The making of an album: 2nd and 3rd studio sessions

My little band Thornfield has been BUSY! Saturday May 5th we headed into Handwritten Recording for our second studio session.

Just like the previous time, we got in around 12:15 to set up, tune up and warm up for a 1pm start time, and went ’til 7pm.

However, the experience was vastly different than our first session.

And I mean vastly different, in case you didn’t catch those bold letters.

You’ll probably remember that our first session was all about getting the basic tracks, with piano, guitar and drums playing at the same time, and the extra person singing what’s called ‘scratch vocals’ in the other room–not the keeper vocals, but just a guideline to keep all the musicians together. We were insanely efficient and on the ball, and our engineer said that it was the most productive session he’d ever worked.

Well, in this case . . . second verse, not the same as the first.

(But that’s okay)

The highlight of this session was bringing in some friends of ours: Jon Lin came in armed with his cello to track 5 songs . . . (here he is warming up)

. . . and the musical genius Graham Nelson came in with his mouth harp to track 4 songs.

Go Graham go!

Eric was practically drooling over Graham’s performance (and Carrie was feeling the love too). This guy knows his way around a mouth harp, and there’s no denying it.

Our friend Peter/Petras also had a bunch of bass tracks to lay down (and we can’t thank this guy enough for all his hard work).

So unlike the first session, in which we all played at the same time, aimed to get 2 clean takes of each song and then moved on, this session was much more repetitive.

Carrie would track the lead vocals for a song our friends were joining us on–for example, Scarecrow.

(accompanied by her constant friend: a cup of Throat Coat, the best tea ever for vocalists)

Then, this same song had to be tracked again later for Jon, with a couple takes to get it right.

Then, even later, Graham tracked the same song, a couple times, until he got a take he was pleased with.

Then, Peter tracked it too.

So it wasn’t “play a song and move on.” It was play a song . . . play it again . . . play it again . . . and play it one more time, with each person adding their bit one by one.

And please let me emphasize: this isn’t a problem–this is exactly what was slated to happen. Our friends did a fantastic job (truly, truly). The cello and bass and mouth harp are indispensable to the sound of these songs, and we are so, so happy they volunteered their time and energy and talent.

But . . . it felt slow. For Eric, Carrie and me, there was a lot of time just sitting on the couch listening to what was being recorded–and not just chillaxing, but listening carefully so that we could give feedback, encouragement, and our opinion on when a clean, keepable take had been achieved, and when there may have been a few measures that needed to be re-recorded and punched in.

So for us 3: a lot of sitting still while maintaining that focused attention on the music that was happening.

It was exhausting! And in an entirely different way than the first time. The first session was like getting high and injected with 5 doses of delicious caffeine, and using that crazed energy to run a marathon that you ended up winning.

(and this session may have felt like this for Jon, who–having never recorded before–went from uncertain to triumphant over the course of the afternoon)

For me however, this session was more like getting injected with caffeine but then being strapped down and unable to use that energy up in a satisfying way. It was productive . . . but felt unproductive. It was great . . . but didn’t feel great. I know the results were awesome . . . but I felt strangely deflated and useless by the end.

Besides tracking the guitar for Sunrise, re-tracking the guitar for Pierced Through, and tracking lead vocals for Denali and Green Wheat (more about that later on, hee hee), I sat on the couch. And sat some more.

And then a little more.

Anyway, I hope this isn’t a downer–the recording process is still going great. I just want to keep it real about how it felt going through the experience.

After the second session was over, as we were packing up our instruments, we booked a few hours for Thursday night with our engineer, wanting to get some more work done before Carrie headed off to a friend’s wedding and was off the radar for a bit.

And our Thursday night session (5-9pm) was–surprise, surprise–completely different again. It was just the 3 of us–me, Eric and Carrie–and it was fun. And productive. And felt productive. We were efficient, honest with each other, and tracked a ton of vocals, harmonies, and diddly extras. And after those 4 hours, I didn’t feel totally beat up from exhaustion either.

Our next (and hopefully last) session will be on Sunday May 27th. There’s a lot left to do: fiddly bits like tambourine, egg shaker and djembe, extras like melodica and triangle, a few remaining lead vocals and some harmonies–but the end is, for the first time, in sight.

Of course, recording isn’t the final step. Mixing, artwork for the CD, administrative stuff to get ourselves on itunes, copyrighting, etc. is still ahead–but hey. One step at a time . . .

. . . right?

6 thoughts on “The making of an album: 2nd and 3rd studio sessions

  1. joanne

    I never really realized how long and grueling a process recording is. Wow.

    But at least there’s fun injected into it! Makes it worth it.

  2. Kimby

    This is so exciting! I loved your caffeine analogies throughout. 😉 All the musical energy and lag time and waiting will result in THE sound — The THORNFIELD sound — and I can hardly wait to hear it. (See, you have one CD sold already!)

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