We recently finished up a new release for Brian Blade and The Fellowship. It will be featuring original songs by Brian Blade and Jon Cowherd. This record was challenging and one of the most fun to make in recent memories. Mostly because I wasn’t staring at a computer screen for 15 hours a day, and the obvious was the musicianship was off the charts. The band was Brian Blade, Melvin Butler, Chris Thomas, Jon Cowherd, Marvin Sewell, and Myron Walden. Brian decided to go analog on this record and for the organic quality of the music, I couldn’t agree more. With the ever ending shrinking budgets it’s been about 7 years since I last completed a record only using tape. Lately, I’ve been utilizing our CLASP to do most tracking sessions to get some tape saturation, but this record we tracked straight to a 2″ Studer 827 and mixed to our Studer A80 1/2″. Our first challenge was to get enough tape in time for the session with my tape of choice these days being ATR. I still miss GP9 which I have now depleted my tape stock.
The second was finding a piano that recorded well. We had a smaller yamaha grand for some time, but we decided to stop playing around and dropped a Steinway D 9ft in the day before the session.
The third challenge was repairing the faulty A80 1/2″ we purchased from a broker in Nashville. I threw the alignment tape on and nothing was working. This machine needed a complete overhaul. Luckily the power of Facebook saved me. About 2 days before we started the session my old tech from a studio I worked at in the 90′s had just touched base with me on Facebook. He lived about 2 hours away so our intern drove the machine out and he went through the machine and tracked down all the bad caps, sauder joints, and switches. The joy of buying used analog gear sight unseen over the internet and trusting the broker.
The first day was setup and finding positions for everyone. We decided to go with everybody in the large tracking space with little isolation. We weren’t sure about it, but thought we would give it a try. After all, many records have been made like this with great success. Unfortunately, the piano was having some tuning issues and we weren’t able to use the piano that night so we moved onto a song with an old pump organ that Brian had shipped down. For as small as this organ was the sound was gigantic. After getting down a successful take we called it a night. My only concern was we still haven’t tried everybody playing together in the same space with the drums.
The next day we came in everybody took there positions and we started getting blends on cues. It took a total of 3 min and Brian walked in the control room and wanted to move to the booth. So we moved just about everybody to a new position other than the piano. Drums went in a booth, horns went in another booth, and piano, bass, guitar stayed in the large room, but moved for line of sight to the other players. My assistant and I had the entire band moved and ready to go in an hour and a half. This was working for the players and myself much better. Dusty at Mojave had just sent me a mic to try out on the snare which worked out very well. It’s the Mojave MA-101 FET. It could handle the SPL level of the snare when Brian’s full blast with an internal 15 dB pad or pick up his nuance when he’s playing light as a feather. Another mic I was trying out on the kit was the AEA R88, which was used for the room. Unfortunately we had a bit of a problem with one of the sides of the R88 due to a faulty connector internally in the mic. I was still able to track the other side which worked very well. AEA was very accommodating and I’m looking forward to using the R88 again soon. Originally I was thinking the R88 for overheads on the kit but we ended up going with Mojave MA-200′s. The MA-200′s really captured Brian’s intricate work on the cymbals.
A few of the songs are any where from 12 to 14 minutes in length so the first day reels were adding up quick. They would have to make some permanent decisions. We had to order tape in 2 or 3 shipments due to supply. When I noticed how fast the reels were going I had my assistant order 4 more reels for safety to be fed ex’d next day. Then Saturday rolls around and I get a call from our office manager. “Hey listen, your tape is in Michigan”….. Nice. So I quickly added up unused takes and it looked promising to get through the session, which we did. A couple of the songs we would perform an edit and the unused takes would get rolled over. It was nice to be able to commit to takes instead of having the ever ending playlist scenario to sort through after the fact. With some bands this would be a problem, but here the only problem was trying to find a problem with the takes. The band would love to come in to here the edit go by to see if they could here the splice. I forget how smooth the edits are on tape. It’s effortless. Other than having to find a grease pencil last minute at a near by Hobby Lobby the editing went very smooth. For me it was great fun and felt like we were making a real record with tape on the floor and razor blades lying around.
We’re starting to get to the end of tracking. It’s around 1 a.m. and Jon says the piano is severely out. Since we aren’t in New York or Los Angeles I’m a bit worried. I made two calls and either got a “Are you kidding me? I’m not coming up at 1 a.m. to tune” or an angry wife on the phone who immediately hung up on me. But the stars aligned and a nice gentleman said
“what’s the emergency?” I briefly explained the dilemma and he was there in an hour. After which he stayed until about 4 a.m. listening to the great track we got laid down because of his handy work.
The following day mixing begins. The Studer A80 arrives in working condition and everything is on schedule. I would mix to the A80 and a Pro-Tools session for backup at 24 bit 96 Khz. After the mix got printed to 1/2″ I would copy the mix to Brian’s DAT machine. He still thinks the DAT sounds better than a file off of Pro-Tools and after listening back I would agree. I still have a DAT machine at my house, but purely for playing back the hundreds of DATs I have masters stored on.
We ended up getting a total of 9 songs down and will be doing some more mixes in the next few weeks from some older recordings Brian did on 16-Track 2″ to add to the batch. Be on the lookout for it to be released in the next 3 months.
You can check out some session pics here: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjyCYAEP
Be on the lookout at SXSW for the Blade Studios bus in Austin from March 16-18. Come by and say “Hello”. We will be hanging out talking studio stories and possibly recording some as well on the bus. There will also be incentives for booking your session during SXSW on the bus. You can find our location on our twitter after we arrive. twitter.com/bladestudios