The Ups and Downs and Downs of Recording an Album Blog Home
Posted by Maroon the Shantyman
Jun. 20, 2014 10:29 AM  

We´re currently in the middle of mixing down our newest album "Bail Money" in time for its official release date of Talk Like a Pirate Day (aka Sept 19th). This album will be the first one we´ve released that is all live and containing no studio songs... except a nice little bonus track that I won´t mention here... any more... after this. This being an all live album means something very special had to be done to make it happen: record the performances. Aaaaand there´s where things tended to fall apart for us.

We started recording audio for these shows in 2012, beginning with the Pirates on the Prairie II Concert that August. Jeremy from Traveller Song managed to snag the individual tracks from each microphone before it led into the Uptown Theater´s system, allowing us to get pristine recordings of 4 sets that night: The Bilge Pumps, Traveller Song, The Pride O´ Bedlam, and then all of us combined. We disseminated the tracks to the bands with the agreement that we could use any of the combined set recordings on any album each band might want to produce. Apparently, we´re the only ones turning the recording into songs on an album as we´re the only ones willing to mix down fifteen different singers at once. Little did we know this would be the only time things would go off without a hitch.

The next time we tried to get a recording from a show was the Highlands and Islands Concert in October of 2013 at the Ritz Theater in Shawnee, OK with us and Tullamore. With the help of Michael, the engineer that night, we were able to hook up our sound recording board that we use in our studio as a pass-through into the Ritz´s new audio system and were able to get a solid recording of the show, including our set, Tullamore´s set, and our combined set. We ended up with some masterful recordings from that night. It helps when you´re working with a real band like Tullamore. Strange, right? The only glitch we ran into was my board can only record 10 tracks simultaneously and we ended up missing the drum/steel drum track on the combined band set. Sure, it was just a small glitch, but it was only the beginning.

Next opportunity for a recording was the Pirates on the Prairie III Concert in February of this year. I´m sure you all remember us hyping it up as the show to be at to be present at the recording of a bunch of tracks for this new album. We designed one of our sets specifically to contain the songs we wanted on the CD and had a huge crowd on hand to add to the fun ambiance. Here´s where things start to slide. You see, the Uptown has a small subset of sound engineers they call on for all of their shows, but those people don´t work directly for the Uptown, so they´re not really available for questioning ahead of time. When I took my board up to the sound booth before the concert, I found out from the engineer that they don´t have the ability to export tracks individually out of their $15000 system. Since there wasn´t time to re-rig the whole thing and record the way we did for Pirates on the Prairie II, I could only take the left and right mixed output from the main board and hope that the mix was done well during the concert and that we didn´t screw up too badly. I accepted the bad luck in the hopes that we´d at least get a few songs to use.

Well, the concert went awesomely, and we were all happy as a pirate in a pile of prostitutes after the show. However, the good vibes were diminished when I got back home and eagerly fired up the board to hear what our show sounded like for the album. (Crushed) The mix was way too "hot" coming out of the venue´s mixer board. Everything got really distorted when we got even a bit loud. That problem was fixed by the engineer for the house speakers by his faders. Unfortunately, he wasn´t listening to the mix in the recording board and it was getting blown out. Recording unuseable.

So, we looked ahead for our next chance for a solid recording at Mardi Gras Galveston later that month. I got in touch with the organizers, told them our plans, got the A-OK, and took the board south to record. The engineer and myself got together well in advance of our show and get the board hooked up to their mighty sound board and all seemed to be well. The show went off without a hitch, we once again performed a bunch of songs we knew we wanted on the album, and did them fairly well. Then once we got back home to and I listened to the recording, I was smacked down again (audibly). All but two of the individual microphones recorded beautifully. The two mics that were distorted, though, were my vocals and Sharkbait´s vocals. Those just happened to be the vocals we needed to be the cleanest for the new songs we were planning on putting on the album. Once again, epic fail.

Next target, the Norman Medieval Fair. We once again hyped up the show for all our fans as the recording on the album concert and scheduled the two afternoon shows as the ones to be at to make sure we got all the songs we needed. I hooked up with James, the sound engineer for our stage, and we figured out the plan of action to get it all working. James was great in having to deal with our wrinkle in his perfectly-tuned stage set up. We used Friday shows as a test, listened to the playback to make sure there was no distortion and all the lines were recording cleanly and we were ready to rock the place Saturday afternoon.

We put on a couple of awesome shows in front of the oh-so-lively huge Norman crowds and were all excited about what we´d be able to get off the recordings for the album. We even went back and listened to samples from those shows before the end of the day to make sure everything sounded fine. It did, and all was well. Then the next morning happened.

On Sunday morning before breakfast, just to make sure, I hooked up my headphones to the board to listen to a couple of songs from Saturday´s recordings. Nothing. Not a damned thing. There was simply no recording at all on the projects we had recorded (and listened to) the day before. After much cursing and much resisting the urge to hurl the board out of the window, I managed to get back to the festival and discuss with James what might have happened and here´s what we pieced together.

See, this particular board, the Korg D3200, needs to do an orderly shutdown to properly save a project. Even though we had listened to the project the day before, it was all still in temporary files and when you power off cleanly, it does all of the saving to place them back to the correct format. That normally would not have been a problem had some helper from the festival not happened by at the end of the day on Saturday. After asking James if he was through for the day and receiving the affirmative, the "helper" went over to the cord powering the stage and simply unplugged it without the slightest bit of warning. That meant the recordings were gone. Luckily, the surge that typically happens on an unceremonious unplugging didn´t ruin either my board or James´ equipment. Sure, the equipment wasn´t ruined, but the damage was done to our recordings.

So, what do you do in a case like that? You keep recording! That Sunday was going to be a rainy day and we knew it. We went ahead and set up our mics and the board to record our 10:45 show (the No Request Show) and our 1:00 show. We managed to get both to record cleanly and shut down/saved after each individual show, ensuring we got what we wanted. The one drawback was that the 10:45 show was more of a phlegm breaking show than a real one due to being the third day or performances there and our usual allergy attacks, so we weren´t exactly in key there. The 1:30 show went really well and sounded so, but we were limited by our stage time what songs we could do and we didn´t manage to get all of the songs we wanted to put on the album into the set. It had also started to rain pretty steadily during that show, so when you hear us mention it on the album, you´ll know what was going on. From then on out on Sunday, it only rained worse, preventing us from setting up to record our 4:00 show that we did without mics, in the rain, to the brave Oklahoma souls that care nothing about getting wet.

So, despite the tribulations, the "Bail Money" album recordings managed to happen, using songs recorded at Pirates on the Prairie II, Highlands and Islands, and the Medieval Fair´s rain show. We didn´t manage to get every song we wanted due to the mishaps listed above, but we did capture some magic for you all in the form of goofy pirate comedy and music. We also got some great collaborations with The Bilge Pumps + Tullamore and then The Bilge Pumps + the Pride O´ Beldam + Traveller Song. I´m very grateful to the engineers that helped get us those recordings and even to those that helped us fail in others. I´m especially grateful to the fans of ours who kept coming out and supporting us at those shows. I can´t wait to share the album with you.

Because it's all for me blog. Me jolly jolly blog.

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