The most common question we get when we share our music with our friends is 'how does the recording process work'.
Half of them think it's like playing a 90-minute live show with microphones on and half of them think it's a highly complicated process that involves super-powered computers, crazy sound effects and sitting at a computer for days.
Well, the secret sits in the middle. This is my recollection of the recording session of The Moonlight Club's first EP, 'Words In Gold' at Breakglass Studios in Montreal.
'Words In Gold'
1. The Bed Track
We arrived at the studio Friday at noon and spent three hours setting up drums and guitar amps. We wanted to play in the same room but the guitar amps were extremely loud so we built walls to help David (our producer) isolate all the sounds.
'Words In Gold' is the first track we put down that weekend. We did a dozen of takes of the instrumental version - drums, rythym guitar and bass. These kinds of recording are called bed tracks and it they don't sound like a finished track at all. It the equivalent of a concrete foundation for a house - you want to make sure it's solid and that the rest can stand on it nicely.
We all played in the same room and we didn't use a click track (metronome) to keep us in time. We'd sing in a microphone at low volume just to help us keep the flow. From what I remember, the sound was captured by a lot of mics at the same time: 3-4 on guitar amps, two for the bass amp, 6-8 for drums and 2-3 in the room and one for vocals.
The whole thing was recorded through a Neve Console and onto tapes. That was David's request: he wanted us to do an analog recording to capture the live feeling and force us to keep it simple. You tend to do less takes if you record on a tape machine than on a computer. It's like writing something down on paper.
Guitars were added later in the weekend. I'd sit in the control room with David (while John and Cedric would text their girlfriends) and play guitar over the bed track recording. We didn't want to spend too much time adding guitars and we tried to keep it really simple. It took about one hour to record the guitars for 'Words In Gold'.
The main guitar sound is created by a Fender Jaguar, a cranked Fender Deluxe Reverb 68', an Ibanez Tubescreamer and a Boss Delay pedal for the guitars break (read: solo). Speaking of which, I messed up the last notes of the guitar solo at the end but we kept it that way.
Keyboards were also added later by musician extraordinaire Danny Lutz. We had practiced one week before at Danny's own studio just to go through the songs once. He played the whole session on a Wurlitzer electric piano that was plugged into a big Fender amp. 'Words In Gold' was pretty much a first take for Danny. He's a magician.
After we recorded all the instrumental versions for the EP, we came back to the studio a few weeks after to record the vocals. It might be good to point out we never recorded vocals before and had no idea how it would go.
John and I warmed up singing while playing piano and after David finished setting up the microphones, I started singing dummy songs to test the sound. We only had one day to record all vocals for the whole EP so I was very concerned with timing.
The main vocal for 'Words In Gold' was recorded in about 30 minutes. It was very early in the day and my voice was cracking quite easily. It gave a quite fragile feeling to the vocals.
The main vocal was double-tracked. What's that? To quote Sound on Sound: "if a singer performs the same part twice, playing the two together can give a magical, rich thickening of the sound. However, much relies on the singer's ability to use the same phrasing and pitching on each take."
John and Cedric both tried to do backing vocals on the chorus - Cedric won.
That's it. We could've spent one week on this song but we wanted to keep it as simple and raw as possible.