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GannettUSA Today

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


We arrived at the studio, striving to hold onto the arrangement in our heads.

The studio, founded around 1980, was charmingly old-school. Shades, the owner/operator, is staunchly an analog guy, though he’s just now in the process of updating to ProTools. The digital equipment was all there waiting to be installed; Shades was finishing up a spot of remodeling to accommodate it. He plans to offer both analog and digital, simultaneously, to his clients. His theory of recording is that he wants the finished song to sound like “an enhanced live track,” not something that's been manipulated and overdubbed into computerized perfection. No one will deny that analog has a warmer sound -- nor will analog purists deny being tempted by the unlimited tracks and seductive editing capabilities of digital recording.

But for this project, I was thrilled to go analog. Well, you know what a traditionalist I am.

The studio had a palpable aura of tranquility. It was darkly lit, but in a way that you could see everything you needed to see. Indian rugs decorated the walls. Clutter was at a minimum. You just felt comfortable here. Shades sat in front of a mixer behind glass; we were led to a main room; the network of doors were soundproofed; little rooms outside the main room housed amplifiers that were permanently "miked."

Shades gathered bassist Brinie, drummer Jazzy and myself into the main room, where he had a drum kit set up. Jazzy made some adjustments on the kit to suit his own comfort while Shades tuned up the drum heads. He gave us all headphones. On Shades' OK, Brinie and I then played the track with Jazzy, but only Jazzy could be heard in this room. My guitar and Brinie's bass were being recorded in the separate rooms, while the three of us received the feed through our headphones. This way, Shades had each instrument on different tracks for total separation; no instrument was "bleeding through" another instrument's track. Do you follow?

Step 1 was to get a (more or less) perfect take of the song for drums and bass. It was important to Shades that the rhythm section actually play live together, in order to get that "live" feel. My guitar was to be a "scratch" guitar -- I played it just to get us through the take -- but it would not be used on the finished song.

The question now was: How many times would we have to play the song before we got a usable take? The palms began to dampen a might, in anticipation of a potentially long and frustrating afternoon.

Amazingly, we nailed it on the second take! We got a sweet bassline from Brinie and a terrific performance from Jazzy.

So now, all we had to do was add four electric guitars, one acoustic guitar, a clap track, a tambourine, Hammond organ, piano, a master vocal and backing vocals.

Piece of cake.



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