5. Recording Living Creatures Project – Pt 2

Screen Shot 2014-02-14 at 11.31.44 AMThe One in Which I Tell Tales of Hiding Songs in Dark Places and Recording Drum Tracks.

The other day my son, Angel told me he wrote a song and asked me if I wanted to hear it. I said I would love to hear it, but first I want you to write four more songs. Write four more songs, then play me the best of the five.

“Four more songs?” he had a look on his face like “You’ve never said that before.”

I explained my reasoning; when I write a song, at first I always think it’s the best song I’ve ever written and usually I have to write a couple more songs before I have any objectivity.

The Filter

It’s like our kids. When we have the first kid there is a magic filter that causes us to believe they are the most wonderful child in the world; they are the most beautiful (so beautiful we take nine photos every hour, and show the photos to anyone who will stand still long enough to see them), they are the most talented (everything reminds us of another amazing story of teething, sitting, crawling, walking or baby talk illustrating how our child is well above average.) The filter even works on other people; no matter what they say we only hear what the magic filter lets through. Someone could say our baby was a hideous little worm, but we would only hear, “Your baby is so adorable!” Once we have another child we start to see the first kid more objectively; the magic filter stops working, and we begin to see our kid for who they really are; a hideous little worm. Just kidding! Whether parents have another child or not, we eventually start to see our child in a more realistic light. Well, most parents anyway.

Songs have a magic filter, too.

If it wasn’t for this magic filter, most of us would never write a second song, and we would have hidden the first song in a dark place where no one would ever find it. This is where the child analogy completely breaks down, of course. Parents should never hide their children in dark places, no matter how awful they are.

I’m going to back slowly away from the “songs are like children” metaphor before someone gets hurt.

I needed to cut eight songs from the Living Creatures Project from the twenty I had started with. These had already been chosen from about a hundred songs, so it was really a matter of choosing songs that made a cohesive album rather than cutting the hideous worms. Songs like “Open Your Word,” “Christ the Word of God,” and “He is Risen” along with some renovated hymns will probably resurface on a project in the future.

Home Recording For Drummies.

We recorded the drums at Alan’s studio. He has the control room set up in a small bedroom, and he ran an audio snake across the attic to a larger bedroom he uses for the recording room; the place where he keeps his drums and music gear. The control room is dark with a black futon and a colorful disco light that reacts to sound. There is not a window between the control room and the recording room like you have probably seen on TV, which can make communication between the two rooms challenging.

Alan set up his vintage Ludwig kit and had it mic’d up before I arrived. I think it may have been left over from a previous session, which is fantastic because that means the bugs had been worked out. It also means that he already knows he likes the drum sounds. Best of all, it means I don’t have to stand around waiting for drums to be set up and listen to hours of mic placement tests, eq and compression settings and bonk, bonk, bonk, bonk – “I don’t think the kick mic is working.”

We ran everything through some crazy cool analog gear with old transistors and tubes to give everything a nice warm glow, but eventually the signal gets captured digitally on a MacPro running ProTools.

I sat in the control room and ran the software while Alan played drums in the other room. Before each song he would come into the control room and sit on the futon while we listened to the scratch-track. We would both play the drum parts by tapping our foot for the kick and slapping our legs for the rest of the kit; pretty much like two kids playing air-drums. I knew the basic drum parts I wanted for the songs, and this was a great way for us to get on the same page quickly.

Once we had a plan for what the drum part would be; where to play, where not to play, what the groove was going to be, where the fills are, what kind of fills, how busy or minimalist the drums should be, etc. then Alan would go into the recording room, put on headphones and start hammering away at the track.

I would record everything, because you never know when a happy accident might occur. Usually he would play a couple takes before he wanted to listen to a playback. Sometimes when you hear the playback it doesn’t come back through the speakers quite the way you thought it was going to sound, so you record again with slight modifications. The goal is for it to feel the same when you listen to it as it did when you were playing it. Typically by the third or fourth take we were ready to move to the next song.

If I remember right, I think it only took us three days to lay all the drum tracks. I think Alan is a genius drummer who knows how to play drums like a composer; he finds the perfect part to set up the song and make the arrangement come together. He is a bit of a minimalist but he has serious rock chops when he needs them. I’m pretty sure he can read minds.

It felt great to have the drum tracks finished. He made stereo mixes of them, and uploaded them to Dropbox so I could load them on my computer and work on guitar, bass and vocals at home.


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