Monday, 26 December 2011

Nearing the last!

Well quite a bit of progress since last time I blogged, I had a bit of a blast and managed to clear all the remaining sections. There was a certain amount of tweaking, lots of uninteresting fiddling and no major frustrations.

One interesting point was when I removed my beloved multiband compressor from one section, because it was sucking the life out of it - when i switched it off the dynamics became so much more pronounced, which I guess makes sense. This is a good thing, I am starting to learn how to use it sensibly and not just everywhere.

It's near the end of the year, I'm on leave from work but I'm feeling pretty run down, and I'm slightly worried that this, combined with the fact that this mastering process is not significantly creative, but critical instead (which makes it less interesting for me) is leading to me being fairly sick of doing this and wishing I was finished. The worry is that in a desire to be finished I might not do as good a job as I really want to do, and that feeds into a dip in confidence. While I want it to be a masterpiece, and the best it can possibly be, I do know that it is possible to fiddle and faddle and second-guess for ever, and there comes a time when you have to say "it's done".

Also I'm aware that it's possible, in the process of fiddling forever, to to lose something, an element of confidence to the music. I'm always trying to play a certain balancing act anyway. Some musicians are wary of multitrack recording because you lose the "feel in the room" of when you play all together as a group. While I understand this, I think there are two obvious rejoinders to validate the way I am doing this - the first is that the style of music I am creating (possibly progressive rock) is one which has almost always been recorded using multitracking, and has exploited that to give a musical experience which is difficult/impossible to do in one take. The second is that practically I have little choice in the matter, I'm just a one-man band so I cannot play everything at once. I like to play as much as possible "live" so there is human feel to it - I refute the idea that multitracking is soulless, I think it can have a soul of its own. I have always taken it as a particular challenge to create music that is not lifeless in the way that much sequenced music can be.

Why am I saying all this? When mastering, because there is a need to be hyper-critical and deal with things that are irritating because they are wrong, there is a danger of tweaking, pinching, micro-editing and processing the music too far, so that the humanised element of it is lost. Good music does have imperfections in it by the very nature of it being played by people. Part of the skill of knowing when to say "that's enough" is being able to leave the human elements in.

So as I write this I am having a listen through. This pass through is to find anything I still think needs a tweak, and then there needs to be a final process where I check the relative volume of sections so that it all works as a whole. This is something that also gets done as I go along, not particularly consciously though, and I was aware while listening before I started mastering, that the end of the album is louder than the start. Strangely, the best place for that run-through might be in the car. I have listened to it quite a lot in the car as I commute, and it needs to be loud enough to hear over the engine & road noise etc, but not too loud so I cannot hear a horn outside.

Also it's good to listen to it on a variety of systems.

But anyway, I'm about halfway through this listen through, and so far I'm feeling cheered, it's feeling quite complete, the relative volumes seem sensible and the whole still has a good confidence to it. The most niggly thing that's left really is that with three sections that rely on a classical guitar, I wish I'd had an electro-acoustic one. It's been a considerable challenge to make the poxy one I have sound good, while trying to eliminate background noises while recording through a microphone.

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