The Studio Process

9 02 2008

Well, I promised that I’d write in more detail about our time in Nashville – for those of you that are interested – so here goes.  There’s no way to really encapsulate the experience in a few words, but I’ll do my best to give you an idea of what goes on in the studio.

First Avenue Sound in Franklin, Tennessee sits in a nondescript building just off Main Street in quaint downtown Franklin, right across the street from a great breakfast dive called Dotson’s and a few blocks away from the town square.  The main room houses the console and outboard gear – pre-amps, compressors, and EQs used to make the individual sounds as good as possible – the computer, and the monitors.  Todd, our engineer, spent most his time here making sure that the sounds were right and handling the ProTools recording system.  Once Scott, our producer, was finished with his drum tracks he too would sit behind the console and direct our creative efforts.

The band was setup in their own individual spots so that we would be able to record all the instruments at once.  The drums got the largest room so that we could get nice big tones.  Sharing that space was the keyboard player, Jason, and all his gear.  His airport worker-style headphones kept the loud volume of the drums to a minimum.  Jason’s keyboard rig was probably the most extensive of all the players.  He had two keyboards, a Wurlitzer, and a Fender Rhodes all routed through various guitar pedals and into a mammoth 120-watt Fender Twin amp.  (Turn the volume up to 4 or 5 and it will peel your skin right off.)  In addition, his Hammond B3 was setup in the adjacent room with the grand piano.  Off to one side was a small room for acoustic guitar and another for scratch vocals.  Greg Hagan, our guitar player, and Joeie Canaday, our bass player, were positioned in opposite corners of the main room with the console.

The musicians play to charts written in a system called Nashville Numbers, which consists of numbered chords similar to those used in music theory, but written in regular Arabic numbers instead of Roman numerals.  This allows them to be immensely flexible with the key of any particular song, and leaves plenty of room for each musician to imbue the song with his own creativity.  Before recording each song we would gather in the main room to listen to a demo and get an idea of where the song was headed.  Then the players would spend a few minutes getting sounds, coming up with ideas, and practicing specific sections of the song.  Once everyone was ready Scott counted them off and they would start a take. The first goal was to get a good drum track to which the rest of the players would play.  Of course, the musicians were still learning the song, so the first two takes would usually be unusable as they locked in their parts.  Once it became apparent that the take was not going to be a good one the musicians would start goofing off, which were some of the funniest parts of our time in the studio.  We could have created quite the blooper reel!

Rarely did it take more than three tries to get a good drum track – a rather incredible fact when you consider all the different elements that have to be played exactly on the beat.  Once he was finished Scott would join us in the main room to listen to the rest of the players and guide their efforts.  The bass was usually quick to follow, only needing to fix a few things here and there.  Once the foundation was laid the guitars and keyboards would be layered as each player got ideas for the song.  It was really exciting to see each song put together with each musician contributing his own creative energy.  The collaborative process yielded some great moments!  The whole process usually took about two hours per song, and at the end we would gather in the main room and “listen down” to the whole song, making sure that the track was completely finished.

Of course, it was also great fun spending time with the guys.  They were all a blast to hang out with, each with his own unique personality, and our conversations ranged from the inane (worst studio experiences) to the sublime (the synergy of accessibility and artistic integrity in worship).  We left on Wednesday evening having accomplished all we set out to do, excited about the new tracks, and looking forward to laying down the vocals and hearing the finished product.  Thanks to all of you who had a part in making this possible!

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3 responses

10 02 2008
Judy F.

This is fascinating reading for me! I would love to be a fly on the wall and just observe all the fabulous musicianship going on during sessions like these. Wow! Thanks for opening a little window into this amazing process!

13 02 2008
Clay W.

Dave & Jess,
Thanks for chronicling your process. It’s definitely worthwhile. I think anyone who reads along will definitely feel a little “ownership” of the project, and not just the finished CD, when they play it for that first time!
Incidentally, I’ve been trying to get my brain to work in the Nashville Numbering System, the flexibility to play in any key is awesome, and it reminds (forces?) you to use a little music theory instead of rote chord memorization for a song (which is an old habit of mine).
Glad the project is going well, and I look forward to hearing the finished product!

20 02 2008
CliffL

Wow…they write in Arabic. I can’t even write in Arabic. (wink)

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