Monday, August 3, 2009

Making One Way: Part 1

(Originally Posted 7/7/08)


Much like the awkwardness of adolescence, making a record is a long, complicated journey. There’s the writing, arranging, recording, mixing, mastering and all the logistics and money. There are also a lot of misguided assumptions about record-making. So let me give you a quick tour of this album and share with you what I’m experiencing.

First, some background. One Way originated at Cornell University, where I was forced to create a senior thesis for my major. Having already written the songs for my first EP, Introducing Danny Ross!, which was heavily influenced by Ben Folds piano-pop, I wanted to write the kind of music I was now listening to—in the style of Wilco, Ryan Adams, Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley, Brian Wilson, The Beatles. I wanted lyrical songs, ambitious arrangements and challenging material.

Over the course of one year, I worked with professors to map out music and lyrics for over 20 songs, learned musical notation, composed string and horn arrangements, and worked with seventeen musicians to create an album with a coherent storyline. These were personal songs about my growth into adulthood and I considered them to be an arrival for me as a composer and lyricist. We performed it live for 200 people on April 17, 2006 and received Summa cum Laude.

Now, in 2008, with one year’s experience in the New York City circuit and an established working band, I’m able to finally get in the studio and make the record.

Part 1: The Plan

So I had 14 songs to record with a ton of arrangements and players needed. Talk about a logistical nightmare. So where does one start?

First things first, I needed a partner, or producer, that met several qualifications: 1) Someone who was intimately familiar with Pro Tools, the modern software used to record music; 2) Someone that would act as a second set of ears whose musical taste I could trust; 3) Someone with a lot of experience making records who could help in logistics and timeline.

The natural choice was Rob Guariglia. Rob is an enthusiastic guy with a hip musical mind who played guitar with Grammy-nominated artist Ryan Shaw. Not only did Rob meet all the standards, but we had already worked together on Introducing Danny Ross!. Rob signed on in February 2008, and between Ryan Shaw’s tours with Van Halen, Rob and I would begin working on One Way in March.

Fortunately my band of players were ready to go and they had a large network of musicians to help with strings, horns, organs, etc.

“Real” was the word that constantly came to mind. We wanted a natural sounding record with no synthetic sounds and genuine gutsy performances. We also decided early on that we would have nothing but top-notch musicians. So our first step would be to record the drums and bass live together at a recording studio.

Myth-bunker #1: You don’t need to be in the recording studio for the entire length of making the record. You only need to be there when recording an instrument. Once you get all you need at the studio, you can cull through the material on your laptop on a subway if you want to.

Rob had a great relationship with Galuminum Foil Recording Studios in Brooklyn and we would begin the process there. This gave us the foundation for our plan:

1) Record drums and bass for all 14 songs in one sitting at the studio. Have the players record 3 or 4 takes of each song.

2) Once done at the studio, go back to Rob’s apartment and cull through the takes, comparing one section at a time. Perhaps Take 1 had the best Chorus, or Take 3 had the best bridge. In this way, we’re choosing the best sections of each take to create a “super-take” of sorts. This is called “Comping”

3) While at my dayjob for the Congressman, Rob would edit the part to ensure it’s played in time and sounds good with the track.

4) Repeat these steps for piano, guitar, horns, strings, organ, etc.

Soon the parts add up to create a completed song! But you can see how this becomes an overwhelming process when dealing with the players, the studios, the money, the composing, the rehearsals, the scheduling, etc.. And of course there are always unexpected bumps along the way.

Now that you know the plan, hear how it all went down in Part 2 next week…and with the mad pics!

TO BE CONTINUED! (bum bum bum)

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