From Experience: Part 3 by Pete Falloon

I’m blessed to have been interviewed on the Setlist Indie Music blog, and to have a video premiere series as well as writing for a “From Experience” series of posts - this is part 3 of that series. Parts 1 and 2  covered what motivated me to make an album of my own, the story up to the first recording session at Vale Studios where we put down the basic band parts, and composing and recording additional parts during the second and third studio sessions. In this post, I'll look back at what happened next - the post-production side of making the Reed In The River LP, covering mixing and mastering ready for production. One thing I should mention is that we aimed to, and did very little editing of the tracks we recorded as the idea was to capture the groove and vibe of a live band for the key parts. The only exception is fairly standard practice, with lead vocal parts, where a large number of takes are made for each track, and the best bits of each are combined to give the best overall lead vocal, given its importance in the mix - for the most part, my brother Matt did this work, known as ‘comping’, at Vale Studios. As I mentioned in Part 2, mixing is basically the process of deciding how each individual part (for example, a lead vocal part, or a guitar line) you record will sound - how bright it is, any effects like echo and so on - and how all the different parts combine together to make the track you hear on a CD, stream or download. At brother Matt’s suggestion, I'd chosen London-based producer, engineer, mixer and musician Tim Wills, who has worked with some big names in the music industry including Ian Brown (The Stone Roses), Newton Faulkner, Nick Cave and The Cure. The first step was to get some rough mixes to Tim - these are basically a very quickly put together blend of the individual sounds recorded at the studio to give you an overall impression of what the album could sound like. As well as that, I tried to give Tim some pointers as to how I wanted the music to sound, nodding towards early R.E.M., “Ballad of Easy Rider” era-Byrds and a touch of The Stone Roses. After that, I sent the full individual audio files to Tim on a hard disk so he could get them into his system and start to put together some mixes. Tim said we'd got some really great sounds down in the studio, and it wasn't going to be hard to mix this project; the challenge was really making it all sound as good as possible rather than fancy effects or trying to alter the sound drastically. Tim’s work on the mixing began on my birthday, 18th April 2016. The idea was to have a crack at one or two tracks to get the general feel right, rather than labour over the details of every aspect of these early mixes. Canada In The Fall and Avalanche were amongst the first tracks Tim mixed - they sounded great overall but needed a tweak here and there to get the level and tone of bass right, the impact of the drums and vocal level adjustments and so on. But once we'd got the overall sound more or less right with the early few mixes, Tim moved on to mixing the rest of the album. The mixing process took about twelve days in total. Once he had a full mix of the album ready to share, I joined him at his studio in London in mid-May to work on, and refine those mixes together. It is much easier to do this together, interactively in person as a small change to one aspect of the sound can affect how the rest sounds, and we all hear things slightly differently too, of course. So it could be quite inefficient to do this via email or on the phone, in contrast! Working together in person, on the other hand, all the controls are right at hand, and you are both hearing the same thing in the same place, and so it is much easier to get to the right mix. There were, of course further tweaks, as I took those mixes home and listened to them on different sound systems, in the car, on different headphones, out loud through speakers, on an iPod and so on. But from the May session, the mixes of Avalanche and Feint Ruled Notebook ended up being the final ones. I joined Tim in London again at the end of June to get the mixes finalised for the rest of the songs; Canada In The Fall ended up being the fourth revision while most of the rest of the songs had two or three versions to get to the final state. It was all sounding great, and his work really brought out the best from what we'd achieved in the studio, just as he'd set out to do. The next step was mastering, and a particularly important part of mastering an album is making sure the individual tracks sit together well - they sound broadly similar, don't jump wildly about in volume from one track to the next and so on. There is, of course much more to it than that, and mastering also involves optimising the tracks more broadly for reproduction and distribution whether that is for download, streaming or on a CD. So it also often includes equalisation (tone) and compression, which can help smoothen out and increase the overall volume, amongst many other secrets and tricks! My brother Matt had recently used London-based independent mastering engineer Pete Maher for his album, Do No Harm, and since he did an excellent, great value job, he was an easy choice for this project. Pete has also worked with some big names in the industry across all genres, including folks like Patti Smit, Jack White, U2 and others and is very respected for his work. So, the next step was to get the final mixes to Pete. He began work in late June of 2016, and the initial masters sounded great overall. However, the mastering did bring out a few issues with two tracks, Soft Falling Rain and On A Foreign Tide that then needed a subtle amount of remixing from Tim to fix. The final masters were then prepared by early July, and I was delighted to receive the “red-book” CD from Pete, plus WAV files and optimised MP3s ready for production! We were nearly there - and the finally collection of songs resulting from those masters really did sound like an album. I couldn't have been happier. The remaining tasks to get the album into production were artwork, manufacturing physical CDs and booklet printing, and digital distribution. Some of these things were going on in the background while we worked on mixing and mastering, and others needed to wait till those steps were done. I hope you've enjoyed reading and would love to hear your thoughts on this instalment of the series - and I'll be back with the next instalment soon! -Pete Falloon