It’s the day I have been waiting for since the beginning. After all these days of editing the songs, and adding the instruments, I got to finish off the tracks with the lead vocals on Friday. It’s the most important part, because it’s what people hear when they listen to a recording. It’s what tells the stories, cracks the jokes, and it’s what I do.
The singing on this album is a delicate thing. I feel comfortable, at this point, with all the songs; although many of them are brand new, I’ve been working on them for a while, and singing them in my head while we’ve been recording them. When I’m walking. When I’m shopping. And in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep. I know what I want to evoke with each track, and I know, mostly, the approach I should take. But doing it is sometimes challenging, especially if the day you pick for vocals isn’t a particularly good day for singing…..
Happily, Friday was a good singing day for me.
I love to sing. It makes me feel complete. I love the feel of notes coming through my body, and I love the thrill of singing full out. I love a good melody, a soaring chorus, a fun romp. I am happy with the selection of songs on this recording, to allow me the full range of emotions. I am thinking of this album as a happy one, and a lot “folkier” than previous ones.
On vocal day, I have learned that the order of songs I sing is vital. I don’t start with the ones with huge emotional content. I start with the lighthearted, fun ones, and the ones with low notes. I sing those low notes better at the beginning of the day than after I’ve totally warmed up. I was humming in the hotel room before I left for the studio. In the car, I was doing some sung scales, and snippets of songs. Still lightly. Once I got to the studio, I was mostly warmed up.
The first song I sang was “Buzzing at the Bee”, a swingy little number that’s fun and light. It went well. One take. My goal Friday was to sing them all – all 13 songs – and the fewer “takes”, the better. The fewer tries, the fewer stops and starts, the fewer edits, the better. I like to sing the song all the way through, so I know where the emotions lead me. We do “punch-in” corrections (one line, or even one word) sometimes, but I prefer not to, if at all possible, so it’s very much like singing it live in concert. (Oh, and the beauty of recording is that if I hit a bum note – sharp or flat – it can be corrected without me having to sing it again. I used to think this was cheating, but then I found out that even Celine Dion uses pitch correction on her songs, so I changed my opinion of it.)
I got six songs done before lunch. A lot of the songs I realize had to be done in a very restrained way. They aren’t “belted” songs, but delicate interpretations of emotions. “I Remember You” is about Alzheimers. “Dance Beneath the Moon” is about a new love interest (I don’t want to scare the poor guy off by shouting in his ear!!!). “Little Crazy Quilt” is me channelling Patti Page, and SHE wasn’t about belting songs!
Seven more songs recorded after lunch, finishing up with the rock song: “Midnight Knitters”, and the jig: “Sewing Machine”. I was finished by 4pm!!! Even got a couple of harmonies done as we went.
Paul was great in directing me. We are equally perfectionist with regards to what we do, and he was able to help me keep the vocal performance appropriate. We talked about approach with one particularly challenging song for me: “The Oak Leaf”. It worked best sung a bit louder and more firmly than we tried at first. In the end, we used a good part of the “scratch” vocal that I had recorded a week earlier! Whew! That saved some time!
John arrived at 4pm to listen to the last songs being sung but we were finished by then, so we asked him if he was ready to sing his song: “Two Peas in a Pod”, which is about quilter’s husbands recognizing each other. He put the headphones on, and did a great job of it.
We had been invited to stay for dinner with Paul and his wife Bev that night, and there was a bit of time remaining in the work day. Paul decided to do what he calls “rough mixes” of all the songs, so we could take a CD of the album with us on the weekend. He worked very quickly, finding rough levels for all the instruments so we could hear what was on the tracks, and the vocals. He also came up with a tentative sequence of the songs. My job this weekend is to make sure I love all the vocals (I can still change them if I want to), and see if that order of songs works. Of course, lots of people just put their CDs on “shuffle”, and don’t care about all the careful sequencing we do so each song flows into the next……
I guess I’d better get to that this evening before I go back in tomorrow morning.
Tomorrow we have our friend Mary Simpson coming in with John to do vocal harmonies on some songs. Mary lives in Toronto now, but we met in Ottawa many years ago. She has a voice like an angel, and actually sang with me on my very first recording, way back in 1985!!! I’m so happy she’s available for us this time. We have some Andrews Sisters harmony ideas, perhaps even a kazoo part for her. John will add his voice on some tracks too.
Then in the afternoon, we’ll start doing the final mixing of the CD. This is where we decide things like: should the bass part be louder, should the violin have echo on it, should we use this clarinet part or that fiddle part for the solo – things like that. Paul will also even out my voice so it all sounds about the same (that way you’ll be able to hear it all the way through, rather than straining to hear the quiet notes). There are lots of subtle things that happen in the mixing session to help you totally enjoy the listening experience. We will spend the last 2-1/2 days doing the final mixes, and I hope we can get them all done before we leave on Wednesday evening.
After we leave, Paul will continue working on the CD – the final stage is called “Mastering”, which is a magical process which makes the final product sound WONDERFUL. I have no idea what he does. I’ve tried to sit in on these mastering sessions, and he twiddles dials, listens intently, changes some setting or other, but I can’t tell what he’s hearing or doing. So I don’t sit in any more.
When we get home, we’ll continue working on the album artwork, collecting all the photographs, and liner notes and proofreading over and over and over again. When that’s all done, we send the whole package off to manufacturing. Three weeks or so later, I’ll have 1000 copies of “Little Crazy Quilt” in my hands.
Then it’ll be your turn…… (lol)