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