Here at the studio I often get a lot of singer songwriter types who play an instrument and sing. These clients often ask me about the process involved in creating an arrangement and recording of their song. I thought why not make a post about the process involved in a recent recording made by a local artist,Trinity Potratz, here at the studio. Trinity is a songwriter who sings and plays acoustic guitar, and writes his own chord progressions, melodies and lyrics for his songs. The song he recently recorded here is titled “Finding A Way Not To Hurt.,” and will be the subject of this post.
Sometimes clients choose to make a simple voice and say guitar recording, with both parts recorded simultaneously as in a live off the floor recording, or sometimes they choose to overdub the parts if we choose to have more isolation between the guitar and vocal tracks. For “Finding A Way Not To Hurt,” Trinity came in and first laid down an acoustic guitar track to a click track to outline the basic arrangement of the song. We actually tracked guitar parts for a few songs that day since the mics were set up and ready to go. Then we had him lay a quick sketch vocal so he could take this basic recording home to practice some melody ideas. A few days later he came back and laid down a solidified vocal track.
For this tune, Trin asked me to fill out the arrangement with other instruments. Some clients choose to be part of this process. For example for a couple of Trin’s pervious tracks, he helped me create some drum and bass guitar tracks. Other clients may choose to bring in other musicians to create other parts. But for “Finding A Way Not To Hurt,” since Trin and I had worked together before on previous tunes, he trusted my judgment, and had me fill out the arrangement on my own. He didn’t give me whole lot of direction, just that he wanted drums, bass and some electric guitar, which is a pretty typical instrumentation you might find in a country act. I had a pretty good feel for the kind of parts he liked so I went to work!
First I created a custom basic drum track in MIDI using a virtual kit. This is pretty critical as it really establishes what the groove of the song will be. I came up with a basic groove for the verse and chorus. As this was a ballad, it didn’t need to be too busy. Once the basic grooves were outlined, I added a few fills at transitional sections of the song, which is pretty typical. I started with the drums first because the kick drum pattern often establishes the groove for what the bass will play in country music.
Next I added a simple bass part that fit the drums and his previous guitar and voice recording using a Fender Precision special bass. Again since this was a ballad, the part was pretty simple, not too busy.
Next up were guitar tracks to be overdubbed. I started with some simple padding parts, basically outlining the progressions already established with a clean tone. Once that was done, I wanted to add a bit more of a country feel to the tune, so I added some steel guitar like licks using my trusty Strat with a slide. I used a slightly different tuning to accomplish this, but it sounded good so I went for it. It was really more padding, with a few fills sprinkled in for variety. Once the “steel” parts were tracked, I went back and decided to add an opening motive with the electric guitar to kick the tune off since the vocal didn’t come straight in. The motive is repeated a few times throughout the song, and helps establish that there is a lead guitar for the solo later. Next I tracked the solo. So all in all there was an electric rhythm, electric steel, and electric lead track. These were all done with a Fender Strat and a Vox AC30 through a Celestion greenback.
The tune was starting to come along nicely, but I decided I’d try a few other little things to spice up the arrangement. I added a bit of piano, playing similar chords to the acoustic, with a few nice suspended chords for a bit of flavour. I really liked the piano during the breakdown and the end of the song to bring things to a close. I also added a basic organ part doing some more padding to fill out the track. I love the modulation of a leslie cabinet spinning to give the mix a bit of motion. I used virtual instruments for these.
Finally, Trin asked me if I could add some background vocals to the track. Basically I added an upper and a lower harmony around his melody, with each part double tracked for some nice stereo width.
It’s common in ballads for a tambourine to be used on the same beat as the snare, often soaked in a good bit of reverb, so as a final touch I grabbed the tambourine and played that in.
Having done all this, Trin previewed the tracks for final approval . He could have chose to use or not use any of the parts I created. Sometimes less parts are better, but in this case he chose to keep them all! Once the parts were approved, I went on to editing, and then the final mix. Often I will edit and mix with the client present so they can see the process, and contribute, particularly to the mix. But in this case, Trin was quite busy at the time and just asked me to mix it. Once the mix was completed, he came by the studio for a preview in case we wanted to make any final tweaks to the mix. I could create a whole separate post on how the mix was created, but I digress. He was happy with the mix, so from there I did a little sweetening with some mastering processing, and then delivered the tracks electronically. Mastering is usually done in the context of an album, but for these one off projects, I like to add a little bit of polish, which can be removed and redone later in the context of an album master.
There are many ways to go about making a recording, and there are many variables involved in choosing how to proceed. In this case, Trin didn’t have a band ready to just play the tune live off the floor, so we chose to build it in overdubs. Ultimately it comes down to how one prefers to work, the tools available to them, budget etc. This workflow has worked pretty well for a number of my singer songwriter type clients, but I’m always open to new ideas and methods! So for anyone curious about the process here at my studio, this is one way we can work together. Now enjoy Trin’s tune, “Finding A Way Not To Hurt!”