News From The Woods


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published May 1, 1997

"DIY Album Production"

Let's talk about the practical application of recorded product on a regional and national level with the intentions of furthering one's career through promotional efforts and the sale of that product through whatever means.


What I mean is, when you have a band and want to put out you own CD without spending an arm and a leg or even having the support (or weight, depending on your point of view) of a major record company. There are no set rules about recording and releasing product. You don't even have to record it in a studio. Sometimes it's more feasible, economic, and under the right circumstances even smarter to record a live album on location. That's what we'll address in this month's column.

It's necessary that you have a tight band that has a high energy level with well-rehearsed original material when you are considering this avenue of marketing because recording a "live" album is a much more honest approach to the recording process. You're capturing a series of performances on location, not creating an arrangement to be performed in a controlled area. It's also necessary to stage the "session" at a good, lively club with an enthusiastic audience. And, of course, you must have access to a good portable recording setup. Since there are no "second takes" when you're live it's also helpful if you can depend on a knowledgeable sound engineer.

For an example of this scenario, let me introduce you to "Medicine Show", an Oklahoma band who recently cut their own live album called "Midnight Ramble" and released it themselves on CD. The band is managed by old friend and band confederate Mel Myers, who sent a copy of the CD to me as I keep missing them whenever they play near my "neck of the woods". Mel operates his management and consulting company in Broken Arrow, OK and books the band from there. I was not involved with this project, so I have nothing to gain by using this group for our purposes. (Pssst! Where's the check, Mel?)

First of all, the packaging on the CD is very professional and has all the "trappings" of The Big Time stamped on it. It has very well thought out graphics and the band's logo is colorful and prominently displayed on the front cover along with the album title. Even the disc itself is rich with graphics. The jacket opens up to reveal two pages of credits overlaid on top of a picture of the club where the recording took place. Nothing cheap-looking here. And it fits the musical "personality" of the band. That's important.

The venue chosen for three nights was Geroge's Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville, an excellent place for "vibe". It's small and intimate. I've played there myself and the audiences are enthusiastic and respond well to quality music played well by seasoned musicians. It is a regular stop for Delbert McClinton, The Cate Brothers, Whiplash Gumbo and other well known and respected live performers. In fact, the management has just recently enlarged the stage and installed a light system just for Delbert. Many a legendary jam has unfolded at George's, so the chances for capturing an exceptional performance were good.

Now a word about the band and their music. When I listen to the CD I get impressions of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers. Of a more recent note would be Bloodline. It's typically of the southern rock genre of R & B, and this group wears the suit well. As you would expect it is a 5-piece group with drums, bass, keys, and two guitars. Their original songs have a familiar feel to them with arrangements that attain an emotional destination. They have a nice musical feel, the band maintains a good groove, and the lyrics are rich with meaning. These guys have acquired some serious chops, and they mean what they play and sing about! There are just enough extended instrumental parts throughout the arrangements to allow everyone to shine and raise the vibe in the club. Another point in favor of recording and releasing a live album is that you must have a band that pleases crowds and plays music the audience can appreciate.

As far as how the performance's were recorded Mel was happy to supply the technical information via. email. I'll let him take it from here: "We used 3 ADAT's (24 tracks) and recorded every performance from Thursday night through Saturday night, including the Friday 6 P.M. matinee. It took until the Friday night 10 P.M. show to maximize our set up, so I believe the only takes we used were from the late Friday and Saturday shows. We set up in the room behind the stage at George's. It's the area they serve from when the beer garden is open during the summer. During much of the recording, we simultaneously recorded rough mixes on-the-fly to Mini Disc. Later, when it came time to weed out the better performances, we didn't need to waste time with the multi-tracks. By the way, 42 ADAT cassettes were used during the project. The greatest challenge was mixing the tapes later. Such a big band on such a small stage in such a limited space made isolation of individual mics virtually impossible."

Nevertheless, it's a good, clean recording of some exceptional performances, leakage and all. To me it helps make the music sound more honest (figuratively and literally). We all know how club venues are about AC buzzes from compressors, light dimmers and such, but these recordings were gloriously free of such flaws. Although the final takes were from different performances the transitions and levels between the songs felt natural and as if it was one seamless performance. Good post-production is essential to how the consumer perceives the final product. Put other ways, the proof is in the pudding. As I listen each time to the CD I feel more comfortable and in step with the songs and the performances. And isn't that what a good album is all about?

Visit Medicine Show on the Web at http// ed/med1.html

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