Pssst…Want a Preview?

Behold, the cover art for Listen & Learn’s debut studio album: Time to Sing Hello.  Although we’re still a few weeks away from its official release, I just couldn’t help but share my excitement with you.  My experience in the recording studio was amazing, and I’m thrilled with how the tracks turned out, but this whole project didn’t feel real until I saw the finished album artwork.

Jason Taylor, a graphic designer on the East Coast, gets all the credit for the concept and design of this album.  I approached him via email back in March, and he responded with an offer to donate his work to the cause.  Needless to say, I was more than thrilled, especially considering his talent and impressive portfolio.  Jason was a dream to work with; he managed to completely capture my vision for this album, and every aspect of the design is perfect.

I’ll unveil the back cover and actual CD artwork when the album is released on July 10, but for now, I’ll leave you with a preview track.  “My Clothes and Shoes” turned out to be my favorite song of the bunch, and I hope you like it, too!

I’m eager to hear your thoughts on the song and the album cover. Please take a moment to share them with me in the comments section.

Inside the Recording Studio: Day 4

Today’s recap will be a short one, because I was only in the studio for a little over two hours!  On Day 3, we had finished all but vocals for song 9, so I went to the vocal booth to work on those right away.

Getting good vocal takes is much easier at 1:00 pm than it is at 11:00 pm!  I finished the melody and harmony for song 9 in just under an hour, so next, we moved along to song 10.  We’d already decided that song 10 (which isn’t the actual track number on the CD, just the order in which we recorded it) would be an acoustic-only track to balance out the other 9 songs, which are much more “produced”. 

Song 10 didn’t take long at all.  I played the acoustic guitar part a few times through, and then moved to the vocal booth.  A half hour later, my work on this album was DONE.  It was so hard to believe!  All that was left to do was mix and master each track, a task that Jim (my sound engineer) will tackle this week and next. 

It was a little sad walking out the door of Jupiter Studios for the last time.  Jim said he’d never seen anyone make themselves at home on the studio couch like I had, which I can definitely believe.  It was my headquarters for the week!

There was a benefit to finishing early…I got to play a great April Fool’s trick on my husband, Zach.  I texted him as I was leaving and wrote, “just finished vocals and getting ready for mixing!” which of course, he believed.  But really, I was hitting the road for Springfield, which is just under a two-hour drive.  I called him as I pulled into our neighborhood to say that I was heading back to his sister’s house for the night, and right as we hung up, I walked into our house.  He was very happily surprised, since I hadn’t planned on coming home until the next morning.

So now I get to wait anxiously to receive the final tracks in all their mixed and mastered glory.  Luckily, we have a vacation planned for next week that will keep me occupied!  We’re spending the holiday weekend with family before taking off for San Antonio on Wednesday.

I owe you all some songs, which have been few and far between around here lately.  I promise to return to my regularly scheduled programming soon.  In the meantime, have a wonderful Friday!

Inside the Recording Studio: Day 3

As I write this recap, I’m getting ready for my final day in the studio.  I’ve spent over 30 hours here, and I’m going to miss this place when I’m finished!  Yesterday was a big day, so I’ll get right to it.

To be honest, I was a little bummed to be missing out on such a gorgeous day outside.  Here in St. Louis, the sun was shining and the temperature was 75 degrees (unusual for the end of March).  But as soon as we got to work, I completely forgot about the weather and turned my focus to the music.

We started with song 7, using the same process we’d gone through for the previous songs.  Jim (my sound engineer) laid down the drums, then keyboards, then bass and electric guitar, and then it was time for me to play my acoustic guitar part.  We did two takes, and when that was finished I moved to the vocal booth.  First, I sang the lead melody twice through.  My voice was still fresh since it was early in the day, so we got good takes right away.  Then I sang the harmonies three times through.  That was it for song 7!

While I was in the vocal booth, we went ahead and recorded the vocals for song 6 (which we had tried to do the night before, but it was 10 pm and my singing reflected that fact).  This went quickly, and it was time to listen to songs 6 and 7.  I was thrilled with both of them and couldn’t wait to send preview tracks to my mom, dad, and husband.  They have been my sounding board throughout this process, providing feedback on each track as they are completed.  The rest of you will have to wait, though :)

Song 8 is my new favorite (though so far, I’ve said that about every song).  Jim started playing the keyboard as he listed to the scratch track, and I instantly knew we were dealing with greatness.  He had some pretty complicated work to do on this one, so I spent some time on the internet until he was ready for me to play my acoustic guitar part.  After I did that, I went into the vocal booth to record the melody.  Instead of a traditional harmony line, I did some scatting to match the instrumentation and the result was pretty, pretty cool. 

We got to work on Song 9 just after 10 pm, as my energy started to dwindle.  Jim got through the keyboards, bass, and electric guitar, and I somehow managed to make my fingers form chords and strum well enough to lay down the acoustic guitar.  He suggested I do vocals, but after one take, we laughed at my poor exhausted voice and decided to call it a night.

At that point, it was 11:30 pm and another engineer arrived to do some overnight tweaking on my vocals. I got to listen to each of the songs as Jim showed him what he would be working with, which was really fun. 

Coming tomorrow: a recap of my 4th and final day in the studio.  Thanks so much for following along with me on this exciting journey!

Inside the Recording Studio: Day 2

I can’t believe my time in the studio is halfway over!  It’s gone by really fast, but luckily we’ve gotten a lot done.  We’re actually ahead of schedule: 5 songs are finished (except for mixing), and all that is left for the 6th song is vocals.  We’ll start Day 3 by recording those, and then move right on to the 7th song.

Day 2 began with vocals for songs 1 and 2, which went pretty quickly.  I sang the melody line for each song a few times until we had a usable take, and then we got to work on harmonies.  I had already worked out a few of those prior to this week, but most were created on the spot in the booth.  Luckily I’ve always had a weird talent for harmonizing almost any song upon first listen, so it wasn’t too painstaking.

After we finished the vocals for those two songs, we got to work on song 4.  (By the way: someone asked me yesterday via Twitter if I am keeping the song titles under wraps.  The answer is yes, at least for now!)  I spent a long time in the guitar room (pictured above) with this one; for some reason, I had a tough time remembering how many measures to play between verses.  Vocals were much quicker, however, which saved us some time.

Next up was song 5.  We called this our “Carpenters-inspired” song, which is reflected in the instrumentation.  I was pretty tired by the time I got into the vocal booth, and the first couple of takes were rough.  I didn’t think we’d get the vocals done on this one, but after some coaching from Jim (my sound engineer), I pulled it off.

Song 6 is one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written.  It’s just plain fun, and so was recording it.  I am so excited about the electric guitar part for this song, which Jim literally wrote as he went.  In fact, this is what I tweeted last night:

I just couldn’t believe how perfectly the guitar reflected the song’s message and my feelings about it, and as I listened, it really sank in that my songs were coming alive just as I had hoped.  It was a pretty amazing moment.

After Jim was finished recording his parts, I jumped back into the guitar room and recorded my acoustic guitar part.  At that point, it was 10 pm and we decided to wait until the next day to record vocals.  I was thankful for that, considering I had an empty stomach, no energy, and was ready to fall asleep any moment.  Next up: Day 3 recap, coming tomorrow!

Inside the Recording Studio: Day 1

I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into Jupiter Studios yesterday.  I was feeling a mixture of excitement and fear; excitement for my first “real” recording experience, and fear that it wasn’t going to live up to what I had hoped.  Turns out, yesterday was one of the best days of my professional life so far.  It’s an incredible thing, watching and listening as my songs are crafted into something spectacular.

I knew that Jim Callahan, the owner of Jupiter Studios and my sound engineer for this project, was going to be amazing even before I met him.  We’d spoken on the phone and emailed back and forth since last summer, and he certainly knew his stuff.  When Jim walked into the studio yesterday, he explained the plan of action and we went to work. 

The first thing we did was set tempos for all 10 songs.  I would play and sing, he would adjust the click track, and then we would experiment until we found a tempo that worked.  Then I played a “scratch” guitar track for each song, followed by “scratch” vocals for each song.  Michelle Erfurt asked me if it was like what you’d see on TV, with the isolation booth, headphones, big microphones, the whole works.  It absolutely was; quite a difference from my home studio set-up (my computer, a microphone, preamp, and my guitar). 

After we finished scratch tracks for each song, I came back into the editing room and Jim got to work on instrumentation.  This is when the songs really came to life.  He started with drums, which he programmed using a MIDI keyboard (a much more sophisticated version of what I use at home).  Next, he got out his electric bass and recorded a bass track (which he wrote as he went, using the sheet music I gave him).  After that came the electric guitar, and then it was time for me to record my final acoustic guitar track.  We did do final vocals for one song, but most of the final vocals will be recorded at the end of the week.

The whole process for each song takes about two and a half hours.  That doesn’t include mixing, which will also be done at the end when the vocals are completed.  My part is easy; I record my parts, and then watch, listen and give input as Jim does the rest.  I could get used to this! 

I’ve been tweeting and text messaging from the studio (follow me on Twitter if you haven’t already) and of course, I have my Macbook by my side at all times to stay connected.  I’m just having the best time, and I have all of you to thank.  I would never have had this opportunity without your support, whether you made a pledge to my Kickstarter fund or are a regular Listen & Learn reader.  I can’t wait to share the finished product with you all.  Stay tuned for my “Day 2” recap tomorrow!