Setting out on a new recording project is always a challenge. Like staring at a blank word document before writing a blog post. Although we had a few advantages over the last time we had recorded. This time instead of making a live recording we would be recording in a studio. The plan was to record some songs we had done before and some new songs. We knew that there would be heaps of challenges.
Working on the songs
The first thing we needed to have was songs. Some of them we already had but some needed to be new. A lot of songs were written which didn’t make it on to the album, those ones that didn’t make it tended to be the most experimental and different of the bunch of which there were quite a few. We hope that these songs will be recorded at some point but the priority ended up being that the songs could be sung. We also didn’t want to try and emulate the writing of mainstream Christian worship music since there are already of plenty of people doing that. Once we had a bunch of songs down we started playing them with some of the band to see how they would go. In this way we figured out the ones we liked most, as played by the band. When you can imagine the congregation singing, then you know you are onto something. Those were the most exciting times, just imagining what they could be eventually and getting to hear what they sound like when everyone plays together.
Below are samples of the demo recordings next to the final recordings
And then some samples of the old live recordings next to the new studio recordings
Organising the Recording
The next thing to do was to organise the recording component. Adrian is the man at our church when it comes to this, he has a studio which is suitable for the kind of thing we wanted to do. The idea was to do the recording in just a few months, we ended up doing it in five months. This was start to finish including writing, fund raising, recording, editing, mixing, and mastering. This is not normal but the team was willing to work hard to make it happen and we believe that this is what God has called our church to do in order to serve him.
The Kickstarter Campaign
We figured that this was going to cost some money to do so we made a rough budget and figured out that we weren’t possibly going to have enough money to be able to complete the project with all the various stages. We narrowed our goal to being eight songs from what was originally going to be ten (this was probably for the best, ten seems like so many). We decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign with which our community could fund the project. This turned out to be a really great thing because it means that people who don’t have musical ability can be involved in making the project happen. Amazingly our community and other supporters were able to fund the project completely and quickly. It is scary to put an idea out there to the crowd, but really rewarding when you do and people are there to help. By this point, we already had demos of the songs which we could use for the video to promote the campaign. We recorded the videos at our church building, and they turned out quite well and ended up being a lot funnier than we thought they would be because of the interactions of the people who were involved. It was a lesson in letting things happen naturally and following where it leads over having an exact plan and refusing to stray from it.
Preparing the songs
Before anything else could be done the songs had to be chosen. We were going to have limited studio time and so we had to make every minute count. We had decent demo recordings of each song to show what it could be like in the end, and then guide tracks in the appropriate keys for Sophie (who is the female singer on the album), and myself. Here we had to decide the keys, the tempos, the forms (ie. how many choruses, bridges and verses) and such. We also put down a few other instruments as well all for the purpose of drum recording. Later we would wipe all of this away and start again with the drums. These are called guide tracks and it is just a part of how recordings are often done so the drummer is able to work with the dynamics and the form of the song while they record. When everyone else records, they record with the drums.
The first proper recording session started with drums, the basis of everything else we recorded. It was two weeks, almost every night in order to get it done. Joe, (our drummer and songwriter), did an amazing job. It is very hard work, and drum recording is scary because there are so many microphones and if you get it wrong, it is hard to fix, and setting it all up again would be a nightmare. The proccess involved a lot of creativity, thinking about each song and what it needed.
Below is a drum recording without much editing or effects
Bass and guitars
Next up, we had to record the bass guitar. These were recorded by Michael Smith. We make the reamping process which has become popular of late. This involves capturing a clean DI signal from the instrument and then playing that signal back through an amp later on. We’d mic up the amp and record the played-back performance through an amp. The benefit of this is having an unlimited amount of time to make adjustments on the amp once the performance has already been captured. This method was pioneered by Joe Satriani and it is very effective. It takes a lot of pressure off of the instrument player, it’s a lot easier to edit it later on as well as a clean signal does better with edits than an amplified one generally. The electric guitars were done by several people, Tadro, Jake B, Adrian, and Vinnie. These guys did a great job and much of this was done using the reamping process. The electric guitars are so important in filling out the sonic scape of the album, especially the various drones, delays and such, they add a lot to the sound. I played the acoustic guitars for the album using a range of different guitars depending on the sonic requirements. We used a combo of the Neumann 102 and an Oktava 012 for the acoustic recording, we did the same for the viola recording which was all played by Helen, with virtual strings in the mix as well.
Keys, Piano, Glock and Melodica
Anthony recorded the various keys for the album. At first we recorded everything midi on his keyboard, but listening back, some of us felt that the songs would benefit from a strong, grand piano recording. We didn’t have immediate access to one but a local church was willing to loan us theirs for a few hours and we took them up on this offer. Because of the ‘in and out’ nature of the recording situation we used a Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 inteface, with some decent outboard preamps and fantastic ribbon mics. Somehow, despite the rush, despite the fact that an un-named person (me) accidentally left the microphones at home and had to rush home just as we were let into the building, we got it done, only by the grace of God. It shouldn’t have worked out but some how it did. The piano became a feature of the album, partly because of Anthony’s amazing playing but also because of the quality of the grand piano recording, it sounds awesome (Thanks to EBC for allowing us to use it!). Anthony also recorded a few other little bits and pieces with some AKGs, both the Glockenspiel and the Melodica, two staples of our recordings thus far. We use these somewhat cutesy instruments, because we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously and these instruments have a way of lightening things up and making it feel like something kids could be involved with and enjoy. This has been consistant feedback, that kids seem to really like our music which I think is a good thing.
Vocals are generally difficult although although we we able to get through them pretty smoothly and at pace this time around. We recorded all of my vocals in one session. This was important because I happened to be going to America for an entire month very soon after this. Sophie did really well with her vocals as well and put in the hard yards recording a song again on a different day to make sure it was just right. The backup vocals were recorded by many people from our church, individually, as a choir, and as a congregation. We even got a chance to record our CityLight Kids, for the opening of Declare. The things which were the hardest work ended up being the most worthwhile.
Prepare for cuteness with the kids voice audio below
Once everything was recorded we had to move onto editing. This involves removing patches of silence, organising everything, getting it ready to be sent off for mixing. It also can involve making choices, like removing things that don’t need to be there, if you listen to the audio recording below you can hear how the intro of Declare changed before final release. Just because we record something doesn’t mean we will use it.
Mixing and mastering
For the mixing of the project we brought in a local, Ash Gale, from Skye Studios. He worked hard on the project for a very significant amount of time to get it to where it ended up and he did a great job. He made many helpful decisions in terms of the productions, arrangements and such. A few of us got together at the end to have a listening party and make any final suggestions of adjustments. Once it was done Ash sent the project back to us so that we could send it off for the next stage. For mastering we used MixMasters studio, Mick did a fantastic job. Every time it amazes me what mastering can do. It really did make the tracks seem more vibrant and exciting and felt more excited about the tracks than ever at this point.
The mixes went off sounding something like this…
and came back like this…
after mastering it sounded like this…
Normally we wouldn’t do CDs but part of the Kickstarter reward was a CD so we worked hard on the artwork for it. The idea was to make artwork that would be evocative of the glory of God. Mountains ended up being the final drawing. The idea that we had was that when we see the things that God has made, we see glimpses of who he is, and when we see who he is we can trust him, even when times are tough. God is our strong, reliable, immovable, unchanging mountain. This album is meant to remind us of that, that is why the album is called “Great are your ways” and why the song says “Great Are Your ways, even when I can’t understand”. It says “we put our trust in you, God, you are the only one, who is worthy of our praise, we aren’t worthy of this grace”. He is worthy of our praise, we aren’t worthy of he is grace, so we should worship him and trust him and be thankful for what we have been gifted by him.
Our distribution is through Routenote. There are a stack of companies who can get your music onto Spotify, Apple music and the like. You can do it yourself but then you have to manage each account individually. These ‘aggregators’ are big time savers. The songs are up on all streaming services right now, they are played on radio, in our church and others. The CDs were produced by Implant Media, who did a phenomenal and well priced job. The listenership has been larger than we could have predicted and we are super thankful that people would take the time to check out what we are up to.
This album is fairly unique in terms of current, popular Christian music. We hope that people, like you, will be enjoy it, be encouraged, learn good theology, with lyrics which reache the mind and the heart. We hope as well, if you are the songwriting type, that you will write songs for your congregation, in your context.
In this day and age, almost any church can write songs and we should take advantage of the tools available to spread the word. If you want to play our songs at your church, please do, and let us know when you do, I would love to hear about it.
You can listen to the album here
Access chords here
Listen to our podcast here
Or watch a video ‘behind the scenes’ below.=