Fete

The new album has gone through a whole bunch of different titles, from the first working title Rumba Pa Ti, which was a reminder to myself that I wanted to create an upbeat album, to Hu, which I’ll write about separately, to Indigo, and now Fete. This last one seems to stick for several reasons. When Jon heard the first track of the album he sent me a message that said “this song is a party”.

In Köln, in the mid-seventies, we always used the word Fete for party, pronounced with two syllables instead of one… Fete or Fête, comes from the French language. A lot of French words are used in Köln. Portemonnaie means wallet, or Pottmonné in Kölsch, the local dialect. The dialect word Trottewar comes from the French Trottoir, or sidewalk.

Although Indigo was my favorite album title for a while, because the song of that name started a new development for me, it became clear that Fete was the right name for the album.

Because the music is upbeat – joyful is the word several people who listened to new songs used – I wanted a strong color for the cover. I really haven’t used color in ages and for a long time my albums tended to use neutral or earthy tones. I opened Lightroom and searched the 16,000 images I have collected there for the word red. I played around with a few of the images – this is a photo I took when we performed at a theater in Ecuador a few years back – and this one stood out for me. I imported the image to an iPad and played with it. I like the hand lettering which gives the cover the feel of a personal postcard.
Fete
Fete is in the final stages and I hope to have the album finished by the end of July. The ListeningLounge is very old and rickety and I have been convinced to replace it by joining Bandcamp. That means that the LL will go away within the next few months, to be replaced by a Bandcamp page on this website. The album will first be released on Bandcamp in multiple downloadable formats – this should happen sometime in August. Next we will have CDs for sale at our concerts, although I don’t have a target window for that yet. I imagine I will also start selling the CD via mail order. The rest of the usual digital distribution, including streaming services, will have to wait a while.

Fete will be the first album, catalog number 001, for my new label HuHeartDrive.

The Loudness Wars Are Over

And just like that the loudness wars are over. Honestly, I only found out about it this weekend. I was having lunch with Jon Gagan and he informed me about this, apparently not so new, development. Yesterday I did some research and reached the conclusion that I will have to mix several different versions of the new album, one for streaming, one for CD, and perhaps a third one for HD files.

How did the loudness wars end? It was the logical result of so many millions of people subscribing to streaming services, like Apple Music or Spotify. Whether one listens to a personal playlist or a curated stream of music, it’s not fun to have the volume go up and down with each track. In fact sudden changes in loudness are the #1 source of user complaints. The same is true for watching a bunch of videos on YouTube. It would be annoying if some of the videos were much louder than others, right?

As a result the streaming services came up with guidelines and are turning down loud songs. Here is an article about loudness normalization across different platforms. This has been going on for a while now. Here is an article about YouTube normalizing volume since December 2015.

If you want to see what this means in practical terms, go to the website Loudness Penalty and drag and drop any mp3 file on it. It will show by how much that file will be turned down by streaming services.

Here are a few links to posts I made about this subject in the past:

https://www.ottmarliebert.com/diary/?p=3080
https://www.ottmarliebert.com/diary/?p=2141
https://www.ottmarliebert.com/diary/?p=5792
https://www.ottmarliebert.com/diary/?p=3938

Mixing

I am in the late stages of creating a new album. As of this past week I am pretty certain that all of the music has been recorded and that I am now simply fine-tuning the mixes. Almost every morning I walk about five miles and listen to the music, making notes as to the changes I might want to make in the afternoon.

Working digitally has changed the mixing process radically for several reasons. One of these reasons is that everyone working with a computer can recall any aspect of a mix, from the volume of each track to the panning (left-right location), the EQ and Reverb settings. Movement can also be automated, for example an instrument can move in the left to right matrix, or can move up and down in volume.

This kind of automation came at great cost in the mid-Nineties, and wasn’t available at all before then. An analog mixing console with total recall might cost up to a million dollars. Renting time in a studio that had such a console was quite expensive, so I don’t have much experience using one. The only time I would see such a mixing board was when I played guitar on other people’s records.

We found ways to simulate some of the effects of recall. I remember delegating jobs to band members, and the engineer, who were tasked to move a fader up or down at a place in the song, or pan a certain track. In essence we were playing the mixing console. And since we didn’t work in a studio with a total recall board, every mix was original. We had to keep making changes manually until we got it right. And if I later heard something I didn’t like, we had to set up the mix from scratch. I would fill pads of paper with numbers, trying to make note of a basic mix in case we had to revisit it.

Another big change is that in the Nineties mixing commenced when recording was completed, as it meant switching to a different playback head on the analog tape recorder. Working digitally I constantly make mixes and the computer remembers those mixes. I can make a copy of a mix and then make any changes to it without losing the mix before. Nowadays nothing much happens when recording is done because I have been mixing since the first day.

This digital process has become natural to me. In many ways I prefer it to the analog process. Working with a tape recorder I always needed an engineer, but recording with a computer I can handle by myself. I can experiment and get as far out as I want to, and can instantly go back to a different mix. I also do prefer working by myself in the studio, my laboratory. Being alone in the studio feels more like a painter’s process.

So, now I am finalizing the mix of each piece of music and it is curious how a song comes together. I always know the moment it happens. I am sitting at the console and am listening, either on two old Tannoy speakers I love or on headphones, Stax or Audeze… then I make a tiny change, and it could be anything, like turning up a drum or the bass, or moving a rhythm guitar to the other side, and suddenly I am jumping up and it’s happened. I dance like nobody is watching, because nobody is watching!! Before my brain figures out what’s going on, my body already knows. I love that feeling. Happened again this evening.

Short and Clear

@theblakemorgan on Twitter
It takes 380,000 streams a month on @Spotify for a music maker to earn minimum wage.
The average @Spotify employee makes $14,000 a month.
@Spotify’s NYC offices cost $600 million.
But they won’t pay the people who make their only product.

Spotify & Amazon against royalty rise

Spotify and Amazon ‘sue songwriters’ with appeal against 44% royalty rise in the United States – Music Business Worldwide
On January 27, 2018 MBW reported on the CRB’s landmark decision, which stated that royalty rates paid to songwriters in the US from on-demand subscription streaming would rise by 44% over the next five years. That decision was ratified last month (February 5), when the CRB published the final rates and terms for songwriters.

Streaming companies were given 30 days to lodge official opposition to the ruling if they wished. The likes of Apple Music declined to do so – but it’s a different case for Spotify and Amazon, which have now both filed a notice of appeal. Pandora and Google have also asked the CRB to review its decision.

Thank you Apple, and shame on you Spotify, Amazon, Pandora and Google.

Cajón Drummer

If you are still looking for presents… here is a good one. The book is only $13 and contains links to a wealth of video content in which Chris plays and explains a variety of rhythms. It’s the best book for anyone who wants to start playing the cajón or improve their cajón chops.

The Cajon Drummer
Applying Drumset Techniques and Grooves to the Cajón
• Perfect for anyone new to the cajón—from beginners to experienced drumset players
• Adapts essential, signature drumset grooves to the cajón
• Covers how to incorporate brush, shaker, and other accessory instruments
• Tips on how to play with singer/songwriters

You can also order Chris Steele’s signature cajón here. It’s the cajón you have heard him play when we are on tour and on my recent albums.