Producing Creativity

photo of lisa in a black dress with a camel hat and the words "In the studio, we don’t rehearse, but we record three takes of each track/song, so just choosing one take over another manifests in hours and hours of audio analyzing to make final choices."

Happy New Year!

I had a nice winter break, and now I’ve mostly been wearing my producer hat the last couple weeks.  Ok, it looks just like my musician hat of course, but it represents less piano time and a lot more listening.  In the studio, we don’t rehearse, but we record three takes of each track/song, so just choosing one take over another manifests in hours and hours of audio analyzing to make final choices. What really makes a “best” take anyhow?  What about the first – isn’t it always the best?  There is a Myth of the First Take: it’s supposed to be effused with the energy of the moment and the prowess of the performers, but I’ve found that any take can be great.  If someone is excited to get started, or to eat, or even to leave, you might gain an extra boost of excitement for a few minutes.  (Whitney Houston famously recorded a hit song in one take so she could get to the mall in time).  Musicians tend to be more relaxed after a couple takes, but I noticed my own first/best take on a solo piano piece made the album, and that was right before lunch.  One thing we don’t do – we don’t overdub our work – record instruments at different times and piece them together later. I think jazz should be more natural than that, so we always record together.

Each album normally has 4-6 engineers: the “tracking” engineer, and their assistant, who sets up the mics and records the music tracks to Pro Tools, has the best knowledge of where to place the equipment for each instrument and how to get the best sound. The editing/Pro Tools engineer, will separate the chosen takes, clean up any random noises and prepare/send the digital tracks to the mix engineer.  The mix engineer specializes in creating the balance in each song – how much piano, bass or drums in each track?  Lowering overzealous drums, or increasing the volume on the bass solo can make a big difference.  After the individual tracks are completed, the final step is handled by the mastering engineer. They balance the volume and sound across the entire album, including the space allotted between each track, (yep, that is part of their job to create that little second of space).  

Before working in music, I was an art director and creative director at an ad agency – that job was very similar to my producer role today – both allow me to collaborate with a wide variety of creative people working to get results we are all proud of. In the past I worked with photographers, illustrators and copywriters and now as a producer I work with musicians, engineers and studio managers.  It’s really cool to work cooperatively on a creative team – yes it’s always a lot of work – but it’s getting a little easier now that I’ve recorded twenty five albums!  I’m looking forward to sharing the new music with you this spring!

Take care,

Lisa

image grid of lisa and her trio recording in the studio and notebooks full of notes