What makes a happy home? Is it the high-end furniture, the fancy cars parked out front in the driveway, or even the zip code? These were the questions that we asked ourselves as we were making our latest album entitled A Happy Home. We knew we wanted a warm sound and the sound to be intentional.
The recording process started in early May of last year. The burning question on everyone’s mind was, “How can we elevate this project from good to great?” For example, on “Creep”, we had to decide if we wanted to use analog shakers or if we wanted someone to play shakers in real time. Naturally, we chose to go with real-time shakers. As expected during any creative process, we experienced some hiccups.
We got all the usual live musicians to come record with us – that’s Rook, Rob, and Tim. The missing link was our homie, BJ. He’s a great percussionist and all-around sharp musician. He’s played live shows with us before and was familiar with our sound. So, we called on BJ to play shakers on “Creep”. We were recording A Happy Home at Bias Studios in Virginia. At this point, we had done mastering sessions at Bias Studios, but this particular day was the first time we were recording live instruments. It was also our first time meeting Ken Barnum, one of the best mixing engineers in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. So, we had the studio booked for a few hours. A Happy Home was originally seven songs and we had planned to record all of those songs in that time frame.
We recorded the intro for A Happy Home, which got everyone warmed up. Everything was going great. The next song we recorded was “Creep.” We did the first take of the song, and we unanimously decided to do a second take just in case we didn’t like the first one when we listened back to it. Before we started the second take, Ken comes out to the recording area and says, “Everything sounds good! The percussionist right there, though…” motioning towards BJ, “what are you doing? Are you playing electric or…?” BJ had an electric sampler hooked up that had claps, shakers, and stuff like that. Then, he had actual instruments, like congos and other intricate percussion items. Ken continued, “Yeah, I can hear everything you’re doing on your sample pad, but I can’t hear your shakers.” Keep in mind that you have to play the live instruments into the actual microphone so the recording can pick them up. So, then Ken asked, “Can you move closer to the mic, put your shaker up to the mic, and just record it into the mic?”
“Yeah, that’s cool. My bad, man,” BJ said.
We got “Creep” done and we moved along with the album. It was a nice session. Everything went well…or so we thought. We listened to the tracks after getting them back from the studio. One thing when it comes to our music is that we are sticklers for details. We want a song to move a certain way, to feel a certain way. As we were listening to the tracks, we were like, “Yo, why do you not hear the shakers on certain tracks? Did BJ record right?” We rationalized that everything would be alright since Ken had the files at the studio. We figured he’d be able to make the adjustments to the tracks with no problem – no big deal.
“That’s one of the things that happens when you’re making music during the recording process; something is guaranteed to go wrong. It’s all about how you maneuver afterwards in order to make the best out of it.”
Now comes the mixing session. Seeing as to how “Creep” is the lead single from the album, it was the first song we wanted to tackle. We got to the mixing session with Ken and we went through the different tracks. Ken said, “Yeah, the percussion is still kind of weak. I told the percussionist to move closer to the mic. I saw that after I told him that, he still had the shaker in his other hand, miles away from the mic.” So, the microphone didn’t pick anything up. We ended up having to put the shakers in there ourselves. We redid the shakers and added a stronger clap to the song, as well. In hindsight, it’s actually pretty funny, but it was definitely a learning experience. That’s one of the things that happens when you’re making music during the recording process; something is guaranteed to go wrong. It’s all about how you maneuver afterwards in order to make the best out of it.