Notes from the Shore

Work, marriage, kids and music

My Fortress Preproduction

CarolAnne-RonnieLeeThe big night has come and gone! This past Saturday was our live recording of My Fortress with a full band in front of a live congregation. It was a cool night, but first, let’s talk about how we got here.

As we were wrapping up the last song, Carol Anne and I began discussing what would come next. She said she had a song that she wanted to record in a live context. She handed me some chord charts like for the first song and we sang through it a few times. Unlike the first song, however, this one already existed in recorded form. She had already recorded an acoustic/vocal demo of it with her buddy Ronnie Lee (see photo above) and there was also video of when the song had been used in worship at her church.

Armed with the chord chart, our session together, and two digital files, I began working through the arrangement. I wanted and needed to stick fairly close to what she was already doing live, as she was very attached to the current form. As I played and sang it and prayed about it, I did very little to the form, but what I did I think lifted the song to a new level.

The song itself is very simple. It consists of a repeated 8-bar segment with three chords in the first four bars, and the same three chords plus one more in the second four. There are two verses and a chorus which appears in a couple of different configurations. The first verse reappears near the end of the song. She had also worked up a drum break near the end of the song which was very cool.

She originally wanted a very dramatic dynamic arc for the song, which would have probably worked well for a studio recording, but since this was live we needed to dial that back just a bit. The arc will be the same, but the intensity will be a little compressed.

I added a key change to the middle with a face melting guitar solo, courtesy of the aforementioned Ronnie Lee. I was actually a little nervous about this, though. I knew from experience that Ronnie Lee is a fantastic acoustic player and even a good bass player, but I had never heard him play electric. Carol Anne assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem.

The next step in prepro after getting Carol Anne’s buyoff on the revised arrangement was getting together with her and Ronnie Lee for production/arranging meeting. We met at her church and Ronnie Lee brought his acoustic, so I still hadn’t heard his electric playing!

That night we worked out all the breaks and instrumentals and finalized the tempo. Carol Anne assured me that her drummer could play to a click, which was necessary if I have any hope of comping a best take together. When we left I had copious notes on my chord chart.

At home I translated those notes into a final chord chart that included the entire form of the song. I also recorded the piano, drums and bass for a demo so everyone who would be playing on the final recording would have a common reference to listen to and learn from. I had Carol Anne over on a Sunday afternoon to lay down the demo vocals. We tweaked the tempo a bit that day, too, which I could do since everything had been recorded as MIDI.

I sent the files to everyone involved in the project and Carol Anne scheduled a rhythm section rehearsal, which was held the week before the recording. Again, Ronnie Lee couldn’t make it due to his work schedule, so I still couldn’t hear his electric guitar playing! It was a successful rehearsal, though. We discovered some technical issues that fortunately we wouldn’t have to work through on the day of the recording. I left the rehearsal feeling really good about the direction of the track.

Next time, moments of sheer panic on recording day, and… can Ronnie Lee really play electric guitar?

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