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. I 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. I think when you can imagine the congregation singing, then you know you are onto something. Those were the most exciting times for me, 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. I took the idea to him that we wanted to record an album 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 (I am glad about this now as well, ten seems like so many). We decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign with which our community could fund the project. I like this because it means that even 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 your idea out there to the crowd, but really rewarding when you do and people are there to help. By this point, I already had demos of the songs which I could use for the video to promote the campaign. We recorded the videos at our church building, I think they turned out quite well and ended up being a lot funnier than I 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. I made demo recordings of each song to show what I was going for in the end, and then guide tracks in the appropriate keys for Sophie (who is the female singer on the album), and myself. Here I had to decided the keys, the tempos, the form (ie. how many choruses, bridges and verses) and such, 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. We did 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. We got creative with a lot of things, thinking about each song and what it needed. I am really happy with how they turned out in the end. Everything seems so much easier once that has been done.
Below is a drum recording without much editing or effects
Bass and guitars
Next we recorded in the bass guitar. These were recorded by Michael Smith. we use 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, I love how organic they are, especially the various drones, delays and such, they add a lot to the sound. I recorded the acoustics myself, I had about 10 different acoustics to choose from when I was recording and chose what guitar to use depending on what I thought the song needed. 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, Adrian and I 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 my Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 inteface, with some decent outboard preamps and fantastic ribbon mics. Somehow, despite the rush, despite the fact that I 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 and I am very thankful 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. I love these somewhat cutesy instruments, we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously and I think these instruments have a way of lightening things up and making it feel like something kids could be involved with and enjoy. I am told that this is true as well, that kids seem to really like our music and I take that as a compliment.
These are generally difficult although I really enjoyed the vocal recording process this time round. I think I get more comfortable with it each time. We recorded all my vocals in one session. This was important because I happened to be going to America for an entire month very soon after this, but I am quite happy with how they turned out. 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, something I am most proud of. It seems like the things which were the hardest work ended up being the most worthwhile.
Prepare for cuteness with the kids voice audio below
Much of the editing of the project took place while I was in the air on the way to America. This was my plan since I wasn’t able to finish the recording aspect right up until the moment when I left. Adrian did much of the work after I left as well, for which I am very thankful. Once I arrived in America I had to find decent wifi at which point I was able to send of everything I had. I didn’t have to think about the project for about a month after that. Adrian figured out what was still missing from the tracks once I had finished them and filled in the gaps and got them over the line, bringing in many people from our church community who I am glad had the chance to be able to be a part of the project.
As an example of one of the various additions, we wanted declare to have fun vibes so we added stacks of extra bits, some which stayed and some got cut. Each song we had to think about these elements, how does the instrumentation and sections compliment the feel, or compliment the lyrics.
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. I can’t say much of what happened with this part but I am happy with the result. 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 to me so that I could send it off to 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
Artwork and Distribution
Normally we wouldn’t do CDs but part of the Kickstarter reward was a CD so we worked hard on the artwork for it. Delphine and I met up to discuss the artwork which she would draw. We wanted it to 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. 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. As I write this the songs are in Spotify’s queue for checking songs and will be up soon, as you read it, it will be there for you to listen. We are making radio versions of the songs for radio and everything related to the CDs has been sent off to a company in Melbourne called “Implant media”, who will send back the CDs which will be sent to backers, given to volunteers and sold in a very limited run.
Reflection on the album as a whole
I am glad about how it turned out, I like the sound, the songs and the shape of the album as a whole. I think there is a good balance of songs and it brings something unique sonically, and theologically (not unique in theological history, but next to the current popular Christian music). I hope people will hear it and be brought closer to God because of it in the worship of him, I hope they will learn more about who he is and be lead to his scriptures, and be drawn into Community with his people to encourage each other. I hope as well that other churches would be encouraged to write songs, to record them and send them out to the world, as we do so consistently already with our sermon content. In this day and age, we can do this and we should take advantage of the tools available in our age 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
Below is a video of some random collection of recording footage, keep in mind it is mostly only the parts that I was present for. Much happened when I wasn’t there and so a lot of that time is missing in terms of footage.=