Recording a CD Part Two: Finishing Touches, Post Production, and the Recording Experience 12/09/2011

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.

Finishing Touches

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 ( 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.

Recording Experience

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

Catch Fermata Nowhere’s New CD, Falling for Fermata

Glenbrook North is proud to debut our newest CD, Falling for Fermata, recorded by our female a cappella group, Fermata Nowhere. Singers from the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 groups both contributed to this amazing compilation of songs ranging from pop to Broadway. This 9-month adventure was an awesome learning experience for our music organization and we are so proud to get to share it with our community.

CDs can be purchased for $15 by mailing in an order form, contacting a current member, or contacting Mr. Wallace at .

Enjoy this short sample of one of our powerful tracks, Rolling in the Deep. We are sure you too will fall for Fermata.

Rolling in the Deep (sample) (mp3)

2011 IMEA District VII Choir Results

On Tuesday, October 4th, students from the Glenbrook North choral program auditioned with singers from the north suburban area for the 2011 Illinois Music Educator’s Association District Choral Festival. From a total pool of over 600 auditionees, Glenbrook North is proud to be sending the following 10 students:

Erin Helgeland
Megan Orticelli
Rebecca Elowe
Lauren Tzirides
Jodi Snyder
Nathan Salstone
Danny Hensel
Aaron Kohrs
Brandon Nadig
Scott Lamm

The District VII festival will be held on Saturday, November 12th at New Trier High School. The top singers from each voice part will then be selected in early December to participate in the IMEA All-State music festival held in Peoria. We are very proud of all of our Spartan Singers!

Men of GBN rehearsal tracks 9/23/2011

Click on the following links for rehearsal tracks for “You Raise Me Up”.  Each of the voice parts is available separately, as is the solo, and also the piano accompaniment.  Finally, there is a complete performance which includes all of the voices, solo, and piano.

NOTE: When you click on the links for the voice parts alone (no piano) it will take a minute or so to get started.  This is because the voice parts begin with several measures of rests.  Be patient…it’ll play.  Thanks and see you all on Monday!


You Raise Me Up – tenor (mp3)
You Raise Me Up – solo (mp3)
You Raise Me Up – piano only (mp3)
You Raise Me Up – Complete Performance (mp3)
You Raise Me Up – bass (mp3)
You Raise Me Up – baritone (mp3)

Why Student Composition is Important… 9/9/2011

How does one encourage student composition? What are some tips for showcasing student musical works? Why is this important in music education programs?

I think music teachers, in general, have a fear of composition because they do not understand or feel comfortable with the process itself. Although this may be a real obstacle for teachers, this fear should not stop us from encouraging students to explore the world of composition.

There are many ways to start the composition process in the music classroom and beyond.

  • Create short composition activities for students to complete during class with specific guidelines. Start simple. Have students compose melodic lines only using the diatonic major scale and quarter notes in a 4/4 time signature. This can easily transition to a sight-reading activity utilizing the students’ own musical work. Then explore and expand from there…
  • Use technology to facilitate easier musical creations. Notation software creates a template for easier note entry and formats music for students. With a basic introduction to the software and freedom to explore, most students thrive in this digital space. What’s more, notation software has the ability to play back the music for students so they can assess their product immediately. Free versions of several notation programs can be found online (for example, Musescore & Finale Notepad).
  • Host a contest for your classes, school, or community that encourages original work. Be specific with your guidelines, but open to new and creative works.

There are many ways to showcase student music as well.

  • Use in-class time for short student performances. Having students share their music with peers is extremely powerful, even in an informal classroom setting.
  • Organize an after-school recital for new composers. This takes more planning because you have to ensure each composition has players, you have a space for the event, you have the appropriate set-up, etc. However, this can be a stepping-stone to a larger event.
  • Program student work on concerts as transition material or as a potential feature. This sends a powerful message to the students and parents about the value of student work.

This will be the fourth year that Glenbrook North’s national music honor society, Tri-M, will host its annual composition contest. This school-wide opportunity invites anyone to submit a written work of music for review. The winner gets their composition premiered at a concert event at the end of the school year. In order to facilitate this during a busy concert season, student players/singers prepare the musical work on their own time with a student director. It has been amazing to witness the comradeship and respect that the students show for their fellow student composer peer. And the results have been outstanding! Last year our winner, Joey Epstein, premiered his piece for concert band, A Royal Fanfare. This is Joey’s 2nd time winning the Tri-M composition contest. Joey has gone on to win other composition contests in the local area and has become a strong, young composer with great musical intuition and insight.

Fostering musical creation requires music educators to relax their sense of control over the music classroom and approach composition with an open mindset. Student work not only represents creativity and innovation, but also represents student ownership for musical knowledge. These musical opportunities may spark the next great symphony or choral masterpiece or simply bring another student closer to the world of music.

Going the Distance for Kids – 9/2/11

As most of you know, Mr. Wallace and I are both avid runners (Mr. Wallace has blogged about this in the past…take a look).  This year, I am combining my passion for running with another passion of mine – Children’s Memorial Hospital.  My son, Jack, was a patient there for several weeks shortly after birth.  As a result of our experience there, I am committed to helping Children’s continue to provide the life-saving medical care that Jack received.  So, I am running the 2011 Chicago Marathon as a member of the Children’s Memorial Hospital Marathon Team.  If you’d like more information, please feel free to visit my website at:

Mr. Davidson’s Marathon page



Varsity and Spartan Choir Web Visit 8/24/2100

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