Producer’s Notes 4 – My First Counsel

Year of the Nightingale Producer’s notes Vol. 4

by Kelly Snook

Song: My First Counsel (release date 7 March 2017)
Words: The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh, Part 1, No 1
Key: F major
Meter: 6/8
YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/6O6uqxwGhH0

Once again, this first Hidden Word of Bahá’u’lláh is another that is widely memorized and set to music by Bahá’ís. In our song-order decision-making, we wanted conceptually to put this song first because it is Bahá’u’lláh’s first counsel. Naturally! Musically, though, it made more sense later on, something that even our experienced mastering engineer, Mandy Parnell, felt upon her first listen. This was one occasion where we had to let go of preconceived notions and continue to search for what would best serve the overall goal and not distract or shock the listener out of their devotional state.

On every record, there seems to be at least one trouble-maker, a song that seems to resist taming. This was one of those mixes, despite its exquisite song structure, melody, and sense of movement, and despite the quality of musical execution in the recording and Luke’s gorgeous string arrangement.

The mixing room at INRS Studios

The first technical challenge came during the mixing of the strings. These were recorded by multiple musicians, each in their own spaces that had their own sonic structures, and they had to be mixed to sound like a quartet playing together. Another job for the butter machine (plus a few other juicy engineering tricks like manually lining up waveforms to adjust phasing, adding creative octave doubling, and using multiple panned effects sends)! The importance of getting this right was reinforced by comments from a close friend who listened to an early mix and was describing why the song impacted her:

“The strings!!! The magnificence of the strings and how they take over and envelop the piano. It brought to life that experience [of the idea of imperishable sovereignty] for me in music. I see the beginning with the simplicity of sound like a pure and kindly heart laboring away in the world, living out a beautiful but solitary melody. Then this established pattern (our life as lived in this world) is rewarded with the melody of the celestial concourse. This is that sovereignty. The original piano has now earned its place in celestial music.”

Reconstructing the Strings

As we neared, and then passed, our mix deadline and started to think about song order, no matter which song we would try to put this one after, the first few notes of the song, which were at that point just the piano chords and voice without strings, felt challenging and abrupt. No amount of experimenting with vocal and piano volumes, effects, or treatment seemed to help. Finally, with Luke sitting beside me, I begged his indulgence (after one of my “I have an idea!!” moments) and asked him if I could try something a bit cheeky. For the next few minutes I scanned through the layers of strings, pulling out bits and pieces I thought might work and constructing a new string arrangement for the introduction out of the existing fragments from the chorus, so that the strings would open the piece and the piano would come in with accompaniment to complement its driving notes. It worked – not quite as well as if they had actually played those lines, but well enough!

Pursuit of this tricky mix continued even during the mastering process. We went through five rounds of mastering to get everything right, and this song got a massive re-mix between rounds 4 and 5. Sometimes (where by sometimes, I mean almost always) a mix is never finished. Leonardo Da Vinci famously said, “art is never finished, only abandoned.” We didn’t exactly abandon this one, but we did have to send the mixes to the CD processing house to meet the delivery deadline, so the end was declared.

On this occasion of International Women’s Day, I wanted also to call attention to how rare it still is for an album like this one to be both produced and mastered by two female engineers. Women are wildly underrepresented in music production, music technology development, audio engineering, mix engineering, and mastering engineering. From the singing and soaring strings to the science of editing and final tweaks of waveforms, this record benefits greatly from the musical and technical contributions of women and of the evolved men who are choosing to advance the process of equality.

Direct YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/6O6uqxwGhH0

Mandy Parnell, Mastering Engineer

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: