Thursday, February 7, 2013

Authenticity in the Studio

SNR would like to welcom Brandon Kapral to the fold as our newest contributor. He'll be leading off with a multi-part series on a studio enveavor to give some insight to those who have never done it. To keep up on the series just look up Project Authenticity on the Topics page. 

 In order to explain the reasoning behind my first post here at SNR, I first must give you all some background. I have been a fellow audio professional in live and studio settings for more than ten years and have been a drummer for twenty-five (professionally for three years before I decided that it wasn't for me).   Currently, I work for two production companies in Western and Central New York, go to school for Electrical Engineering, and play drums for a band called The Carolina Gentlemen - of which you may have heard about from my guitar player, SNR guru Anth Kosobucki.  This will be the first in a series of posts that will document a cool, if not slightly insane, idea for a recording session.   

I have worked on dozens, if not hundreds, of studio projects, as an engineer, a producer, or an artist, and as we all know, these projects are quite varied in their construction. As engineers, personal projects are sometimes the most difficult to nail down.  We know (think) that we have the talent (stupidity) to create that "perfect" product.  It's almost always something that we do in our "spare time" and without a ton of outside influence from other engineers, or at the very least, no other sets of ears to give their two cents.  Sure, it sounds great - no deadlines, no money concerns, and most of all, no pesky bosses breathing down our necks.  Really, though, all of these things can sometimes come together to create a storm of insecurities and roadblocks.  Without an outside perspective, we can so easily get lost in our own musical and technical thoughts.

So where is all of this going, you may ask?  Well, for the last year-and-change, Anth and I have been recording an album for The Carolina Gentlemen.  Our singer, Wes Walters, has written some truly great songs that deserve the best that we can give them as far as production and performance are concerned.  We have spent countless hours experimenting with instruments, mics and mic positions, tracking, dubbing,  pre-mixing, editing, mixing, re-mixing, etc.  A year is a very long time and we put a ton of work into this thing.  There were a few breaks as our members got married and had babies, but for the most part, we worked on it at least once a month and when we got on a roll, it would be 5-10 days per month.

And now we are going to scrap the whole thing.  All 18 tunes.  And it is all my idea (fault).

The proverbial light bulb came on as I was listening to Marc Maron's WTF podcast featuring an interview with Dave Grohl.  Marc likes to present topics for his podcasts to help with continuity, and the subject of the Dave Grohl edition was authenticity.  Mr. Grohl has a new movie/album/tour out called Sound City.  The subject of the movie is its' namesake, LA's former Sound City Studios, and more specifically, the recording console that used to be there.  This custom Neve 8028, Grohl believes, is the magic tool that produced a huge amount of top records from the 70's, 80's and 90's, from Fleetwood Mac's Rumours to Nirvana's Nevermind.  He so much believes in that magic that he bought it and transported it to his personal studio. What Grohl loves so much about this console, he explains, is that it is a piece of gear that is incredibly unique and authentic.  It was designed, fabricated and assembled by hand.  Some guy had his deft paws on a soldering iron for a long time to create the console that led to so many musical classics.  

One of the things that he mentioned on the tech side was that the monitoring section of the console is unique to that particular console.  According to him it is very simplified, making the signal chain shorter and the sound more "pure".  I am paraphrasing here, but he says something along the lines of 'What comes out of a singer's mouth goes through the mic and directly to your f*ckin' ears, so you better be good!'  They didn't ever record thinking that they would "fix it in 'Tools".  He told a story about his experience recording the first Foo Fighters album, The Colour and the Shape on which he sang, played guitar and re-tracked a previous drummers parts to make them his own. His producer, Gil Norton, made him play his parts hundreds of times until he "got it right".  They were tracking to tape, and while it was possible to edit tape, Norton wouldn't do it.  He would make Grohl come in from "noon until midnight" to track one drum part.  That is truly authentic, and you can hear it if you listen to that record.  It happens to be one of my favorites.    

All of his stories and ideas got me thinking - what if we were doing it all wrong?  We had spent so many hours tracking each instrument individually and playing with technology to improve it or edit the performances, yet I felt like we were always chasing something in the mix to make it better.  Each tune had it positives, but I kept hearing little things that made me unhappy.  When I talked with Wes, he posed the question - "If you look back on this record in 5 years, would you be proud of it?"  That is exactly the question that I needed to hear to, as the Crüe would say, kickstart my heart.  So I talked to the guys.  We're gonna can it and start anew.  And do it more authentically this time.

Anth , Jon and I have a lot of ideas for the tech side of things, but the overall idea is going to be to track to Pro Tools (because it is what we have), but use it as a tape machine.  If I have to play a drum part 100 times to get it right, so be it.  We are going to track as much as a group as possible.  No edits. Our live shows and rehearsals have a lot of heart that the previous tracking sessions lacked. We are going to try to capture that here.  This will necessitate our time and attention, but really, isn't that what it deserves?  Why do it half-heartedly - who will that actually benefit in the long-run?

We begin setting up gear in Anth's studio tomorrow morning - I will try to remember to photo-document this thing as we progress.  As you can tell, I am excited!  I think that we all have a new fire lit under our butts that will hopefully translate into a great record.  I hope you'll stay with me as Anth, Jon, and I venture into this crazy thing.

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