Sunday, October 31, 2004


The average poll worker is 72 years old.

"I don't want to sound crass, but poll workers are passing on," said Michael Sciortino, president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials and director of the Mahoning County Board of Elections.

There is a shortage of 500,000 poll workers across the country. New York City is one of the areas officials are most concerned about, but many urban centers are short.

How many people for whom this is "the most important election of our lifetimes" will be volunteering on Tuesday?

Let's crunch the numbers.....

500,000 protestors descended on New York City during the Republican National Convention

The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (the ONLY scientific organization probing the bigfoot/sasquatch mystery) estimates that there are 2000-6000 bigfoots in North America

There are approximately 500,000 "historical wargamers" in the world

Estimates of the number of Muslims in North America range from a little over one million adults to seven million adults and children

There are probably about 15,000-25,000 orangutans in the world (at least they'e doing better than the bigfoots)

There are 1.4 million people in the US military

There are approximately 1 million lawyers in the US

50,000 people tried out for the last version of "American Idol."

I don't pretend to know what any of this is supposed to mean. I guess I'm just saying that we need more organgutans, bigfoots, and poll workers.

Friday, October 29, 2004


More guitar overdubs with Microdot last night. Replaced some sounds that just weren't working on "Biltmore Clock" and worked through two other tunes, filling in some empty spots. Very nice and relaxed, Dave Cavalier played through his lingering flu like symptons very well, and we did our best to get the room nice and smokey. I think you can hear it on the tracks.

It's funny how a tube amp needs to actually be played a bit before it starts to sound right. Just warming it up isn't enough (our Bandmaster had sat quietly warming for a good hour), it needs to be dug into a bit to get them tubes a dancin'. Then it suddenly starts to sit up and behave, and all else follows.

We got a good chunk of work done last night. Vocals and keyboards are fast approaching, which means the session will migrate to George Vitray's Skyway studio and be dumped into ProTools.

It's a lot like sending your kid off to college, I'd guess.

Has it been a week already?

Since my parents came to town last weekend, the computer was moved from the coffee table to the floor, so blogging has become an uncomfortable activity. Well, I moved it back over, so there. Won't let a week pass again.

Hats off to my next door neighbor, Noah Wall, who has released his second record as Jukeboxer and received a very good review from Time Out New York. It was a nice surprise to open the magazine and see his face, with pictures of David Thomas (still touring) and Luna (still breaking up) just a few pages away. Jukeboxer will be playing at the Knitting Factory here in NY on November 3, and if I can get my ass into Manhattan (not my favorite thing to do) I'll try to check it out. You go Noah! And thanks for that Yamaha reverb that you were throwing away-we still use it in the studio.

Friday, October 22, 2004


Spent the last few days helping fellow producer/engineer George Vitray design his website. George's brother James, of the duo Nate & James, did the majority of the heavy lifting, but I contributed some artwork-album covers for Via Skyway records, some text writing and editting, a little photo doctoring here and there. The website is up and running, so check it out.

The site is definitely worth checking out (good work, James!) and contains mp3's of both of Via Skyway's records, which are about as well recorded as they get. Check out the song "Spider" from the first record, entitled "Record." (Now, is it "record" as in a piece of circular vinyl, or "record" as in that button on your VCR? Only George knows for sure, and he ain't saying...)

There are also tracks from other artists George has worked with, including Microdot, Fagen, Trickside, Nate & James, and (shameless plug) Brainshivers. It's a nice bit of variety, but it all has the Vitray sound, which is to say it sounds good. Like many artists, George gets a vision and sees it through, even if it means pissing you off from time to time. He forces us to play better, to sound better, and that's all that really matters in the end; we're talking about recordings made for other people, who don't care if you've never played the chord that way before or if you really just want another beer. A LOT of people make their records only for themselves, something akin to a vanity project, but George's records are meant to be listened to by others, and to still sound good 20 years from now. It's pretty rare, especially in these days of instant gratification and virtually non-existent budgets.

So visit his site, listen to the music, and (most importantly) book some time to work with him, if you happen to be a musician. I promise it'll sound good.

Thursday, October 21, 2004


Yes, it's over.

The Red Sox won the series. Not THE series, but it might as well be. The impossible happened, then it happened again. Not even by throwing things on the field or chanting "Who's your daddy" at Pedro could the Yankees fans stop the train. By the end it looked like ARod was going to cry, and he probably did. Being the highest paid player in baseball is little consolation, apparently.

Quite often, money can buy championships. But not this year.

Things will be different now. We all knew the Yanks weren't as good as they used to be, that the cracks were starting to show, but losing to the Sox, at home, in the house that Ruth built, is undeniable. It's not that we're all sick of the Yankees fans and their feelings of entitlement. Well, maybe we are. Yeah, I'm sure we are. It's almost as good as the Mets winning something. Anything.

Now we get to watch Steinbrenner take the team apart. I have a feeling next year's starting pitching will be a little better.

It doesn't even matter if the Red Sox win the World Series. It almost doesn't matter if they even play it. They already won, the curse is over, everyone is schocked.

Except the team from Boston.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


A guy in Ohio is getting paid to register voters, so he fills out phony registration cards in an effort to make some more money.

Trouble is, he "registers" Mary Poppins and Dick Tracy, along with Michael Jordan.

Is this a cry for help?


Did another great session with Microdot last night. We're currently working on four of their tunes, and this session was another journey into guitar overdubs. George Vitray (producer) arrived fresh from his day job wearing a suit, while Dave Cavalier (guitar, venture capitalist) wore jeans and a tee shirt. There were no fresh flowers, but there was Czech beer and Marlboro mediums.

Time flies when you're doing guitars. Soon it's 11:30 and the neighbors are banging on the pipes and running to their computers to print out more signs to hang on our door. "No audible sound after 11pm." There's a philosophical argument here somewhere, something about a tree in a forest and what inaudible sound sounds like, but I digress. We got a lot of good guitar sounds and did a fair amount of work. I'm really happy with the rough mixes, even though there are still some holes to fill. There's going to be banjo on this record, which I'm very excited about. What was the last banjo part played in 7/8 time? Anyone know? I sure don't.

My favorite part is watching the songs grow up. That initial guitar line is like a recording's first shave. Suddenly, it's borrowing the car and breaking into the liquor cabinet. All we can do is try to prepare it for the world and hope it doesn't pick up head lice at school.

The beauty of Microdot is that they can play just about anything, and when George calls for a suspended fourth they don't just laugh at him. I wish we all had enough money to do this stuff all day.


One of my (many) guilty pleasures is sports talk radio. Specifically, WFAN 660 here in New York.

When I was a kid I wasn't the biggest sports fan. I played one season of basketball as a youngster, and although I don't remember the name of my team, I remember the position I played. Corner. It was several years before I realized it wasn't a real position.

I remember my soccer team's name-the Blue Buccaneers. I also remember my only goal of the season, scored against my own team. The best defense is a good offense, and I had neither.

Eventually I found my sport-like a good nerd, it was running-and I could play some decent tennis by the end of high school. But the sports talk with other kids was always something I found really hard to do. I could never remember the players' names; the sports section could have been in Latin. I didn't care about Michael Jordan. The only book on sports I ever read was "Running and Being," more a Zen and the art of Cross Country than anything else, although it taught me one great lesson-when you pass someone, make it count. Make your breathing as even as possible, do everything you can to convince the guy you're passing that you feel great, and keep going. Oh yeah, and don't look back.

But when I moved to New York I discovered The Fan, or more accurately discovered Joe Benigno, the overnight host who was once a caller until he won the chance to be the guy behind the mic. His callers were-and still are-a big family, where everyone knows everyone and some of 'em still don't speak because of Bobby Thomson's "shot heard 'round the world" back in '51 (seems like yesterday). When one of the elders, Doris from Rego Park, died about a year ago, Joe's show was a string of eulogies from fellow callers remembering this unflappable Mets fan, who probably watched more games than some of the players, and definitely knew more about baseball than some of the managers.

I've since gotten to know the other FAN hosts, and I still put the radio on every night to listen as I fall asleep (thanks Annie for letting me do that). I know a lot more about sports now, even though I still have a tough time remembering all the players' names. But I learned that there's no "corner," and that families coalesce around all manner of things.

Even music.

Sunday, October 17, 2004


After 12 years and 7 studio albums, my favorite band is breaking up. Dean Wareham's Luna, who have done everything from opening for the Velvet Underground's reunion tour to covering Guns 'n' Roses' "Sweet Child of Mine" (it crushes Sheryl Crow's version like a grape), are calling it quits.

I first saw Luna at Central Park's Summerstage shortly after moving to New York nine years ago. They were playing with Throwing Muses, and it was the same day I saw the Who perform Quardrophenia at Madison Square Garden. Needless to say, I still haven't bought a Who record but own all of Luna's, as well as Dean's first band Galaxie 500. I've seen them live lots of times, and met Dean on a few occasions. We even smoked cigarettes together in my old office at the Daily Show, talking about Latrell Sprewell coming to the Knicks (remember those days?). Dean seemed unfazed that there was a picture of his band on my bulletin board, and his hair was as crazy in person as it was in Luna's pubicity shots.

Luna grew and changed over the years, moving well beyond their initial comparisons with the Velvet Underground, but still sounding familiar. Great guitar sounds, hypnotized vocals, guest appearances by Tom Verlaine (Television) and Sterling Morrison (Velvets), tours with Sonic Boom (Spacemen 3), covers of Serge Gainsbourg tunes, getting dropped by their label (Elektra), parenthood... they lived some kind of alternative rock dream. They were also responsible for turning me on to the Velvets themselves, no small feat and one that changed music for me forever.

I'm sure the members of Luna won't fade into obscurity-I have a feeling Dean Wareham will be around New York for a while. I'm just bummed that there won't be any new Luna songs to learn and cover.

I'm sure that makes my partner Ted sad as well.

Friday, October 15, 2004


The federal government reached its $7.4 trillion debt ceiling yesterday, forcing Treasury Secretary John W. Snow to delay contributing to one of the federal employees' pension systems to avoid running out of cash and possibly defaulting on government debt. (Washington Post)

Congratulations to everybody who made this such a success!


Mixing a song is like cleaning an apartment. Turn the lights up all the way to see where the dust is, clean it up, dim the lights and enjoy.

"On the Run" from "Dark Side of the Moon" is techno. There's no excuse for anyone who says they like rock and roll to turn around and say they don't "get" techno. What's there not to get? Rock was dance music too, once.

Don't steal settings, steal philosophies (this one comes from George Vitray)


Working in another studio is always fun. It's great to see how different people use their gear. How things are wired, how they interact, how they sound. Whether you REALLY need that $2000 compressor to get a good vocal sound.

Even more interesting is the overall feel. Tony Alva's Grey Cat Sound in Atlanta (where Ted and I were working last weekend, see "Christian Music" below) has a great feel. The control room is nice and clean, no ashtrays or empty beer bottles laying around (although I admit to loving both of these things). Everything is well organized and sounds good. It's entirely 16 bit ADAT based, which 8 years ago was as state of the art as you could get. In fact, if computer based recording hadn't exploded in the last 4 years or so, it would still be state of the art. Plus he's got 16 track analog tape (even cooler) that we'll have to fire up next time we're down. The board was nice, everything worked, and getting to listen to NS10's all day is a wonderful educational experience. Curtains adorn the walls, the furniture is nice and clean (as far as I know, nothing in the studio was found on the streets of Brooklyn on trash day, at least once Ted and I left).

Working on a recording can be inspiring. I was inspired to make our control room a little bit nicer. Finally patched up that last hole in the corner where we hadn't quite finished soundproofing. A day of paint, drywall, joint compund, and diffusion, and things already feel much improved. It's a lot of baby steps, which is what we'll take until the day when we can pull everything out and redo the whole place (soon as we sell a few records). But it's the little things that add up Maybe we all feel just a little bit cleaner after being in the South, where people chitchat a little more and rush around a little less, where ADAT is king and the guys at Guitar Center still try to sell you that extra bit of gear that you don't really need.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The final presidential debate takes place tonight. This is a good thing.

It seems that the last debate was a lot of Bush and Kerry repeating what Cheney and Edwards were already repeating in their debate. I think the talking points have been distilled down far enough. There's really been nothing new for a while now. I wonder what the undecided voters are waiting for to make their decision. Is there going to be a huge revelation tonight from either side? At least there'll be a chance to invoke the name of Christopher Reeve. Didn't have that last Friday.

Polls show that Blacks are largely ambivalent about the Democratic candidate, which isn't a good sign for them or the Democrats. Everyone will tell you this is the most important election of their lifetimes, the century, "our generation." People who haven't voted in 20 years are registered. Fistfights are breaking out at family barbeques. But the fact is that in the forseeable future, the rich will get richer, the poor will get poorer, and most people's lives will continue to be affected by their day to day interactions with other individuals, not by whether Bush believes Kerry will raise taxes (for some) or Kerry believes Bush will lower them (for others).

My advise is to turn the sound down on the debate tonight and spend that time researching your local races. These are just as important (some would say more, especially in a place like New York). And at the end of that hour and a half you'll know far more about what your vote will mean than if you'd listened to the same tired soundbites, accusations, and name calling live from Tempe.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Traveling to Atlanta this weekend to record a Christian rock band (more specifically, a Catholic rock band-one of the many bands who take part in the Life Teen Catholic youth organization, a nationwide efffort to minister to Catholic high schoolers) was a good experience. It's interesting that the same "rules" apply to recording Life Teen as do to recording your typical Clevo shitcore band-that is, make the band really comfortable, figure out how they work, try to hear what they hear, and do a line check (kinda like a soundcheck) before they get there. Oh yeah, and have some mics and preamps and compressors at hand.

Coming back to New York and talking about recording a Christian rock band is even more interesting. For some people it seems like I've been to the heart of the Outback (in Australia, not the family restaurant) to record Aboriginal ceremonial music. I was talking to a friend here in Brooklyn about contemporary Christian music, and she said that one of these bands-Evanessance-is actually pretty good. Of course Jars of Clay are a successful "crossover" group.

I remarked that the first real Christian band I remember was U2. She was shocked.

Yes, three of the members of U2 are active, believing, real Christians (try to guess which one isn't). They didn't talk about it a lot, but they definitely did talk about it, and wrote (and continue to write) songs that reflect their faith. "I guess I got into them after, like around October or Boy or War," my friend said. Well, these records are as openly Christian as any of their others. She was surprised at first, but then we recited the lyrics of "40" together and it made a lot of sense. This song, of course, closed many a U2 show during the height of their powers.

Music, like faith, comes in a lot of shapes and sizes. Writing a song is just another form of communion (in the original sense of the word, which the American Heritage Dictionary defines as "an act or instance of sharing, as of thoughts or feelings"). Whether your lyric is "My God is an awesome God" or "I don't want to be normal" or even "I kissed your lips and broke your heart." Just remember to check that all your mics are working and try to get a good level.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Maybe it's because I just back back from Georgia (which went very well, even though I'm not used to an 8:00am start time for a recording session-especially on a Saturday) but I've been hearing "Moon River" in my head for the last 12 hours or so. The original Moon River is in Savannah, Georgia, where lyricist Johnny Mercer grew up, picking huckleberries. That may be part of why REM covered the song years ago. The original (and some say best) version of the song is, of course, from "Breakfast at Tiffany's," where Audrey Hepburn sings and plays acoustic guitar. The song was nearly cut from the film, because it was slow, but it so perfectly captures the spirit of memory and longing for home, the sense of bittersweet dreams of something better-the end of the rainbow-that it's removal seems unthinkable today.

Moon River,
Wider than a mile:
I'm crossin' you in style
Some day.
Old dream maker,
You heart breaker,
Wherever your goin',
I'm goin' your way:
Two drifters,
Off to see the world,
There's such a lot of world
To see.
We're after the same
Rainbow's end
Waitin' round the bend,
My huckleberry friend,
Moon River
and me.

And it's an amazingingly simple and poignant melody, courtesy of Henry Mancini. Quincy Jones once forced David Foster (then an aspiring producer, now one of the most successful in the business) to play a new tune on the piano with one finger. "Now that's hard to do," says Foster. "You can play 'Moon River' with one finger, no problem. But try and play some tune with no melody and no real content, with one finger. You can't do it."

He's right. So I think I'll go exercise that finger and do a version of Moon River. Hopefully one that'll make Audrey Hepburn proud.

The Comfort Factor or Second Time's a Charm

Some music producers will say the secrets to a great record are...

1. the song
2. the performance
3. the recording quality

In that order.

That being said, for the engineer who works with a different artist every day, who often hasn't even met the artist until the day of the session, who's probably never heard their music before, making a great record is a bit like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Especially when the artist is a band that wants to leave 8 hours later with a 4 song demo they can use to get gigs, a manager, or a deal. Maybe they're a four piece with three members who've never been in a studio, never overdubbed vocals, never even performed with tapes rolling (or hard disks spinning). Perhaps they've never heard their music from anywhere except inside it-in a rehearsal room or live gig. They've certainly never been in a position to listen back, to analyze their performance from an "objective" standpoint (is there such a thing?). They've saved up their $200, they've practiced, but how can they really prepare for a day for which there's no reference? The mysteries of multitrack recording are truly a mystery. If we do everything live, can we change it after? Maybe they have a favorite record or band they want to sound like. Maybe not.

SO, back to the three keys to a great record... song, performance, recording quality. In that order.

Well, I'm probably not going to try to rewrite or rearrange their songs. They know them, I'm just hearing them for the first time. Often the first time I hear a song it's without vocals (we'll overdub those later) so there's no way to know the verse from the chorus. There may be vocals during that instrumental break; I'll know when they sing 'em. That can be the best part of a session-hearing the song, with the vocal, for the first time, after hearing it as an instrumental for an hour. AHHHH! I get it now. I see.

Alright, until I'm at that point I certainly can't suggest that they double the length of that chorus or get rid of the second bridge. Thankfully, by the time they get to the studio, most bands know which of their tunes are their "hits," which ones have gotten the best reaction from friends or fans. They've performed them, maybe a couple of times, maybe for years. So for now the songs are set. Cross number 1 off that list.

Number 3, of course, is supposed to be my top priority. That's what I'm really being paid for, right? If they wanted a crappy recording, they'd go to a rehearsal space and use the single old mic hanging from the ceiling into the tape deck that's never been cleaned.

Whoah-wait a minute. Sometimes those are the best recordings, right? Completely spontaneous, in a familiar environment, no stress. Ah, yes. Number 2. The performance.

A band in a new space, with an engineer who may or may not hear things the way they do. Some of the gear is different. Certainly the environment is different. So we really need to worry about that performance, 'cause that's what we'll hear, even more than the recording quality.

I'm obsessive about recording quality, of course, and like many engineers I know the ins and outs of my gear well enough to get a good sound. Every recording I do brings me a little closer to the ideal.

This is where it all comes together. For the artist who's in the studio for the first time, the best thing they can do for their music is come back. Because then we know each other. The anxiety of the new space is gone. I've recorded them before. They've listened back before. We've all heard their music on different stereos, in the car, from the little speakers on their iBook. They're old pros. We've all learned something from the first time, which is always a little stressful (who here remembers their first time?). It all helps the performance, which is the 2nd most important part. And I've heard some of their songs in completed form. We're a little more familiar with each other, and maybe-if the first session went well-I can start to listen more to structure, to figure out ways to improve the songs, and they'll trust me. So Number 1 gets a little help as well.

So come back, come back! 'Cause if the second time's a charm, who knows what the third time will be?