A Valentine’s Day Gift

While Amy was busy Valentine’s eve blogging an ode to our former paperboy, I was preparing for today’s celebration of love by recording a song for her. Hmmm…

This new song started as an email from a music library that needed a song about sleeping or dreaming for a commercial. I thought to myself, “Surely I couldn’t find the time to write a song for this opportunity–I’m trying to finish a commission for orchestra by Monday evening.” But by the time I arrived at work Thursday morning I was already turning over ideas in my mind. One thing led to another, and I soon had finished a dreamy, stream of consciousness Nick Drake-ish love song for my one and only.

One of the things I’m excited about on this recording is that it marks the first fruits of my budding collaboration with the Allegro String Quartet. The women of ASQ and I have been reading through some of my quartet music–both legit and pop–and I’m pleased that we were able to capture this one while it was still fresh. Take a listen to When I’m Dreaming, and stay tuned for more recordings from us in the near future.

By the way, if you’re worried about Amy and the paperboy, don’t be. She redeemed herself later in the evening with a lovely blogpost revealing where her true affections lie.

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7 Responses to A Valentine’s Day Gift

  1. Glenn says:

    Dreaming–Nice tune! Very sincere and free of excess musical trickery. The quartet sounds lovely and the vocal track sounds good, too. Definitely–DEFINITELY–keep pursuing that collaboration!

    You need to post how you made the recording for all those music geeks out there. I know there’s at least one.

  2. gregscheer says:

    You know me; I can never pass up an opportunity to geek out on tech talk. Here’s how the recording went down:

    I finished writing the string parts shortly before the rehearsal and then I set up the basic structure of the song in Logic Pro. (I prefer to use a bare drum beat and a synth bass line instead of a click track.) When the quartet arrived I played around with a stereo pair of Studio Project C4s using the cardioid capsules and settled on using a “near coincident pair” because it gave me the best imaging.

    I had planned to conduct from the “click track,” but there were two problems: I underestimated how difficult it would be for them to play in sync without hearing the rest of the song’s parts (that is, they sounded great when I played guitar while rehearsing, but never settled into a groove when it was conducting only), and I built in a ritard on my click track that ended up being in the wrong place. As time ran out I decided to turn off the click track and just record it free form. We did about three takes and then everyone had to leave.

    I took the quartet tracks and made ample use of Logic Pro’s flex time feature to get them to line up with the click track. Once that was in place I got to work on my tracks. The string bass was recorded onto two tracks: one was a line in from the bass’s pick up run through a guitar pedal that provides a bit of compression, the other was a C4 with an omni capsule; I find this combo gives me both meat and air. The guitar was two tracks, pretty much the same as the bass. I don’t like the sound of acoustic guitar pick ups, but 10% line seasons the sound with a bit of attack. Vocals were sung very close to my AKG Perception 200. I liked that sound a lot.

    In my mix I hoped to achieve an intimate sound from the voice and guitar–like it was being sun softly sitting on a couch–and then have the strings open it up. Basically, I wanted the music to sound like what the lyrics were talking about. I also wanted a very natural sound–free of excess musical trickery, as you said. I compressed the voice enough to bring it right up front and put just enough reverb on the guitar to let it sit back a bit in the mix. The quartet was harder. The room we recorded in is a brittle-sounding rectangle of sheet rock. I had to do quite a bit of EQing to and reverbing to make it sound “natural.” I resisted the temptation to multitrack or use delay doublings on the strings or anything else, because I wanted the recording to breath.

    I was pleased with how the recording turned out. That is, it’s pretty good for *me.* But I listened to Nick Drake back to back with this and it made me realize how far I have to go. He has twice as many acoustic instruments in the mix, but there’s still twice as much as space in the sound field. How does he do that?! My guess is that if I really want to achieve a Nick Drake level quality of recording I’ll need a pristine hall, lots of expensive equipment, and a seasoned engineer. In the meantime, I feel like I’m approaching a presentable quality of recording.

  3. Glenn says:

    Thanks for the behind-the-scenes play by play. You’ve come a long way and I would not let Nick Drake take anything away from this recording. (Which Drake tune were you listening to?) I’m surprised that the flex tool fix didn’t turn out to be a nightmare, but I have not used it that much and am not so comfortable with it. I certainly would not have known that you did that to make it work. Congrats on finding a mic that works with your voice, too.

  4. gregscheer says:

    I was listening to Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter. Beautiful. I guess the trick is to let other people’s work inspire you rather than paralyze you. His sound is so open and effortless.

    The trick with the flex tool is that you want to flex as big of chunks as possible. If you move one beat around, you’re likely to get artifacts, but if you move a whole measure it usually works great. I used this a ton on the global worship CD, because we recorded the choir first and the percussion later. It’s nearly impossible to lock in a tambourine, for example, on the first beat after a count off of 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, _, _. The flex tool pretty much saved that project.

  5. Amy says:

    But….I thought this was all about meeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

  6. gregscheer says:

    It’s all all about you dear. You know that!

  7. Glenn says:

    Can’t wait to hear your song about the paper boy 🙂

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