I get hired for a recording session

Good morning. Attempting first post.

I’ve been doing some local playing and a guy I’ve done some playing with told me about a local recording studio where he does a lot of work. He’s mainly a guitar player/bass player but he’s been playing keyboard where necessary, but he’s no keyboard player. I am, so he spoke to the owner about bringing me in for a session. On a little over a week’s notice, I was hired.

This particular session was a good one to bring me in for. The client is doing a vanity project, meaning he wants it for himself rather than expecting commercial success. The project consists of writing and recording Jewish wedding songs based on existing texts, in Hebrew. Of the four players other than the singer/songwriter, which for the initial tracks consisted of acoustic guitar, electric bass (the guy who recommended me), drums, and keyboard, I’m the only Jewish guy and I have experience in this style. That helped a bit, particularly on one song adding some traditional rhythms.

I’ve been in recording studios before and played in them before. I’d first been in them because I’ve sold products to them, then because bands I’ve been in have recorded. I’ve never been brought in for someone else’s session like this, though.

What I worked on was not the final product. We laid down lead vocals and basic tracks that they’ll add to later and possibly edit for a few errors, assuming there isn’t too much bleed, in which case we need retakes. “Bleed” means one instrument got picked up by another player’s microphone, so if your track is replaced, some of what you played the first time is still on the recording, just another musician’s track.

During the process, we did do some “drop-ins.” That meant doing a small section over as a band. How that works is the engineer starts the recording back a ways, you listen in headphones, and you start playing with the recording where appropriate. He adds the extra tracks, then removes the old tracks starting where he has you come in. That way the timing is right, the rhythm is rights, etc.

This particular recording was done in live takes. Everyone played at once. Additional tracks obviously will not be.

The client would typically pick up his acoustic guitar and sing and play the song before we recorded it. Then he’d put down his guitar to sing because he brought along a better guitar player, a college kid, and he was way more concerned with getting the best result on tape than on playing on the recording. For him, the main goal was to get his written work taped. Performing it was secondary. Though he had a say as to the product, he hired the studio owner as producer because he wanted someone who knew how to put such a project together.

The client was kind enough to bring in pizza. We needed it. We recorded six songs in six hours. As expected, the first one was the longest: two hours, not because the song was long but because it took that much time for us to get used to how we all work. We had to correct mistakes, make suggestions, etc. I was handed basic charts the bass player had written. Occasionally I found ambiguous stuff and sometimes what I read didn’t match what I heard. “No, that measure doesn’t have an eight count, it only has a four count and then he (the client/singer) goes on to the next one. Guys, scribble out the last four beats.” “Are you sure?” “Yes, I’m sure.” Or, more frequently, “There’s a stop here. Are we doing it on every verse?” That took discussion until we came to agreement. A “stop” in this case means the instruments all stop but the singing continues in temporary instrumental silence. The engineer/studio owner had an interesting trick to make this go faster: he brought in a red sharpie to indicate stops. You know, red for stop. Mark your music. After all, part of the goal is to figure out what you want to do, part of it is to remember that’s what you want to do once you’re in the middle of the take.

Solos. The songs would typically have a couple of verses and choruses and then a solo would be indicated. The guitarist didn’t want to solo. That left me. “Do you want a solo on this track or do you want to add it later?” “I didn’t originally think I wanted that solo to be piano but I liked what you did on the run-through, so play it.” (It wouldn’t come out anything like the same both times, because it was pure improvisation, but that was OK.) On one song when I asked and they were pretty sure piano wouldn’t be the solo, I was instructed to “comp” during the solo, which means just play the chords and stay in the background. In some cases they thought they’d add another instrument solo on top of mine, turning mine down and using it as accompaniment. I’m kind of curious what that will sound like. I didn’t go too nuts in part for that reason.

I’m likely to be used on a later stage of this project. As to others? Probably. I can do this. It depends what other players the studio owner already relies on. Because the player who brought me in often does sessions here, I’m guessing I’ll be asked back. I liked working with the owner. His producing experience shows. He knew how to address problems efficiently.

Anyway, a new experience. In case you ever wondered what goes on in a session, in at least one case, now you know.


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