Thursday, June 9, 2011

How to Make a Record in 2 Days: Part One

(NOTE: If you just watched the video above, or have arrived here from YouTube, the text of Part One is below.)
Ian Love, who I have now co-produced five records with, once told me I make records faster than anyone he knows. I don’t know how I received this ability. But I suppose it’s a good talent to have, so I try not to question it and instead simply be grateful for it. The three previous records I made with my bands, as well as my solo acoustic EP The Darkness and the Light, had at most four instruments and four musicians total contributing to them. When I set out to make my new solo EP, Just Keep Goin’, I knew that I wanted a lot more musicians involved. So I didn’t know if my knack for knocking out recordings in such a swift manner would hold for long.
(PHOTO: Ian Love, left, working in his recording studio in Brooklyn, with Scott Holcomb, right, who played additional guitar tracks on Just Keep Goin', looking on. Photo by Yours Truly.)
When I originally wrote the lyrics for the first track, “Hey, Colleen”, I really had no clear idea what I wanted the music to be like. Songs come to me in different ways, sometimes the music and lyrics come together, other times only the music comes and I figure the lyrics out later, or vice-versa. In this case it was the latter.
Before I left on my solo tour around the country in July of 2010, I came across the lyrics I had written, and suddenly had a strong desire to finish the basic form of the song. I asked my good friend Scott Holcomb to write a rhythm guitar part and lucky for me he agreed. So one Saturday, Scott met me at my apartment, and we spent the afternoon working out the tune and by the end of the day, we had the guitar part and vocal melody hammered out and written down on paper. We recorded a first home version of it with my little Microtrack mp3 recorder and listening to it afterwards, I was very pleased with what I heard.
Soon after Scott and I made that home recording, I bought my Honda Civic, put my stuff in storage, and headed out on my solo tour. I had a lot of time while driving to think about how to record “Hey, Colleen” in the studio. Having been in fairly small bands or solo my entire time as a musician, I thought it might be a lot of fun to work with a bunch of different musicians, especially friends whom I'd admired.
I wanted the music to have a similar feel to the journey contained in the lyrics…lonely and desperate in the beginning, building slowly with greater and greater power up to the song’s optimistic conclusion. I started to hear a bunch of instruments in my head, and began dreaming up grand plans. Scott’s rhythm guitar part sounded beautiful on its own, and yet to my ear, there was a lot of room for other instruments to chime in and add their particular qualities to the overall sound of it.
Eventually what I settled on for the instrument line-up of “Hey, Colleen” was an acoustic guitar, a bass guitar, one electric guitar playing the rhythm part, another electric guitar with some effects on it, a lap steel guitar, a violin, drums, and finally my own lead vocals with some back-up vocals added in. This meant getting six musicians other than myself to play on the recording…a total of seven people just for one song! It was almost double the number of anything I had ever produced before...

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