Do you think it’s correct to spell that word Grammys as opposed to Grammies or Grammy’s? The official website and the show itself seems to use the phrase “Grammy Awards” when they need a plural version. I bet they couldn’t decide on the written plural form either.
My life is not so much interrupted by distractions as much as sometimes my enjoyment of distractions gets interrupted by things that take concentration. I have a topic for this week’s NTM, but I could not even write one word about it before I got sidetracked by the question above. At this point, I’ll spare you the rambling hike through my thought process on the question above. Let’s just say that I think a case could be made for Grammys or Grammies but I am pretty sure Grammy’s is not correct….it’s a wonder I ever get anything done isn’t it? Someone should invent some type of mental breadcrumbs I could leave behind so I can find my way back to my original thought more easily.
Ok – back on track (no pun intended, which will make more sense later) – I have a friend named Libby Koch. Libby is a musician – she plays various instruments, sings and writes songs, owns a record label, owns a cool dog, and is just a fun person to hang out and drink a cold beer with. Libby recently put out her 3rd CD (her second LP). Let’s stop right there so that I can help all of you get rid of what I know is a nagging question the same way Libby helped me get rid of the same nagging question. Before my first meeting with Libby for this NTM, I’d spent some time wondering about this. You hear bands say they are releasing an LP. What does that stand for, you ask? It stands for “Long Play” which is generally considered to be a full length album. You may also hear people talk about releasing an EP – this stands for “Extended Play” – which is an album that usually contains 5-7 songs. Don’t lose sleep over the fact that Extended Play sounds like it should be longer (or more extended) than Long Play. I already did that for you. Just last night it took me almost 30 seconds to go to sleep and at least half of that was because I revisited this dilemma so you don’t have to (the other 15 seconds was devoted to the wondering how exactly a suitcase gets lost by an airline – I mean, they are clearly tagged with what city they are destined for – does some goofball baggage handler just not read the tag or do they sometimes just get bored and send luggage somewhere wrong for fun? How does a piece of luggage marked with letters “HOU” as big as Sarah Palin’s ego get put on a plane headed anywhere but Houston? Think of extended play as being extended compared to a single. Libby agrees this nomenclature is misleading. With a meeting of the minds on such a complex issue, how can this collaboration not go well? You’ll see what “collaboration” I am talking about in a minute.
I don’t recall exactly when I met Libby, but I think it was about a year and a half ago. A young lady named Angie worked as a summer clerk for my firm. Angie was dating Ben. Ben was friends with Libby. I bumped into Angie and Ben while walking into Flying Saucer one evening after work and we decided to grab a beer together. Libby joined the group a few minutes later.
Note – Angie got an offer to work at my firm, but would later go to work where Libby was then working and where my then-boss used to work. My boss and I later changed firms and went to work at the firm where Ben worked and in the same building where Libby and Angie worked, then Ben changed jobs to go to work for several guys who used to be at the firm I work for now and “my best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it’s pretty serious.” Kevin Bacon is a hermit compared to Houston lawyers. During this project, I learned that Kristin, an associate at my firm who sometimes works with me, has known Libby since childhood Sunday School class. Small world.
When we met, Libby had recently released her first LP (called Redemption) but was also practicing law. Libby and I quickly figured out that we knew lots of the same folks because we did some of the same type of legal work. I bought one of her CDs that night sitting in the Flying Saucer. I listened to it a lot and really enjoyed it. I loaned it to a friend at work over a year ago and it has yet to reappear . The lendee is a regular reader of NTM so this is where I tell her she can keep the CD (or stop looking for it) because in connection with this NTM, Libby made sure I got a new one (and it’s autographed). I know you are shocked to know that (1) I sometimes go to Flying Saucer after work and (2) that I met a stranger over a cold beer and we quickly hit it off and had a blast visiting. I became a “Kochhead” soon thereafter by signing up on Libby’s website and went to a few of her shows around town. And I wore out that CD before loaning it out. You can buy it and her EP “Barnburner” on itunes or on her website www.libbykoch.com.
I saw on Libby’s website a while back that she was raising funds to help with putting out her new CD. I was immediately interested in helping out because I figured it was a way to assure that I got more of Libby’s music! Basically, she was selling stuff on her website to raise funds. In addition to the regular CDs, koozies, t-shirts, for sale I also found the following interesting items for sale: a house party show, Libby writing a song for you, Libby recording a cover of one of your favorite songs, and then…..there….right there on the list was this week’s NTM – “be an executive producer of the new CD”. I’ve never been an executive producer before. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever “produced” anything except messes. Well, wait – in college (and for a time thereafter) I think some of the parties I threw would count as productions…and those worked pretty well. And I once dated a girl named Christine, and everything with her was a flippin’ production – that did not work out well. This is such a NTM, that I didn’t even know what an executive producer did. So, I went ahead and sent the right amount of money to get to be an executive producer and then contacted Libby and told her I had an idea. Libby’s pretty smart, but she did not know me well enough at that point to know that when I contact you and say I have an idea, it’s probably best to act too busy to get involved.
Libby and I met for a beer and I proposed that in addition to being an executive producer in name, that I actually get to produce each song, decide what songs went on the album, make all marketing and graphic design decisions (I have a great eye), do some backup vocals (lead vocals on the title track), play harmonica on one song, and the bongos (naked) on another. Libby seemed really excited about the idea of putting her livelihood in my hands. Libby is very smooth in pressure situations from all the time she’s spent in front of crowds so she was able to keep a straight face and not immediately gush with gratitude. She graciously and appreciatively said something like “thanks for the beer – don’t email me any more” or some other thankful phrase.
Ok – that’s not how it went down at all. I met Libby for a beer and asked her if I could spend some time with her and really learn about how an album gets made, her creative process, and what it might be like to be executive producer on an album as a NTM and then write about it. Libby immediately said that sounded great and she’d do it. It’s possible that at this point, Libby did not know just how much of a musical/artistic/creative novice she was dealing with here. Lucky for me. She spent two hours or more with me that night explaining things and just letting me ask all kinds of questions. And she was a real trooper and even made another couple of hours to meet with me and show me more about how she made the album the day before her album was being released. The second time we met, I got to play with her musical/computer toys to see how the process of recording and mixing works.
Since I knew nothing about it, I’m very thankful Libby was willing to let me start at the very beginning with my questions. The process was very interesting to me and Libby was a great teacher!
First, the songwriting. It’s amazing to me that people can do this. With the exception of one song (an REK favorite of mine), Libby’s album contains all songs that she wrote herself (lyrics and music). This is like magic to me. I got to quiz Libby about her process of writing and learned that she often will jot down an idea for a song, or maybe a few lines that come to her mind and then she’ll put that idea away for awhile and come back to it. Libby explained that when she wrote Shadow of This Town (actually when she hit upon that phrase while working on writing the song) she just knew it had to be the title of the album. Libby writes great lyrics about things I think everyone can identify with.
When I wrote the fictional story for NTM a few weeks ago, I discovered a new appreciation for the guts it takes to be creative and then share that with others. When I write my blog, I see it as just telling a story about something that happened. If someone enjoys it, I am happy for that. But if someone was to think that something I wrote was annoying or stupid or did not like it for some other reason, that’s OK – I wouldn’t take it personally. At work, I write stuff all the time. I want what I write to be technically perfect and to accomplish my client’s goals, but if some other attorney doesn’t like the way I’ve prepared something, it’s no skin off my nose. But for the short story, I really worked on it and wanted to make it enjoyable for others to read. I hoped people would like it. I wanted it to be “good.” No one did (to my face), but if someone had said they thought it was terrible, it might have bothered me – because I put something of myself in it. It immediately gave me a new appreciation for artists of all kinds. It takes a lot of guts to put your best effort out there for the world to critique -either verbally, in print or with its dollars!
After I learned about Libby’s songwriting, we turned to the more technical aspects of production. I learned that using software and some pretty expensive equipment, you can set up your own recording studio these days right in your own living room. For any of you who have heard me sing, let me put your mind (and ears) at ease now. This new bit of knowledge about having my own recording studio WILL NOT result in a future NTM of me singing and recording a song. You’re welcome. Come to think of it – it’s really a gift to me. I don’t even like hearing myself sing. Here’s Libby’s studio where she did some of her recording:
So, generally when folks record music these days, they record each instrument and line of vocals separately and then “mix” them later. Two people could record a duet and never meet, or someone from Europe could play the drums on an album released here without ever hopping across the pond. Each separate instrument or vocal is called a track and then you use software like what’s shown below to layer them over each other, make some of them louder or softer, clean out fuzziness, etc. If you look closely below you can see that each track is divided into little snippets (my technical term). You can cut and paste these snippets into other places in the song. So, if you wanted like a tamborine sound in the background, you don’t have to record 3 minutes of a tamborine, you can just get a sound you like off a tamborine and then paste it throughout the song over and over. Libby had someone else do her drum work on the album but otherwise she played all the instruments you hear and did all the vocals. This is simply amazing to me.
The above soundboard is also part of the software and it’s the way you adjust all the different aspects volume, bass, etc. of each track. This is so cool. Libby explained that she did a lot of her own mixing on this album (which she had not done much of before) and then asked a professional sound engineer to put some finishing touches on it (that final part is called mastering – and the finished product is the master CD). He told Libby he was impressed by how clean the mixing she did was! I think it’s very cool that Libby did all the different aspects of this CD herself, despite her declining my repeated offer to play the bongos.
Once you get a master CD of the songs, you can send that off to one of several services that will burn duplicates of your CDs for sale, help with album art, let you choose from many different types of packaging (Libby went green with hers – told you – she’s cool). Libby showed me how she worked via email with the company that made the physical CDs and packaging to get the album art and package design right. Then the CDs in their cool eco-friendly packages come and you go to work selling them. The night I last met with Libby for this NTM, she was autographing and packaging CDs to mail to people who had preordered. Her CD is available for purchase on her site or on itunes. I’m not a music critic so I don’t know all the right things to say about this CD (you can read what others are saying here and here). I just know I enjoy listening to it and I identify with lots of stuff in Libby’s songs. I think you will too! If you want to hear samples, go to Libby’s site. If you want to buy a CD go to www.libbykoch.com or itunes. If you want an autographed version, let me know and I can probably arrange that – and you can even have it autographed by the artist AND one of the executive producers if you want!
This was such a cool experience and I am glad to have supported this CD – it’s really good – no thanks whatsoever to me. I’m also so thankful to Libby for putting up with all my questions and my distractions as she was working on it. My status as Executive Producer is even official – when you buy your copy, take a look at the inside cover. Libby mentions all the folks who helped – there I am – “Springer” – in the bolder white section. If any of you have the email address for the Grammy folks, can you just forward them a copy of the album so they can put me on the list for Producer of the Year? No need to tell them that all I did was bug the artist throughout the CD making process and ask lots of elementary questions. I’m off to work on my acceptance speech…”It’s just such an honor to be nominated with all these other talented producers…”
Thanks for a fun, educational experience, Libby, for a great new CD (and an autographed replacement for an old one) and for sharing yourself with the world!
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