What are you doing in there?
To many people, myself included, the recording process is a mystery. Musicians go into a dark room full of microphones and switchboards with a zillion dials and buttons and leave with a sweet sounding CD. There’s usually a stock cast of characters: the ultra-hip guy fiddling with buttons and offering vague compliments, usually something about “the sound”, there’s the easily distracted musician who seems half-in, half-out of consciousness with his long hair, witty t-shirts and dazed expression plinking out guitar parts, the over-controlling creative person who gets worked up over the smallest mistakes and spends most of the time shouting at people and taking cigarette breaks, and of course the sleazy producer who tries to kill any sense of artistry by homogenizing every song with the whims of popular radio trends….that’s kind of how I picture it anyways.
Well so far this recording process has been anything but…Lucas and his family have graciously welcomed me into their home, where the studio resides, and most of the time it’s just he and I down in the basement working hard, having fun, and trying to make these songs come to life.
Most musicians would have you believe that they are so unfailingly talented that the sounds you hear on their records just happen to fall out their instruments like so much wine from a goblet. That’s a load of crap. Studio work is a long, humbling procedure that usually results in days, weeks, months of recording time to get the parts right for that 4 minute song. It is a rare occasion that anyone gets a good take on the first try, and even if they think they do it usually has to be done over later on because of some undiscovered mistake or another.
The first challenge is playing with a metronome (if that’s something you’re not used to). When playing live you can speed up or slow down slightly and nobody will ever notice because the people you’re playing with can make immediate adjustments and not lose the beat. When in front of a microphone there is a computerized beat that never wavers and you invariably discover your own propensity to play too fast or too slow. For my part I tend to jump the gun and play a little too fast. We found this out when I took 6 hours to record the guitar part for one song. I was convinced that one more take would cause my fingertips to split open, maybe that was the motivator I needed to play it right…:)
The second challenge is worrying about all the non-musical stuff that can be picked up in a recording. For instance heavy breathing, feet on the carpet, clothes rubbing together, keys, cell phones, airplanes, rain, thunder, plumbing, air conditioning….all these little things that make noises we usually ignore but which sound out of place in a recording. It’s crazy.
Despite the challenges it is a vastly rewarding experience. It calls to mind a video I watched once by a composer named Jack Stamp on the unique challenge of music
It’s really worth a listen.Jack Stamp – Why Music Matters
So as we move forward with the recording process I plan on giving some details as to how it all comes together, and hopefully you’ll get a chance to learn something with me.