I’ve been making a really big effort to network the last few months, and to make sure everyone that I meet or catch-up with knows I do recording (and for free!). A few of these introductions have led to some work lately, and I’m finding myself producing as much as I am engineering the recordings, as well as applying a lot of my own learning from critical listening. I’d always seen myself engineering (micing up, recording, editing, mixing, mastering) more than producing, but my motivation for production is grounded in engineering and thinking about a great mix. I’ve known that in the modern day the lines between these two roles are blurred, but I’m finding it in a way I didn’t think I would.
I’ve been working most recently with an acoustic singer/songwriter, Jordan Bailey, and while the scratch tracks alone we did in pre-production were great, I knew I’d need more layers to produce a full and dynamic sounding mix (even if the arrangement is sparse on the surface). I’ve encouraged Jordan to do a few takes of each rhythm guitars, for thickness and stereo guitars where need be, as well as arpeggios of what he’s already playing, or simplified strumming patterns to emphasise a groove or pulse. A lot of these layers are less sounds you’ll hear, and more you’ll feel as they’ll give the song depth and dynamic. I try my best to produce on the fly, because digging down into the extra layers and harmonies begins to verge on songwriting, and that’s not what I’m trying to do. I encourage Jordan to emphasise and embellish what he’s already recorded so the songs are still inherently his, rather than spilling my bucket of ideas all over his work.
Some of this I learn from critically analysing The Rubens’ Hoops last trimester for our sound-alike project, and understanding how a much goes into a professional mix (this is a great example of something that sounds simple on the surface), as well as a recent obsession with Tom Petty after watching a Netflix documentary on the history of him and the Heartbreakers. It’s mentioned a few times in the documentary, as well as my own research, that Tom records a lot of guitar layers (sometimes in different tunings etc.) to give his seemingly simple riffs depth and impact. In a sense, Tom Petty is just emphasising harmonics that would already exist in the original track, but applying them in a way that gives a sparkle that EQ or distortion can’t.
Neither is a bad approach, but the sparkle works for Tom, and I think the sparkle will work for Jordan. As for the next few projects I have lined up, maybe it’s a good excuse to watch some more Netflix…