I was contacted last fall by a worship leader at a small church in North Carolina near where I live in Virginia to help her produce some original music she has written. My wife taught a dance class at her church a few summers ago so that’s the connection. She contacted me telling me that she had been writing songs for several years, a few of them she used in her congregation, and she felt it was time to begin recording them.
My wife and I joined her and her husband one Sunday evening to get to know each other and make some music. She showed me the first song she wanted to record and I immediately had some ideas. I took the lead sheet home with me and spent some time experimenting with those ideas. When she gave me the song it consisted of two verses and a chorus. I added an intro based on the melody of the verse, but also knew that it would need something in the middle. My thought was an extended instrumental/free worship section, so I set about working out a chord progression for that. At this point I wasn’t sure how we would end the song, but wanted that to be a collaborative effort, so I didn’t do that part by myself.
With the arrangement set, I invited Carol Anne to my home studio. I didn’t want to record the song with a strict tempo, but to let the feel ebb and flow with the song. We set up to record her vocals and my MIDI piano live and ran the song. Unfortunately, I made a rookie mistake and forgot to enable the piano track for recording, so all I ended up with was the vocals. We did another take but neither Carol Anne nor I liked the second take as much – it felt a bit rushed. It was undeniable that there was magic (known more appropriately as the anointing of the Holy Spirit) in the first take. We also ad libbed a tremendous ending to the song with a short recap of the final line of the chorus.
Carol Anne and her husband left and I set to work recreating the piano part to the first vocal take. It was tricky, but eventually I beat and bashed it into shape. I chopped her individual lines up and smoothed out the tempo changes, which resulted in a nice flow to the song. I added scratch drums, scratch bass, organ and guitar.
When thinking about the song I could hear a part during the second and third choruses – a backing choir singing a counterpoint to the main melody. I wrote out the part and one weekend when my eldest daughter was home from college we sang all the parts in – three apiece, although Bethany doubled the middle line both high and low. We also added some ad lib vocals for the free praise section in the middle of the song. With that all done I was ready to have Carol Anne back to record the keeper vocals.
She brought with her a good friend and worship leader to sing backing vocals. We also video-recorded most of the takes that day (the word most becomes important later in this saga). It was also really cool because the choir part that I recorded with my daughter was almost exactly a part that Carol Anne was hearing in her head. After editing the vocal takes together and doing a rough mix we arranged to have the next session.
You can read about the drum recording session here, but in a nutshell we wanted to use the drummer from Carol Anne’s church for this recording. Jeff is a remarkably talented drummer, especially when considering that he’s only played for a few years. He had an interpretation of the song that would never had occured to me, and the figures he played would have been downright difficult to pull off with a sampled drum set. I also videoed two of the takes.
The final recording session (that Carol Anne knew about) was her bass player, Ronnie Lee Umplette. Ronnie has been playing and recording for many years, and he and Carol Anne go way back. More than one of the songs likely to appear on the complete project we’re working on have already been demoed by the two of them. I plugged Ronnie in direct and he laid down some interesting licks. Again, it was stuff that it would never had occured to me to play on a MIDI keyboard. I video recorded one of the takes and after a fairly short time we wrapped. I’m hoping to work with Ronnie again in the future, as he has music of his own that he would like to develop.
Over Christmas my surprise guest artist drove up from Atlanta. Dena is an old friend (one of my longest friends, in fact) and a talented classical and worship violinist and comes to visit us twice a year. I recorded her once before for my last project and while her playing was magnificent, I always felt that the quality of the recording was substandard. That recording had a lot of boxy room sound, and I was determined to avoid that this time. Lots of listening and careful mic placement (and a different room) resulted in a much superior recording. Not only did the track need less corrective maneuvering in the mixing stage, the end result sounded much better.
At this point I thought I was done, but as I was working on the video I realized that I didn’t have a video recording of the take that I used for Carol Anne’s vocals. As a result the video and the audio didn’t quite sync up. It looked like watching a fair to middling dub of a foreign language film. So, I had Carol Anne back over one more time to lay down final vocals. She was glad, though, because there were some things when listening back to her original takes she wished to improve on. Of course, this time I recorded everything…
So, that’s the recording phase of this project. In the next post I’ll cover the mixing and creation of the music video you see at the top of this page.