We carried a lot of excitement into the studio, knowing what a strong song we had. We also brought a great deal of confidence to the session, having done a full-band session before when the band was very new.
Judy (bass) and Ross (drums) have become very adept at working out nuances to enhance the rhythms for each record that we make, experimenting with starts and stops that serve the song and communicating very clearly with each other and the rest of the band how we can work the part together.
Casey brought a sense of calm and quiet confidence that seemed to elevate all our abilities to do our best work. Our producer, Dave Cushing, kept the mood light and celebratory while also challenging us to keep up the pace and energy of each song from opening note to ending tag line.
We had a very specific goal for our studio recording: record Judy’s bass and Ross’ drums live in the room. My guitar and vocals and Casey’s guitar performance would just be a means of giving Ross and Judy a frame of reference for where we are in the song and capture Ross and Judy’s genuine experience of recording their parts while the whole band plays together live in the studio. This process is known as “recording the basic tracks.”
Once we got a basic track that made us happy, we recorded the group shouts – the “YEAH!” after the lyric “‘Til my fingers get pruny” and the “NO!” response to “Do you think that sounds looney?” We also recorded the “POLO!” responses to the “Marco!” shouts in my lead vocal. It was definitely a loose, fun moment shared among the whole band after having been under the microscope to deliver the perfect musical performance.
Doing our Homework
We were coming up on the weekend and Dave had travel plans. He and I were both reluctant to let several days pass without progress on this time-sensitive tune, so we came up with the idea that I would rent his professional-grade studio microphone and pre-amp (a device that gives a microphone that full and warm tone you’re accustomed to hearing on professional recordings). Casey and I could then record into my Mac at home (I use GarageBand) along with Ross’ and Judy’s basic tracks, which Dave had captured with a Windows PC using Sonar audio recording software. I record the final guitar tracks into GarageBand from home because I can get just as good a result at home as in the studio and not have to mind a time limit; this time the vocal was to get the same treatment.
Casey came over on Sunday night and we were off to a fast start. Casey added her extremely tasteful doo-wop backing vocals in the verses, some nice ooh’s and ahh’s were they would fit right in, and some big harmonies in the chorus that give that section of the song the feel of a big show-stopper.
Recording a second harmony vocal layer below the original layer would prove much more challenging. Casey would take on the second layer as well as the first to ensure a consistent blend of voices. It took hard work and a willingness to try out different options that would blend with both Casey’s upper harmony and my lead vocal. At the end of 3-1/2 hours hammering out the vocals for the song, we were ready to capture Casey’s acoustic guitar part, which we recorded easily. Casey then moved over to the keyboard, where we chose the tone of a bright grand piano to complement the guitar parts. She laid out a rhythm pattern she had in mind, which inspired me to create a piano track of my own that incorporated her idea with some of my own, including slides down the keyboard and arpeggios, which are chords that are broken out to individual notes played one-at-a-time to imply the chord, instead of being played all at once.
Casey went home at around midnight. I had work the next morning, but knew that I’d have to return the rented mic the next night, as its owner would need it in the studio. So, I set out to record lead vocals at midnight on Sunday night, feeling a slight vocal strain from guiding Casey through her parts which were outside my vocal register. By 2:00 AM, I was re-recording the song’s chorus, piece by piece and was close to finishing the lead vocal – and then I heard something unusual for 2 AM: footsteps upstairs. Amy had woken up to hear Peanut wide awake and calling out for me. My last shot to record the vocals at home had seemingly come to a screeching halt. I tended to Peanut, giving her milk, reading books to her and starting her favorite movie, “Yogi Bear,” which we must have watched together over a dozen times by now. 90 minutes later, Peanut told me she was ready to try going to bed again. By the time she fell asleep, it was 3:30 and I insisted on completing the take. When I went downstairs to re-record my chorus part in one last spot, I found that the 90-minute downtime helped my voice bounce back a little, so I re-recorded all the choruses to make them sound consistent. Now, I knew there was precious little time for any sleep before having to get up and go to work. I also had a sense I should squeeze in some time the next night to re-do the vocals before returning the equipment to the studio.