Tag Archives: studio

Beat It

It’s the end of the year, time again for student projects. This was done by my Production Techniques class. Everything you hear, all of the instruments, the recording, the mix, everything was done by our students. It was arranged and produced by Sean Beck.


Beat It

This is what we do!

Professionals, Again

I spent yesterday editing down the tutorial video from the Our Father, Vindicate recording session with our very own Mr. Zack Mathers (so expect some swearing in the comments). For those of you who do not eagerly memorize every detail of my life with rapt attention and a pavlovian frenzy, I wrote a song, wanted to do a big recording session of the song, and the only way I could afford to do it was by getting a grant to fund the demo. To do that, we had to engage in some mild academic trickery, and tell them that the whole purpose of the recording session was to make an instructional video for students.

So, Zack brought some cameras along, recorded the whole session, and yesterday we editing all of that down into a 10-minute tutorial on how to record large-ensemble composer demos with no money down and only 8 singers.

I know I’ve said this before, but yesterday was another reminder: I am always shocked when people I know, people who are just, like, my people, friends, drinkin’ buddies, when they also turn out to be stone-cold awesome at what they do. I felt the same way the first time Aly edited something I had written (the proposal for this same grant, by the way). I felt the same way when June brought down a painting for my office. I felt the same way when other florists started ripping off Gretchen’s work and claiming it as their own (a true indicator of awesomeness). It’s been the same with Cory, Chad, Rosy, almost everybody (hey Bobby).

It’s always fun to get to see people who are your friends as they are perceived by their clients, and to realize that the reason they do what they do is because they do what they do. They didn’t just hang a shingle, they became professionals.

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”.

Phat Beat

We’re recording an album this week, of the touring small group from APU. It’s going to be pretty good.

We’re doing one song that’s a deep R&B, hip-hop groove. In pre-production, I built this massive phat 808 electronic kit loop. We tracking scratch vocals yesterday, and the group went nuts over the loop. I mean, seriously nuts.

I guess they didn’t realize that all the great hip-hop songs are actually programmed by middle-aged white guys living in the suburbs.


Stepping It Up

I teach a studio recording class at APU. The students produce an EP, I oversee (hang out and drink coffee). Every semester I push the students to go get real players to play the session. Go get the best people you can find, and ask them to help you out. If you’re not getting told “No” at least a couple of times, you’re not asking players at the right level.

This year, one of the teams took that to heart. They pulled together the following players for rhythm section tracking:

Oskar Cartaya (bass)
Chad Wright (drums)
Darrell Crooks (guitar)

This might be the most fun I’ve had in the class.

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 Tracking Week

Hey howdy.  

So, Erica and I are taking the week, having shipped off our kids, and are trying to finish up the vocals on this record.  I’ve been sorta live-blogging all day, and I’m about to upload a little of the fruit of our labor.  

Here’s a link!  www.thedailiesmusic.com

P.S.  Oh and comment you stingy lurkers!  :)


dailies new book

We’re looking for a publisher for our new book: How to Strongly Disagree With Musical Decisions Made By Your Friend, Who Is Also The Producer, And the Artist, And the Songwriter, and Still All Be Cool With Each Other, Like Grown Adults


Student Projects

This is the first of a two-parter (updated below). Last week my students turned in their final projects for the class “Production Techniques”. It’s a group-based independent study kind of course. They work together, over the course of a semester, to go from song-writing demos all the way to final mixes. They manage everything; budget, timeline, contracting the players, producing the session, engineering (mostly), mix, the whole shebang. We toss them the keys to the ProTools HD room for a few nights, and they go nuts. For most of them, this is the first time they’ve walked through the whole processes, from beginning to end.

So, here are the 3 songs done by the first team (Paul Stephens, Cindy Hayward, Julia Dedmon). Paul is the vocalist, and the primary songwriter on all three.

“All I Want to Know”


“Just Walk Away”

(updated: decided to add the 2nd team to this same post)

Here are the 3 songs done by the second team (Elizabeth Rickman, Jocelyn Danque, Scott Ryan Ingersoll, Mike Rains).

“Buried” by Scott Ryan Ingersoll

“Leaves” by Elizabeth Rickman

“Don’t Leave Me Behind” by Scott Ryan Ingersoll

A note to my young songwriting friends

Do me a favor. Take that heart-felt emotional ballad you’ve just written, and place it in the hands of a trusted friend. Ask them to read the lyrics, and circle any metaphors they’ve heard before.

Then, cut them out. Do it now. Show no mercy. Think of a different way to say whatever it is you want to say. You’ll thank me 6 hours into the recording session.


The guy

beth orton
photo by Neil Wykes

Demo-lition Derby

I need a little help from my friends. Remember this class that I’m teaching?

It’s the one where the students produce a short album over the course of a semester.

Well, I’m meeting with the students for the first time on Monday night, to talk through the details of the class, and to get them headed in the right direction on the project. I’m going to hand them a sample packet of what a final project should look like, to give them something to shoot for, and I decided to use a song from The Dailies’ record as the model (totally violating the sanctity of Chad and Erica’s intellectual property of course. Suck it up. It’s for the children). I’ll put together a microphone input list, a budget, a timeline, a recording schedule, everything they need to do for the course, around that one song. The cool thing about this is that I have actual demos tracking the progress of all of these songs from The Dailies record, so the students will get to hear everything from first demos all the way through to final masters.

So, here’s what I need from you – which song should I use? Picture yourself as a 21-year-old music student. Then, go here and listen to the 30-second clips (or better yet, buy the album!). Then, tell me which song you think would most capture the interest and creative attention of the students in the class.

Sophia Rocks Out

So, one of the classes I teach is all done through video podcast. It’s a class on how to produce a studio recording, and so, of course, I thought it would be appropriate to compose and record the crapp-tastic-est theme song ever for the show. Here it is:

It turns out, this is Sophia’s favorite song ever. This is a video of her rocking out to it, again and again and again. This, basically, is how we spent out entire evening tonight. In the middle of this, while the camera is pointed at my chest, you will hear her saying her new favorite word, “More?”.

Class Intro

So, this was kind of fun. I started classes on Thursday, and I opened up my first lecture for “Intro to Music Tech” by playing this video. Picture 20 kids in a room, with the speakers turned on full blast, and this rolling. It was very fun.

I apologize for the compression of the video – it looks awful on the upload.

Also, for any of you interested in following along with the class lectures (nerd!), the whole semester is being podcast.

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.”