A magic moment in the studio

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!