Things are really moving along! The recording is going faster than anticipated, and it’s really been pure fun. Here are some scenes from the last few sessions. Next week I’m off on a real vacation, then we’ll be back at it at the end of August. Yeah!
The last three studio days were all spent doing editing, where we review all the various takes of the songs, pick the best ones, and then clean up those takes. That involves going over each second of the tune, and making sure it sounds as good as possible. Sometimes we have to adjust volume levels, sometimes we have to add a subtle effect, and sometimes we need to insert a section from another take to fix something like a big string buzz or out-of-tune note.
It takes a long time – and is the most tedious part of the process – but it’s very satisfying to put the recordings under the microscope and make sure they are in their best light. We’ve now finished three songs, and they sound SO good. Without a doubt the best sounds I’ve ever heard my guitar make in a studio.
Today, though, we’re back to actually recording me playing the guitar. First we’ll take on the title track, “Safe in Sound”. This will the be the last song on the album, and to me is really the heart of the whole thing. It covers the entire dynamic range, from the softest fingerpicking to the loudest whacking away on the guitar, and I just can’t wait to see it come to life.
Then, if we have time, we’ll do “the chopstick tune”, otherwise known as “Tug of the Planet”. This is going to be sheer fun – I’m using my koto bridges and actually using chopsticks to play.
After this, only two songs left to record! I can’t believe it! There’s plenty of work left to edit the rest of the tunes, then finalize the sounds, but we are really moving along. What a great feeling to be at this point.
I’m amazed at how quickly things are progressing in the studio. I really thought that at this time, after our fourth three-hour session, we would only have four songs recorded, at best. But we have six down, and sounding great! It’s so energizing.
Part of the reason is that they’re so well-prepared at this studio. There is always an assistant besides the main engineer, which helps out enormously when moving a mic or fetching a new cable. And they’ve asked me to always email them in advance of the session to tell which song I’ll be starting with, so that they can have everything ready to go for that particular song when I arrive.
I haven’t encountered this kind of courtesy and preparation before, and it’s such a nice thing. Makes me feel that I’m in very good hands, and that my time is respected. It makes me want to be fully prepared, myself, before arriving.
Today, the first thing on the agenda was to re-record a small part of Where Shalom Sleeps. It’s a melody played in the lowest range of the guitar, and while I was listening to the rough edit of the recording last week vacation, I realized that the melody just wasn’t coming out very clearly. I practiced it a lot of different ways – even picking with my pinky – but I couldn’t get the proper articulation.
Then I noticed an old guitar pick in the practice room I had rented. I haven’t used a pick on acoustic guitar in decades, but I gave it a try, and that was exactly what was needed. So today we recorded that little part, using a pick. It sounds great!
After that was my first crack at re-recording Despertada por la Madrugada. I had recorded this song ten years ago on my album “Body of a Poet”, but never felt like that recording (done by myself with a cheap mic in a concrete-block building in Mexico) captured the song very well. I’ve also changed the song quite a bit since then, adding a whole bass drum part with my thumb, so I thought it was finally time to do it again.
I did three takes, and was completely happy with the third. It just sounds so good in this studio, with the percussive elements balancing so well with the fairly complex chords. It’s a real rocker ;).
It was only noon and we had another hour left, so I decided to try A Common Place. I knew this would be complicated: it’s an epic, which starts in one tempo, switches completely to another, and then speeds up before returning the the first tempo, along with a key change.
I usually use a click track (aka, a metronome) in the studio, to be sure the tempo stays constant. I was thinking we’d have to record the song in different sections, but then my engineer suggested that he provide a metronome with a blinking light, for the first tempo only. That way, I could glance up and make sure I was in tempo at the beginning and end, and in the middle I would just feel it out.
I loved the idea, and we set up to try it out. I then realized that I wouldn’t need headphones on, which I normally need to hear the click. I took them off and asked for the lights to be turned down low. As I began my third take, I felt myself relaxing into the song, and able to really focus on the emotion in the tune.
By the time I got to the middle section – where it speeds up over several repeating melodies – a kind of vision came to me. I imagined a fiddle player standing by a bonfire, playing these melodies. It’s hard to explain, but I wasn’t thinking about the technique of playing the guitar anymore – I just felt like I was watching this person play their fiddle, to the sound that I was producing.
Things rarely get so esoteric in the studio, but when they do, I know something special is happening. I was so happy that it was being recorded! I finished the take and knew we had a keeper.
I can’t wait for you to hear this stuff!
While in New York last week, I rented a rehearsal room so I could get in some concentrated practice on “Safe in Sound” and “Natural Law”. Would love to hear any thoughts!
Today’s the first day of tracking – that is, actually recording something to keep. Hopefully ;). We’re starting out with the easier tunes, just to get in the groove and make sure the sound is what we want it.
The first song we’ll try is “A Walk in the Park”, a little fingerpicking waltz that I really like. Here’s a demo video:
Tomorrow I’ll be back again for another session, then I have two weeks off for vacation. I’ll be taking along some rough mixes so I can review and be sure the performances are coming out well.
Excited to get rolling!
My engineer is Hollis Greathouse, who also was the engineer for “On Time”. (The engineer is the guy sets up the mics and gets sounds down on tape, or on computer as the case is now). He’s super-skilled, super-efficient, and is a very positive and cheerful guy, which I really need when I’m working like this.
I’m bringing a playlist of recent solo guitar recordings whose sound I really like, and the first thing we’ll do today is to listen to those recordings on the big studio speakers and pick out what it is that I like about the sound. We may listen to this playlist again as we go through the process of the album, to give us some perspective and compare what we’re recording with these sounds.
I’ve realized that this is going to be a deeply eclectic album. The tunes themselves all hang together in my mind – there’s a shared quality among them – but soundwise they’re really different. There are a few really quiet songs, a few really loud ones, and a lot of experimental bits that don’t sound quite like anything else. I’m going for an oud-like sound in one, tabla drums and sitar in another, hammer dulcimer in another…these all will take different recording approaches. Today we’ll try out some of these sounds and see what kind of techniques we need to use.
It should be interesting!