Recording Jaxon Arundell, Drinking Tea & Eating Oranges, A Reflection
We recorded the guitar for Jaxon Arundell’s upcoming E.P. over 3 sessions in the Neve with a huge focus on ambient room sound This required an uber microphone set up, brand new strings and careful consideration of mic placement. With each session, we made sure we spent the time to check that the mic positions worked and were consistent across the sessions. Jaxon and I both set everything up together. We made sure that the mics on his guitar were on axis and an equal distance. We set the blumlein mics up in the centre of the room in a left, right set up for a stereo image and we set up two distance mics at the far end to enhance the stereo image, making sure they were the same distance, height and angle.
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Next, I would check that the mics coming in were at the right level and that they all sounded good together. I would then record a quick snippet and invite Jaxon in to check it out and if there were any issues, we would move a mic, but for the most part, it was pretty smooth sailing, just a few minor adjustments. Once we were happy with the sound we would have a quick break and then return fresh and ready to go. From previous projects I have learnt that sending the right mix to the headphones is crucial, so I did not rush over this aspect, setting the mix up with headphones on and making sure it was right before I hit record. If you’re aiming to create art all the technical stuff needs to be taken care of so you can be free from breaking that subconscious flow.
Jaxon would play and sing the song as natural as possible and I would tap out the tempo to set up the click track. We recorded a scratch track of Jaxon playing and singing so we could use this as a guide track for him to record clean guitar tracks. For the most part, this went really well, Jaxon had these songs rehearsed and ready to go. We had a few issues with A Postmodern Parable, the click track was putting him off every time the chorus came in. Thankfully Jaxon had some previous demos of each of these songs and we had a good listen to the original and realised that it actually speeds up a bit in the chorus, Jaxon believed he could just slow the chorus down to the click but I convinced him that if it feels right speeding up in the chorus then we want to recreate that energy. Jaxon tapped out the tempo listening to the demo and counted out the bars to program the tempo changes onto the click. This worked much better and we got it down relatively easily after that, although it is the one section we had to redo but more on that later.
Vocals: For the vocal tracking, we set up two mics for the main vocals, the Shure Super 55 and the AKG C414. We set them up at exactly the same distance with one mic on top and one on the bottom, I have used this technique a lot and have literally learnt it on the job although I can not find any info about it online, but I know it works. I line the mics up so they are they are parallel and the gap in between the mics is right on the singer’s lips. The mic above the lips captures more lower end, while the one below captures more higher end. For this reason, we used the C414 which is a large frame condenser and captures quite a bright sound above the lips where the sound would be lower. And we used the Super 55 which is a dynamic microphone, is less sensitive and picks up less of the higher details below the lip. We did this so the microphone balances out the sound source. We also decided to use a single Royer R121 for some harmonies and backup phrases so we would have a gentle darker sound to blend into the mix, just like a little treat every now and then.
In terms of actually recording the vocals, there was a lot of work that went into getting everything right. I would do vocal warm-ups with Jaxon, try and get him in a good relaxed headspace where he felt comfortable enough to give a very open performance. I feel like we built a working relationship really based on love and trust. It was my role to create a safe space where Jaxon was not afraid to be himself. Sometimes we would work fast and other times it would take a while to get something happening. I tried not to put any pressure on Jaxon and to just be patient and supportive, offering any alternative ideas where I could. On our first session, we got two songs done only to realise that the chorus in A Postmodern Parable was out of time and the vocals didn’t fit. This had nothing to do with the click track timing, that was right, it was because Jaxon wasn’t singing it when he played it and the quick chord change at the end of the riff was on the wrong beat. So we realised we would need to re-record it. Because it was the one slightly grungier song and we only needed to fix 2 parts, we tried to plug into the Neve, then EQ and drive the acoustic through the desk, while this was a good idea that would have saved us time if it worked, it didn’t work and we ended up setting all the mics up again just to record that one little part. In the end, I think it was worth it because now it sounds great.
Anyway, while most of the songs Jaxon sang with ease, he was having a lot of trouble with singing the verse to this same song. We were just going round in circles, so after a needed coffee break I suggested he just hum it, to tune his voice to the song and then sing over that, after that didn’t work, he said he wanted to sing it while playing the guitar just to find his place pitch-wise. Jaxon gave a much better performance with a guitar in his hands and was able to sing in pitch while listening to that take in his headphones since each take got better I kept playing him the most recent take and it morphed into its own thing, which was quite cool. The weird thing is this is one of Jaxon's older songs and it’s one of the simplest ones but it was the one that caused us the most drama in the studio. I think this is just because the vocals and guitars are locked into each other and he found it hard to do one without the other. This certainly wasn’t the case for the other songs, in which he tracked guitar and vocals separately like a champion.
The vocals did take more care and attention to get everything we needed though because the way we approached recording the vocals was to do a good 3-5 takes of each part with the intention of comping the best takes later. We did this so we could pick and choose the little phrases or inflections in his voice. We wanted to capture something special and not just rush through it. As we were tracking, if he did something I really liked I would rename the clip to remind myself later. If we really wanted to double track something we would do a quick comp of what we had, so the double lined up well. We made choices on where to keep one intimate layer, where to double and where to add harmonies as we went. Some of this involved us singing ideas to each other through the talkback and trying to find the harmony we were looking for. I feel like this is the most I’ve taken on the producer role in this regard. My role as a producer is to allow a space where an artist is free to create and to capture that. Jaxon can be a fragile artist, so being patient and supportive was extremely important for this task. I never put pressure on him to just get it done and we were both prepared to put in the time and make sure we got it right.
We are in the mixing stage now and are right on track to have this released by the end of next week as per our production plan. We have been adding all sorts of interesting little bits, the icing on the cake if you will. so watch this space, for more updates soon and in the meantime, have a cup of tea and listen to this gorgeous song by Leonard Cohen.