Mandala – Top Things Learned

Kalachakra Sand Mandala - Martin Brauen (Used with Permission)

Since Mandala’s publication, this list of Lessons Learned has been useful as a starting point for other projects, and for other artists interested in the recording and manufacturing process.

1. Don’t have any part of your project performed out of town unless it is absolutely necessary. You won’t want to drive out of town once you get into the thick of recording.

2. Try to work with a drummer who can dedicate as much time as possible to your project.

3. Keep every slip of paper of notes that you make, even if they are scribbled out (track sheets).

4. Make frequent backups.

5. Don’t talk about your project with others if you don’t have to. Wait until it’s almost done. The hype will otherwise get you too strung out.

6. Add four months to your conservative estimate of a deadline.

7. Vocals – If you start to sound “raw” don’t think it will turn into “cool” later. It won’t.

8. Listening – Take frequent breaks.

9. In all things, think effectiveness over efficiency. Music is not efficient.

10. Have $1000 or $2000 available in cash to pay engineers or graphic designers to be sure they get paid. You don’t want to be rushing around for cash at the last minute.

11. Don’t plan gigs thinking you’ll have the CD done. Plan them after you have the CD in hand.

12. Take a trip to get away at the half-way point of the project. You’ll be glad you did.

13. Don’t wait for publishers to get back to you. Hound them in any way you can; e-mail, certified mail, phone, etc.

14. Don’t try to teach someone a musical passage that you know you can play better anyway.

15. Plan, plan, plan! And adapt to changes.

16. Replace equipment that is pissing you off. Don’t use junk, especially when it comes to computers.

17. Accept that you are becoming consumed by the project and deal with it as best you can.

18. Surround yourself with people who can accept that you are becoming consumed by the project and who will deal with it as best they can.

19. Don’t drink five cups of coffee the night before your father visits.

20. This is a CD you’re making… not a holy relic!

21. Don’t let anyone try to tell you how to do your thing. It’s your thing, do whatcha gotta do.

22. Don’t compromise your project for your job. Contact me for specifics.

23. If your engineer uses a computer, make sure it is suitable for the job. Check all of the memory and processing specs in advance of any crucial operations. This will save you several trips to Staples later.

24. If a computer is involved anywhere in the audio-processing chain (and it probably will be) make sure adequate backups are made to CDR before any mastering begins. You will need those virgin files in the event your software plug-ins corrupt the files, or if the computer crashes.

25. Get schedule commitments in writing from all personnel. Make it clear to them that they are working for you, even if you are working on some basis of a trade, or discount pricing. Regardless, they should still be committed to staying up until midnight, if necessary. (See next point.)

26. Do not – repeat – DO NOT – perform a 12-hour mastering marathon and believe that you have caught everything. You will miss something and you will need to fix it later.

27. Do not trust meters, read-outs, computer monitors or gauges. Trust your ears – music is heard, not seen.

28. When working with a graphic designer, provide as many editing suggestions as you can at once. Avoid multiple changes, or multiple messages about small changes. This will save you time and money.

29. If you plan on printing exact track times in the CD art, your entire project will be held up by the audio master that contains those track times. Plan accordingly so that all of the other design elements are in place, so that as the master is completed, the track times can be dropped in.

30. Use the “disc at once” setting when burning your CD and make sure the silence between songs is exactly the way you want it. Don’t use “Track at once” because it will add 2 seconds to the end of everything and will destroy the flow.

31. Understand that you will not have any semblance of a “normal” life while you are working on the project. In fact, forget about having a life of your own entirely. Get used to anxiety, tunnel-vision, insomnia and a whole host of other “professional challenges”.

“Doesn’t it seem like making an album should only take this amount of time and money but it never works out that way. The time and $ amount always triple. No wonder musicians say the hell with it and become sales clerks.”

Russ Cox


By jjdeprisco

Sonic explorer, sound artist, guitarist in Fricknadorable, software designer.