(Most of this is for the reviewers, but I'd appreciate feedback from people in collegiate groups on the question I pose at the end!)
First of all, thanks to Dave, Elie and Kimmie for the obvious thought and effort you put into your reviews! While we got panned for some stuff that I had already figured probably deserved it, all three reviews provided helpful criticism we'll take to heart. I really appreciate the detailed feedback in Dave Trendler's review (and all of the reviews he writes!).
I wanted to comment on the overall thrust of the three reviews, as exemplified by this quote:
"Mixed Company doesn't seem to know what it's doing."
I feel Dave is completely right on this as far as our mastery of the recording process goes, though not our singing abilities. This was the first album we tried to record on our own instead of in Bill Hare's studio, we were unprepared and in a time crunch, and we paid for it, both in the quality of the product and literally, in money paid to Bill to clean up tracks that weren't edited very well.
It might surprise some readers of this review that Mixed Company has actually been improving dramatically as a live group over the last few years. If you're in the Stanford area come to one of our shows and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised! I also think Shades of Red fares better in a side-by-side comparison with our last couple efforts ("Tree Museum" and "One Light On") than RARB scores might indicate. We took some musical risks and the album definitely has a lot of potentially good ideas executed poorly, but I'll take that any day over boring ideas and repertoire executed well. At the end of the day I stand by our decision to avoid some more "safe" repertoire and arranging choices that might have led to a more polished-sounding but less interesting, at least to my ears, product.
Reviewers seemed surprised that we allowed Stacy's Mom and especially the Disco Medley to make their way onto this album. Quite frankly, to answer that question, all I can do is plead the "group politics" defense. Those songs were live favorites and actually among our more impressive live repertoire last year, and our fans and alumni appreciate them. Things like the cheesy "My Girl" interlude in Stacy's Mom that flop miserably on the album garner reliable laughs in the live context they were meant for. A more disciplined group probably would have left those songs off the CD, but we voted to record them pretty much knowing they would get panned.
Quick question for reviewers / anyone else who's heard this album or just wants to speculate hypothetically: Obviously it's a good idea to front-load and back-load your best material, and judging from track scores I think we did that quite successfully. But I'm curious whether it may have been a bad idea to stick the three weakest songs (which we definitely knew were the weakest by a considerable margin, and the scores confirm it) back-to-back in the middle, versus interspersing them with better stuff?
Finally, a question for anybody from a college group that's successfully made the leap to do-it-yourself recording. (Back Row? Octopodes?) How do/did you handle the problem of quality control? Aside from running out of time and hastily recording some tracks, I find the biggest problem we had in recording Shades of Red is that not everyone was well prepared for the task of running the recording sessions. Anybody can learn to use ProTools software, but coaching the singers to give 100% in the studio is not an easy thing, and it became clear to me that of the 6 or 7 different members we had sharing that task, some had VERY different standards than others for what constituted an acceptable studio performance. One solution is to have the One Guy Who Knows What He's Doing™ sacrifice his life and GPA for a year to do a hugely disproportionate amount of the recording. Barring that unappealing option, what do you do? How do you get the quality control when not everyone in the group has experience recording and/or directing / coaching singers? I'd appreciate any feedback you guys have.