Acoustic Sounds
By: Evan Toth

July 25th, 2023



Mastering Engineer and Audio Restoration Expert, Michael Graves, Discusses the Stax/Craft Recordings Boxset, "Written in Their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos"

Graves Shares the details of the ambitiously expansive project

When we listen, what are we really hearing? Are we transfixed on the mastering, the quality of the vinyl, the hardware we’re using? Or, perhaps we are merely listening to the sound and skill that the musicians are creating as a group? The truth is we’re listening to all of those things, but there is one element that we often tend to forget about and it reminds me of the old adage, if a tree falls in the woods - and there’s no one there to witness the event - does it really make a sound? One of the things we’re listening to, but rarely get to hear, are the sounds of the songwriters as they manipulate lyrics and chords and notes over an out of tune piano with nothing to keep them company, but a cooling cup of joe and a tape recorder. Those sounds happen long before the sounds that present themselves to us in our cars and listening rooms; seldom, however, are we given the opportunity to be a fly on the wall during the writing, arranging and demo sessions. If you love the music produced by the Stax record company, you’ll want to hear this.

Craft Recordings and Stax recently released "Written in Their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos" a sprawling box set produced by Cheryl Pawelski, featuring 7 CDs that hold 146 tracks of demo and songwriting recordings. Some of the music will be very familiar to Stax music lovers, and a few will have you scratching your head as you ask yourself how such a gem of a song could have been forgotten, left to attract only dust on publisher’s shelves. While there’s no debating the enjoyability and archival importance of this project, here, we take a closer look at the sound of the Stax songwriters and the process of getting all of those tapes together and creating something suitable for a listening session. Grammy award-winning mastering engineer and audio restoration expert, Michael Graves was tasked with making each of these recordings sound as good as possible without losing the raw charm inherent on a songwriter’s palette. He is kind enough to join me to discuss the tricks of the trade he employed to give you a front row seat to hear the things you didn’t think you’d ever have the opportunity to hear.