in the studio

i have a love/hate relationship wih recording studios. while i'm inevitably drawn in geeky fashion to the flashing lights and am actually interested in the specs of compressors, eq units and even patchbay configurations, as a musician i am filled with trepidation upon entering them. which is why my natural inclination is to avoid studios in favour of less formal, DIY recording methods. that works some of the time (with lob it seemed to work quite well) but there are some occasions where recording needs to be done 'properly'.

once you're through the studio doors, there's a lot of decisions to be made. some are probably best left to the engineer, who will for a short time be effectively a member of your band and not just hired labour, with any luck.

the trick is to find a set of circumstances to record in that both enable you to give a good performance and get the sound you want. that could mean anything from putting up one mic in a local church or by a river at dawn and just playing, or a month or two in an air conditioned box dropping in, double tracking, sampling, splicing, looping, precessing etc, etc, etc. this last scenario is more likely if you don't really know what sound you want.

even within the studio there are of course loads of ways to commit your genius to disc for the edification of future generations. most bands i've been in have chosen to record more or less live, sometimes opting to do overdubs, sometimes not. this can pose all sorts of problems; playing effectively in those situations relies so much on where you are and what you can hear. if the double bass player needs to be near the drummer then that makes the engineer's job a bit trickier and your recording a lot less malleable, so you weigh that up. will it work if the singer's in another room and you've got your back to her? is that more important than being able to get a clean sound? there's usually a compromise point. where that point is depends on time, money, mood, communication and possibly the prevailing wind direction.

i've just spent the best part of two days recording with lucy and paul in a sweet sounding and eccentrically, beautifully scruffy studio called dropout in sunny south london. we still have overdubs and mixes to do but even the rough mixes we've taken away sound rather lovely. we've been very lucky with our choice of engineer in particular, and the fact the studio has a cat is most important.

meet stewart.

we've been recording to tape. which is great. it just seems to avoid the kind of brittleness you can get sometimes with digital. it's a bit more...forgiving in some way. and we've been recording without click tracks, pretty much live. so the focus is pretty much on collective performance.

here's a member of the collective.

one of the reasons i like playing with lucy is that we never do anything quite the same way twice. there are very few prearranged endings in the repertoire, for one thing. most of the arrangements have kind of evolved organically and can change a bit. even the more tightly arranged material has a bit of suppleness to it. so it's an inexact science which relies on the musicians being comfortable and able to concentrate, listen and give a reasonably consistent, error free performance in what can be quite an alienating set of circumstances.

this isn't always easy, and for the more sensitive among us can lead to an attack of the horrors, as it slowly dawns that every mistake or lapse of taste you churn out could potentially be around to haunt you and possibly others for ever. i speak from experience. what i really loved about dropout was the way james (our engineer) and tim (his assistant) made sure that when the tape was running, the lights were low and the monitoring was right and we could all see each other and we were as happy as we could be. they would even secretly record the run throughs just in case we delivered something wondrous while we weren't thinking about it too hard. this is the kind of stuff that makes it worth doing things this way.

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