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Stories behind tracking Butch Walker’s “Letters”- Joan

Joan-

Joan was tracked in one take at Butch Walker’s Ruby Red Room in Atlanta. We used a stereo mic setup on the piano, I think it was 2 414s but I’m not 100% sure as it was a while ago. The vocal was a u47 I believe, and yes there was vocal bleed in the piano mics and vice versa. That was part of the beauty of it all.

At the end of the day of band tracking I talked to Butch about doing one of the stripped down tunes. He was completely game and chilled out for a while and got the headspace for that tune while we did the setup for tracking.

About 20 minutes later, Butch came in, we double checked levels very quickly and he performed Joan. One take, no punches tuning or edits. You can hear plenty of mildly out of tune notes if that’s what you’re listening for. I was floored as was Russ-t Cobb who was running Pro-Tools. It’s beautiful when music happens this way, just pure and performed.
I think we tried to find reasons to do it again, but decided against it.

A couple days later, from a recommendation from Ed Roland (Collective Soul) A young violinist named Bobby Yang came by to sort of “Audition” to play on the record. Butch and I were a bit high on our horses and expecting the worst from Bobby Yang.

Bobby shows up and pulls his violin out. I don’t know if Butch or I said “Show us what you got kid”….but it was something like that. He played us Van Halen’s “Eruption” and we were a bit floored. Now what to do with this genius.

We played him Joan and told him we were thinking of a string quartet kind of vibe. Bobby was like “Sure”…..He listened a few times, and wrote some notation and we started building the quartet. Realize, there is no click and the tempo is very freeform.

I think it took Bobby about an hour to track the whole thing. Completely amazing that we had done this beautiful track in such a short time and ease. We used Bobby on a few other tracks on the album that I will Blog later.

Preparing for your next Recording Session

Preparing for your next Recording Session
 
So, a lot of what I’ll say here is obvious yet, so often overlooked.
I get into a lot of sessions where a little more gear preparation would have saved a lot of money and made the entire recording process better.

1.) Have your instruments (guitar and bass) setup.
Bad intonation is one of the biggest time-wasting, vibe-sucking elements that has ever plagued a recording session. When we have to retune for each different section of the song because guitar or bass intonation is out, it not only adds stress to the player, but it is easily avoidable. Realize that it becomes obvious in recording if these problems exist and tuning programs seldom fix this. Set up your instruments before your session!

2.) Guitar players:
Change your strings the day before your session so they can settle on the guitar. There will be a lot less retuning if your strings are settled in.

3.) Bass’s are a bit different.
If you want a bright piano like tone, new strings will work better. If you want a warmer r+b kind of sound, older strings are usually OK. Again, have your bass setup as well so we can avoid intonation problems.

You can usually find a guitar tech or at least get a name of someone who can set your guitars up at your local music store or online. Better yet seek out other players and find out who they use.
 
4.) Drummers:
“Wow, I should have changed these heads”. I’ve heard this a few times. Your drums typically don’t record with much tone or presence with old drum heads. Change them the day before your recording session so they can settle.

If you’re using the studio’s kit and you’er booking a fair amount of time, ask them to replace the heads for your session. Usually this is not a problem unless you’er booking only a few hours.
 
5.) Piano:
If Piano is a big part of your sound and you are using the studio’s Piano, make sure the Studio knows this so they can have the piano tuned. Some studios tune their pianos all the time, some don’t. Big time sucking problems can be avoided with some forethought and a simple phone call.
 
6.) Hard drives:
Since we now live in the digital age and you are probably recording to a hard drive, check with the studio to find out what hard drives they use. You will need TWO hard drives. One drive to record on and one drive to backup on. Hard drives are not expensive anymore. This is the cheapest and one of the most critical points to attend to when prepping for your recording session.

Hard drives can crash! If you have hours or days or weeks of work on your hard drive and it crashes with no backup, you’re possibly out of luck. The studio is not responsible for your drives and the hard drive manufacturer usually only covers the drive, not the content on it. Don’t cheap out here. Buy a backup!
 
Hopefully these 6 preparation points will help your next Studio Recording Session go smooth as butter.
 
That’s it for now… Jim