Yesterday HT faves Umphrey’s McGee released a compilation of their best musical moments of 2011, as selected by the group’s fans, assembled into a two-set format, called Hall Of Fame: Class Of 2011. Hall of Fame: Class of 2011 is available in most digital formats and CD via UMLive.net and as a limited edition, split color vinyl through the band’s online store. On Tuesday we shared a track from the release and today we talk about the process that went into the creation of HoF: 2011 with Kevin Browning of the Umphrey’s McGee organization.
[Analog Mastering Equipment]
Hidden Track: Can you take us through the process of how you took the fans’ selections and sequenced them into a simulated show?
Kevin Browning: It’s equivalent to preparing an intricate meal with someone else providing the ingredients for you. Not every item is going to fit with the next so it’s a matter of finding what plays well with others.
It starts with a metric ton of listening, beginning with the songs that receive the most votes and continuing down the line. I make notes about the performance, vocals, recording, mood, style of improv and the overall energy. Notating how each song begins, ends or transitions is a key piece of the puzzle because ultimately I have to make a bunch of songs flow as if they we’re actually performed in succession. There are only so many choices based on what songs receive the most votes. You have to create the sequence it in a way that the band realistically could have performed it. Making hard edits from 1348 > Robot World > 1348 didn’t actually occur but it easily could have (especially if Joel was writing the setlist).
There were no shortage of odd ingredients that needed reconciling in this year’s class so that’s when you have to get creative. For example, the Red Tape from Summer Camp (which was the #1 vote getter this year) came stumbling out of 1348 in a manner that left no clearly defined starting point. So I opted to drop in the on the downbeat by adding stick clicks that weren’t actually there to give the appearance that Kris had counted the tune off, which is entirely plausible. Every year creates new challenges and therefore new opportunities.
HT: What’s involved with “an old fashioned analog remastering?”
KB: Equal parts science, art and voodoo. I took the digital two-track recordings into the IV Lab and set up an analog chain through their API console & a variety of outboard compressors, limiters and EQs (For you gear sluts out there, an Airfield Liminator 2 added the bulk of the color). The reality is the recordings were captured on a digital medium so I’m not trying to re-invent the wheel. Analog sounds delicious and a little sweetening can go a long way – warm up the bottom up, add life to the high end and normalize the levels a bit so it has a chance of standing up to your iPod on shuffle. Louder is not better but most modern records don’t really seem to be concerned about that.
But mastering is mostly voodoo. I just turn knobs until it sounds good.
[Airfield Liminator 2]
HT: Does your list of your favorite musical moments of UM 2011 match up with what the fans selected?
KB: There is quite a bit of overlap. For two years a row I have been continually impressed by the selections that roll in atop the ballot. Live music can be an interesting animal as sometimes the experience of the event can elevate the memory of a particular song or version. With very few exceptions I feel that these great live moments translate to tape extraordinarily well and will stand the test of time. I’m not sure how many times I’ve heard Soaring Uplifting Jam but I’m quite certain I’ll never tire of it.
And if you’ll allow me a short derivation on that note, when we put the ballot together we pulled every set list from 2011 but the UMBowl S2 quarter was NOT on the list. I took the liberty of adding SUJ to the album because sometimes you just have to pull rank. We always say it’s a democracy here at UM but it’s really a democratic republic, fans vote for us knowing that we’ll be able minded representatives of the people.
HT: As an audio engineer, can you briefly explain the benefit of 24-bit FLAC audio vs. regular FLACs?
KB: I definitely can not *briefly* explain the benefit/difference that surrounds those extra 8 bits. It’s the source of countless hours of audio geekery that I can assure your average reader has little interest in or patience for. Very simply put, recording at a larger bit depth gives you more dynamic range. It provides audio some additional room to breath in a numerical sense, which can enhance the perceived quality of a recording. If anyone really wants to get lost in the wormhole, I’d suggest reading this post.
HT: Don’t sell yourself short, you can and did briefly it explain it! One final question: how “limited” is the limited-edition vinyl?
KB: 1000 total copies pressed with no re-order. 100 are allocated for independent retailers across the county, 90 are included with HOF custom LP auctions, 60 are band stash/promo and the remaining 750 will be available in our online store or at a UM show coming to a town near you. When they are gone they are gone.