Picking Takes for the Record

For the new Rockford Choirs CD coming out on May 27, I had about 5-6 hours of live recordings from concerts last summer in Europe.

That was far too much to listen to objectively, selecting the best version of each of 16 songs.

So before I started, I developed this process to select each song:

1. Listen to the first 30 seconds of each version. If you have a strong positive memory of one performance, start with that one. Don’t keep listening past 0:30.

2. Give each a star rating in iTunes, considering the following criteria:

  • Musicality
  • Intonation
  • Recording quality
  • Appropriateness of space to the selection (Michael McGlynn’s music doesn’t want to live in the same space as a Tallis piece)
  • Solo quality
  • Ephemera (bells chiming in the background, etc.)

Select a rating based on a holistic assessment of those thirty seconds. Don’t give the first recording you consider a 5* or 1* rating – you want a cushion for later versions.

3. After you’ve listened to all versions (in my case, as many as six), listen to the entire performance of your top-ranked version. You are listening for anything objectionable later in the take. Use the same criteria as above, listening for anything that would have lowered your rating in the first thirty seconds. It is very, very important that you listen to the entire take (including applause if live) – I have made this mistake and ended up with additional mixing time to substitute a track.

4. If anything stands out, look to your second-ranked recording. And so on.

5. Repeat for every song to be selected for the album.

6. Wait a few days and listen to all of your top ranked versions again, ideally in the order they will appear on the album. Anything jump out at you?

7. Ask a fresh pair of ears to listen, at least to the first 30-60 seconds of each version you’ve selected. They will be listening with different ears and different criteria – so they catch different things.

For me, this selection process probably took me ten hours of close listening over a month or more; without this algorithm in place it would have easily taken me twice as long.

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