Wednesday, October 8, 2014
This record is 4 years in the making.
The decision to say yes came about a half a year ago.
Scheduling of actual recording sessions began on August 22, 2014.
And here we are.
Recording session 1.
The session has snuck up on me like the butler in Mr. Deeds – “I am very very sneaky”. This is my first experience recording while having a family and working a full time regular job. The days of spending long hours and evenings in relatively carefree recording sessions are behind me. Time, these days, is more precious. Time is always precious. But when you have a wife and children, time becomes a commodity. It’s a gift. It’s an asset. It’s a liability sometimes, especially when it’s not protected. I have to admit that I was a bit ambitious when I developed the recording schedule. It’s been some time since I spent time recording and the great lengths of time it takes to set up and record had somehow slipped my mind. It was still smart to create a schedule. It’s a good foundation for what is predominately a flexible, malleable, and swaying musical experience.
Alan’s studio is located in the upper level of a beautiful home he owns in Celebration. Alan personifies peace, love, humility, kindness, generosity, and Christ-centeredness.
More about Alan and our introduction in later writings.
The studio is not only well equipped, but very homey and comfortable. On high reaching shelves sit, and from studio walls hang, examples and representations of many facets of fine art: painting, literature, poetry, music, sculpture. Keyboards, guitars, basses, and other instruments line the walls and wires and cords snake along the plush carpet; connecting cabinets stuffed full of equipment with LEDs blinking and illuminating. A lone fan is suspended from the ceiling, awkwardly holding only two blades. The room is cool – despite the heat generated from the multitude of electronics – and the lighting soft and inviting. We sit on drums stools, piano benches, and two ultra comfortable leather office chairs; which are reserved for the person charged with engineering the particular session (or take) and the person charged with producing the session (or take) – or sometimes for a studio guest; particularly of the female persuasion (wives, guest singers, daughters).
The goal of recording session 1 is to lay down the piano for the 4 songs of the EP. In many cases, bands spend hours practicing songs before actually recording the parts. In this case, because all of the people I have asked to play on this record work regular jobs, and have wives and children, it was impossible to spend a meaningful amount of time rehearsing the music. All of the musicians are professional and very talented so some learning on the fly would not be detrimental. Only one musician is less comfortable with improvisation and spontaneous learning and musical changes. With this player, I spent much time planning.
More on him in the next blog.
Brian Crawford arrived to the studio a little bit after 6P. Brian is the regular piano player for our church band/choir – C7. C7 plays and sings for the Sunday evening Mass at my church – Corpus Christi in Celebration, FL. Brian is the Chief Business Officer for a company called Vestagen. Vestagen develops, manufactures, and markets advanced performance textile products for use in medical uniforms and athletic apparel. The product is successful because of its fluid barrier technology, anti-microbial protection, and quick dry comfort. The proliferation of the Ebola virus has increased the demand for Vestagen’s products (because of the fluid barrier technology for use in scrubs). With increased demand for Vestagen’s products comes increased demand for Brian Crawford’s time! So, as one could imagine, I was very thankful for Brian’s generous offering of his time and his talent in support of this record. Alan had an M-Audio midi controller set up and ready for Brian. This instrument is basically a keyboard which connects to the computer and records the performance via MIDI. MIDI gives us more control over the sound and allows us to make minor adjustments to timing or notes played. I usually prefer the sound of a miced up baby grand piano. But for this record, recording the piano parts in this way was the best choice for realizing my vision of what these songs will sound like. Although MIDI offers us the flexibility to change the sound of the performance in post production, we decided to spend a substantial amount of time finding the right piano sound.
Also present at the studio was our friend Floyd who will drum on this record.
More on Floyd later.
We began with prayer; thanking God for the opportunity and our friendship. We asked him to be present and for His will to be done. It was a beautiful experience to be able to actually pray with a group of men in such an environment.
The first song we began to record was called “The Way”. It’s a song I wrote around February of this year, shortly after my yes. When I write songs, the music and lyrics generally come to me quickly.
Really it’s like the song is offered to me.
It is not I who composes it but I who is being used as a conduit to breath life into the words and music.
I know that anything I have is only because of God’s generosity. And I know that God blesses us in abundance when we strive to do His will. So this song, like so many others, is, in my perception, a gift from God.
More about the song and it’s development in later writings.
In the first few takes of recording the piano parts, I asked Brian to play very simple chords throughout. I didn’t give him much room to be creative or to improvise. I came to realize that this approach of basic chords wasn’t the best idea for the piano and further, was something I could play on my own. I invited Brian to be a part of this record because of the way he connects with my songs and is able to translate my requests into elegant piano pieces. That said, I cut the chains which stifled Brian’s ability to do what it is he does which I love so much; that is, add emotional piano beauty to songs. And as he played, he played freely.
With each chord progression came a deeper enlightenment of what the song was evoking.
With every take came new smiles, new nods of affirmation, and virtual high-fives offered via eye contact.
Brian was in the zone and the song began to take shape.
As he played the instrumental bridge, he played a riff that struck me. After the take, we played back what we recorded and I pointed out the riff. I said, “That is the bridge! Disregard the chord progression I wrote and let this be the basis!” We worked through the new bridge for several minutes until the progression was set and the chords determined. At that point, I went downstairs to grab some waters and coffees. When I returned, the recorded bridge was not the bridge we had worked on! Ha. (A new rule was implemented whereby I am no longer permitted to fetch the water and coffee.) We spent the next block of time reworking the bridge back to what I had intented and proceeded with recording. After several takes, we achieved our goal and moved on to the next song.
The next song was called “Arrive”.
I wrote this song on an unplugged electric guitar (Parker Fly) a few months back. Again, the song just seemed to come to me. I sat in my office chair late one night and positioned my hands at a D minor (my friends say I live in a minor key) and just started singing and playing. It took a little while to work out the chords as I had become so accustomed to writing songs on my piano. But the song came almost in full that first evening. I made some revisions over the following weeks and months. On this night of recording, the song was ready and so was Brian. We learned a valuable lesson in the recording of “The Way” and so we allowed Brian to be free and to do what he does which I love so much. We worked through a few adjustments to the notes of the chords and before long, wrapped up another song on piano. At this point, 6PM turned to about 10PM. Brian was scheduled to be on a very early flight to NYC the next day so we decided to call it a night.
It became clear that the recording would take at least twice as much time as I had anticipated. That’s okay. This first session reminded me just how much I love to be in the studio, to hang with musician friends, and to make music.
How blessed I am to have the opportunity to continue to make music; to continue to make (a majority of) a living making music.
Alan’s custom is to walk his guests all the way out to their cars, even opening and closing the car door for them.
As we stepped out into the night air, a full moon hovered.
Session 1 was complete.
Lord, thank you for this gift of music. Thank you for the many years of music I have experienced and endured which prepared me for what I do today, and what I will do tomorrow. You are loving, you are kind, you are generous. And I am forever gracious. In God’s name: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.