December 1st arrives and a stack of boxes appears in my office. I rush to open them to see hundreds of glistening CDs, neatly wrapped in plastic, each disc a symbol of all the work put into this tiny little product. But what the disc holds is even more impressive. Our female a cappella group, Fermata Nowhere, has debuted their first professionally recorded CD, Falling for Fermata. And wow, have we fallen for Fermata.
This 9-month project was filled with great memories, road bumps, and learning experiences for the girls and for me. After our spring recording sessions, where we did the bulk of our recording, we arrived back in the fall ready for a CD to appear. But, it did not. We still had a very raw product that needed audio tweaking, CD artwork, and even spots where solos were missing in songs! We reorganized ourselves to ensure that we could finish our product. We were lucky enough to even record one track for the 2011-2012 group, giving them a valuable studio experience. It is my hope that our experiences can help other directors or students interested in a quality recording experience.
After our spring sessions our studio sound engineer provided me with a sample CD full of raw tracks. He had done some very minimal editing and I was tasked with critiquing the tracks, finding small errors, adjusting balance, adding effects. In listening to our rough tracks, I discovered many issues. First, 3-4 solos were accidentally not recorded. I was not surprised because in the flurry of the spring we were simply trying to get as much material recorded as possible. I soon corralled the necessary personnel and booked the studio. I tried to consolidate this down so we took as few trips back to the studio as possible, mainly for budgetary reasons. We also decided to add a few extra elements to our tracks. One of our numbers did not seem to pop or have the drive it needed to feel energized. We added vocal percussion to provide an underlying rhythmic support. A crazy roadblock was a unique technical mishap. While recording the guide track to a song, we found out that the piano was tuned one half step higher than our original key. And, we discovered this after we had recorded the vocal accompaniment. We had two options: have our soloist sing the solo a half step higher OR use the sound software to electronically lower the voices. This is always a tricky process because altering actual human voices electronically can quickly become very obvious (a la Glee). We chose to lower the existing parts and we ended up with a great sound overall. After all recording was completed; I spent time one-on-one with our sound engineer to offer suggestions on balance and effects. Once this process was truly complete, our sound engineer mastered each track- spending time with each song, tweaking as many parts as possible. I was left with a master CD that was close to our final product.
Our sound engineer, our CD graphic designer, and myself accomplished the post-production work. I listened to the CD over and over again- listening again for small errors. I would e-mail the notes to our sound engineer. Notes frequently looked like this:
- Rolling in the Deep: 3:22 – bring up the soprano 1 part that duets with Jodi
- I Wanna Dance With Somebody: very end – sounds like one voice is holding longer than others
- Jar of Hearts: 3:15 – bring up alto 1 slightly (it is an echo part that has some ‘oohs’ and text)
We also had artwork designed for our CD. Our CD manufacturer provided templates so that our artwork would easily be printed. These templates were available for download from their website. More about our manufacturing company to come. For CD designs, I tried to use other CDs as examples. This was a great way to double-check for necessary information. Make sure to check and double-check for spelling, spacing, font, etc. Once it goes to print, there is no changing it so use your colleagues and students to check over the materials as well.
We had our CDs created through an on-line company Discmakers (www.discmakers.com). The process for having CDs created and duplicated is rather simple. The easiest process is to submit all your materials through the online system. Uploaded master tracks and pdfs files are collected and reviewed by their staff. Every CD project is assigned a project manager that would check in with me and always kept our CD on track. We chose to mail in our master CD, just to be safe, but once Discmakers had our materials, they were ready to print. We did one last double check, finalized a quote, and went to print. The CDs were delivered about two weeks later. There are several vendors that provide this service, but Discmakers was very convenient. They have a very useful website that lets you toy with different CD options (CD booklets, jewel cases options, various other promotional materials). There shortest turn around time can be as short as 4 days – perfect for those 13th hours, if needed. Basically, do your research and try to always communicate with a human being about your actual order.
There are several practical things that I know I will consider for my future projects.
– Create a budget: know your financial limitations going into your project. Of course, your CD sales will cover costs, but make sure to have money to pay for things on the front end. Financial limitations might have an impact on your total number of songs recorded, quality of artwork, recording studio choice and quality, etc. We supplemented our budget with ticket sales from our spring a cappella concert, bake sales, and a few donations.
– Keep good records: track your spending, track your selling, track everything.
– Plan for extra expenses: you may not realize that you need to go to the studio for 2 more hours to record a couple extra things or need to pay for shipping or find mechanical licenses more costly.
– Time, time, time: allot enough time for recording sessions. In general, we spent 4-5 hours per song in the studio. Directors – don’t forget about all the outside time required for post-production.
– Release Date: I was never comfortable setting a date in stone. Instead, I tried to market a season – “Catch the new CD, Falling for Fermata, coming out this fall!” Exact dates usually are not pinned down until you have finalized a quote with the CD manufacturer.
– Just do it! Trying anything once will provide you with the experience to do it again and do it again better!
The unique part of this process is that you have this keepsake that will last for years to come, but so much more comes out of this experience.
2010-2011 member, Farnaz Dadrass:
I’m so happy that Fermata had the wonderful opportunity of recording “Rolling in the Deep” for our CD because it was an unforgettable experience. Recording is actually just like it is in the movies: we wore the headphones, sang into a high-tech microphone, and received critique from Mr. Wallace from the sound booth. Although it was super cool, recording got a little frustrating when we had to re-record certain sections a number of times, but in the end it was well worth it because now there’s a great song on an even greater CD!
2010-2011 member, Annie Forchetti:
Being a first time member, I was a little unsure going into the studio for the first time. All of the high tech equipment made me even more nervous and excited. As soon as we started, I think something clicked with all of us and even in almost complete silence; we bonded and became closer than ever. I could truly feel that we were going to have an amazing year not only vocally but also from a “friendships to last a lifetime” standpoint. Overall, I think the fermata recording experience really made us closer and a more cohesive fermata group.
The students put it best; this experience unites the ensemble in such a distinctive way; musically, emotionally, and socially. – Mr. Wallace
Have you fallen for Fermata? Order their new CD now! Only $15 from a current member or Mr. Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org.