I've begun the huge process of recording my 8th full length album, which will be titled 'Our Own Paradise'. I'll plan to release it this Spring!
As the producer, I wanted this album to be recorded in the original fashion, whereby the artist/musicians/band are all in the same room, recording their tracks at the same time. The reasoning behind this, is that there's a 'gel', a connective energy between the musicians when they're in the same room, such that one gets from a live show.
Normally, recording an album happens like this: The drummer is in a sound tight room, sometimes with a thick window pain that allows him/her to see the bass player, who is recording nearby. The drums have live mics placed in their perspective 'sweet spots'. The drummer has head phones on that allows him to hear the 'scratch track' of the singer (in this case Chakra Bleu and her guitar/mando,etc), as well as the bass player, and perhaps the keyboardist. Often the keys are recorded at a later time.
Usually the drums, bass and (scratch track of lead singer, who is playing along with guitar, piano,etc.), are the first layer of the recording process.
*Scratch track: means that the this track that the Singer/Songwriter/Artist who is often playing along with her/his instrument of choice, will eventually rerecord those vocals and instrument later on. Initially, this scratch track is meant only to guide the drummer and bass player, while there is a 'click/metronome' track in the background, making sure that the tempo stays consistent throughout the song.
Anyway, in most cases these days, the drummer is in a separate room; the bass player in another separate room; while the singer is also in a separate room, while recording this first layer. You can imagine that the communication is limited to hearing each other primarily, while following a song chart.
With the visual being cut off from the musicians, that much more 'communication' is cut off. Body language among musicians is huge! It allows us to follow and anticipate the other musicians playing. Furthermore, when the musicians are compartmentalised in their separate rooms, while recording, (this is so the live microphones don't pick up the other instruments, allowing the mix down process to be Clean), the compartmentalisation cuts off the 'connective energy= Synergy. This then cuts down on the overall Groove and Integration of the full recording potential of a song.
I was determined to find a way to record this album whereby all the main musicians would be in the same room, recording at the same time! John Billings, the engineer and bass player really helped me make this happen. We recorded at his Funky Tymz studio, which provided a very large open room. The prep work for this was immense, with all the direct lines required to snake a long way to the control room. He of course had plenty of sound padding around the drums, yet perfectly placed, so that he and Brice could see each other.
Here's how it worked:
In this big awesome room, we all sat in a big spaced out circle, while we recorded. Brice Foster on drums(live mics) sat at 12 o'clock; John Billings on Bass (direct) at 9 o'clock; Chakra Bleu (*live mic/direct guitar) at 7 o'clock; Paul Allen on Lead Guitar sat at 5 o'clock; and Ronnie Godfrey on keys sat at 3 o'clock. We had Mike York acting as second engineer in the control room.
So, how did my live mic work with the live drum mic's of the drums? Good question!
I had a cover singer learn the lead vocals of all the songs. John and I positioned her in the control room with her own separate microphone. On the first two run throughs of each song, I would sing the lead vocals along with all the guys. On the following run throughs of the song, up and until we actually recorded that song, Teresa, the cover singer sang the vocals in the control room. This way, there wasn't any 'bleed' of live vocals on the drum's mic's. Yet, I was still playing the 'scratch rhythm guitar track', along with the guys, as well as lip synching the lyrics.
The synergy worked! It was absolutely amazing! The energy was electric and I felt like this Very Special historical moment was happening, as far as pulling this style of recording off, and successfully at that!
We recorded seven songs on the first day, and six on the second day. Yes, I wrote the charts out for the musicians well beforehand.
I knew you would ask: What about the pre-production and all the work that went in before these first two monumental days of recording 'My Own Paradise?'
Well, first of all, I wanted to chose a group of songs that were mostly Upbeat, Reggae, R&B, and Rock in genre. I also wanted to chose songs that would come off with the vibe of 'The Tide Is High' by Blondie, and Cyndi Lauper's -'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun', UB40 and 'Red Red Wine' feel of Bob Marley. Why? On one of my last summer songwriting assignments to write a dozen new songs, I was sitting at my outdoor songwriting table, and was asked myself,
"What kind of songs, and what style, do I want to write this for this group new creations?"
I sat there quietly as a boat here and there full of happy people, laughing and talking would speed by, and I noticed the same Island-Pop music playing on their stereos. So, I decided that this album was going to include Reggae-Pop tunes, as well as elaborating more on last albums R&B feel, and definitely include a couple full on Rock tunes, one melody which popped out a rockin' Tom Petty feel.
Time elapses where, at the following songwriting session in Asheville, NC, I added lyrics to all those new melodies written at the lake scene. Add many weeks of editing, then even later, the time narrowing down the songs that would make up the envisioned next album...and later, writing out the charts, timing the songs, fine tuning how the beginnings (intros) and endings would go, where and how the instrumentals would go, what instrument would play that instrumental, etc.
Now....drum roll...... bring in Brice Foster!
Brice Foster and I got together many weekends and worked out the pre-production on the songs for this album. He and I did this on the 'All Of Me' album. It worked out so well, that we decided to do that again for this album. Basically, it was just he and I, in his garage studio. I'd introduce each song to him, while he would craft the song in his amazing style of groove on the drums. He has a way of interpreting an original song from it's first few months in the world. We would play the song over and over again until he and I felt we could record it on Garage Band. Meanwhile, the groove would improve each time, and allow us to tweak this and that in the delivery of that particular song, paying attention to dynamics, and umpteenth other details that he and I had a blast working on. Brice and I were like two kids in a sand box, totally in our 'element', putting our heads together on those days of pre-production.
After Brice and I recorded rough versions of drum/vocal/guitar demos, I emailed these to Ronnie Godfrey, the Meister on keys. Over many weeks, he came up with two to three key tracks for each song. I meanwhile, had in mind the production of what I thought each song should have as far as an organ, or piano, or Wurly, steel drums, etc. Then Ronnie and I had a phone conversation putting our minds together on what we thought we both were hearing for the key parts on each song. It was bizarre that we actually heard the same parts, like reading each other's mind!
So, when we recently recorded with the other musicians, Brice already had the songs sculpted. Adding the bass, lead guitar and keys, of course add a totally new feel to the personality of each song. So the song would change and 'grow up' before our eyes, even more, to the delight of all of us!
Though I (Chakra Bleu), come Very prepared for the recording, with charts and a clear game plan of how to record the songs, I also invite these specially chosen top-notch Nashville musicians (especially for the genre of this particular album), to voice their suggestions in the creative shaping of the song. It is Very important to me to provide the initial overall structure for the song, and then allow the Creative room for these talented musicians. It allows them to create, not just play to a chart. The songs came alive and then some, from the incredible creative collaboration of all these fine musicians.
With the tasty creative juices in collaboration all coming together on these initial recording days, along with the Electric Synergy of recording in the same room together, the songs have taken off with a magical touch and personality of their own!
So on day one and two of the Full Room 'original style' recording method, the tracks for the drums (Brice Foster), bass (John Billings), Lead and Rhythm guitar (Paul Allen), Keys (Ronnie Godfrey), with the scratch guitar, and vocal parts were laid down!
Since then Scott Ducaj (trumpet) and Chris Dunn (trombone) laid down a days work of horns on several songs.
And on yet another day, Dana Robbins recorded saxophone on four songs as well.
My main vocals were then recorded. I recorded four takes for each song, and later Joh and I would eventually compare the best track for each song. When I record my vocals, I stand there, with my lyrics and notes taped to the sound board that surrounds three sides of me. My water bottle is behind me on a chair. I drink between each take, keeping the vocal chords moist. Occasionally I do a forward bend to keep the circulation balance well in my upper body. I stay completely focused on the feeling of lyrics, as well as the phrasing and dynamics. I practice the technical parts of the vocalising a good week before recording, so that no time is wasted, and that the feeling comes forth clearly.
I had a tearful moment while trying to sing through 'We Shall Overcome'. The message in this song is so powerful and far reaching.
I truly enjoy recording vocals. Each song on this project had a personality of its own, and required a change in attitude/mentality to get into the heart of the matter, which was a blast!
I then recorded my mandolin tracks for the song, 'Our Own Paradise'.
Soon thereafter John was informed that the building his studio was in was going up for sale. This created some delays, yet blessings in disguise, as it allowed me to have that much more time to come up with the arrangements for the harmonies and percussion.
Meanwhile, Michael Waggener invited John and I to come record my electric rhythm guitar tracks at his famous Wire World Studio! (Discography includes Motley Crue, Accept, Dokken, Poison, Metallica, Alice Cooper, Janet Jackson, Queen, Skid Row, and many more). Michael cooked up the effects for these songs after I mentioned what each song was going to be given from my pedal effects, such as digital delay, overdrive, flanger, tremolo, or a combination of such on them. What a blast it was to work with him in this totally cool studio!
Eventually, John created a temporary studio in his house, until he finds a new home for his official studio. Yes, the delays allowed me to work diligently on arranging the umpteenth harmony parts for all the songs. To beef up a harmony, the singer sings each part twice. Now there were some songs with three to eight different harmony parts and/or vocal 'answers' on them! That means singing up to sixteen harmony/answer parts on some songs! We're not talking about the extra takes to sing the parts with perfection!I sing/record my own harmonies in the studio. Ones voice blends best with the main vocal. The harmonies were tracked the first week in January.
The extra time also allowed me to work on the arrangements for the percussion. Hours and hours were put into deciding what percussion instrument was needed and for what song. Some songs required either a tambourine, shaker, cabasa and some songs a combination of these. I had to determine which of the three tambourines, and which of the several shakers, depending on their pitch and thickness of percussiveness. Which verse, which beat, which phrase, etc. My dog/Best Friend sat with me for hours as I worked out the details. Sometimes, (true story) if she didn't agree with the part I was playing, she'd up and leave the room! She was always right in her judgement. Lol. She an intuitive Soul! Yes, I decided to record the percussion parts myself, to save time and money.
I have learned over the years of recording many albums now, that time is money! I've learned to be an efficient producer as well as a project manager when making an album. Once I'm finished tracking my vocals and instruments, I go into full Producer Mode. That means, that I'm no longer wearing the 'hat' of the artist 'Chakra Bleu'. I'm the producer, calling each and every shot to decide how and where each instrument sits in the mix.
Now that all the instruments and vocals were tracked 'recorded', it was time to 'comp' the vocals. What?! That means that John and I go back through the four main vocal tracks, compare phrase by phrase which one is sung the best. Which phrase has the best inflection, style, etc. That takes a dose of patience. John is a saint and an incredibly patient engineer!
Next came MIX DOWN! John, whom now y'all know is the bass player as well as the engineer, is not only good at what he does, he's excellent to work with and practically reads my mind, which makes his initial mixes awesome. Once he cleans up the tracks, he provides me with a basic mix, and from there, I decide to fine tune the volume levels of this and that instrument, the harmonies, what instrument to be up front and centre on the intros, turn arounds, solos, etc. (Of course, I had already decided which instrument would be on the solo, such as a lead guitar, or trumpet, sax, etc. Yet sometimes, I'd have two instruments take a go at the solo, should one sound better in the long run; and/or like I did in Tumbleweed - I had John extend the solo another eight bars, whereby the lead guitar took the first eight measures and then the Trombone took the next eight measures. It opened the song up to dance more...weee...more fun!
The mixing is fun part of the process, as you can start hearing the full song coming alive with the wonderment of all the instrumentation and talent! There are about two to four mixes on each song, before I feel it's the best it can be. I email the 'fixes' suggestions of changing this or that in the mix to John, whereby he then resends me an mp3. I listen to it carefully, making sure the lyrics can be heard, that one instrument isn't drowning out another, and too many other producer things that would have your eyes rolling!
Once the mixing was done, and I combed over the music files to fish out any digital pops, I took it to Jim DeMain, at Yes Master Studio, here in the Gulch (Nashville, TN). He evens out all the tones, Lows, Mids and Highs, and creates the space in between each song. Yes, I also decide how many seconds would sound best between each song, as well as the song order.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, I was starting the process of graphic arts for the album. What would the title be? What photo would be on the cover, the back, the inside? Prepare the word docs with the lyrics of all the songs; prepare the credits of all the musicians; decide what kind of CD lay out is best for this project.
I decided that I preferred to have a beachy type photo on the front cover. I knew just the photographer that may have several choices with that theme. I contacted Deborah Beazley, an excellent photographer. She had many choices of beaches, sunsets, sunrises, even a parokeet photo! I was very happy with the vibe these photos had and knew they would be perfect with the Summer/Island/Groove album feel of the music.
Next I contacted the graphic artist, Christie Trost. I had made a mock lay out of the front and back panels of the CD, which included where the particular photos, lyrics, credits would be placed. The meeting was then a breeze, as Christie, an expert in her field, was readily able to see how the big picture would blend. She chose the best photos of those I suggested to be up for the theme.
Meanwhile, I got the master back from Yes Master. It's up to me to listen to any digital pops or any other sonic improvements. I listen carefully under head phones for these sneaky critters that must be snuffed out, before going to the manufacturer. It's nail biting. What nails?! There cannot be any mistakes at this point!!
Eventually, Christy started sending me the art direction on the project. It was up to me to play 'editor' on all the text. Any misspelled words, suggestions on photo placements, etc. was up to me to check and recheck, before sending the finished files to manufacturer. It's nail biting. What nails?! Once again, there cannot be any mistakes at this point!
Now I sent the master and graphic art files to OASIS, the manufacturer. Two weeks ago, they sent me the proofs to check out. I paced back and forth, between checking and rechecking. (It's still amazing how one or two tiny little jokesters get past ones attentive editing.) All good, I gave them my Green Light, and then they started the process of making all this project come alive into what is a miraculous product of a CD! A year long process, not including the time it took to write these songs, is pressed into this amazing treasure that is made for the intention of sharing a truly enjoyable experience for your Heart, Mind and Soul, in your car, your boat, in solo, with your loved ones, and your Best Friend! May it give you everlasting Fun! May it give you Insight and a sense of Empowerment! May it give remind you that You are amazing, and that you are deserving of the utmost dignity and equality that is of your True Essence!
The CD's arrived last Thursday! I was a basket case. I paced and paced again, before opening one up, to give it my final approval, making sure that the manufacturing process went smoothly. I turned the music on loudly listening carefully for anything but perfection.
Whew, I signed and breathed finally. I exclaimed joyfully out loud (no one was around) and threw up my arms up in sheer gratefulness, "It is Good! Thank You Thank You Thank You!"
Oh, are we finished? Nope. It's time for Publicity and Radio!
I had a meeting last Friday, June 24, 2016 with Chuck Whiting, a very savvy and successful publicist. I barely slept the night before, as I was going over in my mind all the points of the meeting that I wanted to cover. Thank goodness we met at Sam & Zoe's, a coffeehouse. Caffeine was my friend, again.
The first point we covered was setting a release date for the single from the album, 'We Shall Overcome.' This song was mentioned already on my FB page, yet it had not been released officially to the broader media. The release date would be set for July 15. This song is one of the Reggae tunes and carries a strong message of equality. With the disarray in politics and social-economic unrest, this song's time is now.
We decided to launch the album 'Our Own Paradise', July 22. The timing is perfect for this Summer/Island-Groove Vibe. I can't wait for the launch! Wow, do I have some work ahead of me! Yet, now I get to wear the 'Recording Artist/ Entertainer' Hat again. I like that! 'Cause I like singing to y'all a lot!