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.”