Posts Tagged ‘studio engineer’

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.

As I mentioned in the “About” page, I have four reasons for posting this blog.

First, in the section entitled Recent Projects, to (gently) advertise my project studio. I try to record 5-6 projects annually, and would be glad to discuss whether what I do is appropriate for your project. From time to time, therefore, I’ll post links to music recorded in the studio so that you can get an idea of what I can do.

Second, in the section entitled Philosophy, to share my philosophy of recording.

Third, in the section entitled Tricks of the Trade, to share ideas that I have about improving both the workflow and quality of project studio recordings.

Fourth, in the section entitled Gear, to discuss gear I have used or found useful in studio production.

For over thirty years now I’ve been recording and mixing music. No, it’s not my “day job.” I teach at Vanderbilt Divinity School. I write books on all kinds of topics. I’ve also been known to blog on a range of topics – in particular preaching and worship, and popular religion. My passion for recording music intersects with my other interests – which focus on the philosophy and impact of sound and words in the public arena.

My life in recording began in my teenage and college age years, in Birmingham, Alabama. I worked for a film company (Metcalf Productions), writing soundtracks (mostly music) for commercial films and television spots. I hung around the studio as much as I could, learning the basics of microphone placement, mixing and editing.

Studio Engineering was not how I wanted to make a living. I had other interests oriented toward scholarship and teaching. But music performance and recording remained my primary hobbies – and soon became a bit more than that, as computers began to make recording more accessible for hobbyists.

In the Control Room

With the advent of computer-based digital sequencing in the 80’s and then the full-blown marketing of digital audio workstations (DAWs) in the 90’s, home recording leapt to new levels, and became more accessible to hobbyists. I began editing on the German based software Emagic Logic in the mid-90s and stuck with it when Apple bought the company and morphed it into Logic Pro. I have stayed with Logic, and have found it to be more than adequate for most forms of studio production.

Moving to Nashville in 2004 changed the whole game for me. Nashville is filled with commercial and boutique studios, and hundreds of project studios (good and bad). At the same time, hundreds of artists move to Nashville each year in order to try to make it in the music industry as either songwriters or performers. The number of people needing good quality demo recordings or affordable project recordings is many times what it is in most cities. And there is a small niche for those of us who can provide a product that is less expensive yet well recorded and mixed. I’ve steadily increased the number of projects I take on. My connections with excellent musicians (for hire), gear rental and other music resources has sky-rocketed in the past three years.

Although gear is important, as you will see in later posts, I believe that the key to recording and mixing is the ear, not the gear. Some of my favorite recordings were made on an old Tascam cassette Portastudio I owned in the late 80s, using mostly dynamic microphones. Training one’s ear to create a good sound and mix is the key to recording at any level. More on this, and other aspects of the game, later.

Welcome to the blog. Hope you enjoy it and get something out of it.