Music Production and Mixing for The Small Change Diaries

Last week I had my first experience of working with a professional music producer working in the studio. In past times I have edited my own demos in my own studio but this was an entirely new and fascinating experience!

The previous week we have laid down all the raw tracks for seven original songs. Now it was time to review each instrument and vocal and to check that everything worked in unison. Fortunately Carl Rosemond has decades of working with bands and made sure that we matched the best possible microphones to voices and instruments in the original session, so the individual tracks already sounded pretty good. I began to appreciate that before any final mixing stage it’s essential to forensically check every part of every track. This may seem from an outside perspective to be incredibly time consuming, but as the afternoon progressed everything began to sound better and better. After a few hours the developing tracks sounded vastly better than the original raw takes.

studioI also began to appreciate the value of thorough rehearsal prior to stepping into a recording environment and to recruit the best possible musicians. The rhythm section of Garry on double bass and Rich on percussion was as always rock solid and helped us work at a really productive pace. When I first saw the studio I though “Wow we are all in fairly close proximity” but crucially I began to appreciate that this became a massive advantage as we were essentially replicating how we had worked in practice situations. In recent years digital technology has developed at an extraordinary pace and now as Carl pointed out my Tascam 24 track has more technology and features than his original hired studio which cost thousands of pounds! Watching a music producer at work is like watching a master chef. They are acutely aware of the importance of every single ingredient that needs adding or subtracting. In some processes Carl would comment “Now it’s going to sound worse before it sounds better” and he was 100% right! A large part of the day was spent on the a capella track “Amish Frame of Mind” which consisted of myself and Jessica on vocals and Rich on handclaps. Carl described as “a supremely brave choice to record” as with an a capella song there is vocally nowhere you can hide! The UAD plugins worked brilliantly in developing these tracks and bringing them to life in an entirely new way.

nick codyThe second main track of the day was “There’s Only One of You” which is one of my favourite tracks to sing with Jessica featuring the entire band. It’s a simple song with great lyrics and in my view a terrific example of a three minute well-constructed song. The final verse is sung in harmony and this works especially well. A number of people who have heard demos in previous months have remarked that one of the strengths of the band is the harmony vocals and this is a great example of this in action.

This coming week I’ll be back with Carl looking at the remaining five tracks from the first recording session. The plan is to have a promo disc completed by the end of the year and then to return to studio to record the next batch of tracks in early January 2015. When I think about all that’s happened in the previous 12 months, to quote Jerry Garcia from The Grateful Dead “What a long strange trip it’s been!”

First Small Change Diaries Recording Sessions – Nick Cody

I have a totally new respect for any artist in the recording studio after this recent experience. Its a lot of hard work but also a truly inspirational time working with such superb musicians and seeing songs develop from literally a few notes in a moleskin diary to a fully structured completed song.

There are many moving parts to consider in these situations all of which determine the final outcome of the session. In many ways its quite a cathartic experience to have these tracks finally recorded after hours of practice. Some songs evolve over a period of time, which others remain fundamentally the same as when they were first in demo form. One of the joys of recording is that although we may have plans and aims, ultimately none of us know exactly how things are going to turn out. The role of the producer is also crucial in these situations as they are looking and listening to everything from an entirely different position.

nick cody2There is also the need to make creative and practical calls with time restrictions and when band members can only make certain recording slots. The major lesson for me is that with The Small Change Diaries we need key members for two consecutive days to maintain continuity in maintaining a natural momentum. This is very similar in my experience to writing. When the person or group is in the best flow state, that’s the time to get work done. Yes its possible to add and amend existing tracks but in my experience its best to record batches of songs in specific periods of time.

It’s also important to prepare for the unexpected. Yesterday I laid down some ukulele solos which were originally going to be guitar solos. Carl the producer strongly advised this, so we by day two had seven excellent first mixes. The alternative would have been to have lots of half-finished tracks. Its quite a challenge to work on the fly in this way, but everyone seemed very pleased with the results and we maintained “the feel” that is crucial in these tracks.

Later this week I will meet up with Jessica Bowie to start work on the next batch of songs. We have another fourteen currently from which to choose and I’m greatly looking forward to seeing how these new tracks develop. The plan is to have some of these first seven recordings available on “Bandcamp” by the end of this year if all goes to plan!

Songwriting and arranging material for The Small Change Diaries

Since last October I have been heavily involved in writing material for The Small Change Diaries. There are now eighteen completed songs and two sets of lyrics that still require music. In recent months I have also been co writing with Jessica Bowie. This is proving to be a fascinating process, but one that is working exceptionally well.Sometimes I will get so far with a song and then need a new set of eyes and ears on what I have come up with. This was certainly true with “Miles Ahead” and “One Day I’ll disappear” Jessica very quickly came up with some superb melodies for both these tracks and I anticipate that they will make it to the album.

nick codyOften when you are creating your own material its often difficult to be objective after a while. Usually an idea for a set of lyrics will appear that then spark an entire train of thought. Personally I find many of my best ideas come immediately after waking up in the morning and I always have a moleskin diary close at hand to capture whatever comes to mind. One we have the basic song structure in place, the next stage is to look at final arrangements for the band.

The Small Change Diaries has in my view a really interesting combination of instruments with two ukuleles, guitar, percussion and double bass. This allows all manner of possibilities and sonic explorations crossing over into jazz, blues, ragtime, and roots music.

Practice, practice and practice

The Small Change Diaries ensemble is now complete with all five members now in place. We are now in regular practice mode to refine and develop the material. Its fascinating to see songs develop and come to life. Its also a real pleasure to work with such seasoned musicians. The addition of Garry Jackson adds a different sonic dimension to many of the tracks and today we rehearsed “Birdman” and “Airport Codeine Blues” both of which benefit massively with great double bass lines. Its taken a while to find the right person to fill this slot and Rob Sayles has done a great job recommending Garry!

The next few months will be really busy as we decide which of the current 18 tracks will make the final cut for recording. Its a tough task, but we are already discovering a number of tracks that sound fully formed. Its strange for me to see a song develop from a scribble on one of my moleskin diaries to a fully formed song. Jessica Bowie has co written a number of the recent songs and bring a brilliant sense of melody and timing to the proceedings.

nick cody