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Day 28 – Travel day

Day 28 – Travel day

Well, I’m sitting here in the train on my way home while typing the last few words of this blog. What a trip it was. I started this blog with saying that in two weeks I would be home with the masters. It became 4 weeks, but it was more than worth it. I hope I still feel the same when we get the final invoice of Rich, hahaha.

The flight went well, I did not sleep too much, but that did not bother me at all, since I was flying Premium Economy with Air New Zealand again, so all the luxury I needed was there. I watched some movies and TV series, they had excellent food and wine, so no boring times here ;). In London I had to wait for three hours before I could take the next flight to Amsterdam. Luckily I found a Wagamama (noodles) restaurant, which is one of my favorite restaurants, so I had a great and relaxed lunch there, and the time flew by. The flight to Amsterdam was extremely bumpy with constant turbulence, but it’s a short flight, and I was too tired to really being bothered by it. The rest of the passengers where not so relaxed, even some screaming and by the looks of it some of them where quite terrified.
That’s one of the benefits of having a 50+ hour day with hardly any sleep. You’re in this vaporous state, and it seems that everything goes by you in slow-motion without really disturbing your conscience. Well, I’m almost in my home town, so I better put the laptop away. The trip has been a pleasure and I hope you enjoyed reading about it. This blog has come to an end but stay tuned for more news and blogs in the future!
I can’t wait to get this album in your hands, but it will still take about 3,5 months more until the release date. The mixing and mastering are done. Now we are entering the promotion part, getting the website up and running, spreading the word, and starting pre-sales. But that’s a different story to tell. I’m stoked about this album, I think it is sounding great. Rich did a marvelous job and I am so looking forward getting this album into your hands. Please if you do so, let me know what you think of the album. We’d love to hear from you!
But first thing’s first… I’ll probably will SLEEP for a few days in a row!!

Day 27 – LAST DAY, LONG DAY

Day 27 – LAST DAY, LONG DAY

When I woke up around 9am, Rich was already working and after a quick cereal and running through the shower I joined him in what is the last day of the whole process. Tomorrow I will fly home, so we NEED to finish it today. And also because of the dealine the label gave me. I need to upload the masters today, or else the release date could be in jeopardy. We planned on finishing up around 4pm, and have the evening off, so I finally could see something of the area. We where planing on having diner in Hollywood and drive around all night and have fun, sleep a few hours, and then drive to the airport around noon so I could catch my flight back home. Boy, did this day change…

Looking at the fact we are almost done, I went out and bought a bottle of Champagne to celebrate that we finished the album, but only to open when we really are finished. So up until lunch time we where trying to finishing the mastering. We also decided what we thought of being ‘our sound’ and made the album sound like that. Of course that meant we had to go back to the work we did yesterday, and re-tweak that, but it’s worth it.

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With Paul Gargano of Inside Out Music

Around 1pm Paul Gargano, the product manager of Inside Out/Century Media came by to chat, work through some details about promoting the album and to listen to the music, since he had not heard anything. We had a great time chatting and working through the details. We listened through a lot of parts of the album and it was fun to get to know the man that will work for us in the States. We shot some pictures, and around 4pm he left again, so we could finish the album.
Looking at the fact that we thought we would be ready at 4pm, and we still needed to finish the mastering and print all the versions. So we had to reschedule our evening plans a bit. Finally around 11pm we decided that we probably won’t be able to do a lot of sightseeing/fun/partying, since we where still not done. It just took a long time, and I rather have a good sounding album, and have not seen anything of LA during this trip, than be a tourist with a bad sounding album. When we finally finished the mastering process, we needed to print all kinds of versions. The label needs a normal version and an instrumental version. And I need drum less versions for clinics and workshops and Daniel needed guitar-less versions of all the songs for his clinics & workshops. Meaning that we will have to print all the songs in real time at least 4 times. So that is four times 85 minutes of music. So that is a good 6 hours of just printing. Then we needed to make the actual album into a digital Red Book CD master through a DDP image. Up until this moment we where still working with masters in 88.2 kHz/24 bits. And to get it on CD, it needs to go down to 44.1 kHz/16 bits. You can just use any program for that to do so, but while reading up on that, and talking to some mastering engineers in the field, I learned that there is a lot of junk out there, that will make the conversion, but makes the music sound worse as well. Of course we did not go through all this hassle to let the end step mess it up, so I search for the best solution. There are a few programs very good at this, but they cost a fortune. Something I don’t have unfortunately (did I already ask you to buy this album?? 🙂 ) But went for a piece of software that does a nice job: Izotope Rx.
Then the tracks needs to be put in the right order, have the proper crossfades (since some of the songs run into each other), add all the ISRC data to it, and then print it to a DDP image, which then needs to be uploaded to the label. The software I bought for this is Soundblade LE and is used by a lot of professionals – so it better be good. When I bought it, a few days ago, they promised to transfer the license key to my iLok asap, but up until now, I did not receive anything – so I could not make the DDP files. So I had to get back to the label and ask for their patience once more, as I will need to make the DDP files at home.
Half way through the night it was time to regain a bit of energy, so we took the car and drove to a restaurant that was open 24H and ate some food. While driving listening to where we where, and decided that we needed to change a little thing. So when we came back (around 3pm) we redid some of the masters and finally decided on that we where done and pleased with the masters. It must have been somewhere around 4am or something. So the printing of the music could begin. Still another 6 hours of work to do. That means that we will be ready around 11am and I will need to leave for the airport at noon. Just in time!
One if the things we where hoping to have time for was printing stems as well. Stems are mixed down files per instrument. So you would get a stereo file of the drums, stereo guitars, stereo keys etc. In that way you can load those stems in a DAW and without loosing the sound of the album you can make your own balance. But where we wanted to use this for are the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games. I think it would be very cool to have our music on that network as well, and have people have gaming fun with our songs. Unfortunately this did not work out, as there simply was no time enough. So I will have to do that back home in my own studio. Of course the sound will be a little different, since I do not have Rich’s outboard gear, and I don’t have an analogue mixing desk, but I think that for this purpose it will be alright.
We where printing (and sometimes still tweaking some stuff) all the songs up until 11am in the morning. It was a working day of over 26 hours non-stop. Yeah! Rock ‘n roll baby! As promised, we took the Champagne out to celebrate, but as it was already morning, and since Rich had to drive me to the airport we decided to keep the bottle closed. After a last back-up of all the sessions, I quickly packed my bags and we drove off to the airport. We took the touristic route, and drove through Hollywood, but I was too tired to really see something. It was very hard to keep awake 😉 When I arrived at the airport, checkin was a breeze, and now I’m sitting here at the gate waiting to board. This trip has come to an end. Last hurdle to take is the travel back home, and I can’t wait to be home, see Jessica and sleep in my own bed!

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YES! We made it just in time!

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Rich falls asleep during the last bounce of the master. I don’t blame him…. what a long day it is.

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Happy and exhausted! We have to race to the airport now.

 

Day 26 – Mastering pt.1

After a very late night (went to bed around 4am) we started working around 1pm again. This afternoon we printed the last few mixes to tape, we started to master the final mixes. For those who don’t know about mastering – it’s the process that happens after mixing.
With the mixing process you sum all the individual tracks to a stereo track. You balance the tracks, color them, alter them, add effects, compression and shape the song. In mastering you don’t look at all those individual tracks anymore, but look at the overall picture of a song. How is the overall sound & color and how does the songs relate to one another. It is also the process that you really can start comparing your tracks to other albums. And so we did. Not only in the studio, but also on my iPhone, laptop speakers, speakers in the living room and even in the car stereo. Places where the buyer of our music will listen to it. And in those places it should sound great. Well, it did sound great but there are of course a lot of differences with all the reference music we used, ranging from Dream Theater, Symphony-X, Darkwater to Toto, Transatlantic, Journey, and loads of other songs. Just to compare and decide where we want to sit with the music.
The great thing of mastering at the same studio as where it is mixed, is that you can go back into the mix if necessary, and so we did change a few little things. It seemed that some of the songs had a more rock-feel to it, and could use a hair more of rhythm guitars, to give it a little bit more edge. Of course I also had a fear of mastering in the same studio as where it is mixed, as you cannot reveal any possible faults in room acoustics. But you can’t have it all – and I simply do not have enough budget to do it any other way then this. So I trust on the skills and reputation of Rich and I think we’ll be just fine with that!
It was very funny to see Rich running around all the different areas, listening, tweaking and working on getting the sound of the album the best it can be. He looked like a chaotic whirlwind but knew what he was doing. While running from the studio into the car he was shouting to us what he was thinking, and by the time I sat next to him in the car, he ran out, and fixed that what he has heard. It was hilarious and fun to see him ‘in his zone’.
All that comparing and testing can make you loose focus and at one point it was time to reflect. We where not looking to sound like all the other music, but we where looking to fit in the stylistic concept. Also I hate the whole loudness-war that is going on. If you are not familiar with this, you should Google on it. In short, it is a way of limiting and compressing the music in that way, that it sounds louder. To our brain, louder seems better. So the industry developed ways to make each album sound even louder than the other. But when doing that, the music loses a lot of openness, and dynamic range. And in the end sound worse than before that process. If you have followed all the fuzz around Metallica’s album Death Magnetic, you know what I mean. So before I went to LA I already said to Rich that I did not want this album to sound as loud as possible, and that I wanted the music to stay open, dynamic and that it should breath. But still should not loose any punch or bite and it still should sound familiar comparing with other albums. During the mastering process we looked at different options, and I think we came up with a good ‘in-between’ solution, where we have an open, dynamic master, but still have a sound that is familiar to the ears of the people. Anyway around 11pm Rich went home to sleep, as it all began to blend to one. So tomorrow, with fresh ears, we will tackle the last hurdles of the mastering process. Nighty nite!
 

Day 25 – The day Whitney died….

Using analogue tape is a blessing, but can also be a curse. After each run we need to clean the tape heads, and check the biasing. And today the machine decided to be a little bit difficult on us. So after a run of more than 6 minutes or so, one side of the machine started to loose it’s level. And with six songs longer than 6 minutes, that proved to be a challenge. So it took a lot of time printing the songs, but in the end we got there.
During breakfast I was listening to some of the mixes, when I thought of making another bonus track: a radio-edit version of New Jerusalem. The song is 7:35 long, and we wanted to keep the edit-length of maximum 3:50. So we had to cut a lot of material. In the end we had a compact version of 3:48 minutes. We could not decide which solo to use, the guitar or the keyboard solo. So we did them both, so we can decide later. The compact version is rocking and I hope that some radio stations will play it. Ha! That would be killer!
Around 4pm I checked my Facebook, and red the shocking news that Whitney Houston passed away. She was found dead in her hotel room, just 30 minutes away from where I was. That was surreal! It’s a sad day, and very sad to see that such a great voice, such a great artist had to end like that. As I flipped through the channels, every news channel was covering the story and it looked like the whole world came to a hold. Understandable, as it shocking, and it’s a public person – but I can’t shake off the thought of the no-names that die every day in the slums of the cities and all the less fortunate people that you never hear about.
As surreal as it seems at such a moment, life goes on, and so did our mixing work. At 3am we where still printing mixes to tape, we had fun, it sounded awesome, but it was late!

Day 24 – The premastering continues

Today we had a long day of working. We finished another three songs, pre-mastered them through tape and sent them off to the others. This process took all day. We are half-way the album now, so we’re getting there! Joe Holmes was suppose to come in around 6pm, but in the end they did not start recording until somewhere around 10pm or something. They where recording bass with a very famous bass player, who’s name I am not allowed to mention here (or did I already mention his name in this blog earlier?). All I can say now he’s in one of the most successful metal bands of all time. You know, the one with the sandman? 🙂 I did not meet him unfortunately, they where to busy recording. I tried to sleep but they went on working up until 4am or something. Crazy! It was their last day in the studio, so from tomorrow on until I leave we will have all day to work on our album. And we will need the time – so much still to do.

Day 23 – Touchup day

When I woke up Rich was already working on the last minutes of the bonus tracks. So we where almost done. That is, all first mixes where done. Now it is time to revisit those mixes with the list of remarks in hand and fresh ears. I had quite some remarks, and Rich had even a longer list in his head. So now we where getting even more tedious. Things like: “this 3rd hit in this fast tom fill at 03:14 should come up by 0,5 dB”, or “that last word of the chorus sounds a little harsh, can we EQ the first part of that word, and smooth it out a bit?”. You can imagine that it will take for ever to get through the songs like that, and indeed, it took us all day to get through only 3 songs.
When a song is finished we print it to analogue tape on this awesome Ampex ATR reel-to-reel tape-deck. That will give it an even more analogue feel, warmth and depth to it. So when the first song was done, we did a A-B test to hear if it really made a difference (as in theory it sounds good, but what about the reality of it?). And I was blown away. What a big difference. More detail, more depth, warmer sound, richer harmonics, and just a bit more smooth. The digital version sounded harsh and cold, the tape version sounded warm and lush. Yes, this is the way to go, so Rich sent Jeff to get a new reel of tape, so we can continue on this path. Awesome!!
So what we did was print all music to analogue tape, and digitalized that back through a Masterlink hard disc recorder at a sample rate of 88.2 kHz/24 bits. We would master the album at that high sample rate, and when it was time to put on CD it needs to get back down to 44.1 kHz/16 bits. Of course you loose a lot of information, so during the complete process we will keep it 88.2/24 as long as we can, before converting it to CD-standard.
Today Joe Holmes & friends came in later, so we used almost all day to get a lot of work done, and by the time we printed the third song in it’s 2nd mix state, we where able to send them off to the others for a last listen if all is to their satisfaction as well. After cooking some diner I locked myself in and worked all night until 2am in the morning for my music school. A LOT of work to be done. And in this way, the days are long. I get a lot of emails and messages from friends that think I am having a sort of vacation here in LA, but not really… I’m on my 23rd day of this trip and I hardly have seen anything of the Los Angeles area. Every day I get up around 8am, directly diving into mixing until somewhere in the afternoon, then diving straight into music school work and other things to do for Affector up until somewhere between 11pm and 2am. So a 15 to 18 hour work day. And this is the 20th day like that in a row. So I start to feel that I really need a break. But the work here is almost done, and when I’m back home, I will be able to take a few days off to relax and get my energy back. I’m not complaining, don’t get me wrong. It’s just a lot of work and eating up a lot of energy, but it is worth it! And I’m loving every minute of it.Collin_Leijenaar_Affector_Blog_7

Day 22 – Bonus tracks

After finishing up Harmagedon it was time to dig into the bonus tracks. That should be an easy day – since they are less complicated, and fairly straight forward. We have a full band one, two acoustic ones and a compilation of only the orchestra. So Rich was blazing through them, and made them sound really good. Still it took all day to finish, but Rich is Rich. Once he get’s into it, he’ll just goes in deep and before you know it you are spending hours on little details. But it’s all those little details that will make the album sound good or not. So by the time Joe Holmes came in, Rich was almost done with the bonus tracks. This means that tomorrow we are done with the basic mixing! Can’t wait to move on!

Day 21 – Deeper things of life

Today when Rich came in, I was still having breakfast. Rich has picked up my repaired laptop at the Apple Store. And I was just in time. It was the last day of the warranty – so it was a close call – but it worked out! It got a new track-pad so I can work on this laptop for some more time (while waiting for the new Mac Book Pro to be released, somewhere this year). Rich and I started talking about the deeper stuff of life and the moment we realized that we better do some work before Joe Holmes and his team came in, they where already there. Where did time go? Before we knew it it was 3pm. So no mixing work done today, but I don’t mind. You can’t say no to a good conversation now and then, right?
When Rich started tracking vocals with Joe Holmes and his crew I went upstairs to my little edit studio / office and worked for the rest of the day on administration stuff for my music school. It was good to get some work done, because while I am here in LA working on Affector, everything else with music school keeps on going, ans needs my input as well. And I did not want Jessica (my wife) to be buried in that work because I’m here in LA. So up until I went to bed around 11pm I kept on working for my music school. It made me a little bit home-sick as I would rather do this work at my office, but hey…. I got to hang in there a little bit more 😉

Day 20 – Harmagedon

I slept pretty okay and after my breakfast in the sun, I dived into a lot of paperwork I had to do for my music school. As soon as Rich came in we started working on the tile track of the album, Harmagedon. A crazy track with lots of vocal things and leads going on, so we took a lot of time to dial in everything. Rich EQ’ed, processed and automated almost every syllable. He’s a genius and he will won’t stop being tedious, until it sounds good. 🙂
While Rich was zoomed in to the finest detail and working on the song, I took some time to work on the band picture Daniel Latsch (our graphic designer) was compiling. We had four separate pictures, all shot in different lighting, different color and different approach. And Daniel’s job was to get one band picture out of that, that looked like we where all in the same room. Impossible as it seems, but in the end the end result came very close.
So with the band picture done, the artwork started to get in the right shape, and was close to being ready. Daniel did a great job, and his designs are awesome. I can’t wait to have the real product in hand. And I hope we will be able to do a vinyl version as well, making the artwork even more present!

Day 19 – Just chillin’

Super Bowl day. Today Rich had a day off. So I was all by my self in the studio/apartment and worked a bit on the artwork, and other stuff for the release of the album. But most of the time I used to listen to the mixes, and make notes. I enjoyed sitting outside in the sun, and had a relax day. A day to just hang and do not much. I tried to watch a boring Super Bowl game, but after half an hour I could not interest myself enough for it to keep watching it. By the way, what’s up with this game…. 3 minutes of play, meaning: throw a ball, jump all over each other, and then bang commercial. After the commercial, the whole thing repeats itself. Over and over again. And they are BAD quality commercials. So really NO fun at all to watch this. During half time they had this horrible performance of Madonna, and that was it for me. Off with the telly and went upstairs to watch a movie.
I must say that camping here in Rich his studio has been great, but I am so done with it. I want to get out of here as soon as possible, back home. But that will take another week. Pppfffff… Well hopefully tomorrow I will be a little bit more motivated than today. I’m going to bed early tonight, get some rest.

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