Monday, March 18, 2013

Taking Church to the Studio

This weekend we got a start on a pretty cool project. For the last couple years my boss has been steadily writing songs and introducing them to the church. We're at a point now where we have almost enough to make an album. One of the members of the church owns a pretty sweet little studio down the road and as long as we work around his schedule we can get it for a weekend at a time, for nothing.
Insert not at all shameless plug here: These guys run a tight ship, are super accommodating, and also utterly affordable. If you're in the Buffalo area you should for sure check them out as a place to work when you're getting ready to finally cut that album. They do video, post production, duplication, artwork and other media as well.

To get ready for the weekend the musicians have all had the original demo files made when the songs were written as well as recordings made during services. Last weekend we got the band together for a marathon rehearsal where the songs were gone over with a fine toothed comb to figure out if there was anything to change or any ways to make the songs better. When that was finished a final click track was made to reflect any form changes and everybody went back to the wood shed to get ready for the weekend.

I should stop and say what a gargantuan effort this is. Every person on the project has a day job. Only four of the fifteen people involved actually work for the church. Most of the musicians and the producer are all volunteers making time for this in their lives.

We scheduled three days in the studio, starting with a load in at 3:00 pm on Friday. We met with the owner and the studio tech who quickly got us settled and down to business. The main issue confronting us was that the place wasn't really set up to record a whole band, at least not one the size we brought. We were able to shoe horn the drums, guitar and bass players and keys into the live room, but the amps had to all occupy the vocal booth between the live room and control room. We used isolation cabinets and also took direct lines from the guitars so we can re-amp later.

The load in didn't take very long at all. In less than two hours everything was in place. Then the patching began. We quickly ran through the supply of mic cables. Fortunately I had mine from my live rig in my truck and we wound up using a few hundred feet of them. The inputs to Pro Tools consisted of three Focusrite Octopres, two of which were normaled through to the 192s and the third able to be patched through the bay. We added to the complexity by bringing along two channels of Neve pres, an 1173, two channels of Joe Meek pres, and a Toft that the studio had.

When all was said and done we only had to sacrifice one channel. The keys went in mono which we can easily remedy later. The process to get all those inputs into the computer was a tense one though. With many of the musicians sitting around champing at the bit, it was up to the producer who had mapped out the session and the two assistants (Myself and our own Anth Kosobucki) to sort out what input went to what pre and which input to the interfaces.  It was interesting to hear when we were loading out on Sunday night that the house tech wanted us to leave the patch bay alone so he could see what we did.

Eventually all the ground loop gremlins were mostly eliminated and the routing to get twenty-four inputs bussed down to eight monitor sends were figured out. We settled in to the massive couch, the producer and assistant engineer sat down at the helm and we started to get sounds dialed in. Drums and guitars both came relatively quickly. Despite having fourteen mics on the kit, including a figure eight over the drummer's head and a blumlein in addition to spaced pair overheads, the room just sounded great and eliminating phase issues took very few moves.

I have to say that working with a D-Command was kind of interesting. Kind of interesting in that we almost completely ignored it. While it did have a couple buttons that let us easily switch between the mains and a pair of NS-10s, we didn't use it for much else. Even the two assistants who do a lot of live mixing found it slower and more clunky than just working with the mouse.

From there on out my account of the events gets a little patchy. Day jobs and what not. I had to leave for hours at a stretch to do this. (Church services wait for no man.) But every time I came back I was met by smiling faces and found the band making excellent progress. The process was to track everyone all at once until nearly everything was tight together. Then if there were guitar parts to fix up we would go back and track those by themselves. We had enough time to add in additional guitar layers as well.
I suppose I'm leaving a lot out here. What mics and amps we used. That stuff is all interesting but the think I'd like to emphasize is how well this huge team worked together. Years ago when I was recording bands in my garage I don't know how many would nearly break up over the process. Some got in fist fights out on my lawn. Here we sat all weekend with a team three times the size of a normal rock outfit and there was nary a harsh word spoken. Everyone kept it in mind to always be constructive with their criticism. It lead a couple of our players to make quantum leaps in their technique. 

If there's any interest in specifics just hit us up in the comments. We've got tracking and mic sheets laying around that we could post to give you a better idea of what we were working with.


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