Zen of Recording

The War of Will, Part 4

Things seemed almost stabile. Like a storm that blows, bullies, and blusters, then suddenly subsides, I was cautiously hopeful. Before the band (22 Kings) showed up to give me a lift to the studio (Singing Serpent) for our third and final day of tracking, I nursed a hot cup of expertly brewed joe and took a moment to survey the present situation.

Somehow, through two technically challenging nightmarish days of work, we’d recorded (and dutifully archived) all of Sam Bybee and Sandi King’s live-in-the-studio vocal and guitar performances. As these would make up the very core of the album, this was a considerable milestone. Today’s sessions would be almost entirely devoted to adding David Ryan Norgren’s upright bass and Sandi’s bass drum and percussion tracks. Meanwhile electric guitarist Joshua Taylor would sporadically continue to lay down his parts at the same time, just as he had been throughout the recording process. Still, this brief moment of repose felt… eerie. The band arrived and piled my ankle-casted self into their car along with my scooter and off we drove to the studio. Before we even arrived, I realized the source of my uneasiness in that otherwise peaceful moment was directly related to just how fleeting it was.

First came the text from Dave, the bass player:

“We may have a problem here”.

Sam shoots back a message. “What do you mean?”

“Everything is unplugged.” came the reply.

By now, we were almost there. I took a long, deliberate breath. The kind I take when I’m about to enter into a potentially stressful situation, like the ones I had been experiencing (and previously chronicling here) in the prior sessions.

This was not that.

One of the things I was really trying to ensure was leaving all of our equipment settings and patch bay routings untouched during the course of the sessions, for our obvious need of continuity. But hey, there’s a lot of people that work within that studio complex and there are deadlines and other needs to be met.

Still, it sucked that we had to kind of start over with our setup, but at least we were onto a new phase in the recording process. Ben Moore again showed up like an audio superhero and quickly had the mics, preamps, and other outboard gear setup and ready to go.

Once again, I carefully followed the list of steps in connecting each cable into my unendearingly “vintage” laptop and began the boot sequence.

Once again, it wouldn’t work.

I was pretty sure I might scream, cry, or collapse at any moment, but armed with the knowledge that I had faced these exact same hurdles previously and surmounted them, I kept calm and kept trying. I may have been trying a little too hard, actually.

At one point I was flying between the control room and the computer room on my scooter at high speeds, with a litany of solutions to try and a fierce determination in my belly.

I reset the digital interface’s master clock and leapt out of the doorway, cast and all, to my awaiting scooter.

Only I totally missed it.

Bam! The sound of my 170 pounds slamming my knee onto the hardwood floor reverberated through Singing Serpent’s hallowed halls. On this particular occasion, they just happened to be filled with people who had front row seats to my self-inflicted demolition.

“Ohhhhhhh,” they shuddered collectively.

“Hey man, are you okay?” someone called.

“Oh yeah, I’m fine!” I cheerfully replied as I disappeared around the corner and enjoyed a hearty wince…

That’s the thing about being a producer: it’s kind of like being the captain of a pirate ship in battle. You don’t want the crew or the enemy to see you’re hurt and bleeding, so you call for your red shirt to disguise that and carry on.

What happened next made me want to request my brown pants.

Because we were adding new parts on top of the songs’ other tracks, my effectively HAL-era computer was laboring to keep up with the simple task of playing back the previously recorded audio while recording the new overdubs.

Secure in the knowledge that I had safely backed up all of the tracks the previous evening, I quickly rendered stereo submixes of all the songs and deleted the original audio.

I rebooted the computer, opened Studio One, armed the bass track for recording and tried again. It worked! (cue angel choir: “Ahhhhhhhhhh!”)

We quickly moved through the bass parts, due to Dave’s sharp preparedness and levelheaded cool, and turned our attention to capturing the bass drum and percussion. I placed the same vintage Neumann U47 tube condenser microphone that had been used to record the bass about a foot and a half away and slightly off-center from the outside of the bass drum and added a Neumann U87 condenser about two feet out from Sandi’s face, at a slightly downward angle. This second mic would catch all the shaker, tambourine, and other hand percussion, while the U47 would collect the bass drum’s heft and just enough of the room to impart a sense of space into the signal.

Again, Sandi had toured and performed these parts so much that she blew through these takes like it was a routine sound check, playing the bass drum and percussion simultaneously and nailing every part in first or second take.

At the end of the session we had everything we’d hoped to get and more. The rest of the sessions would be focused on edits, overdubs, and mixing.

Of course, I’d be doing that at the same time I was recording, editing, overdubbing, and mixing Josh’s album, which had to be finished in time for the tour they were all embarking on in less than a month’s time.

Every time I thought about it. I peed a little.

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer, singer, songwriter, and a former stunt scooterist. www.kaspro.com

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