In the Studio Week 1

You need to write up a matrix of songs and the instruments / tracks you want in them said Kevin. Oh my – and here’s me, king of the Excel model – that’s has been the answer to many things in my life… and getting my act together for recording was going to need a plan. I spent a good morning planning out each song … and when I counted up the tracks I would need to record (and get right) I opted for a more contained approach – I really didn’t need (and couldn’t afford)  a “wall of sound” on each song.

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The picture above is the finished result, I used color coding to let me know which instruments were ready to record and which needed more practice… and blue meant done! I practiced and recorded each piece on my own on my iPad using a USB recording interface once I could play a part fluently all the way through, I would record it then mark the cell on my excel model green = ready for the studio. I could of course play all the instruments, but you can never underestimate the pressure of recording, how your lips tense and your fingers stiffen when you stand in from of a microphone with a whistle… how your voice changes as your vocal chords contract as you’re about to sing. You know that whatever you are about to do will be printed to CD, downloaded and listened to intently by people who paid money for it – that’s realization can (and does) freak you out – you want to be your absolute best… and like most things, the harder you try, the more mistakes you make and worse it gets.

Relax. That’s the key. Deep breaths, loosen up, shake out those arms, warm up that voice, hear the song in your head and make it come out your fingers or vocal chords just as you imagine it should sound, put your heart into it and be confident, you’ve played these so many times in front of critical audiences and always leave people smiling and happy… you just need to do that … alone in the studio.

Day 1, Tuesday 10th December 2013, we would start recording at 10am, so I got up early packed up all my instruments into the car, had breakfast with Dorothy then headed of to Nettleingham audio with my “Broons” carrier bag (it’s a scottish thing) with soup, sandwiches and a flask of throat-coat tea which Dorothy had made up for me. It was a bit weird, I don’t know why, but I felt like a kid going to 1st day at school. I was nervous.

At 10am my instruments were in the band room and Kevin and I reviewed the excel model. Years ago when I was recording with Feargal, we would do all tracks on a song and finish that song, then move on to the next. Kevin’s technique was to get me to play 12-string guitar on all songs which had 12-string guitar, then do all songs which needed 6-string guitar, layering each sound on each song and building them all up – but not finishing any of them until the very last track was recorded. This was incredibly effective. The consistency of sound and the balance of the finished product was spot-on. I told you before, Kevin is a craftsman – and he was ensuring quality from the very start.

When it was time to eat my soup, we had a click-track (tempo to keep me on the beat), 12-string guitar and a rough vocal on 5 songs, we were ploughing through them.

The day continued well , it was intense as you have to start right – whatever comes after the 1st track is building on what you have already done, so it needs a strong foundation. I did not use sheet music, I had made up a script for each song, this told me how many bars of introduction I would play, how many bars before the chorus, when was the solo, which instruments would start and stop – and when. When you’re on your own and playing a different instrument (e.g. fingerpicked 6-string guitar) over what you’ve already recorded on strummed 12-string guitar, you need to have the same “feel” of the song that you had when you did the 1st track. This was strange at first, but after a few tracks, which I now know Kevin was never intending to use, I settled down and got right into the music – Kevin heard this and the recordings really started to work. Having that independent musical brain paying attention and matching with what you have done before was invaluable – and Kevin was the master of tact, when I was off the beat he would say (innocently) “can you hear the click track?” or ” you need to get this one right in the pocket” – I knew we meant “that was sloppy… do it again” I would play the piece again paying more attention to the beat and hey presto – it worked!

We stopped at 5pm, I was exhausted, drove home on a high, told Dorothy everything about what we’d done (it’s that 1st day of school thing again), ate my dinner, drifted off in a nap (boy I was tired), woke up with a “I can’t be napping, I’ve things to do!” sort of panic, then headed up to my music room to practice and record on my iPad again, getting ready for the next day and working on my weaker (less played) instruments.

By the end of Thursday, I was really tired – but we were pretty much half way through and where we planned to be. I had a gig in Mahers, Lake Oswego on Friday evening – and it felt good to just play, me, my guitar and a happy crowd singing along with me – let rip and relax… a nice end to the week.

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