Breaking the Record with Roan Yellowthorn, Part 5: Mixing

Breaking The Record 2020
Breaking The Record 2020
Jackie McLean of the indie band Roan Yellowthorn grants us an inside look at the making of an album from start to finish in her ‘Breaking The Record’ column.
Stream: “I Started a Joke” – Roan Yellowthorn

As I write this, I am listening to the final mixes of our album. Yes, that’s right. The album is now fully mixed. The mixing is complete!

After I came home from our 8 days in the studio, our producer John Agnello and our engineering assistant Jeremy stayed in the studio and mixed for an additional 7 days. They took one day off. That’s 6 full days, twelve hours a day, of mixing.

Just jumping into the Breaking The Record series documenting the making of our album from start to finish? Read part 1 here!

Each day of mixing was like Christmas for me. A few times a day, I would get a little gift in my email inbox – a new mix of a song. I would listen to it and then John and I would usually talk on the phone about it. It’s amazing what the mixing does to the music. For each song, John did a million different things – raising a level here, tucking in an instrument part there, weaving in a harmony, adding reverb, and more technical things that I can’t presume to imagine.

There were a few songs that John sent a few different versions of, mixes in progress, the last one always the one.

The overall effect for each song was the difference between a fiber arts project before and after the finishing touches are applied – hanging ends woven in, a loose stitch tightened, corners pulled out and creased.

John mixes as he produces so the effects of the mixing weren’t drastic but the difference was, to compare it to another kind of creative process, like polishing a piece of jewelry that was made by hand. Imagine a ring made in a fire. The metal is matte and the joints are visible where solder has been melted. Take that ring to the polishing machine, hold it against the spinning buffer, and be amazed when you pull it away. Behold the shining metal. Marvel at the smooth surface. The soldered joints are a thing of imagination and memory, now. In front of you is an unbroken ring.

And then, before we knew it, all of the songs were done.

album final versions file
album final versions file

As a pièce de résistance, John sent the last thing, one long, master track that had all of the songs in it, arranged in his suggested sequence. The entire album, put together in order. Shawn and I put a movie on for our kids, sat down on the living room couch, and listened to the whole thing. One song after another. Every song a revelation, the sequential flow a masterpiece.

When it was done, I almost felt like crying. So much work had gone into this. Hours of writing. Ages of longing. Years of aching. Months of work. And here it was, all of the songs in order. Perfect.

We called John and facetimed. He and Jeremy had champagne and we did a virtual toast. I said thank you to them both but it couldn’t express the gratitude I felt. For all of their work. All of their time. All of their love.

FaceTime screenshot
FaceTime screenshot

Later that night, I mentioned to Shawn that this process seemed to happen so fast. The first time we made an album (completely DIY) it took months and months to record and mix it. This time it took two weeks from start to finish.

And then I was reminded that the two weeks were all 12-hour days. And there were multiple people working on it. John alone devoted over 120 hours recording and producing and mixing. And that’s not counting the hours before of preproduction and any extra hours afterward. And our assistant engineer put in an equal amount of time in the studio. That, alone, is upwards of 240 human hours of work. And then the time that the players spent in the studio – each upwards of 40 hours. That’s 120 hours for three people. So now we’re up to 360 hours of time. And consider the time Shawn and I contributed in the studio – 8 days each of 12 hours per day. That’s 96 hours each. That’s 192 hours between the two of us. Add that to the 360 and you have over 550 hours of studio time alone.

That doesn’t count the hours of writing the songs, writing the instrument parts, and all of the preparation that lead to the studio time. Where did the preparation start? In my childhood? Do we count the years of experience that grew the material for the album, itself? Where did it begin? How much time really went into it, after all?

We spent over 550 hours in the studio, alone, to make this album. Compressed into two weeks time.

But I’m telling you, this album is like a diamond. It’s shiny on the outside but it was borne of shock waves caused by meteorites, deep-source volcanic eruptions, and eons of time.

Next week – Mastering!

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