Making the Demo (part two)

(If you didn’t read it last week, you might want to take a look at part one of this story. All caught up now? Great.)

Matt and I performed almost fifty songs that night. If I had recorded the live guitar, mandolin, and vocals, all on separate tracks, this would have been a lot easier to mix down. I knew this going in, but hauling a Macbook and an audio interface to a crowded bar sounds like a spectacularly bad idea.

We’ve changed the plan to make this just a demo. These tracks sound better than we thought they would, and we got more good tracks out of the performance than we dreamed we would. Live at Mannion’s is a full-on live album. We’ll sell it at performances, along with Matt’s studio CD, and give it to bars and festivals as a demo when looking for work.

Matt and I winnowed those 50 songs down to 23 tracks of public-domain tunes and two originals. I used Peak to edit the audio, so the songs will flow well into each other. I’ve also removed long breaks in-between songs as well as the more indulgent stage banter. (I’m being kind, some of it was simply boring.) Fortunately, Matt’s quite knowledgable about the history of folk tunes and likes to talk about it; there’s enough amusing patter and interesting song introductions left over to break up the feel of the show nicely.

At this point, the audio files are well-organized and have markers indicating where the songs begin.

I wasn’t going to be able to review the material with Matt until the day before the project had to be completed. That doesn’t leave much time for mixdown, so I tried to work ahead. I set up a project in Logic Pro, applying what I estimated was a good amount of equalization, compression, and reverb to the existing tracks. Since this is a live show, I concentrated on keeping a consistent feel to the show, trying to make it sound like you were sitting in the bar listening to us play.

Next, we whittled the 25 tracks down to 14, about 40 minutes of music. I double-checked that the transitions in-between songs were smooth, and had to do a little more tweaking, to remove the ends of songs that were no longer there.

Then, I imported the file back into the Logic project I had set up. My effects and EQ curves were intact, and it all still sounded good. I bounced the project to a single audio file, chopped that up into tracks, then burned it to a CD. On my stereo; it sounds like one long concert now, and the edits are nearly seamless. I don’t think the mono mix is a problem; the reverb adds enough spaciousness to the sound.

Now that I had a final tracklist, I was able to type those track names into the already-designed CD booklet:

At this point, we have a disc that’s about 40 minutes long with the best of the best from that night. There are a few songs that it was hard to pull out, but we’re quite happy with the ones that are left. I edited out some boring bits, but didn’t change the order of the songs; everything is in the order we performed it. There are no overdubs.

This isn’t a high-tech recording, but it’s one that sounds good, is fun to listen to, and I’m quite proud of it.

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