When I was growing up in the 60's, a 12-ounce bottle of Coke was 10 cents, and the bottle was returnable and worth 2 cents. A gallon of gas was 29 cents and a phone call on a public pay phone was 10 cents. We either listened to music on a radio or record player. When I was 16 years old, I was blown away when I heard an album on a good stereo. Jimi Hendrix’s “Electric Ladyland” took me to another musical realm and made a huge impact to my mind and music career.
Later in the mid-70’s, I ran into a bass player who had a 16-track recording studio complete with all of the analog goodies: Lexicon reverb, dbx compressor, Pioneer graphic equalizer, and some great Shure microphones. Along with the main recording room, he had separate vocal and drum booths. I remember helping him collect empty egg cartons that were spray painted flat black and stapled to the walls for sound deadening. In hindsight, it was a great setup. My bass player/ sound engineer friend worked out of that studio for about 10 years with many local musicians and made some great recordings. This is where I “cut my teeth”.
The thing I want to point out is, we were recording analog on 1” magnetic tape at 7 ½ inch per second (ips) or for the best fidelity 15 (ips) and the editing options were limited. As a musician, the pressure was on to get it “right” on the first take. Many times, I would only ask what key the song was in and the feel of the song, never rehearsing prior to recording a solo. That way I could be spontaneous and react to the music in a more creative way. It worked most of the time and my nickname became “First Take”. You had to get pumped up mentally and be focused to get into the groove and really play your heart out. I called it, “ kickin booty”.
In the mid 70’s I jumped on the opportunity to tour with a funk band named Faze 3 (later as Faze O). We toured as the opening band for the Ohio Players. I remember being in the Mercury/Polygram Record Recording Studio in Chicago on several occasions with the Ohio Players while they were recording “Sweet Sticky Thing” and “Love Rollercoaster”. I believe they were recording on 2 inch 32 track tape. Anyway, they would start with the rhythm section, add in the guitars, piano, followed by the synth, then lead vocals. Then the vocal harmonies, horn section and percussions were recorded. They had a method they used for song writing/development and recording. Musicians, producer and engineer all had a specific job to do to get to the final product, a record album.
After a long hiatus from the recording studio, an opportunity presented itself to record a Christmas album on CD in 2003. This was my first exposure to the digital recording world. I was so accustomed to preparing mentally for recording the first take right, I treated the sessions like we were recording on tape. However, the producer and recording engineer impressed me with adding in some tremendous effects and sampled instruments. I was shocked at the incredible possibilities using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and immediately started investigating Cubase and Pro Tools. I have been using Avid Pro Tools since 2004.
Now it is this way….
You must either adapt to new technology and change, or stay in your present time capsule falling further and further away from the creative musical world. It took me a while to break out of my old recording habits. I felt guilty if I did not record my first or second take correctly, playing my parts all the way through start to finish. However, I have discovered many new facets of song writing and playing which, I previously regarded as cheating. Now I love to cheat…! I usually set up 3 or 4 tracks for recording the melody and solo. I will play and record one melody and then record maybe 2 or 3 more in the same spot, but on separate tracks. This gives me the opportunity to play variations, develop the melody and to also practice. If I want to, I can take the best parts of each track and seamlessly combine them. The bonus is, I get to hear myself, which is key to developing the sound required for the application. Within the Pro Tools software, there are so many digital tools available for song writing and solo development. It is absolutely amazing what one musician can do. Most of the time I play all of the parts, bass drums, keyboards, strings and horns. I love having this kind of creative control…! Not to mention, I own my studio and do not have to pay a studio $100.00 per hour to record. One thing I still do, just like I did in the old days. I play and record all of my horns parts on separate tracks. I could, but… I do not use harmonizers.
The new challenge for me is…. I am not only the studio musician, but the songwriter, producer and engineer. I have to wear many hats. After I develop/create the song and record it, I mix it, and master it. This is a huge challenge, but I am working on it…! I will share with you on a future blog….
I will say it one more time…. Listen carefully… To survive, one must adapt to new technology and change. Embrace change and lifelong learning. Work hard and relish your accomplishments. You cannot beat the feeling of achievement.