Final Installment: Using Their Need for My Inspiration

It’s time to finish the story I started a couple of times in Part I & Part II. I’ve learned a lot from the writing part of the process, but the greatest lessons came from working directly with people who had fantastic ears.

Early on I figured out the best way to grow was to surround myself with people who were better, knew more, had more experience than I did. A brilliant marketer (Ann Handley) once said, “Don’t be afraid to be too big for your niches.” That, my friends, is precisely the name of the game. It’s not arrogance. It’s the best way to learn good habits, train your mind to think like a success. Alone, you can box yourself into mediocre patterns. You might even start to believe your way is more noble. But, sometimes pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, just breaks your boots.

I started by rounding up instrumentalists. The guitarist I wanted to work with was unavailable, and I wanted to get this done. I knew it would dramatically change the mood of the piece if I changed the instrumentation, so I chose musicians I trusted to craft a new sonic image. I started with Kurt Knecht. I’ve known Kurt for years. I know I can work with him, communicate with him, and that he has mad skills. I knew the studio I wanted to use, StudioPH, didn’t have a piano, so I shaved some money off production by having Kurt come to my home to lay down the MIDI. I use ProTools at home, so I had no trouble sharing my home recordings with Chris at StudioPH.

The home part of this project was pretty simple. Kurt already had my original guitar version when he came over to discuss some ideas. We listened together and I played John Legend’s All of Me as a reference track for the stripped-down piano sound I wanted. My home studio is set up with Focal CMS 50 monitors and a 003 ProTools rack, running PT 10. I ran a cable into the next room, and sang while he played, using my Gauge ECM 47 tube mic for the scratch vocal. I’d do it all again. It gave us some freedom to play with ideas without running up the studio clock.

My first time at StudioPH we had some issues finding the right microphone. We tried a bunch of them and finally determined my tube mic from home was going to work best. Even if you never use it, it might not be a bad idea to bring the mic you use in your home studio. Once the recording was done, the real work started. I took home the tracks on an external hard drive and did some of the monkey editing work, looking for good takes, etc. Again, this saved some studio time, but my ears weren’t tuned well enough. Knowing that saved me some heartache.

When you record in a professional studio you aren’t just renting space, you’re renting ears. Working with Chris at StudioPH gave me a different perspective on sound. He heard things in the recording that I couldn’t hear until he fixed them. We went as far as we could with just piano and vocal. We needed something else to flesh out the song, so I called Genevieve Randall to play flute and Justin Lepard to play cello. They are both classically trained musicians who were able to follow Kurt’s lead. A take or two later everything was done, and I had something that was mine, but better. We sent it to mastering by another golden-eared friend, Eric Medley. He put the final shimmer on it.

In the spirit of the internet a friend, Saint Jimbob of the Apokalypse, heard the song and suggested a Dubstep version. I sent off the vocal and flute tracks and this little gem popped out. Again, I would have ended up with broken boots.

It’s good to be an independent go-getter, but don’t be stupid. There are people out there who are really good at what they do. They have mad skills that you don’t. They listen differently. Learn from these people! They can save those great boots of yours. These are the people who can help you take a Taxi listing about things that explode and turn it into something bigger than you dreamed possible.

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