Making “Let’s Go to the Movies”: Recording, Mixing & Mastering

With the songs selected and the arrangements in place, it was almost time to start recording vocals for Let’s Go to the Movies. But before the singing could begin, there were still a few items that needed to be addressed.

While working with live musicians is always preferred, unfortunately the budget for this project did not permit hiring the London Symphony Orchestra (or, for that matter, any orchestra). Fortunately, the latest release of MuseScore (used to compose the arrangements) includes a new rendering engine – Muse Sounds – which provides surprisingly high-quality playback directly from a computer. This engine was used on all tracks of the album, and supplemented where needed with additional virtual instruments such as drums and guitar – and is that a dulcimer in one of the songs?

Let's Go to the Movies!

With a fully rendered accompaniment, I had to explicitly control tempos during expressive sections (musically, for things like ritardandos and rubatos). Each of these tempo changes was programmed individually into the score – since it wasn’t possible for an orchestra to follow me, I needed to configure the “orchestra” to slow down and speed up the way I wanted, and then follow it.

With these in place, the core audio files for the project were rendered – almost 200 separate files (one for each instrument, for every track on the album). These were combined in Reaper, a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) that allows the separate audio files to be mixed and enhanced.  This is where you fine-tune volumes, making a solo passage a little louder and then bringing it back down later.  Or “moving” the First Violins so they sound like they’re coming from the left side of the stage, etc.

Then – finally – it was time to record. Multiple vocal takes were captured for each song, with the best version (selected phrase by phrase, sometimes switching in the middle of a phrase) picked for the final performance. After a final mixing session to optimize levels for each instrument plus voice, each track was “Mastered”.  This involves making sure the track adheres to volume guidelines in place for streaming platforms (so your song isn’t too loud or soft compared to others on the service), modifying the length of silence at the end of one song so it flows smoothly into the next, and more.  Basically, this is the last step needed to get the song ready for final release.

In the end, the process isn’t quite as linear as described here – there were times when I thought I was ready for the final mastering step, but then realized I needed to go back to the start of the process and change a note in the original score. But after a long time, about 40 GB of storage, and a lot of listening, the final versions were complete for each song on the album.

All I needed now was a way to let people listen to them…

Let’s Go to the Movies releases September 1 on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and all major streaming services.

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