Kick, Snare, Kick, Snare: On the Same Wavelength
There comes a time, after hours and hours of songwriting, practicing and perhaps even playing shows, when you’re going to have to start recording.
Friends and family will inevitably ask where they can hear your music, or when you’re going to be putting out an EP or even an LP. There’s always the option of bootleg recording yourself with a camera or with the audio capture feature on some electronic device (I’ve recorded so many things using the voice memo feature on an iPhone just so I don’t forget parts I’ve written), but, of course, there’s no substitute for actual recording with professional equipment.
The first time I ever tried recording on a serious level was with my old band, We Are Paramount. We had four songs before we started recording with the intention of writing a fifth while we were there. Our friend Robert was going to produce everything for us out of his house, complete with drum triggers, an industry-standard Pro Tools setup, a converted closet vocal booth and everything else we needed to make it happen.
I’m not kidding when I say that recording is the most arduous aspect of being a musician. I mean, it’s great knowing that it’s going to be worth it when you’re all done and ready to have all your songs ready for the world to hear, but the time spent in the studio can also be extremely frustrating. There have been a couple different instances when songs sound a lot better when you’re playing them live and practicing them, but when you start recording, you realize all the little flaws and what you could make better.
This was especially true for me since I had never tried playing to a click track before (which is basically just a metronome). What I didn’t realize, being a rookie drummer, was that the songs we had had very slight differences in tempo between parts of the songs, which results in one of two things: 1) It usually makes the songs like the Creature from “Frankenstein,” all patched together randomly, and 2) makes it way more difficult than necessary to put together a click track to play along to, and makes putting every other instrument on top of the drum track more difficult as well.
I’m sure there are a host of other technical reasons on the production side of things that I don’t know about as well. Either way, I commend Robert for putting up with our shit and helping us get everything together to record, even when things were annoying and difficult to deal with — as it usually is during the process.
After about a day and a half of tracking drums, it was time to put everything else together. Guitars and bass were next, with leads and rhythms being recorded, rewritten, recorded again, etc. to make sure everything was right before it was mixed together for the last step of the recording process: vocals.
Now, I don’t know much about singing, but after my experience with witnessing just how much effort goes into putting together layer upon layer of vocal tracks (and how many effects go onto people’s voices without them even realizing it), I would have to say that recording singing can be the most frustrating and tiresome part of the whole process. Doing pass after pass of singing is both draining for the singer and the producer, especially if there’s some trouble nailing the parts, or if the melodies just aren’t falling into place the way they should be.
A week (give or take a day or two) later, we were finally done, and everything was mixed and mastered for us to show to the world. It was a process that was both frustrating and exciting all at the same time, with bumps and bruises along the way that were both unexpected but surmountable.
But now, two years later, I know what to expect next time I go into a studio to lay down drum tracks for whatever band I happen to be recording with, and that sometimes the process is where you find out what your songs truly want to say and how they want to sound.
It was fascinating to me, watching it all come together in waveforms across the screen of Robert’s computer, knowing that my own creative energies put it all into motion, along with the fellow members of my old band.