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"Come on, let's make a Christmas album" - A look back at the production

“Come on, let's do a Christmas album, you said. It's going to be fun, you said. "

That's exactly how one of “vierdafür” quotes me with a smile. This is the team behind our great Christmas album “Dezemberzeilen”.

"Vierdafür" are:

- Denis Sarp (drummer, songwriter)

- Maike Toussaint (nursery rhyme singer, actress)

- Markus Wimmer (rurton, audio engineer)

And me, Marcel Stoffels (singer, songwriter, in this case also the creative producer).

“Dezemberzeilen” is the third complete album by Markus and me in the rurtonstudio, together with Denis it is even the fifth. And although the guys seem to know what that means, this time Markus came up with the idea himself: “Come on, I get sick of all the Christmas carols ”(in the context of“ I ALWAYS hear the same because I'm a family man ”), we'll make an album ourselves. Just as we like it! "

He is not allowed to tell me something like that ... Countless creative processes start up that don't let me sleep until it's done! ;-) Fortunately, I was able to get Denis on board! So there was a strong copywriter on board with whom I could exchange ideas! Not to mention his drumming ... The whole thing was rounded off with Maike, who also brought her voice, story, ideas and many other qualities with her. “Vierdafür” were born.

I'm not rushing to the team aspects, the friendship, the motivation, the meaningfulness, but just try to give you a rough insight into this experience “Dezemberzeilen in the rurtonstudio”. Nice story. Because she once again taught us a few things ...


WHY

Like every album, “Dezemberzeilen” is a communicative, creative and emotional powerhouse, at least from my perspective. If, like us, you have limited sales structures and you really make it a project of your heart full of idealism, you have to ask yourself this question at some point.

"Why such an album?"

A whole album, with a story, with guest singers, with own songs, self-produced. Many may know, but most of the people out there no longer understand it. That's why we always say “Sure, you can stream too! With the 0.04 cents - I hope that is almost correct - you are supporting us relatively poorly. " Better to buy the album, support a great idea and promote a handmade and real project that many amateurs could benefit from at the same time.

Let's skip that and get to the heart of the "why" in a nutshell: friendship, leaving traces, a lot of love for bringing people together and simply "because you can" ... All of this led to "Dezemberzeilen".


RESOURCES

In a nutshell, but it should be mentioned. The budget was of course blown! We always differentiate internally between “soft” and “hard” costs. "Hard" costs, that's a pizza, from graphic designs to the pressing. So inevitable. "Soft" costs are things that we do not calculate among ourselves. Maintenance studio (electricity, equipment), trips, working hours. I think the album would have cost half a house if you had listed that. But everyone in our industry knows that you shouldn't do that ;-)

Roughly using the thumb you can say:

- ¾ year songwriting (means 3-5 hours of calls and countless hours of reflection per week)

- ½ year recording (2-3 days a week in the studio, play instruments, record, discard, sing, clean up, edit, quick & dirty mix, etc ...

- ¼ year of editing, mixing, mastering

In addition, there are countless other tasks that need to be coordinated: layout, graphics, photo sessions, press releases, promotion, social media, homepage incl. Shop, contacting the press and radios, coordinating guest singers, etc.

Planned budget:

"Let's see how far we can get when Markus and Marcel pre-finance the whole thing."

Actual budget:

As of November 2020: well over 10,000 euros (only hard) costs.

The numbers always lead to questions, I am happy to answer them for you. An album costs strength and money. We already know that, especially Denis and I have already seen that we easily put a good new car in each of our albums, including promotion and layout. It always amazes me what kind of expectations some bands have: "Should sound like Kasalla!" - Ah, then maybe like this here? - “Uuuhhh, no… no money! (No idea, no plan) ”. And we're talking about bands who want to build their future on it and want to be on the radio (that is, they have a claim to a certain standard). Such bands spend thousands of euros on equipment per year, but they don't get 2,500-4000 euros for a decent single that could really help them and open doors for them. May I say that at this point, I have the other side as a band and live singer experienced often enough.


HOW IT STARTED

Talks and planning, ideas and songwriting began as early as April 2019. The complex thing about such a thing is that at the end of the day the four people should also agree on the content. And we haven't played a note yet! And so there was a lot of “tinkering” about creative things, talking on the phone about text approaches and story drafts, and what happened that shouldn't happen: everyone initially had their own picture in mind. One wanted it more child-heavy, another more profound. With every draft and every song layout, however, we came closer and closer to the matter. The tug of war was almost ... but there came Corona!

Despite a good structure and planning, we work with MeisterTask as you may know, the Corona crisis led to difficulties in implementation. Above all communicative. Denis, Markus and I already knew each other. After a few years, you know what makes your colleagues tick. Maike was completely new to the team, had never experienced an album production and was not familiar with many processes. Suddenly I was no longer systemically relevant and the other three were in "family survival mode". So I had the first crisis. Because I was in the middle of the phase in which I was supposed to be constantly coming up with drafts for songs (sound, hooklines, arrangement ideas, melodies, first approaches).

But the team held up, we had a few good conversations and I had more strength. Several lows followed for almost all of them over the months. And by the way, that is completely normal with such a power output, in my experience. But of course the crisis no longer made many meetings possible. And for me personally this is relevant: I want to see, experience and feel people, especially when working in a team, in order to be able to assess what they need right now or where we are. But a lot of team love and understanding, and the right words in the right places caught everything again and again. Big compliments to Maike, new to the team and yet so important so quickly.


ORGANIZATION AND CREATIVITY

Without Markus organizational skills we would have perished. Countless calls and studio appointments were created in the iCal and thrown overboard or rescheduled due to contact restrictions. Countless creative ideas were structured and reflected on. Countless drafts were tidied up by him at night in the DAW and mixed “quick & dirty” so that the team could hear and understand the ideas ... Every stage of each individual song - sometimes with wrong turns - is still understandable. This is an unbelievable luxury when you consider that you used to go to a studio and as a band member you could hear the first mix at the earliest. For me as a producer, it's worth gold when I can hear drafts or layouts in the car over and over again and let it affect me in different moods ... All of that made room in my head, and that is so incredibly important in the creative phase. So Denis and I were able to finish the album with Maike's support. And then gradually the song layouts came from me. We were actually able to develop a few of them together in the studio, that would have been the normal way anyway. Maike rounded off the whole thing with a great story. This now connects every song with the next like a radio play and tells how a family experiences the Advent season until Christmas Eve.

Even if the weeks in the first lockdown were a bit lonely in the studio, we were gradually able to start seeing each other again in small teams and finally start with the first vocal recordings in summer 2020. Nice to sing Christmas carols at 35 degrees. That was really fun! In the evening we went to the pool, we laughed, planned, thought ... There were ideas for five more albums when Denis pointed the stars in the Eifel sky at the pool in the evening, but let's finish this first ... Creative minds ... But, I am yes even one.


RECORDING

We did everything ourselves. But what does that actually mean?

Drums: We decided to record a complete drum set on this album and it was worth it again. Denis is an incredibly flexible drummer who looks for the right sound in every song. Absolute focus, absolute luxury. A drummer who already sounds so good in the room. And there are reasons. Markus with a lot of calm and experience behind the desk, good-sounding rooms and a range of strategies to implement sounds ... Here I am not going into technical details at this point. But so much for your understanding, the dialogues go something like this: "I want the drum set on this song to have a limp-bizkit snare and sound like this." His reaction: “Denis? Heard? We try the following… ”. And a process starts that, as a creative producer, I don't always understand down to the last detail. Different snares, cables, compressors, new positions, microphones, distance to room microphones ... But I don't have to understand that either. Much more important is that Markus and Denis can implement what a producer needs. And that's really something great about our team.

Bass and guitars: We recorded in the direction. Fun fact: With a 200 EUR Thomann house brand Bass. I leave it up to you to judge how you like the bass on the album and what you do with this information. We had a lot of guitars in use: LesPaul, Strat, Tele, Taylor and Martin acoustic guitars. Everything was recorded through a Kemper except the acoustic guitars. Markus tracked, I played, played, played.

Piano and Keys: We have had a new piano in the studio for a few months. And that’s worth gold. It's not just a place for creative get-togethers, it's also a very important foundation for songwriting and production on this album. I thought many songs “from the piano”. And this production was also my first really intense experience with the piano as a studio musician. It was interesting that a piano is a relatively sluggish instrument and I am used to it, especially as a vocal coach, to always give the beat. But here in a toto-like arrangement with a drummer like Denis nailing the microtiming when he arrives with groups of three and I have 16th fills in my head, that's an interesting challenge on a “real” piano. The rest, especially the strings, we programmed or played in the direction and provided with the appropriate plugins. Don't ask me which one, I've tried, heard, sometimes amazed and had one shown to me. Our intern Marc Rohles - an incredibly talented keyboard player - also taught me a few tricks.

Singing: I'm not going into the special challenges of vocal recording at this point. Lots of guest singers = lots of communication. Both in terms of time and in the recording situation. Children or amateurs also mean a lot of directing work. Plant ideas, take away fears, but it was great fun! And it fits in with the spirit of December lines: people who are passionate about it should sing our songs. And they all had one thing in common: They were passionate about the cause.

Choir: I've decided that in order to create mass, the three of us always sing in unison (or octaves). You can hear that with several songs. This creates - also through the constellation of the voices (mezzo, tenor, baritone) a beautiful, broad and happy sound. The votes were great: Maike, Denis and I did it. I then arranged it live or the idea already existed in a layout.

Backing vocals: I sang the rest with the Trier singer Julia Olk. Second voices, or a doubling here and there. Because of the arrangements and the guest singers, we had to push one or the other point. Sometimes I made a note of something (like the choir in “Come and give me your hand”), sometimes I developed it on the piano, sometimes a second voice came up on its own ... It was great fun. Julia's timbre was ideal for it!


MIXING AND MASTERING

Markus then had the last mammoth achievement ahead of him. I don't want to go into the individual processes again here. But it has rarely happened to me that I was able to save so much in the end product. As a creative or producer, it is often the case that one wonders why certain decisions in the mix were made one way or another. It happens that in this incredibly complex process of “music production” a song is no longer the same at the end, you can no longer feel it. And sometimes looking for errors can no longer help, since these are all processes. In many places people think something about their decisions. And of course the creative people also have a vision of the matter. And even if there are always things that you might do differently now: December lines has become incredibly round. Hardly anything was lost in these processes. That may sound “half empty”, but I mean that very positively. It is a rarity that you end up sitting there and saying “Wow, that's 98% EXACTLY what I wanted”. And that in a team effort? I think that's a great record! The album sounds mega! And we owe that to Markus Mixing and the mastering by Alex Kloss.


SUMMARY

I would have liked to be more brief, but somehow that doesn't do justice to this affair of the heart. December lines was a feat of strength. She pushed us to the limit and taught a lot. Two things in particular: Choosing the right people who want to grow together is the most elementary thing for such a thing. Our team worked and overcame all difficulties! That makes me really proud.

The second thing is communication again. Whether it's the fact that all guests and contributors are totally grateful, or that everything worked internally: Communication and many conversations are incredibly important. I also learned again for myself: Talking always helps! And just to be clear: talking is not a voice message!

In this sense .. I love the result, this team and the work in the rurtonstudio. "Dezemberzeilen" is really worth hearing! Feel free to write us what you think!


more about „vierdafür“: www.vierdafuer.de
buy the album: www.dezemberzeilen.de

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