ArtistWorks Blog

The Making of an Album: Andy Hall

It’s blog time again friends! I thought a good topic for this blog would be recording, and more specifically, the somewhat unique way we (The Infamous Stringdusters) recorded our most recent album, Undercover Volume 2. Recording can mean a lot of things, and there are a multitude of ways a band can record a record. Many bands even question the validity of making records these days, what with free music being a fact of life for most consumers. I personally disagree with that, mostly because it’s an amazing form of artistic expression. Making a record also continues to be the main tool with which bands can promote themselves. You never get more press than when you release a new album! But as I said, most importantly it’s a way to present your art/music in a complete way to people who might be interested.

This most recent project we made as an EP. Which stands for Extended Play. An ironic title because EP’s are generally 5 or 6 songs, much shorter than a full length record. Basically it’s being compared to a Single, which is one song with maybe a B side. Just a little industry background for ya. So for the second time, we decided to go into the studio and record some of the cover songs we do live as a band. Our shows rely mostly on original material, but we do a wide variety of cover songs to round things out and to have moments that the crowd is very familiar with. Stylistically those songs are all over the map. We’ll do some classic rock and some soul music, occasionally a modern pop song if it lends itself to what we do, Reggae even. It’s a balance of choosing something that is meaningful to the band, and also the song has to sound good with our bluegrass instrumentation. So we picked mostly songs that we had already been doing live, and had arrangements for.


For our previous Undercover release, we did a lot of older material. This time we wanted to include some more modern stuff. What we landed on was:

Just Like Heaven - The Cure

Golden - My Morning Jacket

Jessica - Allman Brothers

What’s Going On  - Marvin Gaye

Get Lucky -  Daft Punk


I’d say what these songs have in common are number one, an interesting message (save Get Lucky) number two great melodies, number three great fun rhythm. That’s where we really tend to make things our own with these songs is in the rhythm. We’re spent a lot of years consciously improving our ability to play grooves other than just a traditional bluegrass feel.

Although we did Just Like Heaven with a straight bluegrass feel, Golden is more of a country feel. Jessica is sort of shuffle rock. What’s Going on has a half time soul feel. And Get Lucky we did pretty as much a Funk song. With no mandolin, it means the Dobro and fiddle really have to take on a lot of the backbeat. That’s something that I really enjoy. Creating a feel with the Dobro chop. The way I see it, when you’re trying to emulate a rock band type feel, the bass takes on the roll of of course bass, and kick drum. The banjo does the syncopated rhythms of say a a high hat, the fiddle and Dobro can really take on the snare drum part, and the guitar is still the guitar. In our band, our guitarist Andy Falco also helps a lot with the snare/backbeat. You can listen to the project and hear these elements in play.


That’s a little bit about the musicality involved, now let’s talk about the recording process.

As I said earlier, this is the second one of these we’ve done, and what we like to do is record the whole thing in one day. With the idea in mind that we want to keep it as live feeling as possible. Also it keeps the costs very low! This is what makes this project a fun challenge. We record everything live. Vocals included. My feeling is the best way to do this is to set up in a circle, so you can easily see and hear everyone. Some choose to use headphones, but it’s not needed. It’s basically how you’d set up if you were at someone’s house for a jam, but with microphones on everything. This technique means the recording will have a lot of the sound of the room you’re in, which makes it feel intimate and natural. Not quite as much detail as a traditional recording where everyone is isolated, but a good feel. What this means you can’t really make any mistakes, because all the instruments are being “heard” by all the mics. So you can’t punch in or fix anything. If someones hits a big clam you just start over!

It can be especially challenging for the vocals. It’s not uncommon in the music biz for someone to spend a whole day on one vocal track. Even going word by word at times to get the exact inflection and pitch you want. Not here! Just sing it good and be ok with imperfections. I practiced my song Golden a lot at home before the session. It’s not perfect, but it has feel.

As far as the Dobro I played my Beard mahogany Belle Beard. I used my own Royer 121 ribbon mic over the cone, and an AKG 414 closer to the neck. The 414 isn’t my favorite mic on Dobro, but we were limited on time an mics for the one day. Ideally I’d substitute the AKG for a Neumann KM86. We used API pre amps, which make a big difference in upping tone quality.


It takes a few hours to get all this set up, get the levels and tones the way we want etc. After 3 or so hours of setup, we were ready to play music for the rest of the day! The fun part. We ended up doing 3-5 takes of each song, listened back, and chose the best of each. Our fabulous guitar player Andy Falco took the raw tracks home and did all the final mixes in his apartment. We used a mastering engineer in NY we like for mastering, and viola! A new unique EP for about $1000.


The project is now out and you can check it out anywhere online you’d generally find music.

We enjoy finding new ways to make music, and the Undercover series is quickly becoming a yearly favorite. Currently we’re showing each other new original songs for yet another full length album, which will be our 8th I believe. If you guys ever have questions about recording, arranging, or anything Dobro related, always feel free to PM me or write a forum post.


Thanks for tuning in!

Andy

 

Not a member of Andy Hall's Dobro School yet? Click here to access free lessons. 

 

Check out some other blogs from ArtistWorks:

ArtistWorks Ukulele Instructors Tour the UK and Meet Students

Andy Hall: Sweet Home Chicago

Student Spotlight: Squatch and Sons

 

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