I am very happy to announce that I have signed with Spin Doctors Music Group/Next Generation Management. Al Brock and Kristin Johnson will be at the helm, of successfully launching my next album in May!

We kicked off this wonderful celebration atCRS (Country Radio Seminar) last week.

The week before the recording date, is hustle-bustle time for the 'producer's assistant', well yes, in fact this person is Chakra Bleu, wearing yet 'another hat' , which I refer to another job full of a lot of responsibility and planning. 

Chakra Bleu's 'assistant' (Lol) has a two projects which includes finances and food.

1) Finances: She is responsible for writing out the checks and thank you cards for all the musicians, engineer and studio costs. 

2) The day of recording is intense. Every minute is accounted for by having the charts in perfect order in a fancy Bleu folder, provided for each musician. The cover singer and harmony singer will have a folder including lyrics instead of music charts. The engineer folder includes both lyrics and charts. All folders includes a list that has the order of songs to be recorded.

The vibe needs to be professional, fun and laid back. Keeping that mix in order is a minute by minute job of guidance that comes from the producer (Chakra Bleu) .

The 'assistant' has prepared a snack bag in a festive paper bag, for each musician, that includes an envelope with their check and special thank you card, a baggie of nuts/raisons/M&M's, a power bar, a couple pixie sticks, Snicker's bar, and a bottled water.

Each bag has the musicians name on the outside that corresponds to the name on their envelope and music folder. This organisation is very important, because if for example, the lead guitarist got the folder of the dobro player, the charts would be highlighted in a different colour that designates where the musician is supposed to decorate in between a certain phrase of the song. 

If you recall Part One, the producer has made colour coded charts that apply to the lead guitarist,  banjo/fiddle/dobro/mando (utility player), and keyboardist.

This treat bag gives the musicians necessary snack food, that is essential throughout the day long session that includes twelve songs. The focus and energy spent is tremendous, and the GORP (good 'ole raisons and peanuts) and other snacks help keep the musicians attention sharp, as well as their body energised throughout the session. The treat bag is fun, too!

The assistant needs to plan for the lunch menu for the musicians and engineer. The producer has found that it is advantageous to keep the musicians together at lunch time. The synergy would be disrupted if the musicians took off for lunch elsewhere, and the time factor would be longer, figuring travel time to get a lunch a couple miles away, as well as unexpected time and events that may come up in the dining out factor. 

So the evening before the studio day, the 'producers assistant', buys Non GMO bread, sliced beef, ham, turkey, pickles, (personally slices onions and tomatoes); condiments of mayo and mustard; sliced cheese, cheese squares, crackers, paper plates, napkins, baby carrots and hummus; bananas, apples, grapes, pretzels, soda and  (beer which by the way, will ONLY be provided AFTER the session that day is finished!) Another treat for a job well done!

The day of the session, the assistant arrives an hour early with coolers that has all the delicious lunch makings. She places the fruit on the studios kitchen dining room table so the musicians can eat these nutritional  treats anytime during the session. At lunch time, she sets out all the sandwich makings and soda, utensils, napkins, etc. She oversees that all the musicians are well fed and feeling welcome to the food at hand. Even details of refrigeration is her responsibility so that the meats and condiments do not spoil. It is her responsibility to clean up after the session making sure the nice kitchen and dining room is as clean, as spotless it was when she arrived. 

 

It stretches ones ear to ask it to listen to the percussion parts in a song. Surely it is the music or lyrics that draws one into the song first and foremost. Often it is by the 2nd or 3rd time that a person hears  more details of lyrics and or musical nuances. For each person it is a different experience.

Yet, most people aren't aware of how the percussion puts the 'frosting on the cake'. Percussion instruments in pop/rock and country usually include tambourine, shakers and maybe stretching it to add cabasa, cowbell and congas. The sky is the limit really for the artists/producer. 

Yet these spicy percussion instruments add SO MUCH!!! When I put my 'producer' hat on, which means that I totally separate myself from the songwriter and singer, then I am able to shift gears to ASK THE QUESTION: WHAT SONGS WOULD FLOURISH WITH PERCUSSION? OF THOSE SONGS, WHAT PERCUSSION INSTRUMENTS WILL BEST BE SUITED AND WHERE?

So again, TIME IS MONEY in the studio. That means EVERY detail must be worked out beforehand. Chakra Bleu plays her own rhythm guitar parts and the mandolin on one song on this album as well. 

First of all, I determine which guitar/instrument is best for each song, which is determined by the particular guitars tone. Some guitars have warmer tones than other, while some are more crisp, having the ability to cut through with more treble tones. On several songs, I'll play two rhythm guitar parts: one which is on the acoustic guitar and another that is on the electric guitar. I also have the option to chose a twelve string, which has rich tones that 'ring out' more, as a result of the four octave strings and two courses of strings that are unison.

If I'm playing one of my electric guitars (which is either a G&L or a Epiphone Les Paul which I've loaded with Seymour Duncan Slash Humbucker pickups), then I determine the specific effect pedals for each and every part of the song. 

The effect pedals I'll use are Digital Delay, Tremolo, Chorus, Flanger of Boss, and the OCD/overdrive pedal by Fulltone. I also determine if the guitar itself is in the low, mid or treble range. And then to add the specific tone on my amp. For studio I use the Fender Pro Junior, because of its straight forwardness, that lets me grab the preferred tones more specifically from my electric guitar and effect pedals. 

Each song may use 1-4 different effect pedals in different places. So for example a song my start out with Digital Delay in the verses, yet then I may add Overdrive on the Chorus and the Tremolo on the bridge.

It is also important that my effects are not 'rubbing' (not audibly cooperating with the lead guitar players tones and effects) *This can get complex, to say the least!

** That is why it is always a good idea to play an acoustic guitar part, whenever playing an electric rhythm guitar part. 

Secondly, I carefully determine exactly what style of strum for each song. Some songs will have a combination of strumming and picking. Some songs have places where the producer has arranged for the guitar to drop out for a verse, etc. 

The parts are most extensive and painstakingly picky! I notate any specific melodic parts as well. I write down what strum/ pick,  effects and dynamics when and where on each song. 

I practice and practice and practice, so that the rhythms and effects are consistent and perfect before going into the studio. 

When recording on the studio date, live with the drummer, bass, keys and lead guitarist, one can expect that slight changes will occur, for improvement is being made on each take. 

Wearing the rhythm guitarist, and producer hat at the same time is not easy, under the head phones, with the loud crash of the drums very apparent in the main room.

Yet it is my job to readily assess if the lead guitar and Chakra's guitar are rhythmically in sync and if the tones are working out. This especially applies, when the effects of my electric guitar and the lead guitarist's effects are in play. Two wave forms will muddy the ear. Wha? The producer (moi) aims to have a CLEAN recording, where there's a pleasing sound to the listeners ear. This happens when instruments are not all fighting it out in the mid-range, or all playing loudly, and off rhythm. Yes, the charts tell the musicians what key, dynamics, tempo and so forth, yet there is so much more going on when the record button is pushed!

Long story short, this gal comes to the studio prepared and then some! 

(I realise that this was way too much detail for many of y'all Lol) .

 

The producer as you have been reading, has been very busy! 

Meanwhile, the lead singer 'Chakra Bleu' (moi) needs to rehearse a lot for this recording session. 

 The best key for Chakra has been determined already. Now it's time to get into the vocal details of each song from start to finish. This is where my vocal training has come in the picture to help ship-shape these songs to the best of my abilities.

I sang my own harmonies on my last four albums. It's a lot of work to arrange three more vocal parts, as well as arrange the time to do it, well after the main vocals have been laid down, so as not to over tax the vocal chords. The advantage of singing all the harmonies myself is that the vocal blend is perfect, for the tone is the same.

Yet, on this session, I had one weekend to record all the parts, not including the 'fixes'. (I'll explain that term later:) 

So the Producer had to figure out the timing of who was doing what, when and how. The where: Warner/Chappel on 16th Ave, Music Row, Nashville, TN.

The game plan is as follows: The musicians arrive at 10:00AM on the Saturday and were scheduled until 6:00PM. After that, the main vocals would begin until 10PM

On Sunday, 10AM-10PM was vocals again.(Main vocals and harmony vocals) This time line meant that I would need to hire a professional kick-ass harmonist! A singer who could make excellent time and get the job done and quickly! With three part harmony's, "Oohs and Ahhs" interspersed as well, this meant a Work Horse, and a vocalist whose voice was well conditioned for such an intensive session. 

I had briefly met Kim Morrison, through Ronnie Godfrey. Her reputation is Wicked Slammin', having sung harmonies for live and studio gigs for countless famous Recording Artists. I've never met anyone who knew how to direct the voice with such precision as she did!

I was nervous when I asked her if she would be interested in singing on my project. To my delight, she was very interested. She was familiar with my music through Ronnie's previous recording sessions with me. She was laid back yet held an air of solid confidence. I already knew of many Nashville Greats whom she had sung with, yet when she told me that she also sung with Roy Orbison and Mose Allison, I almost dropped my phone! Roy Orbison has been a strong influence in my music.             

She asked for a copy of the songs and for me to tell her what I had in mind for the harmonies on those songs. A week later, I sent her a copy of the guitar/vocal demos along with the lyrics for each song. I tend to be a perfectionist of sorts and so sending a simple Garage Band guitar/vocal demo (with its imperfections) to someone, makes my skin crawl! And yet, it had to be done. ugh. We agreed that we would get together a couple weeks before the studio date and go over the suggestions and ideas that we would both be preparing for the studio.

Now, it was time to totally focus my mind on harmony arrangements for the twelve songs. What a job! It's kind of strange. It's sort of like I have a closet full of many fine dress hats. One is the producer; another for the harmonist; another for the key player; another for the guitarist; for the lead singer; the percussionist; accountant; producer's assistant and more. No- don't worry: I don't have split personalities. Lol!

Again, I played the demo's over and over again, while driving or at the gym, until I started hearing the third above the tonic, the fifth below the tonic and then, oohs coming out here and there. I actually really like arranging harmonies. It just takes a moment to 'shift' my focus in that direction. I made notations on my lyric sheets where I would suggest where the harmonies could come in on the songs.  

The evening when I was to meet Kim to share notes on the harmonies, was long awaited. I surely put some time in on the harmonies, and anticipated working alongside her on this preliminary rehearsal of sorts. 

After offering me a cup of coffee, we went into her rehearsal room. I saw that she had already underlined the areas where she heard harmonies. My lyric sheets were similarly lined in those same areas. She played the first song and I sang the harmonies above below and oohs and ahhs. She then agreed on the same parts and then added her points of suggestions, in which I was most satisfied with, to say the least. It was refreshing to work alongside a professional, who did her homework well and then surely had points of brilliance that would bring the songs even into further excellence upon recording. 

It only took about an hours time to go through the countless harmony parts for the dozen songs. Yet, there was one song that she said that she and Ronnie had been working up further ideas together. They were both extremely emotionally charged about a particular song of mine, 'Children Of The Sun' © 2018 Chakra Bleu Music, which happened to be about the atrocities of Native American Indians. (I'll share more about how that song was written later. Let's just say it has been a Powerful, Soulful and Mystifying experience to say the least!) We finished with some intriguing vocal parts to be added in that song. I was game, yet didn't know exactly how it would work out, until the day of, and wow...did it ever work out, thanks to what Ronnie, Kim added, and some unexpected turns in the studio, which actually worked on behalf of that song, in a reverently haunting way.

On parting, she assured me that she would be able to deliver all the harmony parts in ample time. And on that recording date, she surely did! Wow!

 

 

Producer: Chakra Bleu prepares for keyboard flavours: PART FIVE

I was so grateful to have the opportunity to work with Ronnie Godfrey again, for the third time in the studio. Ronnie has played with many greats and his extensive experience over the years provides him with an encyclopedia of wisdom as a keyboardist. He also is visually impaired, which also adds layers of insight to his taste in choosing textures on the keys. 

Because Ronnie cannot visually read charts, I prepare weeks in advance for a 'joint collaboration' in deciding the key parts. Wha?

Now that the charts are written and I know the instruments that go with each song, I can now direct my attention to what key parts I hear for each song. I use the same basic guitar/vocal demo. I'll now drive or exercise to these songs with the question, " What keys are playing on this song? Is is piano, Wurly, synth, strings, etc.? I'll eventually hear what key part would most likely be best. Often there's two key parts. For example, there may be piano with layers of synth or strings on the chorus. 

Meanwhile, I've sent Ronnie the guitar/vocal demo of all the songs. He is coming up with his ideas of key parts as well. 

Finally, I'll give him a phone call and I'll share with him my suggestions of key parts for each song. He then will weigh in with his ideas for those songs. Strangely enough, we will have both come up with the same ideas for the keys! Ronnie then kicks in his mojo, and rehearses the songs well. He also charts the songs on Braille. His positive, laid back energy and preparedness surely add to a nice solid foundation for the intense recording day.

 

I desired to produce this album as well. This is a big undertaking, yet well worth it!

First of all, I wrote out the charts for each song. I usually write them out in Nashville Number System, often with chords provided instead, since there are musicians who are more comfortable with chords. In this process of several drafts, I am determining the best possible intro, coda/outro, instrumental and tempo. 

Secondly, it is important to 'breathe' a song. Wha? To create depth in a song, or as I call it (give it 'breath'), it is good to provide dynamics and breakdowns. 

Dynamics is directing the musicians to play soft, medium, loud, along with places

where to hold chords for a measure, or rather to STOP immediately. This gives expression and excitement to the ears and emotional reactivity to the listeners ears. 

A breakdown, is where, several instruments drop out, leaving perhaps just a basic beat of a snare drum with a guitar alone, for 4-8 measures, which may bring emphasis to the vocal passage. This effect can give the song anticipation and interest in general. 

Once the charts are written out, I play them over and over again, weeding out bloopers (mistakes), that save time and money in the studio. No matter how meticulous I am about this process, it seems a pesky blooper get past me. Lol. Meanwhile, I check and recheck the tempo. On studio day, with all the musicians playing and thus reshaping the feeling of the song, the tempo often will change a couple clicks slower or faster.  If I give a starting point for tempo, again, I save time and money. 

Once the charts are written, I focus my creative imagination on what instruments would be best for each song. This album's genre is Country. So I already know that there is acoustic and electric guitar; lead guitar which also can be slide guitar; dobro; mandolin; banjo; fiddle; keys which include piano, electric piano, string effects; 'wurly' (wurlitzer); accordion; flute, etc. 

So each of the twelve songs has a personality, that will lend itself to different instrumentation. What helps me 'hear' the particular instruments for each song, is this: while driving here and there, I play the demo'd songs in my Subaru. I also add the songs to my i-Tunes and listen to them while droning out on the elliptical. I then ask myself, "What is the best instruments for this song?" Then I somehow, little by little I start 'hearing' with an inner ear, what imaginary instruments are filling in, behind the guitar/vocal demo's. 

Then once I know who the 'players' are (what instruments are for each song), I will determine exactly where each instrument fills in here and there. 

I recall at the end of my last album project, the lead guitarist, and respectable Nashville session player, mentioned to me to call him when I was ready again to record my next project. I felt honoured that he was already wanting to play on the next CD! He said that he had a lot of fun playing my material and it was technically more interesting than much of the basic 1-4-5 Country songs he plays on other sessions. (1-4-5 is a music term that comes from the Nashville Number System, whereby chords are converted to numbers so that musicians can quickly and easily learn/follow a new song. Most songs follow this basic pattern of three chords, some of course with a 2minor and/or 6minor) I'm getting off course here:)

So, I gave him a call September and said, 

   "Paul, I'm ready to record the next album. Well I actually have four albums ready to record! (laugh)  Anyway, this one will be Country. I do not know yet what studio and even the musicians accept for the keys and you - that is if you're in! I know you're more of a R&B/Soul artist. I will ask Ronnie Godfrey from my last recording project. Other than that, I know there will be twelve songs and I will be producing the project."

To my surprise, he then offered to set up the studio location on 16th Ave/Music Row, engineer and session musicians. He asked when I wanted to record. I said October. Paul called me back in an hour and said that he had the date reserved for session. The next day I had an email copied to myself, engineer, drummer, bass player and utility player (that a multi instrumentalist that usually plays fiddle, mandolin, dobro, banjo, etc.) I meanwhile called Ronnie and got a big "Yes" in wanting to be on this session. I also was extremely happy to get the Great Kim Morrison on board. She is a reputable harmony session singer here in Nashville, who has sung for many top recording and touring acts.

Finally, I needed to find the perfect Cover singer for this two day intensive recording session. This singer would have to be able to sing anywhere from 50-60 songs throughout a six hour period; would be requested to learn all of my twelve songs perfectly; would have studio experience; and have professional quality of attitude

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