HomeBlogsbillhare's blogDeadlines, Deadines!

billhare's picture

Having done this for 20 years of Spring Shows, I’ve noticed a pattern: Most groups tend to get their albums mixed and duplicated dangerously close to the date of their Spring Show, sometimes to the point of biting their fingernails waiting for the delivery truck to come the day of the performance, or once in awhile even missing that date altogether, losing many potential impulse sales on the big day. I remember a Spring Show many tears ago by the Stanford Mendicants where one of the members drove an 800 mile round trip just to get their CDs from the manufacturer on the day of the concert – this was in the days before cell phones were common, so we had no way to check on his progress and no idea whether he would make it on time. 5 minutes before the concert was scheduled to start, a member of the now stressed-out group spotted him running across the Quad with a box of CDs in his arms, and a mighty cheer arose! Not the best warm-up for your biggest show of the year!

Why do we stress ourselves out so much - just good old procrastination? Partly. A lot of it is also the logical thought that you want the group to REALLY know the material before recording it, and that takes time, pushing the start of the whole process back for several months. I will go against what might be logical popular opinion here and recommend something else – start earlier in the year and use the individual intense scrutiny that recording offers as rehearsal to learn and strengthen your parts before you develop some potentially bad habits in each arrangement.

I know what you’re thinking now – “Is he crazy?? This just seems so bass-ackwards!”

Bear with me, though…

I find that when doing a recording with smaller subgroups of singers (sections, pairs, or individuals) within a larger group, it becomes obvious in most cases that these parts of the whole aren’t nearly as prepared as they think they are. The detailed quality control is just too hard to do (and problems hard to hear) in overall group rehearsals, and even sectional rehearsals might not catch things like how parts should interplay, groove, characterize, etc.

The act of recording allows you to “kill two birds with one stone”, in that it’s a very detail-intensive rehearsal as well, working a few bars at a time over and over until it’s right, in an easy-to-hear situation which allows for great quality control.

Again, I hear you thinking: “Wait a minute, you make your living doing this, you’re just trying to make us spend more money, you vulture!”

Actually, it doesn’t have to cost any more, and theoretically should even SAVE you money in the mix while increasing your outside performance greatly - especially for those of you recording yourselves. This can become an element of your parts-learning process, and you have the side benefit of your recording getting done at the same time. Even those of you paying for studio time, I see this in my own sessions that either I or the MD of the group is having to get people to “un-learn” things they’ve been doing wrong all year (“oh, THAT’S what the rhythm is supposed to be? I’ve never done it that way!”), as well as trying to help them understand why their part exists in the first place. They look at their music, the syllables say “ja-na-na-zhin-zhin” and are enunciating it as if these are important words in a choral piece. These syllables are really just a guide to show you that you want to be a guitar here – if by playing air guitar and bringing in that attitude it mutates into “jaeh-nuh-najj-schzhinnn-szuynin” it really shouldn’t matter that much – there are sounds that you just can’t write – start with a guide, but pronunciation of meaningless syllables are much less important than the character they are meant to convey!

I quite often find that it would actually be faster in the studio if the singers had their parts a bit LESS ingrained so the bad habits weren’t there yet to break. I also see that the live performance of each song done in the studio this way immediately takes on a new life because each member had a chance to really get to know how their part relates to the others in the studio.

Of course every group is different, and your mileage may vary, but hopefully some of you might see how this way of looking at it could help your group not only learn your material better from the start, but also maybe avoid that end-of-the-year rush!