Thursday, March 31, 2011

Overdubs with Mike Payne

On March 11th, Nashville studio guitarist Mike Payne started recording overdubs for three songs that we were unable to get to on our trip to Nashville back in early February. This past Monday, he posted the audio files from these sessions for me to download. Over the past week, I’ve been pulling these new guitar parts into Pro Tools, and just finished importing the last of these files last night. I have to say, Mike’s guitar parts have taken these last several songs to a new level! Two of these tunes are the worship song and the love song I’ve mentioned in previous blogs. I can tell Mike really spent his time on these tunes. The harmonies and counter melodies he came up with aren’t just icing on the cake; I believe they are foundational in bringing these songs to life!

Tones and Parts
I have learned quite a bit from working with Mike (I’ve recorded with him twice now – once on February 4th at his home studio, and then again on March 11th over iChat). Not only is he a skilled guitar player; he is extremely adept at choosing guitar tones that work well in the mix and guitar parts that compliment the other instruments. I’ve heard a couple professional engineers comment about “Mike’s (great) tone.” He just knows his amps, pedals, and guitars and knows what it takes to get a certain sound. At one point, I remember saying to him, “This song is partially inspired by The Fray. I don’t want to sound exactly like them, but do you think you could find a guitar tone which might fit this style?” Sure enough he did – and he actually came up with a slightly varied tone that sounded somewhat “Frayish,” but different enough to give my song it’s own sound.

The Skill of Listening
I find that a lot of musicians don’t listen to anyone but themselves when they are playing. It’s good to be aware of what you are playing/singing as a musician, but in a band setting, it’s important to make sure your tones/parts/pitch/etc. are blending well with everyone else. I’ve played with some musicians who are determined to play at all times with as many notes as possible. Often, silence is as much a musical tool as musical notes themselves. Simplicity is also at times more powerful than complexity. Sometimes, silence is used to give a song dynamics (instruments are brought in and out at key song sections) and other times, silence is used to help a melody or counter melody “breathe.” Simplicity can likewise be used to communicate a certain emotion (intimacy or innocence) or to punctuate a more note heavy musical passage.

I think one thing that makes Mike such a good studio musician is the fact that he is a careful listener. While recording overdubs, he actually asked me to turn his guitar down quite a bit in the mix so that he could hear how his parts were blending with the other instruments. He also had me turn the drums up a bit higher than everything else so that he could make sure that his playing was tight. As I go back to listen to his parts, I am amazed at his sense of rhythm. I’ve hardly had to edit any of his parts because about 99% of the time, he is locked to the drums like a leech to a leg. Absolutely amazing.

A Pleased Costumer
In conclusion, I am so thankful that my friend Dave Bechtel introduced me to Mike Payne. It has been awesome to work with him, and I hope we have more opportunities to work together in the future!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Piano Tracking at Liberty Presbyterian

Well, last night, I began to officially track piano for the new album. I got through about four songs, and have six to go. Here are some pics from Liberty Presbyterian in Delaware, OH. I've decided to go with the Yamaha C7 for many of the songs. Our church's Kawai just doesn't sound grand enough for the big tunes. However, I may use the Kawai on a couple of the more popish songs.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

One Piece at a Time

The pieces are really coming together for the new album! Last Friday, Mike Payne recorded guitar overdubs for the 3 songs we were unable to get to while in Nashville last month. He should be sending me those files in the near future. Also, this coming Thursday, I will be meeting with composer Robert Nugent to listen to a cello part he arranged for one of the new tunes.

I now have most of the MIDI strings programmed. These sampled strings will be mixed underneath the real strings to create a larger sound. I’ve also been quite busy practicing and making final tweaks to piano parts. I hope to record real piano in the next month or so. Next week, I may do a practice recording session where I will set up some mics on a live piano and experiment with different mic positions and pre-amp settings. In addition, I’ve been practicing vocal parts – mostly in the car while driving (I’ve created a variety of mixes – some without vocals, some without piano and vocals). You may see me driving down the road singing at the top of my lungs!

I’m still paying for the album as I go. I’m currently saving up for an Empirical Labs Distressor, a compressor that I will use on the final vocals, along with my API A2D pre-amp. I want to use the highest quality signal chain as possible!

I’m still hoping to release the new album sometime the middle of this year.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Programming MIDI Strings (Video)

Marc talks about string articulations, and the process of programming MIDI strings which will used to fill out the sound of a smaller string section.

Click on the photo for video. Video is 12.5 MB and may take a minute or two to load. You can also right click on the photo and select "save target as..."

Friday, March 04, 2011

Oceans of Creativity

Piecing It All Together
It’s been about a month since we recorded strings and guitar overdubs in Nashville, and since then, things have been quite busy here at 10x12 Productions. At this point, I’ve cleaned up most of the string and guitar tracks, and have pulled those tracks into my “main” Pro Tool sessions (the strings and guitars were recorded and edited in separate Pro Tools sessions to cut down on clutter with all the unused takes). I’ve also been busy working on programming the MIDI strings that will be mixed in under the real strings for a larger orchestra sound (I’m preparing a video blog which will explain this process in more detail). This is quite an exciting stage as I am for the first time hearing all of the “final” instruments together - with the exception of the real piano, which I hope to record in the next month or so. As mentioned in my previous blogs, I still need to record guitar overdubs for 3 more tunes. I am planning to track these guitar parts with Mike Payne next Friday, March 11th (remotely, over iChat, as he is in Nashville and I am in Columbus).

Practice Makes Perfect
In addition to studio work, I’ve been busy practicing with my live band (drums: Jim Davis, bass: Joey Bradley, guitar: Matt Meyer). We’ve been rehearsing almost every Saturday at Jim’s place (he has a nice finished basement space with an in-ear monitoring system). We don’t have any official shows lined up yet, but we do have a possible gig in June, which would have us opening for a national Christian act. We hope to start playing out officially in early summer (mainly regional shows at first).

An Overcrowded Boat
The creative process continues to be exciting and wearying. I’m currently working on a tune that is overly concentrated with instruments, and I’m trying to figure out what parts to cut out. This song has been driving me crazy the last couple days, but I think I am making some headway on deciding what to eliminate. Sometimes less is more. I’m a sucker for big production, but even with “grand” songs, you have to find a tasteful limit to the number of musical layers. Originally, the “size” of this song was built around some guitar power chords, a big organ, a couple synth pads, and an arpeggiating synth lead (not to mention a few drum loops here and there). As the song developed, I had Rich Barrett add some string parts, and Mike Payne added some cool guitar accents that I hadn’t originally envisioned. Suddenly, I was having trouble finding space for everything. I think I’ve solved some of the clutter issue by cutting out the organ and some of the pads for much of the song. I also lost the drum loop in the choruses, and pulled out the strings for the first part of the first chorus. Just like an overloaded boat, sometimes you have to sacrifice some non-crucial luggage to the sea for the well being of the vessel.

Video blog coming soon...