Recording a CD Part One: Studio Time and Mechanical Licenses 5/26/2011

Recently our female a cappella group, Fermata Nowhere, began recording a set of songs for their first CD to be released in early fall 2011.  We have learned so much about this process and I wanted to share our experiences.  We have rehearsed our music pieces all year long, and decided to record in a local, professional studio with a recording engineer.   The girls and I worked diligently to be prepared for our studio time to ensure that they were effective and efficient sessions.  As producer, I researched the copyright and mechanical license procedures to guarantee that our recording and distribution of CDs would be legal.  We are working on CD titles and packaging materials, but more about that to come in future blog posts.  This venture seemed overwhelming at first, but as the pieces are coming together, the full picture is truly a phenomenal one.


Studio Time

Our studio time required us to be very focused and efficient.  The saying “time is money” directly applies to our process because the longer we take to record, the more expensive our endeavor.  One of our goals was to be extremely prepared on every selection we were recording on a given day.  The girls could use music, but even a page turn could ruin a take so we worked toward memorization on almost everything.


Guide Track

Our sessions always started with me playing a piano guide track into the recording program.  This allowed the girls to hear some of the pitches to maintain intonation throughout a piece.  The guide track also played a computerized “shaker” sound to keep tempo.


How to Record Different Parts

There are several ways to record songs, but for our a cappella pieces we decided to have each voice part record separate tracks.  Each singer or group of singers would go into the studio and sing through their part of the song following the guide track.  As we went along, the song slowly would take shape, layer by layer.  By layering the voice parts, the recording engineer has greater control over the manipulation of the piece.  He or she can bring up or down volumes, extend phrases, or even auto-tune if necessary.  In general, we always would start with the lowest voice part and work our way to the top.  Frequently, we have each voice part record their part twice.  These multiple tracks (‘mults’) not only provide options for edits, but add depth to the overall sound of a master track.  You can incorporate vocal percussion anywhere along the way, but our soloists and added features like duets or echo phrases definitely came last.  The ability to control the details within an arrangement offer a very clean final product, but can sound too processed (think of the Glee soundtracks that exist out there- lots of production!).  Our other options would be live performance- where the girls all stand around a mic in the studio and perform as a group- or a combination of the live performance with the layering process.  It really depends on the type of piece you are trying to record and the skill level of your recording engineer.  Luckily our man, Dr. Caw ( is not only an excellent engineer, but has very keen ears and great attention to detail.


Mechanical Licenses

In order to legally record songs (songs that are not original compositions or in public domain) and sell CDs, you need to obtain a mechanical license for each song you intend to record.  This is permission from the original songwriter to use their creative property.  A portion of the money paid for this license is then passed to the songwriter through royalties.  Most songs are actually held by one agency in the United States, The Harry Fox Agency.  For more specifics on Mechanical Licensing, click HERE.

I found this process extremely easy once I took the short video tutorial.  Like many other internet-based systems, you create a profile and log-in to search for songs.  After submitting information about your intentions for those songs, you pay a fee for each song you plan to use. Watch this great video to see the whole process.

Thank you, Mr. P!

Goodbye, Mr. Prikkel!  May 20 was Mr. Prikkel’s last day with us here at GBN.  He has successfully completed his student teaching and is now a graduate of North Park University.  We’ve really enjoyed working with him and wish him success for the future.  Mr. P is on the hunt for teaching positions in the area, but is also considering grad school for the fall.  Wherever he ends up, we know that he’ll do a great job.  Thanks for a great 8 weeks, congratulations, and good luck!


It is hard to consider the concept of “tradition” without the familiar strains of “Fiddler on the Roof” running through my brain.  However, with the end of the school year approaching, so many of our Glenbrook traditions have been put into practice.  We’ve sung “White Christmas” at the Winter Concert, shared in the singing of the “Loyatlty Song” in the freezing cold after choir tour, delivered our Singing Valentines, seen the seniors’ baby pictures at the banquet and given them flowers at our spring concert, and are looking forward to our Concert in the Park and Graduation.  And where would we be without “Fruitcake”? Knowing that we are participating in these events as so many have done before us helps us feel a part of something that is greater than ourselves.  We feel connected to the past, and lay the groundwork for the future.  There is real value in holding on to tradition and participating in these practices from year to year.

But what about new traditions?  When is it time to let some of our old traditions go and to introduce new ones?  A typical student spends four years at GBN, so doing something once or twice can quickly be viewed as “tradition” in a student’s eyes.  Not long ago, we went through the painful process of replacing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with other songs for our Awards Ceremony.  At the time, this was not a popular decision.  However, for the past several years, we have been able to perform songs that were more specific to the theme of the Awards Ceremony and, I think, just as meaningful to the singers and audience.

It is healthy for our school and for the choral program to continually reflect on what we are doing and why, and to evolve according to our needs.  Sometimes this process is easy, but more often, we find change to be difficult.  For a bit of historical perspective, here are a few “traditions” that have come and gone…

Our spring concert used to be held outside in a tent the evening of Springfest.  Huge hassle and big expense.  And in case of rain?  Well, we just got wet.

Before “Bridge”, there was “Life is a Celebration”.  This life-affirming anthem was sung every year at our traditional “Celebration of Life” concert, held every November.  The solos in this piece were the most highly coveted solos of the entire year.  I admit to having a soft spot for this song, but it is hard to believe that the kids got emotional about singing “Life is a celebration. Celebrate life, celebrate life! and then shouting “Yeah!”.  Really corny.

Traditionally, only Chorale and Cecilian sang on our Techny concerts.  Treble and Var/Spar never got the opportunity to perform in that amazing venue.

For many years, Ow! limited their number to 4 guys.  They really resisted growing to 5, then to 6, and now to 7, which is where they are today.  I think this change has been for the best.

What are some of your favorite GBN Choir traditions?  Feel free to share your thoughts by replying to this post.

2010-2011 Choral Awards

Congratulations to all singers on a wonderful year!

Outstanding Choral Member of the Year

Treble 2/3: Emily Westel

Treble 6/7: Kara Cooper

Varsity/Spartan: Shae Beckett

Cecilian Singers: Rebecca Elowe

Chorale: Annie Luc

4×4: Jake Gordon

Ladies First: Bansry Shah

Express: Annie Luc

Fermata Nowhere: Brooke Papritz


Outstanding Freshman in Choir

Ellie Schnittman & Lesley Levy

Outstanding Sophomore in Choir

Jordy Shulman

Outstanding Junior in Choir

Aaron Kohrs

Outstanding Senior in Choir

Nicole Mitroussias


Shannon Reese Memorial Award

Ryan Hultman


Arion Award Recipient

Nicole Mitroussias

Judy Moe Scholarship

Nicole Mitroussias


4th Quarter Awards

4th Quarter Outstanding Choir Members
Treble 2/3: Robin Dean
Treble 6/7: Amy Lakowski
Varsity/Spartan: Shawn Killian
Cecilian: Sarah Cell
Chorale: Rob Blumstein

GBN Choir alum meets Obama!

David Benning, GBN class of 2004 and former choir student, met President Obama during the President’s visit to Ft. Campbell, where David is currently stationed. David and his twin brother, Mark, were both in choir at GBN for four years.

Both brothers are serving in the U.S. Army and have spent time in Afghanistan. Please join me in thanking Mark and David for their service!

What Does It Mean To Perform? 5/9/2011

As technology becomes woven into our society, no aspect of our lives seems to be untouched. Live performances carry so much power and weight, but it is interesting to think what sort of impact virtual performances can have on a listener. This CNN clip features Eric Whitacre and his virtual choir- what a cool concept! But it does get one thinking… how might music and fine arts be developed in a virtual world? How will this change our view of ‘art’?

Journal Pilot in Choir a Success! 5/2/2011

I wanted to try something different in my classes that let every student express their thoughts on a variety of topics ranging from music to friendship. For the 4th quarter, students in Cecilian have been journaling for a timed portion of class (5 minutes) on a new prompt every day. As I created prompts (with the help of my lovely lab assistants), I wanted my students to have the chance to reflect, critically think, and explore their thoughts or ideas on paper. Certain prompts were as straightforward as “explain standing singing posture, from toes to head”, while others demand a more personal and thoughtful approach, “why do we sing?” Every class we have one or two students share a past entry.

Journal Example: Allie Handzel Entry #1

Prompt: Explain the phrase “It’s not funny to be bad”. Why is this important?

Mr. Wallace’s phrase, “it’s not funny to be bad”, means that when you do something wrong or it wasn’t your best effort, that it’s not a laughing matter. Mr. Wallace expects a lot of us and knows what we’re capable of. When we goof off or do something badly, it is disappointing to him and ourselves, and therefore should not be funny.

At the end of our process each student will take their journal home and complete a set of prompts with parents or guardians. This important extension not only holds the students responsible for their written work, but opens up our classroom for a more collaborative and enriching community experience.

I like the journal exercise because we take time out of class to write down our thoughts. And in a lot of classes we don’t get to write our thoughts on personal ideas that aren’t solely academic.” – Kasey Ockerlund

It is very intriguing to me to read the spectrum of thoughts, perspectives, and dreams of every student. This process has been very easy to implement into my classroom and has been professionally very rewarding. I know students appreciate my class for its engaging, stimulating, and fun environment, but it is nice for me to break out of my choir director “mold” and explore different methods of teaching and assessment.