Archive for the ‘Recent Projects’ Category

Leslie (my daughter) is a talented young photographer, writer and vocalist.

Leslie in the Vocal Booth

She wanted her second CD, Back Home to You, to be a little different. While filled with her usual bluegrassy, folky, Spanish-laced original music, she wanted to include several covers – long time favorites by Peter Rowan (You Were There for Me), Patty Griffin (Useless Desires), Alison Krauss (It Don’t Matter Now), Julie Lee (Many Waters), and Josh Wolak (Fell Out). All of these songs are wonderful, and really fit in nicely with her own music.

The sonic palette we were after might best be described as “acoustic silk.” We wanted the musical background to be soft, transparent, understated, but musically interesting. Leslie wanted me to provide the acoustic guitar, bass, mandolin, and keyboard tracks. To save money, I would do some of the lead guitar work on my Alvarez S-Yairi dreadnaught and on a half-sized guitar called a Papoose, made by Tacoma guitars.

Nathan Dugger, a friend of Leslie’s from her days at Belmont University, who has since gone on to play with Marc Broussard and Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, provided lead guitar work on You Were There for Me and Useless Desires. Nathan came by the house and I recorded him in stereo, using the TLM 103 about 10 inches from his bridge, and an AT4041 about 8 inches off the 16th fret. I used this same configuration to record my own guitar tracks. Nathan did a first rate job with two very difficult songs.

Nathan Dugger (in another studio)

Nathan Dugger (in another studio)

Kevin Maul provided Dobro work on the more bluegrass-oriented songs, Sarah Taylor and Fell Out. Kevin has performed with Soul/Blues icons the Holmes Brothers and has shared the stage with people like Greg Brown, Tim O’Brien, voodoo blues king John Mooney, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Vince Gill, Chet Atkins, dobro master Jerry Douglas, and the Everly Brothers. He’s been a frequent guest, along with Robin and Linda Williams, on Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” radio program as well as Mountain Stage, E-Town and Austin City Limits.

Kevin Maul

Although I’ve recorded Kevin in the studio before, this time he mailed his tracks in from his home studio in upper state New York. He did a great job of getting the feel for the songs.

Leslie wanted acoustic double bass on the CD. I don’t play double bass, so I sampled a note from an old Bill Evans CD and spreading it across the keyboard of the EXS24 sampler in Logic. Worked pretty well.

We decided that the only “drum” on the CD would be the chop of a mandolin on several more upbeat songs. I don’t play mandolin. Again, I sampled a chop from another recording provided by mandolinist and guitarist Mark Hill and used the EXS24 to play the mando chops. The results were pretty nice – not perfect, but overall fairly effective and musical.

Recording Leslie’s voice is always difficult. She is a powerhouse, and controlling the transients that nearly leap out of the speakers is not easy. Her good friend Carson Leverett, in a course on music tech at Belmont, had built a crazy looking preamp modeled exactly after a Manley Tube Preamp. It turned out to be just the ticket. While capturing her voice beautifully, it also seemed to have a kind of natural compression built into it that kept her peaks in range of what my FMR Compressor could deal with. I didn’t use much compression – just a tiny bit of limiting, and the result was lovely.

Carson’s Hand Made Manley Tube Preamp

Given the very limited budget, and the fact that I had to cover musical instruments that were not in my repertoire, the CD turned out beautifully. Check out a cut HERE.

Several years ago, when I was still living and recording music in Louisville, KY, I was contacted by a wonderful woman named Joyce Ochs about recording a CD to accompany a basic lesson book for the mountain dulcimer.

Joyce Ochs and her Dulcimers

The book was to be a part of the well-known and respected Mel Bay lesson series.

Mel Bay First Lessons: Dulcimer

She gave me a draft of the book, which indicated all of the places where we would need to record her voice and a music sample. She also asked me to accompany her on the guitar. I set her up in the studio, and, after trying a couple of microphones out, discovered that my Rode NT-2 gave just the right body and high end bite that was needed, in order for students to hear the notes and chords well. We used the Neumann TLM-103 for her spoken parts, and the AT4041s for my acoustic guitar.

As you can see from this screenshot of the index, we recorded a LOT of music! And she was kind enough to thank me in her acknowledgments.

Index of Joyce’s Dulcimer Book

We had a wonderful day in the studio, as Joyce demonstrated her outstanding talent for organizing lessons, articulating clearly her instructions, and performing beautifully what she was after. The result is a first rate set of lessons on the mountain dulcimer by the “first lady” of dulcimer music herself. Check it out!

Ian Willey (AKA I.C. Will) flew in from New York City on Thursday. His primary goal was to track several songs in the vocal booth, and to have my daughter, Leslie, record several vocal hooks and background vocal parts.

I.C. Will, July 2012 Session

As I’ve noted before, Ian likes me to roll off most of the low end on his voice, so I pulled everything below 200 of during he recording stage, and pulled more off in Logic. Here’s the eq curve he likes! Whew! And you can hear it (audio clip linked below)!

He and Leslie spent a good bit of time discussing his lyrics (on his iPhone) and deciding on how he wanted the vocal hooks to feel.

He wanted Leslie to not only sing a few vocal hooks, but to also do some blues scat vocals behind his rapping during a couple of songs.

In the end, it SOUNDED GREAT to have her free-stylin’ on vocals while he rapped.

The CD is now about halfway tracked. I’ll keep you posted!

Sherry Cothran is a smart, multi-talented, profoundly creative woman. The former lead singer for the alt-Southern rock  band the Evinrudes, Sherry now is the pastor of West Nashville United Methodist Church.

I first met her in class at Vanderbilt Divinity School. She was beginning a journey that would end with her placing her poetic abilities as a lyricist, and her musical genius, into the service of giving voice to biblical women. By her third and final year in divinity school, she had written a complete set of incredible songs. I was lucky enough to be able to work with her in the studio,  bringing these songs to life. Through each song we hear something of Sherry’s own journey of faith, and what it means to be a woman haunted by the God of the Bible. The stories of Deborah, Hagar, the woman of Endor,  the “strange woman” of Proverbs 8, and others resonate with the lives of women today.

Sherry was able to rally the Evinrudes to track her songs in the studio. It was a real treat to work with this excellent group of musicians who are now playing with some of Nashville’s big name artists.

Andy Hull produced some masterful drum and percussion tracks. I tracked him in the larger room in the studio and, instead of overhead miking cymbals individually and using a room mix, I used a stereo pair of AT4041s, which are brighter than my MikTek C5s,  up and back over the kit to get the kit reflecting off the walls of the room. This would give us the option of picking up as much of the ambient wood in that room as we could as a part of the kit. Sherry liked this room sound, and liked the drums on the “bright” side. We used a lot of room ambience on the drum and percussion tracks.

Ethan Pilzer’s bass tracks are fluid and lyrical – creating beautiful counterpoints throughout the CD. He lugged his excellent preamp rig into the studio and I ran it direct into my Apogee converters. I didn’t want anything to get in the way of the sound he was getting. He also recorded his standup  bass tracks at home and mailed them in. I found that with a little tweaking, Izotope Alloy’s preset for acoustic bass was just the ticket for juicing those tracks with some presence and energy.

Brian Reed’s guitar work adds consistent “signature” hooks to nearly every song on the CD. We used an SM57 on his tweed amp, off axis, through my old Peavey VMP-2 tube amp to add a little grit and grain, and the sound was fantastic. Brian played identical parallel tracks, doubling himself perfectly on each song. This allowed us to create a huge soundstage with the electric guitar.

Jonathon Hamby’s keyboard tracks, especially on “In My Lover’s Arms” are sensitive and add sonic depth throughout the CD. He recorded these at home and mailed them in. In the mix, they needed only a little high-mid boost to cut through nicely.

Sherry invited Conni Ellisor in to track on violin, encouraging her to use Middle Eastern scales and tones. Conni was amazing. Her fiddle sounded best with a ribbon mic, and the Cascade Fathead worked wonders, keeping the highs from overpowering her sound. Conni was her own taskmaster, hard to satisfy, but in the end, her tracks make the CD (IMHO).

Toward the end of our tracking sessions, Sherry wanted a few small percussion tracks. She invited Cathy Chalmers, a first rate percussionist, to bring some of her more exotic percussion instruments into the studio and we spent and afternoon tracking some amazing bits. I wanted some real high end bite on these instruments, so again I used the Audio Technica AT4041 matched pair, allowing enough space from her instruments to capture the room. In the end, Sherry only used a few of these tracks, and they add to the subtle Middle Eastern ambience throughout the CD.

Sherry’s voice presented us with many possibilities. She has beautiful overtones in the low-mid, mid, and high registers. After listening to the music we had tracked, we decided to accentuate the low-mids a little, and to do the unexpected – to accentuate the high end breathiness in her voice, with the preamp (we used the Peavey VMP-2 with a slight high end boost), and by using the URS Neve emulation EQ, which has a great open-sounding high end.

This is one great CD. Here’s Sherry’s website for a quick listen. You can also hear more and order the CD at CD Baby.

For more on the connections between Sherry’s music and my book Mashup Religion: Pop Music and Theological Invention, go to: my blogspot MASHUP RELIGION.

One of my favorite things to do is to support artists who are working for social change. So it is with Ian Willey, (a.k.a. I.C.Will). Ian is a public school teacher in New York City and writes “education movement music” designed to raise consciousness about public education issues in NYC and to boost the self-esteem of students.

Ian is a lyricist, primarily. He gets his beats tailor made by Chris Capable of Capable Beats. Chris builds his beats on Ableton Live, using their VST plugins and instruments and his own collection of keyboards and synths.

One of the issues we had, recording I.C. Will’s first EP (check especially the song New York Sky), was that Ian had Chris provide him with stereo WAV files only.  This limited the amount of mixing we could do in order to build the beat around Ian’s vocals.

We’re now recording his second CD.  For this CD, he’s asked Chris to send bounces of each track of his own mix, especially keeping the bass tracks discrete. We anticipate getting a much phatter mix this time around.

Ian’s voice is naturally full of low frequencies – he’s a low baritone. He doesn’t like this all that well, and generally asks me to remove much of the low end from his voice in the mix.  He likes his vocal acapellas to cut through the mix somewhere in the upper mid range.

For the first album I.C. did a lot of vocal doubling, which took a lot of time. He didn’t feel that it had to be perfect, but he wanted it close. On the new CD, he’s backing off from this, and doing more single track vocals.

He also wanted to sing some of the vocal hooks on the CD. He’s not a trained singer, so this took some tracking to get our system and workflow going. Sometimes we’d negotiate the pitch, going back and forth, till it was within tunable range. For the most part, however, he was able to sing and double his parts easily.

Ian is an amazing human being and a great performer.

Check out the first CD at CD Baby. It’s some amazing music.

My niece Sarah McCutchan was in town last week to attend a music camp for teenagers at Trevecca University. She would be with us for a day and a half before leaving to go to the camp. She indicated interest in recording a few songs. I didn’t know what to expect.

I had her tune my guitar and warm up her voice. Sounded pretty go so far. She knew how to tune the guitar! And her voice sounded promising.

Tuning and Warming Up

I set up a matched stereo pair of MikTek C5 small condenser microphones in an ORTF (near coincident) arrangement and had her track the guitar parts first. The goal was quantity, not quality – so we mostly just ran through the 7 songs quickly, using first takes. We only had about 6 hours to do the whole project!

Then it was into the vocal booth. No pitch problems! A strong voice, though. The best arrangement seemed to be the Neumann TLM103 through the Universal Audio 610 MKII  channel strip. Since there wasn’t much time for tweaking, this tube mic pre and compressor/limiter would help control her peaks (with just a tiny bit of limiting only).

The result was wonderful. Plenty of small errors due to the fast pace and no retakes. But lovely. Here’s a sample, posted by her father on SoundCloud. The other songs should be accessible there as well. Enjoy!