The Making of Huntsville 96 Part 1 of 3 (or How I Spent My Spring Vacation 2009) by Chris Rabold

Now that we’ve got the archive machine cranked up and in full gear I thought maybe it was time I write something that might cater to the fans with a little tech-geek in them. After all, I know I enjoy reading about some of the behind the scenes wizardry that goes into the making of records, the hows and whys of live audio and really anything involving the production of music. It then occurred to me that maybe everybody, not just my fellow pocket protector clad brethren, might like to hear about what goes in to the making of a Widespread Panic archive release. That being said, we’re gonna do this in two ways:  first, a general overview of how it all goes down complete with whatever random anecdotes I can impart and then I’ll have a section filled with enough specific gear talk to make a whole taper section drool. We’ll do it in 3 parts. Sound good? Okay then…

The First Steps

For this latest go ‘round Horace and myself started working on this year’s slate of releases in January (I think), early February at the latest. Horace approached me with 8 or 10 shows that had made his short list. At the point those shows were chosen, and at the point Horace had literally pulled the multitrack tapes themselves, it became my job to sit down and go through the tapes track-by-track, song-by-song. This was to ensure that the recordings were intact or at least suitable to be mixed. Since we were dealing with many different years, and thus many different tours, worth of shows things changed a good bit from show to show regarding track count, layout, sound, etc. It took a while to go through them all. (I’ll detail in the last installment how I’m able to store “scenes” in our console at Brown Cat to easily recall different tours’ track layouts.) To start with though each show had to be analyzed to make sure all the pertinent info was there. This means sitting there soloing each track going “okay, that’s the high hat…that’s Mike’s vocal…that’s the Wurlitzer…what the hell is that?!?!” until I was able to feel confident that I had all the inputs accounted for. All in all everything came up just fine. In fact, the only show that I found to have any real “uh oh” hiccups was Huntsville….and naturally that ended up being the one we ended up tackling first. Thanks, Horace.  But not to worry…the hiccups I encountered were easily remedied. I’ll cover that in part 2. Moving on…

Once I was able to say that all the potential candidates had recordings worthy of release Horace then moved on to the widdling down phase. You guys should hear some of the pros and cons discussions we have regarding possible releases. You’re at the center of them all! You’ll be glad to know that what we usually end up having are healthy debates ripe with a lot of “yeah, but…”. All angles are discussed I assure you. Ask my neighbors who watch me pace around my yard yapping into the phone at all hours. Anyway, from the original selections Horace then trimmed it down to a final 3. That doesn’t mean selections 4 through whatever will never see the light of day or are forever banished from consideration. It simply means that for the moment it was decided that they’d sit on the shelf a little longer. You’ll see them all and then some. Everybody take a deep breath.
So as not to drag this out too awfully long I’ll just say that at this point in the game there was some more spirited talk, the soliciting of the occasional band guy’s opinion and I’m assuming a good deal of headache on Horace’s part. I had studio time booked at Chase Park Transduction Studios here in Athens slated to begin the Wednesday after the shows at Orange Beach. That was the deadline to decide just what the hell we were gonna do. Here’s an interesting tidbit for ya; of the 3 finalists it really came down to 2 that were neck and neck. We essentially knew what WP Archive releases 3 and 4 were gonna be, we just didn’t know what was gonna be 3 and what was gonna be 4. One was the overwhelming choice of the fans (based on the ridiculous amount of feedback Horace received via email) and one that clearly needed to come out at some point and the other was the rarity with some really dark, dirty energy that we knew would appeal heavily to the hardcores on the fringe of Panic fanhood. What to do, what to do…hmmmmm? In the end I think a decision was made the morning Garrie and I started taking gear over to the studio to begin working. Horace made the call and I was off to the races.

…more to come on parts 2 and 3…

Read Part 2

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