CD Trivia and Outtakes

The recordings for this CD took place during September/October 2003 and June/July 2004. The “studio” was actually the bedroom of my flat mate at the time (Tom Morrow) who was on Tour with Dervish. The idea of the CD started in the late eighties/early nineties when both Paddy and myself were living back in Newcastle Upon Tyne. We had always discussed the idea of making a CD and put it on a list of things to do. We attempted to record some demo tracks back in Newcastle which didn’t turn out too well for a number of reasons. Needless to say, the experience gave us both time to reflect upon whether this was ever going to happen.

Shortly after that, Paddy and I both left Newcastle and it was not until the late nineties/early 2000’s that we both ended up in the same country again – Ireland. Things were never simple, I was in Dublin and Paddy was in Galway! We did however send mp3’s and wav’s back and forward trying out ideas for recording and eventually decided to book in some time to put down some tracks.

In all honesty, we ended up starting from scratch with most of the tracks and the bulk of the CD was recorded in 5 days. The remaining time was used to re-record two or three of the tracks to “fix” the settings in some of the flute playing. Unfortunately, I am an absolute control freak. A number of things I learned from our first run at the recording back in Newcastle was:

  • I didn’t enjoy the experience of the studio (time is money etc)
  • I didn’t know or understand the equipment being used
  • I didn’t know enough about mixing/engineering (and probably still don’t)
  • I play better when I am in relaxed surroundings
  • I play better when I know what I am playing next
Taking all this into consideration, I decided that I was going to try and record this at home with my own equipment. The only problem was, I didn’t have any equipment. To remedy this I researched and bought the following:

Recording (Tom)

  • 4 x Boom Mic Stands
  • 1 x Neumann TLM103 Large Diaphragm microphone
  • 1 x Rhode NT2 Condenser Microphone
  • 1 x AKG C1000s Condenser Microphone
  • 2 x dBx386 hybrid valve/solid-state preamp units
  • 1 x M-Audio Omni I/O
  • 3 x Delta 66 sound cards
  • 2 x HHB Circle 5’s
  • 1 x Cubase Score software
  • 1 x Headphone amp with 8 outputs
  • 2 x Sennheiser professional headphones
  • 1 x Waves Diamond edition software plugins
  • 1 x DT150 headphones Lots of cables

Mixing (Paddy)

  • Roland VS2480CD hard disk recording desk
  • 2 x Sennheiser professional headphones
  • 2 x HHB Circle 5’s
  • 1 x Patience of a saint and determination not to give up!

I then spent about a year learning how best to configure and record the flute to a point where I was happy with the sound going in and coming out. I got a huge amount of knowledge from Norman Holmes on this as he had an equally expensive addiction to “Sound on Sound” magazine and he helped me enormously with the kit selection. I am also a bit of a computer geek so I was able to figure out how to stop Windows 2000 from interfering too much with the audio hardware (basically building a PC and turning off all the operating systems bell’s and whistles – not recommended).

Everything seemed to be going fine with my research and testing except I lived on a road which had buses and lots of traffic going by constantly, the flat below had a loud washing machine, and because I lived on the seafront in Dublin, the seagulls would occasionally sing their heads off! At this point I realised that I needed to figure out a way to quieten down the background noise sufficiently in order to record in good enough quality for CD – cue Norman again. He suggested using some household items (mattress, duvet’s etc) to dampen external noise and reduce internal reverb etc. It certainly didn’t look pretty but it worked.

Once we had the music on disk, we then had to mix the CD. I had first attempt at this with Cubase and spent the guts of a year without much success. I realised I was either too close to the mix, not skilled enough at mixing, didn’t have good ears for understanding what I was listening too or possibly all three. At this stage, Paddy had his own Roland VS2480CD hard disk recording desk and was producing some great work from the desk. He was keen to mix and I was close to giving up. Over the next period of time Paddy made great progress with the mix and we got to the point that we thought we were ready to master. We booked into Robyn Robbins Mastering in the North of Ireland and headed up for the day’s mastering. We got about 5 hours in and Robyn informed us that he couldn’t go any further for technical reasons in the mix. He advised that we had “digital elastics” in the audio – something I still don’t fully understand but apparently it is a form of digital distortion. The bottom line was that we had to ditch the mix and start again from the original audio. That didn’t sit well with either Paddy or myself.

Thankfully, after a year and a severe loss of momentum, Paddy had the whole thing re-mixed again from scratch – an absolutely huge effort. The whole mixing process was largely comlplicated by the number of instrument tracks to mix – eg Colonel Fraser has at least 30+ different instrument tracks, although from first listening you may not appreciate that. This meant that to mix more than 22 tracks on the Roland, multiple tracks had to be bounced into one track – a one-way process that cannot be reversed. If you want to change any of the components of the bounced track you have to go back to the beginning – pre-bounce and start again. Added to that, there were a number of minor edits which are always very time-consuming and due to the nature of these, they have to be done right otherwise the listening experience would be lessened. Time for another run at the mastering then. We now had to get the mix off the desk as WAV files which is not a quick task on a VS2480CD. As Paddy was tweaking the last track on the album, the desk crashed and wouldn’t start up. I got a call from Paddy concerned that he had not only lost our CD but also a number of other personal projects he had worked on over the years. My geekery intervened and I had volunteered to attempt to repair the VS2480CD as I couldn’t bear the thought of all that effort being in vain from myself and Paddy.

One week later, the desk was working again and I had to start exporting the finished tracks from the desk to CD so that they could be sent to Robyn Robbins (who had since moved back to the USA). After the first few tracks came back from mastering, I realised I wasn’t entirely happy with the mastered version of the mix. The flute had more reverb and compression than I had wanted and had lost some of the expression in the playing as a result. I then tweaked the compression and reverb in the mix on the track’s which I felt needed tweaking (mostly the Rudall D tracks) and resent the tracks back to Robyn. This time all was sitting much better for my ears.

The cover photograph was taken in January in the Dublin/Wicklow mountains specifically for the CD. Myself, my wife and a good friend of ours drove up to the mountains to take some photographs. My car at the time was a big heavy Chrysler 300c and it got stuck in the snow! We thankfully got help in the form of other motorists who were similarly stranded and thanks to my wife’s ingenuity in using some cardboard I had in the trunk, we managed to get the car moving and made it home safely. That evening nine people were rescued by helicopter from the mountains. We were quite lucky to back in one piece. I had to use one the photographs I took that day for the album as it was so in-keeping with the general theme of the whole project.

The layout and artwork was then put together by me using Adobe Indesign/Illustrator/Photoshop and printed/duplicated by Dutec in Limerick and Sony in Austria.

I hope you appreciate all that went into “The Long Hard Road”!

Lessons learnt:

  • Being a control freak is expensive, frustrating, annoying
  • Studios aren’t all bad, some are actually really good
  • It doesn’t have to be either studio or home, it can be a bit of both
  • Recording a CD at home can be just as expensive as a studio (if not more!)
  • Mastering is not magic, it requires a great mix to achieve a great master (thanks Paddy!)
  • I’ve since converted to Apple Mac and Pro Tools and life is much simpler (they just work!)
Whilst searching through my hard drive to re-convert some wavs to mp3 format, I found the following audio files. These are either tracks that didn’t make it onto my CD or tunes I was just messing around with. They are not to be taken too seriously as the standard of play on some of the tracks leaves a lot to be desired, however, they may be of some use to people looking for tunes to learn or examples of how not to play! (in some cases). If you want to use the samples below as examples in technique (good or bad in some cases), teaching resources, please feel free.

They are not to be used for any commercial recordings or any other activity in which my playing is re-sold commerically.

Please contact me by email and provide feedback if you found them helpful. I can be reached at tom(at)tommcelvogue.com.

I hope you enjoy them!