Let me show you what you’ve missed: some photos from our release partay!

1. Wing La – the one and only                             2. Vlada and Georges Nile DSC_1505 DSC_1558

3. Issam El-Hadouti on djembe     4. Vlada                                5. Rick Stone on saxe DSC_1684 DSC_1701DSC_1848

Creative collaboration and confidence

Here I would like to share a few grains of wisdom learned in the process of preparing and recording our first album. My main thrust may seem very obvious to you, but, believe me, this lesson took a while to learn…

It has been a few months since we finished the recording part of the process (before the mixing/mastering), and Georges and I recently found ourselves answering the questions of a young musician about to embark on the thrilling and scary journey of recording his first album. 

“What are some of the important lessons you learned?” this talented singer asked me. “What would you have done differently now?” And as I recounted some of the (thankfully few!) things which went wrong in the recording process, Georges interrupted me, saying that those were really not the major issues. And he was right. The major lesson that life has had to hammer into our heads at every turn is the same one: “Ultimately, you have to trust yourself the most.” Oh, but this takes a while to sink in.

This fact certainly does not imply you shouldn’t trust the people you work with to do their jobs right, especially if they are the consummate professionals we’ve been extremely lucky to find on our journey. However, from shooting of our first videos with Joshua Guerci to recording our first album with Sean McLaughlin and Benny Grotto, whenever we disregarded and trampled upon our intuitions, thinking that professionals surely know better, we missed a chance to improve something. 

For instance, we pretty much loved the videos Josh made for NMD in February 2013, but as soon as I saw them I knew I should’ve asked him to do some wide shots, so the band members would not always appear individually but as a band! It was not even hindsight: this point occurred to me as he and his assistant were shooting, but (do you know the little imp in your head?), I told myself, “These guys know what they are doing! Just let them do their job!”

Sometimes, when you say this to yourself, you are plain wrong. 

When we interviewed potential producers last December and January, we were looking for a person so experienced and well-respected that we would implicitly trust his judgement. This ideal producer’s knowledge and understanding of the current music world would certainly give our album the best chance of success. Perhaps, this might have worked if we were doing a more mainstream genre, or if we were younger and less stubbornly set in our ways … or not even then. 

In actuality, due to the differences in cultural and aesthetic background, we probably disagreed with the producers more frequently than between ourselves. From the initial choice of songs for the album, to the feeling or expression of a song, we found ourselves having to rely more on our judgment.
That being sad, multiple aspects of the songs were shaped by the advice of our producers and their creative insight. Many of their ideas were things we had never thought of before, and we ended up quite happy with how they made us sound. However, receiving suggestions we disagreed with forced us to question what we really cared about.

After allowing ourselves to relax and not participate directly in the mixing process (which is not unusual), we realized that had we gotten more involved after the first version of the mixes was finished, we probably could have fixed the few remaining issues much more easily. If a single instrument in the song doesn’t sound the way you want it, the song – to you – could be ruined.

Many creative products these days are the results of collaborative (even collectivist) artistic endeavors. While there may be people much more experienced and skillful in some parts of the process, only you, the author, have the holistic vision, only you instinctively know how you would like it to sound, read, appear, taste or smell. You’ll have to master your hesitation and your lack of confidence without shutting down your collaborators. Like it or not, you are the expert: surround yourself with people whose work you admire, respect and encourage everyone’s input, but never ignore your inner voice.

Decisions, decisions… On the order of songs in an album.

Making a CD is only 20% (totally random number, of course) about getting the music recorded. So much of your time is taken up by brainstorming, planning, executing ideas, finding the right people to execute your ideas…

So now that we have decided  (98%) to make the album a self-titled CD, we are working on other decisions. Song order, for instance. I’ve heard from fellow musicians (Mari Black is one) how one struggles to create the best sequence – but now I’m starting to understand why.

What exactly does it mean to have the best sequence? There are so many different organizing principles: do we want the listener to finish the whole album? Do we want to tell a coherent story? Is it for the person who hears a few seconds from the beginning of the first or second song and would be interested enough to buy the whole thing? Or for the label representative, who might only listen to the beginning of the first song, would be interested in signing us?

Anyway, how do you know which songs are most likely to be hits? We are already pretty sure, for instance, that our producers/sound engineers differ in their preferences from us. And I bet, if we asked a few friends, each would have a different favorite.

So here we are, looking for signs, grasping at straws, hoping for a secret message to come from the wild heart of the universe and inspire us. It’s like betting at horse races – only with horse races, there is more adrenaline, I would think.


Titling our first CD

We’re finishing up the recording of our first CD. Mixing and mastering still to come.
At the moment Georges and I are bickering about brainstorming the title…

Some options we’re considering:

Mood swings
Free, funny and hat!
Lonely Octopus
Talk to me
The other side of the moon
Mindreader on moonshine
Bartender blues
Humor noir
Sirens in the dark

If you have any other ideas for the CD title, let us know!