In this final post, I’ll talk about what is arguably the most difficult and time-consuming part of any music album – post-production. I had heard from others what to expect, but even so, I was surprised by how challenging this stage of the project would turn out to be.

By way of background – I had decided, even before the recording session, that I would have two “cover songs” on the album, that is, two pieces that I did not write. Having one or two recognizable tunes on a debut album can be very helpful in getting people interested in hearing the rest of the album. At first I was leaning towards popular songs with a night-time or astronomical theme, along the lines of Van Morrisons’s Moondance. Ultimately I decided that the “covers’ would be more closely tied to Native American history and culture. Amazing Grace is a song that I have mixed feelings about – while it is incredibly popular, it’s not a song that I feel connected to musically. However, I felt it was important to include on my first album – many NAF (Native American flute) artists establish their own unique version of this traditional song, so I very much was hoping my improvised Trail of Tears arrangement would convey my own mixed feelings about the song’s place in history. The other “cover” was Zuni Sunrise – I just happen to really like the tune, and enjoy playing long improvisations on it. Strategically, these tunes were planned for the second session – after I had warmed up, but before I might become tired or too cold to do a good job on them.

To help me prepare for mixing and mastering, I set my Sony digital recorder on one of the concrete piers, to make a running reference recording of the entire session. Even though the sound quality was not particularly good (poor mic levels on some tunes) this turned out to be my most valuable asset during the session review and track selection process. Over the course of the evening I had recorded 18 tracks, which would likely give me more than enough material for a one-hour, 12-track CD.

After the recording session, I was so anxious about how I felt I played, that it took me three days (honestly) to gather the courage to download the files from my Sony and start listening critically to each track. I was relieved to hear that Amazing Grace and Zuni Sunrise came out very well (better than I recalled having played them). As I listened to each track, I started making notes about any technical flaws (mostly wetting-out of the flutes) that might automatically eliminate the track from the album; I also noted the musical style, and made notes about which tunes sounded very similar to each other. I had already decided that the album would have a dusk-to-dawn storyline, opening with Evening Star Song as the first track, and concluding with either Zuni Sunrise or Lark Who Sang His Song. After about two weeks, I had narrowed down the rest of my potential album tracks to 12 likely candidates, and put the rest onto a separate out-takes CD. I burned a few sample discs of each, and sent these out to friends and colleagues. I asked them to comment on the track selection, the track order, the quality of the tunes, and which were their most favorite/least favorite tracks (knowing that these were very rough raw files, and not the final product).

I was surprised by the variety of responses, especially regarding track selection, and most favorite/least favorite tracks. Three tracks originally assigned to the out-takes (Sky Chief, Spirits of the Long-Eyes, and Giant Cactus-Gathering Hook), impressed people so much that I moved them to the main CD, and had to move Condor, Crane & Her Sons, and Snake Not Real, to the out-takes CD. Spirits of the Long-Eyes, in particular, was a difficult call for me. My original criteria for the CD was to include only complete, unedited “takes”. However, the sound quality of Spirits, in spite of some technical problems, was so amazing, that people convinced me to tighten it up with editing, and include it on the main CD. The ultimate result of the revised selection & order was a slightly mellower overall musical flow, with more emphasis on traditional Native American flute tunings. Here is the only full-song video (raw camera footage, very low light, no editing) we made during the evening (from session #1): Condor. This 8-minute video will give you a fairly representative feeling for the recording experience, and you might find it interesting to compare it to the final mixed & mastered version.

Once I had the track selection narrowed down, I was prepared for mixing and mastering. Mixing (from the original four mics) went fairly quickly. We did it as a class demonstration at Art Institute – the have a great set-up, and we got through the entire two albums inside of three hours. The first step of mastering (at NewZone Studio) was noise removal, and this turned out to be a lot more time-intensive than we expected. Once we brought up the tracks in Izotope (noise removal software), we saw a lot of random, high-frequency chirps scattered throughout every track. And while they were outside the range of human hearing, the chirps were loud – just as loud as the music itself. We pondered what could have generated the chirps – high-frequency signals from phones? (all turned off during the session); computer equipment? (all in a separate room, behind closed doors), or possibly bats? - trapped in the dome overnight. Wayne & I discussed the pros and cons of taking the time to erase the chirps (a time-intensive manual process, even in Izotope), because the chirps were likely within the range of dogs’ hearing and possibly some infants, too. So, to avoid having dogs start barking and babies waking up from naps whenever my album was played, we decided to take out all the mysterious chirps, (along with all the other standard noises – building electrical hum, planes, cars, thumps, and clanks) which took about ten hours of painstaking manual erasing.

Once the noise removal was complete, the rest of the mastering went fairly smoothly. Transferring the digital files to the production house (Discmakers) and digital distributor ( was another learning experience – I found I needed to upload the huge audio files after midnight, to take advantage of quieter internet traffic and better transmission speeds, so there were several sleepless nights while I was trying to make my production deadline! Here are three of the tracks that were originally being considered for the main album, but wound up in the out-takes EP Under The Stars, Too! Enjoy…

2) Condor (Mars) The condor plays an important role in many southwestern tribes - in Chumash lore, the planet Mars is associated with reddish head of the condor, and Xolxol, a supernatural being. I chose a style that conveys the sense of a condor in flight, circling in the sky. Flute made by Michael Graham Allen (Coyote Oldman) 5- hole traditional style in red cedar, key of E minor. Originally planned for the main CD, this long track was moved due to timing.

3) Crane and Her Sons (Orion) This tragic story comes from the Yokut people of central California, and I chose a drone to capture the two opposing characters – Crane and her husband. Normally, I would play a blues tune using only the lower octave of the drone, however the cold and high humidity caused the drone to constantly pop into the upper octave. Near the very end of the tune, you can hear the barking of the observatory dog (G.W. Richey), which I found suited the story perfectly. Drone flute made by High Spirits Flutes, 6- hole concert style in birch, key of high C minor. Planned for the main CD, this track was moved due to changes in the storyline and track order.

5) Snake Not Real (Serpens) The snake is an important and dangerous spirit in the lore of the Pawnee people. in the creation story, there is a false snake (in the Serpent constellation) who precedes the Real Snake (located in Scorpius). Flute made by Erick Sampson (Erick the Flutemaker), 5- hole Kiowa Love Flute in domestic bamboo, key of F minor. This track wound up here mostly due to storyline reasons, and sounds similar to “Path of the Departed Souls”.

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