Second Session

It was difficult to schedule the second session between my work schedule and Ben’s musical journey to Japan. At one point Ray mentioned using Gary Craig as the drummer because of the timing….another excellent drummer that has played with artists that you might recognize.

Between mixing and sessions with Ray and Ben, I recorded In My Life with LogicPro drum samples. Fun but not nearly as satisfying as playing to or mixing live drums in a recording. Later, I would also record Contemplation in a live setting with just my guitar, amp and a few pedals….including a looper. I did this one with an iPhone.  Since an iPhone is relevant to these times, I put it with this collection of songs.

We persisted and finally arrived at a date. Because of the timing, challenges to schedule, and my confidence in the end product, this time I told the guys that I felt comfortable for them to work on the songs on their own. This time we used wetransfer.com to swap files. It was easy on my side. I do remember that Ray told me he had some technical challenges with it. Also the same as the last time, I sent sample rates and BPMs to Ray. Ray and Ben recorded on October 3, 2013 and I traveled for business. They called me once to let me hear progress and the tracks sounded great. Again, they sent me 2-3 alternate tracks for each song. And, Ray sent pics again from his studio.

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Second Session

Mixing

Next was uploading the drums into my Logic templates. I then decided I would re-record all of the guitar parts. It was great to play to live drums instead of click tracks and drum machines.  Ben’s drumming made the songs very live and alive. Next came Tim’s bass parts. Tim is an old pro and rarely needed more than 1 or 2 takes to nail each song.  Most of these are songs he’s been playing for years anyway.  A few times we tried different basses to try different tones.  And then I mixed and mixed and mixed some more. It was again fun and rewarding.  When I had weekends and holidays available, I mixed.  Around November of 2012 I felt I had the mixing finished and I was excited, so, I sent them to Ray and Ben for a second opinion. Ray replied that he heard some digital distortion and it was not pleasant sounding. Ben also replied with some good technical advice to check the compression on the drums. I went back to my files and analyzed them carefully. They were both right. So, I mixed and mixed and mixed some more. Knowing that Ray and Ben are both professionals, I surely appreciated them offering me sage advice. The next time I sent over files was in February of 2013.  Ray’s reply on the second mix made me very happy: “… am listening now… holy cow it sounds really fab!!!!”

Over the next few weeks, I decided I wanted to record a few more songs. In May, I reached out to Ray again and we decided we would record soon. However, it was September before we were able to arrange the session.

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Mixing

Bits and Bytes between Arkansas and Ontario

Several songs had been swimming in my head as instrumentals. Before contacting Ray Montford, I had been putting down scratch tracks. Because we run a business I mostly get to play music on weekends and holidays. Tim Skaggs and his son, Luke, and I had been trying a few of the instrumentals…playing music, working on the arrangements and general ideas. Dancing Days was actually an instrumental song suggestion made by Luke.  Jason Gray, another good friend, also helped me by playing along as I worked through ideas, tempos, tones, etc. Hearing a new arrangement or new styling of an old song is always interesting to me. Creating a new arrangement for an existing song is even more fun.

Recording guitars seems relatively straightforward. My own personal process is: Practice, dial in a guitar tone, set levels, push record….rinse and repeat until satisfied. I find recording guitars fun and rewarding.  However, it has never been easy for me to get great sounding recorded drum tracks. I have tried several approaches but I was just never 100% satisfied with any of my own drum recordings.  As I started putting down my scratch guitar tracks in early 2012, I reached out to a studio owner/drummer in NY.  He said he was interested. It sounded promising but…..he just kinda disappeared. “Other projects, very busy,” slow or no reply…….no follow-through. I was disappointed but only mildly discouraged.

In early May of 2012, I first saw a thread titled “Post a youtube link to a beautiful song” on http://www.thegearpage.net.  The second post featured an artist named Ray Montford playing Blind to Beauty. Both the video and audio quality were outstanding. You may want to listen as you read:

In researching more about Ray’s music, I found his studio website and eventually called him to see if he would consider collaborating. Ray’s part of the project would include recording the drums for my own DIY instrumental trio album. He offered that he thought the technology was sufficient to support an internet collaboration and said he had actually been thinking of offering this studio service on his webpage. In the next few days, I emailed him with a song list and directed him to private tracks on Soundcloud that were basic sketches of what I wanted.  We discussed the kind of drum sounds that I wanted. He asked me to forward the song sketches to Ben Riley, the drummer he had chosen for the project. I asked for something between Kenny Wollesen on East/West and Levon Helm on Big Pink. It is worth noting that Ray always promptly returned my phone calls and emails. I was impressed with his attention to these details.

On May 28, 2012, Ray and Ben recorded drums tracks.  Several times during the day, we used Facetime so that I could listen and provide input. My recollection is that they recorded 3 versions of each song: The Wind Cries Mary, Don’t Let Me Down, When I’m 64, The Last Date, and Dancing Days. It was a Monday holiday here, so, I alternated between listening to drum tracks and hanging out by the pool with my wife and daughters as they enjoyed the sunshine. The Facetime link was surprisingly good considering I was in Arkansas and they were in Ontario. After each of the songs was recorded, Ray would Facetime and play the complete track for me to listen. I spoke to Ray and Ben live on my computer screen as I listened to the tracks over my studio monitors. It was not high def but it worked.   It worked very well for answering questions, communicating what I did like and what I would like to change. It was also a lot of fun. Ray and Ben are both extremely considerate and courteous. They made the experience relaxed and enjoyable.

On May 30, 2012, Ray advised that his computer hard drive crashed and he spent hours and hours doing a recovery. Fortunately, all of the recordings were recovered.  He said he then crashed for 11-12 hours.  In the following days, I sent him a USB stick so that he could load the drum tracks to it. We discussed using an upload/download site but neither of us were comfortable that we would be able to do this easily and transfer the same quality we would get by using snail-mail and a USB stick. He mailed the files back to me with high quality drum tracks organized and labeled very specifically.  Again, I was impressed with his organizational skills and his consideration.  At this point, it’s up to me to upload them into Logic on my side.

Bits and Bytes between Arkansas and Ontario

Starting the Process of Recording Wade Black / Tim Skaggs / Ben Riley

Over a period of several years and during several visits to St. Paul, Minnesota, my brother in-law, who is an avid music fan and consumer, introduced me to his incredible CD collection and the works of a number of musicians with whom I was previously unaware. Those musicians included Johnny A., Bill Frisell, Sun Ra, the Jayhawks, and many others. Listening to his CD collection, I was also able to sample full albums of popular artist like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Band, etc. While my wife and daughters shopped at the Mall of America, I was engrossed in hours and hours of music. It didn’t hurt that when I took a break I could (literally) walk over to Willie’s American Guitar and spend several hours there. Therefore, many of the song choices for this album came from these listening sessions.  Additionally, many of the tones for this album were selected in those listening sessions and in the many trips to demo guitars and amps at Willie’s American Guitar. I plan to blog about my experiences as I recorded this collection of songs. The goal is to recall the good memories and thank those that helped.

Starting the Process of Recording Wade Black / Tim Skaggs / Ben Riley