29 Hour Music People: A Writing & Recording Collective Pt.3

(If you missed the previous installments of the 29 HMP series, here are links to parts one and two.)

PART III: Sunday

Matty: We finished all the music for 11 songs on Saturday — while still leaving time for a pizza break and a prosecco-and-cupcake break —  slept five hours or so and walked into our own rehearsal / recording-studio at noon Sunday. Rob set up two vocal mics and made it crystal clear that we were not to take more than an hour per song, including singing a lead vocal, figuring out the harmonies, singing those, and in a few cases doing handclaps. Though some of us had thought about harmony parts on Saturday, and sung some of them into our iPhones, it felt to me like we were starting from scratch with most of them on Sunday. Or am I mis-remembering?

Cheri: Chalk that one up to exhaustion, Mr. K. I didn’t remember, either, so I took stock on a song-by-song basis. It looks like we had most of the harmonies figured out ahead of time. Maybe four songs were started from scratch as far as harmony vocals go. Remember we went outside to work them out on a bench in front of (ubiquitous coffee chain) while one person was recording lead vocals?

M: I do remember that, and I remember having to run back inside 15 minutes later because the previous person’s hour was about to be up! At one point someone said, unhappily, “The clock’s making a lot of decisions.” But of course, that was the whole point of the weekend. It was very much a game, and there was a game clock.

One limitation imposed by the clock on Sunday: Almost all harmonies for any given song were recorded live on a single track on a single mic, which is not the way it’s normally done. We spent a little bit of time, each time, working out how far away from the mic everyone had to be to make the blend work.

C: It’s hard to get a blend with six people who aren’t used to singing with each other. Next time maybe we’ll warm up with scales, like they do in choir. But eventually it sounded good. Then we remembered: We forgot to record handclaps!

M: I assume at some time in the next few weeks we’ll remember that we forgot to record a lot of things! With speed comes carelessness. And also, hopefully, some happy accidents. It’s all part of the game.

C: Happy accidents… Chris messing with the rototoms and everyone in the room simultaneously saying, “We have to have a rototom breakdown!”… Listening to “The Value of Seafood,” hearing some sort of glitch or guitar cord noise, and deciding not only would we leave it in, but we’d record a track of us saying “oooohhhh” and applauding it right after it occurred.

M: Ohhhh! I had no idea why we decided to applaud. But I loved that we did it. It was a rather tepid applause, but it sounded quite full when we played it back. We may have stumbled accidentally on the trick to recording small audience applause right there.

C: “Let it be lame.” Another lesson in acceptance.

M: But the thing is, it didn’t sound lame in the end. It was a lesson in advanced recording techniques.

And speaking of applause, that’s kind of it, isn’t it? We clocked three hours on Friday, 16 on Saturday and 12 on Sunday, including meal breaks. Eleven songs and three or four meals, depending how you count, in 31 hours. And the songs are totally, irreversibly done. They still need to be mixed — that wasn’t part of the weekend, as we’re not that insane yet — but the rules dictate there can be no more recording.

C: Hmmm… I predict an overdub. I think someone will sneak into the studio and add a glockenspiel, or another guitar part, to one of the songs. Unless TEOTWAWKI happens first.

M: Under our rules, an overdub will in fact cause TEOTWAWKI. So there.

-Posted by Cheri & Matty

Cheri Leone and Matty Karas
have written and played music together for as long as they have known each other, in bands including The Trouble Dolls and Lightning Kites. The Trouble Dolls’ “Giant Moon: The Difficult Neverending Second Album, Vol. 1” will be released in 2013.