Monday, January 30, 2012

January Recording Report, Part 4

We didn't record last night.  Instead I went over to Don's place and we mixed for 4 hours.  Mixing is a surprisingly visual process -- each mic and each take shows up on the screen as a separate track with its own waveform, and you can tell by looking at the shapes where the timing is off, where someone is playing ahead of the beat or behind.  (How many tracks on Be My Man? A HUNDRED TRACKS. OK, just for a few minutes while we were splitting up different sections into separate tracks and then combining them again. But still!)

Sitting in the copilot's seat watching the producer mix for 4 hours sounds very boring, but it isn't, it's hypnotic.  Don drags errant horn hits into alignment with the bass drum and replays the section and suddenly it's not muddy anymore.  And aside from cleanup detail and comping (which take sounds better where?) there are also decisions about how to make things sound, should the horns be funereal or bright, should the bass and snare break through the surface of the mix or sit within it, should the vocals sound gritty or polished?  We listened to a couple of Adele tunes to hear how her vocals are treated. Plate reverb, says Don, and a nice mic with good compression. We'll do that too.

That's where the magic happens, putting on EQ and compression and reverb, routing the raw tracks through different treatments and enhancements, blending in the room mics, technical decisions.  There are so many options, infinite options, that it's almost overwhelming.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

January Recording Report: Part 3

The horns recording session went really well, with Erin on sax, Cecil on trombone, and John on trumpet. The different sounds horn players make when they’re warming up are great: John buzzing his lips together, Cecil moving the trombone slide in and out, Erin testing her octave key, all of it resonating in the space.

The studio gets very cold on account of being in the basement of a 19-century factory building made of stone and brick, and while the heaters work well they’re also really noisy, so while we’re tracking we have to shut them off, and if the horns get too cold they start to go flat. Playing them helps keeps them warm, so we had to keep up a steady pace.

Don set up the three horn players in a row, each with a different style of microphone, plus a big condenser to capture the blended sound. Cecil mock-complained that his mic was the plainest looking, until Don told him it was the same kind of mic Phil Collins uses to record his vocals. Zing!

Early in the intro of “Be My Man,” you can hear either Heather or me saying, “oops,” which was funny every take. Also funny: every time Don referred to the headphones as “cans,” which was all the time. Cecil had to work to find a way to wear his where he didn’t hit them with his slide.

I’m still new to working with horns, and don’t really speak horn yet, so there was a certain amount of English to English translation going on. “Let’s leave off the tag at the end of the first chorus” seemed self-evident to me when I said it, but it took a little explaining to clarify that I meant hold the note instead of playing a melody, not stop entirely. Luckily there seemed to be the critical mass of people to make good communication possible, and the couple of critical directions I had to give made sense to everyone.

So interesting, the different kinds of muscularity that are required of the musicians, so much of it invisible in breath and mouth, Cecil asking Erin how she’s tonguing a particular note, the three of them coordinating the moments when they breathe to make the sound cleaner. In the end we got multiple great-sounding takes on both songs, and the new parts for Anais sounded just right.

Next up: me on uke and vocals! My strumming nail looks like it might want to break, so I’m hoping it holds out for a couple more days…

Cecil and John on trombone and trumpet

Erin on sax

Erin's horn arrangement for Anais

Thursday, January 26, 2012

January Recording Report, Part 2 1/2

We had a quickie rehearsal on Tuesday to run the new horn parts for "Anais" in context and make adjustments, which went well. The consensus/collaboration process gets increasingly smooth, which is interesting.  Heather and Bob and Dobson and Cecil all had good ideas and spoke up, and Erin, who writes our horn arrangements as well as playing sax, was good-natured about making changes on the fly, and all of my better-trained-than-I musicians were making geeky theory jokes I didn't understand, and by the end of our scant hour it sounded right and everyone was pleased.  So we'll go into the studio with the horns on Friday night.  To be continued!

Friday, January 20, 2012

January Recording Report, Part 2

We had another great recording session with Don last night, this time with Heather and Stacy doing violin, keys, and backing vox.

We started around 6 with Heather in the main room on violin and Stacy at the upright piano in the room where Don sets up his gear pirate radio station style (it's a shared space), which let us record the piano and violin together to save time.  There's a plexiglass-covered doorway between the two rooms so there are sight lines for hand signals and such, and the mics let us all talk to each other.  I went back and forth to play musical director/work out final parts/hold a light so Heather could see her music.  I had a couple good ideas for doubling the violin in a few places that she was excited about (the doubled part is one she originally told me she thought was cheesy, but I think she's finally warmed up to it now). The ladies hit each song in just a few takes.  Heather went home and the rest of us ordered takeout.  Then it was time for the backing vocals, which Stacy nailed even at 9 months pregnant, having just eaten a lot of tacos.  She really is a pro. 

We had talked about using organ instead of piano on Be My Man to bring out the soul sound, so at about midnight (totally cracked out after a full day followed by 6 hours of recording work), we moved into the room upstairs where there's a little Hammond organ.  It looks like something you might find in a churchgoing grandparent's basement, and it runs on a motor that forces air through valves to make the sound.  It doesn't get much more analog.  We eventually figured out how to turn it on and messed around with the stops and switches and Don miked it up and Stacy did her thing. 

I listened to what we had afterwards, the rhythm section tracks from the other night plus Heather and Stacy's new parts, and these songs are starting to sound awesome.  Next up: the horns!

Tuning the violin to the piano

Heather adjusting her parts

Stacy at the Hammond

Thursday, January 19, 2012

January Recording Report, Part 1

We are in the midst of recording two new songs: "Be My Man" and "Anais," working with producer Don Godwin.  Exciting!  We're laying down the tracks in multiple sessions, first the rhythm section, then violin and keys and backing vox (Stacy is imminently about to have a baby, so best to get her done asap!), then horns, then uke and my vocals last. 

Recording session #1 was last night and it went well! Bob and Mike hit it off with Don and the vibe was good. About 3 hours of setup of drums and mics, then 2 hours of playing, an hour per song. The building is this huge 19th-century can factory that includes a bunch of interesting arty businesses. The studio is in the cavernous basement. We ordered in delicious but terrible Thai food and I had a stomachache the whole time. We got some good takes. :)

Don setting up his console

Mike on the drums

Bob lounging

Thursday, January 5, 2012

We’re starting to work on some new songs for 2012, and we’ll be playing a few of them for you at this show (which is scary, but exciting). We hope you can make it!

Wed Jan 11, 8pm
Sidewalk Café, 94 Ave A, NYC
no cover /
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