Zen of Recording

The War of Will, Part 3

Words are powerful things. I sometimes believe them to be the most traitorous of conspirators.

Take last issue, for instance, wherein I wrote the following with regard to my beloved old red Gateway laptop:

“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.”

Within 48 hours, that very laptop’s hard drive just up and died.

I hadn’t even arrived the point in our story where that little dynamo stepped in, stepped up and saved the freakin’ day for myself and 22 Kings.

Where I did leave off was me staring at it, trying to cuss it into useful action. Thankfully, Ben Moore popped his head into the studio to see if things were going okay. They were decidedly, not.

“Oh, sometimes the whole system just needs to be rebooted.”  he said, in his typically cheerful and direct manner.

Moments later he returned to the control room, “Good?”

“Good!” I gratefully exclaimed.

With a “Cool. Have fun!” he returned to his studio as if he were walking into fog, kinda like how a magician might leave the stage after sawing a pretty lady in half. I think I saw doves fly.

I opened Studio One and set up a template for recording each song. This included Sam’s vocal, Sandi’s vocal, and Sam’s acoustic guitar as the main “capture” elements. These mics were fortified by a Telefunken AR70 stereo mic that captured room ambience and a pair of vintage Neumann Km85 condenser mics that were placed in front of what would become one of this album’s featured attractions: a fully restored Ivers and Pond upright piano, circa 1910. From the very moment you touch this instrument, you are at once confronted and seduced by its unique character. There’s an inherent and dramatic high-end roll-off all the way into the midrange, which casts a cloak of dark and moody sepia tones over almost anything you play on it. This sound inspired 22 Kings to create an entirely new version of “Out to Sea,” a song they had included on their most recent release. Only this version was slower and more emotionally dynamic, imparting a certain pathos into the song that had perhaps been missing previously. Another unique feature of the piano was a “dampening” lever that allows players to increase or decrease the muting of the highs. I happened upon a creative application for that by manually “riding” that lever throughout the song’s performance, muting the quiet parts the most and “opening up” the treble during the louder sections. This lent a heightened dramatic dynamic that I felt conveyed excitement and elicited wonderful vocal performances from the two vocalists. A lovely example of how our tools can inspire us, too.

Meanwhile, I held to a strategy of highlighting those particular skills and confidence that come from playing these songs frequently, both at home and on tour. This was immediately evident, from the very first take. In fact, all of Bringing Me to Life’s 12 songs are based upon live takes, usually the second one. I’d hit record, they’d nail it, and I’d say, “One more, for safety,” and they’d do an even better version. They worked hard to be sure, but they worked very fast and efficiently because they were so prepared.

This also helped them to be unceasingly unflappable.

Through no fault of Singing Serpent Studio’s, I was constantly in some sort of frenetic and/or frantic situation, technically speaking. I mean, there’s always going to be some of that when working in unfamiliar surroundings. I still also had a broken ankle, but I was able to acquire a swell scooter that really help mobilize my efforts. I’m sure it was a little disconcerting to gaze upon the visage of me ripping through Singing Serpent’s nicely finished wooden halls with a hot cup of tea in one hand, but they were actually all very nice about everything.

As I’ve described previously, my little hard drive was little, brittle, and full. Each of the three days we spent recording there followed a very specific process: Takes were captured, and all problems, comments, ideas, and suggestions were documented and kept with the Studio One docs and audio files for each song. Then I’d go home and immediately back those files up onto two separate hard drives (the drive I would be working from subsequently and a backup copy of it). Then, I put on my headphones and mixed unedited stereo submixes of each song’s best take. I also gave those files descriptive names for finding them and info about them, more easily later, like “Bright_Red_4-4_140bpm_48-24.wav.” This shows the song’s title, followed by its time signature and tempo, as well as the .wav’s sample rate and bit depth. Once done, I simply erased all of the files from the previous session and used the mixes as the audio for newly created versions of the studio one files, which helped by using far less of the laptop system’s already limited resources; utilizing a single file, instead of multiple tracks.

The first two days were focused on getting Sam and Sandi’s performances; the third we mostly tracked David Ryan Norgren’s upright bass as well as drum and percussion overdubs. Joshua Taylor’s electric guitar textures always seemed to be just sort of wafting in at different times throughout the sessions like these warm, gentle breezes of color.

Speaking of whom…

At the end of the second session, we all piled into Sam’s car and as I watched him figure out how to fit all of my stuff into the back, I remember thinking, “Wow, this is really a challenge, but it’s happening. I don’t know how, but it’s actually happening!”

Just then Sam’s voice intervened. “Sven, you and Josh here really need to talk. We’re going on tour together soon and he’s gonna need a record done, too!”

“Ohhhh?” I said with a faux-demure air, “You know, I happen to make records.”

Inside however, panic was tearing through me like kids with birthday gifts.

To be continued…

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer, singer, and songwriter. He performs songs from his new album, The Sexy, at the Blind Dog Pub on Nov. 1 and Java Joe’s on Nov. 27.

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