July 8th, 2008


The Art and Science of Recording


I just finished working on an album with my friend Sam Locke Ward, a local musician who has been in many locally revered band. The album is a crazy amalgam of bluegrass, noise rock, and gospel gone very wrong. The above song features Pete Balestrieri (sax player for Violent Femmes) on backing vocals. Sam added a track playing our Steinway baby grand.

Originally I was going to record all tracks and did a couple of sessions for the basic tracks but the hard disk it was on had a boo boo (which I later recovered from), so Sam bought a 4 Track Tascam for $50 and recorded it all himself with one cheap microphone. I came back in the picture to dump the 4 track sessions onto hard disk, and add some additional vocals and overdubs.

Given the lo-fi beginnings of the recording, I think it sounds really good. Sam's post-Neil Young warbling may be an acquired taste, but I think I've acquired it. The song-writing on this album is wickedly funny and ominous at the same time.

What I ended up doing is recording all the backing tracks to one mono track, and the vocals to a second. This was done in Ableton Live, btw. I set up Compression+EQ racks on the first couple of tracks, and added a reverb send. All tracks were processed the same way across the whole album, with some slight tweaks to EQ and compression where necessary. This helps to give the CD a consistent sound, even though the songs and instrumentation were varied. I used the reverb very subtly to open up the arid sound of the 4 track. There's only a few places you can hear the reverb, it's mostly subliminal.

What I learned was that if you come up with an overall strategy for mixing and mastering, you can work pretty quickly. I spent a fair amount of time agonizing about how far forward to mix vocals, but most signal treatment decisions were made early on, so the mixing was mostly a matter of pushing the volume faders.

This is the first project of this sort, and while I don't think I want to make a habit of doing it for free, there are distinct rewards of working on other people's stuff. It gives me ideas of how to do my own thing better as well...

Oh and if you click thru to Sam's myspace above, he's on tour around the US starting this week so you might have a chance to go see him do his thing. If you do buy him a beer and mention my name. And buy the CD!