Recording Strings at Castleford Chairworks Studio, January 2014

 

With the MoR Pop project near to completion, in December 2013, Barrie Gledden & I headed down to Northants to see David Tobin. David’s a fellow AudioNetwork composer & was tasked with helping out & scoring our string arrangements for the project.

As mentioned in my last blog, this project has been a long time in the making & the strings were to be the icing on the cake.

We spent a long day with David talking through each track & firming up ideas which he’d then turn into scores and arrangements in our absence.

A date was set for the end of January 2014 at The Chairworks Studio, Castleford for the actual recording.

Strings

Barrie has written a more in depth blog about the whole process here

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Recording Drums – The ‘Lynne Johns’ Method & 70s Pop Rock Project…

RiCH Fat DrumsBack at the start of 2013, I began work on 8 tracks in a very definitive style.

My year prior had been very much full to the brim with music. It’s my job… it’s what I do; writing, playing, recording and mixing.

Projects are always ongoing and there are deadlines to meet, but in January 2013 I set aside the whole month to concentrate on writing this one project.
I sat down in my own cozy studio watching the snow fall outside, loaded up a cup of tea and a blank canvas, and set out to write a collection of tunes influenced by the kind of music that shaped me as I was growing up.

Having not come from a particularly musical background; my parents nor brother are musically inclined, I never had anyone at home opening me up to different styles of music. Exposure to what was out there at the time, & what had gone before, came more from my friends at school & the radio. There simply weren’t any bands in my school and no real musicians to speak of, certainly not that i was aware of… so my early influences were picked up not by someone saying ‘here… you MUST listen to this’ but more by my Saturday afternoons spent in record shops looking at what was out there & spending my hard earned paper money on what I thought might prick my ears musically.

So why am I telling you all this?

Writing music for a living enables me to travel in all sorts of different directions sonically… Heavy Rock, Classical, Vocal Pop, Quirky… You name it, I’ve done it.
Every project is special & has the utmost time & attention paid to it. The company I write for require nothing short of the best & that’s what you strive for every time.

This project was to be no different from any other in that respect, except for it was going to be in a musical style very close to my heart & centred around the music I listened to as an easily influenced budding musician – a style from yesteryear yet with all the modern pop elements you’d expect, but with that comes the fact that I knew with the style and direction I was taking these songs in… it was going to be a long, long road to travel to get this project to where it ultimately needed to be.

‘Art is never finished, only abandoned’ – Leonardo da Vinci

Side MicOn watching the ‘Sound City‘ documentary recently, I heard Mick Fleetwood reflecting on why Fleetwood Mac chose that studio to record the album ‘Rumours’ rather than do it in their own studio – ‘I can have fun doing this on my own, or I can have fun doing it with others’.
He has a point… The studio can be a very lonely and solitary place… unless you’re there with others… then it becomes fun.

Barrie Gledden has been a very close friend and a work colleague of mine since 1991, when I first met him as part of a support act for his band at the time ‘Brazil’. We’ve worked together ever since through bands & other musical ventures, and like me, Barrie is a writer for AudioNetwork.

Before Christmas 2012, I mentioned to Barrie my plans for January and that I was going to start this mammoth project. In the cold February of 2013, I took the tracks to his studio and played them to him. We chatted about where we thought the songs needed to go musically and planned how best to get them sounding and feeling as good as possible.

I’d mocked up the whole project using virtual instruments; keyboards, drums, bass, strings, piano, synths, guitars, acoustics… all triggered digitally from within the computer… a band in your pocket & an easy way to get your ideas from your head and into a permanent, recorded form – you can work fast & efficiently before the moment and idea is gone forever.

Virtual Instruments can be ground breaking and breathtaking, they can produce sounds that are very hard or impossible to emulate in the ‘real world’.
However, everything I’d used to create these tracks was ‘mimicking’ real instruments… and, more than anything, what this album needed was realreal everything real drums, real piano… and a real string section.

What I’d taken to play to Barrie felt very polished yet needed more input… the ideas were there but they needed arranging, additional vocal lines writing, string arrangements scoring and everything needed replacing with ‘feel’ and ‘interplay’ with instruments from the ‘real world’. Of the initial 8 tracks, there were 6 stand out songs we chose to focus on first.

Let the games commence…

First up… replacing the drums…  here’s a video of what we did… (skins tuned so low they were close to wrinkle point & tension rods dropped out during recording takes)

 

Barrie wrote a more in-depth blog about re-recording the drums for this project here.

Next mini blog – The String Recording…..

 

 

‘Battle Zone’ Album with Kes Loy Released

Battle Zone

Battle Zone‘ – A ‘High-Octane’ Blast Of An Album

Towards the middle of 2013, Kes Loy and I mused on an album project we could work on together for AudioNetwork. We wanted to try something a little different; something that would set a scene sonically & visually. An album that would be unified in its theme – a ‘concept’ if you will.
Bring forth the ‘Battle Zone‘ album.

Between us, we wanted to create an album that would build tension & foreboding, but one we could also twist and manipulate to create atmosphere and suspense.

For most of the main tracks on ‘Battle Zone‘, we created further versions which purposfully didn’t have the power & size of the main tracks. No power guitars, no drums… just a sonic ‘mood’.

When writing this kind of music, especially for TV & film use, you have to consider the musical needs of the producer and sound editor.  They may want something as an under-bed… some atmospheric tension maintaining a ‘constant’, as opposed to a ‘song’ format or piece of music that develops and changes.

Kes & I worked very closely on this project & always kept a focus on its primary purpose. Even though the project & track titles will lead you to a given preconception of what a project is going to sound like even before you hear it, the music still had to deliver and take you to a different place entirely.

Can music trigger emotion and take you out of the ‘now’? I personally think so, and with this album, I think we succeeded in doing just that.

Listen to the album here – ‘Battle Zone

Battle Zone

Here’s a full track listing…

Battle Zone – The title track… Heart in the mouth rocktronica with smoking guitars & ripping synths

Death Toll – Dark, brooding & cinematic with piercing guitars. Builds to menacing climax
Check out the ‘Death Toll 2’ version for a dark, electronica underscore

Outlaw – ‘Nemesis approaching’ rocktronica builds to half time metal onslaught
Check out the ‘Outlaw 2’ version for a stomping, rocktronica underscore

Secret Mission – Nail biting espionage builds to guitar hero rock with dark, dominant drums
Check out the ‘Secret Mission 4 & 5’ versions full of cinematic ambience with spy Rhodes

Hostage – Defiant electronics break into stomping heavy rock with face melting guitars
Check out the ‘Hostage 2’ version for defiant electronica; tense & atmospheric with flickering synth textures

Stay of Execution – Unnerving atmosphere disturbed by brutal detuned guitars. Builds
Check out the ‘Stay of Execution 2’ version for an unnerving atmosphere filled with mangled synths & heart beat pulses

Strike Down – Dark electro, guitar driven rock
Check out the ‘Strike Down 3’ version for a dark, tense & menacing electro mix with haunting fx

Hero – Tense electro groove builds triumphantly into heroic heavy rock
Check out the ‘Hero 2’ version for dark, tense cinematic electro which morphs around smooth pads

Please listen, buy & use… Thanks

‘Bright & Quirky Piano’ Album with Richard Lacy & Barrie Gledden Released

Piano

Welcome back!

This month ‘Bright & Quirky Piano‘ gets an airing; an album written by Richard Lacy, Barrie Gledden & Me.

My main role on this album was to create various drum & percussion soundscapes. Richard approached me with the ideas already in a good ‘state’ but wondered if, after I’d done ‘my bit’, my playing & sound might inspire him to go off in a different direction.

A few of the tracks really build & have a fantastic hypnotic quality to them, so I set about adding to the atmosphere rather than simply over playing on them. I rolled out my arsenal of snare drums, toms & paraphernalia

Snare

For me, the other interesting part of this project was not hearing the final project ’til release day. Richard Lacy handled all mixing and arranging duties so it was nice to sit back & hear what a great job he’d done.

The full album is here – ‘Bright & Quirky Piano

Here’s a selection of tracks…

Keeping The Faith – Positive, urgent piano progression with bold drums & mellotron swells
Continuance – Upliftingly optimistic piano theme above intricately layered backing
Motion – Gentle layered pianos & ambient guitars with transition to inspiring theme
All Together Now – Positive, uplifting theme with layered pianos & drums. Builds throughout

Hope you like the album as much as I do… have a listen for free & if you like the tracks, please buy them.

Thanks.

Hit The Ground Running… Big Drums, Big Guitars & Big Vocals – Jan 2014

RiCH & Pearl BLX, Castleford

January 2014 started with a bang! Literally… 

Towards the end of last year, I started work on a new project for AudioNetwork with Kes Loy & Barrie Gledden. We had so much fun with the 80’s Hair Rock project that the three of us decided to turn our musical attention to something more up-to-date, but still in the rock vein.

Kes, Barrie & I started writing together – thrashing out ideas with live kit & guitars… like we used to do in the many bands we’ve been in. After All, the best songs come from interaction, interplay & bouncing ideas around between the players & writers. As we were writing, tracks were recorded into Pro Tools to enable us to have a record of each section or song whilst the ideas were still fresh in our heads – give it 5 minutes and you can guarantee you can’t remember that great riff you just played, so having it all there to pick and choose from was fantastic.

Writing

Within a couple of days the tracks were there & formed; writing lyrics and vocal lines came soon after. It’s always a challenge writing lyrics for film & media… there’s a fine line between keeping content ‘within genre’ but also making sure there’s nothing in there that might offend… ‘Explicit Lyrics’ aren’t something you can add and would limit usage from most productions & films.

Following the initial writing sessions, I brought the whole project back to my studio (StudiOK) to set about creating more ‘song-like’ arrangements & laying down guide drums. As we’d not played to clicks when jotting down the ideas into the computer initially, creating something workable to play along to proved a challenge in itself. Even though a good many of the six songs were in common time, some were in interesting time signatures – 6/4 with bars of 7/8 thrown in. I played drum parts with only the music as I imagined it in my head and a click track to keep me where i needed to be.

Having kicked all six tracks into what I deemed full arrangements, I called upon Kes to come into the studio and lay down guide guitars over the new drum tracks.

Laying Down Ruff Guitars

Barrie added guide bass at his studio before the next stage… REPLACE EVERYTHING!

Even though the songs were now in their finished form and sounding great, the drums had been recorded to thin air & everything needed that ‘live-in-a-room’ feel to have energy & interplay – after all, this is a rock project.

Barrie has a multitude of amps, guitars & outboard gear at his disposal – how could we achieve that smooth & polished guitar sound heard on so many of the latest releases?
Track after track of guitar was added, until what we heard back was the sound we’d been aiming for – over 60 tracks of guitar per song. Thanks to modern technology we can do this and not worry about track count.

Just before Christmas 2013, Iain Angus – lead singer with Four Fighters – came into the studio to record vocals. Initially, Kes & I had sung on the tracks to get the lyrics & vocal lines into the projects, always with a view to being replaced at a later date. Iain has a great rock voice… very much in the style of Biffy Clyro and Dave Grohl – in short, ideal for this kind of project.

Iain Angus

It was a long couple of days for Iain. He did take after take, harmony after harmony without faltering or grumbling. My voice would have been in tatters by midday, day one… Sterling work. I did manage a few high harmonies on there myself which, I believe, made it to the final mix.

Barrie booked a session at The Chairworks in Castleford for Monday 6th January 2014… First day back after the Christmas break, and it was down to me to now replace my ‘working’ drums with the real thing. Barrie had firm ideas about what he wanted from the kit – big, low toms & a very ‘rock’ setup. I’m very lucky in that my BLX kit is quite expansive – 8”, 10”, 12”, 13”, 14”, 16” & 18” toms – meaning, I can pretty much choose most kit setups for most situations…
Between us we chose a 14” Rack with the 16” & 18” floor toms. 22”x16” kick & a snare that i’ve not used for a while – my free-floating copper shelled Pearl.

I initially chose this after comments from a drummer friend of mine ‘That’s how i want my snare to sound’… Warmth of wood but crack of brass.

As with the 80’s Hair Rock album, Richard Lacy manned the desk for us on the session.

Pearl BLX

We ran full passes of each track about 3 or 4 times just to try different fills, beats & ideas. This makes editing a blast, and you can swap between takes to see if a certain fill works better than others as transitions into sections, choruses and verses.

Monday 13th January 2014 saw us splice the ‘most flavoursome’ drum parts together at Barrie’s studio… this was also the pre-mix session; readying the sessions for running out from Pro Tools through Barrie’s ever expanding analogue studio.

Now we had the drum takes set in stone, it was important to re-play the bass along to what we had – the live kit felt full of energy and drive & the bass now needed to reflect this.

Barrie Plays Bass

The rest of that week was spent, the four of us, mixing the 6 tracks; Barrie taking the helm as ‘Wizard of Oz’.

The mix is the time when you actually realise what you have; what’s been recorded and what’s there to work with sonically and musically. As Geddy Lee said ‘Mixing is the end of all hope’…

The project is now in the bag and delivered to AudioNetwork. Alongside the full tracks AudioNetwork also request underscore & ‘cut-downs’ of our tracks… such durations as 30 second & 60 second versions for use as theme tunes or adverts. Turning a 3 minute song with lyrics into a comprehendible 60 or 30 second version provides a myriad of challenges… but that’s another story… let’s just say, we did it!

Watch out for the Modern Rock Anthems album release in Spring 2014.

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AudioNetwork Composer Tools Up With PMC

New PMC Monitors

I recently kitted out the studio with new monitoring & had an amazing experience with the guys at PMC – customer service was 2nd to none & I’m really happy with my new two.two.6 monitors.

I was made aware of the new models by Gareth Johnson (also an AudioNetwork writer) and Production Room in Leeds offered me up a demo.

PMC have just issued a news item where they talked to me about what I do & the new two.two range of monitors.

PMC Article is here