On Pre-production & working with a producer

After the first couple days of recording with Molly Cherington, I am really glad we spent the amount of time on pre-production that we did. Before we even went to the studio, we had about 6 pre-production sessions that wound up being a mix of rehearsing, arranging and re-writing.

Molly was very willing to try just about any kooky idea that I came up with. I did wind up making some pretty dramatic changes to a couple of her songs -- with this project I feel like my producer/arranger role is mostly a task of taking her beautiful songs, focusing in on the "special" in each tune and really highlighting it. The pre-production sessions were intense and very productive.

After the first two days of tracking, we have almost half the album "in the can". We are three songs ahead of schedule, and we owe to all the diligent rehearsing (not to mention the talented artist). There were no surprises, and during recording it was really just a matter of me pressing the red button and letting Molly do her magic with very little intervention. Several first takes were perfect, we didn't even do a second take.

With the intention being a natural, live sound, we are recording the vocals and the guitar at the same time. I'm confident enough in Molly's performance chops that I am not worrying about microphone bleed (except to be mindful of phase coherency and stereo image smear) since we won't be punching anything in. This frees me up to worry less about microphone isolation and more about getting a great sound. This is one of my favorite ways to record acoustic music. Since I knew Molly was going to nail her takes, I felt like I had plenty of time to try different things out and get microphones just where I wanted them. We spent twice as much time getting ready as we did recording. It was a great investment, we got some really great sounds.

The moral of the story goes something like this: Before going into the studio to record, have your producer come to a bunch of rehearsals beforehand, and make sure you actually have some rehearsals and arranging sessions to prepare for your sessions. Arranging your songs for recording involves a specific set of skills that can lead to a very different approach than what you might be used to. Be willing to listen to your producer and take their advice even if it seems strange at first.

Its worth mentioning that recording your music and working with a producer can definitely be a difficult exercise in ego management! If your producer tells you that something isn't working, don't take it the wrong way -- your producer knows what will or won't work on record, and is there to help you succeed. If producer says "this guitar part doesn't work right here" it doesn't mean they think you are a crappy guitarist or a bad songwriter, it means that the vocal line needs a little space to breathe in this spot. Hire a producer you trust and put some faith in them, and your recording session (and your recording!) will be that much better for your efforts.