In the last couple of months I’ve been working with a few artists who’s preparation for the studio was remarkable. Here’s one example, Mike Turnbull. Mike’s plan was to do something new. Instead of working a lot on a big album, he wanted to do the opposite. He carefully chose 5 songs and then planned to do a lot of work on them. I have to say none of them are fillers and all 5 are great. The EP will also feature more than 10 extra instruments and guest musicians, so yes it’s a huge project. I’d like to show the amount of preparation and work that went into his recording sessions. We knew we had to get the basic tracks down first.
Here’s what Mike did:
He visited my studio way before recording. We got a coffee and tea and sat down just to chat. He explained his ideas for structure, production and sound. I was just keeping quiet, listening and asking tons of questions about the songs, their story and what he wants to express with them. We then created solid plans how to do the recording sessions. I also shared my idea for Mike’s sound map for his song. A sound map is my kinda “invention”. It’s a collection of many production and recording methods, which help to draw a picture to the artist how to represent the song to the audience and what sonic experience it gives through headphones, in the car, speakers…etc. (Instrument layout in the song. Microphone techniques as each instruments has a different role in the song. Purpose and effects of instruments…etc.)
Demoing and practice
On the recording days we both exactly knew what we had to do. Everything was spot on and well practiced as Mike also demoed and practiced recording all the songs at home before visiting me. As we talked a lot before and created his sound map, I also knew what microphone placement I needed to use for each instrument. This gave us more time on testing microphones + different preamp and compressor combinations for his tracking sessions. I like to eq with placement of microphones while recording as it already gives a nice separation in sound. Basic track recordings were: Mandola, 4 string tenor guitar, mandolin, banjo, egg shakers, triangle, tambourine, vocals. We were both really happy when finished as everything sounded as it should be. Amazing, crisp and separated. This is what I call the 30% stage as it’s raw recorded files “only”.
Once a great chef told me “you have to have the right ingredients before you start cooking”. I totally agree and believe in the same thing.
Mike then got a copy of my timetable and organised all extra recordings for the guest musicians. We tried to work around everyone’s free time. My diary got filled up nicely. The guest musicians all got a copy of a demo. There were a few short practices before tracking, but all went quick and nicely. Some musicians lived too far to record with us so they sent us their recordings.
Mike’s EP is coming out this year. I’m very proud of it and as always I feel honoured he has chosen me to record and produce it. I just wanted to take a moment and show a tiny bit “behind the scene” so you all understand what goes into a song. When done right, there’s lots of preparation and work before it hits iTunes os Spotify. Not to mention the hours and days it takes to edit, mix and master.
I’m asked a lot how to get cheap songs in the studio. Here’s my answer. Just be like Mike. Be prepare and visit knowing what you do. 😉
Message from Mike about the album:
“My special guests are amazing musicians & friends from all over the UK.
Dawn Foster on fiddle & backing vocals. A great friend and amazing singer- songwriter & performer in her own right. Also plays with Shallamarra & Ruben’s Train.
Mark Browne on old time banjo – also with Ruben’s Train.
Suzanne Ambrose on double bass. Suzanne is my live bass player for the Safe Kings and has been with me on the gig scene since 2017. She also plays for Ruben’s Train.
Dave Pennington on Cajon. Dave is also in my trio MikeTurnbull and The Safe Kings.
Phil Lewis on trumpet. Phil is an incredible freestyle trumpet player with Kendal ukulele band Untethered.
Paul Morris on backing vocals. Paul is a great local songwriter who inspired the song Every Last Wolf. He lives on the site of Wraysholme Tower, Alithwaite, Cartmel, where the story is centred.
Stu Denney on clarinet – a great guitar songwriter friend. I was surprised he played clarinet so it just had to feature on the ep.
Freya Harbottle on concertina & harmonium. My good friend & special guest indeed. Part of the amazing & hardworking Harbottle & Jonas from Totnes, who tour tirelessly on the folk circuit.”