Monday, December 15, 2008

Tracking The Record, Part One

Tracking the record means, conversely, recording the tracks, in this case the "basic" tracks. Typically, sessions are cut with a basic group of musicians consisting of a rhythm section (bass and drums and rhythm guitar/keyboards) and perhaps another guitarist/soloist. The singer is usually on hand to provide guide or "scratch" vocals. This entails singing the song all the way through to let the players hear where they are in the arrangement. They could just play the chart, but certain vocal phrases may give them hints on how to play the song better, so it's great to have a singer run down the tune at the same time. Catching a great guide vocal or getting the singer inspired enough to try a few "keeper" takes is a bonus. Of course, the machine is always in record at all times on all tracks.

Paul Griffith

We got in early the night before to set a few things up, patch the tracking room and control room and load in the electric guitar stuff and a few of my acoustics. I brought a small electric rig (Deluxe Reverb, pedal board, Tele, Les Paul, Casino, Danelectro 12-string) and my Guild jumbo 12-string, J-200 and J-45. I wanted to have a rig ready in case I felt a flash of brilliance...which I guess I did not! I played a little on the first song, to give the electric 12-string feel to the track and didn't really play again all day.

Scott Neubert

Scott Neubert brought his collection of guitars and ended up using his J-45 and a Collings. and added banjo, mandolin and Dobro after we got the basic tracks cut. We decided to tackle all of the basic at once before overdubbing. As it turns out, we needed to re-track all of the acoustic parts due to excessive drum bleed into the acoustic guitar mic. We found this out early on and did not have to back track, re-visiting songs from hours before, which can kill the vibe for the guy having to re-track. We tried a take or two and determined which one was best (we never did more than three complete takes on anything), then added the new acoustic guitar on, and Donna sang it for keeps if she was feeling it. The early takes were good and I let the band decide what was the best, if I was ambivalent about two takes.

Steve Mackey

Our pre-production efforts really paid off here. Donna and I had demoed the whole record in Garageband, rehearsed with Steve and Paul and played half of these songs at a gig on December 2nd. Everyone had the demos and many of the charts for at least a week in advance of the session for most every song. This allowed the guys to soak in the vibe we were going for and get some ideas in their heads about what to play.

My Guitars, a happy Steve Mackey

I'm all for spontaneous creativity, but I prefer the basic tracks to have some thought and logic behind them, a more processed approach than hitting record and getting the best moment from three or four people at once with minimal preparation. I figured since we only had one day to ct all of the songs, the pre-production before coming to the studio was equivalent to spending a day per song in the studio. It's a fine line between spontaneity and over-thought and you don't want to kill the vibe with too much planning. Steve and Paul get what Donna is trying to do, Scott has gigged with her many times and Anthony and I have discussed the sound of the record and what kind of mood we were going for at length. We narrowed our options down and it made the whole project fun, quick and exciting. Things went so smoothly - we just hit a groove, stayed in it without stopping for lunch or long breaks, and knocked out nine tracks in 8 hours.

Anthony Aquilato

Anthony brought a ton of stuff from his collection including a pair of Amek CIB (channel in a box) preamps, an Avalon 737, a re-furbed and modded LA-2A and several microphones, including the Soundelux 251 that we used for the keeper vocal tracks. The studio had several channels of Neve and API pres, but we used the board pres for almost everything, with little or no EQ and very little compression. There was at least one mic on everything, three on most things, so we did not leave much to chance, and now have several usable options come mix time...stereo, mid-side or mono acoustic guitar; if mono, which mic: mono KM84 or mono Royer 121. Lots of that kind of thing going on. We also opened the sliding glass door to the 9-foot grand piano room open, taped down the root and fifth of the tonic chord of the key we were in and mic'ed the room in stereo. Theoretically, we should have a room reverb sound with perhaps a slight harmonic content.

My area of the desk

Well, that's it for now. The project continues on into overdub mode. Time to get the strings changed on all the electrics, intonate them and start tracking guitars this week.


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