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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.

Recording “Letters” with Butch Walker

Recording Butch Walker Letters

The best records you make as a Music Producer are always the easiest to make. Butch Walker’s “Letters” was one such record.

“Letters” started with me getting out of the house and visiting my friend Butch In Little 5 Points in Atlanta. I went to drink Wine and hang out with Butch. Then he played me the demo to the song “Mixtape” and we decided a good way to spend the weekend would be to drink wine and do this song.

Butch had a ton of awesome gear setup already in his tiny guesthouse. We cut the first version of Mixtape tracking the drums in the little 8 by 8 bedroom in his guest house. We later re-recorded the drums at Belmont studio in Nashville. I played keys, some background vocals and percussion while Butch was his awesome self being Butch. We weren’t thinking about record sales or a deal, we were just having fun……so of course Sony picked it up.

Jim Ebert & Butch Walker

By the time the deal was done and all was well with the world, Butch had built a small studio in Little 5 points (I believe) and we commenced to making the record. We tracked everything 1n 9 or 10 days and mixed it in about the same amount of time. No over-thinking, no drama, just making music. No vocal tuning, a bit of drum editing on loop based songs but not much on anything else. Vocals were usually one or two takes with a couple of punches. We were just aiming at the soul of the song and perfection would be a bonus.

The players involved were perfect for the project. For me, Kenny Cresswell playing drums was amazing on that record. Great feel and great sense of humor playing and personality wise. This record was recorded so fast, we we’re a little bummed and surprised when it was done. Thinking we had just made the next greatest record ever, we were a bit bummed when Sony said they had no Idea what to do with it.

I thought, (like I had thought so many times before with records I had been involved with, but much stronger with “Letters”) just market it you dumb-asses . That never happened.

There is a core audience that loves this record, and as a producer I have gotten more work production work out of this record than any other. If you don’t have “Letters” you should get it… Jim

 
 

Music Producer Jim Ebert – Recording “Letters” with Butch Walker

Recording Bass Guitar

“Jim- Whats the hardest thing to record?”

Recording Bass Guitar

For me its Recording Bass Guitar. The technique, the part, the bass, the amp (if needed) all play a huge part in making it sound like it’s part of the band. Usually there’s overplaying as the bassist is use to playing at rehearsals or live where they me be required to fill all the spaces. Typically I don’t want all the spaces filled in a Major recording. It’s simple things like don’t play over the snare some times or don’t clack on the pickups (more of a Metal thing).

When recording bass parts I typically use API mic pre’s along with an LA 3 compressor. These two items create a sonically intact front end bass signal. This enables the bass player and I to concentrate on getting the most grooving, underplayed non-clacking part possible.

An easy way to check your technique, provided you’re multi-tracking, is to get a copy of your bass part solo’ed so you can hear what your actually playing. You might be surprised at what doesn’t need to be there.

Of course there is the bass itself. It needs to sound right for what you’re doing. Clear and piano like or dead and muted depending on the genre. Other obvious things, make sure the strings are relatively new and the intonation is set correctly before you start recording…..hope this is helpful……… Jim

 
 

Recording Bass Guitar

Recording Methods – Recording A Song A Day

Recording a Song a day

As a Music Producer, one of the most frequently asked questions I get is “Hey Jim, How do you like to schedule your Recording sessions?”

Well, if everyone in the band and/or all the session players can be there, I like to go with Recording A Song A Day.

My reasoning behing recording one song per day is that we can setup and perform with only the one song in mind. The sounds we produce and perform will be solely for the one song. This keeps everyones creative visions and ideas focused on the one sone and only the one song, from start to finish.

I’ve certainly Done drums for the album first, then bass on day 2, guitars days, 3-4 , etc. This method is very common and works as well, especially if there are scheduling confilcts within the band or with session players. In my experience, this still takes about the same amount of time as a song a day.

One of the other upsides to a song a day is not having to sing and record vocals on 10 songs at the end of the project. This can be stressful for the best of vocalists.

If You can schedule recording a song a day, I strongly suggest this method. Give it a try. Jim

 
 

Recording A Song A Day

Mic Preamp – Why Quality Matters

api-512c-mic-preampMic Pre Mojo

If you have an M box, a mixer, an iPhone or anything you can plug a microphone into, you have a microphone preamplifier AKA Mic Preamp. You may not see it or even know that it’s there, but it is.

I am a Microphone Preamplifier lunatic. If I’m producing a recording, I insist on using a studio with the quality of mic preamps that I use for my productions. It is that important!

Some might naively say “But Jim, a mic pre can’t possibly make that big of a difference”. To which I would reply “Oh contraire mon frère, an audio chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link.”

If the 1st thing your microphone hits is a substandard mic preamp, you are battling uphill from there. If you’er recording dozens of tracks (as I normally do), the sound will seem much less vital and clear with a cheaper mic preamp. You may not notice the lack of quality as much when you’er recording a single track, but when you multiply the lesser quality with many tracks, the difference will be quite apparent. It takes a quality mic preamp to help capture the true sonic properties that make a voice or instrument sound clear and present in the mix. Without quality mic preamps, you get little clarity and a lot of mush.

Much like plugging your guitar into a cheaper amp or a good amp, you can hear the difference. Like guitar amps, mic preamps have different sound qualities according to make and model. So saying which mic preamp is the best is a matter of taste and opinion.

One of the big problems with mic preamps is of course their cost. Ranging from about $800 to $5000 for a single mic pre, the typical home recording user (usually) isn’t going to buy 20 quality mic preamps. But a good studio will!

People ask me all the time, why records sound the way they do. Well, Great songs, great performances, great Production and engineering, great gear and Great Mic Preamps!

What I Recommend:
If you are recording at home and are serious about your sound quality, I would create a quality single chain by purchasing the following:

api-512c single-channel • One – API 512 mic preamp $800

• One – Empirical Labs Distressor (compressor) $1200. el8-distressor

Not cheap I know, but for 2 k you would have the same channel found in many professional recording studios and the sound to match.

That’s it for now, Good luck. Jim

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

What Music Recording Software is Best?

Hey Jim, What music recording software should I get?

As a record producer, I get asked this question all the time. Most of the Dominant music recording software such as Pro Tools, Nuendo, logic, Digital Performer, Ableton, etc… All have their strong points and are touted by the people that use them. As to which one sounds best, this is a matter of opinion and anyone who says different is usually pimping what they use.
You want to make sure that it will record into a WAVE file format as this is what most
Studios and engineers use. Almost all systems do this by now but just check before purchasing.

So pick your poison. Ableton and Digital performer have extensive MIDI capabilities if you’re looking to do a lot of MIDI recording, other softwares have MIDI recording as well, some better than others. If you’re looking to use what most of the world use’s, get Pro Tools. Pro Tools is not the cheapest but it’s the industry standard and what most studios and Producers use at this point.

Mixing can be very powerful in Pro Tools as well. Pro tools comes in a light and Pro Version. If you have a computer (Mac is more desirable with Pro tools) that meets Pro tools specs, I recommend getting it and learning it, then you can go into most studio’s and Mastering houses and load right in.

Logic is another great music recording software and made by Mac/Apple. Just an opinion but , I think someday Logic will overtake the market. If that were to happen, it would still be years away.

Now that I’ve said all this, the guy down the street might say “I use Reaper (another music recording software) for $100 and it works great”. That’s fine, but it’s not what most of the world uses. There is no wrong answer, do your research, hit up friends who make music at home and decide whether you need compatibility or not.
The other good thing about learning Pro Tools is if you look for a job in the music/film industry, you will have a head start with your knowledge of Pro Tools software.

As for the self standing systems from Korg, Roland, or Yamaha or other box’s that carry all the stuff you need, I’d be leery. From my experience, each system speaks it’s own specific language and in my opinion they are difficult to learn and hard to transfer files out of. That’s Just my opinion.

Good luck, it’s a party out there.

 
 

What Music Recording Software is Best?

Tales From The Vault #2

Music Producer Stories from Jim Ebert

Back in the 90s, I produced a song called “Hooch” by the band Everything. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and myself and the band were trying figure out where to record the album. The budget was ok but by no means a 90’s label budget. At the time, the band lived on a farm property which had an old, brick ,large mainhouse that was vacant. The house was a couple hundred years old and had a ton of charm. We worked a deal out with the property owner to rent the house for a month to record the album.

Then we went to work, somehow I rented a package from an LA rental company, which included: A studer 827 24 track, 10 API mic pres,2 la2a’s, 2 1176’s, an Elam 251, 2 akg 414’s, A bunch of hooch-by-everythingSennheiser and Shure Studer-a827-24-trackMics, Cabling, Snakes, and other stuff. I brought pro tools and a few instruments, the bands friends bought a console to monitor with and after 2 days of wiring, we had a studio.

As far as tracking, all the rooms in the house sounded different. We would set the drums up in one room and see what song fit that drum sound. So, we recorded drums in several different rooms. The drum loop for Hooch was recorded in the servant’s quarters(200 year old house) with 2 shure 57’s straight to a cassette deck then dropped into pro-tools for arrangement. The background vocals were recorded on the back porch after trying several other options. The only expensive mic we used was the Elam 251 for lead vocals. The rest of the mic’s were mainly 57’s.

All of this was a lot of fun and work and really made possible who rented me everything for 7k and that covered shipping for all the gear as well. This made it possible to expand our timeline from 2 weeks to 5 weeks to record the record.

It takes time to make records, to look at options sonically and musically,emotionally,
This was a magic time in my carreer and my liver will never forget it.

Music Producer Jim Ebert

Tales from the Vault #1

Music Producer Story Files

Ozzy-from-the-vault

So I’m working at A+M studio’s in the 90’s…..I believe I was mixing a Trey Lorenze track in the big SSL room in the back. A famous dark metal band from the 70’s(60’s) is mixing across the hall when the singer (famous for biting bats) waltz’s into my control room and with, a sheet of paper in hand, asks my assistant engineer how to spell “Sorcerer”…. My assistant gives him the info and he struts out. After finding out what he asked , I said “he’s had to have spelled sorcerer fifty times by now”….then we finished our mix…..

Music Producer Jim Ebert