Tag Archives: Eldorado Recording Studio

And That, Son, Is What We Call “Pro”

I had one of the most satisfying recording sessions ever yesterday. We were recording keyboards and drums for a handful of song demos, all part of a new musical being written by the lovely and talented Abby Miller.

It was me and three other very talented people, including a drummer, Aaron Sterling who is part of the new LA Wrecking Crew – he plays on every record coming out these days, it seems like. He and Abby wrote some of the songs, Abby and I wrote some of the songs, everybody there had a different stake in the project.

What blew me away was how seamlessly everyone moved between their different roles, from arranger to producer to sideman. On some songs, Aaron was producing the session, it was his tune, and I got to be just a keyboardist (I love that). On the next tune, it was mine, and I was telling him what to do. The engineer (our very own Mr. Chris Steffen) and Abby moved through the cycle too, from engineering to arranging, from writing to tracking vocals.

The only thing that nobody did, all day long, was bust out an ego. Chris and I talked for a few minutes after the session, and we agreed that it would be impossible to try and do something like that if anybody had brought a rock-star vibe along with them.

There is a beautiful balance between having deep pride in your work, and no ego about what you do. I want to learn how to live in that place. I believe it’s called being “Pro”.

Handy Doc

I’m off to see the doctor this morning. My right hand and forearm have been going numb, I get stabbing pains if I try to do anything grasping or turning with it. My hand strength is down to abut 50% of normal, and I’m really struggling to play piano.

Chris, if you happen to read this, ignore everything I just said, I’ll totally be at the recording session later this week, and you should totally still pay me cash money for my awesome piano playing. Also, on an unrelated note, how does the artist feel about slowing every song down by like 50 clicks?

The Real Thing

I love it when a plan comes together. I had a session today, and I had to drag the client kicking and screaming into a real studio. The producer really wanted to just use piano samples. We sat down, mic’d up the piano, Engineer Chris hit record, and the lush awesomeness of the Eldorado piano won over a whole new set of fans.

Stay tuned, those of you who have projects brewing. Chris and I are cooking up a way for you to get real keyboards (piano, B3, wurlie, rhodes) dropped in at a ridiculously low rate. More details to follow …

Eldorado Recording Studio

Eldorado Recording Studio

The Dailies – From the Mountaintop to the Valley…

…and looking back up that hill, preparing to the ascend that mountain again.

It’s been two weeks since the time we spent at El Dorado. For Erica and I, the first three days were not at all easy. See, we’re parents of young children. One of the best songs on the record is this tune about the kids and how the weight of their lives has impacted us. The kids come for you at any and all hours of the night or morning. They are in need. They need you, and you will respond.

Zion, our beautiful eight month old blue-eyed, blond haired, Michelin Man / Aryan Poster Child, decided that he was done sleeping past about 3am. Ella, our beautiful three year old brown-eyed, brown-haired princess pixie, has decided that she is the Queen of Quite a Lot, and spends the majority of her time informing her mother, father, brother, and Copland The Wonder Dog what they should be doing and how they should be doing it.

Unfortunately, neither of the children are concerned about unrecorded vocals that need to be finished, edited, printed, and organized. They have no appreciation for the tumultuous and (I believe) symbiotic relationship between art and deadlines. They are unimpressed by phat kick sounds and well sung vocal doubles. I did catch Ella singing the chorus from the title track, so that was pretty cool… but you get the idea where we’re at.

Aside from the kiddos, work resumes. Vocal students need coaching and… umm… help… and worship choruses and hymns don’t arrange themselves, people. We may have danced in the rain like hippies on working vacation, but we still work for The Man, make no mistake. That link really, really makes me laugh, and I can’t explain why. Sorry
So, you have to understand that the week at El Dorado was a true watershed moment for us. We were artists among artists. Artists among artists with a purpose and a deadline is a lethal cocktail. It’s intoxicating.

The worst thing about coming off of the high was that the fruit of our labor isn’t ready to be shared yet. The board mixes, which are simply rough bounces with little to no automation or processing of the individual tracks, sound great, but they’re still board mixes. I can’t just push play and not make any apologies.

The vocals for this album have been almost completely recorded in the margins. An hour here… an hour there… put Zion back to sleep… get that last chorus… make more coffee… repeat. We work like mad dogs on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings when the kids go to see Grammy and Poppa. If we get to do this again, I will save up until I have enough for more time at the Big Studio. We get a killer vocal sound out of our little place, we really do. We’ve spent the time and money to get a few really nice pieces of gear, and I’ve learned how to use them. It’s not an issue of fidelity, although I am sure the vocals would sound 10-12% better with their vocal booth and gear, it’s an issue of headspace.

It takes time to get lost in a song. It takes time to know where your spot is. While I make no claims or give no comparisons, when it comes to our singing, it’s not a hobby. We have a vast array of tones, articulations, and phrasings to choose from. There are literally thousands of ways we could sing each phrase on each of these ten songs. All you have to get is one… that’s the hard part.

But, by God, we’ve pressed through. There is only one song that remains partially unsung, and Friday’s a’comin’. On the afternoon of Sunday, September 10th, I will get in my car armed with a few changes of underwear, a pair of running shoes, some t-shirts and shorts, my ears, and a hard drive. I will pass through the valley of despair and will again climb the mountain. Or drive up the mountain. Whatever.

The bottom line is that I love these songs, and I am so ready to get lost in them again. This time, however, when I crash back to earth, I will have ten audio files with me. I can’t wait to play them for anyone who is willing to hear them. Watch out… ’cause The Dailies are about to rock you. Or perhaps bore you. Or maybe make you feel sorta indifferent.

Ok… ok ok… how about this… Watch out… ’cause The Dailies are about to rock some of you.

That is so not rock and roll. We are gonna Rokk you, and you’re gonna likke it. I need some Umlauts, we’re gonna Rokk Yuu Soo Haaard.

The Dailies Wrap-Up: Awards Show

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Academy of Indie Recording Arts and Sciences, Burbank Division, is proud to announce the winners of this year’s “Billy Preston Awards for Excellence In Custom Recording”. Our congratulations to all of the nominees, and remember, even if you didn’t win, it’s an honor just to be nominated.

The award for Best Opening Lyric goes to “We flipped the switch” from the song Unplug. It drops right with the band, and drags you into the tune. Like, immediately.

The award for Heroic Accommodation of the Recording Process by a Musician goes to Rosy. Midway through the first day, Chris pulled Rosy into the control room to listen to a serious problem with the drum sound – the snare microphone was picking up a ton of hi-hat. This was going to be a problem in the mix, because it meant that you couldn’t raise the level of the snare without also raising the volume of the hat. The solution? They raised up the hi-hat stand by about 6 inches, to get more distance between the snare and the hat. This is a heroic sort of accommodation by a drummer – everything they do when they play the drums is about repetitive mechanics, and those mechanics are aimed at fixed positions. The snare always goes here, the ride always goes here, the hi hat always goes here. Changing one of those things has the potential to throw the whole groove seriously out of whack. It would be the equivalent of saying to a keyboardist, “Look, to make this thing work, we’re going to raise all of the black keys by 2 inches – other than that, everything should be kosher.” The result of the change was a massive drum sound with great isolation, and Rosy managed to still make the groove grind. Very pro.

The Exxon-Valdez Award for Mid-course Correction goes to Chad for the song As I Am. On Friday, Corey started tracking this song as an acoustic guitar piece. There were two problems with this: the first is that this was actually a piano song. When we first heard it, it was on piano, Chad has performed it a half-dozen times on piano, the chords and arrangement were written on piano. It just soars on piano. So, of course, Corey was doing his best (which is a very, very good best) to wrestle the piece to the ground on acoustic guitar, and it just wasn’t working. The second problem was this – the piece breathes in and out, the tempo pushes and pulls, and there are pauses and starts that all have to feel right. Chad had all of the details of how this should go locked away in his head, with no good way to communicate all of it to Corey, or anyone else. The result was a frustrating process, and when they finally put the cap on it Friday evening, we all sort of shrugged and said, “Good enough”. You have to realize how defeated that feeling was. On every other song, when we finished, the whole band vibe was, “Yes! Dude – that’s a song!” For us to finish with a “good enough” was a massive failure. So, Saturday morning, Chad walked in and said, “Here’s the deal – we’re going to redo the tune, it’s going to be a piano song, and I’m going to play the piano part.” And we all said, “Took you long enough.” You’ll get to hear the final product on the record. Good call, Chad.

The “Almost Famous” Award for Best Homage to 70’s Anthem Rock goes to Wake Us, which would have been at home on any Queen record. 1st Runner-Up goes to Everything Must Go for it’s copious borrowing of Led Zepplin-esque guitar lines. The only reason it didn’t win is because 6/8 is a better time signature for anthem rock.

Special Recognition in the category of The Right Gear is The Right Gear goes to Rob Strickland’s Alembic Bass. No frontin’ on the P Bass, but man, you can really hear what the extra 2k buys.

As part of our on-going effort to reach out to our fundamentalist brethren, this year features a new award, Best Use of Orthodox Theology in a Song That Still Manages to Be Relevant. It goes, unequivocally, to As I Am, which makes it a surprise triple-category winner: in addition to this award, and the afore-mentioned “Exxon-Valdez” award, it also takes home The Steven Curtis Chapman “I Will Be There” Award for Song You Will Hear At Every Wedding For The Next 20 Years. This award comes with a cash prize.

The award for Song That Fell Into Place So Quickly We Almost Feel Guilty For Taking Your Money To Play It, But We’ll Get Over It And Cash The Check Anyway goes to Run. Seriously. This tune could not have gone down more easily. From the first time we heard the demo, Corey and I just looked at each other and said, “Oh dude, I know how to do this.” It makes me think that, on the next record, Chad should wait to let us hear each demo 20 minutes before we go to push record on the tune.

The Elizabeth Taylor Award For Prima-Donna Hissy Fit Over An Easily Fixable Part goes to Michael Lee, for his temper tantrum over his own inability to play 8th notes in time on Loved. Dude, get over yourself. Stick’s just gonna find the best 4 bar phrase and loop it anyway.

We are proud to announce that the winner of this year’s MTV2 “Headbanger’s Ball” Award for Extreme Rock is Corey Witt for his work on Everything Must Go. Two clips from that piece were submitted to the judges for consideration – the arena rock lead line from the chorus, and the “If you shut your eyes and listen, Dan Huff sounds like Lenny Kravitz looks” solo from the last pre-chorus. Chad, what’s the official band position on leather pants?

Every year, the judges try to make their best guess as to which songs will be commercially successful. We are proud to announce that our pick for this year’s Point of Grace Memorial Award for Direct to Radio Release is the song God Of My Future. This song also picks up the coveted DC Talk “Between You And Me” Fan Outrage Award For Song That Makes People Buy The Record, Then They Realize That The Record Sounds Nothing Like The Single. This song comes with a cash prize, which must be returned within 30 days for store credit only.

As always, the award for Best B3 Sample That Was Left On The Final Track, Because We Ran Out Of Time with the Real B3 will not be publicly announced, but you are more than welcome to take your best guess.

It gives us all great pleasure to present Chris Steffen with the FXpansion BFD Sample Replacer Empty Threat Award. There is a piece of software called BFD that is essentially a drum sampler. It sounds amazing, and in a great little coincidence, all of the samples were recorded at El Dorado, where we tracked the record. We spoke very highly of the flexibility and accuracy of the sampler, which Chris took as something of a challenge. He wanted to make sure that we had no reason to replace any of his drum sounds with samples from the software, so he proceeded to do his best imitation of a drum mic’ing savant for the entire week. The result was a sound that was beefy, articulated, deep, and punchy, which are words that we all throw around because language has no good words for sound. Basically, he rocked our socks off. Chris wins all technical awards for this record. He was smoking. Get it? (hint: he smokes (i.e. cigarettes)).

The “Rookie Of The Year” Most Improved Award goes to Chad Reisser, who at the beginning of the week, did a very convincing imitation of a bass player, and by the end of the week, was an actual bass player. Of course, I would hesitate to call him for actual gigs until he gets his rig up to a pro level. And by that I mean, “buys an Alembic bass that plays like Rob’s”.

Erica Reisser wins the coveted Terminator 2 Super Morphing Vocal Performance. Listen to Loved. Then listen to Wake Us. It’s the same person, I swear.

In order to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, I recused myself from the voting for the next award. Nonetheless, the committee choose to award The Michael Lee “Fake It ‘Til You Make It” Award to … Michael Lee. I have a dirty little confession to make. I am not a B3 player. I love the whirly dervish in all of her majestic beauty, I know the history, the lore, I’m a devotee of the mythos, and Lord knows I’ve played tons of synth B3, B3 virtual instruments, modeled reissues, and all manner of imitations. My time behind the wheel of the Queen herself though has been, shall we say, limited. Almost non-existent. This caused me some unspoken anxiety as the week progressed, and it became apparent that the week was going to finish up with an extended 4 hour session of me sitting at the console of the mighty B, going from tune to tune, playing all of the parts, with the rest of the band sitting in the control room paying very close attention to what I was laying down. I even had a kid on the line waiting by the phone who is an actual B3 player, in case I had to tap out and let him cover the parts. However, the Michael Lee Career Motto has always been “fake it ‘til you make it”. By the time the Saturday tracking session ended, I was in my element. Everything settled into place. The thing I thought I could do, but had never really done (at least not under that kind of pressure), I ended up delivering on. I am now a B3 player. I survived the gauntlet. Corey, I’m going to need some new business cards.

Finally, the award committee thought it would be appropriate to create a new category this year, for Best Imitation of a Second Engineer by an Intern. It was a tight race, but we finally decided to give the award to Sterling. I would highly recommend that Sterling log on here and give some love to the engineering school that he’s going to right now, because they set him up to win. He has that rarest, and most useful of traits in a person working their way into this industry – a teachable attitude. He noticed that Chris was using Empirical Labs Distressors to compress a wide range of different signals, and didn’t know a lot about them. On his break, he grabbed the manual, and setup his own little study hall. He was taking down notes on the B3 mic’ing that Christ had setup, and couldn’t remember the name of the room mics that were hoisted up in the corner, so he asked me if I knew (AKG C12s). It was more important to him to learn the answer than to risk being embarrassed by not knowing the answer. Dude. All I can say is hang on to that. It will take you very, very far. Also, Chris knows his stuff. You should get to know his stuff.

Congratulations to all of the winners, and thanks to the Academy for their ongoing support of Indie Custom Recording in Burbank. As Billy Preston always says, “So long, and thanks for all the memories.”

39 Things I Learned at the 1st Dailies Rehearsal

Next week, Chad, Corey, Rosy and I are loading in our gear to El Dorado Studios for a week to record The Dailies record. I know Chad is going to jump on soon and start whipping the readership of this fine blog up into a frenzie of fan-driven internet buzz, so I don’t want to steal his thunder. I’ll just pass along some of my observations from the first rehearsal.

1) Sometimes it’s harder to work creatively with friends than it is to work with strangers. With strangers, everybody knows their role, because it’s assigned to them by the person writing the check. With friends, we’ve all done so much stuff together, and the dynamic changes so often, that it takes a little bit of push and pull to sort out who does what, who gets to have what opinion, how far to push ideas onto someone else’s part. It’s all good, but it’s also a different dynamic.

2) Over the course of the last few years, I’ve developed a lot of producing and keyboard skills that are specifically used to gloss over crappy musical ideas. “Hey everybody, ignore the pedantic melody and cliche lyrics of the singer-songwriter and listen to this awesome ear candy! Look at me! Look at me!” As a result, being confronted with very good musical material is leaving me empty-handed. I’m going to have to re-learn how to get out of the way.

3) Attention Songwriters: Jesus is not your girlfriend. You are his wife. Get over the sexual reassignment issues, and grapple with that for a bit. Then, listen to “As I Am” when the album comes out, and weep openly at how much better Chad wrote it than you did. He’s good. He’s scary good.

4) 6/8 is not for wimps!

5) There are few things in life as awesome as giving Rosy 4 beats right before before the chorus.

6) I need to learn to make my peace with technology. Getting angry with inanimate objects is maybe the stupidest thing ever. I should reserve my anger for the living, breathing people who build the technology which so thouroughly confounds my attempts at a peacful, zen-like state of bliss.

7) You know that thing where you look over at someone you know, who you’ve played with 500 times, and you think you’ve heard them do everything they do, and then they do something totally new, off the wall, perfect for the song, and it makes you jump back in awe? Corey is just crazy sexy cool on guitar.

8) Air Conditioning is an essential tool for proper rehearsal.

9) So is coffee.

10) Sometimes, the songwriter isn’t the best interpreter of their own songs. Sometimes, someone else in the room has to say, “I think these 8 bars function this way, not the way you originally thought”, and they will be right. Somewhere along the line (since the official end of Toil Nor Spin), Chad learned this piece of wisdom, and taught it to us. That’s a pretty humble thing to be willing to accept.

11) I love playing keyboards.

12) I also love writing charts. This is a nerdy thing to admit, but I really like the process of inking out rhythm charts. It’s methodical, organized, and easily the best way I know of to fully understand a song.

13) Fermat’s Lesser Known 4th Theorum: The amount of time between the start of rehearsal and the emergence of the first dirty joke is inversely proportional to the number of boys in the band.

14) Now is the right time to make this record. 5 years ago, Chad couldn’t have written it. 5 years ago, we couldn’t have played it. 2 years ago, we wouldn’t have wanted to badly enough to bend and flex to make the schedule work. 2 years from now we’ll be so famous that we won’t even answer Chad’s calls. So, now is probably perfect.

15) 3 years ago, I spent an entire Saturday building one single B3 sound on my Triton keyboard. It’s big, beefy, dirty, whirly, and still the most commented on sound I use on that board.

16) Ever seen Lenny Kravitz go into full rock star strut on stage during a live show? That’s how Chad looks while playing bass in rehearsal. He was actually head-banging at one point. To his own playing. On a ballad.

17) So was Corey.

This thing is shaping up to be an epic record. I’m lit on the idea of going into the studio with friends, and playing great tunes in one of the best rooms in town. if you’re wondering when you should start your crazy fan obsession, now would be the right time.