Studio: Week 1 Wrap Up
So, my plans of blogging daily about the studio quickly went out the window, as many of my plans do (remember my idea for air-conditioned boxer briefs?). It’s a combination of the studio actually being way more busy than I was initially expected, me having ZERO time outside to blog, and, of course, my overwhelming lack of motivation in writing non-musical things. Nonetheless, I’m going to catch you up with week 1 (of 3) in the studio.
Day 1, as you may have read, was scratch tracks and pre-production. Day 2 was more of the same—we finished the scratch tracks and decided on the last two songs that would be on the album (congrats to Isaac Johnson and Brad Passons, whose song [written with me, obvi] was the very last one we choose). With that done, we just had to prepare for day 3, when the players started coming in. Note I said ‘players’; not ‘playas’, as Stephen and I were there all along. Holla!
Before the drums and bass could track (‘track’ is the fancy word for ‘record their parts’), we* needed to write charts for them. ‘Charts’ are what artists and producers give to players so that they can sight-read and play along with songs they’ve never heard before. Back in the day this was just sheet music, but as we’re now all lazy and stupid no one can read sheet music. And by ‘no one’ I mean ‘me’. Stephen, being a worker bee and a music school grad, was in charge of writing the charts out. I, being an artiste, was in charge of laying on the couch and answering the question, “What chord are you playing there?” with, “Ummmmmm….” This exchange has been exaggerated for comedic effect, but only slightly.
Day 3, and when I got there the drummer (Paul Mabury) was already setting up his (totally bad ass, from the 1960s) drum kit. James Gregory, the bass player, arrived just a few minutes later. Toting not only 4 basses all older than me but his very own rack of preamps. I am absolutely not going to attempt to explain what exactly those are, but suffice it to say that they give him a lot of control over his particular sound (often called ‘tone’ by music nerds). This was not something I’ve ever seen a bass player do before.
The guys set up and Stephen put, wait for it, THIRTEEN mics on the drum kit. My (admittedly) limited experience has led me to believe that 4-7 mics was plenty to record drum sounds. So I was pretty surprised when he told me what all he was mic’ing. But that’s why he’s a pro. Once all the tedious silliness was taken care of (what the educated folk call ‘record engineering’), the guys just launched into a song.
For never having heard these songs, and us really not having an arrangement prepared for them, they did an unbelievable job of coming in and getting what direction we wanted the record to go, and then playing exactly what needed to be played without us telling them anything, really. I don’t think I offered a single meaningful suggestion all day—I mainly just grunted in the affirmative or negative when they asked me direct questions.
Once bass and drums were done (hereinafter referred to as the ‘rhythm** section’), there was a lot of producery things for Stephen to do, getting the tracks all clean and shiny for the guitar/keys to play to. So day 4 was a mix day for him, and an off day for me. After three days of watching people work hard on my music, I was pretty wiped out. So that worked out well.
We came back together for day 5, which will always be my least favorite day of a record. Acoustic guitars. I play guitar. I have for over ten years now. I am wildly average at it. Live shows are formatted such a way that this isn’t a hindrance. I’m more than good enough to accompany myself live. The studio is much harsher environment. I don’t like recording my guitar playing—it shows me just how adequate it is. But i did it anyway. It was basically about 7 hours of Stephen trying to tactfully tell me to play it again, but better. And in tune. Luckily I was able to persuade my friend and writing partner Justin Halpin to come down and play two of the songs we’d written. And I was very happy to see that, even though he’s a MUCH better guitar player than I am, it took him just as many takes to get it right as it did me. Minor validation, there.
When we come back next week, we’ll jump right into the electric guitars. Then keys, vocals, and extra ear candy stuff (strings, horns, percussion, background vocals, flugelhorn, etc). Stay tuned!
*Anytime I say ‘we’ it’s safe to assume I mean ‘Stephen’. My main responsibility in the studio is playing solitaire, fetching things, and comic relief (duh). Oh, and I sing sometimes.
** ‘Rhythm’ is the hardest word in the english language to spell. I swear it.