I arrived at Warner/Chappel on 16 Ave, in the heart of Nashville's 'Music Row', at 9:00. The musicians would be arriving soon as well, as 10:00AM was recording time.
I was greeted at the studio door by Mark Lonsway, the studio engineer, who happily helped me in with full load of gear including my two electric guitars; two acoustic guitars, mandolin, amp, gig bag with guitar chords, and effect pedal case. Yes, each instrument was specifically used for certain songs. (In a previous blog I describe that process.)
Two weeks prior, I already discussed with Mark, the detailed lay out of the session. Paul Allen, the lead guitarist, who had already set up the date and time for me, had informed Mark about the musicians who would be present: the drummer, bass player, keyboardist, and utility player (dobro/fiddle/banjo/mando). Paul pre-arranged other studio arrangements/aggreements between Mark and I eight weeks earlier. The rest of the producer's work was on me. Paul had worked before with me on two previous sessions and knew that I would handle the umpteenth organisational tasks of the producer.
So Mark (engineer) had the game plan and had already prepared the studio set up in each room with the mic's, and input boxes for the particular instrument.
I set up my electric guitars and effect pedal case in the main studio room, which was also the largest. I set my amp up in an adjacent smaller room divided with a clear sliding door. It also was the room where my acoustic guitars and mandolin parts would be recorded, since it was sound proofed off from the main room. I got my two Guild acoustic guitars out and tuned them up. One was tuned in DADGAD. It also had a slightly different tone that was perfect for the song 'Children Of The Sun'. I tuned up my 12 string Ovation as well as the mandolin. I set my lyrics and colour coded charts on the music stand in front of the chair that I'd be sitting on while recording my acoustic instrumentation. Mark already had the acoustic guitar mic set up and ready to go for sound check.
The main room also had the drummer (Ross McReynolds), as well as the bass player (Aaron Hatmaker).
There was two more small adjacent rooms with big clear windows that allowed the other musicians to see all the other players. One of those rooms would have the Utility player (Justin Moses) and in the other small studio room, would be the cover singer (Amanda Broadway)
I greeted each musicians as they arrived and let them know they had a special snack bag and water at their recording station, as well as fruit and energy drinks in the kitchen. The 'producer' (moi) had already placed the folder with music charts on their music stands. As mentioned in a previous blog, each musician had charts designed for that particular instrument.
Mark dialled in the levels for the drums, as well as all the other instruments including the lead guitar, my electric guitars and acoustic guitars/mandolin; the utility players fiddle, dobro and mandolin; the cover singers vocal mic.,etc.
Once the sound check was finished, I went over the game plan with everybody. I told them that Amanda would be 'covering' the lead vocals for me for three reasons being 1) I could save my voice for the Real lead vocal recording later that evening and the following day
2) I could concentrate on recording my guitar parts
3) I could also give concentration to the direction of production while all the instruments were laying down their parts.
I told them that I would run through a song at a time, with Amanda singing as I played the guitar part, so that they could become familiar with the vibe of the song while following the specific directions given on the music chart.
After I ran through the song once, Mark hit record and we all we're playing through the song. Of course it was rough the first two times. Meanwhile, any needed adjustments on the tempo, dynamics, stops, holds, etc. would be smoothed out at that time. By the third time through the first song, I could hear the musicians jelling together. And by the fourth take, I could usually hear a notable difference: We were all FEELING 'IT', and the song would come alive with its own amazing personality.
At that point, there would be simple 'patch-work'. For example, the lead guitarist would say that he needed to record the tag only. Or the bass player would ask to redo the third phrase of the second verse.
Following the patch-work phase, I would proceed to get the 2nd parts recorded for the utility player or keyboardist. For example, Justin played the fiddle on one part of the song, yet I've asked him to play a dobro part in another part of that same song. Another example is where the keyboardist plays piano on one track and I've asked him to play strings on another track as well.
On a sidebar, it's rare for acts to record 12 songs in one day, let alone have multiple tracking with the utility, lead guitarist and key player.
One of the ways I saved big time was preparing some killer musicians:
Ronnie Godfrey, the keyboardist who also happens to be sight impaired, got with me weeks before the studio date. I sent a CD with the guitar/vocal demos. I knew what multiple parts I could hear him playing for each song. After he listened down to the songs, he also had a good idea what keys would possibly sound good. We set a meeting and discussed our ideas. Strangely enough, we were on board for almost every single song...as if we could read each others Mind.
I did the same thing with the amazing vocal harmonist Kim Morrison. She and I both came to our pre-studio meeting with lyric charts in hand, ready to share where in the song, what and how many harmony parts would be laid down. Amazingly enough, our notes were very close, yet she had a lot more tasty nuances, coming from the extensive experience as a long time, well sought after, Nashville studio vocalist. I was actually nervous for that meeting having prepared and then some. I had heard her harmony work and it was scary-good!
I also asked Justin, the utility player if he would like a CD/mp3's sent before the studio date. I told him that there was four songs that had specific melody lines for the fiddle. Even though I had notated those parts, it would save time for all of us, especially since he was playing two - three instrument parts on several songs. I was happy that he was willing to listen to the demo'd CD songs beforehand.
I arranged the studio song order in a way where the first two songs were fairly easy to record. The next two songs were intense. I wanted there to be a flow between the band before launching into those. The third song was especially intense. It was about Native Americans and the sadness of much of their land being yanked away by some unfair dealings on paper and otherwise. It took some doing, yet we got through it. It took the longest of the bunch to record and to find the Vibe. It didn't help that we ran into some technical difficulties with the software. Mark had to reboot the system and that takes its sweet time.
As the producer, I had to keep the flow and attitude UP! So I suggested that we take lunch then. It worked out great! My assistant 'Marie' helped me get out the yummy sandwich fixings. They all chowed down and I could tell the mood lightened up immediately. Food is a wonderful thing! Lol!
We finished up the next eight songs without any further technical delays. My goal was to finish recording at 5:00 and that we did. Mark and I planned to stay another three hours after that. Yet before he and I started Part II of that 1st recording evening at Warner/Chappel, I passed out some Heineken brews for the hard working musicians. I was happy to see Mark finally eating a sandwich after burning massive braincells with all that had been going on with the production and various parts for the songs. Though I didn't have much an appetite, I made myself snarf down hummus and carrots, as well as drink a lot of water.
After the session musicians left, Mark and I continued on in to the evening. He was a machine matched well by my 'get er done' work ethic. (Our brew had to wait until we were finished:)
First of all I started over-dubs with rhythm guitar tracks on on two of the songs. Next I launched into recording the main vocals on four of the twelve tracks.
Folks, let me tell ya... Even though I had been a stickler for rehearsing the songs to the nth degree, marking where it would be most effective in the phrasing to take a breath..it still takes several takes through a song. The first two times through the take, a vocalist is usually getting warmed up, and into the 'groove'..loosened up.
So Mark is recording me after take TWO through the songs. If it goes well, he and I may decide where in the song I could deliver better for vocal performance or emotional delivery.
I cannot say enough how well Mark Lonsway and I magically connected as artist and engineer on this part of the session. Recording my studio vocal tracks is emotionally vulnerable for me - partly because I tend to be an emotionally guarded/ Biz-Pro mentality person. So here I am; just Mark and I in the whole studio alone.
(I have asked everyone else to exit before this Very Private chapter of the recording project.) I realise that I have never sung my heart out in front of this total stranger, except of meeting him that early morning at load in, and our former emails preparing us for the studio- 'game plan' of musicians and instrumentation for the recording. Tracking main vocal tracks demands exact precision. I expect the utmost perfection from myself.
Singing live carries a totally different mode. It isn't about my lead vocal needing to be spotless. It is about interacting with the audience and being there for them, to entertain; to bring the listeners a joyful, fun experience. It's a volleying back and forth with the energy of the band and the audience.
So back to the vocal session... Soon into the first song, Mark's demeanour lowered my walls of steel. (I'll repeat again: I never like to have other people in the studio when I'm singing my vocals! It's an intimate setting. My heart is wide open. No cameras. No management. No one but me and the engineer. Gratefully, Mark and I connected sweetly - on a professional level. We communicated well, determining which vocal parts could be sung with various improvements.
I am tough on myself when it comes to this part of the recording process. Yet I also must be gentle in my self judgement, so that I can keep my heart open throughout the delivery of recording my lead vocals. It is a conflicting role at that time to play 'producer' and 'artist' at the same time. That is why, I was blessed to be able to rely upon Mark's good judgement, so that we were able to come up with a Heart felt quality delivery in lead vocals on each and every song. There were songs that were delivered in almost one take. There were others that needed more shaping to bring out the best impactful delivery.
We both were spent after recording four song, after a long day of tracking twelve songs with all the musicians, hours before. So just for fun, lets add up how many takes that would average out to be. If the musicians and I played/recorded 12 songs 4-5 times, not including the over-dubs (the fixes that this or that musician need to do)...12 time 4 is 48/ 12 times 5 is 60. So you get the picture?
This producer, had to be extremely prepared so that she could guide the session players and engineer efficiently through each song, thankfully with specific charts and good snacks/water for the hard working crew.
Mark and I wrapped up about 1:00AM. We were spent and yet happily satisfied with the excellent work of the day.