know You By Another Name.
I am Marc Andre. Andre is my middle name, and Marc Andre is my stage name.

Hope this clears some things up!

Keep your eye on the blog for pictures and videos from Friday’s recording session.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Practice with Guitarist Matt Meyer

Today, Hilliard native Matt Meyer and I met for the second time to go over guitar parts for the new rock album. Matt will be joining us at Dark Horse Recording on June 18th. The music is really coming together! I'm anxious to hear Matt's guitar parts with real drums and bass! Less than two weeks until we head to Nashville!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Production Update June 03, 2010

Two weeks from tomorrow, we’ll be recording drums, bass, and rhythm guitar at Dark Horse Recording in Nashville! I don’t have a lot of time right now, but wanted to give you a quick update on what I’ve been up to over the last week or so.

- I purchased a DigiDesign Mbox 2 and Installed Pro Tools on my laptop. I didn’t want to install it on my iMac quite yet, as this is the computer that has been running Logic Pro all along, and I would have to do an operating system update to install Pro Tools (from Mac OSX 10.5.1 to OSX 10.5.8). Operating system updates can be a bit scary at times, and may require updates of multiple third-party plug-ins (I’ve been avoiding any updates for the last 10 months). I don’t want to risk having to re-build my whole computer at this 11th hour, so I just installed Pro Tools on my laptop instead. The iMac is much faster and will be used for editing and mixing down the road, but for the time being, the laptop will work great for setting up basic Pro Tools sessions for June 18th at Dark Horse.

- I exported all the sub-mix files from Logic and imported those into Pro Tools. The Pro Tools sessions are basically ready to go except for a few tweaks here and there (I was actually able to set them up much faster than I had anticipated). I will be working on finishing up the Pro Tools sessions over the next several days. I also may possibly mail some DVDs of the Pro Tools sessions to engineer/co-producer Dave Bechtel in Nashville early this week so that all the files can be imported into the Pro Tools system at Dark Horse Recording ahead of time (this will save time the day of recording).

- I began the process of registering my new songs with ASCAP. This is required for radio play (if the songs end up getting played on the radio). I’ll give more details on ASCAP later.

- Today, I’ve been working on organizing a number of hard drives and have been backing up a bunch of old files so I have more room on my drives. This isn’t the most exciting thing, but is important as I will need two drives on the day of recording – one which we’ll record to, and one which I’ll use for backup. Unfortunately, I may have to drop $150-$180 and get a larger and faster Firewire 7200 rpm drive which will be used throughout the entire recording, editing, and mixing stages.

- This Sunday, I will be meeting with guitarist Matt Meyer to go over guitar parts again. He will be joining us at Dark Horse on June 18th.

- Over the next two weeks, I’ll be listening to the demos very carefully and will be adding additional notes to the Nashville number charts we’ll be using at Dark Horse.

- That’s it for now! More updates are on their way!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Progress of the Album: Game Plan (Ch. 11)

Three weeks from today, we’ll be leaving for Nashville! If you haven’t heard yet, on June 18th, I’ll be at Dark Horse Recording in Nashville recording drums, bass, and rhythm guitar for the new Marc Andre rock album that is set to release early 2011. It’s hard to believe it’s been 6 ½ years (October 2003) since I was at Dark Horse tracking my last album Backstage Pass. This trip should be a lot of fun!

Prepping the Demos
So far, I’ve already spent about 6 months preparing MIDI demos for the live band to emulate. In addition, I’m now currently working on exporting all the instruments from the demos as sub-mixes. In other words, all of the instruments are now being sup-grouped into the following categories/channels: (1-2) drums, (3) bass, (4-5) rhythm guitar, (6-7) lead guitar, (8-9) keys, (10-11) percussion, (12-13) lead vocals, and (14-15) background vocals. On the day of recording, the musicians can adjust the volume of these sub-mixes to taste. For example, the drummer may want to turn up the percussion a bit more than the bassist, just to stay tight with any drum programming. As another example, some musicians may want to hear a lot of the lead vocal and some may want to turn it down quite a bit. The band will probably listen to the fake drums, bass, and guitars once for demo purposes only and then those channels will be muted once we start recording (as we are replacing all the fake drums, bass, and guitar with real instruments).

Making the Most of the Time
As you can probably imagine, studio time isn’t cheap. Neither are studio musicians. With this in consideration, I am sketching out a game plan so that we (co-producer Dave Bechtel and I) can work as quickly and as efficiently as possible while we are at Dark Horse. My goal is to spend about a ½ hour on each song, which equals out to about 6 hours per tune (we have 12 songs to track on June 18th. The 13th song on the album is a piano/strings/vocal only song, and will be recorded later). If we go over a little, that’s ok, but 6 hours would be ideal. I hope to record 6 songs in the morning before lunch and 6 songs after lunch.

The Order of Tracking
We also will probably group the songs by sound, and will record songs with similar qualities back-to-back. In other words, all of the heavier songs may be recorded one after the other as they may call for complimentary drum tones… similar kick and toms possibly with a varied snare drum from song to song. Dave Bechtel will be engineering the session and will have a better idea how to arrange the order of song tracking, although I am trying to plan things the best I can. Dave is a very seasoned engineer who knows a lot about miking technique, and has a great understanding of how to get particular sounds out of live instruments. He has been responsible for lining up the studio and the studio musicians, and has been giving me pointers throughout this entire process. I am extremely thankful to him for his involvement in this project!

The name of the new album will be unveiled on June 15th. Be sure to check the blog next Tuesday, June 1st for the first hint of what the album will be called.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mouse in the House Remix on CDBaby.com!!

Rapper Marc Andre: Mouse in the House (Alumni Remix) - Single

Want to contribute a little towards the recording costs of Marc Andre's new rock album? One small way you can help is by purchasing the Mouse in the House (Alumni Remix) on CDbaby.com for just $0.99. Click the CDbaby image above to sample the song and to read more details. Every dollar counts!! Thanks for your support!!

(NOTE: This is a remix of a rap song I released in 1994. It is simply a fundraiser and something I created for the fun of it. The new rock album will sound nothing like this, but will instead sound somewhat like Backstage Pass, yet a good bit more aggressive).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Album: Motivation (Chapter 10, Part 2 of 2)

So why am I working on a new rock album? That is a great question. It’s a question I often ask myself, especially when the going gets tough and I start to get a little weary of the long vertical climb. Nobody forced me to take this challenge on. Nobody is paying me to put out another CD. Aren’t I being a little too analytical here? Why even consider my motives? Because like I mentioned earlier, motives are the backbone of why we do things, and if the purpose of what we do is grounded in something bigger than ourselves, we can have that much more confidence to keep trying when our emotions tempt us to throw in the towel. I wouldn’t say I am exactly tempted to give up now, but I do sometimes run through a list of “what ifs.” What if few people buy my CD? What if people don’t like the new music? What if they like my old music better? What if I don’t make any profit? Will I feel like a failure? What if people don’t get where I’m coming from with such strong and emotional songs? What if I can’t afford to finish the project? What if I get done with the CD, and I don’t even like the songs? What if this is the last CD I ever make? The list can become quite ridiculous at times. These are often the moments when God stops me and asks, “Marc, what about people and what about my glory? What about the relationships between you and others who are giving their time and talent to help make this project a reality? Will these friendships grow or will they be damaged through this process?” Wow. We sure can get focused on the wrong things real quick, can’t we? Here’s a good verse I often come back to.

”Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.” Psalm 127:1

I have often fallen into the trap of believing that my songs are what will change people’s lives. However, the older I get, the more I realize that music and songs mean nothing if I am inconsiderate of my family and friends, and if I am unconscious of the God that gave me the opportunities and the mind to create. Of course, I want these new songs to encourage and challenge people, but I also understand that my interaction with others is so much more important than the music I release.

A Different Conception
In addition to the purpose of wanting to glorify the Lord and encourage people, there are some other reasons why I am working on this new album. In some of my previous blogs, I’ve mentioned that I went through a five-year writing drought between the years of 2004 and 2009. For years, I wanted to produce a new album, but felt so lost creatively and didn’t know which direction to go topically and musically (I also had no idea how I could afford to make another CD, as I was still paying off a huge debt accrued from Backstage Pass). Throughout these five years, I believe I was burying a lot of emotions in an attempt to survive, and I’m now convinced I was likewise squelching my feelings to the point that I no longer knew how to get those feelings out constructively in song. I remember telling myself repeatedly, “My feelings don’t matter” because it was the only way I could stop feeling the pain. As an author friend of mine put it, “I was killing my heart.” I began feeding myself a lie that nobody cared about my pain, and with this, I started believing that I shouldn’t care either.

Nevertheless, the Lord brought me out of that. He reminded me that I needed to bring my pain and my flattened hopes to Him. This began a God-led emotional healing in my life. I felt a new freedom to let go and trust Him. However, for a time, I believe this new perspective actually threw me off creatively. From all I knew, it was my darker and heavier songs that moved people the most – songs like Pull Through, Hurricane, and By Now. I was convinced that emotionally charged music was my strongest suit, but I didn’t know how to write heavy songs when my heart was no longer heavy. For years, I kept a journal that covered the topic of writing new songs, but I never actually wrote any songs (or at least ones that I liked).

Then, in August 2009, songs started pouring out in the middle of the night about a week after a coffee shop conversation I had had with a friend who was struggling with depression and negative thoughts. It was as if something had just clicked. For once, I stepped outside of my own life and started writing from other people’s perspectives. I began to notice the struggle in others’ lives and how those struggles related to the struggles I had in my own life. For a long time, I wanted to write an album for the down and outer, and finally, I figured out how to do it in my own way. I decided I was going to be completely honest instead of hiding behind the fa├žade that is so prevalent in Christian music these days. This single conversation over coffee with my friend was the first of many situations that encouraged me to not only write about where I was currently, but also about where I had been. As I was composing these new songs, this verse came to mind -

”Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

Centering Our Motives
Let’s be honest. Sometimes, it’s really tough to know our true motives. Even good motives can quickly turn sour and selfish. Paul even addressed the topic of motives in I Corinthians 4:3-5 -

”I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.”

I know that my motives have not always been pure (even though I’ve tried to keep God in the center of my endeavors). As I look back, I can see that there were many times when I found my identity through music. In middle school and high school, I was the Christian rapper. It seems silly in hindsight, but at the time, it was a big deal to be the school rap star. Even then, I wanted to glorify Christ through my music, but underneath, I think I did eat up people’s praise from time to time. Even now, there are moments when I wrestle with truly giving the glory to God instead of taking it for myself. As Paul said, God is the ultimate judge, and it’s possible that we’re still guilty of hoarding the glory even when we think we’re innocent. I still often pray, “Lord, help me with my motives. Help me to keep You, others, and eternity in mind.”

Lowered Expectations and Heightened Freedom
In closing, I’m going to talk a little about expectations. Being that there have been some let downs in the past, I’m trying to lose some of the expectations I carried during previous projects. For one, I’m not working to make a profit. I’m paying for the project outright, and I’m avoiding using credit cards. I don’t want to dig myself a deep hole in the pocket hoping for something I have zero control over. If anything, I just don’t want to pay for the album for years to come.

I’m also not setting out to get signed by a record label. I’m going to market this project myself, and if someone “in the business” hears it and likes it, that’s great, but I’m not counting on that, nor am I shaping the content of this album with a mysterious Christian label executive in mind.

In addition, I don’t expect everybody to like my music. Some people don’t even like music at all, let alone Christian rock. This doesn’t mean these people don’t like me, and it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t like them either. It’s not going to be for everyone, and I’m ok with that.

I’m not expecting these songs to change the world. They’re just songs, but I do hope they encourage people – even if I never hear about it. Ultimately, I pray that hearts will be changed, but this is only something God can do. He can use whatever He wants to make Himself known to people.

Finally, I have to admit that there is part of me that just likes a challenge, and likes to see rough ideas turn into art. God is a creative being and after making the universe, He stepped back, rested, and exclaimed, “It is good!” As long as God is in the center, I suppose there is nothing wrong with simply doing something because you enjoy the process and like to admire the finished product.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Quick Production Update

In just over four weeks, we’ll be heading to Dark Horse Recording in Nashville to record drums, bass, and rhythm guitar for the new album. Joining us will be studio drummer Miles McPherson, bassist Joey Canaday, and Hilliard, OH native guitarist Matt Meyer. For those of you just tuning in, I am working on a new rock album, set to release early 2011. This will be my third pop rock CD. You can listen to my previous albums Dishes and Backstage Pass either on iTunes or CDbaby.com.

For those of you who have been following along for a while… all demos and Nashville number charts for the new album have been completed, except for one tune which I am still tweaking (track #5). I hope to work on this song some later this week.

I’ve also been busy raising some extra money for the first phase of the recording process. So far, I’ve made enough to pay for the first Nashville trip (coming up on June 18th), and now I am working to make some extra cash to purchase a Pro Tools Mbox2 system, which I will use for the editing and mixing stages of the new album (All work so far has been done in Logic Pro). This past Saturday, I helped tear down some audio gear at the Race for the Cure in downtown Columbus, and on Sunday night, I spent about 6 ½ hours in the rain tearing down sound and light equipment at the Nelsonville Music Festival in Nelsonville, OH (near Hocking Hills). In addition, I’m running sound for some weddings on the weekends, and am possibly producing and recording some songs for a friend or two (not to mention I’m giving a few haircuts here and there). I should probably order the Pro Tools Mbox2 in the next couple weeks, as I want to have at least two weeks to set up all the Pro Tools sessions that we’ll need when we go to Nashville in June.

This past weekend, marcandremusic.com went back online. For a while, this URL has forwarded to 10x12productions.com (my small business), but I’ve now set up a temporary page for this URL that will be revamped (and will look a lot cooler) once the new album is released.

On The Schedule This Week…
This Thursday, I’ll be meeting with composer Robert Nugent to review string arrangements (for two songs on the new album). I’m also preparing a game plan for our big day at Dark Horse Recording (June 18th). I will cover this in a future blog.

Progress of the Album: Motivation (Chapter 10 part 2 of 2) coming this weekend…

Musician Spotlight: Joey Canaday

Joining drummer Miles McPherson and guitarist Matt Meyer at Dark Horse Recording on June 18th will be bassist Joey Canaday. Some of his credits include playing for artists LeAnne Rimes and Matthew West. You can read more about Joey on his website at: http://joeycanadaybass.com

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Album: Motivation (Chapter 10, Part 1 of 2)

Are you a person who starts things and doesn’t finish them or are you a person who fights with sweaty determination to complete what you’ve started? Why are some of us so bad at follow-through and why are some of us so driven and persistent, even to the point of imbalance? I’m not sure if I have an answer for this. I suppose we all just have a different make-up. However, I do know that motives are critical to why many of us go to such great lengths to accomplish this or that. What pushes a summer sports Olympian to spend years and years preparing for an event that only happens once every four years? What drives an ice sculptor to work so long and diligently on one piece of art that is going to melt when the sun comes out and the temperature rises?

A Little History Lesson
Behind every goal and every project is a motive. As with anything else, the conception of a CD comes through a variety of motives - some good, some bad, some clear and intentional, some subliminal. There have been purposes behind every album I’ve produced. In 1989, I began my first rap album Initial Cut believing that I could reach people through Christian music, all the while attempting to follow in the shoes of my favorite band dc Talk. I also just thought it’d be a lot of fun to record an album! In 1994, I went on to record my second Christian rap album Mouse in the House, again hoping that listeners would be encouraged through the Christian songs and entertained through the fun songs. In 1995, I released a single at Word of Life Bible Institute called The Institute Thang (can you see the dc Talk influence?), this time with intentions of making a little extra cash, as I was a poor college student. There was also part of me that just really missed recording, and I felt that the production of a single like this was something I could do cheaply and without much time commitment (I produced it during the winter of 1994, during my Christmas break). In 1996, I released another rap single at Liberty University – My Almamater. This time around, I was attempting to raise some money to buy a computer so I could start recording digitally using Pro Tools. I made some money from the sales of the cassette, but not as much as I had hoped. The following semester, a friend of mine produced a music video for My Almamater, and it was through the sales of this video that I made enough cash to purchase my first computer, a Macintosh clone). After buying this computer, I began recording songs in my dorm room at Liberty University. One of the first songs I recorded was Dishes (which was later re-recorded for my Dishes album, which debuted in 2001). There weren’t any deep motives behind the production of the first version of Dishes; I simply was trying to get more acquainted with Pro Tools and digital recording. In 2007, I put out my first rap CD that included two versions of My Almamater, and two other Liberty University inspired songs – Jerryland and Red Mudd (all projects previous to this had been released on cassette). During the school year of 1996, My Almamater had grown in popularity at Liberty University (it was often played on the campus radio station, C-91). Some people were asking me if I had the song on CD instead of cassette… so I assumed that a re-release of My Almamater on CD would be just the ticket to more sales. I also thought some additional songs (Jerryland, and Red Mudd) would increase the value of the album. However, sadly, the Jerryland CD did not sell well at all, and the song Jerryland never gained the popularity of the formally released My Almamater.

From Rap To Pop to Rock
After graduating from Liberty University in 1998, I began considering the possibility of producing a pop rock CD. From what I remember, there were several motives behind this move. For one, I wanted to step away from rap and try something more challenging. The more I examined the rap medium, the more I felt that it was relatively simple and didn’t require that much talent to produce. I also felt a little ashamed that I couldn’t sing, so I started trying to write melodic songs and sing them. It’s possible I was also again trying to follow in the shoes of dc Talk, who was likewise moving away from rap and towards rock. I remember hearing the song Jesus Freak and thinking, “Wow! That is really cool! I bet I’ll be more current if I start singing pop rock songs instead of rapping.” At first, I wasn’t sure how I would ever record a professional band-driven CD. However, one day my friend Dave Bechtel introduced me to an incredible Columbus-based guitarist named Tom Tussing. Tom ended up playing about 90% of the guitar parts on the Dishes album, and Dave helped to produce the album. The excitement of working towards a finished product was also coupled with a hope that a record label would likewise gain an interest in me as an artist. For the first time in my life, I began dreaming seriously about a career in music. This hope served as a backdrop behind two years of dedicated sweat and tears. The Dishes album was released in July of 2001.

After a two-year recording hiatus, I began writing my second rock album Backstage Pass in 2003. The motives behind this project were much different than those behind any other project. I was very heart-broken at the time, and I just needed to get my feelings out in a constructive way (this is seen in songs like Hurricane, After Everything, and Pull Through.) The lyrics from this album poured from an aching spirit instead of from a spirit forcing itself to find topics to write about. Backstage Pass debuted in October of 2004.

The Rollercoaster of Music Production
The creative journey can be a mixture of disappointment and soaring fulfillment. Along my musical path have been many ups and downs. Looking back, I can remember some really discouraging moments. I recall being quite discouraged at one point during my college years, so discouraged that I threw an entire box of unsold My Almamater cassettes in a dumpster behind one of the dorms. I remember a campus grounds student employee calling me to say he had found a box of my cassettes in a dumpster, to which I responded that I had meant to throw them away. I don’t think he knew what to say to that.

Days after the release of Dishes in 2001, I was set to perform some of my new songs for thousands of teenagers in Anaheim, CA. I actually rush ordered the first run of Dishes, and had about 300 CDs shipped ahead of time to Anaheim, hoping that I could sell them all to my new found fans. It turns out that the coordinator for this event cancelled my slot in the program, and instead scheduled me to sing for a roomful of 50+ year-old pastors who didn’t understand my music, and likewise found no interest in purchasing my CDs. I came back from Anaheim disappointed after only selling about 15 CDs (about 285 CDs were shipped back to Columbus).

In 2005 (a year after the release of Backstage Pass), I remember sitting on a rock outside a hotel in Bristol, TN after a show at King College. My band mates and I were struggling to see eye-to-eye and the turn out for the show at King was far from what I had expected. This was the straw that began to break the camel’s back, and I think it was at this point that I really started considering giving up on the idea of pursuing music as a career. I felt like I was hitting one brick wall after another, and wasn’t sure how much more let down I could take.

In 2006, I performed my last show (for nearly 4 years) at Huntington University in Indiana. I had had so many expectations for where my music would go, and so many of those fell flat. Record labels wouldn’t respond to my emails and packets. Most radio stations refused to play my music. I played a number of concerts, but I had a terrible time scheduling band musicians, and the lack of turn out at many shows was disheartening. Once, the band and I drove to a summer camp in West Virginia in hopes of playing for hundreds of kids. What we found was a crowd of about 30 kids, half of them literally passed out in their seats from the scorching summer sun. At many concerts, hardly anyone went out of their way to visit my merchandise table. I often found myself standing there alone while kids visited the merchandise tables of other bands.

To add to all this, between 2004 and 2008, I found myself paying off $10,000 of credit card debt, which would have been easily been paid off with the sale of 1000 CDs (this never happened).

I don’t say all this to make you feel sorry for me. Instead, I’m sharing these stories to give you some background on where I’ve been, and to put into perspective the significance of this new album. A lot has happened in my life since that last concert at Huntington University in 2006, both circumstantially and spiritually. It certainly is interesting to look back and see how God’s fingerprints have been all over those situations that at the time left me discouraged and even at times angry. I imagine you probably have some stories of your own. It’s very easy to focus on our short-term earthly goals without remembering God’s bigger purpose of shaping the attitudes and priorities of our hearts.

Up Next… So why am I working on a new album? What is driving me to take on another project? What is the inspiration behind this CD? Read part 2 of this post...