Phil Bankester, peré of the lovely and talented Bankester family, has agreed to provide a running blogumentary of their home recording sessions this week.
Just when we were getting in the groove, we were forced into a break because of a thunderstorm. Not only was the lightning a risk to the equipment, but the thunder was too loud for the mics in a normal house, not a studio with real sound isolation.
It may not have really been lost time, though. We’ve been spending long days recording, and the break seemed to refresh everyone just a bit. I took the opportunity to get the video camera out and talk with our producer, Stephen Mougin. Though we couldn’t record for awhile, we were able to fine tune the parts on an acapella track that’s going on the CD. I managed to get Stephen to talk about his approach to the song.
While breakfast was being prepared, Stephen took the time to put the following thoughts together:
“I’m writing this from the front porch on the morning of recording day 4. It’s a beautiful day with birds chirping, breeze blowing… and we won’t see any more of that until tomorrow morning. It’s almost time to punch the clock (and the record button) and there is a lot to do!
Before I head in, I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts about the recording process. As you might know, I’m engineering and producing this album. Engineering, as in – capturing audio – and Producing, as in – getting the best performances, scheduling, acting as musical director, making the album live and breathe.
Because I work with a wide variety of bands, the challenges I face are different with each project. Most groups have little (or no) studio experience and are often intimidated by the process, while some are veterans trying to capture something ‘new.’ The diversity requires each band (and each musician in turn) to develop their own strategies for success in the studio.
The Bankester Strategy book (which is working GREAT) looks something like this:
Know the song. It seems obvious, but the more you internalize the material the better it will groove (especially if you’re not constantly thinking about what chord comes next).
Work out a solo that you can play solidly. It’s fun and easy to explore something fresh and new while you track when you have the safety net of your plan. This one applies more for newer bands, but is something worthwhile for musicians at all levels (heck, classical musicians have to play the same notes every show and they find a way to make it sound spontaneous!).
LOVE the song. The lead singer can share their passion with the band and influence the resulting track in an AMAZING way. If they are ‘eh’ about it… that’s what it’s probably going to sound like. The other point here is – PICK SONGS YOU LOVE with lyrics and melodies that make you “feel” something!
Practice intensively during the month(s) before the session. Get your ‘chops’ up! Work with a metronome! Make sure the banjo roll is even, the bass notes cut off when the mando chops, the mando chops are “in the pocket”, the guitar rhythm drives… whatever the case may be. When you step in front of the microphone, it’s too late to fix those type of things! (The Bankesters get MAJOR props for digging in and attending to THIS… and the resulting tracks will be evidence!)
HAVE FUN. That’s the point. That’s why we play music… IT’S FUN!
I listened to around 400 songs, searching for the perfect fit for 5 vocalists. I sent about 40 to the band with instructions for each singer to find their own 1st choice. Once we had that list, the 2nd choice was a little more difficult as we had to really negotiate song tempo’s and feels so the album wasn’t ‘slow’ or ‘mid-tempo heavy,’ etc. We have a couple of ‘wild-card’ songs that feature multiple vocalists and that had to be thrown in the mix to get our final pairing to 12. It was a fun process for this group!
We’ve hunkered down and gotten a lot of work done. The tracks are exceeding everyone’s expectations (mine included!) and I can’t wait for the world to hear the more robust, more cohesive, more driving, more subtle, more passionate Bankester sound.”