Never ignore your instincts. That's the lesson I've learned in the past few weeks. Never ignore your instincts. Not because they're always right about the world, but because they're always right about you.
The master that I was waiting for turned out not be the one I was hoping for. And, as should have been clear from my last post, I knew very well that it wouldn't be. I was merely hoping that I was wrong. Hoping that this engineer, who specified up front that he didn't need me to send him notes on what I wanted, because he would just listen to the mixes and see what they needed, really would know what they needed. That, after all, is the goal of working with other people, is it not? Ideally, you don't want dumb hands to carry out your wishes; you want bright minds with ideas that are better than yours, and hands to match.
So when my gut tried to take me aside, to tell me as plainly as it could, "This man is probably very good at what he does, but he won't hear the things you've heard in hundreds of listens, after working on it for 2 hours," I stuffed it with Tofutti Cuties to shut it up, and shoved my fingers in my ears, just to be safe.
A few days and a few hundred dollars later, the master came back. The engineer had done a great job getting the record to a consistent commercial dynamic level using state-of-the-art signal compression techniques. Definitely worth the money I paid.
Well, it would have been if dynamics weren't such an important part of my music. And not in the sense of strong quiets and strong louds. The moment-to-moment builds and drops are what make my music breathe. Even the slightest bit of compression renders it lifeless.
Of course, being a pro who stands by his work, he offered to do another pass, less loud. But after some discussion, I realized that this idea of loudness was his bread-and-butter. In fact, I think it's safe to say that, in today's pop music industry, mastering actually means "making it loud." Where "loud" is defined not as a point on the road of dynamics, somewhere between "turn it up a little" and "oh jesus!" but as consistent dynamic range. As that overwhelming sameness that has taken over the sound of popular music over the past twenty years.
And I realized that if I wasn't asking him to do the "mastering" that he was good at, I might as well be doing the "mastering" that I wanted myself. Fixing little EQ problems here and there. Manipulating relative volume levels, track gaps, and fades to make all the songs flow into each other exactly right.
So I did. And I sent it out to be duplicated. And in about two weeks, 15 boxes' worth of CD's should show up at my door. And then we'll have a big show, and a big party, and, instead of the stress, and the confusion, and the frustration, I'll remember all the good parts: the joy of creation, overcoming challenges, everything I've learned throughout this process.
And once that's all done, and I'm ready to jump back in to the next one, my very first step, before I write any new lyrics, before I fire up the computer, before I set the panels back up in the corner, will be to put up a sign that says "Never, ever, ignore your instincts."