13 June 2006

session log, volume two

song: "explain this to me"
artist: darcie miner

instrument(s) played: gibson lap steel guitar

studio: mad dragon studio, drexel university campus

engineer: toby seay

this is a song that i first heard on darcie's myspace page when she had the rough demo posted there. it's one of those great intimate songs that would probably be intimate no matter how you arranged it - solo acoustic or full band.

when we first started talking about what to do with this one, there was never any real question as to what we were hearing...it's one of those haunting songs that just screams for the david lindley treatment, and that was how i planned on approaching it. long, sustained, singing glissando stuff on lap steel. she had given me some guidelines with regard to where she heard it coming in and such, but that was about it.

there was one thing, specifically, that i wanted to do...she held a long, sustained vocal note going into the middle eight where the lap steel solo was going to be, and i wanted to use the volume pedal to fade in on the same note she was singing...and that worked wonderfully. parts of the song, in fact, remind me a bit sonically of the song "rainy day" from the first america album, which david lindley played on.

the song was cut at the mad dragon studio on the campus of drexel university - this one and two others, "boys" and "stories" (both of which i played on as well...see their respective studio logs). the studio is set up for use in an educational setting, but the only tipoff to this is that where the stereotypical sofa would normally sit - a few feet behind the console - there are four rows of chairs in a theatre configuration. also, a large LCD hangs above the glass that mirrors the image displayed on the computer monitor, so that the students can see what's happening while it's going on. from an operational standpoint, though, those are the only two tipoffs that something is a little out of the ordinary about the place. they have top-notch gear, and an engineer/instructor who knows it intimately.

since i had heard the song and had a chance to form some thoughts about approaching it, i brought my gibson lap steel as the go-to instrument for this particular song. it needed a darker quality, and the gibson has that in spades. it's not a particularly loud or bright instrument, and i was pretty sure that it, coupled with my princeton reverb, would be just what the doctor ordered for this particular track.

the engineer brought in two mics for the amp - an SM-57 (standard choice for something like this) and a coles 4038 ribbon microphone. he ended up using the coles, because i had the amp at a relatively low volume, and it brought out a certain character that he seemed to like. i could hear a slight difference, but it wasn't really that different to my ears from the booth. i didn't get a chance to hear an A/B comparison in the control room...he made his call and we moved ahead with that combination before i'd cut the track.

we did two passes - of which (i think) the second was the keeper - and i went back in to listen. as soon as the lap steel came in after the first chorus, it was apparent that there'd be no reason to debate mic choice or placement. i don't know what he was using for front end between the mic and the disk, but it sounded great. to the credit of my magic little princeton reverb, i don't think i made his job very difficult...because anything i plug into that amp just sounds amazing. but the steel sat just where it should've in the mix, and didn't compete with the acoustic guitar for any particular frequency. also, the engineer had added a baritone guitar part that i hadn't heard until he brought it up in the mix while we were listening to the playback...and it was unobtrusive enough that it wasn't an issue, where frequency collisions or toestepping might have been concerned.

the track was for the same compilation release that the other songs i worked on was for, due out on Mad Dragon records upon completion.


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