As I blogged earlier, Dan and I (collectively known as reverential) were off to the Nashville area for a whirlwind one day recording session. We got back late Tuesday night, and to say that the experience was amazing is really understating it: both Dan and I are really excited about the tracks that got recorded, and while there’s still a lot of work to do before we have finished songs people can listen to, we can’t wait to have people hear them!
I’ll skip mentioning the drive down and back (12+ hours of driving, which were scenic and fun, but tiring), and concentrate on the day that matters: Monday!
We were at the Sound Kitchen, just outside of Nashville, and we arrived at Studio E a little early for our 9:30 session to start. Our producer, Jerroll, was already there, setting up with Ben, our second engineer, who worked at the studio. Shortly after, our session drummer, Scott Williamson arrived, and started checking levels. Not long after that, Joeie Canaday, the bass player for the session came and set up. An interesting side note (which I learned on this trip): there exists an entire industry (collectively know in the business as “cartage”) which involves storing musicians’ gear, getting a call for a session for a studio and time, taking gear out of storage, delivering it and setting it up for the session. Afterward, they come tear it down, and bring it back to storage. Amazing.
After all the technical hurdles were taken care of (levels, patching, loading the first song up), we all assembled in the control room for a talk through of the first song, “What Else Can We Say”. We had provided “scratch” tracks to our producer (basically rough recordings of the essential parts of the song so the session musicians had something to play to), and he played these tracks for the guys, who commented on mix (including wanting to remove different tracks) and asked questions about style. They also went over the chart for the song, which Jerroll had produced for them from the stuff we’d provided. A listen or two, and they went into studio room, and played through part of the song to get a feel for it. This first one was interesting in that Jerroll had decided to raise the key. This changed the pitch of the vocal track, so in order to give the bassist and drummer a better feel for the vocal, they set Dan up in the vocal booth so he could sing on the track (not to be recorded: that would come later).
Once ready, they ran through the song 2 or 3 times, and did a few pick-ups (certain parts of the song where they felt they missed something). And that was pretty much all that was required for the song. Jerroll would rough-mix it from the takes, and we’d re-assemble in the control room to listen, and start talking about the next one.
This was the pattern for the rest of the songs: “Grace Like Rain”, “This is What it’s Like” and “We Will Never Fear”. We had been warned by Jerroll to have extra songs ready (the plan was to do a three song demo), and we used them, and are now looking toward having a 5-song demo.
Oh, and that was the technical description of how things went, which is amazing in and of itself, but what you only get a little bit of out of that description, was how professional these guys are, and how amazing they are at their jobs. Scott and Joeie had worked together before and that showed, but they had never worked with Jerroll, nor had Jerroll worked in that particular studio before, but everything went so smoothly, with no technical glitches and no wasted time. At the same time, things were relaxed and friendly, and Dan and I could completely enjoy and take in the experience. The quote of the morning came from Dan: “I’m having trouble singing, I’m smiling so big!” The only down-side (if there can be said to be one) is something Jerroll said: as studio experiences go, this is as good as it gets: a great studio and equipment to work with, top session musicians and a smooth day, which all allowed us to get everything we set out to get. Anything else can only be just as good. Which, overall, is fine with us.
Once the session guys were finished and had left, my turn came on the piano. For the next 30-45 minutes, I worked on four takes of “Send Your Mercy Down”, the 5th song we had prepared for this. This song, by the way, is just piano and vocals (with some strings to be added later), if you were wondering why it wasn’t mentioned above with the session guys. Dan sang again to help me out, and although the first two takes were shaky (I was having problems playing to the click track Jerroll wanted us to use – on stage we do the song pretty free-form), we got some good stuff in the next two. I think if I had done a fifth take I would have nailed it, but we had enough to put together what we needed. Ah, the magic of the studio.
During this, the cartage guys were busy in the main studio, setting up gear for someone else’s afternoon session, and once I was done (around 1:30), we had the rest of the afternoon off. We were to be back there at 5:30 for the evening vocal session, so Dan and I went to check out downtown Nashville.
We arrived back around 5:15, and while we were hoping to catch the tail end of the afternoon session, they were already finished and gone (man, professionals), and Jerroll and Ben were setting up for Dan’s vocal session. For the next 4 hours, Dan moved between the vocal booth and the control room, alternatively singing and listening to rough mixes of what he had just done. He came through that experience really well, still sounding strong at the end of the fifth song, and we got some great stuff.
As I finish writing this, the process is far from over. We’re about to get the first drum, bass and vocal mixes so we can record our parts, and get those back to Jerroll for final mixing and mastering. But this one day had us more excited about our music than ever before. This really was an amazing experience, and we have some top-notch pros to thank for that. So Jerroll, Ben, Scott and Joeie – if you happen to stumble on this – thanks for a great day!