Battle Songz 2
The Making of an Album: By Chris Hupe While sitting in Dan and Sondra Middleton's Digitracks Studio listening to the final version of the whatzup Battle of the Bands 6 Battle Songz CD for the first time, I couldn't help but think about all the work that went into creating an album that features the best of what the contest had to offer in 2009. First and foremost, there were the shows, 15 of them to be exact, taking place over eight weeks and featuring 32 different bands. The process of whittling these bands down to the 16 that ultimately ended up on this CD was a difficult one. The diversity and talent on display each night made judging each band a painstakingly difficult task, but one I and three other judges eagerly signed up to do. Now the results of that process are finally available for everyone to hear. While Dan Middleton and Joby Adams, the producers of the second album ever to bear the whatzup logo, played clips of each track for me, they offered insight into how the CD was made. Probably the question most asked about this CD is why it took so long to come out. The contest ended during the dog days of August, but the CD is being released with Christmas in the air and the sound of Salvation Army ringers at every Wal-Mart. "We wanted to make this the best record we possibly could," explained Middleton. "That means we wanted to do everything the right way. That also means it's going to take some time. When you are dealing with 16 bands, one of the hardest and most timeconsuming tasks is finding a time when the bands can come in and record. These guys are out there gigging every weekend and most have day jobs, so it's difficult to find a day that they can all get together to properly record their songs. I am extremely thankful that my wife, Sondra, took care of the scheduling for us so we could concentrate on the songs." All of the Battle Songz songs are in the neighborhood of three to four minutes long, so most people would assume that recording one song would be an easy in-and-out process for the bands. Not so, said Middleton. If you want to do it right, it's a bit more complicated than that. "When a band comes in, the first thing we do is take an hour or two to tune the drums. We want them to sound right for the song, so it takes a while. Once that's done and everyone is satisfied, we set up the guitars and get them tuned up. That takes another hour or so. After that, we take care of the bass, vocals and any other instruments that the band will be playing. The whole setup process actually takes several hours, but it is absolutely necessary in order to make sure the band sounds as good as it can." Once everything is set up, the band does a "scratch take" in which Middleton and Adams get an idea of how the song is supposed to sound. "It gives us a starting point in recording the song," said Middleton. "Then everyone does at least three takes of their part separately from the rest of the band so we can make sure we have enough material to work with during mixing." By laying down extra tracks of each instrument, Middleton and staff can later layer instruments and vocals to create a "full-bodied" sound akin to anything you would hear on any major label recording. "Once everyone is satisfied with the instruments and all the solos have been recorded, we add the vocals," Adams added. " Usually we do one or two takes of singing and then record any background vocals that need to be added." Most people, myself included, would think that after finally wrapping up the recording of the songs they would be ready to be put on a CD and sent out for the public to consume. But, apparently, recording the songs is just the beginning of the process. "Once we feel we have enough tracks for a mix, the band leaves and we spend several more hours working with the tracks," said Adams. Mixing the song means that the producers adjust volume levels, add and subtract effects, equalize the sound and sometimes double- and triple-layer some of the instruments. And listen to it on several different sets of speakers," Middleton said. "We listen to them in our cars, at home, in the studio and wherever else we can in order to make sure the song sounds good everywhere. "When we're satisfied that it does sound good," Middleton continued, "we call the band back into the studio. That is when we get a little nervous. You never know if the bands are going to like what we have done to their songs, so it's a little tense. The last thing we want to do is change the sound of the band, so after they hear the song we take all their comments into consideration and make the changes they want because, ultimately, it is their song and it should sound the way they want it to sound. In the end, each song represents a minimum of 20 hours worth of work. "The last thing we did," Middleton explained, "was bring in a bunch of people independent of us and the bands to help determine the order of the songs." Even with all of this work being put into an album, Middleton, Adams and their staff believe it is all worth it. "The making of this CD was a lot of fun. We are really proud of it and think it is something that people are going to want to listen to. The bands came in prepared and knew what they wanted to do with their songs. That made our jobs a lot easier," said Middleton. "All the bands were great but a few standouts include Autovator rocking the place and starting the CD out well, Kill the Rabbit displaying their true rock n' roller personas, The Whims, who were up for just about anything, and Jessie from Heroes 4 Ghosts, who has an amazing voice. It was a great experience, and we can't wait for everyone to get a chance to finally hear it." As I found out, making a CD is a lot of work, and the work didn't end at Digitracks. Getting the rights to pictures, adding artwork to the CD, developing liner notes, making sure everyone gets credit and proofreading everything to make sure it is all correct is also part of the process. That is where Al Quandt of Fort Wayne Digital Media Production Group came into the picture. While Middleton, Adams and staff were working on recording the songs, Quandt was hard at work putting the CD packaging together. "This year I wanted to showcase the winner of the competition as well as those putting the album together," Quandt said in a recent interview. "Last year's cover format of using the lead singer of the winning band seemed to work, so I searched around the Internet and found a professional photo shot of A New Definition. I contacted Nate Stahley (the photographer) and asked his permission to use the image. "As for the inside," Quandt continued, "I received some photos of A New Definition from Sondra Middleton of Digitracks. As I tell many of my musician clients, I like to keep an organic, homemade look to album art. Of course, everything is finalized on the computer when it is all said and done, but using cut/ paste scanner methods and the musician's actual handwriting and artwork seems to make the albums more personal, inviting and interesting. I took my own advice and placed the photos that I gathered inside a Polaroid matte, wrote the labels on some old masking tape and then scanned it in." So that's it. Sixteen bands, 15 shows and more than 67 minutes of music on one CD. It was a great year for local music. A limited number of the Battle Songz CDs are available at Wooden Nickel Music Store locations and from the bands represented on the CD. One hundred percent of the proceeds of each CD bought from a band goes to that band, so I highly recommend you buy your copy at one of the CD release shows at Columbia Street West or Wooden Nickel in the coming months. It is guaranteed to help you get through the holidays with a smile on your face.