Zen of Recording

The War of Will, Part II

As outlined last month, my expedition through the moon-like topography of Utah was coming to a close but, like Apollo 13, there was a problem with re-entry. Despite my broken ankle and the tenuously temporary nature of my living arrangements, I had still had work to do.

A few weeks earlier I had seen a tweet from Sam Bybee, saying that he and Sandi King (collectively known as 22 Kings) were looking for someone to produce their next album project. I’d produced two releases previously for Sam (“8.a.m.” and “I Hate Pretty Girls”) and had mastered the first 22 Kings album, so I had already established a good working relationship with them. They had even contacted me about working on this next project several months earlier, but I was already Utah-bound and it didn’t seem feasible.

Things were different now. I tweeted a response, to which Sam tweeted (twoth?) that I had the gig. Yes!

Of course this was before I’d rendered myself one-legged and multi-addressed, but the deadline was still the deadline, as the band were set to take said album on the road in just a few short weeks.

I talked to the band about what our options were as far as rooms to record in. I was currently sleeping in one of them (Wolfgang Grasekamp’s Seven Corners Studio), but I knew that I wanted to capture their seasoned vocal blend and collective energy in a slightly larger room, so as to get a more “live” vibe.

After making some calls, my friend and colleague Rafter Roberts offered up a few days at Singing Serpent studios. This would be a one-time deal, though, as they had a very solidly-booked room there. Hands were shaken, checks were written and, amidst the chaos, a plan began to emerge.

My strategy was to run each song down with Sam and Sandi singing and playing live, just like a tour date. They had expanded their lineup to include David Ryan Norgren on upright bass and Josh Taylor on electric guitar. Sandi also plays kick drum and hand percussion as she sings. I thought that might provide too much bleed and distraction, so I decided to track those elements separately, along with the bass and guitar. Of course, I still hadn’t heard a single note of this music yet. I was totally flying on faith at this point.

I went to the studio a day ahead of time, to work out the technical aspects and head off any potential problems. My longtime friend and fellow engineer/producer Ben Moore was of invaluable assistance in this regard and helped me “stage” things to minimize my setup time, including help in selecting and connecting microphones (a Bock 251 for Sam’s vocals, a Neumann U47 for Sandi’s, and a U87 for Sam’s acoustic guitar) and patching into all of the preamps (Mercury V72s for the vocals, a Retro 176 on the guitar), and compressors (Universal Audio 1176s). I tried not to get my crutches tangled-up in any of these things.

The final element to the setup was the DAW software. While many studios offer whatever the “house” uses (usually ProTools), Singing Serpent allows for swapping out the actual computer. So, instead of working in an unfamiliar recording and editing environment, you simply download the drivers for their Antelope Orion 32 audio interface and work within whatever comfy digital confines you’re used to. Just plug into your computer’s USB port and you’re up and running. As I currently prefer PreSonus Studio One, this solution was a perfect one. Well, almost…

It should be noted that most of the following is my fault. I use an older DELL Xperion PC that has been so stable under Microsoft XP, I have not migrated it to newer operating systems, like, say Windows 7-10. So, when I went to download and install the current Orion drivers, it didn’t, couldn’t, and wouldn’t work. At all. “Shit, shit, shit, SHIT!” I heard myself say out loud, “What am I gonna do?”

I went home. I looked at my old, red Gateway laptop, a core-duo 2G marvel that has been with me since… well, let’s just say it has Windows Vista as its O.S.

Wait.

Didn’t Orion have a Vista-compliant driver? This thing has a tiny (by modern standards) 140-gig hard drive. On it, I have everything from my entire iTunes library to Photoshop on this thing. From my son Miles’ first steps to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, it’s all been broken down into millions of little 1s and 0s, strewn across its delicate platen’s scarce to non-existent real estate. It’s not a computer so much as it is a time-capsule.

I started scrolling through old programs and files with the brutality of the Vikings. I mean I “backed it up” onto a Seagate Plus, a portable 3-terabyte solid state drive. Still, that mostly applies to data. Programs are usually lost forever and it’s really better to just reformat and start fresh after a certain point anyway. So, I’m sure I have most of my stuff, but… at the end of it all, I had reclaimed several gigabytes, about enough to handle Studio One 2.5, which I then downloaded and installed. I made sure not to download any additional content, so I could streamline the program to its maximum efficiency, except for the reverb impulses for their Open Air plug-in. No other processing or EQ would be applied and no plug-ins used, so what I heard while tracking would be what I heard upon returning to Wolfgang’s studio. I would then port the files back over to the XP-based machine for editing and applying processing via plug-ins like PSP’s Old Timer compressor or PreSonus’ own (and excellent) ProEQ.

Only when I got to the studio bright and early the next day and hooked it all up, it didn’t work.

Again: “Shit!”

To be continued…

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer (www.kaspro.com). His new studio, Alamo North, is open for business.

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