Banjo and Mandolin – Robbie Caswell-Jones

After I had finished recording my backing vocalist Indrija. My next artist in this session was Robbie Caswell-Jones. He had a a vast array of instruments at his disposal so I looked to employ these appropriately to specific songs. Robbie had already signed a musician waiver form (seen below) so we got straight into recording.

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We began by recording the Mandolin for Fireworks, I used and AKG 414 to record and used a technique I had developed over the course of the sessions to get the best possible mic placement. As Robbie played mandolin standing up it was easier to place the mic in a specific place and get Robbie to move around it. I pointed the microphone directly at the 12th fret of the mandolin where the neck joined the body which brought out extra harmonics. I kept a clear line of dialogue with Robbie throughout via the talkback and headphones and asked him to get as close as possible to the microphone with it pointing at the 12th fret. From here I asked him to play his part for the song as if he was recording it whilst backing away from the microphone extremely slowly. The sound of the mandolin gradually got clearer, brighter and less boomy until it started to pickup to much room tone. At this point I asked Robbie to come slightly closer forward until we had reached the best possible recording distance or ‘goldilocks zone’. I marked an X on the carpet with tape so he would not forgot where to stand.

After this we double tracked the mandolin Fireworks and this worked extremely well. We then recorded for Tell Me Lies  and it really helped bring the track to life.

Next up was banjo, and I employed the same distance miking technique except this time it was I moving the microphone as Robbie was sitting down and I monitored in the headphones instead. I chose to place the microphone relative closely as the instrument itself was technically providing its own mini reverb from inside the skin. Robbie was also the first to admit, it was also quite a cheap banjo so it did not project that well so I deemed a position of around 15cm away where the body met the neck to be perfect.

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We recorded the banjo on Mason Dixon Line to stay with the country theme that the track was developing and it really improved the track. The best recording we could make however was still quite muddy so I adjusted the eq on the desk after recording to bring out the high frequency plucking sound and reduce the mids.

Again I was really pleased with how the session went,  I’m nearly ready to start post production!

Here is the session sheet from the recording.

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Female Backing Vocals: Indrija Kustov

On the 5th May Indrija Kustov came to the studios at Lincoln and recorded backing vocals for me. We worked on the songs Quicksand and Mason Dixon Line. I had set up the Neumann U87 in the dead room as its aptitude for high frequency sounds has been show throughout this project and would be perfect for a female vocal. I had sent Indrija the songs previously so she knew what she was working with but at the start of the session I explained exactly what I wanted. For both songs it would mainly involve harmonies in the choruses, singing an octave above my vocal line to compliment it. We went through each line of the track individually and I wrote down the lyrics for her so she had a reference point. Together we created a novel way to remind her of which parts to ding in what style. When a word wanted an upward inflexion we would right an up arrow above the word and vice versa for a downward inflexion. If a particular word needed to stay consistent on the note we would draw a straight line. This is shown in the lyrics sheet I wrote down for Mason-Dixon Line.

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Before we started recording Indrija happily signed my musician waiver and release form as well.

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The session was really enjoyable, especially as Indrija was extremely confident and outgoing and brought new ideas to the table. We were able to arrange creatively together which was a really exciting process. This is shown in the ‘call and response’ ending to Mason-Dixon LineGoing into the session it was never my intention to record this part in such away but after bouncing ideas off each other we came up with it and it really makes the song stand out and bring the track to a nice conclusion. Please see the picture below to see her in action. I must also note, I did offer her a stand to put the lyric sheet on but she refused! The sheet wasn’t making any extraneous noise so as a producer I was just happy that my session musician was comfortable.

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It also helped that she was a wonderful singer and it made me wish I had written more female vocal lines! I really enjoyed the session and learnt a lot from it. Here is the session sheet –

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Creating my EP

Today I finally got to see what my finished product would look like, even if there were no songs on the disc yet! I borrowed a friends printer and covered inked costs and also bought all the equipment myself to save costs. After using free cd making software on the internet I created my templates and printed them off. Here is what the finished print outs looked like:

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After carefully removing the designs from the packaging, it came to placing the sleeves into the jewell case cd’s. Unfortunately my designer had put the spine cover on the wrong side but this was not too much of an issue after a bit of cutting and sticking. When these adjustments had been made I finally had my finished product and I was seriously pleased with it. Here is the final design of both the album artwork and the CD:

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The fact that the final product was a success and I did not sub-contract the work justifies my approach to do so appropriately, and answers to my objective and learning outcome in that category –

A & R – 3. b)

Objective – I will employ an assistant sound engineer, as well as sub-contracting work appropriately.

L.O. – I will further my abilities as an auteur producer, while distributing and delegating work when appropriate to aid the production process.

Recording in Pro Tools / Mixing in Logic

Throughout my EP I have recorded the vast majority of my tracks in pro tools (apart from DI bass and midi keyboard). I enjoy recording in pro tools and I also favour it for editing, however I feel it does not suit me when it comes to mixing creatively. For this reason I have chosen to employ a mix of consolidation and conversion to OMF to transfer my edited projects over. In doing so I can ensure that the audio files maintain in the exact same place.

This is especially prudent when it comes to tracks like my vocal edits, which have been compiled dramatically to achieve a great consistent vocal. Before consolidation I would have to ensure that the audio file had the appropriate fades in and out of each track to avoid the clipping sound that can occur otherwise.

Here’s an example of a compiled pedal steel edit pre consolidation. Note the large amount of different audio files that make up each track. The fades enable the take to pass through unnoticed and its important I do this pre-consolidation as it is much harder to edit when the files are essentially ‘glued together’.

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This technique was employed on every single track on this EP. Not necessarily to that extent although as stated, the vocal comps were extremely intricate. This is shown in the following picture.

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I had a vast amount of takes which often meant that I would have different options for each vocal sound which was definitely not a bad thing. It also meant I could create two other channels aside from the master vocal for duplicates that would be be brought in as vocal doubles to enhance key phrases and words in the final mix.

I split editing and mixing into two distinct sections so I didn’t get the two confused and lose track of my aims for each mixing session. I made sure I had every single audio file edited before I started mixing so I could think purely creatively when it came to it. As Smith echoes,

‘I think its helpful for my headspace… I’ll clear the decks, clean up the session, consolidate all the tracks and look at the session purely from a mix point of view… It feels like the session is set in stone’ (Smith in Senior, 2011, 81)

 

References:

Senior (2011), Mixing Secrets for the small Studio: London. Taylor and Francis.

Recontacting my Designer

As my designer Emillie Ferris had already initially sent me designs we had something to work on. I sent her the illustration that the Sophie Corrigan had sent me on 23rd April and she really liked it and got to work on putting the piece together.

I had said I wasn’t too keen on the first font she used so she got round to changing this, and adjusting positioning everything to fit around the image. Here is the first design:

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I thought it looked pretty perfect straight away! I also asked for her to do a back cover as well with the song titles as well and a few patches of grass edited in from the first image to fill it out. Here’s the first design of the back:

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Again, I thought she hit the design pretty spot on, very minimal but honest and coherent with the style of music I was creating which was the most important thing. After a few comments and adjustments over the next few days including the edition of credit for the illustrator and a spine for the album the final design was agreed upon:

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I was so happy with the final results and I really appreciate the roles that Emillie and Sophie have played in this audio project. By employing talented artists and sub contracting work to others with skills which I do not possess has only increased the credibility of my project and helped me create something that is greater than the sum of its parts, whilst maintaining creative coherence that is inherent throughout my project. I also think that this process has shown my ability to overcome problems, for example the fact I couldn’t achieve my original design idea yet I managed to bring two creative people together and create a new work of art that is actually greater than my first idea. This has given me an increased amount of confidence and I am proud to call this my EP artwork and link it to the recorded songs. The coherence mentioned previously is key as it links the two mediums and presents the viewer / listener with a whole media package that they perceive to be one whole ‘thing’ when really it has been an organised and precise group effort to promote the values of kindness, honesty and love that is presented in the music.