‘The American Music Show’
The creation, production and marketing of Ken’s New Album.
Part II – The Sessions
In my last blog I wrote on the process and decisions I made before producing my new CD project. The focus of this piece will be on the recording sessions.
I had already picked and recorded the songs I wanted on the CD (see last blog entry). The decision was made that I was going to record my vocals first and then add instruments later. There were a number of things to consider.
Would the engineer be okay with that method?
The typical way songs are recorded are drums first, with or without bass, and a piano or guitar and voice reference. Once the finished drums and bass are down then the finished rhythm instrument s are recorded. If you have a brass section they might be next recorded one at a time or recorded as an ensemble all at once with the bottom tracks and reference tracks in their ears. The final tracks – lead, special tracks and vocal are done differently as to method by different producers. I like to record the lead vocal next and let the lead players have a nearly finished recording to work from – if your lead players are prepared and know what they are going to play they can go ahead of the lead vocal. Once it’s all done then the back-up vocals are added.
I didn’t want to do it that way and I had to make sure that John Hildebrand would be okay with a different production approach. (Read John’s article and listen to our podcast episodes with him.) He was just fine. It is important that whoever you use as an engineer be included in all production ideas – if you don’t communicate it will waste time, fray nerves, and cost much more. If you use a producer those issues fall on his or her shoulders. I would recommend hiring a producer if you have the wherewithal – or you can learn as I did by making mistake after costly mistake over the years until I got proficient.
I disregarded all I had learned about music production and threw it out the window.
The reason I did that was because I had been told that my solo performance were richer and more emotive than my playing with a band or in previous recordings – I wanted to capture that quality. A risky endeavor indeed.
The next step: Reference and rhythm guitar.
I have two good acoustic guitars for recording I have a 35 year old Ovation Celebrity with the deep molded back and a rich bass and mid-range voice. This guitar was made to have a microphone in front of it- and I had a Breedlove Studio electric/acoustic that is good for chime- like high end nuances. I would use them both:
- The Ovation we mic-ed at the sound board and at the neck with two mics.
- The Breedlove we ran one direct and on the sound board of the guitar and at the neck
The result would be different sounding tracks for the same recordings, which later would become useful as other instruments were added in picking the best rhythm guitar sound for the final mix. Although I record the guitar as a reference track (throw-away tracks) we saved time by having some tracks that could be used in the final mix.
John was recording with PreSonus Studio One software with a multiline – fire-wire interface and mixer. He used a Neumann TLM 127 a wide patterned condenser mike that would produce clear and bright sound (This mic isn’t available accept from private owners but newer models work fine for this application) and the ‘hot’ AKG R28B. This is a vintage tube mic. John describes this ‘collectable’ as producing a sound “…as clear as driven snow’.
The importance of tempo
Although I have been playing guitar for fifty years I have a bit of trouble here. When I play guitar with a band I can ride with the drummer without flaw – but I have a bad habit. When I play and sing I will sometimes fall off tempo to follow what my voice is doing – if I were younger and delusional I would call it ‘MY STYLE’ pissing off the drummer, the bass player, the producer and the engineer. If you have this trouble (be Honest) then record your rhythm tracks by themselves and ask the engineer for a click-track to keep you in time. The other musicians will love you for making the effort. I recorded my voice and guitar at the same time using a click track in my ear when I had difficulty.
Each song I choose has a different musical feel and I would change my vocal interpretation appropriate to the song. If you are a new singer here is where the pre-work comes in. In the last article I revealed that I record the songs at home in order to critique them – the result of that work is doing vocal work so that I get the best finished recording. Realizing that you can change the key, the sound, the cadence, the accent, and levels in your voice and executing is what makes a singer a musician. Take the time to do this work before you go into a studio.
Since the entire album was going to be vocal based and not rhythmically based (not as much emphasis on drums ) I wanted a warm, intimate sound for the vocals. John picked a two mic configuration much as we did with the guitars. Both mics producing a different sounding recording. Again the more options the better. We used a Neumann TLM 49. the newest version of the classic M49B. which produces a warm and clear sound for the intimacy I was looking for in the vocal recording. He also used A NeumannU87 which is the classic vocal mic – for the more uptempo songs. One of my favorites was his use of the NeumannM147 tube in a few of the tunes – this mic is the newer version of the U47 that the Beatles used.
Slice and dice
As I had mentioned I had gone through all the songs at home and was comfortable with the way they sang, happy with my lyrics, and the arrangements. Here is something every songwriter hates – the realization that some of your lyrics are too wordy – don’t sing well – or are just plain bad. When I recorded the songs and listened back to the glaring truth of what I had written I realized that I still had work to do – I would edit on the spot those areas that were lacking. (The same may well happen with your guest singers or back-up singers lyrics.) John is also my publisher and we have worked together for decades so throwing artistic ego storms would not do. SO REWRITE I DID!
To do list before a singer/songwriter goes into the studio
- Have conversations with the engineer or producer you are using. Communicate as clearly as you are able your expectations. LISTEN to their feedback. Come to an understanding about the feel, quality and sound you expect.
- Have your songs ready to go. If you are proficient write up charts with the arrangement and notes for each song and give copies to the engineer and your producer. They may offer suggestions for changing the arrangements – LISTEN – they have worked on a lot of songs take advantage of their skills and experience. Having said that – you are paying the bills. Don’t be arbitrarily stubborn – but if you have a deep in your heart conviction stand by your guns.
- Have a clear idea about how you want to sing the song – let the producer know the reason you sing each song the way you do. The producer’s main task is to get the best work out of you that is possible. Again LISTEN to criticism like a pro – remember you have to be at a pretty high level of skill for any critique to be given
- in the end you want a good product that best represents you as an artist and as a songwriter. I wasn’t entirely happy with all of them but decided to work with what we had and I could go in later and record better versions.
All in all a good start.
Ken’s ‘The American Music Show’ from American Windsong Music is available at CDBABY.com
Next: Part III “The Sessions part 2”