In the Box and In My Head
The Making of an EP (The Trials and tribulations of a wannabe musician, his fiancee and their Merry Band of Miscreants… The Typical Johnsons)
What you are about to read is a kind of a diary. It is a studio that will be kept during the making of “The Sailor & The Siren” the new EP by Jeremy & Lynne , or if you prefer them as a whole band “JL & The Typical Johnsons” Enjoy! (Honestly I’ll be surprised if anyone reads this!!! )
DAY 4: In The Box and In My Head.
Final vocal day… I know, it seems backward. Let me go back a few steps. In between the last time I posted we played one gig, a show at one of our two favorite coffee shops… Java Nation in Celina Ohio. It was a GREAT show actually. It was loose, needed to be tighter, but we had a lot of fun and had a couple friends sit in with us for a couple sets.
(Java Nation, Celina Ohio)
The crowd was good. Maybe 40 people. At the end of the night, we had a guy come up and talk to us and tell us how much he enjoyed our first album, and how he even passed it onto a friend so he could spread the word about us! One person at a time if thats what it takes. We left the show feeling great. Oddly enough the next day, with no gig, both Lynne and I felt horrible, almost bored. Like the day after a great concert, when real life sets back in, thats what its like on the other side as well. Performing and playing music for people when they respond is such a powerful thing, it almost dulls everything else. Like an addiction, it keeps you coming back. So we moved into the next week, in a state of “cautious optimism”…
(Java Nation, Celina Ohio)
If I can be frank for a moment. The actual process of recording music can at its best be one of the most creative and coolest experiences a person can ever have. At it’s worst though, being in a recording studio can be boring, tedious and even frustratingly stifling. In my limited experience in the recording arena though, I am starting to see myself oscillating between the two extremes whenever I get in the studio to record.
Thankfully there are things that help mitigate these emotional hills and valleys. Sometimes, something as simple as closing off outside distractions or listening to certain types of music prior to a recording session helps. Depending on the studio though, this may not be possible. Usually it falls to the producer in part to ensure a session runs smoothly and all the various pieces move in conjunction with one another to ensure it all goes off with synchronicity.
(VU Meter on outboard compressor)
For the 4th day of recording we slated the time for final vocal tracking for just me. (Jeremy)… Aj, our producer / manager had to work his shift at Bob Evans. (Unfortunately most of our major participants have to work second and even third jobs in some cases to keep doing this!) Since Aj had to work, only Todd Huffman (ICB’s main studio engineer) and myself would be able to work on the tracks.
For the uninitiated, the studio engineer is the man behind the curtain. In some studios, a head engineer can have multiple people working for him placing and setting microphones, or getting initial levels on all instruments, setting cables and channels accordingly. Head engineers actually make the whole thing work in regard to capturing the sound. Board mixes right off the line can make or break a track and ave more influence on the creative process than anyone outside of the studio could possibly imagine.
(ICB Studio B Main Board)
Todd Huffman is an engineer who could have easily chose a different path in life but instead chose to dedicate his time to teaching others this art, and make no mistake, this is an art form. With a pretty serious resume’ and background in the sound world, Todd isn’t just a teacher. Before ICB he had run monitors or been the front of house guy (FOH) for a number of high profile national acts. He has been mixing, fixing sound equipment, playing music and running sound since he was 18. Todd had even been the house sound guy at one of the areas best venues (The Canal Street Tavern in Dayton OH.) and had even toured with Foreigner in 06/07. Which is why we chose him to engineer mix and master our first album (Drawing Blood) last year.
(Todd working the main board)
This time however we thought it best to let Todd focus on his true strength and engineer the lions share of the new EP. This also allowed us to bring ion AJ to take on some of the producer responsibilities. (As I talked about in a previous post) and let Todd focus on bringing in the purest, best sound we could get out of ICB’s studio B. It was only day four in our recording but Todd had nailed the acoustic guitar sound, now it was time to start pulling in vocals.
(Engineer at work)
If your confused at this point, it essentially works like this. If you're not recording live, (meaning the full band playing on every take and recording the songs until you get them down) you can record any piece of the puzzle at any time and build it like a house. Since we are not full time musicians (YET) and everyone has different work schedules it was necessary for us to go about it like this. To record in pieces like this, you have to have a “scratch track” set to a “click track” … this allows everyone to do three things.
(ICB Vocal Booth Mic)
1 - Practice to the same scratch track and keep time with the click track.
2 - Allows the engineer to sync everything up very precisely.
3 - Lets each member of the band come in on a disjointed schedule (read: whenever they can get down there)!
But I digress…
Running a board and setting microphones for even a simple acoustic guitar requires a knowledge that has been hard won throughout the years. In fact before schools like ICB existed the inner workings of a studio were ONLY passed down from engineer to intern or apprentice, much like any other skilled trade.
So with Todd at the board I entered into my own personal purgatory. The recording of the final vocals for the six songs on the EP. (Which means, hey man lets get as far as we can before your voice gets out or you start to sound like someone used a meat grinder on your vocal chords…) Admittedly I am still fairly new to the process of recording in the studio, but I am finding that I truly am developing my own work flow. My 10 step process sometimes goes like this…
(Session Sheets with detailed info on each song and the settings used.)
1 - Get to the studio with as much of my confidence intact as I can, thankfully most of the places I have recorded anything are over 30 minutes from my house so I can sing loudly in the car which is ABSOLUTELY not like singing in a studio, but whatever.
2 - Hate everything I record
3 - Re-do it as many times as everyone around me can stand
4 - Hate myself and everyone around me in carrying degrees until I even I can’t stand it.
5 - Realize that I’m too hard on myself and I’m not ever going to get the perfect take.
6 - Let the producer and engineer , guitarist , drummer , bass player … do the job they are there to do
7 - Bitch nonstop
8 - Commend everyone for the great job they're doing, and secretly hate everything and despair that it all sucks…
9 - Remind myself that I truly do believe in these songs and that “the content is there”…
10 - Realize that, hey these songs are good… and trust again in the producer and engineer , guitarist , drummer , bass player …
… Repeat as necessary …
Hey… I never said it was easy to work with me… ask Lynne …
We decided to start with the easiest, least stressful song (vocally). We made it through 3 takes of “Ohio Gone” and moved onto 3 takes “Sailor & The Siren”. When I say it back now, it doesn’t seem like a terrible amount of singing. But the vocal booth is a mind trip experience. The microphone is a LOT higher quality than anything I was used to singing through. It’s SO sensitive you can pick up the sound of your finger slightly brushing over your shirt. So it really picks up EVERY single fluctuation and nuance of your voice. This is both a blessing and a massive curse.
I knew by this point, that my voice wasn't going to hold out for too long. After my third try at Ohio Gone we decided we had enough on three takes to go with one of them. So we moved onto “Inside My Head.”
Inside My Head, was most likely the best of the previous album. In fact we won an Ohio Music Award for “The Best Folk Song” of 2015 for it. So the first priority for us was to completely tear the song apart and redo it. Call it self sabotage, or a severe case of authoritative pushback, whatever… we were intent on reinventing the song. We have turned inside my head into something of a bit of a power ballad and the result is going to be fairly epic I think! Five takes into the song however, i could feel my vocals going. On the playback we decided there was at least one GREAT take in the 5 we had, so we had enough to go on.
At this point in the 3 hours of singing my vocals were completely shredded, and it was the perfect time to record “Lo -Fi” the new EP’s rocker. The vocals came through perfectly. Todd brought me out of the booth to show me some of the things he was processing on the signal and to give some creative ideas as to how we can present it on the EP itself. I’m trying to stay vague here because some surprise is necessary this time around and it’s going to be an awesome thing to watch take shape!
One day at a time, one song at a time, one fan at a time…..
Till next time!