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The Recording Process: Getting Started

If you’ve been coming to my gigs you’ve heard me talking about my planned Trying To Be Brave EP for a while. The songs have been written and arranged and finally this week I got into the studio to start recording.

The EP is going to feature four songs themed around ideas of bravery and cowardice. In addition to the title track, it’ll feature Chicken, The Hill of the Poisonous Trees and Let The Sunshine Through. The intention is to get some of my favourite songs out into the world, and to showcase my range as a songwriter and performer.

I’m planning future blogs on the lyrics and story behind each of those songs, but for now, I thought I’d give you some insights into the recording process. I’m working with Matt Hewer who produced / engineered the Donegal single.

The first decision is setting the tempo for the track. As a singer-songwriter, I’m used to playing alone, setting my own tempo and ebbing and flowing with the feeling of a song. Even when I play live with a drummer it might not always be exactly the same from one performance to the next. But when you record a song, that’s it, so it’s important to get it right. Even a few bpm (beats per minute) can make a difference between the song sounding ponderous, lively or rushed. Setting the tempo involves strumming and singing along to the click track (which is like a metronome) and adjusting the speed slightly until it’s just right.

The next step is recording the guitar while listening to the click track on the headphones. For me this is the hardest part of the process. My strums don’t always land on the beat so it can feel a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy – confusing! The way that works best for me is to physicalise the beat by tapping my foot – so I played sitting down with a bit of carpet to muffle any noise!

It probably took about 7 or 8 takes to get the guitar track down correctly. I have had to stop because I got slightly out of sync with the click track, because I dropped the plectrum or just played the wrong chord! We recorded the guitar acoustically and all in one take. This is the foundation for the song. We’ll be layering on electric guitar on some of the tracks later (exciting!).

Next up were the vocals, which I sing while listening to the guitar through the headphones. Again, this is very different to playing live as I’m usually playing the guitar while I sing. After a vocal warm up I start to sing though the song and do 5 or 6 complete takes. Once I had to stop dead because I’d completely forgotten the words (!!!) but mostly it’s about making sure the intensity and feeling of the song is coming across the way I want it to.

So, so far we’ve recorded guitar and vocals for Trying To Be Brave and The Hill of the Poisonous Trees – two pretty intense songs – physically and emotionally full on to sing! Next up will be getting the guitar and vocals down for the other two tracks and then we’ll start layering on the drums, cello, violin, electric guitar, vocal harmonies… and anything else that serves the song! I can hear the full arrangements in my head so I’m pretty excited for you all to hear what I’ve been hearing at last!

I hope you enjoyed this little insight into the recording process. Any questions stick them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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